Florence isn’t a city that’s short of things to see. But what about if you’re in town for a few days or a week and want to explore more of the Tuscan capital than the well trodden tourist trails? Here are our tips for what to do in Florence and Tuscany this spring and summer...
1) Stay up all night
This year sees the fifth edition of Florence’s successful Notte Bianca (White Night) event. For the evening of Thursday 30 April the city takes advantage of the longer evenings and Friday’s national holiday to have a party. The museums and shops are open all evening and the streets fill with revellers enjoying music, DJs, street performances, art, talks, food stands, films and more.
30 April, Piazza Signoria and surrounding streets, Florence www.nottebiancafirenze.it (website in Italian)
Notte Bianca Florence, source: Flickr/Ben Snooks
2) Sing for spring
This May festival in the village of Barberino di Mugello celebrates the onset of spring with folklore, music, and, of course, good food. The name Cantà Maggio (sing for May) is taken from the century old tradition of travelling boys passing through farms and singing to celebrate May in return for food. A palio (tradition competition) takes place during the festival between people from the local areas, involving tug of war and climbing the greasy pole.
30 April - 3 May, Barberino di Mugello, www.cantamaggiobarberino.it
3) Boar yourself silly
When Italians aren’t celebrating Catholic saint’s days they are likely to be worshipping their other true religion: food. Pretty much every region, province or small village has its own sagra (food festival) and they are a great way for visitors to sample a more authentic slice of Italian life as well as excellent locally sourced and prepared food. For example the attractive hill fort town of Certaldo, to the south of Florence, holds its annual boar festival (Sagra del Cinghiale) between 10 April and 2 May this year. Visitors can sample local boar cooked in all manner of combinations.
4) Marvel at a light show with a difference
There’s more to Pisa than the leaning tower. The city, just an 70-minute drive from Florence, celebrates the eve of the patron saint St. Ranieri’s feast day by putting on a magical light show with a difference. At sunset thousands of candles previously put onto bridges, doors and windows along the River Arno are lit up at the same time with breathtaking results. The night culminates in a firework display over the city. A regatta takes place on the following day as part of the saint’s day celebrations.
Luminara of San Ranieri: 16 June, Feast day & regatta: 17 June, Pisa
Luminara of San Ranieri, source: Flickr/Andrea Graziadio
5) People watch at Pitti Uomo
This trade fair, which takes place every January and June, is arguably the world’s most important platform for men’s clothing and accessory collections. If you’re not in the industry then I’m afraid you won’t be able to get in, but being in Florence around this time still makes for some excellent people watching. Pitti Uomo is credited with making dandyish acceptable again and the sartorially savvy street style on display will not disappoint.
16-19 June, Florence, www.pittimmagine.com
Pitti Uomo 2013, source: Pinterest
6) Play Florentine football
The feast day of St. John is a big deal in Florence. After the obligatory Catholic procession and Mass in the morning the city’s focus turns to the Piazza Santa Croce where the calcio fiorentino (Florentine football) match takes place. Presided over by nobles on horseback the match takes place between two teams of 27 players. This ancient sport is a cross between rugby, football and wrestling and, though it is less violent than in the past, still makes for great entertainment. The day is finished off by a fireworks display in Piazzale Michelangelo.
24 June, Various locations in Florence
Florentine football, source: Lorenzo Noccioli
7) Hit the road with the street performers in Certaldo
The international festival of street theatre takes place in Certaldo, to the south of Florence, showcasing over 100 outdoor performances. Clowns, comedians, contortionists, acrobats, puppeteers, ventriloquists, magicians, illusionists, fire-eaters, dancers, actors, street musicians and more make full use of the town’s Medieval walls, streets and courtyards for their performances and the festival is a truly memorable experience.
15-19 July, Certaldo, www.mercantiacertaldo.it
Mercanteria Certaldo, source: www.mercantiacertaldo.it
8) Explore ancient and contemporary sculpture at the Palazzo Strozzi
This duo of exhibitions looks at the development of sculpture from the ancient past to the modern day. Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World showcases a series of bronze sculptures that tell the story of artistic development in Hellenistic Era during the rule of Alexander the Great. These sculptures of gods, athletes and historical figures were advanced for their time and showed a level of pathos not displayed in previous art.
The sister exhibition, Sculptures Also Die, looks at how contemporary artists are rediscovering ancient materials like bronze, stone and ceramic in sculpture. Visitors will be invited to explore the differences between the past and the present as the dialogue between the two.
Power and Pathos: 14 March - 21 June, Sculptures Also Die: 17 April - 26 July, Palazzo Strozzi, Piazza Strozzi, 50123 Florence, www.palazzostrozzi.org
Sculptures also die, source: www.strozzina.org
9) Go wild at the Palio in Siena
Famous all over Italy this ancient horse race has been taking place Siena since the 1644. Ten horses and bareback riders (that represent ten of the seventeen city areas) race around the city’s semi-circular Piazza del Campo cheered on by a feverishly excited crowd of locals and visitors. You can buy tickets in advance for the stands or palchi around the square (between €160 and €350 per seat) though note these need to be booked several months beforehand. You can see the race for free from the centre of the piazza (nicknamed ‘the dog’s stand’) but be aware that you will need to turn up several hours in advance of the race and there are no toilets available.
July 2nd and 16th August, Piazza del Campo, Siena, 1 hour from Florence, book tickets for palchi seats or window with bellinitravel.com
Palio in Siena, source: Flickr/Janus Kinase
10) Admire Florence’s art
Now in its tenth year this vast program of temporary exhibitions held by the Polo Museale Fiorentino’s museums (Uffizi, Accademia Gallery, Bargello Museum and the Pitti Palace’s Palatine Gallery, Silver Museum and Modern Art Gallery) is definitely worth a visit.