Florence to Explore: A Neighborhood Guide

One of the pleasant surprises upon first exploring Florence is the convenient compactness of the city's historic center. Almost all its most famous museums and monuments are within an easy 10 minute stroll from each other, centered around the stunning Duomo and the stately Piazza della Signoria.

Florence twilight.(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

But if you walk just a bit further in almost any direction, you can discover Florence's historic neighborhoods where the crowds are thinner, the shops and restaurants are funkier, and the feel is that of an authentic Old World city where locals have lived and worked for centuries. After taking in the David and Ponte Vecchio, dedicate a few hours to striking out beyond these iconic yet overrun sights to discover the Florence of the Florentines.

Here are a few of the most charming neighborhoods to wander:

Sant’Ambrogio


Sant'Ambrogio, Florence(Photo by Jameson Fink via Flickr)

The quiet residential neighborhood of Sant’Ambrogio is just beyond the bustling Santa Croce quarter to the east. One of the last authentic Florentine neighborhoods on the Duomo side of the Arno river, this charming area is full of picturesque streets lined with historic palazzi, modest shops, and excellent local restaurants. You can visit Florence's synagogue here, wander through the Sant’Ambrogio market where vendors hawk their fresh produce in Piazza Ghiberti each morning, or peruse the famous flea market (once held in Piazza dei Ciompi but now moved to Largo Annigoni), elbow to elbow with Florentines browsing for vintage gems. Make sure to search out the historic fish market loggia on Via Pietrapiana that originally stood in the medieval central market (where Piazza della Repubblica is now located) but was moved here in the mid-1800s.

Sinagoga e Museo Ebraico di Firenze(Photo by Jack Taylor via Flickr)

Santo Spirito


Santo Spirito(Photo by Leo Plus via Flickr)

The Oltrarno, or the side of Florence that is on the opposite side of the Arno than the Duomo, is home to a number of interesting neighborhoods. Santo Spirito was once a working-class and artisan area, and though it has gone through a bit of gentrification over the past decade, you can still find historic - and new - artisan workshops handcrafting everything from gold to copper etchings along the narrow lanes. Santo Spirito really comes to life once the sun sets, as its location just across the Ponte Vecchio from Piazza della Signoria makes its trendy restaurants and cafès an easy walk from the historic center. You can visit Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens here, see Michelangelo's carved crucifix in the Church of Santo Spirito, and browse the Santo Spirito market on the second Sunday of each month. If you are looking for a hip night on the town, this is the place to book a bistro table for dinner and then move on to one of the many clubs and speakeasies for a nightcap and live music.

boboli-gardens-florence-italy-cr-maria-landers(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

San Niccolò


Firenze giardino Bardini(Photo by Giovanni Sighele via Flickr)

Just beyond the Santo Spirito neighborhood at the foot of the hills ringing the city, San Niccolò is another formerly working-class residential area that has an eccentric mix of historic businesses and artisan workshops sitting side-by-side with newly-opened trendy restaurants and cafès. Home to the restored Torre San Niccolò overlooking the city rooftops, this neighborhood is directly below the beautiful San Miniato church in Piazzale Michelangelo, which offers the best sunset view over Florence. You can also visit the peaceful Bardini Gardens and nearby Rose Gardens, or take a peek at famous street artist Clet's irreverent atelier. For an aperitivo, Piazza Poggi or Piazza San Niccolò are the two most popular squares in the neighborhood.

bardini-gardens-florence-italy-cr-maria-landers(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

San Frediano


San Frediano - Firenze(Photo by Filippo Diotalevi via Flickr)

To the west of Santo Spirito, San Frediano stretches from the Oltrarno side of the Santa Trinità bridge west to Porta Pisana. Once a sleepy residential quarter, this neighborhood is still home to many native Florentines and their beloved corner alimentari food shops and family-run artisan workshops, but like its neighbors Santo Spirito and San Niccolò, there has been a slow growth of more fashionable (and more expensive) businesses and homes over the past decade. If you love browsing antiques and artisan crafts, this is a great neighborhood to poke around in with very little tourist traffic to detract from the authentic vibe. Be sure to peek in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine to see the sumptuous Brancacci Chapel, considered the "Sistine Chapel of the early Renaissance” because of the fame and influence of its painting cycle at the time.

Cappella Brancacci(Photo by Simone Ramella via Flickr)

Related posts:
Live Music Venues in Florence
Florence for Lovers: Romantic Highlights
Our Secret Florence

Contributor: Rebecca Winke

Concierge in Umbria
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