Duomo / Piazza della Signoria
The neighborhood that surrounds the Duomo constitutes the very heart of the historical city center and the area has probably one of the highest concentrations of art per square meter on the whole planet: churches, statues, museums, towers, and historical buildings fill every corner of every street. You can't miss Brunelleschi's magnificent dome atop the rosy marble Cathedral.
If you stay here, you're in the vicinity of practically everything: the Uffizi Museums, Palazzo della Signoria, Palazzo Davanzati, Galleria dell’Accademia, Ponte Vecchio. If you are in need of a break after wondering around this architectural and artistic marvels, you can recharge your batteries at one of the cafés on nearby Piazza della Repubblica.
The streets surrounding the Duomo cater to visitors, with fine dining and exclusive shopping. The top Italian fashion houses are located along Via Tornabuoni , with several others on Via Calzaiuoli and Via del Corso. Souvenir shops abound, as do street performers and caricature artists.
This area is, understandably, the central meeting point and the tourist hub of the city. Probably at night, when the tourist groups disappear, you can better appreciate the magical atmosphere of the most romantic heart of pre-Renaissance Florence.
The name Oltrarno means “beyond the Arno” and this district along the south bank of the river presents a difference Florence. Quieter, greener, more relaxed, and with less traffic, it is one of the most rewarding areas where to stay in Florence.
Traditionally an artisans’ quarter Oltrano is still home of small workshops (particularly furniture stores and leather-workers) and Via di Maggio remains the focus of Florence’s thriving antiques trade. Then, it also became a rather chic area for aristocrats to build palaces on the edge of the countryside. The largest of these, the Pitti Palace, became the home of the grand dukes and today houses a set of museums second only to the Uffizi. Among the major sights, the Cappella Brancacci stands out for its fabulous fresco cycle and San Miniato counts among Tuscany’s finest Romanesque treasures. Here you can also discover the Boboli Gardens, Florence’s best park.
But to discover the true character of Florence, step into the side streets, brimful of tiny authentic restaurants and bars (like in Piazza Santo Spirito), antique shops and artisans’ studios.
A few blocks from the train station and the Duomo lies the San Lorenzo district, the city’s main market area, with scores of stalls encircling a vast food hall. One of the most conveniently located neighborhoods in town, it will envelope you with its lively, vibrant and multicultural atmosphere. Ten minutes towards the Arno and you are right in the middle of town where there is the Duomo, the best shops, bars and clubs. Ten minutes walking towards the hills and you are in quiet area with local shops, the Fortezza del Basso, splendid example of Renaissance architecture, and the Giardino dei Semplici, Florence’s botanical garden.
The centerpiece of this Florence neighborhood is the Basilica di San Lorenzo, one of the largest churches in the city which contains works of Brunelleschi and Michelangelo. Attached to the church is another key sight: the Cappelle Medicee (Medici Chapels) where some members of the Medici family are buried. The Medici also accounts for the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi with its exquisite fresco-covered chapel.
In this area you can also find a wide choice of inexpensive cafes and restaurants thanks to the presence of the San Lorenzo market which provides a focus for cheap trattorias and bars aimed at shoppers and market traders.
Once open countryside beyond the city walls, today the San Marco is a lively and colorful quarter, full of good bars, restaurants. The Mercato Centrale (covered food market) and the huge San Lorenzo market (street market selling clothes, leather and other goods) are just few minutes away.
North of the Duomo, the area is home to Florence’s most celebrated resident – Michelangelo’s David – the original of which resides in the Academia Gallery, certainly a not-to-be missed sight. Other interesting places to visit in the neighborhood are the San Marco church (some of Giotto's works are here) and the Botanical Garden in Via Micheli which provides a tranquil and beautiful green space. The districts offers also other less known but worth-to-visit marvels such as the exquisite mosaics in the Museo dell’Opificio delle Pietre Dure or Italy ‘s most important Etruscan collection in the Museo Archeologico.
The university is also located nearby, which explains the few hipster-inspired bars, shops, and inexpensive restaurants . In the district you can also find excellent bookshops, and fine food and wine outlets. As you head to the northern part of San marco, you will find more peace, quite and a residential feel to the area.
Santa Croce is the eastern edge of the historical center along the Arno river and takes the name from the Florence’s pantheon and one of its most remarkable churches. This neighborhood provide a rare glimpse of workaday Florence – an area few tourist penetrate, with lively markets and tiny workshops .
In addition to the great Santa Croce church and its museum, the other main cultural attractions in this part of the city are the Bargello Palace, which house one of Italy’s most important museum , the Museo Horne, a pleasing collection of art treasures and the Casa Buonarroti, the former home of Michelangelo.
Piazza dei Ciompi is the venue of Mercato delle Pulci, the flea market where you can buy interesting items at modest cost. A short distance to the east, is the Mercato St. Ambrogio, the city centre’s main food market after San Lorenzo. Be aware that the stallholders bring their prices down in the last hour of trading!
You will also find the largest selection of shops, bars and restaurants here. These include the city’s three finest and most expensive restaurants – Cibreo, Pinchiorri and Alle Murate, but also a variety of good mid-price options. By night, this is the liveliest part of town and, with most of its streets pedestrianised and many of the buildings illuminated, the perfect venue for an after-dinner stroll.
Santa Maria Novella
Across the street from the train station, the area around Piazza Santa Maria Novella is perhaps the most varied neighborhood in the city. The urban streets leading to the station are pretty busy (both cars and people) while the other side of the grassy Piazza is formed by narrow, serpentine little streets, beautiful buildings, and top-notch shopping.
The area stretches from the mail railway station, a rare example of the city’s modern architecture to Via Tornabuoni, the city’s prime shopping center. Between these two extremes you will find a mixed bag of attractions. Santa Maria Novella, for example is one of the city’s largest and most prestigious churches, crammed with sacred art; The Santa Trinità church is home to the outstanding fresco cycle by Domenico Ghirlandaio; and the shopping street of Via della Vigna Nuova boasts the lion’s share of Florence’s designers. In other streets such as Borgo Ognissanti you can find an overspill of smarter stores and designer’s ateliers. Artisans’ furniture and other workshops can also be found around Via della Porcellana.
Best of all: you are close to the station but, at the same time, you are in the heart of the city, only a 5-10 minute walk from all the main city monuments, churches and museums.