The Duomo -- The area surrounding Florence’s gargantuan cathedral is as central as you can get. The Duomo is halfway between the two monastic churches of Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce, as well as at the midpoint between the Uffizi Gallery and the Ponte Vecchio to the south and San Marco and the Accademia with Michelangelo’s “David” to the north. The streets south of the Duomo make up a medieval tangle of alleys and tiny squares heading toward Piazza della Signoria. This is one of the oldest parts of town, and the streets still vaguely follow the grid laid down when the city was a Roman colony. The site of the Roman city’s forum is today’s Piazza della Repubblica.
The Duomo neighborhood is, understandably, one of the most hotel-heavy parts of town, offering a range from luxury inns to student dives and everything in between. However, several places around here rest on the laurels of their sublime location; you need to be choosy. The same goes—even more so—for dining in the area.
Piazza della Signoria -- This is the city’s civic heart and perhaps the best base for museum hounds—the Uffizi Gallery, Bargello sculpture collection, and Ponte Vecchio leading toward the Pitti Palace are all nearby. It’s a well-polished part of the tourist zone but still retains the narrow medieval streets where Dante grew up. The few blocks just north of the Ponte Vecchio have reasonable shopping, but unappealing modern buildings were planted here to replace those destroyed during World War II. The entire neighborhood can be stiflingly crowded in summer—Via Por Santa Maria is one to avoid—but in those moments when you catch it empty of tour groups, it remains the romantic heart of pre-Renaissance Florence. As with the Duomo neighborhood, you need to be very choosy when picking a restaurant or even an ice cream around here.
San Lorenzo & the Mercato Centrale -- This wedge of streets between the train station and the Duomo, centered on the Medici’s old family church of San Lorenzo and its Michelangelo-designed tombs, is market territory. The vast indoor food market is here, and many of the streets are filled daily with stalls hawking leather and other tourist wares. It’s a colorful neighborhood, blessed with a range of budget hotels and affordable restaurants, but not the quietest.
Piazza Santa Trínita -- This piazza sits just north of the river at the south end of Florence’s shopping mecca, Via de’ Tornabuoni, home to Gucci, Armani, and more. It’s a pleasant, well-to-do (but still medieval) neighborhood in which to stay, even if you don’t care about haute couture. If you’re an upscale shopping fiend, there’s no better place to be.
Santa Maria Novella -- This neighborhood, bounding the western edge of the centro storico, has two characters: an unpleasant zone around the train station, and a nicer area south of it between the church of Santa Maria Novella and the river. In general, the train-station area is the least attractive part of town in which to base yourself. The streets are mostly heavily trafficked and noisy, and you’re a little removed from the medieval atmosphere. This area does, however, have more good budget options than any other quarter, especially along Via Faenza and its tributaries. Try to avoid staying on traffic-clogged Via Nazionale.
The situation improves dramatically as you move east into the San Lorenzo area, or pass Santa Maria Novella church and head south toward the river. Piazza Santa Maria Novella and its tributary streets have a few top-priced, stylish boutique hotels.
San Marco & Santissima Annunziata -- These two churches are fronted by piazze—Piazza San Marco, a busy transport hub, and Piazza Santissima Annunziata, the most architecturally unified square in the city—that together define the northern limits of the centro storico. The neighborhood is home to Florence’s university, the Accademia, the San Marco paintings of Fra’ Angelico, and quiet streets with some hotel gems. The walk back from the heart of the action isn’t as far as it looks on a map, and you’ll likely welcome the escape from tourist crowds. But it’s not (yet) a great dining or nightlife neighborhood.
Santa Croce -- The art-filled church at the eastern edge of the centro storico is the focal point of one of the most genuine neighborhoods left in the center. Few tourists roam too far east of Piazza Santa Croce, so if you want to feel like a local, stay here. The streets around the Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio and Piazza de’ Ciompi have an especially appealing, local feel, and they get lively after dark. The Santa Croce neighborhood boasts some of the best restaurants and bars in the city—aperitivo hour is vibrant along Via de’ Benci, and there is always something going on along Via Panisperna and Via de’ Macci.
The Oltrarno, San Niccolò & San Frediano -- “Across the Arno” is the artisans’ neighborhood, still dotted with workshops. It began as a working-class neighborhood to catch the overflow from the expanding medieval city on the opposite bank, but became a chic area for aristocrats to build palaces on the edge of the countryside. The largest of these, the Pitti Palace, later became the home of the grand dukes and today houses a set of paintings second only to the Uffizi in scope.
The Oltrarno’s lively tree-shaded center, Piazza Santo Spirito, is lined with bars and close to some great restaurants (and lively nightlife, too). West of here, the neighborhood of San Frediano, around the Porta Pisana, is becoming ever more fashionable, and San Niccolò at the foot of Florence’s southern hills is a buzzing nightlife spot. You may not choose to stay around here—the hotel range isn’t great—but when evening draws nigh, cross one of the bridges to drink and eat better food, at better prices, than you will generally find in the centro storico.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.