Florence, Italy, is a stunning and ancient (by American standards) city, full of amazing history and art…and food. There are many reasons to visit Florence and you could easily pack a short itinerary with top sites like the Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio and Michelangelo’s David there are also some wonderful hidden gems in Florence, Italy. Don’t miss these Florence hidden gems. Exploring the hidden Florence is what will really round out your experience in that great city.
If you’re in Florence for one day or two, go ahead and stick to the major sites if it’s your first time there. If you’re in Florence for a week or a few days, make time in your itinerary to seek out a few of these off-the-beaten-path sites. By spending some time in hidden Florence, you’ll be able to avoid some of the tourist mobs at the major sites, and they’re easier on the wallet.
Where to stay in Florence
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There are many wonderful places to stay in Florence, Italy. If you can, by all means, stay as near the center of the historic city as you can. Florence is a very walkable city. From the Duomo, virtually everything else on your Florence itinerary will be within a 15–20 minute walk.
Florence hidden gems featuring art and history
Opera Duomo Museum
Piazza del Duomo | Allow 1 hour
Though the Opera Duomo Museum is part of the Duomo complex and sits adjacent to the cathedral, you might miss it. Please don’t. I think it’s one of the most underrated museums in Florence. This lovely museum preserves and protects the sculptures and artwork that were made for the Duomo and the other buildings including the famous baptistery doors designed by Ghiberti.
You’ll also find here a late Michelangelo Pieta and much smaller crowds than at the Accademia Gallery or the Uffizi. We were able to walk in with no wait, no advance reservations. Entrance to the Opera Duomo Museum is included with your ticket.
Clet Street Art
Scattered all over the city While wandering Florence’s narrow, cobblestoned streets and alleys, keep your eyes peeled for Clet street art. Clet Abraham uses stickers to turn ordinary street signs into works of art. Some are amusing, while others communicate political messages. Though Clet street art can be found all over the world, his studio is in Florence.
Savonarola’s convent cell
Convent of San Marco, Piazza San Marco, 3 | Allow 1 or 2 hours
Dominican monk Girolamo Savonarola called San Marco home from about 1490 until his death in 1498. Savonarola is probably best known his “bonfire of the vanities,” in which his followers burned secular items representing worldliness and decadence, such as art and books. He briefly ruled Florence from 1494 to 1498 before he was hanged and burned in Piazza della Signoria (the spot is marked with a bronze plaque).
You can explore San Marco on your own or with a private guided tour. While you’re at San Marco, you won’t be able to miss the stunning frescoes created by Fra Angelico (1395-1455). His Annunciation is at the top of the stairs up to the first-floor cells, many of which are also decorated with Fra Angelico frescoes.
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Via dell’Arte della Lana | Allow 30 minutes (longer if you visit the first-floor museum)
If you want to visit a Florence church without the lines of tourists at the Duomo or even San Lorenzo, take a stroll over to Orsanmichele. Orsanmichele was once a grainary that was then consecrated as a church. The church’s exterior niches were once filled with sculptures by the greatest Florentine sculptors, like Donatello. The originals are now housed in the church museum on the first floor, while reproductions grace the church exterior.
Admission to Orsanmichele is free, but entrance requires reservations at this time.
Basilica di San Lorenzo
Piazza di San Lorenzo, 9 | Allow 30 minutes
Though the Duomo and Brunelleschi’s dome dominate the Florence cityscape, it’s not the only dome topped church in Florence. San Lorenzo doesn’t offer the stunningly beautiful exterior or the opportunity to dome climb that the Duomo does, but the interior of San Lorenzo (rebuilt by the Brunelleschi of Duomo fame) is every bit as lovely as the interior of the Duomo…without the lines of tourists to get in.
Consecrated in 393, Basilica di San Lorenzo is in the running for the designation of “oldest church in Florence” and was the family parish of the Medici family who ruled Florence for a LONG time.
The Medici reliquaries
Piazza di Madonna degli Aldobrandini, 6 | Allow 1 hour
The Medici reliquaries can be found in the Treasury of the Basilica of San Lorenzo, part of the Medici Chapels complex. The collection of sacred relics is both impressively large in size and creepy.
The Medici Chapels are connected to the Basilica San Lorenzo, but are their own state museum made up of the Treasury, the New Sacristy, the Chapel of the Princes and the Lorenese Crypt. Several prominent members of the famed Medici family are buried there.
While you’re touring the Medici Chapels of course you won’t want to miss the Michelangelo-designed New Sacristy, featuring his sculptures Night and Day and Dawn and Dusk.
Piazza Santo Spirito
Take time to wander across the Arno River from the Duomo into the Oltrarno area of Florence and you’re sure to find some historical gems, among them Piazza Santo Spirito. The cobblestoned square features a soft sandstone octagonal fountain and statue of Cosimo Ridolfi, founder of l’Accademia dei Georgofili.
The church (Basilica di Santo Spirito) on the square was another Brunelleschi creation, considered by some to be his last great masterpiece.
Porta San Frediano
Borga San Frediano and Via Pisano
It may look like just any old ancient archway over a modern road, but it’s actually a remnant of Florence’s old city wall. Porta San Frediano, which gets its name from a nearby church, includes the original wood door and bolts and served as the access gate to the road to Pisa.
Other Florence gates include Porta Romana, Porta San Gallo, Porta all Croce and Porta San Miniato which includes a section of the old city wall.
Hidden Florence shopping experiences
Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella
Via della Scala 16 | Allow up to an hour if trying to select a perfume
Founded in 1612, Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella resides in what was once the monastery of the Santa Maria Novella church. In fact what is now the sales hall was once the monastery chapel. The company still makes the special perfume they created for Catherine de’ Medici in 1533 before she left Florence to marry Henry II of France.
This a great place to find a fragrant souvenir to take home with you to remind you of your trip to Florence. The kind staff will gladly help you select something you’ll love. Even if you’re not interested in purchasing, the store itself is worth a visit for its history and beauty. But please be respectful of the employees and the store’s historical space.
Scuola del Cuoio
Via San Giuseppe 5R | Allow 30 minutes to 1 hour if you plan to shop
Tucked away behind the large Santa Croce church is the storied Scuola del Cuoio, the leather school. Here you’ll find artisans at work creating some of the fine leather goods Florence is famous for.
I recommend stopping in here first before you visit the church. On our visit to Florence, we were able to purchase Santa Croce entrance tickets at the leather school without waiting in line at the main ticket office.
Yes, you’ll pay a premium for whatever you purchase here, but I think it’s worth it for the quality of craftsmanship and knowing that you have a real Florentine creation.
Buy gold NEAR the Ponte Vecchio
The famous Ponte Vecchio has spanned the Arno for centuries. It was once home to butcher shops and tanneries then became famous for its goldsmiths. You can still purchase gold jewelry on the Ponte Vecchio, but those shops mainly cater to tourists now, and you’ll pay higher prices there.
If you are serious about purchasing a gold souvenir from Florence, I’d suggest that you step just a block or two away from the Ponte Vecchio. I recommend family-owned Oro Due at Via Lambertesca 12R.
There really are so many amazing things to see and do in Florence, Italy. It’s worth taking the time to wander off the beaten path if you can. Every corner of Florence is full of amazing history.
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