Florence has a conveniently compact historic center, with its most famous museums and monuments clustered around the Duomo and Piazza della Signoria. Even in this small area, however, there are a number of distinct neighborhoods, each with a unique history and character. Here are our picks of the most interesting to explore.
The heart of historic Florence is San Giovanni, home to Florence’s soaring Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (known simply as the Duomo), topped with Brunelleschi’s iconic dome and sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with its matching baptistery and Giotto’s bell tower. After visiting the complex—including the excellent Opera del Duomo museum—stroll south down the luxury boutique-lined Via dei Calzaiuoli to Piazza della Signoria, or north along Via Ricasoli to see Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia.
Piazza della Signoria
In terms of art per square foot, this neighborhood is a winner. The center of Florence’s civic life for centuries, Piazza della Signoria is home to the magnificently decorated Palazzo Signoria city hall, as well as the adjacent treasure troves of the Uffizi Gallery and Bargello Museum. The Arno River runs along the southern border of the neighborhood, and you can walk across the medieval Ponte Vecchio to the trendy Oltrarno on the opposite side.
Comprising the districts of Santo Spirito, San Niccolò, and San Frediano, Oltrarno is beloved by locals and visitors alike for its pleasing mix of trendy restaurants, historic artisan workshops, and authentic neighborhood atmosphere. The headliner in this cluster of quarters across the Arno River from the city center is Pitti Palace, the Medici’s massive former residence that is now home to a number of excellent museums and Boboli Gardens.
North of the central San Giovanni quarter, the San Marco neighborhood is a less bohemian version of Oltrarno, with up-and-coming eateries tucked between artisan shops and corner groceries that have been there for decades. The biggest attraction here is the Accademia, home to Michelangelo’s David. Walk just a bit further north to Santa Annunziata to take in the eponymous basilica and Ospedale degli Innocenti, a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture.
Santa Maria Novella
Home to Florence’s main train station, this busy quarter is named for the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, a striking Gothic-Renaissance masterpiece that is one of city's most important churches. Take in its beautiful interior chapels and Dominican cloisters, visit the 13th-century Officina Profumo Farmaceutica—one of the oldest pharmacies in the world—and relax with a gelato on one of the benches in the elegant Piazza di Santa Maria Novella.
Bordering both San Giovanni and Santa Maria Novella, the bustling neighborhood of San Lorenzo is Florence’s market district, home to the San Lorenzo street market and the covered Mercato Centrale. Stop in the Renaissance Basilica di San Lorenzo and adjacent Medici chapels to take in some of the city’s finest art and then browse for leather goods, souvenirs, and gourmet treats.