As the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence still possesses a creative and passionate energy at its core. For that reason, Florence is a city that you have to fully embrace. You have to try to not be influenced by other people’s ideas about the city and to live the city for yourself. Florence is not a city that you can understand by reading about in a travel guide or even by visiting a few times. Florence is a city you have to breathe in and out. It’s a city that you have to experience with all of your senses.
Your eyes might enjoy the monuments and lively piazzas, your ears might enjoy hearing the church bells that ring hourly or listening to the Florentines speak Italian, your nose might enjoy the odors of the open market and the gardens sprinkled around town, your mouth might revel in the hearty cooking that Tuscany is known for, but all of those experiences don’t add up to feeling the city. To experience Florence fully and be affected by it, you have to absorb its energy.
When moving to Florence, one of the biggest questions is where. Since each area of Florence has its own personality, I suggest that you navigate the streets in the areas that appeal to you. Go to the cafés, the bars, the restaurants, the shops, and the churches. All the places you would normally go to in your neighborhood. Living in a specific neighborhood means becoming a part of it. You want your home to be the place where you can shut the door from the outside world, regenerate, and regroup after being outside navigating and discovering the city.
It’s easy to have an immediate opinion about a certain area; you walk down one street and think, “I could easily live here” or “I could never live here.” However, even though I have lived in Florence for many years, I know it’s difficult to get a feel for an area without experiencing it on a daily basis.
Over the past ten years, I have lived in many different areas of Florence: near Piazza San Marco, just outside of the city past the Fortezza, next to the Santa Croce church, in Piazza Santissima Annunziata, and now near via dei Neri.
I enjoyed living in the area near Piazza San Marco because it was residential, yet still in the center with the Accademia only a couple of minutes away on foot. When I was living just past the Fortezza, I was completely immersed in Italian life and never bumped into any tourists. When I returned to Florence after a five-year hiatus in the US, I moved next to the Santa Croce church. I often went to the Mercato Sant’Ambrogio where I bought seasonal fruits and vegetables along with fresh pasta, meats, and cheeses. I then lived in the Piazza Santissima Annunziata, which was a change of pace for me. I felt far from the center even though I was living in it. About six years ago, I moved to an apartment near via dei Neri where I currently live. This area has a nice balance of being residential and yet touristy. My favorite part about this area is that I am so close to the Arno River that I can head downstairs at any time to walk down the lungarno.
If I were to look for another apartment in Florence today, I would love to experience a different area. Like a facet of a diamond, each area of Florence offers something different. I have imagined myself living in San Niccolò, which has a small-town feel to it, or Santo Spirito where so many artists and artisans have their ateliers. I also find San Frediano appealing because it’s known as the “heart” of Florence.
You can’t go wrong with choosing a neighborhood to live in; no one area is better than the other. You will certainly be forever changed after having lived in Florence no matter where or for how long you are here. My one wish is that you experience Florence to its fullest so that it can leave its mark on your heart and soul forever.
Just three days after arriving in Florence, Melinda Gallo was so taken by the city that she moved her permanently in 2004. She currently works in Paris and splits her time between Paris and Florence. No matter where her path takes her, her heart is and always will be in Florence.