For a city that receives around 10 million tourists annually, you would think that Florence no longer holds any secrets. But this isn’t actually true.
While it’s no doubt difficult for travelers to find hidden gems that are off the main tourist trail, there are a few places and attractions where you can find a bit of respite from the crowds.
Overcrowding of Florence’s main attractions is not something you can avoid these days, especially during peak season (April to October). Tourist numbers at this time of year can easily outnumber the local resident population.
While the key highlights of Florence are not to be missed, you may wish to explore beyond the guidebooks in order to really dive beneath the surface of what this exceptionally beautiful city has to offer.
So, after an obligatory visit to Galleria dell’Accademia to view Michelangelo’s David, and the fine art of the Uffizi, take some time to blaze your own trail by checking out these often overlooked sights, these secrets of Florence.
Afterwards, experience a wealth of exciting day trips from Florence, where you can seek out even more hidden gems in the Tuscan surrounds.
Hidden Secrets of Florence: Things to Do That Most Tourists Don’t Know About!
On the northern outskirts of Florence, in the small town of Fiesole, sits a 110-acre nature reserve that is home to the hill known as Monte Ceceri. Once home to a gray sandstone quarry that produced the stone used in the construction of the city, the reserve has since been reforested.
From the peak of Monte Ceceri, you can take in exceptional panoramic views over Florence and check out a monument dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci. This marks the location of da Vinci’s first test flight of his famous flying machine back in the early 16th century.
One of da Vinci’s assistants strapped himself into the machine and was launched off the hill, managing to glide 1,000 meters before crashing back to earth. A second monument marks the location of the rather rough landing.
Although the flight may not have been glamorous to say the least, it may very well be the location of mankind’s first successful flight.
Image: Juliette Jourdan [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons
Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella
Pay a visit to what could be the world’s oldest pharmacy, still in operation!
Dating back to the 13th century, Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy offers up a range of different cosmetics, perfumes, moisturizers, home fragrances, soaps, specialty toothpastes, and ancient elixirs that are said to cure all kinds of ailments.
Once a private apothecary that developed treatments for the bubonic plague outbreak, the pharmacy opened up its doors to the public in the 17th century. You can still purchase their oldest perfume called Acqua di S. M. Novella, which was originally created for Catherine de’ Medici in the 16th century.
Their products contain all kinds of botanicals and other natural ingredients, many of which use ancient recipes created by the Dominican monks during the pharmacy’s infancy.
In addition to the unique high-quality products they sell, the pharmacy is housed in a stunning building with vaulted ceilings, colorful frescoes, marble floors, and a collection of early apothecary artifacts. In this manner, it acts as much as a museum as it does a store.
On display is ancient pharmaceutical pottery and antiquarian alchemy books. There is also a lovely tea room to relax in and further appreciate the beautiful pharmacy with its long history.
Image: Roving-Aye! (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr
Pratolino Medici Park
One of the Largest Parks in Tuscany
Transport yourself back to the Medici era by heading just north of Florence to check out one of Tuscany’s largest parks and gardens.
The site was once home to Villa di Pratolino which was commissioned by Francesco I de’ Medici in the 16th century as a gift for his second wife. But the villa would become abandoned and fall in to despair. The ruins of Medicean Paggeria of Pratolino now make up part of the much newer Villa Demidoff.
The property would later be acquired by Ferdinand III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, who decided to focus on the estate’s gardens and natural lands. While many of the estate’s original statues were relocated to Boboli Gardens, there are still a number of remarkable attractions to see here.
These include a chapel designed by Bernardo Buontalenti and a gigantic sculpture by Giambologna which is known as Colossus of the Apennines. The demi-god looking giant towers some 35 feet over the water lily filled grotto that sits beneath the sculptor’s masterpiece.
After exchanging hands between several high profile individuals over the centuries, the gardens are now managed by the government of Florence and are open to the public for weekend visits.
Image: Valerio Orlandini (CC BY-SA 2.5) via Wikimedia Commons
Florence’s Street Art
For When You Get Gallery Fatigue
While Florence may be known as the birthplace of High Renaissance art, it’s hard not to take notice of its contemporary street art as well.
Names like Clet Abraham, Hopnn Yuri, and Gec have begun garnering just as much attention around Florence as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael get. If you find yourself getting a bit of art gallery fatigue, seek out hip modern art in the hidden alleys and corners of the city.
Although illegal, Clet Abraham is responsible for the very clever street sign art you see around Florence. Be sure to take some time to seek out some of his artwork which involves him adding adhesive stickers to ordinary public street signs to create thought provoking or simply amusing artwork.
One of the best places to catch great street art sketches and full blown murals is in the quarter of Oltrarno just south of the River Arno. Oltrarno is also the district where you’ll find the popular Piazzale Michelangelo with its breathtaking views over Florence nestled below the hill. The Florentine piazza pays tribute to Michelangelo, displaying many bronze recreations of his most famous works.
After taking in the views from Piazzale Michelangelo in Oltrarno, seek out the street art of famous local artists. One street artist specializes in painting portraits of famous faces wearing underwater dive masks, while another paints simple stick figure people holding red balloons.
Another good place you can catch incredible urban graffiti art is in the underground pedestrian tunnel that links Florence to the northern district of Le Cure.
Patian [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons
A Villa FULL of Ancient Weaponry
Florence received a generous hoard of medieval weaponry when it was gifted to the city by Frederick Stibbert, the grandson of a wealthy commander in the East India Company. He was in his twenties when he began amassing this enormous collection of weapons and armor from around the world.
The private turned public museum is housed in the Villa di Montughi and features nearly a dozen rooms that are overflowing with ancient weaponry as well as a range of other antiques Stibbert picked up during his travels around the world.
You’ll be amazed by life-size warrior mannequins and horse statues that have been fully adorned with authentic battle armor. The museum’s collection of shiny metal suits of armor will make you feel as though you’ve stepped into the word of King Arthur and it also features a wealth of Japanese Samurai swords as well.
Frederick’s love of weaponry no doubt was encouraged by his family’s strong affiliation to the military. Artifacts on display mostly range from the 14th to 16th centuries and include ancient Turkish rugs, gold and wooden statues, and priceless paintings.
Most notably, make sure you look for the masterpiece by Florence’s own Sandro Botticelli, most notable for his painting The Birth of Venus. All up, there are around 50,000 individual pieces in the museum’s collection.
Also worth a mention are the gardens that surround the villa and museum, which features a lovely lake and Egyptian temple.
A Mid 18th Century Library
One sure fire way to escape the crowds and be guaranteed a bit of peace and quiet is to pay a visit to the Biblioteca Marucelliana.
Conveniently located in the center of the city, this library dates back to the mid-18th century when it became a public library for citizens who were less wealthy. The library began as the private collection of Francesco Marucelli who willed his collection of books to Florence under the condition it would be made available to everyone.
While only residents may check books out of the library, foreign visitors can enter the library by submitting a passport. The two-story reading room smells of antique books and will make you feel as though you are studying at Hogwarts.
There are over 40,000 volumes here, as well as numerous documents and a scattering of art which includes the bust of the library’s founder, sculpted by Pietro Bracci. All books published in Florence since the early 1900s can be found here, as it’s actually the law that they must be registered and made available to the public from the library.
The library hosts several events throughout the year including book presentations and classical concerts. Whether you’re into books or not, it’s a beautiful space that has the added bonus of offering free Wi-Fi.
Image: Sailko [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons
The secretive Vasari Corridor that links Uffizi Gallery to the Pitti Palace was once open for limited visits by way of small private booking companies. But since 2016 it has been completely closed to the public as it undergoes renovations.
The 16th century corridor allowed the Medici family to secretly walk above Florence for almost a kilometer without being noticed by the people of Florence below.
The Vasari Corridor will thankfully open again to the public again sometime in 2021, where visitor numbers will be capped to 125 at a time.
Lucky visitors will get the chance to see rare 16th century artwork as well as getting an elevated view of the Oltrarno district, where you can spot famous Florentine landmarks such as the Santa Felicita church, Ponte Vecchio, and Boboli Gardens.
Florence is conveniently situated in the heart of Italy’s north, allowing you easy access to San Marino, Bologna, Pisa, and the Cinque Terre. Day trips from Florence to Pisa for example can easily be arranged and offer another great way to escape the crowds of the city.
Image: Freepenguin [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons
GUIDES WE RECOMMEND FOR ITALY CLICK PHOTO TO LOOK INSIDE ↓
INSPIRED?! PIN THIS TO YOUR TRAVEL PINTEREST BOARDS ↓