How to Spend a Day in Oltrarno, Florence’s Coolest Neighborhood!

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When it comes to exploring neighborhoods in Florence, you will be hard-pressed to find one more charismatic than the bohemian enclave of Oltrarno, nestled on the south bank of the Arno River.

caz and girls posing on stairs in oltrarno florence
Exploring the streets of Oltrarno

This neighborhood is a haven for art enthusiasts, history buffs, and seekers of authentic experiences whilst traveling to Florence. Fortunately, it doesn’t take long to explore this bustling neighborhood, so in this guide, we’ve shared how to spend one day in Oltrarno, revealing its hidden gems and captivating sights.

From exploring Renaissance masterpieces at Palazzo Pitti to strolling through the charming gardens, this itinerary will show you how to make the most of your day in Oltrarno. 

What is Oltrarno known for?

view of florence duomo dome between the trees
Florence form Bandini Gardens

Oltrarno is a charming neighborhood located on the south bank of the Arno River in Florence. It’s famous for its rich history, artisan workshops, and authentic local experience. 

It has several beautiful monuments and landmarks, including The Basilica di Santo Spirito, a beautiful church designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, and is renowned for its elegant Renaissance architecture.

It’s also where you will find the Palazzo Pitti, one of Florence’s most impressive palaces, and home to the Palatine Gallery, the Gallery of Modern Art, and the Silver Museum. It’s also where you will find Florence’s tranquil gardens and urban spaces.

bike on Santo Spirito
Piazza Santo Spirito

The Boboli Gardens, which are adjacent to Palazzo Pitti, are known for their lush greenery, ornate fountains, and breathtaking views of Florence. 

The Oltrarno neighborhood has it all; culture, serene nature, and impressive historic monuments. It’s a must visit for anyone looking for things to do in Florence.

One Day in Oltrarno Itinerary

narrow street with colorful buildings on either side in oltrarno

When you’re ready to embark on an enchanting journey through Oltrarno, where art, history, and vibrant culture intertwine, read on to see our one day itinerary for travelers seeking to find the essence of Florence. This is our we spent the first of our two day trip to Florence.

Stop 1: Have Coffee at Coffee: Ditta Artigianale Riva d’Arno

colorful mural on wall of cafe

Get up early and start your day with a coffee and a pastry from Coffee: Ditta Artigianale Riva d’Arno, located on the banks of the Arno, overlooking the Ponte alla Carraia.Coffee: Ditta Artigianale takes pride in sourcing high-quality coffee beans from local producers worldwide.

We also love it because it’s laptop friendly, ideal for digital nomads and those needing a productive workspace.

It also has a vibrant ambiance, where the vibrant decor colors and welcoming staff create a lively and enjoyable atmosphere, making it the perfect place to start your day.

cup of coffee with art on top
Now that’s a coffee

The coffee here is up to our snobby Australian standards. Even though Italy is known as the home of coffee, and I found it to be way better than the USA, I still did not find it as good as Australia…. in terms of flat whites and cappuccinos. Their espressos are good.

But the coffee here was the third wave craft coffee standard that I love.

Stop 2: Eat Gelato at Gelateria La Carraia

savannah with gelato cone

Although gelato isn’t the healthiest breakfast food, there is a really great gelato place next door to Coffee: Ditta Artigianale Riva d’Arno called Galateria La Carraia which is one of the top rated gelato shops in Florence.

This family-run gelato shop has been running since 1990 and is well known to give generous portions. They offer over 30 flavors, including fruity favorites such as strawberry, black cherry and mango, but a popular favorite is the ricotta and pear flavor!

We ate gelato nearly every day of our two weeks in Italy and La Carriaia was my absolute favorite. I had chocolate hazelnut and coffee. I did not know until biting into the ice cream that there were Nutella bombs throughout it. OMG. I can still taste it! 

cup of hazelnut gelato

Did you know that gelato originated in Florence? Another reason to make sure you don’t skip this very important experience in Oltrarno. 

The gelato shop opens at 11.00am and stays open until midnight, so you can come back later if you want to start your day earlier.

Stop 3: Visit Piazza Santo Spirito

fountain in the middle of Piazza Santo Spirito
Piazza Santo Spirito

Nestled in the heart of Oltrarno is Piazza Santo Spirito which is one of the most famous sites in the neighborhood. It stands as a testament to the rich history and cultural significance of Florence’s artistic district. 

Dating back to the Middle Ages, this enchanting square has been a vibrant gathering place for locals and visitors alike. Its historical importance is deeply rooted in the Basilica di Santo Spirito, a Renaissance-style church that dominates the square with its majestic presence. 

dome and yellow exterior of church
Basilica di Santo Spirito

The church and its adjacent Augustinian monastery served as a meeting place for scholars during their early humanistic pursuits. 

Today, Piazza Santo Spirito continues to captivate with its timeless charm, offering a bustling atmosphere, picturesque architecture, and a glimpse into Florence’s storied past. 

Stop 4: Relax in the Boboli Gardens

kalyra and savannah looking at statue of head
Boboli Gardens sculpture

Nestled behind the magnificent Pitti Palace is the Boboli Gardens, which offers an enchanting setting of natural beauty and rich history. 

With its origins dating back to 1418, when Luca Pitti acquired the land, these gardens have evolved over the centuries, shaped by the hands of the Medici family and subsequent modifications by the Savoys. They opened to the public in 1766 and have enchanted visitors ever since.

statue of creature
I love this statue!

Covering approximately 111 acres, the meticulously landscaped Boboli Gardens offer a picturesque respite from the bustling city. Be sure to spend an hour or so exploring the garden’s manicured lawns, fountains, and labyrinths of hedges and tree-lined pathways. 

We walked in from the Piazzale di Porta Romana, the southernmost gate in the 13th century ways of the Oltrarno section, so we did not miss walking up the Viottolone.

caz and savannah looking up at avenue of trees
Looking up at Viottolone

The famous Viottolone is a steep sloping avenue with a series of terraces and tunnels formed by the trees and foliage offering shade and hidden corners to sit down. This large avenue is bordered by cypresses and statuettes.

Be warned it’s steep, but it’s a beautiful road to experience. There are shady side trails beside it if you don’t want to walk in the full sun. The views from the top overlooking the back of Pitti Palace make it worth it! There is a lovely grassy area here to rest under the shady trees or have a picnic. 

view of pitti palace and florence from boboli gardens
View over Pitti Palace
view over florence and lush gardens
fountain in an island
The Ocean Fountain

If you come in one of the other entrances, you’ll arrive at the top of Viottolone so you can walk down to the “Isolotto”, the large pond begun in 1618 and then back up. In the middle of the pond on an island is Giambologna’s “Ocean” fountain. It’s surrounded by three sculptures representing the Great rivers of the Nile, Gange and Euphrates.

We reserved timed entry tickets in advance for Boboli Gardens through Get your Guide. We showed our mobile tickets inthe app at the gate. With Get your Guide you can also cancel up to 24 hours in advance.

Stop 5: Explore the Villa Bardini Gardens

caz and the girls looking at tunnel of vines

Another garden you must check out in Oltrarno is the Villa Bardini Gardens, which offer a captivating blend of natural beauty, cultural heritage, and artistic charm. 

I almost skipped this because I read quite a few unfavorable reviews, saying it was a bit underwhelming. As the ticket to Boboli Gardens includes Bardini and it’s an easy walk between the two, I decided we might as well check it out. 

As soon as I arrived, I said, “Fair Dinkum, some people are hard to please.”

It ended up being one of my favorite spots in Florence. We walked straight up to the Kaffeehaus on the belvedere terrace for an Aperol Spritz break (sodas for the girls) to relax and soak up the views. 

Look at them – aren’t they exquisite?

Mom and daughter overlooking the city of Florence
View from Bandini Gardens
woman looking at views of florence with aperol spritz in hand
view of florence
cypress tree off to the side of view of florence

How can anyone be underwhelmed by that???

Originally built in the 17th century, these gardens have undergone transformations over the years. In the late 19th century, renowned art dealer and “prince of the antiquarians” Stefano Bardini rescued the garden from neglect, adding to its allure. 

It’s much smaller than the Boboli Gardens, at just 10 acres, but you’ll have those picturesque views of Florence from many places in the garden. 

Wander through its enchanting woods, fruit orchards, and meticulously manicured landscapes, and immerse yourself in the harmonious fusion of art, nature, and history that define this garden.

girls walking down tunnel of wisteria
Imagine this colored in purple flowers?

I want to return here at the end of April when the wisteria is in full bloom. Imagine walking down this beautiful floral tunnel of violets and pinks with a fantastic panoramic view over the city. It’s one of the most photographed pergolas in Florence. 

At this time, you may even get lucky and see the baroque staircase bordered by large and colorful irises, the symbol of Florence. 

Bandini Gardens are a serene escape from the city’s hustle. 

Stop 6: Tour the Palazzo Pitti

woman and girl standing outside Pitti palace in Florence
Pitti Palace

Situated on the left bank of the Arno River stands the Palazzo Pitti, one of the finest examples of grandeur and opulence from Florence’s Renaissance era. 

Originally built in the 15th century for the influential Pitti family, it later became the residence of the powerful Medici family. 

We learned on our Best of Florence walking tour that Eleonora di Toledo, the Spanish wife of Cosimo I de Medici found Palazzo Vecchio quite dull, so she bought the Pitti Palace with a small part of her dowry. She wanted those beautiful gardens all to herself. 

There is the private Vasari Corridor, an elevated passageway of about 1 km long that connects Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti.

It was originally built to allow the Medici Family to move between the residence safely and easily in the Pitti palace to the government offices in Palazzo Vecchio. It’s set to reopen as a tourist attraction in about five months. 

manicured gardens at the back of pitti palace
The back of Pitti Palace

Today, the palace houses several museums, including the Palatine Gallery and the Museum of Costume and Fashion. A visit to Palazzo Pitti offers a captivating journey through centuries of art, exquisite architecture, and luxurious interiors.

We highly recommend getting on a guided tour of the palace and Palatina Gallery so you can learn about its history and have a knowledgeable guide point out the best pieces of art. Here is also a private tour of the palace and gardens if you prefer that. It’s also best to reserve your entry ticket in advance, if not doing a guided tour.

Stop 7: Take an Evening Food Tour

people walking streets of oltrarno
Food walking tour

After all this exploring, your stomach must be rumbling, so why not immerse yourself in a culinary journey like no other by venturing on a Tuscan food tour of the Oltrarno neighborhood of Florence. 

Renowned for its vibrant food scene and traditional Tuscan flavors, this district is a paradise for food enthusiasts. By taking a food tour of Oltrarno, you will unveil an array of delectable dishes to savor. Indulge in the succulent bistecca alla fiorentina (florentine steak), or sample the luscious lampredotto sandwich, a beloved street food specialty. 

plate of Florentine steak and potatoes
The famous Florentine Steak
tuscan fiasco with red wine
Tuscan Fiasco

We joined the three-hour Florence food and wine tour, which did involve sampling a lot of Chianti, which is what Tuscany is known for. It also included a stop at the Babae Wine Window (with skip the long line privileges!) 

The food and wine tour was a great way to spend the evening with fellow travelers learning about Tuscan food and culture. 

From fresh produce at bustling local markets to cozy trattorias serving authentic Tuscan fare, Oltrarno offers a gastronomic exploration that will leave you craving for more.

You can see more about this food tour of Oltrano here and read our full post on the food tour experience.

Stop 8: Check Out the Babae Wine Window

lady laughing at wine window
Babae Wine Window

If you take a food tour of Oltrarno, then you’re most likely going to stop by this unique attraction. The Babe Wine Window holds significant historical value as it revives an ancient Florentine tradition known as “buchette del vino.” 

These small windows were once used during the Plague to safely sell wine while maintaining social distancing. 

Babae has embraced this tradition by opening their wine window to the public, creating a unique opportunity to taste local wines in an authentic setting. Yes, you guessed it, it was COVID that helped push it back into Florentine life. 

By visiting the Babae wine window, you can immerse yourself in Florence’s cultural heritage and partake in a centuries-old tradition that brings the city’s past to life.

There will be long lines here so bring your patience. I saw people lining up at lunch time, which may also be an option as the lines were shorter. 

Stop 9: Have Dinner at Borgo San Frediano 

overlooking ponte vecchio and oltrarno neighborhood
Oltrarno and Ponte Vecchio Bridge

If you’re not full from the food tour and you’d like to get a proper dinner, then we highly recommend Borgo San Frediano. Borgo San Frediano is a street that has gained recognition as one of the coolest gastronomic destinations in Florence.

Steeped in history, Borgo San Frediano boasts narrow streets, artisan shops, and local bars that exude a unique charm. As you wander through its lanes, be sure to indulge in the delectable culinary offerings. 

If you would like to try a good Florentine steak, a great restaurant for this is Trattoria BBQ.

Stop 10: Another Gelato at Gelateria Artigianale La Sorbettiera

hand holding cup of chocolate and original gelato

Gelateria Artigianale La Sorbettiera is another gelato haven in Florence that should not be skipped! Unless of course you’ve already had two today from the food tour and Gelateria La Carraia, in that case, we forgive you if you skip this one. 

It was founded in 2007 and is known for its dedication to the art of traditional gelato-making while infusing it with creative twists. 

La Sorbettiera crafts creamy and smooth gelato using pure flavors and no artificial colors. Its dedication to preserving the artisanal techniques of Italian gelato making sets it apart. From classic chocolate and pistachio to innovative fruit flavors, each scoop promises a delightful taste to satisfy your sweet tooth cravings.

We finished our food tour at this Florence gelato spot, and yes, it was our second for the day! It’s Florence, the home of gelato, you have to! 

Here you’ll find the original gelato flavor, so get yourself a scoop. It’s creamy and delicious, like vanilla without the vanilla. You will totally understand that description once you try it. 

Stop 11: Watch the sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo and Church of San Miniato al Monte

sunset in florence
sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo

Finally, it’s time to watch the sunset from one of the most spectacular views in Florence. Perched on a hill overlooking Florence’s Oltrarno district, Piazzale Michelangelo offers a captivating vantage point to watch the sunset over the city. 

This iconic square was designed by Giuseppe Poggi in 1869 during the urban renewal of Florence. It was a gift from the government to the city, allowing locals and visitors alike to marvel at the beauty of Florence. 

The panoramic view from Piazzale Michelangelo showcases the city’s architectural wonders, including the magnificence of the Duomo and the serenity of the Arno River. 

Watching the sunset from this spot is truly special, as the sky is painted with vibrant hues, creating an ethereal atmosphere that perfectly complements the picturesque surroundings.

If you don’t want to walk up the hill, another great sunset spot is on the riverside overlooking the Ponte Vecchio, which comes alive as it’s awash in orange and red hues from the fading sun.

OR, Sunset from the Ponte Vecchio Bridge

orange sunset over arno river in florence

We were too tired from our long days of exploring Florence to walk the 20 minutes up to the viewpoint – next Florence visit, I promise. 

Instead, we saw a spectacular sunset from the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, which connects old Florence with Oltrarno across the Arno Rive, so it’s an easy addition to your day in Florence. 

This iconic bridge was built during Roman times and has a unique design with overhanging buildings on both sides, a tradition that dates back to the medieval period.

golden light on ponte vecchip bridge
Ponte Vecchio and Oltrarno

These shops used to be occupied by butchers, but today they house a variety of merchants, including jewelers, goldsmiths, art dealers, and souvenir vendors.

It was also one of the few bridges in Florence not bombed during World War II. 

Final Thoughts

looking over florence and arno river

Florence is one of our favorite places to visit in Tuscany, but the Oltrarno neighborhood is arguably the best neighborhood in the city for its history, peaceful gardens and fascinating monuments.

It will give you a more local perspective to Florence, although it’s getting more popular with tourists – especially those who seek a little more adventure than standard top tourist attractions. 

Whether you’re a foodie, culture vulture or history buff, there is something for everyone in this bustling neighborhood.

We hope this guide helped you plan your day in Oltrarno and gave you some inspiration for what to see and do. Also see our post on our Florence walking tour, Oltrarno food and wine tour, and these top things to do in Florence.

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