The Oltrarno neighborhood in Florence sits right across the Arno river and is only a short walk from city center highlights like the Uffizi Gallery and Piazza della Repubblica. Escape the crowds and visit stores, museums, restaurants, and gardens that are local favorites and showoff the city’s signature charm.
What to do
Stroll through Pitti Palace & the Boboli Gardens
Pitti Palace doubled as the main residence and private art gallery for Florence’s most powerful family—the Medicis. Their political, financial, and cultural influence is palpable in every room of the Palatine Gallery. The sheer opulence and size of their private art collection rivals that of the world-famous Uffizi Gallery. Every room features gilded frames, ceiling paintings, and artwork from Renaissance giants like Raphael, Caravaggio, and Botticelli.
Next, head behind the palace to stroll through the beautiful Boboli Gardens. Every path leads to an even more beautiful view and the design is so grand that it was used as the inspiration for the Palace of Versailles. Along with the sprawling greenery, there are also sculptures, fountains, and galleries dotted throughout the gardens. Be sure to stop by the Buontalenti Grotto, which sits just to the right of the Palace and is featured in the film Inferno.
Watch the sunset at Piazzale Michelangelo
If you head outside of the city center for one reason, make sure it’s to visit Piazzale Michelangelo. Head up to this hilltop viewpoint with a bottle of wine, a panini, and your camera in tow. You can take a seat on the stone steps alongside the locals and watch the sun set over the Renaissance city as you enjoy your picnic dinner. If you’re looking for a more traditional meal, but still want to enjoy the views, there is a restaurant and a few cafes serving gelato and espresso dotted alongside the piazzale. Often times there are musicians serenading the crowd, which pair perfectly with the views of the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, and Piazza della Signoria.
There are two paths up to Piazzale Michelangelo. One is a direct, steep walk up a long set of stairs and the other is a winding pathway that passes by the beautiful Giardino delle Rose. Travelers can also opt to take a cab, which will drop you off at the top of the piazzale.
Where to shop
Clet Abraham Studio
When you’re on your sightseeing tour of Florence, stay on the lookout for the clever artwork that appears on traffic signs throughout the city. The sometimes whimsical, sometimes funny, but always interesting designs are by artist Clet Abraham. The Frenchman lives and works in Florence and has recently brought his art to the streets of Paris, Rome, London, Barcelona, and more.
If you’re interested in taking home a little piece of Abraham’s art and head to his studio at the right time, you can buy stickers that feature his traffic sign designs. There are no official hours as Abraham is often traveling or working outside of his studio. We recommend stopping by early in the day if you plan on spending an afternoon in Oltrarno. That way if the studio is closed when you visit in the morning, you can loop back later in the day and have two chances to catch the artist at work.
Rive Gauche Shoes
Leather goods are the classic Florentine souvenir. Whether your partner is in the market for a new belt, you know a family member who would love a handbag, or you want to strut around the city in a new pair of shoes, leather goods make the perfect gift. The Mercato di San Lorenzo in the heart of the city is perfect if you’re interested in browsing through a wide variety of leather goods and testing out your bartering skills. For those wanting to splash out on a pair of fine Italian leather shoes, hop over to Rive Gauche in Oltrarno.
The shop is a short walk from the Ponte Vecchio and has a beautiful selection of timeless, functional, and stylish footwear that will stand the test of time. The traditional atmosphere of the store makes it easy to sit down and try on any of the shoes that catch your eye. From ballet flats and sandals to boots, loafers, and oxfords, their selection is fit for every person and occasion.
La Casa Della Stampa Di Sarubbi Lorenzo
Just around the corner from Palazzo Pitti sits this quaint map shop. Behind the unassuming exterior sits a simple store and studio that’s filled to the brim with maps that will delight the traveler in all of us. There are graphic world maps on display as well as more traditional street view maps. Spend anywhere from a few minutes to an hour sifting through the boxes of maps and looking at the pieces hanging on the wall throughout the store.
Since there’s such a variety of maps, it’s fun to compare and contrast the content and style of each. The ones of Florence are particularly interesting because you can see how the city has evolved since it was at the heart of the Renaissance. Whether you’re interested in picking up a piece of art to remind you of your time in Florence or just love looking at maps, this store is the perfect place to spend some time while in Oltrarno.
Where to eat
Beloved by both locals and famous chefs like Giada De Laurentiis, Quattro Leoni puts a twist on classic Italian cuisine. The restaurant is tucked into the corner of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it piazza where Florentines often gather with friends. Despite the fact that’s it’s not on the main road, be sure to make a reservation since this restaurant is on the smaller side and fills up fast.
We recommend ordering the Fiocchetti di Pera pasta dish. The pasta is a cross between gnocchi and ravioli, stuffed with pear, and covered in a creamy taleggio sauce with asparagus. It’s equal parts flavorful and inventive.
Gelateria Santa Trinita
It’s almost impossible to go a day without eating gelato when you’re in Italy. Head over to Gelateria Santa Trinita when you need an afternoon pick me up. The gelateria is at the end of Ponte Santa Trinita and you can enjoy your gelato on the bridge’s pedestrian walkway while admiring views of the Ponte Vecchio to the south.
Their expertly curated selection of flavors offer something for every gelato connoisseur, whether you’re in the mood for a rich chocolate, a fresh fruit, or something in between.
Gusta Pizza is by no means a hidden gem, it was actually featured on the hit show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, but the long lines aren’t just from the fame. The tiny family-run restaurant packs a punch in flavor and atmosphere. The menu has enough options to match the simplicity that Italian pizza is known for, while also still giving you the choice to pick a pie that satisfies your cravings. Insider’s tip—you can request a heart-shaped pizza when you place your order and even watch as the chefs cook your pizza at the wood-fired oven.
If you’re able to snag a seat at one of the few high-top tables, be sure to store your order number under the glass top like the hundreds of restaurant goers before you. If the restaurant is too full, do as Italians do: Order a glass of wine and enjoy your meal on the steps in front of Basilica di Santo Spirito that overlook Piazza Santo Spirito.