Florence is one of Italy’s most visited cities for good reason. As the capital of the Tuscan region, the food, wine, art, and architecture lures travelers by the thousands. While we always recommend visiting famed sites like the Uffizi Gallery and Ponte Vecchio, take some time to delve deeper and reveal the city’s best local and hidden gems for a unique experience all your own.
A night out on the town is often followed by cravings for a wee-hours snack. If you find yourself strolling the streets of Florence with the post-bar crowd between the hours of 2-4 a.m., you’re likely to notice the heavenly scent of fresh baked breads and pastries filling the air. The city’s wholesale bakeries are busy making tasty treats for the restaurants, cafes, and markets of Florence. While they’re not technically allowed to sell to the public, nor do they have storefronts, if you follow your nose, you’ll often come a cross a few other night owls mingling outside unmarked doors where the delicious smells are wafting from. As long as you’re quiet and polite, you can knock on the door and score some freshly baked goodies for around one to two euros.
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Street Art by Clet
Florence is home to some of the world’s most celebrated art pieces like Michelangelo’s “David” and Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”. But ask locals around the city and they’ll tell you they’re on the lookout for the newest works by Clet Abraham. This French, Florence-based artist uses the streets and alleys as his canvas, taking ordinary road signs and manipulating them into whimsical, political, religious, and philosophical statement pieces using graphic stickers of his own design. While you’re sure to see his work scattered around the city, you can also visit his studio in the San Nicolo district – renowned as the artisan area of Florence. There, you can learn all about the artist and his process and pick up some of his original works and street signs, as well as stickers and t-shirts featuring his creations for a unique souvenir to display back home.
If you appreciate museums with a twist, you’ll love Florence’s La Specola. Part of the city’s Museum of Natural History and Zoology, this interesting institution features an eclectic collection of natural oddities and impressive examples of taxidermy, including a stuffed hippopotamus from the 17th century that was a pet of the Medici family. It’s most prized exhibit contains a large assortment of extremely detailed, 18th century wax anatomical models of human forms with exposed organs, muscular systems, and skeletons. Although intended for medical teachings, the figures are posed in casual – and sometimes seemingly erotic – positions. Albeit somewhat strange, La Specola is history in itself as the oldest public museum in the world and is an excellent example of the scientific and medical advancements made in the Renaissance period.
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Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy
Arguably the oldest running apothecary in the world, and certainly in Europe, this pharmacy still uses the recipes developed by monks over 800 years ago. Today, visitors can purchase their own balms, salves, perfumes, and toiletries from their long menu of products. Even if you don’t plan on buying anything, we still recommend a visit for its extraordinary, museum-like interior. It’s like an ornate potions shop with its glass jars of colorful concoctions, stained-glass windows, and antique apothecary equipment. Plus, its helpful staff are always eager to educate visitors on Santa Maria Novella’s rise to fame in the 17th century and beyond.
Every iconic city holds a secret world just waiting to be discovered, and Florence offers one of the best hidden treasure hunts in Europe. Just be sure to pack your sense of adventure and natural curiosity, and the city is sure to reveal all its gems.