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In this post series, I’m detailing our entire experience on our Contiki Italian Espresso Tour. Due to the length of the tour, I have broken our journey up into different posts based on the major city we visited.
This post is the second in the series. If you missed the first post, Contiki Tour Review: Italian Espresso Rome Itinerary, check it out to start reading at the beginning of our travels.
This series will not only tell you what you can expect from Contiki as a company but also give details about our adventures during our free time on the tour. I want to share all our experiences to give you an impression of the trip as a whole and spark ideas for your next adventure.
Are you already considering touring with Contiki? Get a discount by going through my Contiki affiliate link.
If you are only interested in facts about Contiki or related travel tips and not the story of our travels in Italy, see the summary box at the beginning of each subheading.
This second post in the series is all about our experiences and adventures in and around Florence.
DAY 3: The Vatican, Then Off To Florence...
Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance and the largest city in Tuscany, was our next stop. After the bustling metropolitan of Rome, we were excited to enter the Tuscan wine country.
Ristorante Rubaconte, Our Culinary Introduction to Florence
Travel Tip: At restaurants, don’t skip over the simple local dishes for something complex every time. Even the simplest dishes like spaghetti and meatballs or pizza were so much better straight from the source than anything like it that I’ve had back home.
After settling into our hotel room in Florence, we left for Ristorante Rubaconte, our second dinner included in the tour price. Just like our first included dinner, we had a room booked just for our group.
The dinner began with salad and bread as a starter. The main course was spaghetti and meatballs. Sounds simple and ordinary, right? Simple, yes. Ordinary, not by a long shot.
At home, spaghetti is not necessarily an exceptional meal. That’s what I throw together quickly when I don’t feel like cooking.
Well, Italy knows how to do it right, which I honestly should have expected. I never knew spaghetti could taste so good. It was a simple dish, but that’s what made it so great. All the ingredients were handmade and incredibly fresh.
So even if it’s a meal you’ve had a thousand times, don’t skip over it. Even the simplest Italian dishes were so much better straight from the source than anything like it that I’ve had back home.
Our Rowdy Night At The Red Garter Karaoke Bar
Contiki Fact: The Red Garter, a karaoke bar suggested by our Contiki guide, wasn’t a place I would have known to look for or thought to visit on my own. The atmosphere itself was so fun and energetic, but it also opened us up for the best part of travel – the unexpected adventures.
After dinner, our Contiki guide brought us to a local karaoke bar called Red Garter, one of the first American bars to open in Italy. The atmosphere was lively and loud with the karaoke music playing and everyone cheering their friends as they got up on stage to sing.
We found several empty tables where we could sit and ordered from the bar as we enjoyed the karaoke and shouted along to the music. Some in our Contiki family dared to go onto the stage to sing. In solidarity, our tables erupted in applause.
There were two tour groups in the bar that night, our smaller Contiki group and another group a lot larger than ours. As the night went on, it became apparent a few people from the other tour group were taking in a little more alcohol than they could handle.
On the whole, they were just enjoying themselves, having fun. However, two or three of them stood up on tables and knocked over benches as the staff tried to get them to sit down. Besides the entertaining karaoke, our Contiki group got an unexpected show that sparked inside jokes for the rest of the tour.
DAY 4: Full Day In The Beautiful City Of Florence
A Look Into Florence's Famous Leather Craft
Contiki Fact: Included in your Italian Espresso tour cost is a demonstration of the craft Florence is so well-known for – leather. Although you don’t get to see precisely how Florentine artisans work hide into leather, it is an excellent introduction to the tools they use and a brief history of the leather trade in Florence.
Our first full day in Florence began with a short leather demonstration at Leonardo Leather and Gold. The presentation was more like an introduction to the tools Florentine artisans use to work the hide into leather and a brief history of the leathermaking trade in Florence.
They explained the different characteristics of authentic Florentine leather and how to distinguish it from faux leather, which would benefit us later as we shopped throughout Florence.
Afterward, we had some free time to look around Leonardo’s shop, and he gave our Contiki group a 10% discount for anything we bought.
Before we left, the craftsman told us we would see stalls set up along the streets of Florence selling leather goods. He warned us some vendors would sell faux leather but charge the price of authentic Florentine leather. So be wary if you are buying leather goods from a street stall.
Discovering All Florence Has To Offer
Contiki Fact: Another inclusion in the Italian Espresso tour is a locally guided tour of Florence. This tour takes you to more landmarks than any of the other city tours we received while traveling with Contiki. Florence is extremely walkable, and you will be walking a lot.
From Leonardo’s, we walked to the main square in Florence, Piazza della Signoria, to meet our local tour guide for our included walking tour of Florence. From the piazza, she took us to many of Florence’s landmarks as she described the history and significance of each place.
This tour was extraordinarily comprehensive and took us to see the Medici Palace, Ponte Vecchio, Duomo, Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Baptistery of St. John, and Basilica Santa Croce. It was the most extensive of all our tours. It allowed us to visit almost all of the famous places for which Florence is known.
Compared to our guided tour of Rome, this tour let us see more places, but it was more challenging to hear the guide. She had a microphone and handheld speaker to help amplify her voice. However, unlike our walking tour of Rome, in Florence, it was in the afternoon, which made it a busier time. Increased crowds made it difficult to hear even with the microphone.
Even with difficulty hearing everything, this tour still gives you a good history of the city of Florence and introduces you to the beautiful Florentine culture.
Exploring The Streets Of Florence
Contiki Facts: If you want to visit any museums while in Florence, you’ll have several hours of free time in the afternoon on Day 4 of your Italian Espresso tour. This is the best time to schedule your visit to any museums. And don’t forget to buy tickets in advance!
Free Time Add-On – Tuscan Evening 42€
This excursion takes you into the Tuscan countryside to enjoy music, wine, and an authentic Italian dinner. I cannot personally review this Free Time Add-On as we skipped it to have time for other activities we planned in Florence.
Free Time Add-On – Florence Disco 16€
This Add-On introduces you to Florence’s nightlife, bringing you to the largest club in the city, a space electronic disco called Space Club. The two-story club not only has a dance floor but an area where you can show off your karaoke skills as well. Again, I cannot personally review this Free Time Add-On as we had already made other plans.
After our tour ended, we had a few hours of free time until we were supposed to meet back up with our Contiki group later that evening.
Several of our friends left us to visit the many museums Florence has to offer. Michelangelo’s David, probably one of the most famous works of art in Florence, can be found in the Galleria dell′Accademia.
Keep in mind, you need a reservation to get in unless you want to wait in a long line for hours.
On our Italian Espresso tour, Contiki gave us the most free time in Florence on Day 4. This time was the best opportunity for anyone wanting to visit museums to do so.
We chose not to visit any of the museums as we didn’t want to spend any free time waiting in lines. Our goal was to get out and explore Florence.
We walked around the city looking into shops and stalls at the leather handbags and clothing. We also revisited the Duomo and the Baptistery of St. John as we hadn’t seen all we wanted of them on our locally guided walking tour.
Of course, we stopped for pizza and gelato along the way and sat to take in the scenery of Florence.
While walking down the streets, we also got to see the work of Clet Abraham, a French artist living in Florence who alters street signs. He uses stickers of silhouettes to turn typical traffic signs into works of art. He has a studio in Florence if you want to see more of his artwork or purchase a piece to take home with you.
Later that evening, before the sunset, we met up with our group at Piazzale Michelangelo, a square with a panoramic view of the city of Florence, for our Contiki group photo. After the picture, some from our group left to go to the Tuscan Evening Dinner Add-On and then the Florence Disco.
My sister and I decided to skip these Free Time Add-Ons as we had other plans for our evening. A friend of ours had given us a tip for the best place to catch a Florence sunset. There was also this local sandwich shop and gelateria I heard about and wanted to try out. This night was going to be our only free time in Florence to get these experiences.
Ponte Santa Trinita, The Best-Kept Secret To Seeing A Florence Sunset
Travel Tip: For a beautiful Florence sunset, claim a spot on the Ponte Santa Trinita, one bridge west of the Ponte Vecchio. With fewer people on this bridge, you’re able to get a better view of the sunset. You’re also in the perfect position to take photos of the Ponte Vecchio.
From the Piazzale Michelangelo, we walked a little over a mile to the Ponte Santa Trinita bridge, one bridge west of the Ponte Vecchio. With plenty of time before sunset, we slowly made our way to this spot.
Our path to the bridge took us through many side streets of Florence and was our first time to see the side of the city that was south of the River Arno.
Once we reached the Ponte Santa Trinita, we picked the perfect place in the middle of the bridge to see the sunset and settled in there. The sides of the bridge are thick enough that you can climb up and sit. Many other people were perched up on the wall of the bridge, so we joined them.
The Ponte Santa Trinita not only gave us an excellent view of the sunset, but the perfect view of the Ponte Vecchio to take pictures of it as well.
The Best Sandwich Of My Life At All'antico Vinaio
Travel Tip: Visit All’antico Vinaio for a fantastic, cheap meal while in Florence. These 5 euro sandwiches are not only delectable but are so large you can split one for dinner!
All’antico Vinaio is a street food sandwich shop in Florence that I had heard great things about. I had been excited and looking forward to this meal ever since the beginning of the trip.
It was a ten-minute walk from the Ponte Santa Trinita. When we walked up to it, we noticed there were locations opposite each other on the same street and a long line out the door of each one. This was going to be good!
The entire menu was in Italian, and everyone around us wasn’t speaking English. That’s how you know it’s going to be an authentic, local experience.
We didn’t mind waiting in the long line since that would give us a chance to try to figure out which sandwich we wanted. People left with these huge sandwiches in their hands, and we decided we’d split one for dinner.
We ordered something called the Manolo. I’m still not 100% sure what all was in it, but it was legitimately the best sandwich of my life. People sat lining the curb of Via dei Neri on both sides, eating their sandwiches from All’antico Vinaio, and we joined them.
We jokingly called it our “gutter sandwich” because this 5 euro sandwich we shared sitting on a curb was the best meal I had my entire time in Italy.
Gelateria Dei Neri, Winner Of The Best Gelato
Travel Tip: After eating dinner at All’antico Vinaio, walk a few blocks down the Via dei Neri to Gelateria dei Neri for dessert. Gelateria dei Neri, in our opinion, was the best gelato that we had while in Italy. It was creamy, flavorful, and outshone all the others we tasted.
Naturally, after finishing dinner, it was time to try out the gelato shop I’d heard about, Gelateria dei Neri. Yes, it was a personal goal of mine to eat gelato at least once a day while in Italy.
Gelateria dei Neri was only a few blocks down the Via dei Neri from All’antico Vinaio. When we arrived, there was no long line, and we didn’t have to wait to get our gelato, but honestly, I don’t know why.
This gelato was overwhelmingly the best gelato we had during our travels in Italy. It was smooth and creamy, and the flavor was so rich. We loved it so much we went back the next evening to get it a second time before we left Florence.
DAY 5: Florence, San Gimignano, And Principe Corsini
San Gimignano, The Town You Won't Want To Leave
Contiki Fact: Included in your Italian Espresso tour is a day trip to the UNESCO World Heritage site, San Gimignano, a Medieval town in the Tuscan hillside. With its high towers, cobbled streets, and small town charm, you will find San Gimignano hard to leave no matter how much time you spend there. Due to our day’s schedule, we were only able to spend about two hours.
San Gimignano is a small town on a hill in Tuscany that is still encircled by Medieval walls. This UNESCO World Heritage site has high towers and narrow, cobbled streets.
It’s precisely the quiet, small-town you picture a writer visiting in a movie to finish their masterpiece. This town is also known for its saffron and is home to the famous Gelateria Dondoli and its saffron gelato.
Almost as soon as we walked into the archway of the town, we saw the Museo della Tortura, a torture museum. We thought the idea sounded interesting like a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.
It was 10 euros to get in and was all about the history of torture. Although it was interesting, it was more graphic than we expected, so prepare yourself if this is something you’re interested in doing.
After leaving the Museo della Tortura, we grabbed focaccia for lunch and ate it as we walked around the cobbled streets of the town, looking in shops.
As we walked around, we came across a puppet show that was set up in one of the squares. The show was in Italian and children sat around the puppet stand, laughing at each silly thing the characters would do.
Our last stop before having to depart San Gimignano was Gelateria Dondoli. It happened to be a day the owner was at the shop, and he stood outside greeting all the customers in the line. He stopped to talk to us for a few minutes, asked us where we were from and to know a little about our home, and gave us Gelateria Dondoli postcards with his excited face on them!
Wine Tasting In Tuscany
Contiki Fact: Included in your Italian Espresso tour is a guided tour of a Tuscan winery. It may be different on another Contiki trip, but we visited Villa Le Corte to see the Principe Corsini winery. Although the tour itself was brief, the wine tasting was excellent! We tasted three of their most popular wines and had pecorino, bruschetta, and prosciutto to go with it.
After leaving San Gimignano, our Contiki bus brought us to Principe Corsini for a tour of their winery and a wine tasting.
The tour of the winery and the grounds were brief, lasting about 15 minutes. Our guide at the winery told us about its history and the Corsini family who owns it as she led us through the property. At the end of the tour, we had a little free time to walk the grounds and take more photos before the tasting.
Once everything was set up, they took us to a large, open upstairs loft with tables that could seat eight people. We got to taste two red wines and a rosé – Le Corti Chianti Classico, Don Tommaso Chianti Classico, Rosé Principe Corsini sparkling wine. Along with our wines, they served us pecorino, bruschetta, and prosciutto.
Several Contiki people at my table didn’t like red wine and didn’t want to taste theirs. I love red wine, and couldn’t believe perfectly good Italian wine was going to be so neglected! When I told them this, they asked if I wanted it since it would go to waste otherwise. I drank the wine – all the wine. This was a fun day for me.
Surprise Ending To Our Tastes Of Florence Food Tour
Contiki Fact: Free Time Add-On – Tastes of Florence 36€
This foodie walking tour was another highlight of the trip for me. It was fun walking around Florence seeing the city while tasting foods I would never have ordered off a menu on my own. Not to mention, the final stop was truly a grand finale!
Later that evening, after we arrived back in Florence, it was time for another Free Time Add-On for anyone wanting to join. The Tastes of Florence Walking Tour was thirty-six euros and began at the Piazzale Michelangelo where the bus dropped us back off after returning from the Tuscan countryside.
Our tour started in a restaurant that was once the crypt of an old church where we ate chicken liver pâté.
I had personally never had chicken liver pâté before. Honestly, it looked like the treat food I give my cat sometimes. I know this is all a psychological thing on my part and has no actual reflection on pâté as a whole. Once I got over how it looked, it tasted quite good. I enjoyed it more than I was expecting.
Our second stop was to an outdoor covered pavilion to receive drinks and a demonstration of how to make authentic Italian cocktails.
After seeing how to make different kinds of popular cocktails, like negroni and aperol spritz, we got to choose one to drink for ourselves. I don’t like cocktails, so I gave mine to some else.
At our third stop, we got to try arancini, which is a popular dish in Italy.
It’s essentially a deep-fried, stuffed rice ball. Along with the arancini, the staff served us a bread soup. The bread soup was different than any soup I’d ever had before. It was similar to a tomato soup filled with veggies and bread.
At this point on the tour, our Contiki guide told us we had only one stop left, but none of us were full at this point and were a little wary about our last stop. A few of us wondered if we’d have to go out for dinner afterward to fill up the rest of the way.
As we began turning from street to street on the way to our last mystery destination, the surroundings started to look familiar.
And then we turned another corner, and there it was – All'antico Vinaio.
Our last stop was All’antico Vinaio! I was beyond ecstatic!
Instead of taking us to get a sandwich there, one of their locations next door has meat and cheese platters. We sat down, and a large tray of meat and cheese was laid out in front of us. We were offered free wine, as much as we wanted.
This was another highlight of the trip for me. I had no idea I’d get to eat at this sacred place a second time before leaving Florence.
We ate our fill, and there was even more leftover once we finished.
Sadly, this was our last night in Florence. The next morning we would load up on the bus again and start making our way to Venice.
Florence held some very unique and extraordinary experiences for me, and by far was my favorite city we visited in Italy.
Are you wanting to discover all the wonders Florence has in store for you? Get a discount by going through my Contiki affiliate link.
Check out the last post in this series to discover how our adventures in Italy ended, Contiki Tour Review: Italian Espresso Venice Itinerary.