The Tourist Trap In Italy You Need To Avoid (And A Much Better Destination To Visit)

A visit to Florence, Italy, can be a profound experience. It's right at the heart of the historical art scene, with some of the most famous works by the masters you've ever seen. There is beauty in every crevice of this place. The Ponte Vecchio, where people place love locks, the statue of David, Brunelleschi's Dome ... it's impossible to see it all unless you plan on moving there (take us with you). To combat this, many people want to get a perfect shot of the entire city from above. 

One of the places that tourists are often sent to for a view of Florence is a major tourist trap. It's called the Piazzale Michelangelo, and while the view is great, it's basically a glorified parking lot. We're not exaggerating here. Not only is most of the real estate taken up by parking spots, but if you show up there during tourist season, you probably can't even use it for that, as we discovered this summer. While there are copies of sculptures by Michelangelo dotted around, there are also a ton of vendors trying to sell you stuff you can get anywhere, a lot of tired people frustrated by parking issues, and tourists jockeying for position by the edge for pictures. We have a better option for you that actually has beautiful things to see beyond the view (which is also wonderful ... maybe even better). That place is San Miniato al Monte. 

All about San Miniato al Monte

As you can see from the picture above, you'll get a view of the entire city, the mountains in the background, and greenery where you pose. San Miniato al Monte is actually higher up than the Piazzale Michelangelo. Instead of vendors shoving tiny statues of David in weird colors in your face, you get to see a beautiful church that is around a thousand years old. 

San Miniato al Monte is named after Saint Minias, an Armenian Christian who served in the Roman military in the third century C.E. Emperor Decius was upset that Minias became a Christian hermit and wouldn't sacrifice to the Roman gods. He was tortured, burned, stoned, and thrown to a lion that apparently refused to eat him. Then he was beheaded, and, according to legend, picked up his head and walked to the top of the mountain with it. He may also have had a solitary cell there before his execution. His remains or relics are said to be in the crypt of the church that stands there now, next to a Benedictine monastery. 

The Romanesque church at San Miniato al Monte was commissioned by Bishop Hildebrand in 1018 C.E. and completed in 1062 C.E. It's a striking building, complete with a lovely and long set of steps up to the facade. 

What to see at San Miniato al Monte

The church itself may remind you of Brunelleschi's Dome in the heart of Florence, with its green and white diamonds and rectangles on a white facade. Inside, you'll find pretty Corinthian capitals on the columns in the main part of the church. You'll also see a 13th-century mosaic of Christ with gold accents, as well as a lovely arch. You can even see the ribbed ceiling supports. Behind the church, you'll find a peaceful cemetery with impressive sculptures and small chapels. And then, of course, there is that view. The one behind it is incredible as well, as you can see from the picture right above. 

If you happen to find a parking spot below at the Piazzale Michelangelo, great. You can walk up the mountain (it's about a six-minute walk) for this view and architecture. You can find paid parking around the front of the church if you drive, or on the streets on the way, including Via delle Porte Sante. You can also take a bus that takes you to the front of the church, which allows you to attend mass if you so desire.