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Winter day scene at famous piazza santo spirito at oltrarno district in florence city, Italy
Photograph: Shutterstock

What to do in Oltrarno, Florence’s coolest neighbourhood

Escape the crowds of Florence's biggest tourist attractions and discover the joys of Oltrarno instead

Livia Hengel
Written by
Livia Hengel

Florence is one of the most popular destinations in the world, but if you’re heading there for a holiday, don’t just have its most famous attractions on your list. There’s a whole other side of Florence that you might not know about, but trust us, you’re sure to fall in love. If you want to really experience local life in Florence, you’ve got to pay Oltrarno a visit. 

Just a short wander from the city’s centre, you’ll find this vibrant neighbourhood, full of artisanal boutiques, trendy eateries and plenty of people-watching spots. Culture lovers will admire the art galleries here, and nature people will find ample parks and gardens to explore. This part of the city runs from Santo Spirito to San Frediano, and you can walk the entire thing (in fact, we recommend you do). Here’s our guide to the picturesque alleyways, historic venues and Renaissance architecture of Oltrarno. 

Full guide to the coolest neighbourhoods in the world
🍝 Everything you need to know about visiting Florence

If you only do one thing…

View of people looking out over Florence from Piazzale 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 is one of Florence'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 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 it is 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 the Porcelain Museum (temporarily closed for refurbishment) is well worth a visit. 

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 pasta. 

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

For a trendy night out, Michelin-starred Il Santo Bevitore serves elegant dishes and boasts an excellent wine list: the dim lighting and candles make it a splendid 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 of 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 favourite 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 Tuscany’s oenological heritage. 

For everything from coffee to cocktails, Ditta Artigianale is a favourite, 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 neighbourhood is only a 10-minute walk from the Florence Cathedral.

What else is nearby?

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

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