What NYU Doesn’t Tell You: Florence

Here is a comprehensive guide to help you master Florence during your semester abroad.


Josie Leach

(Josie Leach for WSN)

Josie Leach, Staff Writer

“What NYU doesn’t tell you” is a series started by the Abroad desk meant to share advice on the ins and outs of the cities where NYU students study abroad.

Welcome to Florence, a beautiful city overflowing with artistic masterpieces, breathtaking views, quaint markets and so much good food. Unlike many other abroad locations, NYU Florence has an entire campus located atop a hill on Via Bolognese, with olive groves, Renaissance gardens and five villas hosting dorms, academic buildings and even a museum. Florence is a small city, so it is easy to get yourself acquainted early on, but it is also big enough to allow you to discover new areas and activities throughout your time abroad. While I have been known to have a horrible sense of direction, my love for walking and my seven months studying in Florence have allowed me to get to know the ins and outs of the city. Now let me help you prepare for your semester or year abroad here. Andiamo! 

Public transport: Get ready to walk — or wait a lot


When you arrive in Florence, Office of Student Life orientation leaders will take you to the bus stop and demonstrate how to board the bus. They will also show you how to scan your ticket, and how to know if you’re going in the direction of campus or town, depending on where you live. What you may or may not be informed about is the notorious unreliability of bus 25, the main bus used to get to and from campus. In typical Italian fashion, the 25 moves on its own time, sometimes several minutes early, and other times 10 — or even 20 — minutes late. To make matters worse, construction often disrupts bus routes, meaning the line will end far from where you need to be. On the bright side, the shared annoyance of the 25 is a great way to start up conversation and meet new people on campus. If you plan on conquering the Florence bus system, the Moovit app is your best friend, which tracks bus routes and timing.

Trollies and taxis

Another transportation option is the trolly bus, which runs along the outskirts of the city. This system is not included in your orientation day debrief, as it is unlikely you will use it. This is especially true when living on campus: If you are going to walk all the way to one of these stops, you might as well make the journey to your final destination entirely on foot. However, this line could come in handy if you want to save some money traveling to and from the airport. 

Alternatively, many people traveling in groups choose to taxi from the airport — it costs around €25 to get to NYU’s main campus, so not too pricey when split four ways. When in town, taxis can rarely be flagged down. Your best bet is to find the nearest taxi stand, go to a hotel, and ask reception to call one for you — or use an app such as appTaxi to order one yourself. 

My preferred method: Walking

As fun as all the complications of public transportation might sound, I highly recommend walking instead. This allows you to save money, get some exercise, see the city and avoid delays. For people living off campus, this is often the better option, as you are already in or near the center of town. However, I encourage those on campus like myself to give walking a chance. The large hill that campus is located on may seem intimidating, but many find it really is worth it. 

Walking to the center of town — where the Duomo of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore is located — only takes about 40 minutes. I have never been a big walker, but my time here has taught me to appreciate these leisurely strolls. Make the most of it — grab a cappuccino or croissant, and pretend you are Lucy Honeychurch in “A Room with a View.” You will be surprised to find just how enjoyable walking can be, and beating your bus-riding friends will increase the satisfaction that much more. 

Venture over the river 

For NYU Florence students, there are two sides of the city — the side of the Arno river where campus and most, if not all, off-campus apartments are located, and the other side of the river. The center of Florence is on the campus side, housing Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, commonly known as the Duomo. Home to many famous landmarks and museums, like the Uffizi Galleries and the Accademia Gallery, it makes sense that this area is often bustling with tourists. While it is useful to keep the Duomo in sight when first getting one’s bearings in the city, making it over the Arno River is definitely worth your time. 

The side of the Arno River opposite campus is generally quieter, especially once you are far enough away from the famous Ponte Vecchio. There tend to be more locals on this side, a more residential spot. If you find yourself on this side of the Arno and are looking for somewhere to study, La Cité is a two-floor cafe with cozy library vibes. The chain Ditta Artigianale has a location right on the river, with yummy pastries, a variety of fun coffee flavors to try and places to sit outdoors on sunny days. In both cases, arriving early is a good move, as they tend to fill quickly, especially on weekend afternoons.

If you’re not in a studying mood, Pitti Palace and the Boboli gardens are fun places to visit, especially on the first Sunday of the month when entrance is free. Plus, lines tend to be shorter than those found at museums closer to the Duomo. Santo Spirito is a beautiful piazza, perfect for soaking up the sun, and even better on the second Sunday of every month, when a bustling market appears with beautiful jewelry and a variety of handmade and vintage clothing for sale.

If you are hoping to grab a bite to eat, there are a number of delicious restaurants in this area as well, all of which are less likely to be cheesy tourist traps. Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco and Hostaria da Fulvio both offer delicious, traditional Italian meals. If you want a cheaper option, Ristorante Pizzeria Dante is known for offering bottomless wine for students dining there, though quality food is not guaranteed. If wine isn’t your thing, fancy cocktails are within reach at the very cool Mysterium Cocktail Bar Firenze. With a breathtaking view of the city, Piazza Michelangelo is the go-to place for watching the sunset, but keep in mind this might be exactly the type of cheesy tourist trap you are trying to avoid, as it is bustling with tourists most evenings.


If epic nightlife is your priority when studying abroad, Florence may not be the ideal spot for you. There are a number of bars and clubs, and going out can be a lot of fun, but the nightlife is definitely a lot more chill than in bigger cities such as Barcelona and Berlin. Bars range from fancy cocktail spots such as Rasputin, Rex Cafè and La Ménagère to grimey Irish pubs, with The Lion’s Fountain being a popular pre-game spot for many American students. 

The best time to arrive at clubs is between midnight and 1 a.m. — the later you go, the busier it will be. However, keep in mind that, by law, venues in Florence cannot serve alcohol past 2 a.m. and must close shortly afterward. Long lines occur occasionally, though they tend to move pretty quickly. An average cover charge ranges between €10 and €15, and following clubs on Instagram can give you better insight into nights when students enter free. Apart from Club 21, one of the fancier locations, club dress codes are pretty much nonexistent, as long as you look presentable  — think trousers and a cute top or button-down shirts. Pajamas are not recommended — though I know someone who has done it before. 

While I’m not a major clubber myself, chatting with fellow students offered some helpful insight into the late night scene. A short walk away from The Lion’s Fountain, you will find Babylon, a club that includes a free drink and lollipop with the entrance fee. It is often filled with study abroad students dancing to pop or Latin music. Nearby is YAB, one of the oldest clubs in Florence. The pop music and drinks there make for a fun time, but beware of unnecessarily long lines, steep stairs and smoke machine mist filling the dance floor air. Otel is also a good option, with multiple rooms that cater to different music tastes, and a more local crowd due to its distance from the city center. Finally, for a more exclusive feel, Club 21 is worth checking out as it often brings interesting DJs from around Europe. A €35 private table by reservation is the best way to enjoy the club while avoiding long wait times.

For many NYU Florence students, the main draw of going out is the post-bar kebab. If this is the case for you, Babylon and YAB are best, as they are both located near Voglia Di Kebab — the best place for greasy late night kebab wraps, or falafel for vegetarians. The kebabs are stuffed with fries and a special spicy sauce that can’t be beat. 

Traveling within Italy 

While Florence is a beautiful city and worth dedicating several weekends to, you may find yourself visiting other Italian cities throughout your semester. As previously mentioned, public transportation in Florence isn’t the greatest, but the national rail service tends to be a lot more reliable. Public holidays and occasional train strikes, which are normally on Fridays, may throw a wrench in your travel plans, but in most cases, trains are a relatively cheap and easy way to visit new locations. 

Rome and Milan are both popular destinations, being the two biggest cities in Italy. Taking only two hours by train, both are great day trips, but I recommend a weekend to really experience them. Tickets  are typically around $50 for Rome and $100 for Milan, though both can vary greatly depending on dates and timing. Rome is great for a more historical experience, boasting the Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain, while Milan is known for its shopping and fashion. Also only two hours by train, Venice is another must-see, featuring lots of great art and architecture, and perfect for a ride along the canal. There are plenty of other charming cities to visit nearby as well, with Siena, San Gimignano and Lucca all attainable for under $15 each way. 

A trip to Cinque Terre, a quaint collection of small coastal towns, is a bit more complex, involving a few transfers along the way. However, with five unique cities, beautiful beaches and ocean view hiking, you can’t miss this spot. The trip will cost under $50 one way and should take less than three hours. Pro tip: Make sure to book your stay in one of the five villages and not in La Spezia, a neighboring port town that does not have the same charming feel. If trains aren’t your thing, and you’d rather take a short bus ride out of the city, Fiesole is a cute spot where you can hike, enjoy some gelato and visit a Roman theater. 

Traveling outside of Italy 

While many students traveling abroad dream of cheap and seamless trips to new countries, this is often not the case. Finding an affordable flight to a city outside of Italy, such as Berlin, is expensive, with most prices above the $150 mark. Instead, most students opt to take a train to nearby cities like Bologna, Milan, Rome and Pisa in hopes of finding cheaper flights. There is also the option to bus to most of these locations, often at a cheaper price.

Omio is a useful app when looking to book trains or airport shuttles, though buying flights this way is not recommended, as the prices tend to be greatly inflated. Most Italian airports are relatively small, and you do not need to leave yourself much time to get through them. For Florence and Bologna in particular, an hour should suffice. As an alternative to flying, there are also some locations outside of Italy that can be reached by train or bus, which you can book with Omio or Flixbus. A bus to Nice,in the south of France, costs around $45 and takes less than five hours, while you can reach Zurich in Switzerland in a nine-hour overnight bus for around $65. While flying is the more convenient option, avoiding busy airports and saving money is definitely worth considering.

Contact Josie Leach at [email protected].