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Heading to the jewel of the Renaissance and looking for the top hidden gems in Florence? This guide covers some of the lesser-known and secret Florence attractions you don’t want to miss on your next visit.
Florence is abundant in beauty. You’ll find it in quiet monasteries, at unassuming street stops, and in grandiose museums and galleries. But it’s the hidden spots that’ll truly leave you surprised and make your vacation ultra-unique.
Ready to explore Florence’s hidden gems? Let’s jump right in.
13 Unusual Things To Do in Florence, Italy
Below are some of the best places to visit in Florence for a unique and fantastical time in Firenze.
Unique Museums in Florence
Consider visiting some of these lesser-known but incredible museums in Florence.
Museum of San Marco Monastery
If you’re an art lover, you’ve probably got the Uffizi and Accademia Galleries at the top of your itinerary. But the San Marco Museum is a worthy detour or alternative with much fewer crowds.
This perfectly preserved 15th-century monastery is not only attractive for its collection of artworks but also for its refined, harmonious architecture and historical significance.
Cosimo de’ Medici commissioned architect Michelozzo to redesign the Dominican convent in 1437. This lead to the building you’ll see today with its simple cloisters.
The most famous cloister was named after Sant’Antonino, who would become Archbishop of Florence. This cloister features frescoes of San Marco’s life by artist Bernardino Poccetti.
There are also frescoes done by a resident monk and influential Renaissance painter, Fra Angelico. His works are found throughout the convent, including the monks’ sleeping cells. But one of his most notable works is the Crucifixion, located in the Chapter House.
- Address: Piazza San Marco, 1
- Tickets: Buy here
Opera del Duomo Museum
Sitting in the shadow of the grand dome of Brunelleschi, the Opera del Duomo museum is often overlooked. But this museum houses one of the world’s largest collections of Medieval and Renaissance sculptures, so it’s a must-see in Florence.
This building on the eastern side of Piazza del Duomo has quite a history behind it. It was first established in 1296 as a workshop for overseeing the construction of the cathedral and bell tower.
Once the cathedral and Brunelleschi’s dome were completed and consecrated, the workshop was slightly repurposed. It became a space where monuments from the cathedral — and the Baptistry of San Giovanni — would be conserved and maintained.
Later, in 1891, this museum of the Opera del Duomo was founded to house the many precious sculptures removed from the Duomo, baptistry, and surroundings. There is still an active restoration school and lab on-site.
The latest renovation in 2015 created an elevated “museum within a museum,” where sculptures are displayed with remade backdrops depicting where they once stood. The 7,176 square yard museum houses over 750 works of art from various centuries and artists, including Donatello, Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Ghiberti, and more.
- Address: Piazza del Duomo, 9
Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library
You may know Michelangelo for his iconic paintings in the Sistine Chapel or his sculptures. But he also happened to be a skilled architect. And the Laurentian Library near the beautiful Basilica di San Lorenzo was one of his most spectacular triumphs.
Situated on the third floor of the Brunelleschi cloister — to protect the library from flooding — the Laurentian Library took almost 50 years to complete. Pope Clement VII, a member of the Medici family, commissioned Michelangelo to create this library as a symbol of the Medici’s affluence and membership in the aristocracy.
One of the most talked-about elements of this library is the somewhat impractical staircase that leads to it from a separate room. It’s not only the staircase that’s mind-boggling but also the rest of the architecture surrounding it. Michelangelo took architectural liberties that went entirely against the classical Renaissance style.
In contrast, the reading room and library is perfectly proportioned, following more traditional architectural principles. It features walnut furniture with intricate carvings on the roof and booths and has multiple windows for ample natural light.
Today, the Laurentian Library is a heritage museum where you can have a look at the staircase, the library, and the vast collection of original texts.
- Note: The library closes at 13:30, so plan your visit for the late morning.
- Address: Piazza San Lorenzo, 9
Hospital of the Innocents
As you can tell by now, Florence was a city of many firsts; this includes being home to the first orphanage in Europe.
The influential and wealthy Silk Workers Guild established the Ospedale degli Innocenti in 1419, recruiting Filippo Brunelleschi as the architect. By the 5th of February 1445, 10 days after the hospital’s opening, the first baby was delivered to the orphanage’s turnstile-like rotating door.
The hospital would go on to take in and care for over 375,000 children in its roughly 500 years of operation. And it still provides care to orphaned children today. Children were taught skills according to their gender, as was the custom for the time. And the institution even offered dowries for the girls, who could choose to marry or become nuns.
Today, the orphanage also houses a small gallery where you’ll find various items donated to or commissioned by the institution. These include detached frescoes, antique furniture, and paintings — most notably The Adoration of the Magi by Domenico Ghirlandaio.
- Address: Piazza della Santissima Annunziata, 12
Shopping off the Beaten Path in Florence
Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy
Thought to be the oldest apothecary shop in the world, the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella had its humble beginnings in 1221. Dominican friars started experimenting with alchemy, using herbs and plants from their gardens to heal ailments and diseases within the monastery.
Their processes and recipes became so well-known they even created a perfume for Queen Catherine de Medici in 1533. The scent was to remind her of Florence as she married the future French king, Henry II.
The “Acqua della Regina” made history as one of the first alcohol-based perfumes in the world and became a popular scent in the French courts. But the monks only opened their apothecary to the public by 1612.
By the 18th century, the apothecary received a spectacular renovation, complete with intricate wooden detailing, frescoed ceilings, and chandeliers. So while this spot may remind you of one of Rome’s hidden gems, the Antica Farmacia S. Maria della Scala, it’s much less gloomy looking.
Today, this spot continues to offer luxurious, handmade soaps, skincare products, potpourri, and perfumes made with traditional recipes. So you can take a bit of Florence home with you. Be sure to try the Acqua di Santa Maria Novella perfume — the renamed “Acqua della Regina.”
- Address: Via della Scala, 16
Scuola del Cuoio
Nestled in the Santa Croce Monastery, this spot is not exactly off the beaten track, but it’s definitely a hidden gem. This leather school is all about preserving the leather tradition in Florence and sits along the Arno river, which played a crucial role in Florence’s thriving leather industry.
The Arno river has been home to many leather workshops over the centuries, as an abundant amount of water is needed to process leather. However, this Scuola del Cuoio was only established after World War II, in 1950.
The Franciscan friars of the Santa Croce Monastery and the Gori and Cassini families worked together to establish an educational space. The goal was to create a school where the orphans of “La Città dei Ragazzi” could learn a valuable craft and enhance their work opportunities.
The school later garnered acclaim for its expertly handcrafted goods, attracting an international crowd. Today, this quiet school offers authentic, handmade leather goods like jackets, belts, and bags. The best part is that you can watch the artisans working at their craft while browsing for your next favorite purse or jacket.
- Address: Via S. Giuseppe, 5/R
Street Art in Florence
Street Art in Via Toscanella and Beyond
Florence has attracted artists and art admirers for centuries, and it continues to intrigue with its striking art adorning the city’s streets. You’ll find many of these “modern frescoes” concentrated around the little via Toscanella, close to the Palazzo Pitti.
You’ll find red and white murals by Yuri Hopnn, among others. But the fun doesn’t end here. Explore beyond via Toscanella and head to Piazza della Passera. Here, you’ll come across street art surprises in the form of sculptures by Moradi II Sedicente.
More art awaits you along the Arno, in the city center, and lesser-known piazze. So grab your camera and get lost in the city. You can expect to come across some memorable hidden gems in Tuscany’s Florence, created by artists like Hogre, Jamesboy, and Manu Invisible. You’ll also spot quirky stick figures with red balloons by Florentine artist Exit/Enter.
L’importuno di Michelangelo
Now for a bit of ancient street art; this one is more of a gem hidden in plain sight, as it can be found on the wall of Palazzo Vecchio. Situated near the duplicate of Michelangelo’s David, on the corner of the palazzo nearest to the Uffizi Gallery, you’ll find a mysterious carving.
This carving is said to have been done by young Michelangelo, but the motivation behind it is a bit murky. Some theorize that Michelangelo carried out a dare to carve the image of a man with his back facing the wall.
A funnier theory suggests that he carved the face of an annoying man who would often stop him for a chat around this area. Hence the name “l’importuno,” which roughly translates to “nuisance.”
Regardless of your preferred theory — and there are many more origin theories to consider — the artwork is an attractive gem thanks to its mysterious nature. It’s a tiny little work of art and not as glorious to photograph, but it’s a fun little secret to be in on.
- Address: Piazza della Signoria, tucked behind the sculpture “Ercole e Caco” by Baccio Bandinelli
Clet’s Street Art
The notorious French artist, Jean Marie Clet Abraham, gained popularity in Europe through his cheeky sticker art. This artist started as a painter and sculptor but was drawn to the sense of freedom in street art. Thus, he made a name for himself with his stickers that slightly modify street signs without interrupting the sign’s purpose.
You’ll find directional arrows piercing hearts, a man seemingly carrying the bar of a no-entry sign, and other creative inventions. These signs are not simply for the fun of it. They’re used to create discourse and challenge authority — in a beautiful way, of course.
You’ll also spot Clet’s “Common Man” statue in front of the Ponte alle Grazie. He had quite a few legal troubles because of his unauthorized placement of this statue. But the “Common Man,” a figure juxtaposed against the many sculptures of historically important men in the city, stands proud as a symbol of artistic freedom.
If you’d like to see more of Clet’s work, you can head to his fascinating studio in one of the best areas to stay in Florence, the San Niccolò district. You may even have a chance to speak with the artist himself.
- Clet’s Studio Address: via dell’Olmo, 8r
Dante’s House Museum
Dante Alighieri, born in 1265, is widely thought of as the father of the Italian language. He broke away from the literary tradition of writing in Latin, thus making literature accessible to the general public.
You’ll likely be familiar with his most famous work, The Divine Comedy. This work led many to suspect him of heresy, but it also shaped much of how society understands morality today.
Naturally, the city of Florence aimed to track down the birthplace of Italy’s literary icon. Researchers identified an area between the church of S. Martino and Piazza dei Donati that may have been Dante’s 13th-century home.
Very little of the original building is left, but the newer building, built in the 20th century, perfectly emulates the medieval feel. You can visit the interactive museum dedicated to Dante’s life and join guided tours or workshops that serve to educate people about this great writer.
Dante’s House Museum consists of three floors, with each floor delving into a different key stage in Dante’s life.
- Address: Museo Casa di Dante, Via Santa Margherita, 1
Tower of Arnolfo
A few places in Florence provide spectacular views of the city, like Giotto’s Bell Tower. But the Arnolfo Tower has managed to stay somewhat off the tourist radar, making it the perfect option to avoid large crowds. Towering at about 311 feet, this attraction is named after the architect Arnolfo di Cambio and stands above Palazzo Vecchio.
Interestingly, the tower is not perfectly centered, as it was built upon the ancient Vacca tower, which belonged to the palace of the Foraboschi. This tower also has a small prison cell named the Alberghetto, where Cosimo il Vecchio was held in 1433 and Jerome Savonarola in 1498.
You can climb the 233 tower steps to reach a viewing point with panoramic vistas of the city and Duomo. Consider getting a combined entry ticket so you can see the Palazzo Vecchio before climbing the tower.
- Address: Piazza della Signoria, 2
Off the Beaten Path | Florence Attractions
Stibbert Museum and Garden
If you’re looking for a calm (and curious) attraction to visit in Florence, you don’t want to miss the Stibbert Museum and Garden. Situated in the Villa di Montughi, this house museum is filled with almost 50,000 unique items from around the world.
Frederick Stibbert, an avid collector and patron of the arts from the 19th century, had an immense fascination with anything “exotic” and foreign. At the age of 21, he came into a large inheritance. This allowed him to realize his dream of building a unique and curious collection of objects from different cultures, eras, and countries.
At his death, the villa and its beautiful garden — also dotted with interesting items — were donated to the city of Florence. Today, you can visit his house and collection of armor, weapons, clothes, and objects brought from around the world.
The gardens, modeled after the English gardens of his time by Giuseppe Poggi, contain all kinds of curiosities worth stumbling across. These include grottos, statues, a domed Hellenistic temple decorated with majolica tiles, and even an Egyptian temple — complete with lions and sphinxes.
- Note: The garden is closed on Thursdays.
- Address: Via Federico Stibbert, 26
Bargello National Museum
Set in one of Florence’s oldest buildings, the Bargello Museum is Italy’s first national museum, established in 1859. This property dates back to 1255, initially serving as the Capitano del Popolo headquarters and later housing the Podestà and Council of Justice.
In the 16th century, this building became the residence of the head of the police — the Bargello. Eventually, it also served as a prison. In its centuries of operation, these walls bore witness to executions, fires, and sieges.
With its long and complex history, it is only fitting that this building houses some of the most important Renaissance sculptures in Italy. These include works from artists like Ammannati, Danti, Giambologna, Verrocchio, and, most notably, Donatello and Michelangelo.
The three-story exhibition also houses various historical items ranging from textiles, medals, tapestries, antique furniture, and more from the Medici family and other donors.
Be sure to head to the Donatello room to see the David statues. The Michelangelo room houses the Bust of Brutus (the only bust the artist ever created) and the sculpture of Bacchus — Michelangelo’s first free-standing work.
- Address: Via del Proconsolo, 4
- Tickets: Buy here
Final Thoughts on the Unique Things To Do in Florence
There you have it; some of the top gems you simply can not miss when you visit Florence. Some of these attractions are quieter alternatives to more popular attractions, while other sights are merely unknown to most visitors to the city. But they’re all guaranteed to leave an impression on your memory.
Another of the city’s hidden gems are the wine windows of Florence, which are worth keeping an eye out for, though there are only two in use, at restaurant Babae and gelateria Vivoli. You’ll also love this guide to the best day trips from Florence.
Let’s discover hidden Italy
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