Florence… Where to start? It’s one of the most important historic cities not only in Italy but in Europe too. It’s the place where it all started. The birthplace of Renaissance or how many like to call it, “the Athens of the Middle Ages”. The city has been luring tourists for years with its hidden historical secrets, stunning cathedrals, divine architecture, and of course- food and wine…Unsurprisingly, nowadays, Europe’s Renaissance capital is under a constant tourist siege. However, there are still some places where you can get away from the crowds and visit places in Florence that only a few other tourists know about. Places you won’t find in most tourist guides! This article is about them- the hidden gems in Florence that’ll show you a new, crowd-free perspective of the city.
Stefano Bardini was a very famous art dealer who lived in Florence in the 19th century. Throughout the years, he gathered an impressive personal collection that features an array of art masterpieces, ranging from medieval sculptures, paintings, and even armors. After his death, the city of Florence inherited this impressive collection and opened the Bardini Museum. You might think that such a rare and impressive collection surely must get thousands of visitors every day. But that’s not true. Only a few people know about the Bardini Museum and it is actually one of the most underrated and overlooked museums in Florence.
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Museo degli Argenti (Silverworks museum)
The museum founders might not have chosen the most descriptive name for this museum. Perhaps that’s the reason why there aren’t a lot of tourists around (yet). The Museo degli Argenti actually houses one of the most impressive collections of Florence- the collection of the treasures of the Medici family. Located in the former summer palace of the Medicis, the museum houses impressive renaissance cameos, ancient chalices, Medici’s jeweled crowns, and impressive sculptures, to name a few. If you’re an art lover, you just can’t miss this museum!
Buonomini di San Martino
Tucked away in an unsuspecting street, the Buonomini di San Martino is one of Florence’s best-kept secrets. This 700-years-old church might not be the most significant and most beautiful cathedral in Florence. However, it was and still is an important medieval complex. If you’re passing by, you might even miss this cathedral if you’re not paying attention, as it’s almost assimilated into the surrounding buildings.
At a first glance, it seems modest, but this cathedral actually houses an organization that has been helping the “ashamed poor” (people that were once wealthy but went bankrupt and are too ashamed to ask for help) for over seven centuries. If you’re looking for a different experience, you should definitely check out Buonomini di San Martino. You probably won’t find many tourists around.
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L’importuno di Michelangelo
A lot of people pass by the Palazzo Vecchio but only a few notice this simple but expressive caricature. And even fewer people know that this caricature is work of Michelangelo. It’s very strange that the famous sculptor decided to commit what appears to be an act of vandalism (back then) and little is known about the origin of this drawing. Some people say that Michelangelo did this because of a dare. Others say that the artist drew this when he saw an execution on the square. Whatever the reason might be, this is a rare opportunity to see some of Michelangelo’s work for free. Keep this in mind when roaming around Palazzo Vecchio.
Michelangelo’s Prisoner Graffiti
Back in the 16th century, Michelangelo was one of the main supporters of Florence’s protests for a more democratic system of governance. However, that didn’t end well and he had no choice but to hide in a secret room under the Medici Chapel in attempts to escape the Pope’s wrath. He was here for more than three months and during this time, covered the walls of the room with his (let’s call it) prisoner graffiti. No one knew about this secret room until 1976 when it was discovered by accident. Today, the room is more often closed than it is open. Because of the sensitive nature of the drawings, they can’t handle too many visitors. However, if you’re in the area, try your luck. Perhaps you’ll be one of the few lucky tourists that get the chance to see Michelangelo’s prisoner graffiti.
See Galileo’s Middle Finger
For reasons unknown to the public, Galileo’s middle finger was removed by Anton Francesco Gori 95 years after his death. Couple of hundred years later, the middle finger found its home in Florence’s Science Museum. In 2009, a few more of Galileo’s fingers were discovered at an auction and were reunited with their middle counterpart in what’s today known as Museo Galileo. The museum is one of the most impressive collections of scientific instruments in the world. Understandably, most people come to visit for this particular reason. That’s why most of them aren’t aware that they can actually find a few of Galileo’s fingers inside the museum.
If you’re a fan of quirky museums, you’ll surely love the Specola Museum. In a city with so many museums and art galleries, it’s not unusual many interesting museums to be completely overlooked by most visitors. Specola is one of them, despite the fact it’s the oldest scientific museum in Europe. The museum hoses the largest collection of anatomy waxes of animals in the whole world. There are more than three million of them!
Cimitero Delle Porte Sante
Located at the top of one of the highest hills around Florence, the Delle Porte Sante Cemetery has one of the nicest views of Florence. Not a lot of people know about it because most people have no interest in visiting cemeteries while traveling. So, if you’re looking for a place where you can enjoy a magnificent crowd-free view of Florence, you should definitely visit. The graveyard houses the graves of many notable residents of Florence and most of the tombs are ornamented, making Delle Porte Sante one of the most notable and beautiful graveyards of Florence (as bizarre as that might sound).
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Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory
Another peaceful and quiet place where you can enjoy a lovely view of the city is the Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory. This old observatory was a property of Galileo Galilei and a place where he spent the last few years of his life. After his death, the villa has become an astrophysical observatory. Having in mind the history of this place, it’s a real surprise how most tourists aren’t aware that this place even exists.
Boboli Gardens might be one of Florence’s main tourist attractions, but most people stroll around it without noticing the Buontalenti. Located in the far northern part of the garden, the whole structure is overlaid with concretions that look like stalagmites. This grotto is easily one of the most spectacular sights in the gardens but still remains unnoticed by most tourists that visit the Boboli Gardens. At the entrance, you’ll see sculptures of Apollo and Ceres, but this isn’t the most impressive thing about this grotto. It’s just the beginning. After you go inside, you’ll discover three rooms decorated with what appears to be stalactites, stalagmites, and frescoes with designs that are meant to resemble a natural grotto. If you visit the Boboli Gardens, this is one place you don’t want to miss!
Enjoying this article? Then, you should definitely check out my post about hidden gems in Italy.
Oltrarno- the other Florence
If you’re tired of rubbing elbows with tourists, head to the other side of Arno River and you’ll discover Oltrarno. This untouristy neighborhood, or “the other Florence” has always been the most traditional part of the city. It’s a perfect place to observe the daily life of locals without coming across an army of tourists with their selfie sticks. Oltrano is one of the quietest parts of Florence that hides a myriad of hidden gems in Florence, tucked away in the labyrinth of narrow, winding streets. This neighborhood is where the iconic artisan labs of Florence were located. It’s also a place where you can taste some of the best food in Florence. Last but not least, Oltrano hides a lot of tiny shops where potters, goldsmiths, and shoemakers still maintain their old traditions…
Related: Guide to getting off the beaten track in Sicily
List of hidden gems in Northern Italy
Why wait in the long lines of the Duomo complex when you can admire its beauty from the Arnolfo Tower? The Arnolfo Tower is located on the Palazzo Vecchio and gives the most spectacular view of the Duomo. It has “only” 233 steps which might sound like a lot, but it’s still significantly less than Giotto’s Bell Tower. You’ll still come across tourists while climbing the tower but there’s a guard at the entrance that makes sure there aren’t too many people inside at once.
Vincigliata is a medieval castle atop of a rocky hill not too far from the city center. This 11th-century castle was the stronghold of the Visdomini family for decades. Throughout the years, the ownership of the castle was changed multiple times and it was very popular among artists and writers during the romantic era until it became a prison camp during WWII. Today, this castle with a rich history is one of the oldest surviving ones in Florence. However, it’s not very popular among tourists probably because of its location. If you want to visit an old, unfrequented castle-museum with a spectacular view of Florence and the surrounding area, definitely consider visiting Vincigliata.
Piazza Santissima Annunziata
Piazza Santissima Annunziata is probably one of the least frequented squares in Florence, despite its rich history and the important role it played in the past. This square is where Bartolomeo painted one of the most impressive art masterpieces of all time- the Annunciation. Bartolomeo was struggling to complete his work on time and completely exhausted, he fell asleep. After waking up, he noticed the painting was completed and he accredited this masterpiece to the “work of an angel”. This story gave birth to one of Florence’s greatest mysteries and most famous legends. However, although many people know about this legend, most tourists don’t know that the Annunciation is displayed in the small church on Piazza Santissima Annunziata.
Enjoying this article? Then, check out my list of best places to visit in Puglia.
Fiesole- Where Leonardo Tried To Fly
We’ll round up this list with a small village near Florence where Leonardo da Vinci was trying to fly. The hill town of Fiesole was once a rival-city of Florence and is home to many impressive sights. However, today this place remains off the beaten track while Florence is under a constant siege of tourists. If you ever get the chance to visit Fiesole, don’t miss the chance to climb Monte Ceceri, where you’ll discover a small plaque at the place where Leonardo tested one of his first flying machines. This was one of his biggest failures and he barely survived. However, this was one of the earliest flying attempts and today is one of Fiesole’s most important historic places.
Every year, more than 16 million tourists visit Florence to explore its history and artistic heritage. Without any doubt, Florence is one of the most touristy cities in Europe. But as you can see, there are still some hidden places you can explore away from the crowds. Are you planning to visit but don’t know where to start?
Looking for a great place to stay in Florence? See this review I wrote about Hotel Lungarno.
Helpful resources for visiting Florence
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When traveling to Italy, travel insurance is a must and if you don’t have any, I recommend SafetyWing because their plans are affordable and cover not only medical costs but also miscellaneous travel costs like a delayed flight, lost baggage, etc.
If you want to rent a car in Florence, get up to 25% off by using this special offer by Auto Europe (for more info, you can check out our honest Auto Europe review).
For transportation bookings to and from Florence, use Busbud (for more info, check out our Busbud review) and save up to 10% on all bus and train rides in Italy.
Finally, if you want to save some money on accommodation, you can use my Booking special offer and get up to 15% off on all properties in town.
And last but not least, don’t forget about your visa; if you require one, you can get it via Ivisa– all you have to do is apply and they’ll do all the ground work for you.
Did you ever visit Florence? Maybe you think we didn’t mention some other hidden gems in Florence? Let us know in the comments!
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Sunday 14th of June 2020
We've traveled up to Fiesole twice ( crazy about Etruscans!) but missed the daVinci placque. Where is it? We need to go back! And probably will.
Saturday 11th of July 2020
That's so cool! The plaque is actually located at Monte Ceceri, a hill located not too far from the commune.
Sunday 16th of February 2020
Hi there.Just read your article,amaizing,thank you for the hidden "places" that we are going to mark next week when we are going to spend 5 days in Florence.I can't wait to visit the Cemetero delle Porte Sante,I visit cemeterys from Paris&Milan,and they're real museums.
Sunday 16th of February 2020
Great to know that, Laslau. I hope you have an amazing time in Florence and get the chance to visit all the places on your list.
Friday 22nd of November 2019
This is the absolute best off-the-beaten path lists I’ve seen on Florence! It makes me super excited to check out some of these places when I’ll be back next year!!
Friday 22nd of November 2019
Thanks, for the kind words Dusty. I am thrilled that it was intriguing to you.
Monday 15th of April 2019
This was a great post to read through. Florence is such a beautiful and vibrant city but there are always so many people around. I would love to do some of these offbeat places the next time I am there. Oltrarno looks pretty. The Silverworks museum is appealing too. So maybe I will add those to my list.
Wednesday 17th of April 2019
Thank you, Soumya- I'm really glad to hear you could get some suggestions for your next trip.
Sunday 17th of March 2019
I do believe, that there are lovely things outside the touristic paths. Noticed it in Rome. Just went to the side and saw some lovely everyday life.
Wednesday 20th of March 2019
There sure are, Alexander! One just needs to keep their eyes open... and listen to locals :)