Crack open any common Italy travel guide at your local bookstore and you’ll probably find a list of cookie-cutter tours and attractions that every other traveler has investigated. Echoes of the famed Uffizi Gallery, Ponte Vecchio, and Piazzale Michelangelo—while all fantastic—leave less to the imagination of the brazen explorer seeking unusual things to do in Florence.
The real charm of Florence lies in its rich artistic and cultural roots—and any adventurer planning a unique trip to “the cradle of the Renaissance” is advised to adopt the philosophy of the enlightened painters, sculptors, and architects who first cultivated it.
Take time to find bellezza nel inesplorato (beauty in the unexplored): get off the beaten path, traipse through neighborhoods unknown, and dive headfirst into the untrodden splendor of this thriving Tuscan city.
Step foot in one of Florence’s most livable neighborhoods populated by “real Florentines” and fewer tourists: Sant’Ambrogio. Most of the streets are closed off to traffic, so navigating the area is a breeze a piedi (by foot). Sant’Ambrogio is only ten minutes away from the city’s major monuments, yet remains a haven in the vicinity of tourist hot spots.
Make it a point to rise early and take a stroll through the narrow streets of Sant’Ambrogio to Piazza Ghiberti. You’ll be amazed at the ample number of opportunities to watch people leisurely chatting with friends en route to the Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio—a Florentine’s daily morning ritual.
Peruse the market’s fresh offerings of cheese, fruit, and vegetables, and if you really want to eat like a local, sample the lampredotto. Made from the fourth stomach of a cow, this hearty delicacy is both cheap and tasty.
Just steps from Piazza della Signoria—near the Uffizi—lies another opportunity to experience Florence’s burgeoning street food culture. All’antico Vinaio may be hard to find, but it’s well worth the journey. The eatery’s shopfront is tucked away on Via dei Neri, Block 65, and although compact in size, it offers the hungry explorer an array of gourmet toppings to build a mouthwatering 5-euro panino.
Insider’s tip: we recommend the “Del Boss”—a prosciutto sandwich layered with truffle paste and pecorino cheese on a crunchy ciabatta roll.
Florence’s Ponte Vecchio may be the quintessential portrait displayed on postcards in kitschy tourist shops across the city, but that doesn’t mean it has to be your go-to attraction. Stray away from the road most traveled to a more remote path with equally stunning vistas.
Nestled atop the highest point in Florence is San Miniato al Monte, an ornate basilica that’s considered one of the most scenic churches in Italy. Wait until early evening to make the trek through the Porta San Miniato and up the steep path to the church—panoramic views of Florence bathed in sunset await you.
Another route that has remained a well-kept secret to locals and tourists alike who have traversed its hidden depths is the Vasari Corridor. A concealed stairwell entrance accessed from the Uffizi leads visitors through a passageway that the Medici family once used to travel between their Palazzo Vecchio offices and Palazzo Pitti residence in privacy.
To follow in their footsteps and view a rare collection of Renaissance artist self-portraits, you’ll need to make a group reservation well in advance.
Florence is often touted as one of the most romantic cities in Europe—and for good reason. The still water of the Arno River sparkling in the moonlight and the vibrant frescoes splashed across the Duomo’s sloped ceiling are true sights to behold, best shared with a close companion.
Lovers and friends are both welcomed in the City of Lilies, with no shortage of activities to enjoy together.
While others are caught up in the hustle and bustle of the Uffizi, take a much-needed respite from the crowds and bask in the soothing atmosphere of a nearby profumo. At the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, consult with your confidante and a Florentine herbalist to concoct a perfume, lotion, or remedy that’s one-of-a-kind and made from an ancient recipe.
While walking across the Ponte Vecchio, you won’t miss the thousands of “love locks” attached to the railings overlooking the Arno. Although a beautiful testament to love and friendship, the act has become a stereotypical tourist trap.
Why not mix it up and place the memento in a more intimate locale? Secure your lock in the steepest part of the the Duomo’s cupola—the section of the climb that stretches over the arch—to commemorate the unforgettable memories you shared during your trip.
Florence will forever remain a mecca for oenophiles, foodies, and lovers of history and art. Friendly faces are never hard to find—look no further than the nearest church steps or the bustling mercato to exchange pleasantries with a local.
Finding unusual things to do may end up being easier than you think; mirror the average Florentine by slowing down your pace and absorbing the beauty that surrounds you.
Featured photo courtesy of Cristina Gottardi