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A definitive guide to Florence’s best-kept secrets 

Nestled in the gently rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside, Florence exudes a unique elegance and offers endless possibilities for those who love art, history, wine, food, and artisan traditions. In essence, Florence has it all! Considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence has an artistic heritage that is difficult to beat, bursting with artworks created by some of the most famous and influential artists in history, from Michelangelo’s masterpiece, David, to breathtaking paintings by Botticelli, Leonardo, and Raphael. The patronage of the wealthy and powerful Medici family, who controlled Florence throughout much of the Renaissance period, paved the way for the city’s cultural geniuses to create such masterpieces and in turn, give birth to the Renaissance movement. Amid such a rich cultural and historical landscape, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Having consulted our local experts, we are ready to share Florence’s best-kept secrets, so you can go beyond the famous sights and museums and delve into a full and authentic experience of this magical city. Artistic hidden gems As the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is adorned with masterpieces from some of history’s greatest creators. The Uffizi Gallery and the Accademia Gallery are the most renowned art galleries in Florence, housing some of the world’s masterpieces, from works such as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Fabriano’s Adoration of the Magi, and Michelangelo’s original statue of ‘David’. For those who want to venture off the beaten path and dig a little deeper, Florence has many more magnificent galleries and museums filled with equally exquisite pieces and hidden gems. While many travelers climb up to Brunelleschi’s red-tiled duomo, few visit the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, nestled just behind the cathedral. The museum houses all the original artworks that were once displayed within the Duomo itself but have since been moved here for safekeeping and preservation, such as Michelangelo’s haunting ‘Pietà’. The National Museum of Bargello is set in one of the oldest buildings in Florence, a former city jail. Touring this quiet and crowd-free gallery with a local curator allows you to admire the exhibits at your own pace, away from the haste of the city’s more popular museums. Here you can discover an impressive assortment of Donatello and Michelangelo classics. For Renaissance enthusiasts, the Bargello is to sculpture what the Uffizi is to painting. Gardens and parks: where nature meets history Despite being a rather compact city of architectural beauty, Florence has numerous public and private gardens that offer refuge from the fast-paced centro storico, or historical center. Walk along the tranquil River Arno to Palazzo Poggi and then continue up to reach Piazzale Michelangelo to witness the beauty of Florence in all its splendor. A rather recent addition to the list of monuments in Florence, this piazza was created in 1869 by architect Giuseppe Poggi, as part of a major restructuring of the city walls. Admiring the bronze replica of the statue of David (placed in honor of Michelangelo), before taking a seat on the steps of the square and admiring stunning panoramic views of the entire city. Watch the sunset over the terracotta rooftops and surrounding countryside dotted with villas, vineyards, and orchards as Florence’s cathedral, the Duomo, dominates the landscape with its architectural uniqueness. From these heights, you can get an almost birds-eye view of the city’s impressive monuments, churches, and varying neighbourhoods. If you are travelling to Florence in May or June, visit the immaculate Rose Garden to witness its beauty in full bloom. Found just below Piazzale Michelangelo, this beautiful garden is home to over 350 different varieties of rose species, alongside numerous other plants, such as lemon trees and irises. Lose yourself in the sweet aromas of this botanical haven and admire the twelve bronze statues of the famous Belgian artist, Jean-Michel Folon. Lying just south of the Arno River, the grandiose Pitti Palace is one of Florence’s largest architectural monuments. Designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, it belonged to the Pitti family and was later sold to the Medicis to become the primary residence of the grand ducal family. From Costume to Silver, the Pitti Palace has seven fascinating historical and cultural museums ready to be explored with your expert local guide. However, it is the rolling hills behind the edifice, the Boboli Gardens that are truly breathtaking. The vast green expanse is a beautiful example of ‘green architecture’ within the city center, filled with ancient and Renaissance statues, and adorned with grottos and large fountains. After losing yourself in history, spend the rest of the afternoon away from the hustle and bustle of the city center, strolling through these picturesque gardens. Flavors of Florence Italy is famous for many things, but in particular for its cuisine, and in Florence, restaurants abound at every level. Beyond the wonderful carb-fueled creations of pizza and pasta, Florence is heaven for meat lovers. The signature bistecca alla fiorentina is a large T-bone steak seasoned with olive oil and sea salt, and is often enjoyed with a bottle of Tuscan red wine. This popular dish was invented during the reign of the Medici family, when cuts of meat were grilled on bonfires during large celebrations across the city. Today, Florence is filled with both traditional and artisanal steak restaurants, alongside many new and more modern takes on this Florentine speciality. While in Florence, be sure to experience Aperitivo, a unique Italian ritual of enjoying a pre-dinner bite and aperitif cocktail. This vibrant custom has become very popular in Florence, with many new, trendy bars opening up to offer a more contemporary style, steering away from typical Italian cold cuts and moving towards vegetarian and vegan options. After a tour of the Uffizi Gallery or a stroll around the nearby Piazza della Signoria, visit All’antico Vinaio. Once a single shop, the family-run business has opened three more shops on the same street and is now world-famous for its traditional and delicious paninis. Florence’s bustling central market, the Mercato Centrale, is both a cultural adventure and food heaven. Wander through the colorful stalls selling fresh fruits and vegetables, and the typical vendors selling fish, meats and cheeses alongside specialty shops boasting local delicacies. Immerse yourself in local life as you watch the pasta machines at work and witness the animated interaction between buyers and vendors in the many little ‘botteghe’. The upstairs level has been revitalized as an ‘indoor piazza’ lined with food stalls that call upon old Italian cultural traditions. Tour the market and discover the secrets behind the culinary traditions of Italy. Artisans in Florence Florence has always been a hub for creation, innovation, and brilliant minds. And though the city’s crafts have transformed since its glory days, many of these age-old techniques are still alive today. Artisanal trades such as leather, gold, bookbinding, and marbled paper all date back through the centuries and the excellence of the work is there to appreciate. Take a tour with a local guide and wander through Florence’s narrow streets, from the Oltrarno neighborhood all the way to the main cathedral, and discover a blend of traditional artisans and innovators reinventing old crafts with a modern twist. Whilst witnessing these gifted craftsmen at work is mesmerizing in itself, learning about the artisanal history with a guide allows you to discover the real character of the city through its expert craftsmen, who have been passing on their knowledge down through the generations. Whilst Milan might be one of the world’s four fashion capitals, Florence too is a fashion center. The city is the birthplace of Guccio Gucci, who founded the world-famous fashion house in 1921. The high-quality leather goods crafted by skilled craftsmen quickly took over the world and built a reputation that remains synonymous with luxury, 100 years later. For fashion lovers, Florence offers shopping options ranging from high-end, along the city’s most fashionable via Tornabuoni, to funky and unique in the side streets and artisan workshops. Anna Mascaro is Founder of Terracotta Travel. Terracotta Travel is a boutique travel agency that caters for luxury travellers who want to go beyond the guidebook and behind the scenes in every corner of the world. If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

Anna Mascaro

Anna Mascaro is the Founder and lead travel designer of Terracotta Travel, Southern Europe’s premier travel firm. From exclusive insider access and handpicked hotels that reflect the culture and character of their location, Anna has spent the last decade planning private, tailor-made vacations for discerning travelers looking to experience the hidden gems of the world, through the stories of insiders. She crafts unique and immersive journeys without sacrificing style, premium service and elite comfort. When she’s not planning your dream vacation, you can find Anna travelling across Europe, sailing across the Atlantic or hiking the big ice in Greenland.

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  1. Some very helpful suggestions here on how to escape from the crowds and queues and find some peaceful moments. Also if you follow these tips, especially watching the artisans, you’ll probably get a feel for the authentic city.

    1. Glad you find them helpful, Ellen. When I go on trips I really love to have authentic experiences!

  2. This is a really nice piece because Florence is the sort of city where you shouldn’t just rush around for two or three days seeing the big name sights. Doing things like the market help you to slow down and linger a bit.

    1. I agree, Alison. As much as I love to see the big sights, I think it is just as important to see how the locals live to get a good feel for the city!

  3. I’ve just read Forster’s “A room with a view” again, first time for some three decades. Last time I read it whilst I stayed in Florence. I’m very keen to get back to see all the sights again.

    1. I’m still yet to read this, Liz! I love how we can be reminded of our favourite places by simple things like this. I hope you get to visit Florence again soon.

  4. What fantastic insight into how to explore Florence and it’s beauty, beyond the typical and busy spots! I absolutely love this city and I can’t wait to return- using this definitive guide.

    1. Thanks, Roisin – I hope this guide helps you! Florence is just so beautiful, I hope you get to return soon!

    1. Thanks, Chuck. I hope you and your wife manage to visit – Florence certainly is beautiful!

  5. Beautifully written article! I can share your love for Florence with all its history, art, and culture. Walking along the Arno river, admiring the grandeur of Duomo and waking up to the Piazzale Michelangelo and much more were some of the best experiences of our travel. Thank you for sharing your guide to the best kept secrets of Florence.

    1. Glad you share my adoration for the city, Natalia! I hope we both get to visit again soon. I am dreaming about walking along the Arno!

  6. We were only in Florence for a short time and I tried to do as much as possible. I missed out on a lot on this list. There are so many great ideas here. I would have loved to some of those tradesmen in action on a tour like that.

    1. I hope you can visit again soon, Michelle. Watching the artisans is mesmerising – a must do on your next trip!

    1. I’m glad this article excites you, Alexa! Italy is such a beautiful country, and Florence is well worthy of bucket list status!

  7. I’ve had the fortune to visit Firenze in 2018 and I love the art and culture! I visited a handful of museums (the masterpieces, wow!) and bought some fantastic leather goods at affordable prices – not branded, but really well made.

    1. The art and culture is my favourite thing about Florence too, Salvador. The artisans really know their craft!

  8. Florence looks beautiful! I’m attracted to its history with art and fashion and it sounds like the perfect city to soak up on culture.

    1. This is the perfect place to soak up culture, for sure! With the abundance of art and history museums, you will never be bored in this beautiful city.

    1. Me neither, Amy. It was wonderful to witness it in real life after seeing it on tv and in books for many years!

    1. Glad you agree, Beth. The food in Florence is incredible, and the history really comes alive as you wander through the city!

  9. Just thinking about the history and food makes me desperate to visit Florence. This guide is wonderful, definitely giving me some great inspiration!

  10. Ever since I read and then watched “A Room with a View” I have wanted to visit Florence, to embrace it’s history and art. Some really excellent tips and some different ideas of places to visit to really see and feel the city.

    1. Hi Emily, Florence is a true gem. I’m happy to hear you liked the blog and I hope you get to visit soon!

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