Brushing up on your Italian before an upcoming trip? Unbeknownst to you, you were actually speaking the Florentine dialect. During the Kingdom of Italy’s reign in the late 1800s, it became the Standard Italian language.
Florence, Italy has more claims to fame than Italy’s common tongue. It’s where the Renaissance kicked off, Michelangelo and da Vinci came from, and is the birthplace of opera. Despite all this, the travel adverts only recommend typical touristy activities.
Looking for truly unique things to do in Florence during your visit? Read along as we discuss 7 things that will make going on vacation this year unforgettable.
1. Take a Free Walking Tour
After you’ve sunk hundreds of dollars into flights and hotels, free is a word you don’t hear much. Every restaurant charges tourist prices, and every gondola boatman expects a hearty tip.
So yes, you heard us right. There’s a free walking tour for you in Florence.
How’s a tour unique? You won’t be cramming into a sweaty bus with a loud announcer who ticks off the big destinations by rote. Instead, you’ll be on your own two feet getting the real history of one of the most famous places to go in Italy.
This tour will take you across the city to historical landmarks such as:
- Ponte Vecchio
- Piazza Pitti
…and many more. If you enjoy yourself, you can tip the tour guide at the end. Needless to say, it’s an excellent chance to experience history as the locals do.
2. Rub Il Porcellino’s Snout for Good Fortune
While strolling through Mercato Nuovo, you’ll spot a bronze statue of a boar poised over a fountain. If you look closely, you’ll notice the mouth is a different color from the body. This is from millions of people having rubbed his snout for good fortune.
The history behind it is a bit confusing. In the beginning, Greeks made bronze statues. When the Romans arrived, they melted the statues down to make weapons–creating painted marble copies in their stead.
Il Porcellino was once one of these bronze statues, melted down and made marble. The Medici family later commissioned a bronze replica. It’s a copy of a copy of a copy.
Long story short, if you can land a coin through the fountain’s grate off the boar’s tongue, you get good fortune.
3. Drink Wine Through Wine Doors
Florence once went through a pandemic similar to COVID-19: the bubonic plague. Same as us, people tried to limit skin-to-skin contact as much as possible. Folks still wanted to enjoy wine, though.
So, Florentine wine vendors created “wine doors.” These are tiny wooden doors in a small stone arch, usually on the side of a building. Back then, you knocked on the door to refill your wine, limiting physical contact.
Most of the wine doors are no longer in operation. A small handful are. Regardless, it’s fun to hunt for them during your planned activities.
4. Stand at the Gates of Paradise
Worry not, Florence isn’t a portal to the afterlife. It does, however, have some gorgeous bronze doors at the Baptistry of St. John’s. This is one of the oldest pieces of architecture in the city, dating to the 11th century.
Michelangelo himself was the one who described these doors as “gates of paradise.” If one of the greatest artists in the world considered it such a masterpiece, you will too. Standing before them is a great chance to contemplate your mortal existence.
5. Take the Secret Vasari Corridor
Going to Italy, there’s a good chance Ponte Vecchio is already on your list. It’s that covered medieval bridge with colorful shops perched precariously off the sides. What most visitors don’t realize is that there’s a secret passage built on top: the Vasari corridor.
Back in the day, the wealthy Medici family wasn’t fond of crossing this bustling farmer’s market. They wanted a private means of getting from Palazzo Pitti (their home) to Palazzo Vecchio (the town hall). Thus, the Vasari corridor.
The Vasari corridor was closed during the pandemic. Thankfully, 2023 is when it reopens. Take the chance to feel like a noble in your own secret passageway.
6. Drop by the English Cemetery
Near Piazzale Donatello you might spot a plot of land that appears to be nothing but a traffic island. Inside, however, is one of the strangest locations in Florence: a cemetery for the English. Visiting Italy, you don’t expect to see the bones of an Englishman!
This is a fascinating old-style cemetery complete with a Grim Reaper statue. Legend has it that in the early 19th century, non-Catholics had to transport their dead to Livorno for proper burial. Doing so was extremely costly.
So instead, they found a place right in Florence. Here, you will find William Shakespeare’s last descendants and the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It makes for a quirky pitstop while touring Italy.
7. Get Within Arm’s Reach of Galileo’s Fingers
Everyone probably knows the basics of Galileo Galilei’s story. This is the Italian astronomer imprisoned on heresy charges for his scientific discoveries. Somewhat ironically, he is now treated like a saint centuries after his groundbreaking revelations.
And like any good Saint, people kept a piece of him for display purposes. So, consider dropping by the museum dedicated to him: the Galileo Galilei Museum.
The museum is surprisingly underrated. You’ll get to see some of his surviving scientific instruments, including two of his telescopes. One of the coolest is the armillary sphere, a clockwork recreation of the universe.
The pièce de résistance, though, is the glass reliquary with his fingers. Specifically, his tooth, index finger, middle finger, and thumb. It’s a fun–albeit bizarre–conversation starter for later.
Find More Unique Things to Do in Florence
All the major tourist hotspots in Florence are well worth your time. If you’ve got a moment or two to spare, there are plenty of unique things to do in Florence that most visitors skip over. The seven things on this list are bound to set your itinerary apart from everyone else.
Start your visit to Florence off right with a free walking tour. Book ahead of time, then meet us at Santa Maria Novella square.