Widely regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful cities, the historic, cultural and artistic impact that Florence has had in the world remains to this day. Its historic center is like an open-air museum with its grand Renaissance buildings, ancient churches and galleries filled with works created by some of the greatest legends. And it’s all set against a backdrop of rolling Tuscan hills and vineyards.
You’ll find no shortage of things to do, the only question is where to stay in Florence. Finding the perfect spot to land will help ensure your visit meets your lofty expectations, making memories of a lifetime. Think moments like sipping a glass of Tuscan vino from an elegant sidewalk café while watching the world go by and mingling with locals on the piazzas where fountains have been bubbling for centuries.
The best base in Florence will depend on your plans, travel style, preferences and budget, but you’ll want to start with the neighborhood.
Florence’s historic center, or Centro Storico, is its medieval and Renaissance heart, nestled between the River Arno and Ponte Vecchio to the south and the Duomo to the north. You’ll be steps from all the action on the bustling narrow streets, including the incredible museums, palaces and churches. For a newcomer, there’s really no better place if you want to immerse yourself in the historic sights and major attractions. That includes Accademia Gallery with Michelangelo’s statue of David, Pitti Palace and Ponte Vecchio. It’s ideal for high-end shopping and you’ll find many dining options. While there are tourist traps, there are plenty of fabulous authentic venues too. When it comes to accommodation, it runs the gamut from budget-friendly to luxurious. You’ll find most of the five-star hotels here along with boutique hotels with coveted river views. You’ll need to book well in advance to score one, but there are some reasonably priced vacation rentals too.
Florence is one of Italy’s most romantic cities. If you’re looking for a couple’s stay that makes the most of it while avoiding the tourist areas, San Niccolo is ideal. It’s a quieter artist’s neighborhood, filled with galleries, gardens, elegant boutiques, fine dining venues, meandering streets and sweeping city views. While it isn’t touristy, that doesn’t mean there are no attractions here. Just below in the hills south of San Niccolo, Piazza Michelangelo is home to one of the neighborhood’s most beautiful buildings, the Gate of San Niccolo. To visit, you’ll have to make reservations and plan to be here between June and September. Even if you aren’t here during that time, there are plenty of reasons to stay here and soak up the romantic ambiance. Some of the best views can be enjoyed from the Gate and you’ll find some of the best workshops selling unique pieces of art along the streets of San Niccolo.
There’s plenty of nightlife throughout Florence, but if that’s one of your top priorities, Santa Croce, Santo Spirito, and San Frediano are where it’s really happening. Trendy Santa Croce is the heart of nightlife in this city, with everything from bars with a wide range of craft brews and cocktails to film screenings and live music venues. The popular Via de’ Benci, which is the street that links the Arno riverside to Santa Croce square, branches out into the adjacent streets with countless restaurants, pubs and bars. Locals and visitors from just about every continent fill them on any given night. If you like wine, Via Fiesolana and neighboring Borgo Santa Croce and Via De’ Neri are packed with wine bars for sampling tasty local wines and places for dancing the night away. Santo Spirito and San Frediano are similarly lively with a great mix of venues, especially at Piazza Santo Spirito and Borgo San Frediano.
First-timers to Florence and anyone who wants to focus on the major sights should consider staying in the historic center (centro storico). This is the heart of the city, and its narrow, cobbled streets are jam-packed with them. You’ll find everything from the magnificent Duomo and Uffizi Gallery to iconic shopping streets, piazzas, top museums, shops and restaurants. Almost everything you’ll want to see or do in the city will be within short walking distance. You can easily reach the Accademia Gallery to marvel at Michelangelo’s famous statue of David, enjoy a romantic stroll to the Ponte Vecchio or Pitti Palace. There’s a mind-boggling array of magnificent art and architecture throughout the area. Of course, this is also the most expensive place to stay in the city with the most five-star hotels and boutique properties, including some with river views. It is possible to find reasonably priced rooms and Airbnbs by booking well in advance, however.
Good food can be found throughout the city, but in the historic center you’ll have to avoid the tourist traps to seek out the authentic and delicious. The greatest range of dishes at reasonable prices can be found in Santa Croce, Santo Spirito, and San Frediano. Santa Croce offers many fabulous cafes and the only 3-Michelin-star restaurant in Florence, Enoteca Pinchiorri. Mercato Sant’Ambrogio offers outstanding gourmet street food, and if you’re up for dinner and a show, head to Teatro del Sale. Charming San Frediano is just outside the historic center, yet it’s a great place to escape the masses with options to suit all budgets and tastes from food stands featuring pasta dishes with boar meat and casual pizzerias to fine dining eateries. Santo Spirito is an authentic neighborhood for experiencing real life in Florence with fabulous local cafes, wine bars, bakeries and trattorias serving home-cooked Tuscan fare.
The churches of San Lorenzo and San Marco are the anchors for the two neighborhoods of the same name, combining into one of the most vast stretches of urban space in Florence. San Lorenzo is sandwiched between the Duomo and central train station, making it easy to explore the heart of Florence as well as the rest of Tuscany if you plan to take day trips. This is also the home of the top food market in the city, Mercato Centrale, one of the best spots to explore the local flavors. The area is jam-packed with independent shops and authentic trattorias too. Just east near Santa Croce is the smaller but beloved Mercato di Sant’ Ambrogio, while the streets that surrounded it are filled with cafes and restaurants popular with locals and tourists alike. Santa Croce is a great pick for those who want to avoid the typical tourist crowds and mix with young, hip locals.
The best neighborhood for families in Florence depends on what you hope to see and do, the type of setting you prefer, and most likely, the ages of your children as well. Those with younger kids might appreciate the San Niccolo/Piazelle Michelangelo area as it’s more residential and quieter than the city center as well as being home to picturesque parks like Giardino delle Rose, providing a family-friendly oasis. Many of the hotels have gardens and some even have pools, a great way to relax while the younger ones splash around in between sightseeing. The Sant’Ambrogio and Santissima Annunziata neighborhoods are good alternatives that also remain quiet at night. If you want to explore all the major historic attractions and enjoy close proximity to the station for easy day trips throughout Tuscany and beyond, Santa Maria Novello is a good choice. It’s located between the city center, the Arno River and the main train station.
Florence’s historic center will put you in the heart of it all. There are surprises around nearly every corner, with the high concentration of Renaissance architecture and art, a feast for the eyes. Marvel at masterpieces like the iconic Duomo with its terracotta-tiled dome engineered by Brunelleschi and its bell tower Giotto. Head into world-famous Uffizi Gallery to view works by the greats, including Raphael, da Vinci, Caravaggio, and Botticelli. You’ll be steps from some of the best shops in the city, including luxury labels along Via de’ Tornabuoni and the high street brands on Via dei Calzaiuoli and Via Calimala. A wide range of delicious eats can be found in everything from casual eateries and chic rooftop restaurants to Michelin-starred Ora d’Aria. You’ll find some of the best hotels here, including 5-star properties, but there are also some more budget-friendly options to be found if you book well in advance.
The best areas for those who want to experience more local flavor are Santa Croce and Sant’Ambrogio, just north of the Arno. Santa Croce is less touristy as well as being one of the top neighborhoods for foodies and those who prioritize nightlife. It’s home to the old Jewish quarter and boasts a fabulous local market along with several enticing attractions. That includes Basilica di Santa Croce which has become the Pantheon of Florence as a resting place for many Florentine greats like Galileo and Michelangelo. Sant’Ambrogio lies north and offerings an outstanding food scene with restaurants serving authentic Tuscan cuisine and the fantastic Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio with its abundant fresh produce. There’s some good nightlife in both neighborhoods which tend to attract the cool, young and hip, with live music venues and great bars, in and around the market. Hotel options run the gamut from reasonably priced to upscale.
Located in Oltarno, between Porta Romana and Ponte Vecchio along the south bank of the Arno River, San Frediano and Santo Spirito have a local, bohemian vibe. It’s become a trendy area with a wide range of dining options, including lots of new hotspots, wine bars and venues for craft cocktails. The artisan quarter around Borgo San Frediano and Piazza Santo Spirito is a shopper and art enthusiast’s paradise with unique boutiques, galleries, antique stores and workshops. Some of the best can be found on Via Romana, Via Santo Spirito and Borgo San Jacopo. The authentic Santo Spirito neighborhood will immerse you in daily Florentine life while offering many great local cafes, wine bars, bakeries and trattorias where you can sample home-cooked Tuscan dishes. It’s also home to the impressive Basilica di Santa Spirito by Brunelleschi. For accommodation, you’ll find some excellent guesthouses along with high-end hotels.
San Lorenzo and San Marco are located east of the train station and north of the Duomo. They are an ideal base for those who want to be close enough to explore the many attractions in the historic center and enjoy day trips to other destinations in Tuscany. These up-and-coming neighborhoods that were formerly impoverished, particularly closer to the train station, are especially ideal for food enthusiasts. San Lorenzo is home to the Mercato Centrale where you’ll be able to sample a wide range of local eats, including tasty bites at gourmet food stalls and delectable dishes at authentic trattorias. Indulge in everything from artisanal pizza and panini to chocolate and gelato. You’ll find some enticing attractions here too, most notably the Galleria dell’Accademia, home to David, Michelangelo’s masterpiece, and the gorgeous monastery of San Marco. There are quite a few budget-friendly accommodation options in the area, including stylish hotels, along with some luxury palace hotels.
A vast and varied area that stretches west from Via de’Tornabuoni between the Arno River and the main train station, Santa Maria Novella provides easy access to many attractions. It’s best to avoid the area right around the train station and stay closer to Piazza di Santa Maria Novella, the river and the historic center. This is a great area for shopping and dining, with gorgeous boutiques around the river and piazza while Via de’ Tornabuoni is known for its high-end labels. Vintage shops and galleries abound throughout. Authentic Tuscan fare is never far away with a number of excellent trattorias and there are quite a few sophisticated bars that offer a riverside setting. Closer to the train station, the area is grittier, but you will find quite a few budget hotel options. Near the river and around the piazza, there are luxury hotels and some magnificent boutique properties.
One of the most aesthetically pleasing and romantic neighborhoods in Florence, San Niccolò sits along the Arno east of Santo Spirit. Tranquil Piazzale Michelangelo rises on the hills that lie just south. It’s part of Oltrarno, home to a wealth of gardens, galleries, and shopping venues, along with some fun street art along Via San Niccolo and spectacular city views that can be enjoyed by climbing Torre San Niccolo. There’s plenty of tasty food and drink with everything from more casual eateries to elegant dining and cocktail bars. The primarily residential area of Piazzale Michelangelo boasts a replica of David in the square that it was named after along with picturesque gardens. For those who want a less touristic experience with the historic center in reach, San Niccolo/Piazzale Michelango is ideal. It’s a quieter area and while accommodation tends to be pricey, it’s possible to find something for every budget.
The upset neighborhoods of Boboli and San Miniato al Monte are tucked between San Niccolo to the east and Santo Spirito to the west. Extending south, while they feel as if they’re far from the city, they’re just outside the center. Think lush urban greenery, a soul-soothing vibe, a wealth of museums, palaces, villas and gardens, all climbing uphill. At the top is a copy of one of the oldest and most beautiful churches in Florence, a copy of Michelangelo’s David and a jaw-dropping vista over Florence. The main attraction is Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens which lies behind it. It’s a great area for tranquil strolls with scenic views as well as for those who want to explore the city on foot. Boboli and San Miniato al Monte isn’t the best place to stay if you’re on a tight budget, but there are some fabulous luxury hotels and guesthouses for those who can afford it.
Located northeast of the city center, Santissima Annunziata is the area around the Renaissance Piazza della Santissima Annunziata. The graceful square hosts a medieval-era basilica with a Renaissance façade, the church of the Annunziata. It’s fronted by a gorgeous loggia with arches and columns designed by Brunelleschi. This is also where you’ll find one of the most famous museums in Florence, the Galleria dell’Accademia, which displays Michelangelo’s David. There are a wide range of dining options here, particularly toward the west and south areas near San Lorenzo, San Marco and the city center. If you head to the square by walking down Via dei Servi with the Duomo at your back, you’ll pass many small shops, markets, restaurants, a bakery and cafés like the historic Robiglio dal 1928 that opened nearly a century ago. Luxury accommodations include five-star options like the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze, along with high-end boutique hotels set within historic buildings.
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