Discover Florence

"Seven unique things to do in Florence instead of the usual tours."
Notes of Travel from Gaia, our Concierge.

Florence is a wonderful city, with fabulously beautiful buildings, museums, street furniture, which means many statues chiselled from the marble of Carrara by artists whose names will forever be remembered such as Michelangelo. A magical place to visit for the history, art and culture. If you already have had the opportunity to visit Florence before, you will probably know the most popular sites, many of which are found in the usual guides.

Florence map
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What I would like to do is suggest is that you career off the beaten track as, for all that Florence is famous for, there are many gems and other treasures which are hidden away but have still played a role in the history and growth of this great city. Many of these are known by the locals but not by the visitor who may already be dazzled by their first impressions of this most beautifully built architectural renaissance gem. Eternal and romantic, Florence will leave you enchanted and eager to come back as soon as possible. I have the luck to live not far from Florence and take the opportunity to visit Florence as often as possible, her charm is that of a beautiful woman – irresistible!

So, without ado, here is a list of my favourite places - (In no particular order!)


The Leather School:

Once I found myself with some American friends visiting the famous basilica of Santa Croce. In Italianate Gothic style the architecture structurally is beautiful and impressive. I was desirous to show my friends that within its walls are buried many illustrious Florentines, who have shaped the city’s history and that of Italy with their words, art, inventions and discoveries. Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Rossini and Galileo Galilei all instantly recognisable for their achievements. But not everyone knows that through a small door to one side of the altar here, you can access along a small corridor to the school of leather.

The school came about at the end of the Second World War at the behest of the Franciscan friars and the Gori family. The school was to train many orphaned children and youngsters in the art of leather working. Today the school is just as active as ever, even more so, with the skilled hands of the young artists shaping leather into fabulous modern designs. You may like me, will stay agog at their creativity!

An Aperitif in the Sky

One cultural aspect of the Florentines is that they know (like all Italians) how to have a good time and with their eye for originality and style there are plenty of really cool hangouts and bars to have that pre-theatre, predinner or before going ‘out on the town’ drink or ‘aperitivo’.

So, get high! That is, get upstairs to one of the several bars where you can gaze out over the rooftops of Florence with a cold beer a glass of Spumante, a spritzer or a cocktail and watch the birds fly around the Duomo as the sun sets giving the stone buildings a completely different aspect. I really like the terrace of the ‘Hotel Palace Lucchesi’, open to the public from 7.30 pm. The view is fantastic but remember that you will have to book!

The Best View of Florence

There are two places that compete for the best view of Florence both of which are on the south side of the river ‘Arno’. The first is from ‘Piazzale Michelangelo’ which is probably the most famous place in Florence to get a 180̊ degree panoramic view of the city. However nearby is the ‘Forte Belvedere’ a fortress specifically built with a ‘good view’ over the city hence its name, which means ‘good view’! The fortress is located on the highest point of the Boboli hill in Florence from which there is a magnificent view of the city to be enjoyed.

During the summer there are guided tours and events of all kinds are organized. If you are in the mood for romance, I suggest visiting either site at sunset and enjoy a long aperitif with your loved one or intended! It may not be just the view that leaves you breathless!

The Best View of Florence
The Library of the Oblates

The Library of the Oblates

Another place that will leave you speechless is this library. Housed in the former fourteenth century ‘Convent of the Oblates’. (An oblate is a person who has dedicated themselves to god but has not taken the vows to become a monk or nun.) Opened to the public in 2007, it is located a few steps from the Duomo. If you have children or young people with you, on you will find three hundred square metres of space dedicated to them on the third floor.

The library is perhaps one of the most peaceful places in Florence, an almost surreal peace. It is worthwhile to stop at the bar, have a drink and admire the dome of the Duomo from the terrace.

Palazzo strozzi

The ‘Palazzo Strozzina’

An art gallery which is part of the ‘Palazzo Strozzi Foundation’ and is located inside the building of the same name. Dedicated to fans of contemporary art, it is an international exhibition centre. Its beauty lies in the union between Renaissance Florence and modernity. A modern and elegant place that will fascinate you. My suggestion is to check the exhibition calendar, which is always available online. The ticket you buy to enter the ‘Palazzo Strozzi’ also includes entrance to the ‘Strozzina’.

Parco di Pratolino

For a romantic and relaxing trip ‘out of town’ this park which lies to the north of the city of Florence could be the place for you. First owned by ‘Francesco I de Medici’ who bought a large parcel of land in 1568 to build a grand house and gardens for his second wife, Bianca Cappello.

The Renaissance Villa and gardens was the largest estate owned by the Medici family but fell into disrepair when Francesco and Bianca died and was eventually abandoned. Later the park was brought back to life by the Grand Duke Ferdinand III of Lorraine. However, the original villa was destroyed, and the gardens turned into a romantic park typical of the time. In 1872 the park, after years of neglect was bought by the Russian Prince Pavel Demidoff, who brought the park back to life. The prince restored the buildings and gardens to their current layout, and it is now known as ‘Villa Demidoff’.

In 1981 the ‘Province of Florence’ (now Metropolitan City of Florence), purchased the park from the princes’ heirs. The garden is part of the site of the ‘Tuscan Medici Villas and Gardens’, a Unesco World Heritage site. I wanted to tell you a little about the history of this enchanted place just to underline how much effort is needed to protect magical places like this, that need visitors to survive. The beauty of this park lies in the in the artistic works of the Medici and its symbiosis with the flora and fauna that inhabit it.

Parco florence

Officina Profumo Santa Maria Novella

I cannot miss a bit of shopping! The history of this perfumery dates to the thirteenth century and the ‘laboratory’ of the Franciscan Friars. The Friars cultivated herbs in the garden of the Church of Santa Maria and were famous their scented water, particularly the rosewater. Today these scented waters are available in the beautiful sales room which was the former chapel of the convent. My favourite room is the ‘Antica Spezieria’ the ‘ancient spiceworks’, where you can find herbal preparations made to the original recipes of the friars. There is also a room dedicated to herbal teas so while there don’t forget to relax for a moment with a ‘cuppa’ to wash down the tasty nibbles on offer, also made to original recipes!

Officina Profumo