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  • Joanne Herd

Beyond the Duomo: Florence Neighborhoods to Explore on Your Next Visit

Updated December 22, 2023

Florence was the first city in Europe to enchant me. On my first visit, I fell in love.

I still can't explain exactly what it was that first attracted me to Florence. It wasn't a city I knew anything about, I'd never even heard of it before we visited.

But once we were there, I never wanted to leave.

Maybe it's the way that every cobblestone seems to whisper stories of history and art.

Maybe it's the size, large enough to hold so many fascinating buildings and neighborhoods, but small enough to easily walk from one side to the other.

Florence is so much more than just the postcard-perfect skyline, dominated by the terra cotta dome of the Duomo.

It's made up of a tapestry of neighborhoods, each with its own flavor and flair. From the central Centro Storico, the historic heart of the city, to the winding streets of the Oltrarno, each area of the city is unique.

Let's take a few minutes to step beyond the usual tourist destinations and wander through the many diverse Florence neighborhoods.

Florence neighborhoods at a glance


Main Sites

Centro Storico

Duomo, Uffizi Gallery, Ponte Vecchio, Piazza della Signoria

Santa Maria Novella

Santa Maria Novella Church, Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella, Strozzi Palace

San Lorenzo

Medici Chapels, San Lorenzo Market, Laurentian Library

Santa Croce

Basilica di Santa Croce, Piazza Santa Croce, Leather School

Santissima Annunziata

Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, Piazza Santissima Annunziata, Ospedale degli Innocenti

San Marco

San Marco Museum, Accademia Gallery, Piazza San Marco

Santo Spirito

Palazzo Pitti, Boboli Gardens, Santo Spirito Basilica, Piazza Santo Spirito

San Frediano

Basilica of Santa Maria del Carmine, Cappella Brancacci

San Niccolò

Piazzale Michelangelo, San Miniato al Monte, Forte di Belvedere

Centro Storico

The Florence Cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore. The red terra cotta dome can just be seen past the red, white and green marble of the facade. In the foreground an ornate lantern hangs from a building into the frame, against a bright blue sky.

Any visit to Florence starts in the Centro Storico, the pedestrian area in the heart of the city center.

Here you'll find the majestic Duomo, the world-class Uffizi Gallery with its artistic masterpieces, the ancient Ponte Vecchio, and the striking Palazzo Signoria. If you only have time to explore one part of the city, this is the best neighborhood to start with.

The Duomo and Piazza del Duomo

The Florence Cathedral, or Duomo, is officially known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. It stands in the center of the city as an awe-inspiring symbol of Florence's historic power and architectural prowess.

This magnificent cathedral, with its iconic red-tiled dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, is a feat of engineering and a testament to human creativity and perseverance.

You can climb to the top of the dome, but make sure to reserve tickets for your prefered date and time in advance to avoid disappointment.

On your way to the top you'll have the opportunity to view the frescoes on the inside of the dome up close, as well as discover the fascinating machines and techniques pioneered by Brunelleschi as he build the dome.

Piazza del Duomo is also worth taking some time to explore. It's home to several other key monuments, including Giotto's Bell Tower and Battistero di San Giovanni, or the Baptistry of St. John.

The Uffizi Gallery

Long a pilgrimage site for art lovers, the Uffizi Gallery is housed in a grand, 16t- century building. It's a labyrinth of art and history, with an unparalleled collection of Renaissance masterpieces on display.

Take some time to wander through its halls, exploring works ranging from Botticelli's “The Birth of Venus” to beautiful paintings by Caravaggio and Michelangelo.

The Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio you see today was built in the 14th century, but the bridge's origins date back to Roman times. It's the oldest bridge in Florence, and the only bridge in the city to survive World War II.

It's also one of only four bridges in Europe with buildings on both sides. The other three are the Rialto Bridge in Venice, the Pultney Bridge in Bath, England, and the Merchant's Bridge in Erfurt, Germany.

Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria

The Palazzo Vecchio, with its imposing structure and iconic crenellated tower, stands as a symbol of the civic power and artistic heritage of Florence.

The simple exterior stands in contrast to the ornate chambers and halls inside. The Hall of the Five Hundred is particularly awe-inspiring, with its large size, massive wall murals and intricate coffered ceiling.

Just outside the Palazzo Vecchio lies the Piazza della Signoria, an L-shaped square that has been the political heart of Florence for centuries. This piazza has witnessed some of the most significant events in Florentine history, from public speeches by the Medici family to the infamous Bonfire of the Vanities.

Santa Maria Novella

The interior of the church of Santa Maria Novella. A painted wooden crucifix hangs over the altar. The ribs of the ceiling vault are highlighted in alternating black and white stone, contrasting with the white stucco walls.

If you arrive in Florence by train, the Santa Maria Novella neighborhood will likely be the first you see. The central Florence train station, Firenze Santa Maria Novella, is located here.

Due to its proximity to the busy train station, parts of this neighborhood feel very chaotic and touristy. But there's so much more to the neighborhood than just the train station and tourist hotels.

The Church of Santa Maria Novella

The Church of Santa Maria Novella, just off of the Piazza Santa Maria Novella near the main train station, is one of Florence's great Gothic-Renaissance treasures.

This church is one of the most important Dominican churches in Italy, with a wealth of art found inside. One of the most famous pieces is Masaccio's groundbreaking "Trinity" fresco, which is known for its early use of linear perspective.

The Strozzi Palace

The Strozzi Palace, located just a stone's throw from the Piazza Santa Maria Novella, is one of the most imposing and elegant examples of Renaissance palatial architecture in Florence.

Built for the affluent Strozzi family, rivals to the Medici, the palazzo showcases the might and wealth of Florence's merchant class. With its rusticated stone façade and grand size, the palace exudes a sense of robust, yet refined, power.

Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella

The Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world, dating back to the early 13th century.

Known for its natural and high-quality products, ranging from perfumes and soaps to herbal teas, the Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella is a testament to the long-standing Florentine dedication to the art of well-being.

San Lorenzo

The interior of the Mercato Centrale in San Lorenzo. Food stalls stand along the walls, with tables waiting for people to be seated to eat.

In San Lorenze you'll find a wonderful blend of history, gastronomy, and great shopping. You'll want to take some time to explore both the San Lorenzo church complex and the Mercato Centrale.

This neighborhood is located north of the Centro Storico and east of Santa Maria Novella

The Church of San Lorenzo

The Church of San Lorenzo, one of the largest churches in Florence, was once the parish church of the Medici family. That means it was one of the wealthiest churches in Italy, and is also where you'll find the Medici Chapels.

It's quite possibly the oldest church in Florence, consecrated by St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, in 393 AD. It was rebuilt several times, with the last rebuilding in 1418 by the Medici.

You wouldn't know this church is anything special by looking at the front. It's rough stone, and almost looks like it's still in the process of being built. That's because a marble facade was never put on it, so what you see is what every church in Florence looks like under their marble fronts.

The interior was designed by Brunelleschi, the same man who built the dome on the Florence Cathedral, and is also decorated with sculpture by Donatello.

Brunelleschi also designed the Old Sacristy, which was intended to be the Medici family mausoleum before the Medici chapels were built. The Old Sacristy, with its contrasting white plaster and grey stone, is considered a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture.

The Medici Chapels

The Medici Chapels, part of the San Lorenzo complex, serve as a grand mausoleum for the Medici family. The chapels are made up of the the ornate Chapel of the Princes and the New Sacristy, designed by Michelangelo.

The Chapel of the Princes is a lavish, domed structure, showcasing the grandeur and power of the Medici dynasty. It's entirely decorated in ornate red, white and green marble, with huge sarcophagi in niches along the walls.

The New Sacristy, contrasting in its subtle elegance, features several of Michelangelo’s sculptural masterpieces, including the famous tombs of Lorenzo and Giuliano de' Medici. These tombs are adorned with allegorical figures representing Night, Day, Dawn, and Dusk, showcasing Michelangelo's unparalleled skill in capturing human emotion in marble.

The Laurentian Library

The Laurentian Library, also a brainchild of Michelangelo, is another architectural marvel in the San Lorenzo complex.

The library was commissioned by the Medici family to house their substantial collection of manuscripts and books, which were incredibly valuable.

At the entrance stands a dramatic stone staircase leading up to the reading room. This staircase, designed by Michelangelo, combines utility and beautiful artistic expression in its graceful lines.

In the reading room you'll find elegant wooden benches and lecterns, a vaulted ceiling, and intricate window designs. The library housed thousands of manuscripts and early books, clearly demonstrating the Medici's wealth as well as their dedication to the arts and sciences.

San Lorenzo Market

The San Lorenzo Market, in the heart of the San Lorenzo neighborhood, is made up of an outdoor market with a variety of stalls selling leather goods, souvenirs, and local crafts, and an indoor food market, known as the Mercato Centrale.

The Mercato Centrale is a food lover’s paradise, offering a wealth of local Tuscan produce, fresh meats, cheeses, bread, and wine. Upstairs you'll find a variety of food stalls and eateries, where you can savor authentic Florentine and Italian dishes.

Santa Croce

The church of Santa Croce can bee seen over the roofs of the Santa Croce neighborhood. The sky is changing colors at sunset, with gold near the horizon and shades of blue, purple and pink in the puffy clouds.

The Santa Croce neighborhood, east of the Centro Storico, is best known for its famous Basilica of Santa Croce. It's also a great place to shop for leather, since Santa Croce's Leather School is located just behind the Basilica.

Santa Croce Basilica

The Basilica of Santa Croce, located in the heart of the lively Santa Croce neighborhood, is one of Florence's most prestigious churches.

Best known as the burial place of some of Italy's most illustrious figures, including Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli, it's often referred to as the Temple of the Italian Glories.

Inside you'll find an array of chapels richly decorated with frescoes by Giotto and his students, depicting scenes from the life of St. Francis and other saints.

Piazza Santa Croce

Piazza Santa Croce serves as a lively hub of activity, hosting events such as the famous Calcio Storico, a traditional football match that harks back to medieval Florence.

The piazza is also home to various artisanal shops, charming cafes, and bustling markets, making it a popular gathering spot for both locals and tourists. This is where you'll find Florence' annual Christmas Market, which is well worth a visit if you're in town around the holidays.

Santissima Annunziata

To the northeast of the Florence Cathedral, just up the Via dei Servi, you'll find the neighborhood of Santissima Annunziata. Often overlooked next to the more visited Centro Storico, this neighborhood is also where you'll find the beautiful Four Seasons Hotel, which I consider to be the best hotel in Florence.

Basilica della Santissima Annunziata

The Basilica della Santissima Annunziata is best known for its stunning Chiostrino dei Voti (Cloister of the Vows) adorned with frescoes by Andrea del Sarto and other Renaissance masters.

The church has a lavishly decorated ceiling and an altar housing the venerated painting of the Annunciation, believed to be miraculously created by an angel.

Piazza Santissima Annunziata

Piazza Santissima Annunziata is one of the most architecturally harmonious squares in Florence, framed by elegant buildings that epitomize Renaissance design. Notable for its symmetrical layout and the presence of two identical fountains, the piazza is a delightful example of urban planning from the Renaissance era.

The square is not only a visual feast but also a place of historical significance, often hosting festivals and events that echo the rich cultural life of Florence. The atmosphere in Piazza Santissima Annunziata is one of timeless elegance, offering a peaceful retreat from the city's more crowded sites.

Ospedale degli Innocenti

The Ospedale degli Innocenti, located on the eastern side of Piazza Santissima Annunziata, is a historic building that was Europe's earliest foundling hospital. 

Designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, this building is considered a pioneering work of Renaissance architecture with its elegant portico and ornamentation by Andrea della Robbia.

San Marco

Leather sellers near San Marco and San Lorenzo. People are walking between stalls hanging with bags, wallets, and other colorful leather goods.

San Marco is located north of the Centro Storico, between San Lorenzo and Santissima Annunziata. Its centerpiece is the Piazza San Marco, one of the main transportation hubs in the city. Here you'll also find the Accademia Gallery, home of Michelangelo's David.

Museo di San Marco

Once a 15th-century Monastery, the Museo di San Marco offers a unique glimpse into monastic life in Florence. The highlight of the museum is a series of frescoes by Fra Angelico, one of the early Renaissance's most important painters, which adorn the monks' cells and corridors

Piazza San Marco

Several of the city's main streets come together at the Piazza San Marco, making it a busy spot for both people and traffic. A lot of walking tours meet in the center of the piazza, and it's a common place for groups to be picked up or dropped off.

While it can be busy, there's also a lot to see. The Museo di San Marco lies on the north edge of the piazza, and the Accademia Gallery is just to the south.

The Accademia Gallery

One of Florence's most visited museums, the Accademia Gallery is most famous for housing Michelangelo's David, a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture.

This iconic statue, representing the biblical hero David, is renowned for its incredible detail and realism. The gallery also exhibits other works by Michelangelo, including his unfinished “Prisoners,” which provide a fascinating insight into his sculptural process.

Palazzo Medici Riccardi

The Medici Palace, also known as Palazzo Medici Riccardi, demonstrates the power and influence of the Medici family in Renaissance Florence. Designed by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo for Cosimo de' Medici, the palace's architecture reflects the transition from the medieval fortress to the Renaissance palace.

Inside the palace boasts lavish decorations, including the famous Chapel of the Magi, adorned with frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli depicting an elaborate procession with figures of the Medici family. The palace's courtyard and garden also exemplify Renaissance aesthetics.

The Oltrarno

The Oltrarno is everything that lies across the Arno River from the Centro Storico. While there are three distinct neighborhoods, the area as a whole is known as the Oltrarno.

The Oltrarno district is made up of the neighborhoods of San Niccolò in the east, Santo Spirito in the center, and San Frediano in the west. The Oltrarno is the best area to get a taste of what day to day life in Florence Italy is really like.

Santo Spirito

A statue of Poseidon in the Boboli Gardens. The statue stands on a stone in the middle of a pond, with trees turning gold and orange as fall sets in.

From the Piazza Santo Spirito the the Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Garden, Santo Spirito is the center of the Oltrarno district. Just over the Ponte Vecchio from the Centro Storico and Duomo neighborhood, this is the most central part of the Oltrarno. It's a favorite neighborhood for locals and artists, and you'll find plenty of small artisan shops here.

Basilica di Santo Spirito

The Basilica of Santo Spirito, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, is the face of the Santo Spirito neighborhood.

The basilica itself is a masterpiece of Renaissance simplicity and elegance, with a serene interior that houses an impressive array of artworks, including a crucifix by Michelangelo.

Piazza Santo Spirito

Piazza Santo Spirito embodies the spirited heart of the Oltrarno district. This lively square, often bustling with activity, hosts a daily morning market where locals shop for fresh produce and artisanal goods.

By night, the piazza transforms into a social hub, filled with people enjoying the numerous restaurants, bars, and cafes that line the square. The unpretentious and vibrant atmosphere of Piazza Santo Spirito makes it a favorite gathering place for both Florentines and visitors looking to experience the city's lively street life.

Palazzo Pitti

Palazzo Pitti, originally built for the Pitti family, is a grand Renaissance palace that later became the residence of the Medici rulers. This massive structure, with its imposing façade, is a symbol of the Medici family's wealth and power.

Today the Pitti Palace houses several important museums, including the Palatine Gallery, with its collection of Renaissance and Baroque paintings, the Royal Apartments, the Gallery of Modern Art, and the Costume Gallery.

Boboli Gardens

The Boboli Gardens, located just behind Palazzo Pitti, are among the most famous gardens in Italy and a splendid example of Italian Renaissance landscaping.

The gardens feature a variety of sections, each with its own character, including the Amphitheatre with its Egyptian obelisk, the Fountain of Neptune, and the Buontalenti Grotto.

San Frediano

San Frediano, located in the Oltrarno district along Borgo San Frediano, is known for its well-preserved medieval streets and artisan tradition, it offers a quieter, more authentic slice of Florentine life.

The Basilica of Santa Maria del Carmine, with the stunning Cappella Brancacci, is a jewel of this neighborhood. Wander through its streets, and you'll discover artisan workshops that have been there for centuries.

Santa Maria del Carmine

Santa Maria del Carmine is best known for its Brancacci Chapel, a jewel of Renaissance art. Although the church's façade is unadorned, the Brancacci Chapel within is a treasure trove of early Renaissance frescoes.

These frescoes, primarily painted by Masaccio and Masolino, are famous for their lifelike quality and emotional expressiveness, marking a turning point in art history. The depiction of perspective and human emotion in these frescoes had a profound influence on later Renaissance artists, making the Brancacci Chapel a must-visit for art enthusiasts.

San Niccolo

A limonaia in the Boboli Gardens, near the San Niccolo neighborhood of Florence.

Nestled within the larger Oltrarno district, the San Niccolò neighborhood is a picturesque and charming area that captures the essence of a quieter, more authentic Florence.

Characterized by narrow cobblestone streets, historic buildings, and an array of artisan workshops, San Niccolò exudes a distinctly bohemian and artsy vibe. This neighborhood, which stretches down to the banks of the Arno River, is a delightful mix of local life, artistic studios, quaint cafes, and hidden gardens.

San Miniato al Monte

Perched atop one of the highest points in Florence, San Miniato al Monte offers one of the most breathtaking views of the city. This Romanesque church, dating back to the 11th century, is a serene sanctuary, known for its geometrically patterned marble façade and beautiful interior mosaics.

Piazzale Michelangelo

Piazzale Michelangelo is undoubtedly the best place in Florence for panoramic city views. Designed by architect Giuseppe Poggi in the 19th century, this terrace offers a sweeping vista of Florence's historic center, with the Arno River, Ponte Vecchio, and the Duomo in full view.

The piazzale, which features a bronze replica of Michelangelo’s David, is a popular spot at sunset, when the city's landmarks are bathed in a golden light. It’s a must-visit for photographers and anyone wishing to take in the beauty of Florence from above.

The bottom line

Exploring the many Florence neighborhoods is like walking through a living museum. From the artistic majesty of the Centro Storico to the serene charm of Santissima Annunziata, the vibrant artisan spirit of San Frediano, and the breathtaking vistas of San Niccolò, Florence is a city that continues to enchant and inspire.

As you wander through these streets, you’re treading the same paths as Michelangelo, Dante, and the Medici. You're not just a spectator but a part of Florence's ongoing story, a narrative woven through centuries of human creativity, ambition, and passion.

Whether you're marveling at the architectural wonders, indulging in the culinary delights, or simply soaking in the ambiance of a Piazzale Michelangelo at sunset, Florence has a way of leaving its mark on your heart.


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