Florence still has her sweet spots, as any Florence Untour guest knows well. Though the historic center can feel overrun with tourists and students on a busy day in June, there are plenty of back streets and hidden churches to lure you in. Here are a few of my favorite alternatives to the tried and true (and crowded).
(For the record, I love all of the main sites on this list as much as I love the alternatives I suggest. You should see everything on this list if you haven’t already.)
If you like the Mercato Centrale, try Sant’ Ambrogio Market.
The Mercato Centrale is a gem of Art Nouveau architecture and a gastronomical paradise. It is also swamped with tourists and locals alike. Head east to the Santa Croce area and its Sant’ Ambrogio Market, where you will find a food hall that is a little smaller and less grand but much more local. Sample prepared foods, stock up on produce and cheese, visit the butcher and pasta makers, and rub elbows with the natives at various stalls in this lovely food hall.
If you like the Boboli Gardens, try the Botanical Gardens.
The Botanical Gardens (Orto Botanico) were founded in 1545, when Cosimo di Medici purchased the land from the Dominican sisters. Its original focus was medicinal plants, but the Giardino dei Semplici grew to house broad collections of ferns, orchids, and azaleas, along with numerous greenhouses and sculptures. Step into this green sanctuary and leave the tourists behind.
If you like the Galleria dell’Accademia, try the Medici Chapel.
While hardly under the radar, the Medici Chapel is an important stop on the trail of Michelangelo. Seeing his David and Slaves sculptures in the Galleria dell’Accademia will whet your appetite. Step into the marble harmony of the Medici Chapel and be awed. This is a family mausoleum commissioned by Cardinal Giulio de Medici (Pope Clement VII) to house the tombs of Lorenzo the Magnificent and his brother Giuliano, Lorenzo the Duke of Urbino, and Giuliano Duke of Nemours, all of whom Michelangelo sculpted. Visit this marble masterpiece of architecture, designed by Michelangelo, and understand his genius.
If you like Cibreo, try Teatro del Sale.
Cibreo remains one of the city’s best restaurants and most coveted dinner reservations, and for good reason. But if you are looking for something a little different, check out Teatro del Sale, a cabaret club run by the owners of Cibreo. With a dinner buffet and live entertainment that runs from the musical to the theatrical. You’ll need to “join” the club and reserve ahead, and be sure to plan for a night when the act is something you can enjoy without speaking Italian.
If you like the Piazza della Signoria, try the Piazza Santo Spirito.
There’s nothing like sitting outside on a busy historic square, whether you are tucking into a delicious Tuscan meal or sipping a coffee or a glass of wine and people watching, al fresco is the way to go! Piazza della Signoria is a favorite spot to linger at a table. But consider checking out Piazza Santo Spirito in Oltrarno, across the Arno River. A regular morning vegetable market sets up on one end, and the square is ringed in popular cafes and informal restaurants. The crowd is more local, and the people watching is divine.
Enjoy your time in Florence! Staying in the city for a week or two on an Untour will give you the chance to explore it in the early morning hours and in the evening, when crowds thin. And you will have time to venture into its lesser known sights and overlooked treasures!