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Why I love the ‘other side of the river’ in Florence

florence italy

When I was a student in 2005, the ‘other side of the river’  or ‘oltrarno’ to the locals was considered a scary place for us young Americani. All I knew about Piazza Santo Spirito was that drug addicts liked to hang out on the steps and that beyond the Ponte Vecchio bridge lay a very different world than that surrounding the Duomo and Piazza Santa Croce. That memory almost always makes me laugh especially now that I spend the majority of my time in the ‘oltrarno’  working, eating – going out or even just getting lost.

When I hear people complain about the amount of tourists in Florence — all I say is well, why not head over to the other side of the river? Sure Palazzo Pitti and Piazzale Michelangelo will be full of those looking for that perfect ‘shot,’ yet it still feels a heck of a lot different from Via dei Servi on a Saturday afternoon.

santo spirito firenze

What is it about this place that makes it so special? Well a number of reasons, and if you cross the bridges of Ponte Vecchio, Ponte trinita, or Ponte alla Carraia  immediately you will feel the difference in atmosphere . A calmer, tranquility is what first comes to mind and a true essence of what its like to really live in Italy. Or at least my Italy. The one that is filled with more Italians than tourists.

Walk past the famous Palazzo Pitti and Boboli gardens and lose yourself on Via Romana, a bustling street full of artisan shops such as Tabasce, L’Abito che Vorrei & Twins and stop at Tealicious or Oronero for tea. I wrote about a December afternoon strolling down this street and at least a few times a month, I find myself back there chatting with various store owners about the annoying rain and attempt to avoid getting hit by buses flying down this tiny street.

There is a lot to see over here. Tons of artisans have made this area their base and on tiny side streets you can spot craftsman working on their livelihood —  it makes you think there is still something to the dying brand ‘Made in Italy.‘  I love spying on people {yes I just admitted that} and this is the perfect place to do so. Actually I think spying/staring is a national pastime in Italy and our ’3 second rule’ rarely applies in most occasions. Everyone likes to a good long look at you. Perche no? 

National Geographic Traveler made this walking itinerary of the area which is a good guide, other wise you can check the outdated, yet in english Oltrarno website. Of course we mustn’t forget about food or this wouldn’t be a blog post by Georgette, would it? 

My top choices to eat in the oltrarno:

Budget

  • Il Chicco di CaffèVia della Chiesa 16r (not far from Piazza Santo Spirito). This is a small non-fancy trattoria where many locals come for delicious, traditional Tuscan cuisine and I love it. Perfect for those looking to mingle with locals and don’t’ want to break the bank. Great value & great food! Open Mon-Sat, only for lunch.
  • Mama’s Bakery, Via della Chiesa 34/r. Just down the street from Chicco, this is the BEST place for bagels and everything an expat might be missing from home – think brunch. My favorite is the club sandwich, yummm – bacon! Open Mon-Fri 8-5pm, Saturday 9-3pm.  Check out my friends Kate & Rob’s post about it here

  • Gusta PizzaVia Maggio, 46r. Small tiny joint close to Piazza Santo Spirito and a favorite among students & locals alike. Why? Because the pizza is damn good (sorry mom) and cheap. My recommendation is to get a pizza and bottle of wine to go and enjoy it under the steps of the Santo Spirito church on a nice night. 
  • La CasalingaVia dè Michelozzi, 9R. Next to Gusta Pizza –  a really affordable and yummy traditional Tuscan trattoria. Make reservations and enjoy the house wine, I really like this place. 

Mid-Range – Splurge

  • Il Santo GraalVia Romana, 70R. I discovered this awesome restaurant because of my good friends who live in this area and I am super grateful to them for it! Tradition meets innovative – the decor happens to be just as beautiful as the food. You can splurge on a tasting menu, don’t be scared to try a non Tuscan wine with your meal ;-)

  • Alla Vecchia Bettola, Viale Vasco Pratolini 3-5-7. (Piazza Tasso area). My friend Annie used to talk about this place and for good reason, it’s out-of-the-way location may seem daunting but it’s worth it! Great meat dishes and pasta, I would make reservations as the interior isn’t very big. 
  • ‘O MunacielloVia Maffia, 31. I was just here the other night and though the interior felt a bit like the oven where they make their pizzas, it’s still well worth going. Inside it is as if Napoli {or what we would like to think of it} exploded, in the entryway stands a creepy, yet affable drunk statue who I am assuming is this  ‘Munaciello’. They are known for napolitano pizza and seafood – this is a nice place to take people, don’t forget to make a reservation!

22 thoughts on “Why I love the ‘other side of the river’ in Florence

  1. Thanks for this post. Two years ago, we spent a month in an apartment on Via della Chiesa and I LOVED the neighborhood. Your post makes me long to be walking those streets again!

  2. When a friend and I visited, we did head over to the “other side” so I could see Masaccio’s frescoes. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a map with me. We found the church, but got hopelessly lost looking for the Boboli Gardens.

    I had done surprisingly well without a map in the center, thanks to my familiarity with Renaissance-era maps and where different spots were in relation to each other. Sadly, I hadn’t looked as closely at the maps of the other side. It became a running joke for us afterward that there were dragons on that side of the river. :) I still want to go back, though.

    • I like that idea of ‘dragons’ lol, we were seriously scared to go there when I was a student and now I can’t imagine my life in Florence without at least a trip or two a week to via romana or santo spirito! I have lived here for six years and STILL get lost (especially now when there is construction work going on.. everywhere!)

  3. I can’t wait to explore more of the Oltrarno on our visit in October. Can you tell me if there is still an art gallery Calzolari at 16 Via Dè Guicciardini? I purchased a painting there back in 2003 and would love to visit again. But I can’t find anything saying it still is there.

    • Ciao Greg! October is a really fabulous month to be in Florence, I always encourage people to visit in October/November, usually there are some cool festivals going on during that time as well (and in September). As per your question, I honestly can’t find anything on it so perhaps it’s not around anymore?

      • I am currently renting an apartment for the week at number 18 Via De Guicciardini above the ceramics shop and the art gallery Calzolari is next door. Beautiful work!

      • Just got back from two fabulous weeks in Florence. Spent many a morning having coffee in Piazza Santo Spirito at Volume. Had a great meal at 4 Leoni and Gusta Pizza was our first stop for pizza. Also found the Calzolaris Gallery. Miss Florence already….

  4. I just discovered your blog and am really enjoying it. I’ve been coming to Florence for shorter and longer periods for 5+ years now and as my partner lives there, I know the city well (and the Oltr’arno has always been my favourite favourite place). I’m still living in my home country, as I have a career I don’t want to leave…but sigh.. I’ll be visiting for the month of May at least and will take many strolls across the river. It’s funny – I was searching for similar material to what you’re offering on this blog, but about 4 years ago. Good for you for leaping up and filling that niche! You’re doing a great job. PS Munaciello is definitely the character at the entrance to the restaurant. My boyfriend is from the south of Italy, though not Napoli and he’s told me the significance several times…unfortunately, I did not absorb the details, but he’s some sort of a harbinger of luck. I like the numbers and symbols on the placemats, which I know some people use to select lottery numbers.

    • Ciao Stephanie! Thank you for your kind words and for stopping by. I actually think building up a career in your home country and visiting Italy is probably the smartest thing to do since here it is very very difficult to get a ‘good’ job and support yourself. I have heard the same about the famous drunken ‘munaciello’ – it does make for a pretty hilarious entrance to dinner!

  5. This blog is great! Thank you. Am moving to Florence next September to start my art school studies at the Angel Academy of Art…looking forward to living in Italy for 3 years and eating my way around the city!!

    • Thank you Virginia. That is very exciting coming to Florence to study art, you will absolutely find inspiration everywhere, I certainly do.. Good luck with your move and study up on your Italiano! :-)

  6. I feel at home in Oltrarno. Now I am looking to come back in the spring of 2014 and would like to stay for 2 months. Help please. Like to be in a very quiet section, with a garden where I can sit outside this time. I missed that very much a few months back.
    I have been looking. No more than 20 stirs. Thank you,

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