Home Destinations 21 Unique Things to Do in Florence 2024 // Hidden Gems, Quirky Attractions & Tours

21 Unique Things to Do in Florence 2024 // Hidden Gems, Quirky Attractions & Tours

Get off the beaten track and explore lesser-known gems with this comprehensive guide to unusual things to do in Florence

by Michele
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Unique Things to Do in Florence
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The Cathedral, the Uffizi Gallery, and the selfies on the Ponte Vecchio bridge have all been checked off your itinerary. You might think you’ve visited all the must-sees in Florence, but the city has much more to offer in the form of hidden gems that piece together the rich history of the city.

This guide highlights 21 unique things to do in Florence, many of which can easily be incorporated into your plans. There’s no doubt that discovering these lesser-known sites will provide you with a deeper appreciation of Florence’s unique character, enhancing your travel experiences. So, get ready to head off the beaten track!

1. Explore the famous wine windows of Florence

Unique Things to Do in Florence - Buca del vino - Vendita del vino

The buchette del vino, or wine windows, are a unique part of Florence’s cultural heritage. Easy to overlook, they’re small openings in the walls of ancient palaces, big enough for a flask, that allow the sale of wine to passersby. Their story dates back to the 16th century when, among the many concessions Cosimo I de’ Medici made to the nobles, he gave them the right to sell their wine tax-free straight from their homes. Then, when the plague hit Florence in the 1630s, the buchette were useful for maintaining social distance, just like in the recent Covid times – talk about history repeating itself!

Travel tip: With about 150 buchette scattered throughout the city (some still in use), this wine windows tour makes a truly unique experience in Florence.

2. Learn the tricks of the leather trade at the Scuola del Cuoio

Unique Things to Do in Florence - Scuola del Cuoio workshop Unique Things to Do in Florence - Scuola del Cuoio - GuildingWhile it may not be a surprise that a city renowned for its leather goods has a school specializing in this material, did you know you can even visit it and shop for incredible-quality leather products? Established after World War II by the Franciscan friars of the Monastery of Santa Croce and two Florentine leather artisan families, Scuola del Cuoio (Leather School) was created to provide orphans of the war an opportunity to learn and master a trade. The school has since become famous for its superior-quality products. To give you an idea, President Eisenhower’s leather desk set at the White House was crafted here. If you are planning to visit leather shops in Florence, this is definitely the place to go. Prices may be slightly more expensive, but you can be certain that the products are 100% handmade and of the highest standards.

Travel tip: Scuola del Cuoio is still a working school, offering courses, workshops, and one-week private experiences to make your own bag! More info here.

3. Stibbert Museum

Among the most unique things to do in Florence, the Stibbert Museum is an absolute must. Located in a beautiful villa on the city’s outskirts, it showcases the remarkable collection of weapons and armor belonging to Frederick Stibbert, an English gentleman from a wealthy military family. He lived in Florence in the 19th century and used the inheritance from his grandfather, the former Governor of Bengal, to convert his home into a museum. And he did a great job! Today his collection comprises about 50,000 items and is known for having the largest collection of Japanese armory outside of Japan. Among the many precious artifacts on display is a Madonna by Botticelli.

Tip: Don’t forget to check out the delightful English garden surrounding the villa, with fountains, temples, rock caves, and a greenhouse.

​4. Explore the English Cemetery

Unique Things to Do in Florence - English Cemetery - Grim reaper

There’s a small plot of land near Piazzale Donatello that looks like a traffic island but in reality, is a cemetery – the English Cemetery or Cimitero degli Inglesi. Visiting this place is definitely one of the most unique things to do in Florence. Inside, there are commemorative columns and sculptures, including one of the grim reaper, but what makes this place so fascinating is that it’s in Italy, but it’s owned by Switzerland, and it hosts the tombs of many English and American figures. It was created in 1827 for non-Christians who, before then, had to be transported at great expense to the non-Catholic cemetery in Livorno. Famous residents include the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the last descendants of William Shakespeare.

Tip: Between April and May, the iris’ are in bloom around the tombstones, so it’s the perfect time to visit.

Unique Things to Do in Florence - English Cemetery

5. Take a cruise down the Arno River

Unique Things to Do in Florence - Ponte Vecchio at sunsetFor a truly unique Florence experience, take a boat tour on the Arno with the Renaioli. Until the Second World War, the Renaioli (literally, sand diggers) dug sand from the river bed that was then used to build Florence’s historic buildings. This job was slowly abandoned, but the Renaioli revived the tradition by restoring their flat-bottomed boats and offering these special trips. Tours are available between May and September and usually depart from the dock in Piazza Mentana near the Uffizi Gallery. The 45-minute navigation will give you amazing views of the Ponte Vecchio bridge, the Vasari Corridor, the Palazzo Corsini, and many other beautiful sights in Florence.

Tip: If you can, make sure to take the after-sunset boat tour, it’s truly magical.

6. Go behind the scenes at Florence’s Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

Unique Things to Do in Florence - Florence Cathdrale and sunsetAfter taking the ritual pictures and seeing the main sights of the Santa Maria del Fiore complex, how about taking a closer look at places and artworks that aren’t normally open to the public? You could discover the unique mechanism of Paolo Uccello’s clock, one of the few in the world that marks the time from sunset. Or perhaps see the Cathedral’s Sacristy, where Lorenzo The Magnificent found refuge from the Pazzi conspiracy and whose walls are beautifully decorated with wooden marquetry. And there’s also the opportunity to visit the Cathedral restoration workshop where Michelangelo carved his world-famous David.

Tip: Keep an eye on the cathedral’s website for updated availabilities.

7. See Galileo’s fingers at the Galileo Galilei Museum

Unique Things to Do in Florence - Galileo Museum - Galileo's FingersIt’s quite amusing to think that Galileo was accused of heresy for his scientific explorations and almost four centuries later, his relics are showcased like those of a saint. But that’s exactly what you’ll see at the Galileo Galilei Museum in Florence. Though often overlooked in the shadow of the Uffizi, this museum is great for adults and children alike thanks to a captivating collection of scientific instruments, including the only two surviving telescopes built by the Tuscan physicist. But what really makes this exhibition stand out is the pseudo-reliquary containing Galileo’s thumb, index finger, middle finger, and tooth, which were taken from his corpse when he was moved to his tomb in Santa Croce and kept as a tribute to his memory.

Tip: An armillary sphere built in the 16th century for Ferdinand I de’ Medici represents the “universal machine” of the world in accordance with Aristotle’s concepts. It even shows territories that were still relatively unknown at the time – fascinating!

Unique Things to Do in Florence - Galileo Museum - Santucci's Armillary Sphere

Santucci’s Armillary Sphere

8. Enjoy a night of food and entertainment at Teatro del Sale

Here’s an authentic hidden gem in Florence: Teatro del Sale. Located on Via de’ Macci, near the Sant’Ambrogio market, it’s a restaurant set up in a former theater where shows accompany dinners. But don’t expect a tourist trap. This is a place for “socialization, thoughtful relax, and entertainment” that makes for a warm and truly authentic Italian experience. The kitchen is open for all to see, and the food is served buffet-style, with cooks yelling out to announce when the dishes are ready. The brain behind this one-of-a-kind establishment is Chef Fabio Picchi, who is also the owner of the famous Florence restaurant, Cibrèo. The entertainment features artists from all over the world and, sometimes, Fabio’s wife.

9. See Michelangelo’s revolutionary Laurentian Library

Mostly known for his iconic frescoed ceiling in the Sistine Chapel or his sculptures, Michelangelo also happened to be a skilled architect. While in Florence, you have the opportunity to admire one of his most important architectural achievements: the Laurentian Library near the Basilica di San Lorenzo. He built it between 1519 and 1534 to house the prestigious collection of manuscripts that had been collected by the Medici family during the 15th century. The library showcases Michelangelo’s pioneering Mannerist style, as exemplified by the unique, dynamic staircase in the vestibule, which creates a dynamic vertical movement into the upper reading room, almost symbolizing a journey toward knowledge.

10. Jump on the bus to Fiesole and enjoy a panoramic ride

Unique Things to Do in Florence - Fiesole - Cattedrale di San Romolo

San Romolo Cathedrale

So, you are in Florence and chances are you’re clocking up the miles to see everything. Why don’t you take a break with a panoramic ride aboard a local bus? Some Ataf lines have routes that allow you to see Florence from a different point of view. With as little as €1.50 (the ticket cost), for instance, you could catch line 12 from the Santa Maria Novella train station and reach the Church of San Miniato and the panoramic spot of Piazzale Michelangelo, two of the best free things to do in Florence.

Tip: Steer clear of peak hours, so you can take in the views without squeezing through the crowds.

Unique Things to Do in Florence - View from Fiesole

11. Learn about Gucci – the Italian brand that made history

Unique Things to Do in Florence - Gucci Museum Unique Things to Do in Florence - Gucci Museum and GardenIt was in 1921 that Guccio Gucci opened his first store in Florence with a dream. Today, his company has become one of the most iconic fashion brands in the world and the Gucci Museum inside Palazzo della Mercanziaon Piazza della Signoria narrates the evolution of Gucci fashion since its creation. The museum features a two-story, theatrical exhibition space showcasing a blend of contemporary art and vintage fashion pieces, including advertising campaigns, artisans’ images, and classic objects featuring the famous red and green stripes. As an added bonus, the museum is complemented by the Gucci Garden store and a restaurant run by Michelin-star chef Massimo Bottura – a great experience for fashion fans and non-fashion lovers alike.

12. Visit the enchanted EDV Garden

There’s a special garden on the hills above Piazzale Michelangelo that a mum created for her daughter and has become a magical place of wonder, beauty, and fantasy. It’s called EDV Garden, a private paradise that combines creativity and natural beauty, with an enchanting view of Florence. Spanning some 3300 square meters, this former olive grove is cultivated sustainably and counts 26 incredible installations, each teaching a valuable lesson. “Impossible Living Quarters”, for example, represents the struggle of a domestic partnership, while the “Fountain of Extraordinary Drops” teaches that we must not give up on dreams, even if they seem unreachable. Surely a one-of-a-kind experience in Florence for adults and children alike.

Tip: A number of experiences are available, but “sunset lights” is probably the most atmospheric.

13. Visit the studio of a local street artist, CLET

Unique Things to Do in Florence - Street art - Clet - Rabbit and carrot Unique Things to Do in Florence - Street art - Clet - Cat and mouseStreet art might be controversial in a city like Florence that’s rooted in Renaissance beauty and included on the prestigious UNESCO list. However, French artist Clet Abraham (aka CLET) devised a clever way to infuse modern art into the city’s rich heritage. Using removable stickers, he transforms street signs around Florence into beautiful pieces of art that have become part of the cityscape. Think Michelangelo’s David carrying the no-entry bar or the silhouette of a man using the one-way right arrow as if it was a guitar. A unique thing to do in Florence would be to visit his studio in the San Niccolò district. Here, you can see more of his work, purchase stickers or prints of his creations, and even chat with the artist himself.

14. Visit Palazzo Davanzati, a decadent early Renaissance home

Unique Things to Do in Florence - Palazzo Davanzati - Fireplace Unique Things to Do in Florence - Palazzo Davanzati - Dining roomHave you ever wanted to journey into the past and experience what life was like during the Renaissance era in Florence? Then Palazzo Davanzati is the perfect destination. This ancient building situated in the city centre was once the home of a wealthy Florentine family during the Renaissance period. It was built in the mid-14th century for a wool guild family, and the Davanzati family took ownership in 1578, hence the name it carries today. The Davanzati family lived in the palace until 1838, when the last heir died. The visit reveals beautifully restored rooms adorned with frescoed walls, period furniture, and decorative artifacts.

Unique Things to Do in Florence - Palazzo Davanzati - Wall pattern Unique Things to Do in Florence - Palazzo Davanzati - Wall decorations

The wall decorations of Palazzo Davanzati’s painted rooms had been partially concealed by layers of whitewash, they were discovered, restored, and returned to their original pictorial state during the renovation work on the Palazzo that was started by Elia Volpi in 1904.

Their discovery took place during the neo-medieval revival in which the city of Florence played a leading part during the first decades of the 20th century.

The Palazzo’s decorative wall paintings, restored with missing parts completed by specialised Florentine artists, including copyists and restorers, triggered the development of a trend called the ‘Davanzati style’. The decorative motifs depicted in the Davanzati rooms, in particular those of the Room of the Parrots, were often re-produced in the neo-medieval interior decorations of Florentine villas and palaces; they also served as inspiration for furnishings.

Unique Things to Do in Florence - Palazzo Davanzati - Bedroom

The ‘Davanzati style’ was also highly acclaimed abroad and thanks to the support, at least initially, of the antiquarian Elia Volpi, Florentine restorers (including Federico Angeli who had a well-established workshop) were asked by wealthy foreign collectors to create complete copies of the decorations in rooms in their villas in Europe and further afield.

Unique Things to Do in Florence - Palazzo Davanzati - Assassination of Giuliano de Medici written on wall

Announcement of Assassination of Giuliano de Medici

Tip: Since paper was expensive, walls were often used as a sort of blackboard. When visiting the kitchen, look for the scribbled wall: it contains a note about the assassination of Giuliano de Medici during the Pazzi Conspiracy (1478), something that surely made headlines at the time.

15. See art from the scaffolding at Brancacci Chapel

It’s rare for a work of art to be open to the public during renovation. Thankfully, the Brancacci Chapel inside the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine did just that. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to climb up specially prepared scaffolding and see the extraordinary frescoes by Masaccio, Masolino, and Filippino Lippi up close for the first time. They’re considered masterpieces of Renaissance art and depict scenes from the life of St. Peter as requested by the wealthy merchant who commissioned the chapel’s decoration in 1423.

Tip: Spots are limited and visits can only be scheduled by phone or email with slots on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays.

16. See the world’s largest wax anatomical collection

The Medici family were big on collecting and among their treasures were a lot of fossils, animals, minerals, and exotic plants. In 1775, these precious items were transferred to a complex near the Pitti Palace with the aim of showing them to the citizens of Florence. This is how La look Specola, the first scientific museum in Europe open to the public, came about. Throughout its history, it’s been visited by illustrious figures such as Goethe and Emperor Leopold, who could admire an impressive display of skeletons, anatomical waxworks and zoological taxidermy, including a hippopotamus that once lived in the Boboli Gardens. La Specola is currently closed for renovations but it’s expected to reopen this year.

Tip: Make sure you check out the wax models, which are an accurate three-dimensional textbook on human anatomy.

17. Visit the Museum of the Innocents (Museo degli Innocenti)

Unique Things to Do in Florence - Museo degli Innocenti - ExhibitThere’s a majestic porticoed building in Piazza S.S. Annunziata which often ends up in tourists’ photos without knowing its exact function. Now called the Museo degli Innocenti it served as the city’s orphanage since 1445. Financed by the Silk Guild, it was constructed by Brunelleschi and was the first institution of this kind in Europe, designed to raise children who were left anonymously at the entrance. Boys received a basic education and were then sent to workshops to learn a trade, while girls were taught to sew and weave. Over 5 centuries, the hospital gave shelter to more than 375,000 children and today it houses the UNICEF research centre.

A brief history

Unique Things to Do in Florence - Museo degli Innocenti - CourtyardThe number of newborn babes grew even in the 18th century, the average yearly intake rising from 500 in 1749 to almost 700 in 1765 and peaking out at 1,057 in 1767. By 1768 the Hospital was supporting over 3,000 inmates, and by 1873, shortly before the wheel was shut down, the yearly intake had risen to 2,318. In this section of the tour we are going to be discovering the ways the institution took children in between 1445 and 1875 and the kind of lives the boys and girls led, thanks to the unique documentation preserved in our Historical Archives.

In the 15th and early 16th centuries children abandoned at the Innocenti were placed on a pila, a concave stone resembling a holy-water stop, set up in the portico and communicating with the women’s church. A similar method was also in use in other Tuscan cities, but after the Council of Trent the pila was replaced in every hospital with a wheel that was only big enough to take newborn babes.

The Innocenti adopted the principles of the Counter-Reformation by placing a small window before the pila. In the early 16th century it appears that a crib was built inside the window, in which abandoned babies played the role of the Baby Jesus. The grated window was moved to the northern end of the Loggia in 1660. All newborn babes entrusted to the Hospital were received, at any age, by a senior wet nurse who jotted down the swaddling, the objects, and the messages left with them, which were then recorded and stored by the “minister of children”. The grated window was sealed in 1875, and children were entrusted to the Ospedale degli Innocenti via a Delivery Office from that moment on.

The Identification marks

Unique Things to Do in Florence - Museo degli Innocenti - Identification marksNewborn babes left at the Innocenti often had small items with them that could be used to identify them later: things like small medals broken in two (the mum kept one half and left the other with the child).

A card was filled in for each child and a clerk would jot down these small items, the state of the child’s health and a whole host of other details on it.

In 1861 as many as 1.477 tokens were left with more than half of the boys and girls who were probably legitimate children who could be taken back by their families. Most of these objects were of a profane nature, mainly coins and medals, while about a third were votive offerings, in particular small medals often dedicated to the Three Kings, the Virgin Mary or Saint Venantius.

Tip: Don’t leave without visiting the hospital’s museum, which exhibits works by Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, and della Robbia. End your visit on a hight at the rooftop terrace – Caffè del Verone for a bite to eat.

Unique Things to Do in Florence - Museo degli Innocenti - Paintings

Unique Things to Do in Florence - Ospedale degli Innocenti - Caffè del Verone

18. Meet the first woman to paint the Last Supper at Basilica of Santa Maria Novella

Unique Things to Do in Florence - Last Supper at Basilica of Santa Maria Novella

When Plautilla Nelli was given the chance and encouragement to pursue her art, she delivered something remarkable. In 1568, the Italian nun made history as the first female artist to paint the Last Supper for the refectory of her Santa Caterina da Siena convent – a biblical scene that had traditionally been the domain of male artists until then. With no formal training, Nelli taught herself and used oil on canvas. When Napoleon invaded Italy in the late 18th century and suppressed religious orders, the convent was closed and her painting was relocated to Santa Maria Novella complex, where it can still be admired today.

Tip: Vasari once wrote that Nelli ‘would have done marvelous things if, like men, she had been able to study’ – food for thought…

Unique Things to Do in Florence - Basilica of Santa Maria Novella - Inside

Unique Things to Do in Florence - Basilica of Santa Maria Novella - Cloister

19. Explore the Accademia beyond Michelangelo’s David

Free Things to do in Florence - Galleria dell'Accademia - Piano collection

Unique Things to Do in Florence - Galleria dell'Accademia - Plaster models

One of the most unique things to do in Florence can be found in one of the city’s hottest attractions. The Accademia Gallery draws in tourists from far and wide, mostly due to its famous Michelangelo’s David. However, it is also home to a lesser-known secret – the Gipsoteca. This hall is filled with plaster models created by 19th-century sculptor Lorenzo Bartolini, who was also a professor at the school of fine arts, of which the Academia Gallery was an extension. Here you can examine the process the sculptor used before tackling the block of marble and admire the beautiful busts, statues, and paintings produced by the artist and his students.  Joining this tour with an art historian is the best way to learn about Michelangelo’s genius and what makes his David so unique.

Tip: Hidden among the casts, you can admire a small shaped fresco, which is Pontormo’s first acknowledged work and shows the museum’s former use as a women’s ward.

Unique Things to Do in Florence - Galleria dell'Accademia - Cassone Adimari

Cassone Adimari

20. See the art of stone inlay at Opificio Delle Pietre Dure

Unique Things to Do in Florence - Opificio Delle Pietre DureTucked amid the tourist circuit in Florence, the Opificio Delle Pietre Dure (literally, Workshop of semi-precious stones) is the center for the art of using the natural variegation in semi-precious stones to assemble an image. Once again, it was a member of the Medici family who established a laboratory specialized in semi-precious mosaics and inlays for the family estates or to give them as gifts to the other sovereigns of Europe. That was in 1588, and four centuries later, it’s become one of the most important restoration centers in the world and an international training centre operating under the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage. On top of a conservation school, a specialist library, and a scientific laboratory, there’s also a display of historical examples of pietre dure and historical tools.

21. Selfie-taking extravaganza at the Selfie Museum

And now, let’s take a break from art and history with something completely different. There are certainly numerous Instagram-worthy locations in Florence that serve as the ideal backdrop for selfies, but what about an entire museum of Instagram-worthy rooms? Opened in 2015, Florence’s Selfie Museum is the first of its kind in Italy and celebrates the art of self-portraiture by providing over 50 incredible installations and scenes by international artists to use as a backdrop for your photos. The entry ticket entitles you to a one-hour visit during which you can take as many selfies as you want.

Tip: Snap the ultimate art selfie with Michelangelo’s David as your stunning backdrop!

Don’t miss my guide to the TOP Things to do in Florence

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21 Unique Things to Do in Florence

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