walking tour: san miniato al monte

Arno, Ponte alle Grazie, Porta San Niccolo, San Miniato al Monte – Firenze

Ponte alle Grazie with San Miniato (small white church) in upper right by xerxespersepolis

Arguably the most famous “hike” when exploring Florence is the climb to Piazzale Michelangelo. But the truly adventurous head up the extra set of steps to San Miniato al Monte and reap all the rewards.

ponte alle grazie to san miniato walking map

click for interactive map and enter your starting location

Distance: 2.5 km from city center (about 1.6 miles)
Time: 30 minutes (plus time to explore at the top)
Cost: $0

This walk will take you over the Arno, through a secret rose garden, and up to a teeming sculptured cemetery. The view at the top will make the mountain of stairs you just conquered feel like small peanuts.

{ nb: Adventurers should know that Florence claims St. Minias, whose remains are kept atop the mountain, as the city’s first martyr. One rumor says he was beheaded on the banks of the Arno, but then picked up his head to climb the hill that is now his home. While the tale is dubious, if a headless man can make it, you’ll be just fine. }

Make your way to Ponte alle Grazie, one bridge east of the Ponte Vecchio and about .5 km from the Duomo. It’s great spot for admiring its more famous sister-bridge without all the crazy foot traffic.

Keep heading straight onto Piazza de’ Mozzi. You’ll know you’re on the right track if you see signs for Museo Bardini.

{ In this area are some great bars and restaurants – i Tarrochi, High Bar – if you want to stop for refreshments! But that would cost money, so the rest of us soldier on. }

Turn left at Via di San Niccolò as it curves out of the city. You’ll know you’re in medieval no-mans land once you walk under the massive arch – an original city porta, or doorway – that marks your official exit from Florence. Time to start the climb.

If adventuring in May or June, keep a lookout for an open door along the left wall (it is not well marked, so this part is a bit of a treasure hunt). Stealthily duck in and be rewarded with a space overrun with colorful roses and fruit trees. Wandering through the flower bushes is much more pleasant than hitting the stone pavement; there are more than a few benches to take a break and enjoy the view. Plus, you can score some incredible shots through the garden’s leaves.

View of the Duomo through an orange tree from the rose garden

Onwards and upwards to Piazzale Michelangelo. This viewpoint has been praised over and over. While beautiful, let’s all admit – it’s a parking lot. Snap your pics along the wall, give your regards to bronze David, and bound back towards Viale Gallileo, past San Frediano, leaving the poor tourists who don’t know any better in the dust.

final ascent to san miniato by laurapadgett on flickr

Stairs to San Miniato by laurapadgett

While tough, the staircases on this walk get increasingly regal, and the final ascent to San Minato is certainly the grand finale. The view from the top trumps all others.

view from San Miniato al Monte by Sean Munson, on Flickr

View of Florence from San Miniato by Sean Munson

San Miniato dates back to around 1000, with its incredible Romanesque façade constructed some time in the 13th century. We can direct you here for a little history until we get our own post up on the church itself (we’re talking crazy artwork and conspiracy theories). Once inside, don’t forget to look up at the painted rafters as you head back towards the crypt. St. Minias’ remains are kept here, and if you time it just right to arrive in the early evening hours, monks slip out into the crypt to sing the mass in Latin.

The monks’ songs, while beautiful, might be just haunting enough to chase you back outside. There, you can check out the adjoining monastery, which sells famous homemade honey and liqueurs.

This picture was taken by our beautiful friend Suz. Thanks Suz!

The view from San Miniato is spectacular, but the cemetery is by far the most interesting thing to see at the top. Gravestones and chapels compete like antique skyscrapers for prominence in this sculpture garden. And be on the lookout for Carlo Collodi, author of Pinocchio, in his family chapel, Cappella Lorenzini.

Reminded of your mortality, ride the high of all those endorphins and head to the nearest gelato shop. Because life’s too short, right?

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10 comments

  1. We’re planning our second trip to Florence and decided this time to venture out ‘beyond the Arno’. I can’t wait to explore the Oltrarno neighborhood and really want to visit this cemetery. I love wandering around with the spirits 🙂
    I’m wondering, though, are any restrictions for visiting San Miniato, the cemetery and the secret rose garden? Appreciate your post and the photos!

  2. Gayla, so glad you’re heading back to Florence and scheduling some time to quite literally stop and smell the roses! The San Miniato cemetery is open from 8 AM – 5 PM everyday except Sundays and holidays when it closes at 1 PM. As for the Rose Garden, they open in mid May for the season. The hours are 8 AM – 8 PM. And naturally, both are free! Have a blast!

    1. Thanks so much for the San Miniato specifics!

    2. We made it up the hill to San Miniato and I’m so glad we did! It was the end of the day and we missed walking through the cemetery, but were able to sit in the church for a few minutes and listen to the monks chant/sing their evening prayers. Even if the panoramic view of the city was a bit hazy (strange weather this year), the whole experience was very beautiful. Thanks for the info and recommendations!

  3. Great post! A quick note though, the Ponte alle Grazie is east of the Ponte Vecchio, not west 🙂

    1. oh wow! and right under the map! we must’ve had one too many glasses of prosecco before writing those directions. thanks for the catch Shawn!

  4. Emily C · · Reply

    Ladies,
    I have been reading your blog for quite a while now, and it is easily one of my favorite blogs about Florence. I live here and I have at least sampled many an English-language blog about the city. I love that you concentrate on all the wonderful visits and experiences that cost us next to nothing. And I am particularly impressed with the quality of the more recent photos.
    I love San Miniato as you do and for many years I was frustrated that I never seemed to find the Rose Garden open. Did you know that it is now open year round, and the new home to about a half dozen of the large sculptures by the artist Folon and to a small Japanese-style garden? A friend of mine wrote a post about it on her blog in March. The blog is called anamericaninitaly.
    Keep up the great work. You have more readers than you know.

    1. emily, thanks so much for your lovely words of encouragement! we’re happy to hear someone besides ourselves gets a kick out of everyday explorations and adventures. also, your rose garden intel is news to us but also music to our ears! looks like we’ll have to do a little digging on your friend’s blog and updating this post with the good news. thanks again, take care, and always feel free to suggest anything you might like to read about!

  5. […] of our favorite seasonal stops on our San Miniato walk is back! The Iris Garden on the east side of Piazzale Michelangelo is in bloom, but only for a […]

  6. […] found out about this church from Florence for Free and we used their article to learn about the history and significance of it […]

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