Above: Santo Spirito facade and interior; Santa Maria del Carmine facade and interior details of Capella Brancacci.
Red Maps loves the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio as much as the next traveler, but in crowded Florence we suggest you do a little exploring across the Arno River, to see the the treasures in an area known as the Oltrarno. Here are two churches whose simple facades belie the gorgeous interiors waiting for you behind their doors, plus a lovely street, and a world-class garden.
Basilica di Santo Spirito:
Our favorite. Florence's main museums are generally packed, but you can instead leisurely walk around the Basilica of Santo Spirito and see masterpieces by the likes of Filippino Lippi, Ghirlandaio, Sansovino and Rosselli. The building is designed by the great architect Brunelleschi and dates from 15th century.
Chiesa di Santa Maria del Carmine:
Church dates from the 13th century; the current building's styles Baroque and Rococo date from the 16th and 18th centuries. The star artwork inside Santa Maria del Carmine is the Capella Brancacci, which contains spectacular colorful frescos by the master artist Masaccio. You'll need to make a reservation to see them directly, otherwise you can see a portion of them from the nave of the church.
Via Maggio is a street in the Oltrarno area that is lined with the 15th and 16th century palazzos of the merchant-class. No queuing here, just stroll along and take in the beautiful facades of these elegant palaces.
At the end of via Maggio is the Pitti Palace. This vast former Medici residence is the third of Florence's great museums. You'll have to get on lines to see the interior and all its art, but if you want to stay outside, then explore the palazzo's world-famous gardens instead, the Giardini di Boboli - that's what we'd do.