10 quiet places to see in Florence off the beaten path of mass tourism


Are you in Florence but already tired of mass tourism? No problem: Here are 10 quiet places to see with no queues and little crowds, but plenty of masterpieces.

Have you arrived in Florence without a reservation and couldn’t find a ticket to go to the Uffizi? Did you want to go see Paolo Uccello’s Giovanni Acuto in the Duomo but there is a long line to get in? Does the throng of tourists at the Accademia Gallery in front of the David scare you? Has the Japanese couple getting married in the Salone dei Cinquecento made you change your mind about visiting the Palazzo Vecchio? In a nutshell: have you just landed in Florence but the masses of tourists have already tired you out? No problem, Windows on Art can fill your day (however, next time prepare ahead of time: make reservations for the Uffizi, in Santa Maria del Fiore go early in the morning and for the Accademia Gallery choose a midweek lunchtime... mica you can leave Florence without having visited them).

And what a day, by the way! In fact, to see all the places we are about to list you probably won’t need one. We are proposing ten quiet places in the very center of Florence that you can visit whenever you want, to discover another (but no less interesting) soul of the city, to see extraordinary masterpieces that are reproduced in all art history books but that mass tourism flows most of the time overlook, to spend many hours seeing unusual places, little-visited churches, museums that are never stormed, sites that have remained as they were for centuries. And all this without having to move from the historic center: go ahead and leave your car at the parking lot, or avoid taking public transportation, because you won’t need it. All ten places you will see are within walking distance of Piazza del Duomo in just a few minutes.

1. Basilica of Santa Trinita

Not far from Santa Maria Novella station is this jewel, one of the most beautiful and art-rich churches in Florence. It was built starting in 1250 on top of a pre-existing building (you can still see the Romanesque counter-façade) and still retains much of its Gothic style. The interior houses several masterpieces of Italian art history: in the right aisle, time should be taken to visit the Bartolini Salimbeni Chapel, which houses the famous fresco cycle of Lorenzo Monaco’s Stories of the Virgin, a late Gothic masterpiece (as well as his Annunciation), while further ahead, in the transept, we linger at length in the Sassetti Chapel, with frescoes by Domenico del Ghirlandaio (the Stories of St. Francis) that are one of the pinnacles of Florentine art in the late 15th century, a clear example of upper-class patronage (in this case that of the Sassetti family, bankers). Again, masterpieces include Desiderio da Settignano’s wooden Magdalene, which translates Donatello’s precedent into more graceful terms. The works don’t end there: don’t miss Spinello Aretino’s fragmentary fresco of the Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine of Alexandria, and then Maso da San Friano’s Resurrection, the remains of the 14th-century frescoes in the Davanzati Chapel, Neri di Bicci’s lunette, and more. Some rooms (starting with the chapels of Lorenzo Monaco and Ghirlandaio) light up with a 50-cent token, but it’s worth getting your hands on change. Not least because admission to Santa Trinita is free.

L'Annunciazione Bartolini Salimbeni di Lorenzo Monaco. Foto di Francesco Bini
The Bartolini Salimbeni Annunciation by Lorenzo Monaco. Photo by Francesco Bini

2. Santa Felicita

Just past Ponte Vecchio in the direction of Oltrarno, a small square opens on the left with a sober-looking, almost anonymous church with a bare facade preceded by a portico and closed by a large iron gate: it is the church of Santa Felicita, which houses one of the symbolic texts of Italian Mannerism, Pontormo’s Deposition, which is still in the place for which it was painted, in the Capponi Chapel, a small space designed in the 15th century by Filippo Brunelleschi for the Barbadori family (and later purchased by Ludovico Capponi in 1525). In the sails, also appear the four Evangelists, another masterpiece, made partly by Pontormo and partly by Bronzino, then a very young pupil of the Empoli painter. Inside the church, then, there are also works by Neri di Bicci, the Volterrano, and Michele di Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio. A small picture gallery has been set up in the sacristy. In any case, one cannot leave Florence without seeing Pontormo’s Deposition in Santa Felicita. Not least because the church is almost always overlooked by tourists. Visiting hours, however, are not “tourist-friendly”: long lunch break (typical of many churches) and closing early, so the suggestion is to carve out space in advance to visit it.

La Cappella Capponi con la Deposizione del Pontormo
The Capponi Chapel with Pontormo’s Deposition

3. Museum of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure

This is the museum that tells the story of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure before it became the world-class restoration workshop we are all familiar with: before, in fact, the Opificio was the state-owned manufacture, in Grand Ducal Tuscany, that made works in Florentine commesso, a special artistic technique by which inlays of semi-precious stones (that’s where the name comes from) are made from a painted model. Founded by Ferdinand I in 1588, the Opificio delle Pietre Dure for centuries served the requests of the grand dukes and the court, who were very fond of works in commesso.After the Unification of Italy, the state support having disappeared, the Opificio had to reinvent itself, because commesso was no longer fashionable and because low-cost competition had grown. So towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Opificio’s then director, painter Edoardo Marchionni, thought of exploiting the skills of its artisans (great skill and patience are needed to create works in commesso) to restore ancient artifacts. The museum, with a selection of works in commesso, with the sampler of semi-precious stones from over 500 pieces, with paintings, working tools, objects, and more, will take you on a beautiful journey into the court of the grand dukes of Tuscany to learn about their taste and to see how the Opificio worked in its first three centuries of life.

Sala del Museo dell'Opificio delle Pietre Dure
Hall of the Museum of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure

4. Orsanmichele

A church and a museum at the same time. Originally the building of Orsanmichele, a kind of tower that towers over Via dei Calzaioli, was a granary (hence the strange shape), which was later converted into a church in the 14th century. Orsanmichele is still a church today: inside you can admire the spectacular tabernacle by Andrea Orcagna, the late 14th-century frescoes by artists such as Spinello Aretino and Mariotto di Nardo, the splendid polychrome stained-glass windows, and the 16th-century altar by Francesco da Sangallo. Above the church is the museum, which houses the statues of the Florentine guilds: in fact, Orsanmichele on the façade houses tabernacles with statues of the patron saints of the Arts (which were, in fact, the merchant guilds of medieval and Renaissance Florence). Today there are replicas on the exterior, while the originals are in the museum: masterpieces by Donatello, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Andrea del Verrocchio, Nanni di Banco, Giambologna, and Baccio da Montelupo can be admired. Some, such as Donatello’s St. Mark and Verrocchio’sIncredulity of St. Thomas, are cornerstones of Italian art history.

Il Museo di Orsanmichele
The Museum of Orsanmichele

5. Saints Michael and Gaetano

Florence is known more for the Renaissance than for its lofty and highly refined seventeenth-century season, and if you’re looking for a place to learn about the elegant art of seventeenth-century Florence without wanting to go into a museum, the church of Santi Michele e Gaetano (also called simply “San Gaetano” by locals) is just right for you. It is located on Via Tornabuoni, at the end of the enfilade of high-fashion stores, and its construction began in 1597: it was founded by the Teatini fathers, whose founding saint was St. Gaetano di Thiene, the dedicatory saint of the house of worship. Already the façade is unusual for churches in the center of Florence, as it is updated on more Roman than Florentine modes, and the interior is a sort of museum of seventeenth-century Florentine painting and sculpture. There is a succession of works by Jacopo Vignali, Matteo Rosselli, Jacopo Chimenti (i.e., the greats of seventeenth-century Florence), as well as works by Giovanni Bilivert, Lorenzo Lippi, and sculptures by Giovanni Battista Foggini, Giovanni Baratta, Antonio Novelli, and Gioacchino Fortini. Simply not to be missed if you want to learn about Florentine art that not everyone knows about.

La chiesa dei Santi Michele e Gaetano. Foto di Francesco Bini
The church of Saints Michael and Gaetano. Photo by Francesco Bini

6. Casa Buonarroti

This is the house-museum dedicated to Michelangelo, housed in a building that was purchased by Michelangelo and later inhabited by his famous nephew, the literate Michelangelo the Younger, who commissioned the most beautiful of the house, the Gallery, for whose decoration some of the greatest artists of the early 17th century were involved, such as Artemisia Gentileschi, Pietro da Cortona, Francesco Furini, Jacopo Vignali, Jacopo Chimenti, Domenico Passignano, Cristofano Allori, and Giovanni Bilivert. It would be worth a visit just to see the Gallery, if it were not for the fact that Casa Buonarroti (so all the more reason to visit it) is home to Michelangelo’s two early masterpieces, the first two works known to be by him, namely the Madonna of the Staircase and the Battle of the Centaurs(read more about them here), and also houses a very rich collection of more than two hundred autograph drawings, which for conservation reasons are displayed in rotation. In short, one cannot say one has known Michelangelo without visiting Casa Buonarroti.

Le opere giovanili di Michelangelo a Casa Buonarroti
Michelangelo’s early works at Casa Buonarroti

7. Rose Garden

This wonderful garden is located just below Piazzale Michelangelo, but the torpedos of tourists arriving at the... upper floor to take the classic panoramic photograph of Florence, the vast majority of the time don’t even notice the presence of this idyllic park named for the many rose gardens it hosts and which was opened in 1865 by the architect Giuseppe Poggi, the same man who designed Piazzale Michelangelo and after whom the avenue that climbs this scenic hill is named. It is one of the most characteristic art venues in modern Florence, because in the park, in several places, works by Belgian Jean-Michel Folon, a sort of heir to Magritte’s surrealism, are installed. So here is the suitcase Partir that frames a view of the city, the bench with Je me souviens, theEnvol, the statues of animals such as Oiseau, Chat, Chat - oiseau. A total of twelve works by Folon can be seen there: they have been here since 2011. Read more about the Rose Garden here.

Jean Michel Folon, Partir (2002; bronzo, 248 x 298 x 78 cm; Firenze, Giardino delle Rose)
Jean Michel Folon, Partir (2002; bronze, 248 x 298 x 78 cm; Florence, Rose Garden)

8. Horne Museum

Sandwiched between the Duomo and Santa Croce is this elegant museum created by British historian Herbert Horne’s 1916 donation of his substantial art collection to the Italian state. The museum’s purpose is to preserve, enhance and exhibit his collection. The collection is set up as if we were really in a collector’s home, so a museum with a precise chronological sweep is not to be expected. What one does expect, however, are splendid masterpieces, starting with Giotto’s Saint Stephen, one of the Florentine artist’s most famous works. And then a diptych by Simone Martini, a panel by Pietro Lorenzetti, the tondo with the penitent St. Jerome by Piero di Cosimo, the Deposition by Benozzo Gozzoli, a relevant Madonna and Child masterpiece by Domenico Beccafumi, an Allegory by Dosso Dossi, and sculptures by Antonio Rossellino, Vecchietta, and Sansovino, without neglecting (since we are talking, in fact, about... a collector’s house) the conspicuous collection of applied arts.

Sala del Museo Horne
Horne Museum Hall

9. Casamonti Collection

This is the rich collection of works from the 20th century to the present of Roberto Casamonti, art dealer and patron of Tornabuoni Arte, one of the most important galleries in the world. The collection was opened by Casamonti in 2018 with the aim of sharing the works he has collected over a lifetime with the public. It is housed in one of Florence’s most beautiful palaces, Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni, just across the street from the church of Santa Trinita. The collection is displayed on a rotating basis: during the first rotation, between 2018 and 2019, works from the early 20th century to the 1960s were exhibited, while currently the collection from the 1960s to the present is on display. Any names of who can currently be seen at the Casamonti Collection? Mario Ceroli, Jannis Kounellis, Giulio Paolini, Fausto Melotti, Mario Merz, Giuseppe Penone, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Joan Miró, Nam June Paik, Daniel Spoerri, Anselm Kiefer, Yves Klein, Franco Angeli, Sergio Lombardo, Renato Mambor, Gino De Dominicis, Anish Kapoor, Richard Long, Mario Schifano, Marina Abramovi?, Vanessa Beecroft, Bill Viola, Maurizio Cattelan, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Claudio Parmiggiani, Mimmo Paladino, Emilio Isgrò, Arnaldo Pomodoro, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Sol LeWitt. Can this be enough?

Sala della Collezione Casamonti
Casamonti Collection Hall

10. The monumental cenacles

If Milan has the most famous Last Supper, the one by Leonardo da Vinci, Florence has many: certainly we are not talking about such arcinous works as Leonardo’s, but they are still masterpieces by great artists who preceded the one by Vinci. Some are located inside ancient monasteries that have been turned into museums, while others have been transformed themselves into museum structures that one visits just to see, precisely, the cenacle preserved there. Belonging to the first case in point are Taddeo Gaddi’s Last Supper in Santa Croce (which can be visited with a museum ticket), Orcagna’s Last Supper in Santo Spirito (in the complex now transformed into the headquarters of the Salvatore Romano Foundation, a museum that preserves the famous antiquarian’s art collection), and Domenico del Ghirlandaio’s Last Supper of St. Mark, which can be visited at the National Museum of St. Mark’s. Then there are the four “museums of the cenacles,” where one enters, as mentioned, just to see these important paintings, and they are all state-owned: the Cenacolo di San Salvi (by Andrea del Sarto), the Cenacolo del Fuligno (by Perugino), the Cenacolo di Sant’Apollonia (by Andrea del Castagno) and the Cenacolo di Ognissanti (by Domenico del Ghirlandaio). Then there is an eighth, the Cenacolo della Calza, by Franciabigio, which is now a conference hall in an old convent converted into accommodation.

Cenacolo del Fuligno. Foto di Francesco Bini
Cenacolo del Fuligno. Photo by Francesco Bini

10 quiet places to see in Florence off the beaten path of mass tourism
10 quiet places to see in Florence off the beaten path of mass tourism


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