Queer Travel Destination: Florence, Italy

A view of Florence from the Piazzale Michealangelo.
Heather Cassell

Florence, the birthplace of art, style, and food — and Italy’s gay center — is going to be gayer this spring, and LGBTQ Florentines are ready.

Tuscany’s capital, Florence, is coming back to life, according to Angelo Alterio, who served as my gay tour guide with Gaily Tour right before the global pandemic hit Italy in 2020. He said tourists are slowly returning to the Renaissance City.

“There is a sense of a kind of a need of the Florentines to be in touch with the rest of the world after being closed out,” he said. “We need to come back to life.”

There is no better time than now to visit the Renaissance City — home to gay artists Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, Benvenuto Cellini, and Sandro Botticelli, who put Florence on the map with the patronage of the Cosimo de’ Medici and the family in the 15th century.

The largest exhibition of master bronze and marble sculptor Donatello (Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi), one of Florence’s gay sons, is on display in “Donatello, The Renaissance” at Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi now through July 31.

More than 130 of Donatello’s sculptures, paintings, and drawings, including his famous bronze statue of “David,” are on display in a once-in-a-lifetime exhibit.

Where to Play Night & Day

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Florence is filled with art inside and outside, from Michelangelo’s “David” at the Accademia Gallery to Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” at the Uffizi Gallery to the city’s Gothic, Romanesque, and Renaissance architecture. The city is also home to cathedrals to Italy’s only fashion museum, the Galleria del Costume, as well as Gucci and Salvatore Ferragamo museums.

The best way to experience popular museums and sites is to get the Firenzecard. To get to know the city, hire a guide, like Alterio, a native Florentine.

The best view of Florence is from Piazzale Michelangelo, where you get a stunning overview of the city with the Tuscany countryside in the backdrop. Other great views are at the top of the Duomo at the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and the Ponte Vecchio.

Forget Milan, Florence is home to Italy’s famous fashion houses, like Gucci. It also hosts fashion fairs, like the Pitti Immagine Uomo, which will turn Florence into a men’s fashion runway June 14 – 17 for the first time since COVID-19.

“They wear the most extravagant, elegant, unique outfits,” Alterio said. “They’re all gorgeous.”

From fashion houses to boutiques, Florence is the perfect city to pick up something new for a night on the town.

The hottest places to show off your style are at the nightclubs, like Crisco Club, The Mamamia at the Viper Theatre, or queer-friendly Tenax Discoteca Club.

Popular LGBTQ bars are Queer and Bossy at Soul Kitchen.

Pride Park NCS and XTRA Revolutionary Clubbing produce queer events not to miss when visiting Florence.

Boys can relax at Florence’s newly renovated gay sauna, Florence Baths.

Where to Eat & Drink

Florence is a city of style and taste, but it’s a little window, “buchettas,” unique to Florence and Tuscany, that made a historic comeback during the pandemic.

“I love when habits of the past are coming back,” Alterio said about the “buchettas,” which translates to “little hole,” that Florentines took out of remission in 2020. “It’s a way to play with the past to make it more updated.”

According to “Wine Windows in Florence and Tuscany,” there are nearly 300 wine windows that operated for five centuries in the region. The windows allowed aristocrats to keep their distance while refilling peasants’ flasks with wine, which proved beneficial during the Bubonic plague and COVID-19.

Many of the windows can be found in the Santo Spirito area of Florence.

Visitors love them. Taking a picture when ordering wine from a “buchetta” is a fun way to capture a moment in history.

La Buchetta Restaurant, one of Florence’s most popular restaurants, which took its namesake from the historic wine window, has one that looks into the kitchen through its “buchetta.”

Diners at Babae can order a glass of wine delivered through its wine window.

Florence is filled with great places to eat. I loved grabbing an artisanal sandwich for lunch at celebrity chef Alessandro Frassica’s Ino. I enjoyed great dinners at Le Antiche Carrozze, Osteria Vecchio Cancello, the aforementioned La Buchetta Restaurant, and had the best experience when I hired chef Elisa Berghi, co-owner of Chianti Cooking Experience, to host a private dinner at my girlfriend and my vacation rental.

I top the night off with the best gelato in Florence at Gelateria Santa Trinita.

Where to Stay

Bears & Breakfast offers a comfortable gay stay in Florence. The city is filled with LGBTQ-friendly hotels, such as the newly opened 25Hours Hotel, a European boutique chain, and family-owned Florentine Residence Hilda and Cellai Boutique Hotel.

Traveling to Italy

COVID-19 isn’t over, but starting March 1, Italy dropped quarantine requirements for American travelers who have been vaccinated, tested negative, or have proof of recovery from the virus up to 90-days prior to travel.

Mask mandates remain in place, but Italy also started rolling back verifying proof of vaccination in public places April 1. Italy recognizes CDC’s vaccination cards as equivalent to Europe’s Green Card, the European Union’s vaccination digital passport, which is separate of Italy’s Green Pass, the country’s vaccination pass.

American travelers can monitor Italy’s COVID-19 status at the Italian Ministry of Health.

Vaccinated and unvaccinated American travelers returning to the United States must have a negative COVID-19 test one day before travel. Americans recovered from COVID-19 must also provide proof of recovery.