Where to Stay in Florence: Local Guide to 12 Main Neighborhoods
June 14, 2016
For such a small city, Florence packs a formidable punch. With incredible Tuscan cuisine, world-class art and architecture, and Renaissance history seeping from every stone, it is one of the most popular cities in Italy for tourists. Despite its size (you can walk from one end of Florence to the other in about 30 minutes) it still has individual neighborhoods and choosing where to stay in Florence will have a big effect on how you experience the city. In the tiny city center, or centro storico, alone there are at least seven neighborhoods, and that’s without even crossing the bridge to the Oltrarno. Though you are almost never farther than 5 minutes from the Duomo, each location within Florence’s UNESCO-designated historic center has something different to offer.
If you want to get the most out of your stay in Florence, check out our guide to finding the perfect Florence neighborhood for you.
Santa Maria Novella
Santa Maria Novella is a Florence neighborhood that can be split into two distinct parts: the somewhat grim (though generally safe) streets closest to the train station and the eclectic residential area beyond that, between Santa Maria Novella church and the Arno River. Be careful about what you pick here; there’s a large variety of lovely hotels and ones that leave a bit to be desired. That said, here you’ll find the eponymous Dominican Basilica, a club or two, and alfresco dining that ranges from quiet cafés to neighborhood pubs.
Stay here if: Your online booking game is strong; you’re looking for a laid-back vibe; You want to try some of Florence’s ethnic and immigrant cuisine; you’re on a food budget; You want a hotel that’s centrally located but still budget minded; This neighborhood’s mix of high, low, and middle ground between the station and the center make it a great option for families.
Santa Maria Novella Train Station
Though technically a part of the Santa Maria Novella neighborhood, the streets closest to the city’s train station are slightly grittier than the rest of the neighborhood. On the up-side the area is a convenient place to stay in Florence for those without much time, as it’s ten minutes from the Duomo and other major sites, and just a skip away from the train station. It’s also the cheapest place to stay in central Florence. In fact, we often stay in this area for work trips to the city.
Stay here if: You’re on a tight budget; You have a very early morning train; You don’t need to navigate the city late at night; You booked last minute and there are no other hotel options in the city; You don’t mind staying a 10 to 15-minute walk outside the city center.
Fortezza da Basso
The Florence neighborhood of Fortezza sits to the east of the train station. It might not seem like much at first glance, but that’s exactly its draw: It is well removed from the throngs of tourists, but still within walking distance of the city’s main sights. You’ll find a few more cars here since it’s not completely pedestrianized, but you’ll also have the big complex of the 16th-century Fortezza (now a convention center) and restaurants featuring some of Florence’s most traditional foods, like the famous tripe sandwiches called Lampredotto and the classic ribollita vegetable soup.
Stay here if: You’d like a residential, quiet stay; you need to be near the train station but want to be slightly more up-market than Santa Maria Novella; you’ve come to Florence for a convention; you don’t mind walking a bit to see the city’s main sights; you want to avoid the crowds; you’re not interested in the nightlife.
Located between the train station and the Duomo, San Lorenzo is the market district. This is a bustling, chaotic, neighborhood; where to stay in Florence to be near attractions like the Renaissance Basilica di San Lorenzo and the adjacent Medici chapels which stand out like islands in the middle of the street market which sells clothes, souvenirs, and leather goods. The covered San Lorenzo market is a must-see. Peruse the stalls on the ground floor selling fresh fish, meat, and vegetables, then head up to the food court up above.
Stay here if: You thrive on crowds and chaos; You want to explore Florence’s food culture and scour the massive outdoor market for souvenirs, steals, and great finds; You find a good deal on a room; You want to be in the center; You’re a foodie.
Santissima Annunziata and San Marco
The Santissima Annunziata neighborhood to the north of Florence doesn’t have a great reputation. The traffic streaming across the north, aggressive panhandlers, and the fact that it’s a bit removed from the action in the city center means it typically doesn’t make it onto top lists of where to stay in Florence. That said, all of the above make it a strong budget location to stay in Florence, and it’s packed with sites. The namesake piazza, for instance, houses the gorgeous Santissima Annunziata Basilica and a whole lot of history. The neighborhood is also home to the Ospedale degli Innocenti. The first orphanage in Europe, it was created during the Black Death when more than half the population of Florence died. Farther south, near San Marco Church, there is the Etruscan Archaeological Museum and the Accademia that holds the statue of David.
Stay here if: You’re looking for the best hippie hangout in the city; you want to be a bit removed from the chaotic center; you like the idea of finding an undiscovered gem of a hotel (totally doable) along a quiet street; you keep your wits (and wallet) about you in crowded piazzas; you’re here for the attractions and you don’t need great dining or nightlife directly underneath your hotel – remember, you can still walk to anywhere in Florence.
The Duomo is the city’s bullseye. As always in Italian cities, it’s the center of the action as well as the most touristy and expensive place to stay. The actual name of this neighborhood is San Giovanni, but we also include the beautiful Piazza della Signoria in here as well. This is Florence’s main hotel district, but be careful; while some of the hotels are the height of luxury, others hide behind the star afforded to them by their great location. You won’t be dodging tourists around the Florence Duomo neighborhood, you’ll be one of them, but you’ll be steps away from the beautiful Cathedral, Palazzo Vecchio, and the Uffizi Gallery – and that’s hard to beat.
Stay here if: Money is not an object; You’re only in town for a short time; You’re unable or unwilling to walk a lot but still want to see the main sights; You don’t mind tourists; You want the convenience; You’ve come to Florence for a room with a view.
Santa Croce is best known for the massive Basilica of the same name. The walls inside are covered in intricate frescoes by Giotto and the chapels serve as the final resting place for some of the most well-known Italian artists and thinkers in the world, including Michelangelo and Galileo. Outside, the bars and restaurants that line the streets fill with people for the ever-popular aperitivo hour. There is also a wide variety of hotels – There’s a place to stay for travelers of nearly any taste and style on via de’ Benci or via de’ Macci.
Stay here if: You want to feel like a local; you’re looking for great nightlife close to the center; you don’t mind a bit of noise at night; you’re fascinated by Florentine art; you want to see and be seen; you plan on frequenting fashionable bars and restaurants; you want to be out of the throngs in the center, but still close enough to walk; you want to be centrally located between the Duomo and Oltrarno.
To the east of Santa Croce is the quiet, family-oriented Sant’Ambrogio neighborhood. It’s one of the last genuinely Florentine neighborhoods left on this side of the Arno and features attractions like the city’s Synagogue, Piazza dei Ciompi flea market, and some of Florence’s best, affordable cuisine. The ever-popular flea markets held on the last Sunday of each month in the Piazza dei Ciompi sell anything from vintage furniture and clothing to teacups, lamps, mirrors and postcards. If you’re lucky enough to catch one, you’ll experience a real gem of Florentine life.
Stay here if: You’re looking for a completely non-touristy place to stay in Florence; you want to stay outside of the city center but still in a good neighborhood; you want to live like a local; you are more interested in the atmosphere than the sights; you’re traveling with kids and want a tranquil atmosphere during the day, but a bit of life after dark; you love the idea of exploring the daily antique market and monthly flea market.
Piazza Santa Trinità
Florence’s most famous shopping street, via de Tornabuoni spills directly into Piazza Santa Trinità, named after the beautiful church that dominates it. This is where to stay in Florence If you came to shop! Tornabuoni is home to Gucci, Armani, Versace and even more couture from Italy and beyond. Explore the narrow medieval streets stemming from Tornabuoni for even more options! The neighborhood is well-off, well kept, and a pleasant place to be even if you didn’t come to shop.
Stay here if: You’re idea of souvenir shopping involves designer tags; you want to stay in a luxury hotel; the only tourist you’re willing to dodge is a well-dressed one; you want to be near the Oltrarno; you want to experience a modern Florence against a backdrop of medieval streets.
Santo Spirito, along with the following two neighborhoods, is located in the Oltrarno district, literally all the area “over the Arno”. Once a working-class artisan quarter, it is still less touristy than the right side of the banks and you can find artisan workshops determinedly holding up centuries-old traditions of handcrafts.
The lively, popular Santo Spirito neighborhood starts just on the other side of the Ponte Vecchio. Today it’s best known for its great restaurants and rowdy nightlife. This Florence neighborhood is home to both the Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens, along with some of the original artisan shops from Renaissance Florence. Enjoy a night out at one of the myriad different bars and restaurants in the area, then spend the next day with those in the know at the Santo Spirito Flea Market (which sets up on the second Sunday of each month).
Stay here if: Your idea of a perfect neighborhood is offbeat and lively; you’re coming for the nightlife; you don’t mind a few hipsters; you are a hipster; you want to explore the tiny streets and stone alleyways in a lively atmosphere; you’ve already visited the major sights around the Duomo; you don’t mind being a bit of a hike from the train station.
San Niccolò sits to the east of Santo Spirito and at the foot of Florence’s hills. Now beginning to buzz as a nightlife spot, possibly from Santo Spirito’s overflow, this neighborhood doesn’t have tons to offer in terms of hotels. Still, it’s a good place to visit for better prices on dinner and drinks before crossing back over the bridge to the centro storico. Also, perched above this neighborhood is the beautiful San Miniato church in Piazzale Michelangelo. Head there to enjoy the best sunset view over Florence that the city has to offer.
Stay here if: you find a hotel or B&B; you want to escape the crowds but still enjoy the nightlife in and around Santo Spirito. Even if you can’t find a place to lay your head, the neighborhood is definitely worth a visit for the views, food and quiet strolls alone.
San Frediano sits to the west of the Santo Spirito neighborhood and is now among the most interesting places to stay in Florence. Stretching from the Oltrarno end of the Santa Trinità bridge and westward to Porta Pisana, this former working class borough can still claim Florentines as its citizens and artisans as its lodgers. Once upon a time it was a little too residential to merit a mention; now, however, it’s where to stay in Florence if you want to tell all your friends that you “went there before it was popular”. In fact, there’s enough good food, lodging and culture in San Frediano that a visitor won’t even need to cross back over the river.
Stay here if: You want to know more about Florence’s ancient artisan history and see how it juxtaposes with modern day Italy; you want to stay “off-the-beaten-path”; you don’t mind walking a bit; you want to stay somewhere “new”; you really detest the crowds; you don’t need to be near a major attraction.
Need more advice on where to stay in Florence or what to share your own tips? Make yourself heard in the comments!
by Gina MussioView more by Gina ›
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