Whoever said you don’t get something for nothing has obviously never been on a Florence Greeters tour. Florence has recently joined the Global Greeter Network, an international organisation that runs free sightseeing tours conducted by passionate volunteer guides.
There are plenty of great Florence tourist attractions but it costs nothing to spend a couple of hours with a friendly local who can show you around the city.
These volunteers provide a unique insight into what it means to be a ‘real Florentine’ as well as passing on hints and tips to help you make the most of your time in Florence.
If you would like to take a Florence Greeters tour, simply book online before you arrive. Our Greeter, Roberto, took the time to reconfirm our evening tour that morning. He also kindly agreed to meet us in the lobby of our hotel so we didn’t get lost trying to find him.
We have done Greeter tours in a number of cities including Paris, New York and Brisbane however the Greeters in Florence offer a unique experience due to their age.
While our Greeters in other cities have been older, and often retired, the team of volunteers in Florence are youngsters with an average age of around 30.
So, whether you want discover the city’s hippest bars and clubs or learn more about Florence’s history, these Greeters have got you covered. Our tour lasted about three hours and involved quite a bit of walking which suited our active family.
However, if you would prefer to rest your travel-weary feet or focus on a smaller, more compact area, just let your Greeter know and they will be happy to accommodate you.
One of the things we love best about Greeter tours is the fact they often take you to hidden places. Our first stop was a case in point, the ‘secret terrace’ on Level 5 of the Rinascente department store on Piazza della Repubblica which had a stunning view of Florence’s famous cathedral.
Roberto had so many entertaining stories to tell about the history of the city and also what it was like to live there that walking to each new destination on our tour was never boring. Our next stop was the Biblioteca delle Oblate, or Oblate Library.
Roberto used to come and study at the Oblate Library when he was at university. It was originally the Convent of the Oblate where a secular order of devoted nuns lived a cloistered life while voluntarily taking care of sick female patients from the late 1200s until 1936.
When the building was converted into a library in 2007, many of the original features such as the antique cloisters and wash terrace were left untouched to preserve the building’s unique character and history.
On the second floor, which used to serve as a ‘wash terrace’ for the nuns to hang out the patients’ clothes and bed sheets, we got to enjoy another beautiful view of the famous cupola.
Our final stop was Le Murate, an entertainment complex with a mix of housing, shops, restaurants, bars, open spaces and an interesting history.
When the building was constructed in 1424 it accommodated Benedictine nuns who were said to be murate (‘walled up’) because they had chosen a cloistered religious life, thereby giving the place the name it has today.
However, in the 1800s Le Murate ‘walled up’ people up in a different way when it became a prison, housing everyone from villains to political prisoners.
Roberto explained that when the Arno river burst its banks in 1966, the jailors flung open the cell doors so the prisoners would not drown. All but three of them surrendered themselves to authorities after the waters fell.
This is somewhere we would come back to for a meal or a drink if we visited Florence again although we might visit during the day. Le Murate was pretty spooky at night.
On the way back to our hotel we came across the Festa della Rificolona, an evening parade that winds its way through the streets of Florence in September each year.
The parade’s history harks back to a time when peasants holding paper lanterns used to bring their produce to market in Florence. The local kids couldn’t resist the opportunity to tease the ‘simple country folk’ and would delight in pinging their lanterns using pea shooters.
In modern times, the parade is undertaken by families with some children carrying paper lanterns lit with candles while the others try the hit the lanterns with pea shooters.
The lanterns ranged from beautiful to slightly wonky handmade creations while others had been bought from a shop because either the parents or their kids were too busy to make their own lantern.
Our tour had an ending so magical that Roberto couldn’t have organised anything more perfect if he had tried.
Disclosure: There is nothing to disclose as Florence Greeters tours are free however we would like to sincerely thank Roberto for taking the time to show us around Florence and for providing us with such a wonderful and unique tour.
If you are also spending some time in Rome, you might find our tips for visiting Rome, our guide to Rome’s hidden secrets, and our guide for fun things to do in Rome useful when you’re planning your trip. We have also done two great food tours in Rome: one in the heart of the city and the other in trendy and atmospheric Trastevere.