The Oltrarno—literally “across the Arno”—stands apart from Florence’s busy central and eastern quarters. Traditionally a blue-collar district, it retains a peaceful and workaday atmosphere, full of artisans’ studios, antiques stores, bars, and small restaurants. At the same time it features plenty of historic sights, not least the art-filled Palazzo Pitti and the church of San Miniato al Monte.
Start your walk at the (1) Ponte Vecchio, a picturesque bridge that dates from around 1345. Across the river, turn at the second right and follow Via di Santo Spirito and Borgo San Frediano to (2) Santa Maria del Carmine in Piazza del Carmine. The church is known for the Cappella Brancacci and Masaccio and Masolino’s pioneering early Renaissance frescoes (begun 1424).
From the east side of the piazza in front of the church take Via Santa Monaca and Via Sant’Agostino to Piazza di San Felice and Piazza de’ Pitti. The latter is home to the (3) Palazzo Pitti (www.palazzopitti.it), a vast former Medici palace that contains several galleries, including the standout Galleria Palatina.
Walk north out of the piazza on Via de’ Guicciardini and visit the church of (4) Santa Felicita in Piazza di Santa Felicita. This is one of Florence’s oldest churches, built on the site of a fourth-century basilica. Inside, it contains paintings dating to the 1500s by Jacopo Pontormo, known for his vivid use of color and unsettling compositions.
To the east and behind the church, take Costa di San Giorgio, a pretty lane that climbs steeply, with the former home of the scientist Galileo near the top at No. 19. Just beyond the house on the right at Via del Forte di San Giorgio is the entrance to the (5) Forte del Belvedere, a 16th-century fortress that formed part of the city’s outer defenses.
Turn left on Via del Belvedere, which follows part of the old city walls and offers lovely views to the Tuscan hills. At the bottom of the hill turn right on Via del Monte alle Croci.
At this point, Jonathan Buckley, co-author, The Rough Guide to Florence & Siena, recommends stopping for a drink and a breather at the wine bar-osteria Fuori Porta (Via del Monte alle Croci 10R; tel. 39 055 234 2483. www.fuoriporta.it).
Then turn almost immediately left up the stepped Via di San Salvatore al Monte. At Viale Galileo Galilei, turn right and walk up the steps to the 11th-century church of (6) San Miniato al Monte.
San Miniato is one of Tuscany’s finest Romanesque buildings. Highlights in the interior include the pulpit, screen, apse mosaic (from 1297), and the beautifully decorated Cappella del Cardinale del Portogallo.
You can catch a bus back to the city center from Viale Galileo Galilei or walk to (7) Piazzale Michelangelo just north of San Miniato. Enjoy the sweeping city views from the piazzale; then follow the path off its left (west) side down to Porta San Niccolò. Turn left here on Via di San Niccolò to the (8) Museo Bardini in Piazza de’ Mozzi, an unsung but enticing and eclectic collection of art and artifacts.
Subscribe to Nat Geo Traveler
Available in print and for iPad®! See destinations come alive with 360-degree photos, videos, and more!