• Leslie

Hidden Gems and Unusual Things To Do In Florence, For Repeat Visitors

Updated: May 20


the Wisteria Tunnel at the Bardini Gardens
the Wisteria Tunnel at the Bardini Gardens


Here's my guide to the best hidden gems and secret spots in Florence Italy. The "Cradle of the Renaissance," Florence is one of Europe's most beautiful and busiest cities. More than 4 million visitors descend on Florence annually, lured by spectacular art and architecture.


If you're only in Florence for a few days, you have to hit Florence's must see sites -- the Uffizi Gallery, the entire Duomo Complex, and Michelangelo's David. But what if you're there for a longer time frame, a repeat visit, or you want to avoid the seemingly ever-present tourist siege in Florence?



ultimate guide to amazing hidden gems and secret spots in Florence Italy


If so, here's an epic list of 21 off the beaten path destinations in Florence, for the discerning Florence tourist, repeat visitor, or art critic. While not as well known, these less visited Florence destinations boast beautiful must see Renaissance art without the crowds and lines. You can admire a groundbreaking painting, sculpture, or fresco without elbowing your neighbor or having your view obstructed.


If you want visit secret Florence, read on for the full scoop! You may also want to read up on the Medici family, the dynasty that ruled Florence for centuries. Click here to read a nutshell history of the Medici.



portrait of Lorenzo the Magnificent on the frescos of the Magi Chapel
portrait of Lorenzo the Magnificent on the frescos of the Magi Chapel


Hidden Gems and Secret Destinations in Florence Italy


If you want to avoid the hordes of crowds in Florence, put some of these hidden gems on your itinerary for Florence:


1. Chapel of the Magi | Capella dei Magi


The Chapel of the Magi is located in the Medici-Riccardi Palace, the first of three palaces that the Medici family lived in. Though the palace itself is rather a brooding rusticated stone affair, upstairs in the Piano Nobile hides one of the most precious hidden gems in Florence -- the Chapel of the Magi. The chapel is accessed via a stairway from the courtyard.


The Chapel of the Magi was a private chapel used exclusively for the Medici's prayer and devotion. The chapel is decorated with a beautiful series of frescos painted in 1459 by Benozzo Gozzoli. Gozzoli was trained by Ghiberti and Fra Angelico, and thus developed a charming narrative style.


The frescos are in two parts, the Procession of the Magi on three walls in the main room and the Adoration of the Magi in the chancel. The frescos are meant to glorify the Medici family. It was a form of propaganda to show their wealth and greatness. Throughout the chapel, there's an abundance of purple porphyry and gold, just to underscore the point.



altar with the Adoration of the Magi in Florence's Magi Chapel
altar with the Adoration of the Magi


The Procession of the Magi covers three of the four chapel walls. Each wall represents one of the three kings or magi arriving in Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn king, bringing expensive gifts. Famous Medici appear in the guise of the magi, equating themselves with immortality.


On the east wall, there's a portrait of Lorenzo the Magnificent at the age of 10 on a white horse. There's also a portrait of Giuliano, Lorenzo's brother who was assassinated in the Pazzi Conspiracy. Cosimo the Elder appears riding a donkey, a reference to Jesus himself. Is Cosimo trying to appear modest or as the second coming? It's delightfully unclear.


Address: Via Camillo Cavour 3

Piazza Santo Spirito in the now trendy Oltrarno district of Florence
Piazza Santo Spirito in the now trendy Oltrarno district


2. Basilica of Santo Spirito


This is Brunelleschi's second church in Florence. It's a hidden gem, sitting in a shabby chic piazza in the Oltrarno district. If you're hungry, stop in at Gustapanino for a panini.


Built in 1440, the church is a pivotal work of the early Renaissance. Brunelleschi was one of the first architects to use perspective and geometry, breaking away from outdated medieval church styles.


Brunelleschi thought beauty resided in harmony and mathematical perfection. He was inspired by the classicism of ancient Rome, creating an unassuming exterior and a rather severe interior. Brunelleschi used a latin cross (like a small t) floorpan.



Michelangelo crucifix in the sacristy of Santo Spirito
Michelangelo crucifix in the sacristy of Santo Spirito


The main altar, an out of place Baroque affair, is at the center of the crossing square. Three sides of Santo Spirito have a continuous succession of 40 identical semi-circular chapels. The massive pietra forte Corinthian columns give the church a monumentality.


Santo Spirito houses a wooden crucifix attributed to Michelangelo. It was carved when the artist was only 17. Restored, it now hangs 22 meters high in the sacristy designed by Lorenzo the Magnificent's favorite architect Giuliano da Sangallo. For 3 euros, you can access the sacristy from the cloister and see the crucifix in the round.


READ: Michelangelo Trail in Florence


There are also some notable frescos in the Bini-Capponi Chapel. And art lovers will should inspect Domenico di Zanobi's Maddona of the Relief in the Velutti Chapel.


Address: Piazza Santa Spirito 30



view of the Florence cityscape from the Villa Bardini, a hidden gem in Florence
view of the Florence cityscape from the Villa Bardini

3. Bardini Gardens


The Bardini Gardens are situated between Costa San Giorgio and Borgo San Niccolo. They're close to the more famous Boboli Gardens of the Pitti Palace, but much less crowded.


Beginning in the 13the century, the gardens belonged to the Mozzi family. In the 20th century, famous art dealer Stefano Bardini purchased the villa, gardens, and the surrounding properties. The gardens officially opened to the public in 2005, after a massive restoration.


The Bardini Gardens contains four hectares of woods, cypress trees, gardens and fruit orchards. It’s the perfect serene environment to take a relaxing stroll or stop to read a book.


The most famous spot is the whimsical Wisteria Tunnel of purple flowers (show at the top). If you go to the gardens in mid-April/May, the wisteria will be in peak bloom. The best spot for views is from the Belvedere terrace, where you get a panoramic view of the Florentine cityscape.


Address: Costa San Giorgio 2



antique Roman statues at Bardini Gardens
antique Roman statues at Bardini Gardens

the ornate tabernacle in Orsanmichele
the ornate tabernacle in Orsanmichele


4. Orsanmichele | San Michele in Orto


Designed by Francesco Talenti and others, Orsanmichele is a well preserved and important 15th century Florentine church. It's eccentric looking. Orsanmichele rises up like a three story brown rectangle.


But it's a treasure trove of Renaissance sculpture -- a sort of street view museum. Orsanmichele was originally Florence's central grain market. It was converted into a church in 1380.


Inside, the church has a spectacular bejeweled Gothic Tabernacle altar, with a painting of the Madonna della Grazie. Legend holds that those who prayed before her were granted miracles. The original painting was lost and replaced with a 1497 painting by Bernardo Daddi.


Orsanmichele is most noted for its incredible sculpture, decorating the exuberant Gothic facade. The facade has 14 niches, each one housing a statue of a patron saint commissioned by Florence's guilds. Created by the best artists of the time, the exterior sculptures are now copies, with the monumental originals in the Orsanmichele Museum on the top floor of the church.



Donatello, St. Mark,
Donatello, St. Mark,


By far, Orsanmichele's most famous sculpture is Donatello's St. Mark. It's the first truly Renaissance piece of art (sculpture was more advanced than painting). St. Mark marked a revival of classical themes and naturalism. St. Mark was even given a receding hairline. Donatello's famous St. George was also once at Orsanmichele, but was moved to the Bargello Museum.


Orsanmichele also has three sculptures by Ghiberti -- St. John the Baptist (the first significant Renaissance statue in bronze), St. Matthew (Ghiberti's most important sculpture), and St. Stephen. And also a famous sculpture by Andrea Verrochio, Doubting Thomas. Verrochio was Leonardo da Vinci's teacher. Right now, the Orsanmichele Museum is only open on Monday and Saturday morning.


READ: Guide To the Verrochio Trail in Florence


Address: Via dell'Arte della Lana



Stibbert Museum in Florence
Stibbert Museum


5. Stibbert Museum and Garden


Perfect for history and military buffs, the Stibbert Museum is one of Florence's more unusual museums. It houses the private collection of eccentric art collector Frederick Stibbert. When Stibbert inherited a fortune, he retired. Collecting art became his passion. Hard life, huh?


When Stibbert died, he gifted his villa to Florence. His museum is filled with an eclectic collection of artifacts, especially armory and weaponry, spread over 57 rooms. One of the most important pieces is the "pwit costume," made for the coronation of Napoleon as king of Italy in 1805.


Be sure to wander through the Medieval Room and the Hall of Knights. The latter has full scale replicas of horses and armory. That room's only beat by the sheer number of samurai swords.



Egyptian Temple in the Stibbert Garden
Egyptian Temple in the Stibbert Garden


The Stibbert Museum also has a beautiful garden. The Stibbert Garden is a romantic English style garden with quirky architectural elements, filled with caves, temples, and fountains. You could stop here as part of a day trip from Florence to nearby Fiesole.


There are two ponds with a variety of aquatic life. Apart from admiring the flora and fauna, there are two temples. One is a Hellenistic temple. The other is an Egyptian Temple, built by Stibbert himself between 1862-64. Both temples recall the 19th century fashion for all things antiquity.


Address: Via Frederico Stibbert 26



Hall of Paradise in the Duomo Museum in Florence
Hall of Paradise in the Duomo Museum


6. Duomo Museum | Opera del Duomo Museum


The newly renovated Opera del Duomo Museum is an absolute must see site in Florence. Everyone visits the Duomo, but very few go inside the museum. That's a mistake because it's spectacular. The Duomo Museum is housed in the Piazza del Duomo at the back of Giotto's Bell Tower, and offers a nice view of Brunelleschi's dome from its terrace.


The museum houses works that were removed from the Duomo complex or brought in from outside for conservation. With 750 pieces, it's the world's largest collection of monumental Florentine sculpture.


The first thing you see when you walk in the museum is the Hall of Paradise. The hall contains a magnificent reconstruction of a Duomo facade that was torn down in 1587 to make room for a Renaissance facade (that was never completed). The reconstructed facade has exact replicas of the sculptures that once adorned it.



Arnolfo de Cambio, Madonna of the Glass Eyes, 1300
Arnolfo de Cambio, Madonna of the Glass Eyes, 1300

Ghiberti's gorgeously restored Gates of Paradise, 1425-52
Ghiberti's gorgeously restored Gates of Paradise, 1425-52


The other must see masterpieces in the Duomo Museum are Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise (the world's most famous doors), Michelangelo's unfinished Florence Pieta, and Donatello's compelling Penitent Magdalene. One of Michelangelo's last masterpieces, the pieta is currently being restored behind glass walls.


For my complete guide to the Opera del Duomo Museum click here.


Address: Piazza del Duomo 9

Taddeo Gaudi, The Last Supper, 1360s
Taddeo Gaudi, The Last Supper, 1360s


7. Opera Museum of Sante Croce Basilica


The Basilica of Santa Croce isn’t a hidden gem. The beautiful basilica has one of the world's greatest assemblages of frescos, painting, sculptures, and celebrity funeral tombs (including Michelangelo's). But most people don’t make it to Santa Croce’s museum, the Museo dell'Opera di Santa Croce. Founded in1900, the Santa Croce Museum is in the church's former Refectory. It houses works from the Florentine school.


In 1966, the space was damaged by catastrophic flooding of the Arno River. It was carefully restored, though some damage was irreversible. The museum reopened in 1975.

In the museum, you’ll find many impressive frescos, sculptures, sketches, etc.


The must see masterpieces include Cimabue's Crucifix, Donatello's St. Louis of Toulouse, Taddeo Gaddi's The Last Supper and the Tree of Life, Bronzino's Christ's Descent into Limbo, and Francesco Salviati's Deposition from the Cross. There's also a beautiful collection of terra-cotta tile by the Della Robia School.


If you want more information, click here for my comprehensive guide to the Santa Croce complex.


Address: Piazza di Santa Croce 16



 the Hospital of the Innocents in the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata
the Hospital of the Innocents in the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata


8. Hospital of the Innocents


The Hospital of the Innocents is a museum dedicated to the first orphanage in Florence. This landmark building was designed by the famous architect Brunelleschi. It was his very first project. His resurrection of a classical style would establish a foundation for Italian architecture for centuries.


The museum was recently renovated and modernized. The museum uses a lot of digital and multi-media equipment to relay the history of the orphanage.


The most moving part of the museum is the objects parents left behind with their child, such as a broken locket. The objects were meant to be proof of parentage once the parent and child were reunited. But sometimes the parent never returned, and the objects are a bleak reminder of the child's dire situation.



Gallery of the Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence's Hospital of the Innocents
Gallery of the Ospedale degli Innocenti


The building's facade is covered with a nine bay loggia, and is slightly elevated with a staircase. There are concave circular frames set within spandrels between the loggias. Four decades after Brunelleschi's death, the ten "bambini" of Della Robbia -- glazed relief sculptures of babies wearing swaddling clothes -- were added. Nine triangular topped windows sit above the arches.


Inside you’ll find a women's courtyard and a mens courtyard. The refectory, cloisters, dormitories, infirmary, and porticoes were purposely balanced by Brunelleschi to create a harmonious and rational hospital architecture. Later, the rooms were enlarged and decorated with frescoes. The frescos depict the activities of the institution and the favors granted by the Medici dynasty.



Mars holds the Medici coat of arms between putti. Fresco by Bernardino Poccetti
Mars holds the Medici coat of arms between putti. Fresco by Bernardino Poccetti

Botticelli, Madonna and Child With an Angel, 1465-67
Botticelli, Madonna and Child With an Angel, 1465-67


The Hospital of the Innocents also has a fine art collection. It’s on the top floor gallery. There, you’ll find works by Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Giambologna, and Della Robbia.


READ: Botticelli Trial in Florence


Probably the most famous painting is Ghirlandaio's Adoration of the Magi. Don’t miss the Madonna with Child attributed to a young Botticelli, who was obviously still under the influence of his brilliant master Filippo Lippi (whose quite similar Madonna and Child is in the Uffizi Gallery).


Address: Piazza della Santissima Annunziata 13



Basilica of San Miniato al Monte in Florence
Basilica of San Miniato al Monte


9. Basilica of San Miniato al Monte


Most people head to Piazzale Michelangelo for the best views of Florence. But if you’re willing to hike a little higher, maybe 5 more minutes, you’ll find one of Florence’s most beautiful and best preserved ancient churches, the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte.


The basilica is Florence's crowning glory, with even better views. Building began in 1018. Like the Baptistry, the church is over 1000 years old.


The church takes its name from Minias, an Armenian prince who was Florence's first martyr. Legend holds that Minias picked up his decapitated head and flew over the Arno to the church site. San Miniato Church is dedicated to the saint.


The relics of Minias are often said to be buried in the church crypt, which features frescos by Taddeo Gaddi. But that's inaccurate. The bones were sold off to raise money for the church. So I'm not sure what's in the crypt besides chicken bones.



frescos in the church depicting the life of St. Benedict
frescos in the church depicting the life of St. Benedict


San Miniato has Florence's emblematic white and green marble facade. It's a harmonious piece of Tuscan Romanesque architecture, a very unique building in Florence.


When you walk through the turquoise doors, you're greeted by a spectacular interior. Every inch of the church is covered in mosaics, gold leaf, or geometric patterns, with a spectacular mosaic decorating the half dome in the apse. The marble floor is decorated with zodiac signs.


The monks of San Miniato still sing Gregorian chants at Vespers, in a small chapel at the back of the church. Anyone can go and listen. They usually chant at 5:30 pm in the summer and 4:30 pm in the winter.


Address: Via delle Porte Sante 34

staircase in the Michelangelo-designed Laurentian Library
staircase in the Michelangelo-designed Laurentian Library

10. Michelangelo's Laurentian Library


Commissioned by Pope Clement VII, the Laurentian Library is a revolutionary and blissfully uncrowded masterpiece. Construction began in 1524 and the library opened in 1571. It now functions as a museum, not a library. It's part of the Basilica of San Lorenzo complex.


The Laurentian Library consists of a reading room and a 48 foot vestibule built atop the San Lorenzo cloisters. It has one of the world's most important collections of manuscripts, which belonged to the Medici family.


In designing the library, Michelangelo broke away from classical tradition and rules of proportion. He designed a dream-like space with curves and unusual configurations.

The seemingly oversize Triple Staircase conveys a sense of movement. It seems to pour forward like pools of liquid. It may be the first freestanding staircase in architectural history.



Reading Room of the Laurentian Library
Reading Room of the Laurentian Library


Wild structures surround the staircase. You almost don't see the walls .They're decorated with architectural elements such as extremely large low-hanging brackets. Some of the elements are put into niches, making architecture the artwork. Columns are set into the wall or appear to rest on the corbels.


Unlike the vestibule, the Reading Room develops horizontally. There are two series of wooden benches, called plutei. There's a white and red terra cotta floor and a coffered ceiling. Michelangelo's dramatic and inventive architectural style marked the beginning of Mannerism, a late Renaissance period that reinvented and put a stylized twist on classicism.


Address: Piazza San Lorenzo 9, entrance is to the left of San Lorenzo



Cloister of the Scalzo with Andrea del Sarto frescos
Cloister of the Scalzo with Andrea del Sarto frescos

11. The Chiostro dello Scalzo


The little known Cloister of the Scalzo is a meditative space in Florence just around the corner from San Marco Monastery. It's a blissfully empty space without the cacophony of crowds at Florence’s usual hotspots. This small hidden gem isn't always open, so check the website for official hours. But it is always free.


The cloister itself was designed by celebrated architect Giuliano da Sangallo. Amid the elegant architecture are the beautiful frescos painted by High Renaissance and Mannerist painter Andrea del Sarto — known as the “faultless painter” —and his friend and fellow painter Fraciabigio. Michelangelo was a del Sarto fanboy and del Sarto went on to teach Giorgio Vasari.


The frescoes are in monochromatic pigments, called the grisaille, style, which focuses the viewer's attention on the beautiful drawing techniques employed. They depict twelve scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist and the four allegories of Charity, Hope, Justice and Faith. The frescos were painted at various times from 1509-1526. Del Sarto’s style is marked by a sophisticated informality and natural expression of emotion.


Address: Via Cavour 69



Bust of Dante Alighieri at Dante’s Museum
Bust of Dante Alighieri at Dante’s Museum

12. Casa di Dante | Dante's House


The Casa di Dante is supposed to be an exact replica of the house Dante lived in in Florence. Dante Alighieri is Italy's famed 13th century poet and author of The Divine Comedy.


In this epic poem, Dante creates a fictional version of himself, traveling through hell, purgatory, and paradise. His image driven descriptions were hugely influential, producing a plethora of visual art.


Dante famously fell in love with Beatrice Portinari, writing about her as an idealized love in his Vita Nuova. But it was an unrequited love. Dante admired her from afar. His passion became the subject of many paintings by Pre-Raphelite artists, especially Dante Gabriel Rossetti.


If you have an abiding fascination with the great 13th century poet, you'll probably be interested in the displays. There are many copies of The Divine Comedy. Nearby is the church where Beatrice attended mass.


Address: Via Santa Margherita 1



the Arezzo Chimera from the 4th century B.C.
the Arezzo Chimera from the 4th century B.C.


13. Archaeolgical Museum


If you need a break from Renaissance art, head to Florence's Archaeological Museum, housed in the Palazzo della Crocetta. It has an important archaeological collection, with a focus on the Etruscan period.


The museum's most famous piece is the Arezzo Chimera, a bronze hybrid figure of a mythical lion-goat-serpent. The piece is truly ancient, dating back to the 4th century B.C. But it wasn't discovered until the 16th century, pulled out of the earth in Arezzo in 1553.


When it was discovered, Cosimo I, who had a collector's taste for Etruscan art, recognized its value. He had architect and artist Giorgio Vasari authenticate it. The sculptor and goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini (whose Perseus graces the Loggia dei Lanza) cleaned and restored the piece. Cosimo kept the chimera in his personal collection at the Palazzo Vecchio.


On the top floor is another intriguing bronze, Idolino. The museum also has a vast collection of pottery, funerary urns, and gem stones.


Address: Piazza Santissima Annunziata 9b



fresco in the Buonomini di San Martino
fresco in the Buonomini di San Martino


14. Buonomini di San Martino


This 700 year old church is an important medieval complex. The church, which can be visited for free, was the home of the Confraternity of the Buonomini di San Martino. Buonomini literally translates as “good men." A confraternity was an association of lay people who gathered together to pray and do charitable works.


Saint Martin of Tours is the saint most often associated with charity. Legend holds that he divided his cloak in two to share it with a beggar. In the Buonomini’s oratory, the saint is represented in 2 frescoed lunettes, while 8 other lunettes represent the various works and good deeds of the charitable Buonomini men.


The lunettes were painted by an unknown artist in the school of Ghirlandaio in the early 1480s. They are similar style to the frescoes in the high chapel of Santa Maria Novella.


Address: Piazza San Martino (off via Dante Alighieri)



L'importuno di Michelangelo, a carving on the Palazzo Vecchio
L'importuno di Michelangelo, a carving on the Palazzo Vecchio


15. L'importuno di Michelangelo


The L'importuno is a little piece of street art attributed to Michelangelo. It's a graffiti- like carving etched into a single stone of the Palazzo Vecchio, near the Uffizi Gallery. It's a simple almost caricature-y outline of a man's face.


It's unclear why Michelangelo may have carved the piece. One story holds that it's the face of a man who bored Michelangelo in conversation on a daily basis. Another legend holds that it's the face of a condemned prisoner executed in the Piazza della Signoria. Some even claim that Michelangelo carved it with his knife hidden behind his back.


In any event, it's just proof that graffiti has been around since ancient times.


Address: Piazza della Signoria



monumental Cemetery of the "Porte Sante" next to the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte
monumental Cemetery of the "Porte Sante" next to the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte


16. Delle Porte Sante Cemetery | Sacred Doors Cemetery


If you're looking for some crowd free views of Florence, instead of Piazzale Michelangelo head uphill to the Sacred Doors Cemetery. It's right behind the Church of San Miniato al Monte. This ancient graveyard is an open air museum, stuffed with beautiful funeral art and memorials.


The private temples and tombs are in varying architectural styles, from Renaissance to Art Deco. Many of them are inspired by Florence's churches. The most famous effigy (show above) depicts the Mazzone siblings dancing together, fully united in the after life.



view from the Delle Porte Sante Cemetery
view from the Delle Porte Sante Cemetery

Buontalenti Grotto in the Boboli Gardens
Buontalenti Grotto in the Boboli Gardens


17. Buontalenti Grotto in the Boboli Gardens


The Buontalenti Grotto, also known as the Grotto Grande, is a fascinating but often overlooked spot in the Boboli Gardens of the Pitti Palace. In 16th century Tuscany, it was the fashion to build decorative grottos reconstructing natural caves. Buontalenti refers to the architect who designed this fantastical creation for Francesco I de' Medici.