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  • Writer's pictureSyd

19 Unconventional and Iconic Things to Do in Florence, Italy


Statues in Accademia Gallery.

A Travel Guide For the Perfect Florentine Experience


Welcome to Florence, the renaissance city that beckons lovers of art, architecture, and those oh so polarizing carbohydrates. With its streets steeped in history and its skyline adorned with the masterpieces of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Botticelli, Florence stands as a testament to human creativity and ingenuity. Even beyond its renowned museums and galleries, this Tuscan capital is a masterpiece in and of itself, boasting charming cobblestone lanes, majestic cathedrals, and bustling piazzas at every turn.


In this, your Florentine Travel Guide, you'll find the perfect blend of unconventional and iconic. we'll explore not only the tried and true main sights that draw visitors from around the globe, but we will also uncover many of Florence's hidden gems, ensuring you will experience the very best that every nook and cranny that this city has to offer.




1. Hike up to San Miniato al Monte for a

Breathtaking View of the City,

and Experience the Chanting of the Monks


Front view of San Miniato al Monte

UNCONVENTIONAL


The hike up to San Miniato al Monte may of had me sweating, but it was well worth the trouble. Once at the top (even before reaching the church itself), I was met with a mesmerizing view of the city, the Duomo, the River Arno, and all - not to mention there were food carts, that while a bit over priced, were a welcome reward after the journey.


After a quick dinner break overlooking Florence, I continued up to the famous church itself, the haunting San Miniato al Monte. I explored the haunting cemetery in front of and behind the church, and around sunset was met with Gregorian chanting from The Vespers, the group of Monks who inhabit the monastery.




2. Go on the Hunt for one of

Florence's Famous Wine Windows


Sydney wearing monochromatic red outfit holding two glasses of wine in front of Florence wine window.

UNCONVENTIONAL


Florence, you'll come to find, is a city with charm coming out the wazoo. The tiny wine windows hidden throughout the city's alleyways were a particularly entertaining testament!

Once a window is found, you simply knock, place your order, and then enjoy sipping a delicious glass of wine along the cobblestone street. If you keep your eyes peeled, you may be lucky enough to also spot gelato windows, espresso windows, and others playing off of the popular wine experience!




3. Grab a Coffee in Santo Spirito,

Florence's Hippest Neighborhood


Through the window of Santo Spirito Cafe Artigianale

UNCONVENTIONAL


Slice of red velvet cake.

Cross the Arno River into one of Florence's trendiest (though still remarkably renaissance) parts of town! It's Santo Spirito where you'll find a collection of bars and cafes, perfect for an afternoon espresso or an evening aperitivo. One of my go-to's was Artigianale. They had coffee, pastries, cocktails... the whole 9 yards!


If you happen to be exploring the neighborhood on a Sunday, be sure to check out Mercato di Santo Spirito, an outdoor flea market where local vendors sell vintage goods, antiques, and fresh produce, among other goodies.










4. Visit Galileo's Tomb at Santa Croce

(So morbid, but people love it)


ICONIC


Nestled amidst the charming streets and picturesque piazzas lies Santa Croce, a basilica steeped in centuries of reverence and cultural significance. This architectural gem, adorned with Gothic-style façades and adorned with frescoes by Renaissance masters, stands as a testament to the city's rich artistic heritage. Beyond its majestic exterior, Santa Croce serves as a hallowed resting place for some of history's most illustrious figures, including Michelangelo, Galileo Galilei, and Dante Alighieri.




5. Go on a Vintage Clothing Shopping Spree


Vintage and antique clothing and jewelry on display.

UNCONVENTIONAL


Compared to other Italian cities that I've scavenged thus far, Florence has proven to house the most impressive vintage and thrift shopping scene!



6. Explore the Stunning Open Air Museum,

Piazza Della Signoria


Sculpture of two men and a woman in Piazza Della Signoria.

ICONIC


I was wandering aimlessly when I stumbled into Piazza Della Signoria, a remarkable open air museum in the heart of the city's historic center. It's free to experience, as it is truly a collection of sculptures on display out in the open.


This "open art", so to speak, was one of the most remarkable aspects of the city - that anywhere you turn, paintings and sculptures will find you. In that respect, the entirety of central Florence in itself felt like a museum.




7. Wander through Piazza Del Duomo


Side shot of florence duomo during the day.

ICONIC


Still in the historic centre just a short walk from Piazza Della Signoria is the city's Duomo, Santa Maria Del Fiore. This world famous Florence cathedral lives up to every bit of its hype. Every square inch of the outer walls are pure sculptural masterpieces... pictures cannot begin to do it justice. The inside, I've been told, can be a bit underwhelming compared to it's awe-inspiring outer surface. You're completely welcome to climb the 463 steps of Brunelleschi's dome if that's your prerogative, but you can get beautiful views of the city elsewhere.


My lazy advice, however, is to save yourself the trouble, and simply sit with a gelato at one of the several cafe's surrounding the architectural treasure. It will be overpriced gelato, no doubt, but it's the view that you're paying for.




8. Visit Biblioteca delle Oblate for

One of the Best Cafe Views in the City


Hand holding up small coffee cup with faded duomo in the background.

UNCONVENTIONAL


While I didn't have much interest in hiking up Brunelleschi's Dome, I do enjoy a good view of Florence. For this purpose, Biblioteca Delle Oblate is one of the best spots!


View of Brunelleschi's Dome from Oblate library cafe.

This centrally located library is a hot study spot for students. I, myself, claimed a table and spent several hours doing homework while sipping cappuccino and overlooking the stunning views. That's right, this library has a cafe, but not just any old boring cafe, the cafe with the best view in the city! I 10/10 recommend.




9. Visit San Lorenzo to Checkout Medici Chapel


ICONIC


Basilica di San Lorenzo is a yet another historic church located in Florence, Italy.

Designed by the celebrated Renaissance architect, and mind behind the famous Florence Cathedrals Dome, Brunelleschi, this architectural beauty stands as a symbol of Florence's cultural heritage. The church is also famous for housing Michelangelo's Medici Chapels, showcasing some of the artist's iconic works. San Lorenzo is considered a landmark of Renaissance architecture and is a popular destination for tourists and art enthusiasts visiting Florence.




10. Ponte Vecchio


Jewelry shops on Ponte Vecchio lit up in the night.

ICONIC


Of the several bridges connecting the "old city" and the "new city", Ponte Vecchio is by far the most noteworthy. With its quirky lineup of shops dangling over the Arno River, this bridge is more than just a pedestrian crossing; it's a living, breathing testament to Florence's vibrant past and present.


Full view of Ponte Vecchio during the day.

As you amble across its weathered stones, you'll find yourself immersed in a scene straight out of a Renaissance painting. From the sparkle of jewelry in the shop windows to the chatter of passersby, Ponte Vecchio pulsates with an energy that's both timeless and electric. So, whether you're a history buff, a hopeless romantic, or simply in search of Instagram-worthy vistas, Ponte Vecchio promises an experience that's nothing short of enchanting. Trust me, it's a must-visit spot that'll leave you spellbound.




11. See Michelangelo's David, in Person!


Close up shot of Michelangelo's David.

ICONIC


I'll be honest that I'm not normally one to visit museums. They're a bit of art-overload for me, and my attention span won't have it. Given that The David is one of the most iconic works of art ever created, and that I, myself, have plagiarized it's image for my own financial gain, I figured I'd fork over the €12 for admission to Academia Gallery of Florence, and see what all of the hubbub was about!


Sculpture of woman sitting down in Academia Gallery.

He was indeed majestic, I'll give him that, and well worth my euros. I stood there, staring at him, for what must have been 15 minutes. What I wasn't expecting (as the research I had done prior to this visit was zero), was the room just to the left of him. As I turned the corner, I'm sure that I must have audibly gasped. It was a collection of sculptures, from wall to ceiling... it was my jam.







12. Check out Pitti Palace,

Once Home to The Medici Family


ICONIC


The Pitti Palace, situated on the south side of the Arno River in Florence, is a magnificent Renaissance palace that once served as the residence of the powerful Medici family. Fast forward to modern day, Pitti Palace is not home to several different museums and galleries, including the Palatine Gallery, the Royal Apartments, the Gallery of Modern Art, and the Museum of Costume and Fashion.


Free entry to the Pitti Palace is available on the first Sunday of each month, except for the months of July and August when it is not applicable. However, it's worth noting that during these free-entry days, the palace may be more crowded than usual, so I'd suggest an early arrival to avoid long queues.




13. Visit One of the Most Unique Bookstores in the World, Giunti Odeon


Books and cinema screen showing a frame from Grand Budapest Hotel in Guinti Odeon.

UNCONVENTIONAL


shelves of books and theatre seating full of students in Guinti Odeon.

Giunti Odeon is an old cinema turned bookstore in the heart of the city. If you wander in during the day, you'll likely find a number of students sitting in the theater's balcony seating doing homework, coming and going freely while popular films project onto the cinema screen. On the first floor, you'll see a gorgeously curated modern book store - everything from fashion to anime lining the shelves.


In the evenings, Guinti Odeon transforms fully back into a cinema, where you can purchase tickets for showings.






14. Get Your Photo Taken inside a Vintage Fotoautomatica!


Fotoautomatica, or vintage Photo Booth, on the sidewalk in florence.

UNCONVENTIONAL


Another undeniably charming faucet of Florence is the Fotoautomatica, a collection of 5 fully functional vintage photo booths scattered across the city.


For only two euros, visitors can experience the excitement of analog photography, producing tangible mementos to cherish for years to come.




15. Visit the Uffizi Gallery and See The Birth of Venus


ICONIC


Home to Botticelli's legendary The Birth of Venus, the Uffizi Gallery is home to peak Florentine art. It is the most visited museum of Florence, and stands as the pinnacle of this city's great artistry. Stepping through its grand entrance, you're immediately taken - lost in a realm where history and creativity intertwine. It's an immersive experience that transports you back in time, allowing you to glimpse into the soul of Renaissance Florence.

Whether you're an avid art enthusiast or simply seeking inspiration, a visit to the Uffizi Gallery delivers.




16. Boboli gardens


ICONIC


If you happen to be visiting Florence in the springtime, the Boboli Gardens are a sight to behold. Bursting with vibrant blooms and lush greenery, these historic gardens offer a tranquil oasis amidst the bustling city streets. Strolling along the winding pathways, you'll encounter a symphony of colors and scents, from delicate roses to fragrant citrus trees in full bloom. The gentle breeze carries the whispers of centuries past, as you meander through terraced lawns and shaded groves.




17. Santa Maria novella


Front shot of Santa Maria Novella church.

ICONIC


Discover the timeless beauty and rich history of Santa Maria Novella, a Gothic basilica that stands as one of Florence's most iconic landmarks. As you step through its grand entrance, you're immediately captivated by the striking façade adorned with intricate marble and stone decorations, a testament to the ingenuity of Renaissance architecture. Inside, the church's soaring arches, elegant columns, and magnificent altar create a sense of awe and reverence, while priceless artworks by renowned Renaissance masters such as Masaccio and Filippino Lippi adorn its sacred walls. Whether you're drawn by its architectural splendor, its artistic treasures, or its spiritual significance, a visit to Santa Maria Novella promises an unforgettable journey through the heart of Florence's cultural heritage.




18. Make a stop at Palazzo Vecchio


ICONIC


Palazzo Vecchio, located in piazza della Signoria, is one of the city's most iconic landmarks. Originally built in the early 14th century, this imposing fortress-palace served as the seat of Florentine government for centuries and continues to be a symbol of the city's political and cultural significance.


You can explore its opulent chambers adorned with intricate frescoes, grand halls embellished with ornate decorations, and the majestic Salone dei Cinquecento, where political meetings and ceremonies were once held. The palace also houses a vast collection of art and artifacts, including sculptures by Michelangelo and Donatello, as well as works by other renowned Renaissance artists.




19. Become a Certified English Second Language Teacher and Start a New Life in Italy


UNCONVENTIONAL


If you've fallen in love with the city of Florence, and you're ready to leave your old life behind - it may be time for a career change.


I recommend Via Lingua, where I personally attended a month long intensive ESL teaching course right in the heart of the city.




Florence, Goodbye for Now


Artist set up with paintings in front of Duomo, playing with pigeons.

A visit to Florence is something worth savoring. Don't feel pressure to do and see everything on your trip (I spent an entire month there, and didn't manage to do it all!), but rather choose a healthy handful of places and activities and experience them fully.


My best advice is to travel slowly, consciously, and with respect for both the people and the place, and your Florence experience can become everything you have dreamed of and more! Thank you for reading, and be sure to let me know what you thought of these unconventional and iconic Florentine activities below!

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