CAPA's 10 Hidden Gems in Florence

Mar 19, 2013 4:47:53 AM / by Stephanie Sadler

One of the most rewarding aspects of a studying abroad can be to step off the tourist trail and experience life as locals enjoy it. Here are 10 of CAPA's favorite hidden gems to discover when you study abroad in Florence.

1. OFFICINA PROFUMO-FARMACEUTICA DI SANTA MARIA NOVELLA. On Via della Scala, a street near the Santa Maria Novella Church, hides a place that only few tourists know about. The Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world, founded by Dominican friars just after 1221. It made use of the monastic gardens, incorporating medicinal herbs that were grown there into medicines, balms and pomades that were used in the monk's infirmary. Stop by for a visit when you study abroad in Florence and you'll find ancient preparations, cosmetics, fragrances, wax products, liqueurs and delicacies.

IMGP1000 : Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella - Firenze
Photo: Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella by vince_68

2. PIAZZA SANTO SPIRITO. The lively square of Santo Spirito is one of the most beloved night spots for locals in Florence. The south-east side of the square hosts the "Cafè Cabiria", an historical bar whose name was inspired by the Fellini's movie Le notti di Cabiria. Every 2nd Sunday of the month, Piazza Santo Spirito hosts a market of antiques and handcrafted products. Inside the amazing church located in the square (the Church of Santo Spirito) is a wooden crucifix carved by Michelangelo. When he was only 23, Michelangelo studied human anatomy on bodies “kindly” offered by the priest of Santo Spirito Church. In return for such a favor, he carved the wooden crucifix which is still located above the main altar.

Piazza di Santo Spirito 1Photo: Piazza Santo Spirito by Jake & Sam

3. SPECOLA MUSEUM. The Specola Museum is the oldest scientific museum in Europe and hosts the world's largest collection of anatomy waxes that were created between 1770 and 1850. There are more than 3,500,000 animals; 5,000 are exposed. You can find this quirky museum on Via Romana, 17 (close to the Pitti Palace).

La Specola - Museum of Zoology and Natural History - Largest and most famous wax anatomical collection anywhere in the world - Florence 1/4
Photo: La Specola by Russell McNeil

4. BOOKSTORE-CAFE LA CITE. Located in the San Frediano neighborhood (in Via San Frediano 20r), La Cité was conceived as a space for exchanging ideas and socializing. The bookstore has wi-fi, a bar, books, CDs, seminars, conferences, art exhibitions and a lot more to keep you entertained. Great place to sit down with your books when you're studying abroad in Florence or visit in the evening for live music. Blogger Girl in Florence has a great list of other "nerd-havens" in Florence.

Photo: La Cite from Squidoo

5. TRATTORIA MARIO. The Trattoria Mario, which has been in its location in via Rosina since 1953, is popular among the locals of Florence. Stop by and you will taste the best traditional homemade Florentine food, sharing a table with "the others". If there is a line, put your name on the list outside the restaurant! Food it often one of the best ways to explore a new city and this place is worth the wait.

Queued up for Mario
Photo: Lined up for Trattoria Mario by Omid Tavallai

6. JAZZ CLUB FIRENZE. In the mood for some live music? Check out one of our favorite Florence venues, the Florence Jazz Club, located in Via Nuova De’ Caccini, 3. The Jazz Club is an off-the-beaten-track type of place to wind down in a relaxing atmosphere with food, drinks and jazz and blues jam sessions.

Photo: Jazz Club, Florence by Leonardo Butini

7. COSTA SAN GIORGIO AND BARDINI MUSEUM AND GARDEN. From Piazza Santa Felicita (at the end of Ponte Vecchio on the south bank of the river) you can begin a beautiful walk along the street Costa San Giorgio, which will lead you to the Bardini Museum and Garden with its beautiful flowers and walkways and on to the Forte Belvedere. Do not forget to stop in front of number 19; this decorated house was one of the residences of Galileo Galilei!

Fontana nel giardino di Villa Bardini
Photo: Fontana nel giardino di Villa Bardini by Antonella

8. ARCETRI ASTROPHYSICAL OBSERVATORY. On a beautiful hill at top of the city of Florence you can find the Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory. The Arcetri Villa belonged to Galileo Galilei, who spent the last years of his life here under house arrest. Now the villa has become an astrophysical observatory. A portion of it has also been transformed into the Department of Astronomy of the University of Florence. If you like, you can tour the observatory and see Galileo’s house on a guided tour while you're studying abroad in Florence.

Photo: Osservatorio by Jeanette O'Keefe

9. SANT’ AMBROGIO MARKET. Sant’ Ambrogio market opens every morning. There is a a colorful covered food market and various stands selling flowers, vegetables, fruit, clothing, shoes, etc. Locals like to shop there on Saturday mornings. In the indoor portion of the market you can find the very typical Trattoria Rocco where you sit next to strangers and enjoy a homemade quick lunch in a fun and lively atmosphere.

Frutta al mercato di Sant'Ambrogio
Photo: Fruits of the Market by giagir

10. CASCINE PARK. Cascine Park is the most popular running area accessible from central Florence. To go there, you'll have to head upriver (northwest) from the Ponte Vecchio, and leave a lot of the tourist sites behind you. Locals go to the park to walk, run, or frequent the city's largest open-air market (held Tuesday mornings along Viale Lincoln at the park's entrance). Cascine Park can be reached by tram or bus from the city center in a few minutes, but if you've got a bit of extra time and energy it's worthwhile to start your run in town. If you're feeling a bit less energetic, it's a beautiful place for a lazy bike ride or a picnic with friends!

Buon fine settimana da Firenze ( Parco Cascine) - Have a great weekend by Florence (Cascine Park)
Photo: Cascine Park by Buonadventura's and Carla's

Live in Florence? Leave some of your own favorites in the comments!

Topics: Florence, Italy