Exploring Florence Past the City Centre
“Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.”
— Lawrence Block
As a traveler in Italy and Europe, you will probably spend a few days in Florence. Most spend two or three days in this cultural hub, exploring the city centre. Only a handful of travellers stay for more than three or four days in Firenze. I decided to spend a whole week, just exploring Florence. Once I had the many museums checked off my to-do list, I ventured a little further. Exploring Florence past the city centre is the way to truly get to know this small city and all it has to offer. If you visit, try to stay at a hotel or airbnb outside of the historical city centre – this way you can experience the modern aspects of the city and see how locals really live (and to uncover some magic).
Exploring Florence Past the Historical City Centre
My story begins when I ventured onto Via dei Pilastri to purchase a vegan leather wallet for my sister at the shop called Save (found on HappyCow). What I found when at no. 7 Via dei Pilastri was the shop boarded up. Save had closed down, as confirmed by a neighbouring vintage shop owner. I was left a little disappointed but nonetheless, I decided to continue my evening passegiata and to my luck, my now unplanned evening led to a series of magical events!
il Villaggio dei Popoli
First, I found a fair-trade shop (il Villaggio dei Popoli). I had been looking endlessly for incense but couldn’t find any natural or body shops that sold any. But at il Villaggio, I found incense and then more: canvas wallets, body lotions and soaps, artisanal packaged teas and tea sets, household items, gifts, children’s toys and so much more – and all fair-trade. Once I discovered this shop, I kind of wished I hadn’t already done so much gift shopping – but what’s done is done, and I was happy to discover this shop for future visits! I also treated myself to a bar of fair trade chocolate – which I pretty much devoured on the spot.
Mago Merlino Tea House
Then, I stumbled upon a mystical-looking shop. As I looked at the storefront, I realized it was teahouse: Mago Merlino Tea House. I had only been to one authentic teahouse before in Burlington, and really enjoyed it, so I definitely wanted to try this cozy teahouse out. The sign on the door said to ring the doorbell to be allowed entry. I actually hesitated for a second- it felt pretty official to ring in to a teashop, but boy, am I glad I did!
A smiling man wearing white, furry slippers immediately greeted me. He assumed I was meeting friends and mentioned that there were a group of young people who had already arrived but I quickly told him, in Italian, that I was alone for the evening. To my delight, he was so enthused and then spoke to me as if I was an old friend. He ushered me to the kitchen area, where he pointed out a high chair facing their workspace – he wanted to chat and know more about me. Being a formerly shy solo traveller, I still sometimes struggle to initiate meaningful conversation, so I was very grateful for Rocco’s warmth and hospitality. We spoke about life, travel, organic and sustainable living and gratitude. I left with a full stomach (they fed me so much!) and an even fuller heart. I challenge tea lovers (and non-tea lovers) to visit Mago Merlino – I had the most incredible tea and organic, homemade cookies I have EVER had. The matcha tea is sweet and creamy but subtle. The cookies were all very distinct and all equally delicious.
Rocco told me that he and his partner only use sustainable and organic ingredients, but they are not 100% vegan, so please mention if you are vegan and decide to visit. Mago Merlino also hosts poetry readings and small concerts – a great alternative to spending the evening in a bar or club.
My night ended at La Raccolta for dinner (off of Via dei Pilastri, 5 minutes away). La Raccolta is an organic, sustainable (vegetarian and vegan) health food store with a restaurant open for lunch and dinner. I had a light and delicious meal (I was so utterly full after all the food from Mago Merlino). I suggest going on an emptier stomach to try more of the delicious options on the menu! For more adventures in Florence, you can read my post on eating vegan (and vegetarian) in Firenze!
Now it’s your turn! Would you venture a little further and try exploring Florence past the historical centre?
All of these hidden gems are located in the neighbourhood of Piazza Santa Croce –
a neighbourhood filled with locals and very few tourists!
Il Villaggio dei Popoli – 47 Via dei Pilastri, Florence, Italy
Mago Merlino Tea House – 31 Via dei Pilastri, Florence, Italy
La Raccolta – 2 Via Giacomo Leopardi, Florence, Italy