Florence is a staggeringly magnificent place to visit throughout the year, a fact recognized by many tour agencies and even more travelers from around the world.
As you’d expect, the world-renowned Florence is often crowded with droves of tourists looking to snap the perfect Instagram photo, choking the charming streets leading up to important landmarks and swarming nearby cafes and restaurants. If you want to escape the mass and find non-touristy things to do in Florence, all you have to do is get off the main sightseeing routes.
Maybe you’ve already visited Uffizi Palace, Baptistery of St. John, Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Piazza Duomo. Maybe you’ve been to all the important landmarks of Florence, and just want to get away from other tourists and explore the city in a more free-spirited manner.
Whatever your reasons are, you’ll be pleased to know that there are places where you can truly escape the crowds and get to experience what being a Fiorentino is all about. Getting to know Italy and its inhabitants is a rewarding experience and one you shouldn’t skip on.
Browse Around Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy
Santa Maria Novella is the oldest operating pharmacy in the world and your entire visit to this antique store on Via della Scala will feel like a trip back to the 13th-century Florence.
While the monks from the nearby Basilica of Santa Maria Novella operated the apothecary since 1221, it wasn’t until the 17th-century that the pharmacy would open its doors to the general public. Monks used to mix herbs here to produce balms, medicines, salves, and even smelling salts.
While you won’t find any monks here today, you will notice that a lot of the things remain the same – decanters and most unusual vials and bottles line the old walnut shelves and cabinets. Unusual concoctions fill up these stoppered containers, derived from recipes as old as the pharmacy itself. There’s even a museum embedded among the ornate walls of the pharmacy, with hectic hours that you should best ask about before arriving. However, even if you skip the museum, the pharmacy floor itself will be incredible enough.
Address: Via della Scala 16, Florence
Phone: 39 055 216276
Non-touristy location nearby: Basilica of Santa Maria Novella
Quest After the Best Gelato in Florence
Some variants of ice cream have existed throughout history, all over the world. The first treat we’d compare to modern gelato came from Siciliy, but it was Florence that refined the entire process.
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To be precise, it was a Fiorentino named Bernardo Buontalenti who refined the dessert we love and brought it to the attention of Medici court. With this in mind, there’s no wonder that Florence could be considered the gelato capital of the world, and it’s not something that’s marketed to visitors. Go on a quest to find the best gelato in Florence – we’ll help you get started.
One of the historic gelaterias in Florence, Vivoli will treat you to gelatos made from the freshest ingredients imaginable, with tastes ranging from chocolate, orange, honey to pistachio and pear.
Address: Via dell’Isola delle Stinche 7
Phone: +39 055 29 23 34
Non-touristy location nearby: Teatro Verdi
Gelateria La Carraia
There are actually two Gelateria La Carraia places in Florence, both owned by two locals who love gelato.
You might run into a couple of tourists here, but nothing that will turn you around and make you give up on some excellent gelato. Try their house specials: cream with orange sauce and dark chocolate, white chocolate with pistachio sauce, and cream with waffle and chocolate.
Address: Piazza Nazario Sauro 25r
Phone: +39 055 280695
Non-touristy location nearby: Ponte Alla Carraia
For a younger, more contemporary vibe, visit Carapina and try one of their amazing gelatos such as crema del artusi (you can find it all year round).
They also have a nice offering of cookies and jams, accompanied by screens in the gelateria that showcase the process of making awesome gelatos.
Address: Piazza Guglielmo Oberdan, 2r
Phone: +39 335 706 7878
Non-touristy location nearby: Club Della Moda Sas
Explore Medici Hall of Maps
Being located on the second floor of Palazzo Vecchio, many would regard Medici Hall of Maps, or Sala delle Carte Geografiche, as a regular touristy place rather than a non-touristy one.
However, it is such an unusual place and an experience worth having, that if you would allow yourself one touristy visit, it should be to the Hall of Maps.
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The walls of this “wardrobe” are covered in maps showing most of the world. All of the maps have been done by two people only – Ignazio Danti and Stefano Bonsignori. A good deal of the maps were taken from Ptolemy’s Geographica, a work dating back to the 2nd century.
If you really don’t intend to visit even one of the touristy places in Florence, we’ll provide you with a nearby alternative below.
Address: Piazza della Signoria
Phone: +39 055 276 8325
Non-touristy location nearby: Bargello National Museum
Retreat to Librerias
Librerias are the amazing blend of the cultural breadth of Florence and the Italian proclivity for espressos.
In other words, combine your love of reading and having a cup of coffee in the incredible bookstores of Florence that offer you both of these pleasures at the same time. Retreating from the busy streets and crowded places into one of the librerias is, in our opinion, one of the best non-touristy things to do in Florence.
Todo Modo is a libreria that comes with a small theater inside where you can enjoy projections and performances.
Take a look at their daily menu, and take a break from browsing all the books (both in Italian and English translations) with a cup of coffee or a bit of wine.
Address: Via dei Fossi, 15r
Phone: +39 055 239 9110
Non-touristy location nearby: Piazza Carlo Goldoni
La Cité – Libreria Café
Amazing cocktails, books, live music, coffee, beer, and wine – and all of that in a colorful, vivacious decor. Is there a better place to learn what being a Fiorentino is all about?
Address: Borgo S. Frediano, 20r
Phone: +39 055 210387
Non-touristy location nearby: Trattoria Del Carmine
laFeltrinelli Book Store
Not many English titles here, but if you just want to hand around with the local folk who happen to enjoy the same things as you do, drop by this amazing coffee shop/bookstore.
Address: Via de’ Cerretani, 40
Phone: +39 02 9194 7777
Non-touristy location nearby: Museo di Casa Martelli
Not all librerias have a coffee shop, but that shouldn’t stop you from going inside and browsing their cache of literary treasure. Paperback Exchange has the greatest selection of books in English that you’ll find in Florence, while Libreria Gozzini contains some of the more antique works of literature.
Find Michelangelo’s Hidden Drawings
Having aligned with the republicans, Michelangelo fell in bad favor with the pope and the Medici family that were his patrons for such a long time.
When it was time for him to run and hide from the persecution, he decided to take shelter beneath the Medici Chapel of Basilica di San Lorenzo. Confined in a small secret room under the Medici Chapel (intended as a mausoleum of the family), all he could do for the three months he was in hiding was doodle on the walls of the room.
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All that was available to him was a bit of charcoal and walls as a canvas to paint on. He painted the images of god, of himself, and what resembles a copy of the work he’s finished in 1512 in the Sistine Chapel. Apparently, some drawings from this period can also be spotted behind the altar of the Medici Chapel.
Address: Piazza di Madonna degli Aldobrandini, 6
Phone: +39 055 064 9430
Non-touristy location nearby: Laurentian Medici Library
Wander Cascine Market
If there’s a crowning jewel of all the non-touristy things to do in Florence, then it would be wandering the Cascine Market just like all the locals do.
Open on Tuesdays from 7 am to 2 pm, Cascine Market exposes a wealth of locally grown fruit, vegetables, second-hand clothing, and all the other odds and ends that you can expect from a regular market. That also means that you won’t be able to get any souvenirs here, as it is not intended to serve any tourists that come across the market.
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Aside from wandering the stalls of Cascine Market, you can also enjoy the 160 hectares of Cascine park, the host of this weekly event. It is assumed that there are more than nineteen thousand trees, so there is no better place to be for some fresh air and the views of the river Arno.
Address: Piazzale delle Cascine
Phone: +39 055 055
Non-touristy location nearby: Visarno Arena
So, what is it that you can do to avoid the crowds often associated with legendary travel destinations such as Florence?
For starters, you can choose to avoid seeing any important landmarks or places altogether. Oftentimes, people want to figure out how locals live and what they do, and the best way to learn this is by acting like you would in your hometown. Find markets, cafes, parks, and stores away from all the touristy locations.
But, the better solution is to have a healthy mix of both worlds – touristy and non-touristy. Go see some of the really important landmarks, then escape the crowds and find a solitary cafe in a remote street of Florence – there’s simply too much to see in this city to avoid it.