Florence is full of hidden gems. Special squares, out-of-the-way museums, and authentic markets that’ll give you a glimpse of the real Florence. These are places that aren’t on the well-trodden tourist trail, and are all the more memorable because of it. After years spent exploring the city’s many secret wonders, I have a list of go-to favourites that might just become your favourites too.
Florence’s hidden gems – Little known sights, traditional markets and secret spots
Squares: Piazza della Passera
Piazza della Passera is a humble, unassuming square especially compared to its grander cousins like Piazza Signoria. But that is its beauty. A cool hangout just over the Ponte Vecchio in the Oltrarno, it seems hidden from rest of the city which makes it a good place to head to get away from the crowds. Take a seat on one of the benches and soak up the very genuine local atmosphere. There’s a great trattoria in the square called “4 Leoni”. I’ve been here and it does a Frittura to die for.
View: Terrace on top of La Rinascente
You want a coffee, but you want a bit of a view to go with it? This coffee shop is for you. Head to the top of La Rinascente department store in Piazza della Repubblica. The bar on the top floor has a small terrace with a wonderful view over the rooftops and the Duomo. If you can get a table it’ll be the most rewarding coffee you’ve ever had.
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Museums: The Bargello
Florence‘s first town hall and later a prison, the Bargello Museum looks forbidding from the outside but is in fact a little oasis of peace. Sit in its shady courtyard and admire its beautifully proportioned archways and well-preserved Medieval details. Have a stroll around the museum and you’ll be rewarded with statues by Michelangelo and Donatello among others. It’s rarely crowded.
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Church: San Miniato al Monte
There are churches and churches. San Miniato al Monte is one of the latter. Perched just above Piazzale Michelangelo with incredible views over the city, this Basilica is one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in Tuscany. Inside you’ll find stunning frescoes and mosaics, an 11th century crypt and plenty of gothic atmosphere. Outside the abbey there is a marble scroll that reads “Haec est Porta Coeli.” – “This is the gate of heaven.” And when you see the sun catching the golden mosaic on the facade, it’s hard to disagree.
Traditional eating: Trattoria Coco Lezzone
I went to the “Coco Lezzone” once with a friend who used to work there as a cook. It’s been around for ages and all the cooking is done in the traditional Tuscan style on wood burning stoves. The menu is pure Tuscan pleasure – from traditional soups like Pappa al Pomodoro to staples like Ossobuco and Tuscan sausages. I went for the Ribollita which is a classic Tuscan soup made with cannellini beans, kale and Tuscan bread. The place itself is about as authentic as you want a restaurant to be without actually going to eat in someone’s kitchen. Book early.
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Time Travel: Palazzo Davanzati
Florence is stuffed to its Renaissance rafters with places to see. So it’s no surprise that most people never get round to visiting Palazzo Davanzati. Behind its austere facade is The Museum of the Old Florentine House, a monument to daily life in the Renaissance that shows us how a Florentine family would have lived in the 1400s. From the furniture to the toilets and the kitchen, all the details are lovingly curated to give you an idea how the other half lived around the time of the Medici. Definitely worth a visit and entertaining for children too.
Hip hangout: Santarosa Bistrot
Set in the Santarosa gardens in the Oltrarno. This is a genuinely comfortable and relaxed space to go and enjoy some food or a cocktail. Aside from the fact that you can eat outdoors, one of the things I like about this place is the wine list, put together by the same people that run the superb Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina. Open all day.
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Market: Mercato Sant’Ambrogio
Sant’Ambrogio used to be the ancient home of Florence’s Jewish community. Nowadays its market Sant Ambrogio is where locals go to buy their fruit and veg. It’s full of all the sights and smells of the city and is about as close as you’ll get to feeling like a Florentine. The produce here is so fresh it’s often still dusty from the earth it’s just been plucked from.
Art: Museo Marino Marini
Contemporary art is not really my thing. But for this place I make an exception. The Marini Museum, housed in a deconsecrated church in Piazza di San Pancrazio, it’s home to 183 works by Pistoia born artist Marino Marini – including his renowned equestrian sculptures. At turns moving, imposing and comic, it is above all an intensely human exhibition. Helped by the fact that this multi-level, open space is flooded with light, allowing visitors to see the works together from different vantage points. I could go on about it all day, but really you just need to go and see it for yourself. Today.
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Can a food be a hidden gem? It can if it’s coccoli One of my all-time favourite snacks. These small fried balls of dough are a savoury indulgence you probably shouldn’t have but will be so glad you did. You’ll find this traditional speciality served as a starter with ham and stracchino cheese. But for my money, they are best eaten as a take-away snack – piping hot and showered with salt. Try il Coccolo on via Matteo Palmieri near Arco di San Pierino. This could easily be one of the best experiences to have in Florence.
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Now that I’ve shared my Florence’s hidden gems, what are yours?
Author: Ben Carson – Ben Carson is a travel writer and editor at Love from Tuscany.