Florence is famous for its breathtaking attractions from the majestic cathedral, to the Giotto bell tower, Uffizi Gallery, and the well-known Ponte Vecchio, to name a few. Once you’ve ticked off the best things to do in Florence, it’s time to discover a side that most tourists miss. This guide to 10 hidden gems in Florence will help you to explore this captivating Italian city and gain an insight into how locals live.
Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy
Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Farmacia_di_smn,_sala_vendita_01.JPG
This hidden gem is one of the world's oldest pharmacies, founded by Dominican friars in 1221, that once made treatments for the Black Death. Today, you won’t find medicines but rather a mecca for beauty junkies and lovers of history. Here you’ll find luxury perfumes, soaps, beauty products, and other goods that are all handmade in the Old World way. It’s a must-visit even if it’s just to smell the Florentine company’s award-winning, botanically inspired beauty products that inspire a cult following.
San Marco Museum
If you’ve already visited Florence or know it well, avoid the famous and crowded museums, such as Uffizi Gallery and Accademia, and head to San Marco Museum. It is located inside a Dominican monastery and hosts beautiful pieces of art from the 16th-century, including works painted by the great Beato Angelico. A plus here is that you’ll not find lines or hordes of people!
Michelangelo’s Secret Carving
On the façade of Palazzo Vecchio, the administrative city center of Florence, you can spot a hidden face carved by Michelangelo. The artist used to spend most of his time in the square and, by the legend, he carved the face of a man who used to bore him with stories behind his back while he was pretending to listen.
Museo degli Argenti
Ok, so the museum founders might not have chosen the most descriptive name for this museum as it translates to Silverworks museum. Perhaps that’s the reason why there aren’t a lot of tourists around it yet. However, the Museo degli Argenti actually houses one of the most impressive collections in Florence, the collection of the treasures from the Medici family. Located in the former summer palace of the Medicis, the museum houses impressive renaissance cameos, ancient chalices, Medici’s jeweled crowns, and impressive sculptures, to name a few. If you’re an art lover, you just can’t miss this hidden gem!
The view from San Miniato
Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oratorio_dei_buonomini_di_s._martino,_interno_00.JPG
Tucked away in an unsuspecting street, the Buonomini di San Martino is one of Florence’s best-kept secrets. This 700-year-old church might not be the most significant and most beautiful cathedral in Florence but it was and still is an important medieval complex. If you’re passing by, you might even miss this cathedral if you’re not paying attention, as it almost blends into the surrounding buildings. At a first glance, it seems modest, but this cathedral actually houses an organization that has been helping the “ashamed poor” (people that were once wealthy but went bankrupt and are too ashamed to ask for help) for over seven centuries. If you’re looking for a different experience, you should definitely check out Buonomini di San Martino. You probably won’t find many tourists around.
The Vasari Corridor
The Vasari Corridor is a kilometer long passageway that connects the Uffizi Gallery to the Pitti Palace. Today, the corridor still connects the two buildings but it is set up as a small museum separate from the famous Uffizi Gallery. You’ll find the entrance to the Vasari Corridor on the first floor within the Uffizi Gallery behind an unmarked door. It is likely that most visitors that crowd the Uffizi every day don't even know that behind that featureless door stands a great treasure. Once you've entered the passageway it looks like have stepped onto another dimension since the atmosphere is quiet and silent, almost unreal and completely different from the rest of the Gallery.
The Appennine Colossus
Just 30 minutes from the historical city center of Florence, you’ll find Villa Demidoff, a must-see spot. The beautiful garden is home to the majestic 16th-century statue representing the Apennine, the Colosso dell’Appennino. If you have extra time while you are in Florence, it’s totally worth a visit. This epic colossus, half man, half mountain, was erected in the late 1500s by renowned Italian sculptor Giambologna as a symbol of Italy’s rugged Apennine mountains. This mountain god, fittingly named Appennino, stands 35 feet tall over the ground of the Villa di Pratolino in Tuscany. This hidden gem in Florence hides another secret within its interior, there are several rooms with different functions that made this colossus come to life.
Michelangelo’s Prisoner Graffiti
Photo credit: www.atlasobscura.com/places/michelangelos-hidden-drawings
Back in the 16th century, Michelangelo was one of the main supporters of Florence’s protests for a more democratic system of governance. However, that didn’t end well and he had no choice but to hide in a secret room under the Medici Chapel in an attempt to escape the Pope’s wrath. He was here for more than three months and during this time, covered the walls of the room with his artwork. No one knew about this secret room until 1976 when it was discovered by accident. Today, the room is often closed off to the public due to the sensitive nature of the drawings, they can’t handle too many visitors. However, if you’re in the area, try your luck. Perhaps you’ll be one of the few lucky tourists that get the chance to see Michelangelo’s prisoner graffiti.
The rooftop bars in Florence are the perfect places to relax after a busy day of exploring and enjoy an afternoon, sipping cocktails with friends while taking in the breathtaking views of the city. While these bars aren’t exactly hidden, they aren’t easy to detect from the ground so most tourists tend to miss them! You’ll find many of these bars above hotels, or even above the popular shopping center La Rinascente.
Perseus With the Head of Medusa
Possibly one of the most beautiful places to visit in Florence is Loggia de’ Lanzi. This pavilion is near the popular Palazzo Vecchio with several statues made by Italian artists on display. One of the most famous is the Perseus with the Head of Medusa, sculpted by the great Benvenuto Cellini. The cool thing here is not only the front of the statue, which is spectacular but also the back where there is a face carved into the back of Perseus’s head. This is the self-portrait of Cellini himself. Most people don’t know about the face of Cellini on the back of Perseus’s head which makes it a perfect little hidden gem waiting to be discovered.
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