Florence is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. You have probably heard of the Duomo and the Uffizi, and of course you’ve heard of David. I would not suggest missing these things. They are truly incredible sites. Remember, when something is touristy, there’s usually a pretty good reason. Still, I would suggest taking some time to see the other things Florence has to offer. It is a fantastic city with countless local places you will fall in love with. Here are a few of the best non-touristy things to do in Florence.
1. Grab a book and a cup of tea at Libreria Café La Cite
This little known café is tucked away in a small alleyway on the south side of Florence. When you walk in, you will be greeted by a hip atmosphere and an impressive drink menu. Once you pick your drink, head upstairs and get cozy on the pillows and cushions covering the floor. This quiet café is the perfect place to escape the crowds and relax with a book or update your travel journal.
2. Take a day trip to Fiesole
There are plenty of busses that go from Florence city center to Fiesole and it is well worth the 35-minute ride. Fiesole is a cute town in the hills where you can explore the Roman baths and the town’s very own “Il Duomo”. It doesn’t take more than a day to see the sights in Fiesole and it makes a great day trip out of Florence.
3. See a local street artist in work at his studio
Clet Abraham is a popular street artist in Florence. During a day of touring Florence, you are bound to come across his famous street sign characters. To learn more about his work and see him in action, head to his studio on Via dell’Olmo (Number 8). The building doesn’t look like much from the outside and he doesn’t have a website, but if you get there while he’s around, he might let you in for a tour.
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4. Dine on some of the best food in Italy, without all the lines
Tired of making reservations and fighting crowds? Longing for some authentic Italian food? Head over to Ristorante Paoli. Because it is tucked away on one of Florence’s less crowded alleyways, it is not overrun with tourists. It was by far the best meal I had while living in Florence. Be prepared to spend a bit as this is one of Florence’s fine dining restaurants, but it is worth every penny.
There are plenty of amazing restaurants with mouthwatering Italian food, but occasionally you might want a different kind of cuisine. Le Vespe Café was my go-to spot. They have an incredibly diverse menu, including bagels, vegetarian and vegan cuisine, brunch cocktails, and tapas. From morning to night, their delicious meals never fail to please.
5. Shop for fresh produce at Sant’Ambrogio
Most tourists have heard of Mercato Centrale in San Lorenzo. While it promises a cool experience, it is often crowded and hard to navigate. For less crowds and a more authentic experience, head across town to the Sant’Ambrogio market. It is open from 8am to 2pm from Monday to Saturday and offers a much more local market experience.
6. Dine on 5-cheese gnocchi at Osterio Santo Spirito
While piazza santo spirito is home to Gusta Pizza, one of the most famous pizza joints in Florence, it also houses many local favorites. Osterio Santo Spirito often has a table or two available, though you’ll need to make a reservation if you are with a large group. Once you sit down, I recommend the 5-cheese gnocchi with truffle oil. Though it is incredibly rich, it is also a true Italian delicacy you must experience.
7. End the night with a drink at some of Florence’s best bars
Viktoria LoungeBar is a small, but popular local hang out spot on the corner of Via Giuseppe Verdi and Via Ghibellina. From 7 to 9pm every night ,they serves aperitivo (an unlimited buffet of snacks and treats served alongside your cocktail). Try to get there near the start if you want a seat, otherwise you might be stuck standing outside on the corner. It does get crowded here, but the crowd is mostly locals.
Unfortunately many of the bars around Florence are overflowing with American students enjoying the lowered drinking age. For a less crowded, but equally local experience head south of the Arno. In Piazza Santo Spirito you can find Popcafé, which has maintained its local charm. There are often live performers and always great drinks.
8. Enjoy gelato the way the locals do
Of course you have to get gelato while you are Italy. In fact, you should probably get gelato every single day that you are in Italy. But for a unique gelato eating experience, grab a scoop from Gelateria La Carraia, just south of the Arno. Then head a block north to Ponte Santa Trinita where you can take a seat on one of the concrete triangles off of the bridge and enjoy an uninterrupted view of the famous Ponte Vecchio.
9. Purchase some Italian perfume at the Antica Münstermann
A pharmacy may not be your typical travel destination, but this one sells more than just cough medicine. Check out their perfumes, skin care, and body lotions for sale. While these products are great, the real reason to visit is the fact that the Antica Münstermann has been in business for over 100 years. The architecture is gorgeous and the shop is full of history.
10. Check out these sunrise and sunset destination
Piazzale Michelangelo is a pretty popular spot for sunset, but for an unforgettable and more intimate experience, set the alarms. Wake up early enough to hike to the top of Piazzale Michelangelo before sunrise. You will likely be alone up there at this hour and can watch the sun rises over Florence. On your way back into town, you will have a chance to take incredible photos of some of Florence’s most famous attractions without the crowds that will show up a few minutes later.
As for sunset, head over to Giardino dell’Orticultura. Be sure to enter through Via Trento where you will find a small bench and an empty park from which to watch a spectacular sunset over Florence.
11. Stay up late and visit a secret bakery
Around 2am in Florence, the secret bakeries start to open. These are bakeries that sell their food to other businesses and don’t actually have a license to sell directly to consumers. However, they start baking for these businesses around 1 or 2am, so if you approach their doors quietly, you can get a fresh baked good for about 1 EUR (1.15 USD). Rumor has it there is one still up and running on Via delle Pinzochere.
12. Get lost in the city
You can visit the tourist spots or you can visit the above recommendations, but there is nothing quite like discovering a city on your own. The best way to see the real Florence is to leave your hotel without an agenda and just revel in the countless wonders this city has to offer. Take random street, get completely lost, and see what treasures you can find.
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