A rare breed of European city, the Tuscan capital of Florence is small and compact. Its urban fabric has scarcely changed since the Renaissance, making the bulk of it a living outdoor museum. Despite the extravagant littering of treasures city-wide, each neighborhood has its own style, mood, lifestyle vibe. Here's our guide to creating your own dolce vita.

Duomo and Piazza della Signoria

Best for sightseeing, cafe life and shopping

Hub of the Renaissance and the cosmopolitan heart of modern Florence, the cinematic maze of ancient narrow streets between the Duomo and Piazza della Signoria packs a Herculean punch, historically and culturally. The historic neighborhood dates to Dante, the Romans and beyond – there is a reason why it is a Unesco World Heritage site – and this is where the bulk of blockbuster sights and relentless tourist crowds are.

Climbing up inside Brunelleschi's cupola at the cathedral or scaling its bell tower are Florence essentials, as much for the unmatched panoramas you get of this historic neighborhood as their historic value.

Cafe life buzzes (the historic cafes of Piazza della Repubblica are prime coffee-and-cake terrain), as does shopping which climaxes with sleek designer strip Via de' Tornabuoni. Nicknamed the "Salotto di Firenze" (Florence’s Drawing Room), the elegant street is chock-a-block with historic palazzi, big-name fashion boutiques – and locals from late afternoon who gravitate here to enjoy their ritual passeggiata (early-evening stroll).

Accommodation options are equally refined. Most of Florence’s most luxurious hotels are here, many riverside with rooftop terraces overlooking the Arno, alongside a liberal scattering of comfortable midrange addresses.

Famous Fountain of Neptune on Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Italy
Head to the center for a sightseeing extravaganza around the Duomo and Piazza della Signoria © canadastock / Shutterstock

San Marco

Best for escaping the crowd

A welcome air of peace and tranquility pervades this academic neighborhood, centered around Florence’s prestigious university. With the exception of the street fronting Galleria del’Accademia – usually filled by a queue of David-hungry tourists waiting to view the bewitching Michelangelo masterpiece –  capacious San Marco feels far removed from the madding tourist crowd. Its other museums provide a thoughtful snapshot of life in Florence several hundred years ago and are hands-down Florence’s most spiritually uplifting, provocative musei. The neighborhood squirrels away a handful of elegant boutique hotels in historic palazzi,  but eating and drinking options are limited.

Santa Maria Novella

Best for cheap hotels and budget dining

First port of call for most visitors to Florence, this is Florence’s train-station neighborhood. State-of-the-art airport trams also glide in and out of here. The rough-cut (for chichi Florence – it’s all relative) streets around Stazione di Santa Maria Novella are peppered with no-frills trattoria, hostels and one- and two-star hotels.

In keeping with the city’s egalitarian spirit, the neighborhood has its fair share of museums and monuments, including the green-and-white striped marble basilica after which Santa Maria Novella is named, Florence’s modern-art museum, and a 17th-century perfumery-pharmacy whose herbal lotions and potions now sell worldwide (its oldest concoction has cured zillions of Florentines of hysterics over the centuries). A miniature version of Christ’s Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is the neighborhood’s most exquisite hidden gem

Moving away from the train station area and functional cafes on Piazza di Santa Maria Novella, a labyrinth of narrow old-world streets kick in. Boutique shopping here, intermingled with attractive dining and drinking options, is among the best in Florence. By the river, the budget-conscious linger on Ponte Santa Trìnità with cones of gelato, or a bottle of wine, and killer sunset views.

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Mural Paintings on the ceilings of the Medici Chapels,in Florence, Italy.
The detailed mural paintings on the ceilings of the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence © Conde / Shutterstock

San Lorenzo

Best for market shopping and Medici bling

Unpolished and robustly down-to-the-earth, San Lorenzo feeds on the hubbub and chaotic lure of Florence’s covered central food market. Open-air stalls selling cheap leather fill surrounding streets and those leading to the neighborhood’s cornerstone church, Basilica di San Lorenzo. This is one of the best spots in the city for traditional Tuscan fare, cooked up in old-school trattorie seemingly here forever.

Contrasting with all this gritty local life is the glitzy burial place of the Medici dynasty, inside their old parish church. Budget and mid-range hotels, some around too long for their own good, are not quite so dazzling. Drinking and nightlife options are mediocre.

Santa Croce

Best for fantastic food and cool cocktails

Meet the epicenter of Florence’s bar and club scene and summer festival hub. Even better, the city’s hipster central is only a short stroll from the blockbuster sights in the historic center, yet rarely mobbed by an over-zealous tourist crowd. Florence’s most legendary chef Fabio Picchi rocked up here in the 1970s to open his fine-dining restaurant and neighboring trattoria Cibréo, and the neighborhood has lived up to its reputation of culinary excellence and innovation ever since (his fun, eccentric and wildly creative Il Teatro del Sale broke every rule in the book when it opened in 2003). Be it takeaway pizza or panini, tripe from a truck, brunch or gastronomic dining, this is your ’hood, foodies!

Intimate street markets inject Santa Croce with buckets of local vibe and this is the neighborhood where Florence’s burgeoning craft coffee and cocktail scene was pioneered. Accommodation options are surprisingly thin on the ground, but worth the hunt. Beware of rooms facing cafe- and bar-ringed piazzas – they can be noisy until late.

A fresh produce market with some local shoppers in a narrow alley in Florence.
Get off the beaten track for more local experiences like this fresh produce market down a narrow alley © Kirk Fisher / Shutterstock


Best for artisan craftsmanship and boutique stays

Oltrarno means "other side of the Arno" and this is precisely where this traditional artisan area is: south of the river and west of emblematic Ponte Vecchio. Botteghe (artist workshops), boutiques, art and antique galleries, fashionable restaurants, and wine bars, hidden cocktail-fueled speakeasies, and the occasional medieval tower line its old-world streets – paradise for art and craft enthusiasts, foodies, night owls and anyone who prefers a go-slow, explorative pace. Outstanding accommodation – unique boutique hotels, stylish apartments and creative-run guesthouses – exude the same artsy vibe.

Amblings kick off a twinset of piazzas: Piazza Santo Spirito, with its Brunelleschi-designed basilica, outdoor farmer markets, summer concerts and cafe terraces; and Piazza del Carmine where Cappella Brancacci showcases incredible frescoes. West of Santo Spirito, bohemian San Frediano is a hotspot for trendy new eating and drinking openings.

Boboli and San Miniato al Monte

Best for green space, peace and panoramic sunsets

This soothingly spacious neighborhood embraces the eastern end of the Oltrarno and is the place to be when museum fatigue and/or tourist overload hits. Admittedly, it’s almost impossible to ignore the museums inside Renaissance heavyweight Palazzo Pitti, but the reward is peaceful strolling in some of the city’s most fantastic city parks.

Small shops, cafes, restaurants and wine bars are concentrated in San Niccolò, the village-like riverside area east of Pitti. Come dusk, cinematic terraces to watch the sun set are uphill in hilly San Miniato al monte: with a fake David on Piazzale Michelangelo, on the terrace of Basilica di San Miniato al Monte or higher up again at Forte di Belvedere.

Safety recommendations and restrictions during a pandemic can change rapidly. Lonely Planet recommends that travelers always check with local authorities for up-to-date guidance before traveling during Covid-19.

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Florence's must-see museums: from the sublime to the Renaissance
Florence's most fantastic parks and gardens
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