By: Alicia Peacock Writer & Journalist | Specialist Arts & European travel

It is no secret that Florence is a city that will steal your heart. From the beloved Piazza della Signoria to Santa Croce, the historic centre is hardly short of romance and wonder. However, it is in Oltrarno, south of the River Arno, where authentic Florence truly comes into its own. Treasured by Florentines, this is the district of artisans, antique dealers, Piazza Santo Spirito and historic palaces like the Palazzo Pitti.

Slow your pace as you cross the Ponte Vecchio before entering this lesser-known district. For the best way to discover Florence, is to let yourself be carried by its unique tempo, by the sounds and smells of the Renaissance city. 

Our short guide to the hidden gems of Florence

Start the day in Santo Spirito 

Florentine’s are incredibly proud of Piazza Santo Spirito. The lively square takes its name from the Santo Spirito church attributed to Fillipo Brunelleschi, which houses works by Michelangelo and Filippino Lippi.

A farmer’s market transforms this vibrant square every morning, with stalls selling fragrant flowers, local fruits and vegetables. There is also a flea market here each month where you will find quality antiques, vintage clothes and artisan goods, ranging from Tuscan Extra-virgin olive oil and honey to wine and jewellery. This is a beautiful place to simply sit and be. 

Oltrarno: The neighbourhood of artisans 

For centuries, Oltrarno has been home to the workshops of specialist craftsmen, who once supplied the wealthy merchant and noble families of Florence. To this day, it has remained the district of artisans, where you can still admire goldsmiths at work as well as ironmongers, bookbinders, silversmiths, carpenters and ceramicists. From artfully built chandeliers to Florentine paper and leather products, prepare to be inspired as you explore the historic streets around the Palazzo Pitti, Santo Spirito and Chiesa di Santa Maria del Carmine.

Secrets of the Palazzo Pitti 

Our favourite art consultant and Florence guide, Elisabetta Cappugi, thinks that Palazzo Pitti is the most beautiful building in Florence and it’s hard to disagree. Two of Italy’s greatest architects, Brunelleschi and Vasari contributed to the palace’s design, which was a primary residence of the Medici family for almost 200 years.

The Pitti Palace is home to some of the most important museums in Florence, including the Palatine Gallery on the first floor. The collection contains some of the best 16th and 17th-century paintings outside of the Uffizi, including works by Raphael, Titian, Correggio, Artemisia Gentileschi and Rubens. 

The Silver Museum on the ground floor is housed in the palace’s state rooms and is decorated with 17th-century frescoes by Giovanni da San Giovanni. The collection is made up of Medici household treasures, including rock crystal vases, cameos, silverware and ivory. 

Giardino di Boboli: a garden with a view 

The Giardino di Boboli is one of Europe’s most important Italianate gardens and the greatest open-air museum in Florence. From towering oak trees to wide avenues lined with cypresses and statuettes, this airy garden offers the perfect respite from the Florentine heat throughout the summer months. The vast park is home to countless grottoes, Neptune’s fountain, the Boboli amphitheatre and a botanical garden. Here you will find citrus trees, camellias, roses and jasmine in full bloom to arrest the senses.

Piazza Michelangelo may offer one of the most iconic panoramas of Florence, but the Giardino del Cavaliere (“Knight’s Garden”) is our favourite place to see the city. This beautiful garden comes to life with fragrant and vibrant roses in the spring months and offers views across Arcetri in the Florentine hills and San Miniato. Perhaps it is a simple truth, but a truth worth noting nonetheless — nothing will warm your heart quite like the Tuscan amber glow of the sun descending over Florence.

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