Episode #028: Best places to stay in Florence – neighborhoods to consider for your trip

episode 28 - best areas stay in florence

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Wondering where to stay in Florence? The Renaissance city is small and compact but it has several distinct areas that will suit different types of travelers. Do you want to be right in the heart of the city or perhaps you prefer a quieter neighborhood? Do you want to splurge on a room with a view of the Arno or are you choosing budget accommodation so you can splash out on experiences? In this podcast episode we answer your questions on where to stay in Florence.

Show notes

Florence is one of the most popular cities to visit in Europe. And while there is a broad range of accommodation choices, travelers often need to make compromises when it comes to budget, location and style of lodging. After many stays in the city we look at the most popular central neighborhoods in the city and tell you why they are are great place to stay.

Different areas of the city will suit you depending on your travel style and itinerary. For example, you may want to stay close to the station if you are planning to do a lot of day trips to Tuscany and beyond. However, be aware that this area may not have the romantic atmosphere you may be seeking. This area is also popular with travelers on a budget but there are other central neighborhoods where you can find charming accommodation and a local vibe that you might like to consider.

We share our favorite six districts in Florence and the top hotels and Airbnbs to choose in each one. You’ll learn where to stay if you’re craving a bustling nightlife, or quiet afternoons in the piazza. Plus, of course, we’ll also share where to find those coveted views of the Arno River that were so beautifully brought to life in the book and movie of A Room with a View.

If you’re wanting to plan out your Florence itinerary, make sure to listen to our Florence highlights podcast episode too.

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Districts in Florence that are perfect for travelers

  1. Centro Storico – Duomo / Uffizi / Ponte Vecchio – best for first time visitors. Easily walk to major sights of the city and enjoy the atmosphere of the Renaissance city. Can be very expensive and crowded especially during peak season
  2. Oltrano and Santo Spirito – central neighborhood close to the Arno river with lovely piazza surrounded by cafes and wine bars
  3. Santa Croce – neighborhood next to the historic center with a lively local market and large piazza in front of the iconic church
  4. San Niccolò / Piazzale Michelangelo – charming neighborhood close to the historic center known for artisan workshops, a thriving restaurant scene and magnificent views of the city
  5. Santa Maria Novella (Station area) – well known area for budget accommodation that is convenient but lacks charm unless you choose your accommodation wisely
  6. Fiesole – pretty hillside town just 10-15 minutes out of the city with views over Florence
READ: WHERE TO STAY IN FLORENCE - INCLUDES BEST HOTELS & AIRBNBS

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Transcript

Prefer to read along as you listen? Below is a full transcript of this episode.

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Introduction (00:05):
Ciao and benvenuti to Untold Italy. I’m Josie and I’m Katy and we’re here to help you plan your trip to Italy. Between us, we have many years of travel experience and we want to help you uncover your own as yet untold stories and adventures in Italy. Each episode you’ll hear practical advice, tips and ideas to help you plan your own trips to the magical land of history, stunning landscapes and a whole lot of pasta. We’ll have interviews from experts and focus on local destinations and frequently asked questions about travel in Italy. Thanks for listening and make sure to subscribe to our show now. Let’s get started on your regular dose of Bella Italia.

Have you ever dreamt of waking up in Florence, pushing open the shutters and gazing dreamily down the Arno River? If you’ve ever seen the Merchant Ivory movie A Room With A View you’ll know exactly what I mean. The story’s heroine, Lucy Honeychurch, is visiting Florence with her chaperone – cousin Violet – and they simply must have a room with a view. This is one of my all time favorite movies set in Italy and at all really. And when you get to Florence you’ll know exactly what I mean. The gorgeous Tuscan hued buildings reflect off the water and the Ponte Vecchio stands proudly over the banks of the Arno. The movie and book on which it was based is set at the turn of the 20th century but not much has changed since then. Many visitors to Florence crave a romantic room with a view of their own. But where can you find them? And are the banks of the Arno the best place to stay in Florence?

Ben venuti, welcome everyone! On this episode of Untold Italy we’re going to explore the best districts to stay in Florence. Much as we did last week when we talked about the areas of Rome, we’ll focus on the areas that best suit visitors to Florence who are staying a few days or less than a week. This will suit most of you but at the end I’ll also mention an area that Marta suggested in our episode on travel with kids that may be suitable if you’re planning to stay a little longer.

Firstly I need to explain that Florence is a very very small city. Much smaller than Rome in fact and generally everywhere you want to go is manageable on foot within about 20 minutes. Within the historic center and throughout Florence you’ll find a good mix of accommodation – from luxury hotels to budget hostels, AirBnBs and apartments and gorgeous small boutique hotels which I think really capture the essence of Florence and the feeling I’m looking for when I watch A Room with a View! Of course, as one of the most popular cities to visit in Italy the best rooms get snapped up very quickly so it’s a good idea to book as soon as you can if you see something you like. At least 6 months in advance is a general rule of thumb if you’re traveling in peak season from May to October. Of course, given everything is pretty fluid right now in terms of travel then it is a very good idea to choose an option that gives a generous cancelation policy.

Your budget is going to be the biggest driver for your choice of accommodation in Florence. Of course the closer you get to the Arno and those coveted views, the higher the price. But that being said you can get great value staying at apartments just a few streets back from the main attractions. We actually stayed in a lovely AirBnB just steps from the Ponte Vecchio on our last visit in November. It was great value and I have to say, if you listened to our episode on where to stay in Rome, you’ll know I made the mistake of leaving things a little late to secure the best accommodation so I felt lucky to get that property.

Florence, as I mentioned, is a very small city so you don’t really need to be too concerned about staying close to the station as you can walk there in about 20 minutes from most places. And it’s relatively flat. We would get a taxi from the station or airport to our hotel or apartment and it’s relatively cost effective and takes all the stress out of wheeling luggage – even if it is only carryon. I would be surprised if you needed to use the public transport system much at all if you were staying a few days.

Each area I’m going to mention has its own unique character and will suit some travelers over others. Some people like to be in the heart of the action while others like nothing better than to explore a local neighborhood. We’ve got options for all of you and there is no right or wrong choice – just make the one that is going to suit you and your travel companions the best.

We will give you the names of the areas and landmarks close by. You can filter the results on the main booking sites like Booking.com and AirBnB. Just be sure to check the exact location on the map so you are very clear about where it is in relation to the main train station and bus stops if you need them. Lastly always, always read many reviews and check the cancelation policy before booking anything.

So let’s start with everyone’s favorite and one of the main spot you’re going to get that room with a view

Centro Storico / Historic Center near the Duomo / Uffizi Gallery and Ponte Vecchio

The main historic center area in Florence is really tiny and all the major attractions here are in a very short walk of one another – maybe 10 minutes. Here you’ll also find shops, restaurants, cafes and hotels and apartments. Given that it’s all right there on your doorstep then this is the most expensive area to stay in Florence but you really can’t beat the atmosphere. It’s like you stepped right into the Renaissance with all the incredible buildings, sculptures and fountains around you.

One minute you’re gazing up at Brunelleschi’s dome and the next you’re posing with the replica of David in the Piazza della Signoria or going on a ride on the vintage carousel in Piazza della Republicca or strolling across the Ponte Vecchio.

There’s a broad range of eateries to choose from. Take your pick from the exclusive Gucci Cafe run by one of the world’s best chefs – Massimo Bottura; the terrace at the Continentale hotel with impressive views of the city or more homely and humble osterias where you can try local Tuscan dishes.

Plus if you want to explore another place for dinner – I recommend aperitivo in Piazza Santa Croce – then it’s really just a short walk away.

The centro storico of Florence really is so compact and convenient but in that respect it comes with the challenge of being very busy. Even in November when I was there last it was crowded in this area and the visit before that one September was incredibly busy. So if you’re looking for a quieter neighborhood feel then this area is not for you.

Also, in summer Florence gets very very hot and there isnt much green space to cool down in or relax in the shade. And before I forget I should mention that getting a hotel with a pool in Florence is a very very good idea in summer. Unfortunately you wont find them in this part of town. Here you get the views!

Now I know I promised to share with you the places where you can get those rooms with a view. Well, The Continentale hotel and Portrait Firenze are both very chic hotels that offer you that experience. As does the Hotel Balestri which is a little further down the river away from the hubbub and noise of the main tourist zone. If you’re searching for Airbnbs or apartments look for properties close to the Ponte Vecchio or Uffizi for the best chance of views from your room. We’ll put our favorite airbnb picks and hotels in the show notes for this episode.

Santa Maria Novella train station

OK now onto another popular area that has its advantages but if you listened to our last episode I’m not really a fan of staying in the areas very close to the train station. So in Florence this is called Santa Maria Novella and it’s quite a large district and has some decent places to stay but in general it is not as charming as the area closer to the river and the Duomo.

On the upside it is quite a bit cheaper and you’ll find hostels as well as 2 star hotels here.
Plus, if you were planning to do a lot of day trips by train or bus to other cities or parts of Tuscany then it might make sense for you to stay close to the station.

What I would be mindful of though is avoiding the area immediately around the station and head more towards the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella and the piazza of the same name. Here you’ll find some lovely hotels including the Hotel Minerva which does have a pool on its rooftop terrace with some of the best views of Florence. Obviously that one comes with a little extra price tag!

You’re also close to the Accademia Gallery for when you want to see the David statue in this area but like I said, it’s not as charming as other places in the city.

Another thing that I like about this area is it is super close to the fabulous Mercato Centrale which is an upscale food court on the first level of the San Lorenzo market. The main market downstairs is a bit average with designer knock offs and cheap leather goods but if you take the elevator upstairs to Mercato Centrale it is foodie heaven with little cafes and restaurants and bars specialising in pizza or seafood or whatever you like really. You can even get some non Italian food like sushi if – GASP – you are sick of Italian food. Don’t worry. It happens to the best of us. I tend to go to Mercato Centrale even if I’m not staying in the area as it’s great for a casual bite or snack.

So speaking of food, that takes us to one of the more local neighborhoods and a place where you’ll find lovely wine bars and restaurants a little way out from the main tourist areas. It’s a lovely spot where we stayed in November and I found it really quite charming and I’d definitely stay there again. I’m referring to the area known as Oltrano and specifically the pocket near the Piazza Santo Spirito

Oltrano / Santo Spirito

Oltrano literally means “other side of the Arno”. So you find this area on the opposite bank of the Arno to the Uffizi Gallery and Duomo. And you just head across the Ponte Vecchio and it lands you right there. You can follow this street up a way and you reach the Pitti Palace which is home to several museums and of course the famous Boboli Gardens full of statues and fountains and greenery. Plus the magnificent Medici grotto. There are some gorgeous artisan boutiques in this area selling handmade paper and leather products. It’s definitely a good place to go browsing.

The most famous and exclusive hotel offering Arno views is Hotel Lungarno but you can also find quite a few apartments along that stretch of the river.

As I mentioned, this is the place to stay if you’re serious about your food and wine. There are some absolutely lovely little wine bars that serve amazing food. We really enjoyed our evening at Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina last year. Also, if you wander towards Santo Spirito there’s a gorgeous little piazza where cafes spill out onto with a very friendly neighborhood vibe.

If we were taking the kids this is one area I would definitely consider staying in as the piazza is a car free zone where they could play and they are not the easiest to find in Florence. Just around the corner from there is a gelato shop called Sbrino and I’m still thinking about their salted caramel flavor more than 6 months later!

You can easily walk to the Uffizi Gallery, Duomo and Accademia in well under half an hour if you dont stop to check out the shops and beautiful city along the way. In fact, on foot from this area may be quicker than driving thanks to the dreaded ZTL historic zone and one way streets.

Santa Croce

Another local neighborhood that I really love is Santa Croce. So named for the incredible church that stands in its center, this neighborhood again has some great restaurants and bars as well as a thriving local market – the Sant’Ambrogio market. It’s the kind of place that the nonnas go to to their daily shop and locals stand at the bar drinking their coffee. There’s a few butchers in there with stuffed boars heads over their signage and you’ll find all the best seasonal fruit and vegetables.

The church itself is amazing and full of priceless art and sculptures. It’s the final resting place of Michelangelo, Galileo and Macchiavelli – all famous Florentines. And it has a beautiful gothic style marble exterior. You’ll find a huge piazza out the front of the church lined with bars and restaurants and it’s at this very place that I like to relax and have aperitivo as the sun sets. I love watching the local kids play football in the piazza and actually the city usually holds their historic football matches here complete with costumes and pageantry in this very spot each year.

You can also visit the leather school that is behind Santa Croce. There’s an interesting little museum and shop where you can buy extremely well made and authentic leather items – purses, wallets and jackets. Plus there are some quality leather shops in this area too if you feel like doing some shopping.

It’s a very easy 15 minute walk into the main area of Florence but you get a nice neighborhood vibe and there are lots of restaurants and bars if you want to eat close to your hotel. Again, thanks to the piazza and a small playground nearby this is an area I would consider staying if we were going as a family for a short trip.

San Niccolo / Piazzale Michelangelo

Right now heading back over the river and this neighborhood is more for adults due to the fantastic bars, restaurants, and narrow streets. The San Niccolo district just below Piazzale Michelangelo is a lot of fun and my husband and I spent a lot of time there when we visited a couple of years ago.

Apart from the bars and restaurants and fun almost bohemian neighborhood vibe there are some absolutely incredible artisan workshops and boutiques here. One of my favorites is Alessandro Dari a jeweller who makes absolutely fantastical imaginative sculptural pieces inspired by the city, spirituality and history. His shop and workshop is like a wonderland. There is also a perfumier in the same street where you can create your own scent. It’s very artistic and if you want a unique souvenir or gift this is where I would recommend you spend some time.

In terms of location, in San Niccolo you’re just a dreamy walk across the Ponte delle Grazie which has some of the best views of the river down toward the Ponte Vecchio. It’s only about a 15 minute walk to the Uffizi Gallery and 20 minutes to the Duomo so you see Florence is a very small city and if you want to get out of the main hustle and bustle you can do that. This neighborhood is also below one of the best places for views of the city at Piazzale Michelangelo. You need to climb up a very steep hill past a pretty rose garden to get there but the views of the whole city laid out before you are magnificent.

There’s not so many hotels in San Niccolo so you’re looking at AirBnBs and apartments but you will find good value there too.

Fiesole

Lastly, if you’re staying a little longer or don’t mind a little travel into town, the village of Fiesole is just outside of Florence to the north east and it offers panoramic views of the city. There’s actually quite a broad range of accommodation there including villas and agriturismos as well as the absolutely splendid 5 star Belmond hotel. Many of the places have swimming pools which would be most welcome in summer.

So this is a great way to get some of that Tuscan countryside experience while staying very close to Florence. There are local buses that can take you into town in around 30 minutes and this is probably the best option as driving and parking arent the easiest. But also, now I think of it, if you want to do some exploring of Tuscany by car then if you stay in Fiesole you’re likely to find accommodation with free or at least easy parking

So they are the main areas I’d recommend staying in when you visit Florence. Of course the area around the Duomo, Uffizi Gallery and Ponte Vecchio is the most popular as it is so central and convenient. Not to mention beautiful and historic. If you only have a very short amount of time in Florence and it’s your first visit then it makes sense to stay here so you can make the most of your time. But, if you want to get away from the crowds and discover some of the local neighborhoods Santa Croce district has the wonderful market and piazza while in Oltrano you can really relax into the cafe and wine bar culture around Santo Spirito. For a more lively nightlife and some amazing boutiques and ateliers then try San Niccolo. You can find budget accommodation in these neighborhoods – mainly apartments and airbnbs – but also closer to the Santa Maria Novella station. And while this area may be convenient for getting to the station for day trips and your onward journey, it is not the most charming. It all depends on your priorities however and if you dont plan to spend a lot of time in your hotel this may not be an issue. Lastly Fiesole is a small village outside of Florence with easy access to the city that offers rural charm and stunning views.

Each of these areas obviously has its own advantages and disadvantages but for the most part the beauty about Florence is that you are very close to the historic center and everything is accessible on foot – and mainly flat too! – wherever you stay. Generally speaking, accommodation close to the river and the main sites where you can find your coveted room with a view are the most expensive.

And as I mentioned earlier, if you are visiting in summer then know that Florence does get very hot. Make sure to check if you accommodation has air conditioning if that is important to you. Many hotels and apartments are in very old buildings so you simply cannot assume that there will be AC in your room. Another good idea is to book a place with a pool for cooling off in the afternoon. There are quite a few places at various different price points with pools in the city and they do get snapped up quickly so if that’s important to you I suggest booking them well in advance.

Advance bookings are always a good idea in Florence. As it is a small and extremely popular place to visit for people from within Europe and all over the world, book as early as you can to avoid disappointment – 6-12 months is not uncommon and I certainly wouldnt leave it much later than 3 months if you have your heart set on a particular property. The busiest times are generally May to October though really in recent times (current crisis excepted) there has been a shrinking low season in Florence.

These days you can get generous cancelation on your bookings and I would pay a bit extra for that given these are very uncertain times. But always always read reviews carefully – I like to read at least 10 – and check the terms and conditions carefully. We use AirBnB and Booking.com and they are very clear on this. These are the booking sites that I prefer and use for all our trips to Italy and around the world. When our recent trip to Italy was canceled we did get all of our money back from those bookings but I always book with cancelation up to a few days in advance anyway.

So I hope now you have a good idea of the best areas to stay in Florence. It really is such a beautiful and historic city. I love the fact that you need to get about on foot as this is really the best way to appreciate the city. Don’t forget to look up, down laneways, at the magnificent doorways and of course take in those views and reflections of the river Arno. And if you are looking for one I do hope you find that room with a view. And if you haven’t watched that movie and you are in the slightest bit romantic I would prioritise that immediately too.

As always we’ll put all our information on accommodation in Florence including all the hotels and districts I mentioned into the show notes for this episode at untolditaly.com/28 – for episode 28. We hope you find the perfect place to rest for your trip to Florence. Whether it is your first visit or your fifth, there is something quite magical about the Renaissance city that captures the imagination of visitors the world over. And I hope, like you, to be visiting there, walking those cobbled streets and surrounded by 100s of years of history very soon.

Grazie mille, Thank you so much for listening. If you havent already, please subscribe to our show and let us know how we’re doing by providing a review. Grazie, we appreciate your support and ciao for now!

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