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What to do in Oltrarno, Florence’s coolest neighbourhood

The spirited Oltrarno area is packed with some of the best restaurants, bars and things to do in Florence. Here’s our insider’s guide

Piazza & Chiesa Santo Spirito, Oltrarno
Photograph: Archphotos / Shutterstock.com
By Livia Hengel |
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What’s the deal with Oltrarno?

Florence may be one of the world’s most popular destinations year-round but even here, it’s possible to experience local life just steps from the main attractions. Leave the crowds behind at the Duomo and wander over to Oltrarno, a vibrant neighbourhood where Florentines have been hiding out for years. Filled with artisanal boutiques, art galleries and trendy eateries – not to mention, ample parks and gardens – it will please culture hunters and nature enthusiasts alike.

This expansive part of the city runs from Santo Spirito to San Frediano and is best explored on foot: don’t be afraid to get lost in the picturesque alleyways and enjoy the neighbourhood’s unique mix of historic venues and Renaissance architecture punctuated by contemporary art galleries and plenty of whimsical street art.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the 50 coolest neighbourhoods in the world

If you only do one thing…

Piazzale Michelangelo. Photograph: ShutterstockPiazzale Michelangelo. Photograph: Shutterstock

Piazzale Michelangelo draws a crowd for its panoramic terrace but if you’re willing to put in an extra effort, make your way further up to San Miniato al Monte. Built between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, this Romanesque church lies on one of the highest points in the city and offers the most impressive view of Florence.

Get cultured

Step into the opulent Palazzo Pitti for a glimpse of the noble Medici family's impressive wealth. Home to Renaissance paintings by artists such as Raphael, Titian and Perugino, it’s one of the city’s must-see museums.

With its distinctive blue walls and stylized ceilings, the Stefano Bardini museum is also worth a visit. It’s a quirky little spot, with unique pieces Stefano Bardini, an Italian connoisseur and art dealer, collected over his lifetime.

Nearby, the sixteenth century Forte di Belvedere hosts some of the city's best contemporary art exhibitions, from sculptural installations to photography expos.

Soak up the sun

With its famous wisteria walkway, you can’t miss a visit to the elegant Villa Bardini in the springtime, though its enchanting at any time of the year.

Behind Palazzo Pitti, the Boboli Gardens are an expansive park featuring fountains, sculptures and manicured lawns. The small Rose Garden has 400 varieties of roses you can visit for free and Piazzale Michelangelo remains one of the liveliest viewpoints in the city.

Eat here

Il Santino. Photograph: Il SantinoIl Santino. Photograph: il Santino

With exposed brick walls, white tablecloths and a refined menu, Osteria dell'Enoteca pays homage to tradition while adding a contemporary spin to the classics.

For more of an old-school vibe, Trattoria La Casalinga is a no-frills, family-owned restaurant that serves an excellent Florentine steak and hearty pastas.

A new wave of vegan and vegetarian restaurants have taken over Florence so head over to Carduccio and L'OV for seasonal, healthy fare that will please omnivores and carnivores alike.

For a trendy night out, Il Santo Bevitore serves elegant dishes and boasts an excellent wine list: the dim lighting and candles make it a nice spot for a romantic evening. And if you feel like finding out more about the art of cooking on your trip, you can pop next door to its even more intimate sister venue Il Santino to get a taste for the local produce.

Drink here

Florence is renowned for its atmospheric wine bars and some of the best watering holes lie in the Oltrarno neighbourhood. Located steps from the Ponte Vecchio in a small piazza, Le Volpi e l'Uva is a favorite local spot for a glass of wine al fresco accompanied by a tagliere with fresh cheeses and cold-cuts.

With a view of Palazzo Pitti, Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina has prime real estate and is open from noon through dinner so it’s a great place for a drink and bite at any hour of the day. The wine tasting flights are a great way to learn more about Tuscan’s enological heritage.

For everything from coffee to cocktails, Ditta Artigianale is a favorite, while night owls should flock to Rasputin for a late-night speakeasy experience.

How to get to Oltrarno

Head south from the Santa Maria Novella train station and cross any of the bridges to reach Oltrarno (or hop in a cab for €15). The neighborhood is only a 10-minute walk from the Florence Cathedral.

What else is nearby?

The centro storico, or historical center of Florence, lies only a bridge away from Oltrarno so it's easiest to explore both areas on foot.

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