When I first came back to Florence after a whirlwind honeymoon and visit back to my hometown in Texas, I wanted to plan out a sort of editorial calendar for the blog. Most of the time, posts are generated from a whim, a sort of ‘ahah’ moment when I least expect it. Asking my readers, you guys, for tips on what you’d most like to see really helped me in planning this year’s posts, beginning with cool things to do in town (like these free or almost free museums) and more in-depth neighborhood guides. I decided to start with a homage to Santo Spirito neighborhood, a personal favorite area and one that is brimming with cool spots. Just strolling down the street, you can see anything, people having conversations on the street, vespas whizzing by, buying fruit, people slowly and steadily sweeping their storefronts. This place is real life folks, and where I hope to always be in our continuing Florentine adventures.
Before reading, I also recommending checking out these previous posts based in the same side of the river, known as the ‘oltrarno’ that you might have missed.
- Where to Shop in the Oltrarno
- Urban hiking in The Oltrarno
- Where to eat five minutes from the Ponte Vecchio
- Palazzo Belfiore – Oltrarno At Your Doorstep
- Florence’s Artisan Quarter – Up Close & Personal
- Fresco painting 101 in Florence, Italy
Uhh…Where Is It, Anyway?
For purposes of a sort of ‘guide’ the first question is where the hell is this place anyway? I will be adding a customized google map below with all of the suggestions mentioned in this post added to make it all easier to save. But in this post, I am sticking to the area stretching from ponte santa trinita to ponte carraia, and the area surrounding piazza carmine. Main streets include via maggio, via di santo spirito, via serragli, via delle chiesa, via santa monaca. The area by Palazzo Pitti, San Frediano, and Tasso will be, alas, for another day.
The best way I can describe this quartiere is as a lively resident enclave south of the river, centered around the Santo Spirito church in the sixth sesto of Florence. When I was a student and my Italian sucked — I used to call it ‘Santa (as in Santa Claus) Spirit’ piazza. The pros is that it has plenty of local color and atmosphere — small shops, restaurants, local artisans, and bottegas that represent the Italian spirit that many of us adore. The cons are that the square can be really noisy at night with people sitting on the steps with their Gusta pizza boxes and beer during the summer months and its fair share of harmless drunks. If you avoid sleeping in the square itself, you’ll likely adore this neighborhood just as much as I do. Purposely get lost and embrace it.
What To See
First things first — the glaringly obvious Santo Spirito Church open every morning except Wednesday,9.30am – 12.30pm. Ignore the fact that people love to instagram the facade (designed by Brunelleschi), the weird thing is that many never make it inside the church. It dates back to the 1400’s, and before then, it was a sort of hodgepodge for an early humanism movement in the city. Not exactly part of the rest of Florence, the area had its share of issues with its mix of noble families and poor laborers ready for a revolt. The church as we see it today was envisioned by architect Filippo Brunelleschi — you know, that guy who is famous for another church in Florence, here is created a cavernous and beautiful space.
This is a shame because it is breathtakingly beautiful and surprisingly ginormous. Notable art pieces can be seen here too, Michelangelo carved a wooden crucifix when he was only 17 year’s old, it now sits in an octagonal sacristy in the west side of the church. Another must see is the Bini-Capponi Chapel, which houses the St. Monica Establishing the Rule of the Augustinian Nuns painting by Francesco Botticini. Also worth a visit is the Cenacolo di Santo Spirito next door, located in the old refectory in the monastery, it’s a cool space.
Another favorite church is that of the Roman-Gothic Santa Maria del Carmine, which is sorely under-visited by the many tourists that visit Florence (open every day but Sunday, 10am-12pm). made famous for the Brancacci Chapel with Renaissance frescoes by Masaccio and Masolino da Panicale, it is of the Carmelite order. in 1771, a large fire took out most of the church but the Brancacci and Corsini chapels remained (fortunately) unscathed.
The square is also a pleasant place to pass time, from morning until evening. There are numerous cafes, including the ‘first’ of hipster joints in Florence, Volume Cafe, the sorta sketchy Pop Cafe, and Tamero. The central fountain is currently undergoing renovation but it tends to be a meeting point of it’s own. People come here with their dogs, to eat their sandwiches or just to chat on the square’s stone benches. In the morning there are a few fruit and vegetable stands and clothes, depending on the day.
Also have a look at the events at the St. Mark’s English church on Via Maggio 16-18 which hosts regular opera performances and various events. They have started a writing group that is worth checking out, I find them extremely nice and approachable even if I am not the churchgoing kind of person myself.
While in the area, pop into one of the many contemporary art galleries (Eduardo Secci Contemporary etc) on this street, they are free to enter and so cool!
A stop at the British Institute ‘Harold Acton’ Library on Lungarno Guicciardini 9 is also recommended, it is a place of learning and a place of comfortable refuge. If you are visiting for a longer period of time, consider taking one of their ‘history of art’ courses which are not only informative to learning about the world around you, but they are also fun — the lecturers are really incredible.
Where to Shop
Ah for the love of shopping, this area is great for small boutique shops and artisan-made goods. One of my favorite streets is via di santo spirito just behind the church on the way to the Arno river, there are so many cool places on this street, some affordable, some not so much. My advice is to wander through the tiny and extremely picturesque alleyways in the area, find a favorite corner — a special shop.
- One of my favorites for jewelry are the ‘one of a kind’ funky pieces of Angela Caputi, who’s shop on via di santo spirito is a lovely foray into her colorful world of beads and statement necklaces. address: Via di Santo Spirito, 58. She is a real success story in Italy, she began creating jewelry in the mid 1970’s, she takes inspiration from 1940’s American films and things that take her fancy. She even has pieces displayed in the Palazzo Pitti Costume gallery. It should be noted that all of her jewelry is made in Italy using Italian products and materials.
- And Company on Via Maggio 60r is always my top place to shop for really nice gifts that have a Florence design edge. The brainchild of my friend Betty Soldi, her calligraphy is everywhere. Beautiful emblazoned upon delicate espresso cups and mugs, plate-wear and purses and even on special notebooks. She is an inspiration, Betty, and I think it’s impossible to leave this store without buying something. They also have upmarket souvenirs.
- Ceri Vintage is always a lot of fun for truly high quality European vintage wear and accessories (think Chloé, Stella Mc Cartney, Burberry). You can also find really cool relics of the past here, this a bevy of the unusual. I highly recommend a visit. address: Via dei Serragli 26/r .
- Anna Fuca Atelier. Ok you probably aren’t going to look for an atelier wedding dress maker every day but Anna is something really special. Originally from Sicily, her little shop on via serragli had me at hello. After spotting her dresses from the window of her studio on daily walks with my dog, I finally worked up the courage to ask her to make my wedding dress, which we did over a period of several months — picking fabrics and going over the design together If you fancy a peek or want her to make your dress, I recommend it! Ps. As soon as I get the photos back from our photographer — I will be sharing them! address: Via dei Serragli, 7.
- One of my favorite local places in this area is Officine Nora – Contemporary jewelry work/shop on Via dei Preti, 4. An artisan co-working space for local jewelers that is so so cool. I’ve visited on several occasions and have to say that their work is incredibley beautiful. Give them a heads up if you plan to visit, and this is the place to get something truly unique. website.
- L’Ippogrifo is a beautiful shop displaying over 500 years of old Florentine techniques etching on copper plates and imprinting on canvas by artist Gianni Raffaelli. He also sells Florentine motif prints and other interesting knickknacks. address: Via di Santo Spirito, 5/r, 50125, open Mon-Sat 10am-7pm.
Where To Eat
There are so many places in this area, I really can’t name them all for fear of writing a ridiculously long post that you will never read. I’m not going to tell you about Gusta because honestly, you’ve probably read about them anyway and I’m not that big a fan, they always insist on speaking to me in English (annoying) and acting like they own the world. Instead, I love the more intimate ‘Da Gherardo’ on borgo san frediano and created a special pizza list here. Instead here are a few foodie options in the area that I personally adore.
- Il Santino, the wine bar that is part of the Santo Bevitore group remains one of the coolest places on via di santo spirito. The tiny interior means you can’t fit big groups, but it is the perfect spot to get a nice wine and cheese pairing, plus go for lunch! It’s never very crowded and they make great panini. I also love Santo Bevitore (next door) as a restaurant though it can be quite packed in the high season.
- Pasticceria Dolcissima on Via Maggio 61 is a sweet-freak’s heaven. I used to go here during my days as a babysitter when the mom’s would send me out with a 20 euro bill and their child to pick out some goodies here. Known for their homemade pastries and superb chocolate, this place is #winning.
- Mama’s Bakery has been around for a number of years now on Via della Chiesa, 34/r and I have to hand it to them. They are consistent with the quality of their bagels/sandwiches and make a damn good pumpkin pie during Thanksgiving. Perfect for girly meetups, brunch, or by yourself with your laptop — they have WiFi.
- Trattoria Giovanni is my go-to spot for lunch in this area. When you call and make a reservation, you actually get Giovanni’s personal line which always makes me giggle. It’s a simple trattoria serving up local Tuscan food such as bistecca (Florentine steak) and sauteed bietole and they do it well, the lunch menu is very affordable (around 11 euros) and they serve plenty of seasonal dishes. Highly recommend Address: Via Sant’Agostino, 38, Firenze.
- Another budget-friendly spot for lunch is the pleasant Vivanda on Via Santa Monaca, 7. I actually hit up this place really often since they always have healthy options and serve organic wine from their own producers. The menu at lunch is only 10 euros and recently I had a delicious pumpkin cream soup and fried goat cheese balls (is there a nicer way to write that?).
- Angiolino Trattoria ai 13 Arrosti is another gem on Via Santo Spirito 36. The cool interior makes it a perfect dinner date and big enough for a group solution, prices remain in the medium range. I actually came here for my rehearsal dinner before the wedding and my family loved it. The food is on the hearty side (ossobucco, polpette) – get the white bean and tuna starter. Desserts are damn good as well. Also it made my friend Coral of Curious Appetite’s best restaurants of 2015.
- At first I hesitated listing Trattoria La Casalinga only because the last time I went was in 2008. However a friend I trust assured me that it was pretty good so it will go back on the list of budget lunch OR dinner places in Santo Spirito. They serve good home-cookin’, Tuscan cuisine with ‘meh’ service. Have you gone recently? address: Via dei Michelozzo 9/r
- A cool vegetarian option is Cuculia Bookshop on Via dei Serragli, 3/r . The interior is warm and cozy, it’s a sort of bookshop and place for cultural gatherings as well as a restaurant. The food is pretty good as well, also ask for the aperitivo platter which is always a great deal.
New And Noteworthy
These are spots that have opened up in the Santo Spirito area within the last few months, I have tried and tested them both and am a fan!
- Gurdulu is a brand-new restaurant that has opened in the ex-CiBi on Via delle Caldaie, 12, just behind Santo Spirito. The retro vibe has stayed, with a little courtyard that looks promising for the warmer months, but the food has very much been improved. With a famous (female) chef Entiana Osmenzeza under their belt, they have created something pretty special here, including a special set of cocktails by Sabrina Galloni and tapas. Nico and I went last weekend for lunch and were floored by the food, the menu is minuscule — basically a compilation of Entiana’s ideas, elevated choices in a casual ambiance. We ordered sweetbreads which might sound daunting being that they are an animal’s pancreas and thymus glands, but served with chestnut, it goes together so well you forget what you’re eating. We also had the ‘rana pescatrice’ (a type of monkfish) with artichokes and potatoes, a sort of trippa tower with shaved truffles and Parmesan. Everything was delicious, and Entiana is a warm, kind soul which reflects in the food she serves.
- A Crudo is my next ‘new and noteworthy’ spot on Via Mazzetta 5r. They just opened this past January, in a space that once once a fish market turned deposit for over 15 years. The ‘star’ of the menu here is their special ‘tartare’, I counted over nine versions and that doesn’t even include the dessert options. I tried a few different ones, my favorite was the ‘Manicomio’ with capers, beef, anchovies, parsley, onion and the list goes on. They also serve up delicious carpacci and tagliere (meat and cheese boards) and Chef Niccolo kind of resembles an Italian Bradley Cooper, not that I was looking ;-).
Also I might have forgotten to mention a new bar in town. Rasputin, the newest ‘secret’ speakeasy has been covered my girl Coral in Vice. I just discovered it recently myself and I am fan. Besides the fact that the ‘door’ is hidden and you feel like you’ve just uncovered a secret world of throw rugs, antiques and vermouth. I won’t give away the address but trust me, it’s worth finding. Call to book a table+39 055 280 399.
For market lovers, Santo Spirito is a real gem. Twice a month there are two popular markets, including an antique/flea version every second Sunday teaming with treasures, and an organic food market every third third of the month. Both are of high-quality and everyone seems to congregate here to pick up their fresh ricotta cheese or bread. Both run from 9am-7pm, it’s a lot of fun so check it out!
A monochrome kind of Friday. Join me and #igersfirenze a fun #instawalk on Sunday, February 21st in our beloved Florence. The plan is to meet at 10:30 in front of the Duomo and then stroll through the streets of Florence to the Oltrarno (which you know I love) until we get to piazza santo spirito where the organic market will be taking place. A great chance to meet, greet and take way too many photos. Hope to see you all there! More info can be found on @igers_firenze 😎
Where To Stay
Obviously with me living nearby, I am hardly a local expert when it comes to hotels. However, if you want to forgo Airbnb, here are some options.
- Soprarno Suites, one of the best boutique hotels in the city, every room is themed and more spectacular then you can imagine. They feature expert calligrapher, Betty Soldi’s beautiful prose and are outfitted with antique furniture and free-standing claw bathtubs. Nico and I stayed here on our wedding night, I couldn’t have imagined going anywhere else. address: Via Maggio 35. Rates start at €125 a night (low season).
- A great 3-star option is the 16th century Palazzo Guadagni in piazza santo spirito. The spectacular terrace offers a beautiful viewpoint of the oltrarno. Rates start from 92€ per night (low season). address: Piazza Santo Spirito 9.
In addition to the eating, drinking, playing and buying, you can actually find useful places for every day life here too. What I mean by that is that there are actual stores to buy things like fruit and vegetables, not just postcards of Florence.
- Hair: Wave on via di santo spirito is where I currently go to get my hair done. It isn’t cheap, but I like the fact that their products are Aveda and don’t fizzle the last remaining follicle off my skull. They know what they’re doing, have actual functioning WiFi and the place is pretty cool. They have a chandelier made of bicycle tires that I wish I could take home.
- Fresh Fruit & Vegetables can be found at the local Ortofrutticoli on Via Sant’Agostino 26-28. This small shop has seasonal picks literally flowing outside of the door and you can be guaranteed of the quality and freshness, plus they aren’t overpriced like the guy around my house on borgo san jacopo.
- Libreria Clichy, via maggio 12r. As so many bookstores close, a new (International) one with over 9,000 books opened last year on via maggio. Clichy is a cool place, yes it’s small but they have a beautiful little courtyard and even invite you to come read and drink free coffee.
- Il Santo Forno is my local gluten-friendly spot in this area, it on Via Santa Monaca, 3r, the baked goods in this very unique and cool space. In fact, you can read more about it on my friend Nardia’s website — Lost in Florence. Everything here is amazing, you can also get a cheap lunch to do (panino).
For those who are looking to have a drink, you won’t be disappointed here. What I like about this area, is that it is a real mix of local Italians and foreigners, a hell of a lot better than anything you’ll find on the sticky floors at Dolce Zucchero.
- My preferred places for a drink in this area include Volume in piazza santo spirito, ignore the service because well, it sucks. They do make a decentmoscow mule and often have live music on the weekends, you’ll like the interior as well. Think purposed furniture.
- If beer is your thing, you have more than one option here – try ‘The Hidden Pub’ in Piazza del Carmine where you can catch the Florentine soccer matches or access free WiFi.
- The second place for beer lovers is Archea Brewery on via serragli 44, it’s one of the best craft beer spots in the city and it doesn’t disappoint.