Is it still possible to find non-touristy things to do in Florence, a city that attracts millions of visitors every day? What should you do in my home town Florence if you want to blend in and not feel like a tourist? I hear you: you’re not interested in the obvious museums (but if you are check out the city’s best museums!) or standing in an endless queue to climb the Duomo.
So come with me as I explore the non-touristy side of Florence, the spots where Florentine traditions still feel authentic, and the delicious dishes that real “Fiorentini” eat.
Non-touristy things to do in Florence
1. Eat lampredotto at a stall
Though a few die-hard food loving tourists will be in the queue, fear not, this is the most genuinely Florentine dish you can find. Lampredotto is cow’s stomach, boiled with onion, carrot tomatoes and herbs, and served in a bun (‘semelle‘ as we say in Florence) that is dipped in the broth and traditionally served with a bit of salsa verde.
The king of Florence’s street food, you can find lampredotto at one of the many stalls (‘trippai‘) around the city. Some are real institutions, a piece of Florence’s soul and history. I usually get it from the woman selling it in Via dell’Ariento, but I also like the long-standing Nerbone inside San Lorenzo Market. There’s a delicious one next to the Porcellino, or Mercato Nuovo.
2. Visit the frescoes in Ognissanti Church
This church is usually overlooked in Florence as it’s so full of famous religious buildings. So if you visit the Church of Ognissanti (All saints), you may find yourself alone, away from the stress of the crowds, so you can admire its splendid works of art in peace, and discover its fascinating history.
What history? For starters, this is the church where Sandro Botticelli is buried, next to his muse Simonetta Vespucci. It’s also the church of the Vespucci family, who gave its name to the famous explorer Amerigo Vespucci.
The highlights are the frescoes by Renaissance masters Botticelli, “Saint Augustine in his study” and Ghirlandaio “Saint Jerome in his study”, both painted in 1480. Ghirlandaio also made a fresco of a version of a “Last supper’ in the refectory.
3. Aperitivo time in the Oltrarno
Piazza Santo Spirito, Sant’Ambrogio and San Niccolò districts are three spots where locals have been going to enjoy their aperitivi for ages.
San Frediano district is the latest trend, as a few new cool bars have opened and given a new life to this district that once was the ‘poor’ working side of Florence, its colourful life described in the novel by Florentine writer Vasco Pratolini “Le ragazze di San Frediano” in the 40’s.
4. Cascine Market on Tuesday morning
A real institution for every Florentine. Every Tuesday, from 7am to 2pm, the market has been bringing colour and noise to the Cascine park for decades. Here you find street food, fresh veggies and fruit, cheap clothing, shoes and stuff for the house. You won’t find a single souvenir, just a straightforward Italian market.
And the Cascine are Florence’s green space, a great place to unwind and enjoy a respite from the city’s crowds. It’s not an immaculately-kept park, nor is it particularly pretty. But it has 160 hectares of green, and 19 thousand trees, flanked by the river Arno. It’s good for a run or a bike ride too as it’s one kilometre from the Ponte Vecchio. Definitely, a healthy and non-touristy thing to do in Florence!
=> Discover the Best gardens in Florence.
5. Spend the morning in Boboli
Before it became a tourist spot with a hefty ticket price, Boboli gardens used to be the favourite spot for students to skip school (‘fare forca‘ in italian). They’d spend the morning hidden away in this Renaissance park, full of quiet spots for smoking (when smoking was the cool thing to do!) or reading a book. So why not do the same? The park is big enough that it rarely feels crowded.
6. Eat breakfast. Standing up.
For breakfast, forget the long leisurely meal at a table. If you want to feel Italian for a morning, order a ‘pasta‘ (or ‘pezzo dolce‘) and a cappuccino at the counter, and enjoy your breakfast standing up. It’s cheap (2.20-2.50 euros), quick and delicious. Look for a bar-pasticceria, because they have the best pastries – try Antica pasticceria Sieni in San Lorenzo district, Robiglio, Cucciolo for a bombolone, or the historic café Paszkowsky in Piazza della Repubblica.
=> TIP: If you are trying to blend in, it’s best not to order a cappuccino after a meal! Italians never do this. Order a simple ‘‘espresso’ instead. Learn more about all the different kinds of Coffee you can order in Italy!
7. Taking a Walking Tour
Ok, walking tours sound touristy, but the reality is they are a great introduction to a city, and help bring all that history to life. I try to take walking tours in every city I visit, all those interesting facts and curious anecdotes give me a better appreciation for what I’m looking at.
=> In this 2.5 hour Florence Walking Tour you’ll explore San Lorenzo district and learn about the Medici family, the impressive Duomo, and the city’s Medieval quarter.
8. Finding the best gelato
Vivoli is an historic gelateria in a hidden street near Piazza Santa Croce. Ok, you might find fellow tourists queuing here for a gelato, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t join in. Vivoli is part of Florence’s gastronomic tradition, and features in an old song by Riccardo Marasco, a satirical Florentine minstrel.
At Vivoli you find gelato made only with the freshest ingredients, kept at the perfect temperature, including unusual flavours such as pecorino and honey. Try their panna (whipped cream) as well. A new addition in the gelato scene in Florence is the Gelateria della Passera in Via Toscanella in the Oltrarno. Try the crema pasticcera and caffè flavours.
=> TIP: Avoid the big mountains of ice cream that you see in the more touristy spots, and any ice cream with improbably vivid colours!
9. Browse a libreria
Savouring Florence’s cultural life at one of its many bookshops can make a nice break from sightseeing. Even better if you can have a coffee while you’re there.
Libreriacafè La Cité, in Borgo San Frediano, is a lovely coffee shop and bookshop (books in Italian). Or opt for a Sit’N’Breakfast in Via San Gallo, favourite with students. At Todo Modo in Via Dei Fossi you’ll find coffee, wine and Italian books.
You’ll find a great selection of English books at the Paperback Exchange in Via delle Oche, and Black Spring Bookshop (via di Camaldoli), an off-the beaten-track bookshop cum cafè.
IBS in Via Cerretani has a decent English books section, while Feltrinelli Red under the logge in Piazza della Repubblica offers a great space to sit down and enjoy a coffee or a light meal.
10. Sant’Ambrogio market
Markets are the life and soul of any Italian city, and browsing around its stalls, watching people do their daily shopping can really make you feel like a local. The colours and the smells, the voices, everything contributes to the experience.
If you head to Sant’Ambrogio, you find one of my favourite markets, a place that is far less manicured than the trendy San Lorenzo Food Market. Fresh food and veggies, and plenty of atmosphere that is 100% Florentine.
=> Food lover? Check out the Great ‘Walking Palates’ Tour around the Sant’Ambrogio district, a 3 hour full immersion in authentic Florentine tastes.