I feel like Florence and Italy have been on my mind quite a bit lately. In just a little over a month I will head to St. Louis to officially begin planning this summer’s semester abroad and to meet the students participating. I also have lots of friends and friends-of-friends who recently departed for a semester abroad. It is around this time of year I really start to miss Italy and begin counting down the days until I return. To assuage my Italy-lust, I thought it would be fun to share some fun and unique things to do in Florence!
But first, a quick disclaimer. Florence is a city full of famous and must-see attractions. This list is not intended to replace any of the main highlights of Florence, simply enrich them with some unique experiences. If you have been reading here for a while, then you know that I don’t buy into the idea of “authentic” travel. All of your travel experiences are authentic; just because these are lesser known does not make them superior to more famous sites. Bottom line, do them all! You can read more about why I dislike the notion of authentic travel here.
For a list of all of Florence’s must-see sights, click here.
If you are in Florence for the semester, I really recommend making time for all of these:
1) Hit the Road with a Vintage Fiat or Vespa Tour
This is a fun and unique way to get out of the city and experience the countryside. Tuscany is positively gorgeous and these tours show you the highlights of the phenomenal landscape and a couple of quaint medieval towns. You can read more about the vintage Fiat tour here and the Vespa tour here. And don’t worry about being nervous, all tours begin with driving lessons and use empty country roads.
2) Explore La Specola
Probably Florence’s craziest museum, La Specola is a museum of zoology and natural history. But this description makes it sound much tamer than it is. The genesis of the museum is a 17th/18th century collection of wax anatomical models. These are amazingly accurate/creepy and give a rare look at early modern medicine. Over the years, more was added to this wunderkammer of a museum including a collection of taxidermied animals from around the world (like the stuffed hippo that was a 17th century Medici pet that lived in the Boboli Gardens). Trust me, this museum is surreal and not to be missed!
3) Road Trip (Anywhere!)
While you have to be 25 to rent a car in the US, you only have to be 18 to rent a car with AutoEuropa in Florence (they will of course charge you more because you are young)! Road tripping is another great way to get out and explore the countryside and medieval hill towns of Tuscany, many of which like Volterra, Pienza, and Montepulciano are only accessible by car. You can see more of my Tuscan road trip through fields of sunflowers here.
4) Discover the Peacock Palace
This architectural gem is a hidden treasure in Florence, although sadly rarely open. Built in the 19th century by a Spanish prince, the palace (know as the Sammezzano castle) was constructed in a colorful “moorish-oriental” style. Today it is largely abandoned, but efforts are being made to open it to tourists whenever possible. You can find more info here.
5) Learn About Wine with Pino
Pino is one of those great Florentine characters who have been teaching students and visitors about the food and wine of Tuscany and Italy for years! Pino will take you and a group of friends through an entire tasting process, teaching you how to properly taste and pair various wines. Be warned, it is a lot of wine and you will be tipsy (and happy) when you leave. For more info on Pino and his wine cellar, click here.
6) Visit the Medici Chapels
The Medici Chapels are one of my favorite museums in Florence. And since it isn’t on most people’s radars, it is usually not crowded and there is never a line. The chapels are located on the back side of the Medici’s family church in Florence, San Lorenzo. This is where Florence’s most famous family is buried and memorialized. Inside you will find tombs by Michelangelo, an incredible array of exotic and expensive marble, and most of the elaborate reliquaries of saints collected by the family (as in lots of creepy bones in shiny gold cases). The museum also does a lot of really good exhibits in English. You can find the official website here.
7) See a Football Game or Calco Storico
Depending on when you are in Florence, you should definitely try to attend a Fiorentina football game. It is a great cultural experience and you can easily purchase tickets while in town (more info here). If you are in Florence during the summer, you can watch the historic and original football game — Calcio Storico. This medieval game is like a cross between soccer, kickboxing, and wrestling. It is crazy, intense, and is accompanied by full Renaissance pageantry. Visit Florence has a great article on Calcio Storico here.
8) Take the Secret Tour of the Palazzo Vecchio
This is one of my favorite tours in Florence, and with a student ID, it is a steal! This small group tour takes you through all of the secret passageways of Florence’s Medieval town hall. It is a great way to get a more in depth look and explanation of Florentine governance through the centuries — from an oligarchy masquerading as a Republic to a heredity Duchy ruled by the Medici. Honestly, it is just super cool to sneak off into places no one else is allowed to go. To book, simply drop by the box office of the Palazzo Vecchio and ask. They can sign you up for the next available tour on the spot. The Palazzo Vecchio also does amazing interactive tours for kids.
9) Enjoy an Aperitivo on a Terrace
I am pretty sure there is nothing better than sipping prosecco over one of the most beautiful cities in the world. You can see all of my favorite rooftops here.
10) Hike or Bike to San Minato//Piazza Michelangelo
I do this “hike” almost everyday when I am in Florence (it’s actually more of an inclined walk). It is beautiful scenery, great exercise, and ends at a church with the most spectacular view of Florence. I’ve outlined the details of this hiking/biking route here.
What is your favorite thing to do in Florence?