The skies are clear over Florence, the sun is shining and the days are longer, but with the beautiful Tuscan weather come the big crowds. While the center is flooded with people, here is an itinerary for a day of sightseeing just east of the center and a little out of the ordinary. The best part? No lines and all the attractions are free.
Start your day at the Protestant Cemetery of Florence, or, as it’s more commonly known, the English Cemetery. It rises up like an island in the middle of Piazza Donatello, and from the street you can catch a glimpse of the trees and decorated mausoleums inside. Once you’re through the gates, the scene is breathtaking. It is home to important graves of many poets, sculptors and abolitionists, and many of the tombs are works of art themselves. In addition to the notable people buried here, such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Walter Savage Landor and Hiram Powers, the site itself has a rich and varied history. Take a stroll along the narrow paths and learn about this often-overlooked gem (see TF 122 and 124).
From there, walk down Borgo Pinti and at piazza Salvemini, turn left and pick up via Pietrapiana,. Here you’ll find the Ciompi Flea Market, or in Italian, Mercato delle Pulci, housed in piazza dei Ciompi. You could spend over an hour wandering these small stalls filled with dusty treasures, going from one eye-catching find to the next. Various stands have costume jewelry, postcards, buttons and antiques. The market is usually quiet during the day, with a few tourists and passersby browsing the tables, while locals chat with the proprietors. Booksellers price old volumes and huge art books for .50 cents to 3 euro. On the last Sunday of the month, the market expands to the surrounding streets and takes over the piazza. The flea market is the place to see relics of an older Florence, souvenirs, clothes and more. Great for a look or keepsakes that will barely put a dent in your wallet.
Turn back the way you came and follow your views of the Duomo along via dell’Oriuolo, to the Oblate Library on the right side of the street. The library was originally a hospital built in the thirteenth century, and years later, a cloistered convent was added. Although the building’s original architecture has been maintained through the years, the interior is now a grand mix of old beauty and modern amenities. Entering through the large iron gates that open up to an inner courtyard, continue through the lobby to the elevator. Your destination waits on the second floor: a café and terrace with glorious views of the Duomo. Grab an espresso and notice how the bell in the bell tower is framed perfectly against the sky, or read a book and let Brunelleschi’s cupola be your backdrop. It’s one of the best views in Florence and it’s completely free. Get a library membership while you are there (also free) and enjoy wifi from the rooftops of Florence.
Now it’s time for lunch. If you’re after something cheap but need a break from the usual panino, the area is filled with options. Eby’s Bar, which you passed on your way to the library has some outstanding choices, including a list of burritos each for 4 euro as well as empanadas with various filling for 2 euro. Chips with guacamole are also only 4 euro, and the perfectly seasoned tortilla chips make this a viable option for lunch.
Go back to piazza Salvemini, head to the Post Office and down via Guiseppe Verdi to Salumeria Verdi, a lunch spot loved not only because of the owner’s hospitality and the welcoming atmosphere, but also for the prices. A primo piatto and water is only 4 euro. The panini here are excellent, served hot and pressed. Choose from a selection or create your own.
Or continue farther down Verdi, towards the river, as it becomes via de’ Benci, and turn right onto via de’ Neri, with its little food shops, macelleria and alimentari are perfect if you are looking for an inexpensive bite to eat, but two places in particular stand out. You can spot All’Antico Vinaio by its self-service wine bar. Find the wine and glasses on a wooden shelf facing the street and pour yourself a glass, which only costs 2 euro. Inside the small shop, you can grab little sandwiches, or bread with a slice of prosciutto for only 1 euro. The cheese is good and the cold cuts are from the rosticceria across the street, under the same ownership. Nearby is Gelateria dei Neri, a small but outstanding and authentic gelato place. Get two flavors in the smallest cup for 1.80. The chocolate here is suberb, with a rich and distinct coco flavor. This gelateria has a large selection (including vegan options), so try a few before settling.
Now that you’re full and reenergized, it’s time to do some more sightseeing. Your first stop is Filistrucchi (via Verdi 9), across from Salumeria Verdi). Founded in 1720, this is one of the oldest businesses in Florence still run by the same family. Originally a wig shop for the fashionable men and women of the time, Filistrucchi has evolved into a store specializing in make-up and prosthetics for the theatre, and of course, wigs and toupees. The family has worked with all the top theaters in Florence, as well as with the New York Metropolitan, and even outfitted Luciano Pavarotti. The shop keeps regular hours if you just want to peek in, but you can also call and make an appointment to tour the workshops in the back.
Continuing down via Verdi to piazza Santa Croce, turn left and pass the church to find the Scuola del Cuoio, or the Leather School, in the back of the church. The walkway to the entrance winds around the back of the big, brown stone church, where you can get a great close-up view of the apse and bell tower. After going down the steps and through the gate, you can see students through the huge, semicircular windows working on various projects, with big pieces of multi-colored leather and scraps of cuttings piled on their work desks. The school was opened after World War II to educate orphans of the war. It has had many famous visitors, from royal families to Cary Grant and Ozzie Osbourne. Make sure to check out a poster with pictures of the famous patrons. Inside the building, admire some of the incredible handiwork, read about the history of the school and watch craftsman cutting, burnishing and creating these world-renowned leather goods. Entrance is free, although you may be tempted to purchase some of the items for sale in the retail store (see TF 17, 124).
To reach the last stop, head back to via de’ Benci and cross the Ponte alle Grazie and turn left, following the Arno to Lungarno Serristori, where you will find the Museo Casa Rodolfo Siviero. Rodolfo Siviero was a secret agent with the Servizio Informazioni Militare and an intellectual who recovered artwork stolen by the Nazis during WWII. Often referred to as the James Bond of the Art World because of his charm and style, Siviero worked tirelessly, and occasionally unscrupulously, to retrieve masterpieces stolen from Italy.
He lived in this beautiful house on the Arno from 1944 until he died 1983, when he left his home and extensive art collection to the Tuscan Region. The house-museum displays many works, from ancient to contemporary times. Marvel at the collection and take a peek into the life of a wealthy and interesting figure in Italian history.
The English Cemetery
Piazzale Donatello 38
Il Mercato delle Pulci
Piazza dei Ciompi
Daily 9am to 7:30pm
Via dell’Oriulo 26
Via Verdi 9
Tel 055/2344901; email@example.com;
Scuola del Cuoio
Via S.Giuseppe 5R
Museo Casa Rodolfo Siviero
Lungarno Serristori 1-3
Tel 055/2345219; 055/4382652;firstname.lastname@example.org