Last year I abandoned Florence’s concrete suburbs and moved to the charming historical center of Fiesole, the Roman hill town that overlooks Firenze. Fiesole maintains a charming small-town vibe and its own city administration that rules over a wide territory that includes nearby valleys, but it’s neither crowded nor loud. Some fifty thousand tourists visit its museums each year, mostly in the summer months, but Fiesole has no mass tourism draws. It’s a nice place to live, but should you visit, or make Fiesole your home base while exploring Tuscany? I think it’s a good idea, so here’s my guide to what to see and do in Fiesole.

Culture and what to see in Fiesole

The city of Fiesole dates back to the Iron Age and was later settled by the Etruscans; the first fragments discovered date to the second Millennium BCE. By the 4th/3d century BCE there was a fully formed city with walls and temples and such. Later, in the 6th century, it was occupied by the Lombards, of which there is also archaeological evidence. The city also boasts medieval and early Renaissance religious and civic structures.

The Roman theatre of Fiesole

Archaeological area and museum

Fiesole is home to the museum group of the Archaeological site and its museum and the Bandini museum which offer a combined ticket. Rome conquered Fiesole around 90 BCE and from this period we can visit the still functioning theatre, thermal baths (sadly long gone are the waters!) and temples which constitute the archaeological area. You can walk around the green excavated areas and sit in the theatre, though not a whole lot of information is provided.

You’ll understand more once you see the inside of the museum, which conserves objects found in the various areas, as well as displays donations from local Fiesolani in the 19th century and some other collections. Take the time to read the wall text, which I admit I found more comprehensible once I knew Fiesole a bit better. Further in-depth writing is available on the excellent museum blog (only in Italian).

On the ground floor, don’t miss the monumental “Lupa Fiesolana” or perhaps torso of a female lion in bronze, rather unceremoniously displayed with only a “do not touch” sign for explanation, but fortunately not enclosed in a case that would keep us from getting up close to admire the impressive bronze casting technique. It has been compared to the famous Capitoline she-wolf of Rome but recent carbon dating puts it not at the Roman Hellenistic era (and thus the foundation of Roman Fiesole) but, perhaps, to the Etruscan era, and perhaps it’s a lion in a nursing phase, not a wolf!

Upstairs, the Collezione Costantini, donated only in 1985 by a local doctor, consists of superb Greek and Etruscan vases of the large, red-and-black type.

Bandini Museum

Angiolo Maria Bandini (Fiesole, 1726 – 1803) was a canon of the church of Fiesole and librarian at the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana. Rather before his time, he had a taste for the type of gold-background, Medieval painting that fascinated Bernard Berenson – and that was still widely available for purchase – a hundred years later. His collection of antiques and paintings were displayed in a church he purchased in 1795 and later moved to the current building after his death and the donation of the collection to the city of Fiesole.

It’s a small museum on two floors. On the first, most is dedicated to sculptures from the school of Della Robbia, while upstairs is a nice surprise consisting of fragments of altarpieces of excellent quality by painters like Taddeo Gaddi, Jacopo di Cione and Lorenzo Monaco.

It’s wise to download the app “Bandini Icon” in advance of your visit because it’s a virtual reality app that provides information as well as reconstructions of some of the altarpieces with parts from other collections. Unfortunately, it was not seen fit to provide any written information other than basic labels inside the museum.

Fiesole Cathedral and Palazzo Vescovile

The Cathedral of Fiesole, dedicated to its patron saint Romolo, was founded in the 11th century, enlarged in the 13th, and restored in the 19th century. The façade of the church oddly faces away from the town’s main piazza; there’s a cramped space in front of it onto which also faces the Palazzo Vescovile (Bishop’s palace). The Cathedral has raised presbytery (similar to that of San Miniato al Monte, another Romanesque church) with the high altar displaying a late Gothic trypich by Bicci di Lorenzo. In the crypt, you can visit the remains of the patron saint. Fun fact, the belltower chimes out the hours and half hours, but also some apparently random times, like 7:25am (this generally wakes me up).

The Palazzo Vescovile houses a small museum and a beautifully frescoed oratory (Oratorio di San Jacopo) by Lorenzo di Bicci, which I have been unable to see open.

San Francesco church and convent

If you come on a quiet weekday, perhaps in the off season, the steep walk up to San Francesco and a wander around its church feels like a special discovery. That was my experience one autumn morning soon after I’d moved to Fiesole. The church is open 9am to sunset daily and contains a number of good quality altarpieces. To the right of the main door of the church is another door that allows you to visit a small part of the annexed monastery that I have found almost always open. You can peek into an internal courtyard, but best of all, climb narrow steps to an upstairs hallway containing the cells of the individual friars, similar to the ones painted by Fra Angelico at San Marco. The first cell was apparently that of Fra Bernardino di Siena, who was the guardian of this convent in 1418.

On Saturdays and Sundays the rest of the convent is open, accessed from an open door to the left of the church’s main chapel. A strange surprise about which I’ve not been able to find any information is a possibly 19th-century copy of Brunelleschi’s Old Sacristy at San Lorenzo, scaled down, located off a vestibule. If you follow along in exploration mode you’ll get to the charming medieval cloister that you could see from the area that accesses the cells. There’s also another cloister, closer to the church, from which you can visit a museum housed in the basement (free). This strange collection is the Museo Etnologico Missionario Francescano which displays the many gifts (or so they say) that the Franciscans received on their missionary travels. There’s a full Egyptian mummy as well as numerous Chinese vases, surely of great value.

Piazza Mino

Palazzo Pretorio in Piazza Mino

Like any good small town, Fiesole has good “piazza life” around its large piazza Mino. Presiding over the wide space is the medieval Palazzo Pretorio, still our city hall. Its façade, with a lovely portico, displays the coats of arms of many of the “podestà” or city administrators from the 16th to 19th centuries. Next to this palazzo is the tiny sanctuary of Santa Maria Primerana which is the local parish at which masses are held.

Lombard archeological site

Piazza Garibaldi archaeological site

Behind the city hall’s buildings in piazza Mino is a small archaeological site that was discovered when they built new apartments and parking on the empty lot behind an old cinema. What is now a small public park (with good benches for a picnic) features some Roman domuses and some important Lombard tombs from the 6th and 7th centuries. The remains found in these tombs are displayed in the archaeological museum; of particular interest is that of a large 50-60 year old man, about 6 feet tall but afflicted by arthrosis and various other maladies, buried with a chalice and a weapon.

Fondazione Michelucci (by request)

Giovanni Michelucci was one of the most influential architects of the early 20th century in Italy. Born in Pistoia, he was a champion of modernity and of visionary concepts of socialized living with an attention to the needs of the most marginalized, such as the incarcerated. He created a Foundation in his name and passed away in 1990 just short of his 100th birthday. His home, Villa il Roseto, is now the office of the foundation and is host to conferences and occasional home and garden tours. Small group visits can be requested by email at, while individual tours are only available for study reasons.

Villa Peyron and its garden (closed)

On the hills above Florence is a beautiful formal garden, wooded area and early nineteenth century villa called Villa Peyron al Bosco di Fonte Lucente that is unfortunately closed for the foreseeable future due to damage from recent droughts, years of Covid-related closure and street access problems. Here’s hoping funds and time can heal the damage so we can once again visit it!

Primo Conti museum (closed)

The museum run by Fondazione Primo Conti to collect and display a large body of work by the Florentine artist is temporarily closed due to major renovations, hoping perhaps to reopen in Fall, 2023.

Hiking, biking and views in Fiesole

You don’t realize just how much of a hill Fiesole is on ‘til you start walking around it. As soon as I step out my door, I’m on a street that has about a 30% slope. I’ve developed rock-hard glutes and greater cardiovascular power as a result.

Hiking signs on Montececeri

Fiesole offers a fantastic system of hiking trails that I’ve been enjoying for years, and it’s part of the famous via degli Dei so technically you can walk all the way to Bologna from here in four or five days. I tend to limit myself to a smaller loop on the trails of Montececeri, which come with a bonus of art history. You see, Leonardo da Vinci also liked to hike here, and inspired by birds he saw in the area, he designed his first “flying machine”, which he tested in 1505 on his hapless assistant by having him paraglide off what is now piazzale Leonardo, a high plane on Mount Ceceri. These trails also bear witness to the local economic history of stone extraction, counting two quarries in which the Fiesolani used to work digging out the pietra serena that characterizes Florentine architecture (especially that of Brunelleschi). I detailed the story and hiking trails of Montececeri for The Florentine.

Fiesole is also a destination for that masochistic category of humans called “cyclists”. The route up from Florence is a renowned challenge, the Circuito Iridato, that was part of the 2013 cycling world championship. If you’re really a glutton for punishment you can do the 16.6km route from Florence’s stadium, up to Florence and beyond to Pian del Mugnone, down to piazza della Libertà and back to the stadium. The world champions did this 11 times in a row. From Piazza Edison to Piazza Mino it’s 4.3 km with an average 5.1% slope that reaches just over 7% at the very end. Pros do this in 11 minutes, athletes in 13 or 14, and I even on an electric bike would die before I reached San Domenico. If this is your thing, there are numerous bike tours that do it, or you can rent an e-bike and try it yourself!

The view from via Verdi

Some people just come up to Fiesole for the view of Florence from above. When I was first dating my husband in the early 2000s, a summer evening activity consisted of driving the Vespa up the hill to grab a gelato at the long-gone Tucano gelateria and pray for a wisp of a breeze. My colleague Leo at The Florentine even drew a cartoon of this – I’d mentioned that wearing a wet t-shirt while on the Vespa was a good way to keep cool, natural air-con and all that.

When my colleague Leo drew a sketch of me on a vespa seeking cooler air in Fiesole way back in 2011

There are two top view locations. Many enjoy the wall on via Verdi (which becomes via Doccia), though if you plan to stop here please remember that people live in the homes across from this amazing view and they may not want to hear your conversation. Frank Lloyd Wright also enjoyed this view: on the corner is a wedge-shaped terrace and home (Villino Belvedere) that the famous architect rented in 1910. The other top panoramic view is located on via San Francesco. Unfortunately, the wall and the park below it have been cordoned off for time immemorial (the hill’s slipping down or something like that) so you can see the view but not hang out.

Eating in Fiesole

Fiesole’s historical center has a handful of restaurants and bars, making it a favourite spot for a summer spritz to avoid the heat of the city below. Sadly, it lacks a really great gelateria – here’s a hint to my Florentine fave, Sorbettiera, don’t you want to open a shop up here?! We can help find the perfect spot.

Breakfast: for coffee and sweets in a bar that seems frozen in time, head to Pasticceria Alcedo: they’re friendly and have the best expresso in town. On the walls are black and white photos that show what Fiesole looked like a hundred years ago.

For a drink or coffee with a view, walk five minutes up from piazza Mino to the Casa del Popolo, or Circolo ARCI, which was formerly the recreational center of the communist party and is now a non-profit association that operates activities in just about every small town. It’s where old men play cards inside at “their table” every morning and catch up on the gossip, but also where there are book presentations, yoga classes or anything else the community wants (I took a sewing class at the one out near the airport). Best of all, they have great bars, aka cafés. As for the Circolo in Fiesole, my mom swears by their cappuccino and my dad by their prosecco that costs all of €2,50, accompanied by a great view over the valley behind Fiesole. There are also ample, cheap sandwiches and homemade cakes.

Aperitivo in the piazza

Slightly more upscale but still less costly than down in Florence, Vinandro is a favourite spot for an aperitivo “in piazza”. Cocktails cost €7 and you can order hearty antipasto plates like crostini and fried mozzarella. They also have a few primi and secondi so you can extend your stay into a full meal. Given the name that includes the word “vino”, there’s a short but sweet local wine list. Unfortunately they don’t have an indoor space, so they’re quite weather dependent. On the other side of piazza Mino there are two restaurants and a bar (Café Déjà vu). The pizzeria is a classic for eat-in or takeout, and has outdoor seating. Bistro al 5 is an upscale restaurant we haven’t tried yet (it’s pricey!). Kitty corner from the pizzeria, overlooking Florence with a nice terrace, is Terrazza 45, serving up Tuscan fare including steak.

Halfway down the hill between Fiesole and Florence is the “fraction” of San Domenico, a handful of storefronts clustered around the Dominican church. At this corner is a good local pizzeria and a trattoria I really enjoy called Piatti e Fagotti. Piatti, as locals call it, has a good range on the menu – always a fish dish and a vegetarian dish, as well as pasta and yummy appetizers (they usually fry whatever’s in season, from zucchini flowers to porcini mushrooms). Next door to the trattoria, which has indoor and outdoor service, is a take-out gastronomia with a few seats inside and the possibility to sit on the wall or in a little corner park. Frequented by students from the nearby music academy and staff of the European University Institute, lunch will cost you about €8. I also enjoy Coquinarius Fiesole, a restaurant just a tiny bit further down the hill that seems to finally be here for the long run after a series of pizza joints tried, unsuccessfully, to survive. The upper garden, which used to be a wonderful spot for outdoor dining, is off limits (gossip has it that this is due to complaints from the wealthy villa owner neighbours) but there is room both inside and out on a small courtyard accessed through large glass doors. Here, too, there’s a menu with options that tend to suit members of most groups so we go there often, both with family and friends.


Stores and services in Fiesole

Fiesole has all the amenities of a small town: a well-stocked Coop supermarket, pharmacy, a friendly “fruttivendola” (fruit and vegetable vendor with local seasonal products), bakery, an everything store called Utilità, a cartoleria, a clothing and accessories store, a jeweler, post office, veterinarian, beauty parlour, bank and cobbler. Pretty much all of these stores are concentrated in less than a hundred steps above piazza Mino.

The main drag

Worthy of note, on via Portigiani there is a tourist information center and bookshop near the entrance to the archaeological area, and across the street there is a shop selling local pottery. Cobalto associazione culturale is an association of potters whose various styles of work are for sale in the shop. At the back is a full ceramics workshop where courses are available for adults and children.

Fiesole Tennis is distractingly beautiful

There are no gyms in Fiesole – the gym is the outdoors, uphill! However, there are tennis courts at Pian del Mugnone just 2.5km down towards that valley and you may know that I’m a passionate tennis player – I’ve even published a list of tennis courts in Florence and environs. Fiesole Tennis is one of the most distractingly beautiful courts I know, surrounded by olive trees and hills beyond. Non-members can reserve courts only one day in advance and you must have a “certificato medico sportivo”. In terms of parks, there’s a large park at the schools at Borgunto with play areas including a calcetto/basketball pitch. There’s also a tiny corner park on via Verdi just a few meters up from piazza Mino, with some climbing gym stuff for kids.

Markets and events in Fiesole

Saturday is market day in Fiesole, bringing in a handful of trucks in piazza Mino selling seasonal vegetables from the Mugello, a more normal assortment of fruit and veg from another vendor, and a good cheese shop. It’s also when the local “environment truck” is parked for residents to dispose of stuff like used batteries. More exciting is the Mercato di Terra Slow Food held the last Sunday of each month in piazza del Mercato (across from the Misericordia on via Marini), with a pause for July and August. I always stock up on honey from the local Fiesole producer Agrilander as well as really funky cheeses from one of the regular vendors. In season, this is also the only place I’ve ever managed to buy Carmignano figs (autumn), which are totally worth their weight in gold which is a good thing given how much they cost.

Back in piazza Mino, there are also occasional markets including the antique market held the first Sunday of the month (excluding July and August) and the “Sapori e Colori” market held all day on the third Sunday of the month (including summer months) with a rather random collection of “artisans and antiques”. Neither of these are particularly fantastic, I must say.

The roman theatre set up for Estate Fiesolana

As for events in Fiesole, the Teatro Romano is host to the summer festival Estate Fiesolana, featuring concerts, plays and the occasional ballet. The location is always spectacular, though the seating is mightily uncomfortable (bring your own pillow). If attending an event here, the city recommends not arriving by car. On the street near the amphitheater is a new indoor concert hall space that opened in Fall 2022, where there are movies and the occasional lineup of theatre and concerts for an intimate public (I seem to recall it seats only 300).

Each July, Fiesole’s Casa del Popolo hosts a Festa dell’Unità, which is basically a street fair type thing sponsored by the PD (center-left political party). The park behind the school at Borgunto (aka near the central entrance to the Montececeri hiking trail) is transformed into a stage and eatery, but it’s not all music… there are things like DJ sets, band contests, a Cuban night etc) but also serious roundtables involving local politicians on topics such as sustainability, work, health, investments in the region, etc. Here too, driving is not recommended; a shuttle bus from piazza Mino up to Borgunto is available.

Fiesole’s patron saint is San Romolo, not to be confused with Romulus and Remus of Rome. Romulus of Fiesole is celebrated on July 6 and is considered a martyr of the early Catholic church. His remains can be found in the dedicated chapel in the Cathedral where they have been the last few years, ie. since 1028! The religious festival to commemorate him (the usual masses and processions) cumulates in fireworks set off from the Teatro Romano (so not particularly visible from the town itself) for which free tickets are distributed to the populace.

Where to stay in Fiesole

If you’re not a huge fan of the hustle and bustle of the city, staying up here in Fiesole can be a good idea. And while the historical center doesn’t have any big hotels, there’s actually a range of options that make staying in Fiesole a convenient home base. A number of places also have pools, which in summertime is a godsend.

Villa San Michele is Fiesole’s most luxurious hotel

Within the city center of Fiesole there are no large hotels, but there are some quaint bed and breakfasts as well as a smattering of Airbnb options. The B&Bs tend to fill up quickly as Fiesole is the last stop on the via degli Dei before Florence so tired hikers do stop here, hence it’s wise to book in advance. Off season, they might cost as little as €89 a night.

The hotels with pools in Fiesole are of course all slightly outside of the historic city center. Starting with a budget option, Fiesole has a large campground called Camping Village Panoramico Fiesole that offers basic prefab bungalow housing as well as place to pitch a tent (€10) or park a camper (€18), open summer only. It’s got a nice view of the city from above and an attractive swimming pool. Their shuttle bus or a bit of a walk takes you to piazza Mino from which you can take the number 7 bus to Florence. Not far from the camping area is a simple three-star hotel, Villa dei Bosconi, that also has a swimming pool and a lot of green space.

A few turns down the road below Fiesole are two more hotels, right where the Montececeri hiking trail begins (via Doccia). FH55 Villa Fiesole is a good-value, four-star hotel with updated rooms and an attractive swimming pool; aim for their higher-end rooms with private garden terrace if you can. Unparalleled luxury can be found at the Belmond Villa San Michele that overlooks Florence from its exceptional gardens, quiet pool, and Renaissance architecture. They offer a summer programme of cultural events, including art installations, concerts and activities like calligraphy or wine tasting (depending on the year), and an exquisite restaurant. The restaurant, bar, garden and activities are open to the public and worth a visit, perhaps with an aperitivo. One more turn down the hill and you’ve arrived at Pensione Bencista, a beautiful property that also has great views, a pool, and dining (for guests, externals upon request).

How to get to Fiesole

Fiesole is just 7 kilometers from Florence’s city center. It’s reached by driving up the winding via San Domenico. The number 7 bus takes you from Santa Maria Novella station to piazza Mino in Fiesole in about 40 minutes (20 if there’s no traffic) and runs every 13 minutes most of the time. The tourist hop-on-hop-off bus also comes up to Fiesole in the high season, much to the chagrin of us locals, as it addles along at about 23k/h uphill, creating a traffic backup, and spews a large group of tourists into our piazza.

If you’re driving, there’s not a whole lot of parking up here, especially in the summertime. Street parking is available with meters and is delimited by blue lines; don’t try to go beyond the Coop on via Matteotti as you’ll get to “la strettoia” where the road narrows and you’ll find nowhere to turn around. Parking with white lines is for residents only and is marked as such on signs (“solo residenti”). There is a very small metered parking lot near the Misericordia on via Marini. Free parking is to be found by heading left from piazza Mino on the road towards Compiobbi; there are spots along the Roman walls.

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