Markets, gardens, art, food: discover some of the best hidden gems of Florence
The beautiful city of Florence attracts millions of tourists every year, and with all the sights and museums it has to offer, it is one of the most-visited cities in Italy. Your stay in the cradle of the Renaissance wouldn't be complete without visiting the famous Duomo, Ponte Vecchio or Palazzo Vecchio, but where do you go if you are looking to discover the lesser-known treasures of Florence?
Escape the crowds and explore some of the city's hidden gems with our top 10 list of unusual things to do in Florence.
1. Relax in the Rose Garden
If you need a break after climbing up to Piazzale Michelangelo, step into the Giardino delle Rose that also offers a fantastic view of the city. The garden was created in the 19th century and houses over 350 different varieties of roses and a permanent exhibition of sculptures by the Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon. Enjoy the quiet, read a book and don't forget to visit the Japanese garden at the bottom of the hill.
Giardino delle Rose, Viale Poggi, 2
Opening hours Monday to Sunday from 9 am to sunset - Free entrance
2. Go back in time at Palazzo Davanzati
This unique museum house allows you take a journey into the past and discover what life was like behind the facade of this impressive Renaissance building. Built in the 14th century, the palazzo was the home of the wealthy Davanzati family. The richly decorated rooms still sport the original frescoes and are filled with furniture and household items from the 14th to the 19th century.
Palazzo Davanzati, Via Porta Rossa, 13
Monday to Friday: 8.15 am - 1.50 pm and Saturday and Sunday: 1.15 pm - 6.50 pm
Entrance: € 6
3. Take a boat tour on the Arno river
Enjoy Florence from the water with a private tour on an 18th-century flat-bottomed boat. Up until the 1950's these boats were operated by the Renaioli who shoveled sand and gravel from the riverbeds used for the construction of the city's palazzi.
From April until September you can take a mini-cruise on the Arno river admiring impressive historical buildings as the Uffizi, the Vasari Corridor, Palazzo Corsini and the S. Jacopo in Soprarno church. The boats also pass under two bridges including the 13th century Ponte Vecchio. You can book your Florence boat tour experience here.
4. Visit the historical Villa La Petraia
A real hidden gem is the beautiful Medici residence Villa La Petraia and its surrounding gardens. Far away from the crowds, the villa is situated on a panoramic terrace on the outskirts of Florence in the small hamlet Castello. In more recent times it was owned by illustrious families such as the Lorraines and the Italian royals the Savoy. From the highest garden terrace, you can enjoy a unique view over Florence, and you can even spot Brunelleschi’s Dome. Entrance to the garden and the villa is free and every hour the doors open to the public for a visit accompanied by a guide. The richly decorated rooms show off the wealthy lifestyle of passed times, and especially the glass-ceilinged ballroom is impressive.
Villa La Petraia, Via della Petraia 40
Opening hours: From Monday to Sunday
From November to February 8.30 am - 4.30 pm
From March and October 8.30 am - 5.30 pm
From April to September 8.30 am - 6.30 pm
How to get to Villa La Petraia: From the station Santa Maria Novella, take bus 2, stop Sestese 03. From there it’s a short walk to the villa.
5. Try Florentine street food
Eat like a local and try a traditional lampredotto sandwich (read more here). You'll find this delicious panino at street food stands all over the city, but you can't go wrong with L'Antico Trippaio in Piazza de Cimatori. Lampredotto is made from the fourth stomach of a cow. After slow-cooking it in vegetable broth, it's chopped, seasoned and served on a broth-soaked bun with green sauce (salsa verde). This local dish has been around for centuries, and it was initially an inexpensive meal for the working classes.
6. Seek out the street artists of Florence
If you are looking for unusual things to do in Florence we suggest paying attention to the new forms of street art that have been emerging in the city in the last decade (they also make for great photo ops!). A new generation of artists has started an Urban Renaissance to bring art back into the streets of Florence and closer to the people. They use the walls and the street signs as their canvas, but without causing any damage to the Unesco World Heritage site. During your walks, you will no doubt come across the works of artists like Clet (look for funny street signs), Blub (famous characters with diving masks) and Exit/Enter (line figurines with a red heart or balloon). You can visit Clet in his workshop in Via dell'Olmo 8 and pick up a sticker as a souvenir.
7. Shop for fresh produce at the Sant'Ambrogio market
Most tourists know about the Mercato Centrale in the San Lorenzo quarter, but for a more authentic shopping experience, you should head over to the Sant'Ambrogio market. At this partially indoor market, you can mix with the locals while shopping for fresh fruit and veggies, bread, meat, fish and other regional delicacies. Stop for an authentic Tuscan lunch at the well-known Trattoria da Rocco or have a lampredotto sandwich at the Trippaio.
Mercato di Sant'Ambrogio, Piazza Ghiberti
Opening hours Monday to Saturday 8 am - 2 pm.
8. Stroll along the city walls
On the south bank of the Arno in the Oltrarno quarter, there is a street that most tourists don't even know exist. Via de' Belvedere takes you from the Belvedere Fort down along the medieval city walls to the steps that lead to the popular panoramic point Piazzale Michelangelo. The starting point of this walk is close to the Ponte Vecchio. Take Costa San Giorgio, it's a steep climb up, towards the Fort. On your way, you will pass the house of astronomer Galileo Galilei and the lovely Villa Bardini. After passing under the 14th century Gate of San Giorgio take a left on Via de' Belvedere for a stroll along the longest remaining stretch of Florence's city walls.
9. Hear the monks of San Miniato sing
The Abbey of San Miniato al Monte stands atop one of the highest points of Florence and is considered one of the most beautiful Romanesque churches in Italy. Not only the church is well worth the climb up, but also the impressive cemetery behind the structure makes for an interesting visit.
Every day the monks from the adjoining monastery head over to the church to sing Gregorian Chants at Vespers. Hearing the singing but not seeing the monks makes this an even more magical experience. In summer Vespers starts at 5:30 pm and at 4:30 pm in winter.
Basilica di San Miniato al Monte, Via del Monte alle Croci
How to get to the Basilica: It's a steep walk up from the city center, passed Piazzale Michelangelo up the hill. Or take bus 12 from the station Santa Maria Novella.
10. End the day at a rooftop bar overlooking Florence
We conclude our list of unusual things to do in Florence with a refreshing drink in one of the many rooftop bars after a long day of sightseeing. Many of the luxurious hotels have a rooftop terrace offering a magnificent view over the city. Catch a cool breeze while sipping your Aperol Spritz and enjoy a romantic evening as the sun sets over one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Tip: leave your shorts at the hotel and dress fancy.Some of the best rooftop bars can be found at:
Hotel Minerva, Piazza Santa Maria Novella, 16
Westin Excelsior, Piazza Ognissanti, 3
Plaza Hotel Lucchesi, Lungarno della Zecca Vecchia, 38
Hotel La Scaletta, Via Guicciardini, 13