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Two days in Florence? Fantastic and unusual things to do.

It is worth visiting if you only have two days in Florence? Absolutely!

Even with a short time in Florence you can experience so much of what makes it one of the world’s great cities—the masterful Renaissance art, Gothic architecture, beautiful river views, unique shops, fantastic food and more. But you do need to make a plan.

With millions of visitors each year, the trick to actually enjoying your two days in Florence is making sure to do the things you came for instead of standing in line after line.

One way I avoid crowds when travelling to popular tourist destinations is seek out offbeat attractions. Florence is filled with them! So if you’re looking for strange and unusual things to do in Florence this list is for you.

I visited Florence with a girlfriend and we found it to be a safe city for women where we walked or biked to almost everything on our wish list. These following attractions are all within a compact area you can manage at a relaxed pace in just two days in Florence.

Just want my list of best things to do in Florence in two days? Here it is!

Basilica Santa Croce

Galileo’s mummified finger

The English Cemetery

The mummy of St. Antonius

Michelangelo’s David

Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy

Carousel at Piazza della Repubblica

Caravaggio at the Uffizi

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Unusual things to do with two days in Florence

The stunning interior of the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, Italy, featuring intricate frescoes, beautiful stained glass windows, and impressive statues. This image highlights a unique must-see destination for visitors spending two days in Florence, offering a glimpse into the rich artistic and historical heritage of this magnificent city.

Visit Italy’s glorious dead at the Basilica Santa Croce

Here’s an unpopular take: skip the Duomo! The Gothic Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and its red dome looms large over Florence and is considered a top attraction. But after queuing for more than an hour in the burning sun to go inside we were underwhelmed. I don’t think paying to climb the Duomo is worth it either – for awesome views head to Plaza Michelangelo for free!

So I say pop by the Duomo to admire it from outside then head 800 metres to the south to the lesser-known, spectacular Basilica Santa Croce.

The elaborate tomb of Michelangelo in the Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence, adorned with statues representing Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture. This image highlights a unique must-see site for visitors spending two days in Florence, offering an opportunity to pay homage to one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance and explore the rich history encapsulated within this historic church.

This is the largest Franciscan church in the world. It’s filled with art by such masters as Donatello. But the main reason to come is the elaborate tombs of many of Italy’s great thinkers and artists.

Santa Croce is the resting place for Galileo Galilei, Machiavelli and Rossini, with tributes to Dante and DiVinci too. You’ll marvel at funeral art for famous Italians you’ve never heard of, including unique “floor tombs” underfoot. This was hands down my favourite building in all of Italy!

I wrote a full review of Santa Croce basilica for more details.

The Basilica is open 9:30am to 5:30pm Monday to Saturday. Closed on Sundays, Jan 1 and Dec 26. Admission costs 8Euro for adults, 7Euro for 12-17 or university students, and free for under 11. Audio guides 4 Euro extra. Tickets on site or purchase advance on-line.

A visitor wearing a mask and glasses takes a selfie inside the Museo Galileo in Florence, with antique scientific instruments displayed behind them. This image highlights a unique must-see attraction for visitors spending two days in Florence: exploring the Museo Galileo, where they can discover fascinating historical scientific artifacts and learn about the contributions of Galileo Galilei to science and astronomy.

Check out Galileo’s mummified finger in a science museum

If you’re going to visit just one science museum in your two days in Florence (or in your life, really), make it the one that has the mummified finger of Galileo Galilei on display.

The famous scientist and heretic died under house arrest for daring to declare that the Earth revolved around the sun in the 1600s. His remains moved around Italy quite a bit, and at one point, some local scientists and historians decided to help themselves to a few parts of his body. For science, presumably.

A preserved relic of Galileo Galilei's middle finger encased in glass at the Museo Galileo in Florence. This image highlights a unique and intriguing must-see attraction for visitors spending two days in Florence: viewing the unusual and historic artifacts at the Museo Galileo, offering a fascinating insight into the life and legacy of the renowned scientist.

Galileo’s finger now lives at a museum bearing his name.

The Galileo Museum (Museo Galileo in Italian) is one of Florence’s coolest museums, just a hop from the famous Uffuzi. Apart from the famous mummied finger, its collection includes historic maps, navigational instruments, key inventions in maths and physics, plus the only surviving tools actually designed by Galileo. But really, come for the finger.

Read my full report on visiting Galileo’s finger here.

The Museo Galileo is open every day except Christmas and New Year’s Day, and costs 10 Euro. It’s one of the less popular museums so you can do walk-up tickets here just fine.

English Cemetery in Florence - A serene pathway lined with hedges and tombstones in the English Cemetery of Florence.
Photo Samuli Lintula

Wander in the English Cemetery

English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning is the most famous “resident” of this pretty Protestant cemetery, hiding in the plain sight in the middle of a traffic roundabout near Piazzale Donatello. Some other burials of note include the last descendants of William Shakespeare, Beatrice and Edward Claude Shakespeare; American preacher and anti-slavery activist, Reverend Theodor Parker; and Nadezhda de Santis, a black Nubian slave brought to Florence by archaeologist Ippolito Rossellini who decided to buy a teenage girl in Cairo just to set her free.

Fun fact: Florence allows new burials here but only cremated remains, not bodies.

Opening hours: Mondays 9am to 12pm, Tuesday to Friday 3pm to 6pm. Closed on weekends.

St. Anthony's Relics - The ornate relics of St. Anthony displayed in a gilded case inside a church in Florence.

Meet the mummy of St. Antonius

One of the most fascinating and macabre things to do in Florence is visit the mummified body of St. Antonius. You don’t even need to go anywhere creepy. Italian Catholics love their relics—putting the physical remains of dead saints on display in churches all over the country. Florence is no exception.  

St. Antonius was archbishop of Florence during the plague of 1448, an earthquake in 1453, cyclone in 1456, and then a famine. He lived an austere life and was often seen with his mule handing out relief to the city’s poor but was also respected by the highest orders: he gave the last rights to Pope Eugene IV. He died in 1469 and his last words were allegedly “Servire Deo regnare est,” “to serve God is to reign.”  

His body was buried in a glass coffin, which you can visit today at the Dominican Church of San Marco. This has its own beautiful artworks and charm and is quite close to the Accademia Gallery, an easy walk after you go see Michelangelo’s David.

Michelangelo's David - A close-up view of Michelangelo's iconic statue of David, something you must to with two days in Florence
Photo Steve Barker via Unsplash

Get up close with David

Now, I know I said this list was for off-the-beaten path Florence for seekers of the strange and unusual. And I’m recommending one of the most popular places to line up in all of Italy, but….

You can’t come to Florence and not see Michelangelo’s David.

Well, you could. But if you’re in Italy for the Renaissance art, this is The One. And it’s not like it hasn’t had some weird history.

David was completed in 1504 after 18 months of work by Michelangelo, who scored the commission at the age of 26 over many more important artists of the day to transform one giant piece of marble into the Biblical figure. Some of his elder peers weren’t thrilled about that – and criticized or even vandalized the sculpture when it was unveiled in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio. (The city hired 24/7 security.)

The nakedness was also a problem for some, and David’s genitals were originally covered with a garland of copper leaves. (A replica in the UK still uses a removable fig leaf for royal visits.) More recently, David made news when a Florida school principal was forced to resign after showing a photograph of David to her sixth-grade students without warning their parents in advance. So despite being so ubiquitous you can get David genital fridge magnets in every souvenir shop in Florence, the sculpture is not without its critics.

Today you can see the full monty at the Accademia Gallery, a former hospital turned art gallery, and David’s home since 1873.

Crowds at David Statue - Visitors crowding around Michelangelo's David inside the Galleria dell'Accademia photo by Will Pantaleo via Unsplash
Photo: Will Pantaleo via Unsplash

You can’t miss it. David stands 17 feet tall in its own massive room, bathed in light from the glass ceiling. It’s literally awesome. And no matter how many other people are in the room you won’t notice them at all. Take your time to walk around and admire every angle. (He has a great butt.)

After that, you could leave the Accademia still have gotten your money’s worth. (You’ve already walked down the “Corridor of “Prisoners,” a series of unfinished Michelangelo slave sculptures, on the way to David.) Or spend another hour seeing the galleries other highlights including historical musical instruments, Gothic paintings and some really cool sculpture studies with what look like plague marks but are just dots from nails once used to help guide the artists.

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How do you see David without waiting in line all day? You have two choices.

To see David on a budget, and your own schedule, book your own ticket directly with the gallery. Choose the first time slot of the day at 8:15am for more elbow room. In high season summer the gallery is open late on Tuesdays and Thursday to 8pm so you could also book the last slot, but Florence is glorious at that time of evening so I highly recommend getting up in the morning.

Tickets for the Accademia Gallery do sell out in advance—sometimes weeks in advance. If you’re someone who prefers to book last minute or don’t see any time slots left during your visit don’t despair. Many tour companies offer tickets or guided visits advertised as “skip-the-line.” You’ll pay more, but you can almost always find a ticket even the day before. Read reviews as not all tour operators can guarantee you a specific timeslot and you definitely want that if you are only in Florence for a short time you can plan your day.

Accademia Gallery is open 8:15am to 6:50pm Tuesday to Sunday. (Closed on Mondays, December 25 and January 1.)  Free for under 18 and only 3Euro for 18-15. Adults pay 13Euro and everyone pays 4Euro fee to book online.

Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy - The historical interior of the Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy, filled with antique wooden shelves and apothecary jars.

Shop at the world’s oldest pharmacy

Santa Maria Novella is the most gorgeous shop in all of Florence!

Considered by some as the world’s oldest pharmacy, it sells fragrances, soaps and medicinal products they’ve been making for centuries. Some of their beauty remedies go back to the early 1200s, when Dominican friars started a herb garden at the nearby Santa Maria Novella convent. Caterina de ‘Medici, the Queen of France was a fan. You need some rose water to treat the Black Death? Or some beautiful lavender soaps? This is your place?

You enter the shop under a canopy of dried flowers, into a space that looks more like a church than a store. Everything smells amazing. You don’t have to purchase anything to enjoy the ambience, and there is a small museum attached. It’s the perfect place to pick up a gift for yourself or others that is uniquely Florence.

Floral Display at Santa Maria Novella - A woman standing under a stunning floral display in the entrance of Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy.

Read my full review of Santa Maria Novella here.

The official name is Officina Profumo – Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella and it’s a bit out of the way from other things to do in Florence on this list, but worth it!

Carousel at Piazza della Repubblica - The vibrant carousel at Piazza della Repubblica, with the historic arch in the background.
Photo by Nan Palermo via Flickr

Ride an antique-looking carousel at Piazza della Repubblica.

Not much to add other than if you like being twirled around on a horse this is a fun square to visit.

Caravaggio at the Uffizi some of the most unusual art in Florence

Marvel at Caravaggio at the Uffizi

Of all the master artists you can see in Florence, only one was arrested for throwing artichokes in a waiter’s face. Caravaggio was a superstar Baroque painter of the early 17th century known for realistic (aka gruesome) religious scene of torture and murder. In his real life, he was a drunk who was often in trouble with the law, not the least of which was for killing a man by stabbing him with a sword. (He fled Rome and died in exile)

I learned that from visiting the Uffizi. This is the most popular art gallery in all of Italy. Like the statue of David, I recommend buying a ticket well in advance for first timeslot of the morning if you want to beat some of the crowds.

The Uffizi has many greatest hits like The Birth of Venus by Botticelli and DaVinci’s Adoration of the Magi. But once you’ve appreciated those (or skipped them even, you rebel) you can spend time in Room 90, dedicated to Caravaggio’s provocative works. There’s Biblical violence (the Sacrifice of Isaac) and Greek mythology violence (the beheading of Medusa). And don’t miss Artemisia Gentileschi’s Beheading of Holofernes, a precursor to modern rape-revenge horror.

Judith Beheading Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi - A dramatic painting of Judith beheading Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi, displayed in Florence Italy

Uffizi is open Tuesday to Sunday, 8.15am to 6.30pm. Closed most Mondays (excluding 10 and 24 April, 1 May, 14 August) and December 25. Advance tickets are a must. Adult admission is 30 Euro. Free admission on the first Sunday of the month and holidays April 25, June 2, and November 4. Whenever you go, expect crowds.

Free alternative: If you’re short on time or money, or just want more severed heads, wander over to the nearby Piazza della Signoria plaza. It’s gorgeous on its own but it also has Perseus with the Head of Medusa, an imposing bronze sculpture by Benvenuto Cellini and a copy of Donatello’s bronze sculpture Judith and Holofernes.

 Hotel Plaza Lucchesi has one of the best rooftop pools in Florence overlooking the Florence skyline, with the Duomo in the background.

Our Hotel in Florence: Plaza Hotel Lucchesi

Florence in the summer is hot! It reached 40 degrees for us. So I knew I wanted a hotel with a pool even if that meant upping our accommodation budget. When I saw the views from the rooftop pool at the Plaza Hotel Lucchesi and how close it was to the city centre it was an easy decision to splurge on a stay here.

The Plaza Hotel Lucchesi is located right on the Arno River, a 15-minute walk from landmarks like the Uffizi Gallery and Ponte Vecchio and an easy hop to artsy Oltrarno on the south side. Our large room had a balcony with great views of the Arno but we spent most of our time there cooling off in their small pool with 360-degree views of the city. So good!

Read my full review of the Plaza Hotel Lucchesi.

If you prefer a less expensive hotel or want to stay in the boho Santo Spirito neighbourhood I can also recommend Palazzo Guadagni. Its cozy rooms have antique furnishings and the rooftop bar restaurant Loggia has some of the best sunset views in Florence.

I hope this list of unusual things to do with two days in Florence has inspired you and if you have your own offbeat tips do let me know know in the comments!

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