Passionate about Italy, spending time travelling the country to cover football matches, meeting people, the history and the food culture.
Florence. Birthplace of the Renaissance and rightfully declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982, it is the capital of Tuscany and one of the world’s most visited tourist hotspots.
Its historic centre is often flooded with passengers who exit huge cruise liners at nearby Pisa, and the sight of rabid sightseers following a guide waving a flag is a common one.
At 1820, we don’t like to teach Grandma to suck eggs – or rather non si insegna a nuotare ai pesci – so you won’t find guides to the Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio or the Uffizi Gallery here.
Instead, we’ve lined up the top ten things to do in Florence that have an “off the radar” feel to them, ideal for those who don’t like to simply follow the crowds when they travel.
Far be it for us to suggest you venture out of the city centre as soon as you have arrived, but a bus ride to Fiesole is well worth considering at some point on your trip. Fans of E. M. Forster’s Room With A View will be familiar with the Etruscan site, such has been the popularity of the hilltop town.
The remains of the Roman baths and amphitheatre are well worth a visit, but simply a walk round this small commune will reveal all the charm with which Italy is so intrinsically linked. It is no surprise either, to see that a Villa owned by the ruling Medici family still stands, as Fiesole was and remains to this day a site for the super-wealthy.
9. Museo Galileo
I know we said this wouldn’t be a round-up of Florence’s museums, but the Museo Galileo, just down the river from Ponte Vecchio is a great find. Recently renamed after famous Tuscan astronomer Galileo Galilei, it houses one of the world’s biggest collection of scientific instruments, many of which were collected by the Medici family.
This includes a framed objective lens from the telescope with which the aforementioned scientist discovered the Galilean moons of Jupiter, and is a perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon.
8. Piazza Santo Spirito
What better way to escape from the crowds than to find a quiet square that is mainly frequented by locals and perfect for people watching? Piazza Santo Spirito can be found in the Oltrarno district, a name that describes its location on the other side of the Arno river to the major tourist attractions.
Lunchtime is certainly the best time to visit, and Caffè Ricchi in the main square serves delicious pasta and salad dishes, all of which can be enjoyed in this tranquil and peaceful setting.
7. Mercato Centrale
From traditional Italian food served outdoors, to a modern, sociable place for lunch indoors where you will be spoiled for choice. Mercato Centrale is located in the San Lorenzo district, and as the name suggests, right in the city centre. The upstairs sociable eating area offers a variety of cuisines from around the world, but crucially sources its ingredients locally.
6. Relax Firenze
Perhaps a city break doesn’t conjure up visions of relaxation, but if you’re looking for a day of tranquility and calm, Relax Firenze is a highly recommended city health spa. Designed for all your health and wellness needs, it offers massage, yoga, pilates and a Himalayan Salt room that lists regeneration of the nervous system, calming breathing and reducing stress as benefits. Sign me up!
5. I Ghibellini
Just like with any major city centre, it’s important to avoid the overpriced tourist trap restaurants that are situated near the major attractions. As a first time visitor, it’s often hard to figure out which places offer great food as well as location, and in Florence you’ll find both of these at I Ghibellini.
The restaurant offers outdoor and indoor seating in the summer months, as well as a basement area that is ideal for large groups. Traditional Tuscan cooking at a reasonable price is on the menu, and the dinner offerings are so good that you’ll most likely come back again and again.
4. Stadio Artemio Franchi
Whether you’re into football or not, the Stadio Artemio Franchi — home of Serie A team Fiorentina — is well worth a visit. Held in high esteem by modern stadium designers, this Art Deco concrete masterpiece is a different kind of Florentine architectural gem.
Found adjacent to the Campo di Marte train station, on the number 17 bus route or a 30-ish minute walk from the city centre, this area is worth a visit for the quiet coffee culture alone. Bar Marisa is decorated with memorabilia from the team’s past, while a walk down Viale dei Mille to Badiani Gelateria & Pasticceria is a literal sight for sore eyes in terms of its painfully beautiful and decadent dessert creations.
Perhaps a stay at the Grand Hotel Baglioni near the station may be a little over budget, but at €15 per person, their evening aperitivo offers stunning rooftop views of the duomo, a cocktail and an excellent pre-dinner morsel. You can pre-book via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, with aperitivo time usually starting around 6pm.
2. Piazza Santa Croce
Another of Florence’s four major squares, Piazza Santa Croce is dominated by the huge Franciscan church at one end, complete with an 1860’s gothic facade. Some of the world’s best artists have works housed inside, and the huge open space outside of it is used for various events throughout the year.
In December, you will find an excellent (but busy) set of Christmas Markets, while in the heat of August, the square is transformed for the traditional, brutal and bloody sport of Calcio Storico Fiorentino.
1. Piazzale Michelangelo
If you are only in Florence for one day, this is the place you simply must visit. You can walk or take the number 12 or 13 bus up the steep hill, with the reward at the summit simply breathtaking. (Read our previous article if you don’t believe us) The beauty in the view at the summit is almost unbelievable, such is the beauty of the picture-postcard scene you will find.