Secret Florence: 9 hidden gems to discover


Discovering a different side of Florence

Have you been to Florence many times before, and already visited the most famous places and monuments? Are you looking for another side to the city, an undiscovered side which is lesser-known by both locals and tourists alike? Our guide will take you down the path less travelled, discovering the hidden gems of the city which are unspoilt and far away from the crowds. We are sure that these places will amaze you just as much as the classic tourist spots, perhaps even more!

Florence is home to the birth of an impressive number of famous figures that span across almost all cultural fields. Dante, Boccaccio, Pertarca, Machiavelli, Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Botticelli, Giotto, Cimabue, Lorenzo de' Medici and Galileo, to name but a few! It seems that in the past one would need only to breathe in the good air in order for the mind to be inspired. Proof of this can be found in the several masterpieces that have been scattered across the city over several generations, perhaps making it one of the places in the world with the greatest number of priceless works of art. However, for the purpose of this article they will serve only as a comparison to the lesser-known masterpieces in the city of the lily.

1. Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore vs. the Great Synagogue of Florence

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore - Credits: @yoltukhovska_inna

We start at the heart of this charming city, as the grandeur and magnificence of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as the Florence Duomo, stuns people from all over the world as they flock to see it and its unmistakable mark in the city skyline. It is by far one of the most visited places in the world as thousands of tourists crowd around it, admiring it from every angle. The great dome truly represents the grandiosity of the city in its entirety, while the walls, baptistry and and bell tower are among some of the most important examples of Renaissance architecture still around today. The exterior of the structure is covered top to bottom with marble slabs positioned in regular geometrical shapes that alternate between friezes and rich decorations of excellent workmanship. Most people have seen this spectacular building at least once in their life and we truly believe that it needs no further introduction.

However, the Great Synagogue of Florence is a much less-visited building, but its green dome also enjoys a place within the city skyline. Although its size cannot quite be compared to that of the Duomo, the Synagogue is also a very important worship place in the city, as well as a splendid architectural structure. The first tile, transported from Jerusalem, was laid in 1874 and the Synagogue was finished in 1882, breaking with the previous tradition that these worship places were hidden among various regular buildings dotted about the city. It is surrounded by a fenced garden and its oriental style is unmistakable, especially visible in its entrance porch. The interior sees a spectrum of colours and decorations which are lit up by natural light that streams in through the stained glass windows. It is an unexpected, beautiful and spiritual place - a real jewel that is absolutely worth taking a detour to see.

Great Synagogue of Florence

The Great Synagogue of Florence - Credits: @viaggiarecomodi

2. Ponte Vecchio vs. Ponte Santa Trìnita

Ponte Vecchio Florence

Ponte Vecchio - Credits: @javifc89

As one of the most famous bridges in the world, Ponte Vecchio needs no introduction, however it is from here that one can discover another important bridge in the city. The Ponte Santa Trìnita (which according to it's Latin origins maintains an accent on the first 'i'). Although it certainly does not share the same elevated constructions that occupy the Ponte Vecchio, from goldsmiths to jewellery shops, it does possess its own unique features that make it a beautiful addition to the cityscape. The structure is built up of large ramparts that rest upon the river Arno (the largest in central Italy after the river Tiber). It's infrastructure has a long history, dating back to the first construction in 1252. Originally made out of wood, it was replaced by stone in the following centuries, and is constantly eroded by floods that have occurred over the years. In 1557, the new construction was assigned to Bartolomeo Ammaniti, based on an original drawing by Michelangelo, and which is the one that still stands today. During the Second World War, the arches were destroyed yet again by fleeing German prisoners of war. Even the four allegorical statues that represent the seasons fell into the river, but after all the ruins of the war the final reconstruction ensured that everything returned to its rightful place. The only part missing was the head of the 'Spring' statue, and at first people thought it had been stolen as a spoil of war. However, a few years later the Arno returned it to the city as it was found, with great relief, to be in the depths of its water all along.

Ponte Santa Trìnita

Ponte Santa Trìnita - Credits: @ardacolgezen

3. Palazzo Vecchio vs. Roster's Tepidarium

Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio - Credits: @photoce

The Palazzo Vecchio is one of the main tourist attractions of the city, serving as Florence's historic centre due to its impressive size and high tower that sticks out above the rest. Located in Piazza della Signoria, not only is it home to many famous artworks by Michelangelo, Donatello and more, it is also the current headquarters of the local authorities. The originality of the architecture is something to note, as although the front of the building seems very large, it is actually the shortest side of all!

Today however, we want to talk about a structure which is lesser-known, aiming to inspire those who are looking to deepen their knowledge of the city. Roster's Tepidarium is a scenic glass and steel greenhouse that houses many tropical plants, located in the heated Horticultural Garden. Although it's not a real palace, it is a magnificent architectural structure, constructed by the engineer Giacomo Roster from which it takes its name. Other examples around the world include Crystal Palace in London and the one in Madrid that is found inside Retiro Park.

Roster's Tepidarium Florence

Roster's Tepidarium - Credits: @miss_j.marple

4. Boboli Gardens vs. Garden of the Roses

Boboli Gardens Florence

Bobli Gardens - Credits: @_pol

The Boboli Gardens is one of the most loved and visited places in Florence. The splendid park extends over a large space, spreading across hills it has come to be a must-see for all visitors that come to the city, especially during the summer period. The park is one of the most traditional examples of the Italian Garden, due to its being developed during the late Renaissance on the basis of an existing medieval garden. It is adorned with hedges, pathways, fountains, statues and flowers, all geometrically organised in such a way that the overall effect spectacularly emphasises its natural beauty to the maximum.

But, Florence also has other surprises up its sleeve that, although lesser-known, are just as impressive. The Garden of the Roses can be found in the Oltrarno area, developed on terraces bordered by low walls and offering one of the best views of the city. Due to its size it cannot be compared to the Boboli Gardens, and it also does not have the same geometric order. However, the rose collection really does make it a magical place, with an unparalleled pastoral atmosphere, making it a place much loved by the Florentines. It has not always been available to the public, but in recent years it has re-opened itself to the city in all its glory. Other than the roses, there are also bronze sculptures created by the Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon, as well as a Japanese Oasis, donated by the city of Kyoto, the Florence of Japan.

Garden of the Roses

Garden of the Roses - Credits: @elena_menghetti

5. Basilica of Santa Maria Novella vs. Church of the Autostrada del Sole

Santa Maria Novella Florence

Santa Maria Novella - Credits: @cittadifirenzeufficiale

After the Duomo, Santa Maria Novella is the next most famous basilica in Florence. Although its construction precedes the Renaissance by many years and it has stylistic roots in Gothic architecture, thanks to the exterior of the building, which is covered in polychrome marble, it has come to be known as one of the greatest examples of Florentine Renaissance architecture. But, we want to turn our attention to a more unique and original work that's truly representative of modernism. To find it, you need to tear yourself away from the city centre and towards the motorway that surrounds the city. The Autostrada del Sole is one of the main motorways of Italy, connecting the North to the South. It's from here that you can get a great view of the Church of the Autostrada del Sole. Its real name is actually the Church of San Giovanni Battista, created by Giovanni Michelucci in the 60s. It was built in memory of the numerous deaths of workers who had helped to unite Italy thanks to the great magnitude of such a project. Florence was chosen for obvious reasons, as it's the city that sits perfectly between Milan and Rome. The Church breaks away from all previous architecture seen in the Florentine territory, and at the time sparked much debate due to its extremely modern features. The Church is made up of a spectacular mixture of shapes and sizes, angles and bends, all coming together to resemble what seems like an enormous tent at first glance! It's a spectaular place which extends over an area of six thousand square meters and really is worthy of a visit.

Church of the Autostrada del Sole

Church of the Autostrada del Sole - Credits: @15minofbeautyaday

6. Uffizi Gallery vs. Clet Studio

Uffizi Gallery

Uffizi Gallery - Credits: @indilenka

Right next to Ponte Vecchio you'll find the Uffizi Gallery, one of the museums with the highest number of artworks in the world. They have so many pieces that there is even a warehouse full of spare ones that can't be put on display! Within its four walls we can find the largest collection of Raphael and Botticelli in the world, as well as important pieces by Giotto, Caravaggio, Tiziano, Rubens and Dürer. But, yet again, in this article we want to consider another type of art which is found far from the tourist guides and the crowds that swarm the Uffizi, but are instead spread out about the entire city. Florence is surprisingly rich in what in recent years has been re-evaluated as true contemporary art, or street art. Thanks to artists like Clet, street art is flourishing today, now being recognised as a true form of artistic expression as opposed to being previously regarded as an act of vandalism. Abraham Clet is a French artist who has now been working in Italy for several years. At first he started painting pictures, and it was only a few years later that he began to develop his highly original project. Clet is a very unique and original artist, and his artwork sees a combination of city street signs and more simple, direct symbols (some funny, some more risky, but never offensive). Where can you find his work? Just look around the city streets to get a feel for his work, but if you want to get a better look head over to his studio, located in Via dell'Olmo 8.

Clet Studio

Clet Studio - Credits: @mel1sta (official artist profile @cletabraham)

7. Venus of Botticelli vs. Venus of Blub

Venus of Botticelli

Venus of Botticelli

The 'Birth of Venus' is a work that has now transcended every geographical boundary. Not only is this painting known all over the world, but it has now become a true part of the collective imagination. Botticelli's Venus is universally recognised as the ideal feminine beauty, and it's so famous that it has practically become an icon, having been reproduced by many artists in many variations over the centuries. One of these interpretations actually appears on the streets of Florence at the hands of the street artist nicknamed Blub. Venus is an icon that immediately identifies with Florence, however Blub takes this idea further, painting characters of every kind, all of them strictly grounded in a certain time frame. And so from time to time, walking around the city, it's possible to stumble upon one of his "submerged works" which are a part of his "L'Arte sa Nuotare" (Art Knows How to Swim) collection, in which we meet all kind of famous figures such as Dante, the Girl with the Pearl Earring, Jesus, the Gioconda, Totò, Lincoln, Andy Warhol, Picasso, Buddha and many others, from ancient to modern and everything in between. Blub's art has the ability to bestow small corners of the city with his work, and all the figures he paints have one thing in common... a diving mask! His work has also started to appear in other Italian cities such as Rome and Venice. If an advert or billboard ever comes to be placed over his work - the artist states - he is often contacted to restore the work, an undeniable sign that his reputation in the city is well established and his work recognised.

Venus of Blub

Venus of Blub - Credits: @k4k4du

8. Michelangelo's David vs. Donatello's David

David of Michelangelo

Michelangelo's David - Credits: @tesoridifirenze

If Botticelli's Venus is considered a representation of the feminine ideal then Michelangelo's David is her masculine counterpart. There are those who even consider this masterpiece to be the most beautiful work ever created by man! It was Michelangelo Buonarroti who sculpted it from a huge block of marble, of which two other sculptors had previously begun roughing the outlines of the piece. Both had abandoned the project due to the enormous difficulties in carrying out the work. This masterpiece was able to single-handedly change the aesthetic canons of its time, representing the characteristics of strength and harmony. It's a statue that has been admired from its completion right up to the present day, and even if not everyone has viewed the work in the flesh they have at least seen its copy positioned outside the Palazzo Vecchio. But, there is also another David... the David of Donatello. This bronze statue is precisely that which was borrowed from the film award of the Academy of Italian Cinema. Donatello's David is a work that was made before Michelangelo's, and is often seen as the more classical, biblical interpretation. It sees a more childlike David, without exaggerated features and with Goliath's head cut off at his feet. After several moves, the statue is now to be permanently found in the Bargello Museum. Whoever loves Florence and has visited the city several times know perfectly well the masterpieces that are present in these halls, but Donatello's David is certainly the highlight of the museum.

Donatello's David

Donatello's David - Credits: @fra_giro23

9. Hotel vs. Hostel

PLUS Hostel Florence

Pool at PLUS Hostel Florence

We now come to the most important and interesting comparison. Why choose an expensive hotel when you can stay in a hostel and save some money during your trip? Hostels have changed a lot in recent years, and the quality and conditions have raised considerably. There are even some hostels that exceed the standards of many hotels. What's more, there is also the chance to meet other travellers from all over the world with whom to share travel experiences with.

There are many hostels in Florence, but PLUS Hostel Florence is certainly among the best. It is considered for all intents and purposes a 5-star hostel due to the services it offers, such as a swimming pool, sauna, turkish bath, panoramic terrace bar, fitness area, free wifi and a 24-hour reception.

Panoramic Terrace at PLUS Hostel

Panoramic terrace at PLUS Hostel

Ok, if this accommodation suggestion isn't exactly what you're looking for, why not have a browse of our other available properties in Florence?

If you're also planning to spend a bit more time travelling in this region, you might be interested in our article about a backpacker's trip through Tuscany. If instead you're just planning to stay in Florence for a few days, but curious to explore the nearby area a bit more, we suggest reading our article on budget day trips for backpackers in Florence.

Now all that's left for you to do is book your hostel via the booking panel below!

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