Ponte Vecchio, Florence

Florence – Firenze in Italiano – is a mesmerizing city whose combination of history, momentous art and stunning architecture is a bella vita trifecta that has inspired notions of romantic travel for centuries. Warmer months see wildflowers pepper the cityscape; later in the year, a rush of harvests (wine, olive oil, white truffles) liven up the gastronomic offerings. Florence's historic centre, chock-full of world-class galleries and cathedrals, is a living museum of Renaissance splendour.

The best neighbourhoods to visit in Florence

Centro Storico

The Duomo
Florence's Centro Storico is dominated by the massive 15th-century Duomo

Florence's Centro Storico (historic centre) is dominated by the massive 15th-century Duomo, the epicentre of the city's Renaissance heart and from which all roads lead. It is here that you’ll find the city's most celebrated places to visit, including the unparalleled Uffizi Gallery, home to the greatest collection of Italian Renaissance art on Earth; Palazzo Vecchio, Arnolfo di Cambio's landmark fortress palace and its 94m-high Arnolfo Tower; and Giotto's Bell Tower, a soaring masterpiece of Florentine Gothic architecture.

The Westin Excelsior, Florence sits just 190m west of the neighbourhood's edge: easy walking distance from the hustle and bustle. Seven centuries of Florentine history emanate from the storied walls of this historic, 171-room hotel set on the banks of the picturesque Arno River. From the hotel's glass-enclosed SE·STO on Arno Restaurant & Bar, 360-degree views of Florence accompany exquisite Tuscan cuisine. Dishes to try include local specialties such as homemade tagliatelle with roasted rosemary rabbit and seasonal truffles.

Santa Maria Novella

Basilica di Santa Maria Novella
Inside the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella is a cavalcade of artistic masterpieces, including frescos by Domenico Ghirlandaio

Encompassing the historic centre's western edges, the main train station and beyond, Santa Maria Novella is one of the oldest neighourhoods in Florence. The green-and-white marble facade of the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella is a striking symbol of the district; inside the monastic complex, a cavalcade of artistic masterpieces await, including frescos by Domenico Ghirlandaio. If you tire of Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and Donatelli, though, Florence's fantastic modern art museum, Museo Novecento, and the edgy Street Levels Gallery are some of Florence's finest alternative things to do.

Sharing the banks of the scenic Arno River with an array of palaces are some of Florence's best places to stay, including the lavish The St. Regis Florence, which sits on a riverside promenade near the American Embassy. Here ninety nine luxuriously appointed rooms are replete with elegant touches in line with the hotel's former life as the Giuntini family palace. A few blocks north, the Sina Villa Medici, Autograph Collection occupies an historic 19th-century palazzo whose interior garden features Florence’s second Harry's Bar (where you can enjoy the world-renowned Bellini cocktails made famous in the original Venice location). The 119-room AC Hotel Firenze, located behind the train station, is a firm favourite among jetsetting business travellers to Florence.


Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio crosses the beautiful Arno river

The beautiful Arno River cuts Florence in half; south of the water lies the Oltrarno, an artsy district that harbours many of the city's top attractions, perhaps none more iconic than the Ponte Vecchio. Spanning the Arno's narrowest point, a procession of jewellery shops, butchers and tanners lure shoppers and have done so throughout the centuries. Connecting the Uffizi Galleries in Centro Storico with Oltrarno’s Palazzo Pitta, Ponte Vecchio serves as the gateway to the neighbourhood. Behind the palace, the sculpture-adorned Giardino di Boboli (Boboli Gardens), conceived by the Medici family and further tinkered with by the Habsburg-Lorraine and Savoy dynasties, harbours the dazzling shell- and gem-encrusted Grotta del Buontalenti, a masterpiece of Mannerist architecture and culture.

In Oltrarno, head to the 13th-century Brancacci Chapel, home to the Basilica di Santa Maria del Carmine and lined with gorgeous original frescos by Masolino da Panicale, Masaccio and Filippino Lippo (book in advance – capacity is limited). Inside Basilico di Spirito Santo, 38 semicircular chapels lining the length of the church are awash with precious artwork, including Botticini's St. Monica Establishing the Rule of the Augustinian Nuns.

To see Florence’s landmarks from a different perspective take a rafting trip on the Arno. Trips depart from a spot near San Niccoló Tower (with Firenze Rafting) and are one of the most unique things to do in town. Afterwards, some of Oltrarno’s many great places to eat include S. Forno, which does the most delicious panini (sandwiches); or book ahead to dine in style on Tuscan delicacies at Il Santo Bevitore. One of Florence's best gelaterias, Gelateria La Carraia, calls the Oltrarno home as well.

San Marco

The most famous statue in the world draws visitors irresistibly to the San Marco neighbourhood, immediately north of the Duomo. David, Michelangelo's Renaissance masterpiece – carved from a single block of marble in the early 1500s – awaits inside the Galleria dell'Accademia. Nearby, the Museo di San Marco, housed inside a medieval Dominican friary, holds the world's most extensive collection of works by Early Renaissance master Fra Angelico.

The rooftop café at Museo degli Innocenti offers magnificent views to go with your espresso, but if you're after something stronger and trendier, PanicAle shakes and stirs some of Florence's chicest cocktails.

Round your evening off at Regina Bisteca, where the city’s world-renowned bistecca alla Fiorentina – Florentine steak – are cooked to glorious perfection.

Go Deeper

Expectedly, Italians take their food and drink traditions very seriously. Ordering a cappuccino after 11am, asking for Parmesan cheese with seafood pasta or sharing a pizza are all intensely frowned upon.

"Ciao" is reserved for friends and family – use “buongiorno” (morning) or “buonasera” (from early afternoon) and "arrivederci" (goodbye) to avoid causing unintentional offence.

When calling a taxi, bear in mind that the meter starts from the taxi's point of origin, not from where it picks you up.

Published: July 26, 2022

Last Updated: July 22, 2022

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