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After 12 years of living there, I know a thing or two about the best place to stay in Florence Italy. At one point or another, I have lived in almost all the main Florentine neighborhoods and visited each of them countless times.
And I can tell you, Firenze is a place that lives in juxtaposition. You can have nightlife next to a library and a lively market just in front of a church. It’s a city with many faces and there is something for everyone in Florence.
Florence is a small city, but, unfortunately, it has gotten a reputation as too touristy or unwelcoming. Just like other Italian cities like Venice or Rome, Florence can be full of tourists and frustrated shop owners. But that’s only if you don’t know where to look.
Once you find your ideal part of the city, Florence will quickly become one of your favorite cities in Tuscany, if not all of Italy. That is why we’re breaking down the neighborhoods for you so you can find your best place to stay in Florence Italy.
A List Of The Neighborhoods Of Florence Italy
To be able to choose the best place to stay in Florence Italy, you first have to understand the concept of the “Centro Storico” or the historic center. This area is part of the city initially surrounded by a large city wall, most of which is now gone. Some traces of the historic boundary remain, like the giant old city doors in Porta al Prato and Porta Romana or bits of the wall son the city’s southern side.
Inside this wall there were historically four main neighborhoods: San Giovanni (near the Duomo), Santo Spirito (near Santo Spirito church), Santa Croce (near Santa Croce Basilica), and Santa Maria Novella (by the train station and Santa Maria Novella church). These broader neighborhood terms aren’t referenced much anymore (besides political or historical reasons), and the historic center is divided into numerous smaller subdivisions. These are:
Centro Storico (Duomo)
The Duomo is the giant cathedral in the middle of the city, and truly it’s the heart of Florence. If you’re a first-time visitor, this is a great place to stay as you’ll be within walking distance of pretty much any attraction, surrounded by world-class food, museums, and shops.
Oltrarno (San Frediano and Santo Spirito)
Once Florence’s rough and tumble area, this has given way to being the city’s hippest area. The crowd is usually young and boisterous and the main piazze (squares) are filled with people at night.
This area is still in the centro storico (historic center) of the city, and it centers around the Santa Croce basilica. There is a lot of nightlife in this area, and is a great place for those looking for bars and fun.
San Niccolò (Piazzale Michelangelo)
San Niccolò is the neighborhood on the other side of the river from the Duomo and a bit to the east. It’s directly below Piazzale Michelangelo, one of the city’s best spots to watch the sunset. They’re both known for their quieter vibe and artisan shops.
Sant’Ambrogio is a neighborhood that still feels authentically Italian. This is because it has many locals still live here, there is a noticeable lack of hotels, and the streets are full of artisan shops. It’s an area loved by locals and has everything from a thriving market to fashion to nightlife.
This is the square in the north of the city. It is named after the church that sits in the piazza. It’s a popular spot for the Roma people (not Roman, but a transient group of people) to loiter, but it also has a great museum worth checking out.
Santa Maria Novella
This neighborhood is one of the busiest and cheapest as it’s close to the Santa Maria Novella train station. It shares a border with the San Lorenzo neighborhood, where the main market is located, the Mercato Centrale.
About a 20-minute drive outside Florence is the idyllic hilltop town of Fiesole. This is a great spot for those looking for a quieter stay and wanting to avoid the crowds and business of the city.
How To Find The Best Place To Stay In Florence Italy
One of our travel clients’ first major decisions is where to stay when they visit Florence, Italy. As you can see, there are quite a few different neighborhoods, each appealing to a different type of traveler. Read on to find the best spot to be sure to have the Italian vacation of your dreams.
Centro Storico (Duomo)
If you’re short on time, staying in the historic center of Florence or the city’s Duomo area is the most convenient. It’s one of the best neighborhoods for first-time visitors as everything you want to see is reachable by foot in about 20 minutes. You’ll be close to the cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore (aka the Duomo), the Ponte Vecchio (old bridge), world-class museums such as the Uffizi Gallery and Accademia Gallery (home to Michelangelo’s David), the Palazzo Vecchio in the famous Piazza della Signoria, and much more.
Most designer shops can also be found within a quick walk of this area on Via Tornabuoni, just a short stroll from Piazza del Duomo. Because of its proximity to so much, the centro is understandably also the most expensive area of the city, and most of the luxury hotels are located here.
This is by far the most crowded area of Florence. Everyone from day trippers to overnighters to students and expats navigates to this area of the city, so it’s packed during high season. The busiest months are May through October, but since Covid, it’s packed in this neighborhood year-round. Walking around can be difficult, and navigating crowds will become part of your stay.
Pros: Easy to get around, close to everything, one of the best places for first timers
Cons: Busy, crowded, expensive
Best for: First-time visitors, those who aren’t looking to walk far or long to get to the main sights, those wishing to stay in 5-star accommodations, those who are not overwhelmed by large crowds
Oltrarno (Santo Spirito and San Frediano)
Heading south from the Duomo and crossing the river at the Ponte Vecchio, you’ll find yourself in the Oltrarno area of Florence. Oltrarno means “oltra l’Arno” or “across the river Arno,” as it’s across the Arno river, which divides the city in two.
During the Renaissance, this area was once the location of wealthy wine merchants’ family homes, then it transitioned over the years into a grungy lower-class neighborhood in the 1980s before changing in the 2010s into the trendy area we love today. Besides many artisan shops and wonderful restaurants, you’ll also find the Palazzo Pitti, a museum not to miss, and the Boboli Gardens, worth visiting on a nice day.
Heading west, you’ll venture into the Santo Spirito neighborhood named after the Santo Spirito church and piazza. Piazza Santo Spirito is a lively spot, and at night the square is absolutely packed with 20-something Italians out for a drink.
Heading west on a 5-minute walk, you’ll find yourself in the Borgo San Frediano neighborhood, once named one of the world’s coolest neighborhoods by Lonely Planet. It’s home to many restaurants, leather, clothing, and artisan shops, and many bars and pubs. This area also gets busy at night and can be quite loud. Italians like congregating on the streets, sipping wine, chatting with friends, and spending evenings outdoors.
Pros: Trendy, hip, great nightlife
Cons: It can be loud, a little bit farther walk to the main sights, and expensive
Best for: Young travelers looking to spend their nights out with other young Italians, those who don’t mind walking farther to the sights, and those craving a more trendy, less touristy area of Florence.
Santa Maria Novella
The Santa Maria Novella neighborhood in Florence is probably the least quaint but the best connected. It takes in name from the main church, Santa Maria Novella, and is located around the main train station, also called Santa Maria Novella. Like most big cities in Europe, staying next to the train station makes for easy day trips and travel, but it’s not necessarily the most beautiful area of the city. The evenings can get a bit rowdy, and while, in general, it’s a safe city, this area can be a little riskier for things like petty theft, especially at night.
It’s a great spot for budget travelers as most cities’ hotels are here. It’s also perfect if you have very limited time and need to be able to get to the train station (or airport) quickly.
Pros: Inexpensive, easy to get to, close to train station
Cons: Can be less characteristic, at night can be less ideal for walking around, especially for solo travelers
Best for: Budget travelers, group travelers, or those just making a quick stop in Florence
Heading north from Piazza del Duomo, on Via dei Servi, you’ll reach the Piazza Santissima Annunziata, named for the church with the same name. This Piazza also hosts the Museo degli Innocenti, a wonderful museum with a rooftop restaurant with incredible views of the city. On the downside, this piazza is home to a large population of Rom people who sleep in this piazza at night, which can make some travelers uncomfortable.
This area is a bit farther from the main attractions as it’s the farthest (busy) northern point of the tourist center. However, it’s close to the Accademia Gallery and Piazza San Marco. Piazza San Marco has a wonderful church worth visiting, and it’s also where most busses Gallery connecting outside of Florence is easy.
Pros: Easily accessible by bus, easy to get to Fiesole and other points
Cons: A bit of a walk for most people, can be full of transient people, especially at night
Best for: Those wanting to stay farther from the city center, those looking to escape to areas frequented by the bus line in San Marco square
Santa Croce is a lively district in the historic center. It’s named after the Basilica Santa Croce, which holds the tombs of some of Florence’s most famous citizens, like Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Galileo. The main piazza often hosts events like the Chocolate Festival, French Festival, and the Calcio Storico tournament. Surrounding the piazza is some of the busiest nightlife in Florence. You can find everything from bars to clubs to restaurants. This area is also home to the traditional Florentine leather market. You can visit the historic leather school, Scuola del Cuoio, behind the basilica.
Pros: Area of the city with the most clubs, active young nightlife, beautiful sites, close to everything
Cons: Touristy area; most people partying here are tourists and not Italians, can be loud and busy
Best for: Young travelers looking to party, those who are interested in going out, those who want to be easily connected to everything but in an area less busy than the Duomo
Heading east from Santa Croce, you’ll eventually run into the Sant’Ambrogio neighborhood, slightly off the beaten path. This is one of the most authentic areas of the city and a place full of Italians and relatively few tourists. On a tour or on your own, check out the Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio (Sant’Ambrogio market), which has the best fruits, vegetables, and, in our opinion, cheese in the city. While this neighborhood has some hotels, it’s mostly apartment rentals. If you make it out this way, try crossing Piazza Beccaria onto Via Gioberti for a lively street full of places to eat and a fun all-ages crowd in the evening.
Pros: Authentic, great market, lots of shopping
Cons: A bit farther from the center, not home to many hotels
Best for: Seasoned Florence travelers looking to stay off the tourist path, those not interested in the main sights but looking for a more “Italian” travel experience
San Niccolò and Piazzale Michelangelo
Heading south from Mercato Sant’Ambrogio and crossing the Arno at Ponte alle Grazie, you’ll find yourself in the quietest central neighborhood of Florence, San Niccolò. This area is like a labyrinth with winding, hilly, cobbled streets. Many restaurants and bars are tucked back here, frequented mostly by Italians.
It can get lively at night but nothing like Santo Spirito or Santa Croce. This area has few hotels, but it’s still a great area to stay because you can stroll down the Arno, heading west, and be at the Ponte Vecchio in about 10 minutes. This area is the farthest from the main sights, so staying here is best for those who’ve been to Florence before or don’t mind long walks. It takes about 15 minutes to reach the Duomo from the main area of San Niccolò.
Right above San Niccolò is the Piazzale Michelangelo. This is a steep climb, but it is worth it for one of the city’s best views and the iconic dome. If you plan to spend your days lounging in your apartment and not wandering far from “home,” it can be a wonderful spot for those looking to have a place with a view, as many places here have incredible terraces.
Pros: Authentic, less touristy, tiny, charming streets
Cons: Sidewalks are very small and narrow, would be impossible with a stroller or for those needing assistance when walking, hilly, can be a longer walk to the main area
Best for: Seasoned Florence visitors, those without trouble walking, those looking for some nightlife but nothing too rowdy
This is a bonus location for travelers who want to be near Florence but not in it. This small hilltop town is a world away from the bustle of Florence and is worth visiting in its own right, as it was founded by the Etruscans in the 8th century BCE. In Fiesole, you can find accommodations for any budget, from stunning 5-star properties to budget hotels. There are many famous villas to visit, a historic Roman amphitheater, and a quaint town center that would please any traveler. There is no nightlife in Fiesole, but in the summertime, they have alfresco concerts in their historic Etruscan-era amphitheater. And, any time of year, you can head there for a wonderful meal or a spritz while overlooking Florence down below.
Pros: Can be very quiet, far from main tourist areas
Cons: Not in Florence, need to take a bus to and from, can be very quiet
Best for: Those looking to be near the action but not in it, those who have been to Florence before and want to be nearby but stay somewhere more quiet and relaxed
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Photo Credit: Opening photo by Explorelixir; Piazza Santa Croce by canadastock; Fiesole Photo by Ranieri Rossi on Unsplash