The area south of the Arno River tends to be less hectic than the rest of Florence, despite the fact that there’s a lot of really cool stuff to see. If you’ve had one too many crowd-fueled nervous breakdowns, spend a day in this area enjoying plenty of elbow room and cultural amazingness.
Moving roughly from west to east, start the day at Porta San Frediano, one of Florence’s surviving city gates, dating from 1332. Next stop is Basilica di Santa Maria del Carmine, a 13th century church with frescoes by Masaccio, Masolino da Panicale and Filippino Lippi in the Cappella Brancacci that miraculously survived a fire in the 18th century. Note: Due to the limited number of people allowed in the chapel at any one time, advanced booking to get in on a compulsory guided tour is required.
If you didn’t book a slot at Carmine, don’t fret. Just a few minutes east is Basilica di Santo Spirito, one of Brunelleschi’s last projects which he did not live to see completed. The massive church has 38 art-festooned side chapels with works by Francesco Botticini, Filippino Lippi, and Domenico di Zanobi. The adjacent refectory, Cenacolo di Santo Spirito (separate admission), contains Andrea Orcagna’s impressive Crucifixion fresco along with a fragmentary Last Supper. There’s also a collection of sculptures by Donatello, Jacopo della Quercia and Tino da Camaino.
It’s a good idea to stop for lunch at this point at the nearby Olio & Convivium which offers an elegant fixed price lunch menu, so you can fuel up for a visit to the gigantic Palazzo Pitti, Florence’s largest architectural monument which was commissioned by banker Luca Pitti in 1457. Honestly, there is so much here that you could fill an entire day, in which case your tour south of the Arno River will be a two-day undertaking. Apart from taking in the magnificent palace itself, the site also houses the Museo degli Argenti (Sliver Museum), the Galleria Palatina (16th to 18th century art collection of the Medicis and Lorraine dukes), the Royal Apartments and the Boboli and Bardini gardens as well as a couple of art galleries.
Stop in at Chiesa di Santa Felicita for a glimpse of a section of the Corridoio Vasariano, covering part of the church’s facade, the incredible elevated enclosed passageway connecting Palazzo Vecchio with Palazzo Pitti, via the Uffizi Gallery and the Ponte Vecchio. There’s also works here by Brunelleschi and Jacopo Pontormo.
This last part is a bit of a hike, so it might be a good idea to first stop in at a cafe for a fortifying espresso and a bathroom visit. The walk east to Chiesa di San Miniato al Monte is not only far, but also steep. It’s worth the effort, though. Not only is this one of the highest points in Florence, offering wonderful panoramic views, but the 11th century church has frescoes dating from the 13th to 15th centuries, a Romanesque crypt, works by Michelozzo, Agnolo Gaddi, and Luca della Robbia and many other absorbing decorations and art.
Best Florence Shopping and Markets…shop till you drop.
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Florence Art Museum Crawl…start with the Ufizzi and it only gets better.
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Must-See Museums of Florence…prepare to be spoiled for the rest of your life.