I often hear the following from clients: “I’ve been told that I shouldn’t visit Florence on a Monday because nothing will be open.” To that I say, au contraire–Mondays are a great day for visiting the less-frequented sites and hidden gems of the city. Sure, the major state museums like the Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti, and the Accademia will be closed, but there are still plenty of places to explore. Plus, most of the shops, restaurants, and cafes also remain open on Mondays now–so you can get your fill of delicious Tuscan fare and unique Florentine goods any day of the week. Below I’ve listed my favorite spots to visit on Mondays.
- Orsanmichele Church: Unlike like many of the museums in Florence, the museum of Orsanmichele is ONLY open on Mondays and, bonus, it’s completely FREE to visit! This 14th-century structure once served as the granary of the city, but was converted into a church thanks in large part to the miracle-working image of Mary and Christ housed within it. In addition to boasting a beautiful late-gothic interior, Orsanmichele’s exterior also features 14 sculptures representing the patron saints of the city’s guilds (think notaries, blacksmiths, and stonemasons).
The exterior sculptures are all copies, but the originals are housed within Orsanmichele’s museum on the first floor of the building. The museum also offers breathtaking views of the city, as well as the opportunity to wander through the former guild house of the domestic wool producers, the Arte della Lana.
- The Cathedral Complex: One of the most iconic buildings in Florence is its cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore. Not only is it one of the largest churches in Christendom, but it features the largest, freestanding, masonry dome in the entire world. In addition to the church itself (which is ALWAYS free), you can visit the Baptistery, the newly-renovated cathedral museum (with works by Donatello and Michelangelo), climb the dome and the bell tower, and visit the remains of the former cathedral of Santa Reparata with a single ticket.
- The Churches of Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce: These are two of the most important churches in the city (belonging to the Dominican and Franciscan orders respectively) and they offer visitors a chance to step back into gothic and Renaissance Florence. Each museum houses incredible fresco cycles, tombs, and cloisters and really helps us to better contextualize how art was viewed/displayed in early modern Florence.
- The Galileo Museum: If you want to do something a bit more off the beaten path, may I suggest a trip to the Galileo Museum? Not only does this museum offer a room dedicated to one of Italy’s most illustrious men of science (featuring models of his telescopes, his treatises, and even several of his fingers!), but also a large collection of scientific instruments from the Medici and Habsburg-Lorraine courts.
- The Palazzo Vecchio: This museum/civic palace has been the seat of the city government since its founding in 1299. You can explore the quarters of the Medici Dukes (including a spectacular private chapel for one of the Medici brides), wander through lavish audience chambers, feast your eyes upon Dante’s death mask, climb the bell tower, and even poke around ancient Roman ruins.
- The Chiostro dello Scalzo: To finish this list, I will end with my most beloved hidden gem in the city, the Chiostro dello Scalzo or Cloister of the Barefooted. This cloister once belonged to a confraternity (charitable organization) dedicated to St. John the Baptist (the patron saint of Florence). It features an incredibly haunting and beautiful fresco cycle depicting the life of St. John the Baptist by mannerist artists, Andrea del Sarto and Franciabigio. And did I mention it’s FREE to visit?