3 reasons Oltrarno is currently the hippest hood in Florence.

Despite its proximity to the well-trodden tourist trails of central Florence, the neighborhood of Oltrarno (literally the “other side of the Arno”), on the southern side of the city’s famous waterway, sees far fewer visitors. For a long time, this residential district of crumbling palazzos and quiet medieval squares had something of a sketchy reputation. That’s all changed in the last year or two though, with the resurgence of the area’s traditional artisan workshops, the arrival of some exciting new dining concepts, and a seemingly endless procession of street parties, mini-festivals and open-air concerts. 

1. Hipster hangouts sit side by side with traditional trattorias

, 3 reasons Oltrarno is currently the hippest hood in Florence.Berbere Pizza Set

Oltrarno is chock-full of charming, authentic eateries. Among the best are l’Brindellone (Piazza Piattellina 10-11/r, +39 0 5521-7879), famous for its Bistecca Fiorentina (you’ll need to book a table in advance), and Trattoria Giovanni (Via Sant’Agostino 38/r), whose rustic Tuscan lunch-set (two courses, plus bread, wine and coffee) for just €11 (S$17) takes some beating.

But in keeping with the spirit of revival that’s swept through the neighborhood, there’s a bunch of more modern spots worth checking out, too: Berberè, a famed Bolognan craft beer and pizza joint, opened in Piazza dei Nerli in late 2014; semi-vegan slow food is on offer at Vivanda (Via Santa Monaca 7); there are some great burgers and pulled pork sandwiches at hipster spot Meat Market (Via Sant’Agostino 23); while new-arrival Gesto (Borgo S. Frediano 27/r) is all about eco-sustainability, with orders written on chalkboards that are then used to serve your food. One of the city’s best gelaterias, La Carraia (Piazza Nazario Sauro 25/r) is also on this side of the river.

2. Street after street of artisanal awesomeness

, 3 reasons Oltrarno is currently the hippest hood in Florence.Photo courtesy of Context Travel

Long the haunt of traditional craftsmen, Oltrarno is a fascinating place to explore on foot, and many of the workshops are enjoying a new lease of life as the area has been re-energized.

Via Romana, which runs alongside the Boboli Gardens, is packed with shops selling handmade cards, stationery, jewelry and more: Tabescè (Via Romana 39/r) is among the highlights. At the end of the same street, the ancient Roman city gate, Porta Romana, was recently reopened to visitors after a decade out of action.

, 3 reasons Oltrarno is currently the hippest hood in Florence.Photo courtesy of Context Travel

The “made in Italy” tradition goes a lot further back than these new arrivals, however. A short walk from coffeeshop Caffe degli Artigiani (Via dello Sprone 16/r) in the charming Piazza della Passera you can find amazingly restored artwork, antiques and sculptures at Bartolozzi e Maioli (Via dei Vellutini 5/r), traditional bookbinding and paper crafting at Enrico Giannini (Via Velluti 10/r), and a wood-sculpting workshop right next door (Via Velluti 8/r).

Wherever you head within the warren of lanes there’s a master craftsperson at work, from bronze-makers (Duccio and Lamberto Banchi, Via dei Serragli 10/r), trompe l’oeil specialists (Stefano Ficalbi, Via Romana 49/r) and intricate jewelry and metalwork (Alessandro Dari, Via San Niccolo 115/r) to high-end, handcrafted shoes (Stefano Bemer, Via di S. Niccolò 2 ). Note that many of these workshops follow traditional opening hours: 9am-12:30pm, 3:30-7pm, Mon-Fri. Context Travel offers curated walking tours of the Oltrarno artisan’s workshops from around $125 for a group tour.

3. The lively, unpretentious after-hours scene can’t be beat

, 3 reasons Oltrarno is currently the hippest hood in Florence.

Stefano Bemer and his shoes are further along the river, in the San Niccolo section of Oltrarno—where bars like Zoe’s (Via dei Renai 13/r) and neighboring Negroni get packed out with the after-work crowd, perfect for escaping the tourist hordes after your obligatory sunset selfie from Piazzale Michaelangelo just up the hill. Elsewhere there are newcomers like The Speakeasy 23 (Via San Niccolò 23), an easy-going bar serving up craft beer, wine and delicious deli items, to a backdrop of live music.

It’s not just nightlife, though. Wander the streets and chances are you’ll stumble across a market, concert or performance of some kind; The Florentine is a useful English language guide to what’s on.

Piazza Santo Spirito, home to a beautiful pre-Renaissance church, is the heart and soul of Oltrarno—like the ’hood itself, it’s a boho beauty that’s still a little rough around the edges. On the second Sunday of the month it hosts a fun flea market, there’s an organic market every third Sunday, and in the summer months there’s a concert or other event on almost every night. Volume (Piazza Santo Spirito 5/r) is a great place for an aperitivo: part-library, part-gallery, this café-bar is one of the hippest spots in town.

Nearby Piazza della Passera also gets lively at night, playing host to an annual series of concerts, outdoor movie screenings and poetry slams in September. Also fun in the summer: Lungarno Cellini, the rather run-down city beach and beach bar along the banks of the Arno.


Where to Stay

We stayed at Hotel Continentale, a beautiful 43-room spot in a 14th century building right beside the Ponte Vecchio, mere seconds from Oltrarno. For sheer location it’s hard to imagine anywhere better: overlooking the Arno (rooftop bar “La Terrazza” gets deservedly busy around sunset) and five minutes’ walk to the Uffizi and central Florence.

Part of the Ferragamo-owned Lungarno Collection (though considerably more affordable than some of their sister properties), their modern take on luxury is a far cry from the city’s traditional pensione, with sleek rooms and spacious suites, and touches of contemporary design cool wherever you look, from black-clad receptionists (service was a real highlight of our stay) and throwback pictures of Florence in the ’50s and ’60s, to solid wooden desks styled like 19th century steamer trunks. Hardly a traditional Tuscan experience, but pretty great value for somewhere so slick and central.

There’s no in-house dining (as if you need it with Florence on your doorstep), but an impressive breakfast spread is served just across the road at Gallery Hotel Art. There’s also an in-house spa, a fitness center with sauna, as well as running maps available at reception for exploring the hills behind Oltrarno. Rates start from $268/night, excluding tax, as part of Design Hotels’ three nights for the price of two package.

Getting There

KLM and Air France both offer return flights for around $1,000-$1,200 return, with a short stopover in either Amsterdam or Paris.

Need to Know

Florence’s street numbering system can be confusing. Residential and business addresses are separately numbered, so the same number can appear twice on one street: the trick is to look for the color: red addresses (where the number is marked with an R) are for businesses, residential addresses are black or blue.