A city of exceptional beauty, Florence is known as the “cradle of Renaissance“. As you walk around, without taking your eyes off the great pieces of architecture that adorn the buzzing city center, you feel like being transported back to the 14th century, and walking in the streets which Dante Alighieri called “home”.
This is the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and the home of masters of art, such as Sandro Botticelli, Giotto, Michelangelo, and many more, whose works of art influenced the world forever.
Florence, combining art with Italian aromas and memorable strolls, is one of the top destinations for couples, friends, and families. You can enjoy the sunset on Ponte Vecchio, gorgeous city views on the Dome of the Duomo, or you can dive in deeper and enjoy the full local experience.
Below I share the top 10 hidden gems in Florence, that only locals know about; because in Florence, you can find beauty in every corner. The only thing needed is to know where to look.
1. Oblate Library
The history of this library goes back to 1288 when the site was hosting a hospital. The Santa Maria Nuova hospital was built upon the commission of Folco Portinari, father of Dante’s inspiration and love, Beatrice. A few years later a monastery was built there, which was run by nuns (oblate in Italian). The nuns devoted their lives to taking care of the ill and lived in the monastery until 1936.
Nowadays, the building remains untouched; regardless of the centuries past upon it, it keeps its original look. It hosts a vast library with a variety of books, archives, and is equipped with modern technology. There is a children’s section with books on children literature, which runs workshops for children and families. However, its secret lies on the top floor: with a huge balcony and a cafeteria, the terrace faces Florence’s Cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore (known as the Duomo).
Have a sip of Italian coffee while reading your favorite book, and enjoy the stunning view.
2. San Miniato al Monte
San Miniato is an ancient Roman Catholic church, built in 1013, on a hill above Florence. It’s higher than the famous Piazzale Michelangelo, so the view from there is breathtaking. Apart from the medieval church and an imposing cemetery, the site adorns a monastery, where monks make local liqueurs, honey, and herbal teas and sell them in the shop run by them next to the church.
We recommend that you walk there from the city center, following the green aromatic paths all the way up to the hill. Once on top, you can enjoy the spectacular Florentine skyline and get some fantastic “clicks”.
3. Giardino Delle Rose
The Rose Garden is a green oasis in the city. It hosts 400 varieties of roses, grown under the Tuscan sun, a lot of plants and a Japanese garden. Created in 1865 by the architect Giuseppe Poggi, it’s a hidden pearl which offers a view of the Duomo and the Palazzo Vecchio, the two pillars of the city.
We encourage you to visit the garden on a sunny day and do as locals do: lay on the grass, have a picnic, read a book or enjoy the company of the “bronze man on the bench.”
4. Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio
Are you up for an authentic experience?
The market of Sant’Ambrogio is one of the most popular amongst locals. With indoor and outdoor stalls, it offers a great variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, meat, bread, honey and cheese, and good-quality clothing and household items, by vendors who come every day to sell their goods.
Wandering around the market, you will feel dazed by the colors and aromas. Apart from buying the fresh food that the market offers, you can also have a bite of the Florentine specialties, such as horse steaks or small birds, or the famous Bistecca Alla Fiorentina. The market is open every morning, apart from Sunday.
5. Le Murate
The former prison and current outdoor art center, Murate, is a top escape for many locals, especially young people, families, or those who enjoy art and culture.
The Murate complex includes a former prison courtyard and some cells, which are now locked forever. At the courtyard, you will find “Il Caffe Letterario“, a cafeteria which hosts live music, art and photography exhibitions, reading events, and activities for children and families. You can either take part in one of those activities or enjoy your coffee or an aperitif on a warm summer evening.
6. Orti Dipinti
The Orti dipinti is a community garden in the heart of the city, run by locals voluntarily. It aims to promote nutritional awareness besides encouraging culture and integration. Apart from the beautiful plants and the wide variety of flowers, in this urban garden, you can find a greenhouse, where fresh vegetables grow.
Whether you want to pay a quick visit to the place or you want to take part in this fantastic initiative, numerous projects are going on. Once there, you can come together with people and work with them, learn about gardening and nutrition and grow your own vegetables, create your own products, and take part in a variety of classes or workshops. The garden is open every day, and you can visit it, free of charge.
7. Feltrinelli Bookstore
Whether you are a book lover or not, we encourage you to visit this enormous bookstore. Just a few steps away from the Cathedral, at the very heart of the city center, Feltrinelli can be your stop to relax by browsing hundreds of books, or by enjoying a sip of coffee at the store’s cafeteria. Their delicious pastries are not to be missed!
8. Hemingway Chocolate room
This special chocolaterie in the district of San Frediano has the best chocolate in the city. Once you take a step into it, you will find yourself bombarded by the aromas in the air. Sweet and bitter, salty and spicy, a variety of chocolates is made in-store, offering a unique experience.
The cozy living room, with wooden shelves of books, warm colors on the walls and pictures of Ernest Hemingway, welcome you to sit on the comfortable sofas and choose amongst a cup of hot chocolate, a variety of tea, bitter or sweet liqueurs, or fluffy pastries. Although this chocolate lover’s nook, with unique aromas and exotic cocoas, is an expensive option, it’s absolutely worth it.
9. Affè di Bacco
This stylish stone made Italian restaurant-pizzeria, offers a high-quality typical Florentine cuisine. A few minutes outside the city center, in the residential area of Gavinana, it’s a place that is not known among tourists; however, it’s easily accessible by bus.
The food there is delicious and is made by local products. The fluffy hand-made bread and the stone-baked pizza are not to be missed! Bacco derives from the Latin origin name Bacchus, which refers to the Greek god of wine, Dionysus.
10. Pensione Bencistà
A former monastery and current guest house, this old house on the hill of Fiesole is an oasis of tranquillity with a great view. The aromatic balcony is full of roses, and the impressive interior of the house hosts a wide variety of antiques, vintage furniture, books, frames on the wall and a grand piano.
All these make the place a fantastic spot to relax away from the buzzing city, with a cup of tea, and enjoy from a distance the great works of art of great architects: the Cathedral’s dome of Brunelleschi, the medieval church of Santa Croce and the Piazzale Michelangelo.
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