A Guide to Santo Spirito & Oltrarno
Santo Spirito is located “on the other side” of the Arno, an area referred to by locals as the Oltrarno. It is one of my favourite places to eat, hang out, listen to live music, and shop in Florence. Santo Spirito is filled with artisan shops tucked along its quaint streets, has the best live music in town almost every night of the week, and its many restaurants are locally owned, affordably priced and simply delicious! You’ll find locals hanging out every night on the steps of the Basilica di Santo Spirito - if you want to feel like a local, simply grab some bottles of beer from the nearest alimentari and join them on the steps.
Live music abounds: my favourite spots
Santo Spirito has the best live music scene in Florence. An almost nightly hang out for my roommates and I when living in Santo Spirito was Volume, an eclectic cafe/bar where you can drink coffee and eat sweet crepes by day, then enjoy cocktails or wine while listening - or dancing - to the best live bands by night. Music ranges from bluegrass to jazz, alternative, and world music. Volume is located in an old wood shop directly on Santo Spirito square, and with its book-filled walls and armchairs it is bohemian, hipster, and cozy, beckoning you to crawl into a comfy spot, relax and enjoy the dolce vita. If you prefer drinks and food “di fuori”-outside - then there is a small covered outdoor space on the square with some of the best people watching in the city. The square constantly flows with locals, their dogs, hipsters, international students and visitors.
La Cité is another awesome spot just a few streets away. It's a cool library/cafe/study/work spot with free wifi by day and a live music venue by night. The cafe has 2 levels with huge windows facing the street, so it is light and airy within its eclectic library feel. Staff are wonderful and there is always background music to enhance the mood but not loud enough to interfere with work or studies. At night when bands are playing the place is often packed with locals spilling out onto the street.
If La Cite is too full or you don’t like the style of music, you can literally just cross the street and walk into another fun live music venue, Nof Club. Tuesday night is always a Beatles tribute band night, and there are a variety of musicians and DJ’s that play on the rest of the nights of the week. Nof is the only of the venues listed in this post with an actual dance floor, which really takes off in the wee hours of the morning (open until 4:00 am).
Gelato to die for
If gelato is your weakness, there are several gems with delicious homemade creations in the Oltrano. Gelateria Santa Trinita is often packed, so anticipate long lines, but I guarantee it is worth the wait. Every visit I try a new creation/flavor and I have never been disappointed. They are also generous with scoop size when you order a cone so I recommend that over a cup. Another teeny-tiny place that is tucked away and a bit harder to find is Gelateria Della Passera located in Piazza Passera - a square with several lovely restaurants and wine bars. Gelateria Della Passera make seasonal flavors of gelato and every flavor is truly exquisite. On the corner opposite Gelateria Della Passera is a charming wine bar, Caffe Degli Artigiani, run by the same owners as the Gelateria. Caffe Degli Artigiani has excellent wine and on the second floor they have live jazz several nights a week.
My go-to restaurants
Santo Spirito is really filled with many wonderful, locally-owned family ristorante’s, trattoria’s and osteria’s. These are some of my favorites.
If you want fast, delicious and affordable take away, Gusta Pizza is the way to go. Owned by 4 local brothers along with 3 other venues - Gusta Osteria, Gusta Panino, and another pizzeria. Gusta Pizza often has a line out the door, but don’t worry it moves quickly and the pizza is worth it. You are bound to see lots of people eating from boxes of of Gusta Pizza on the steps of Basilica di Santo Spirito.
Tamero Pasta Bar is another one of my favorites for their home-made pasta (you can watch them make it through the windows of the open kitchen), and for their very generous and affordable apertivo buffet. The interior is chic and eclectic, and art and creativity abound on the walls, in the decor, but most of all in the kitchen.
Osteria Santo Spirito is another favorite for their homemade pasta and large covered outdoor dining space. They also have the option to order portions half-sized (great for petite women such as myself trying to watch their pasta consumption!). Upon seating you, they serve you with a generous selection of breads and a delectable olive spread. The best dish of the house is the gnocchi with gorgonzola and truffle oil. It’s amazing, but definitely only order the half portion!
Cafe Ciabria & Wine Bar, also on the square, is another favorite of mine for their kind and friendly service. Their wifi is also free and reliable, and they never seemed to mind me staying after lunch to work on my iPad for quite some time! Their food and wine selection is delicious and seriously affordable. The salads are excellent here too, and very generous portions!
Pitta M’Ingolli is a great spot to sit outside in the sunshine and enjoy a coffee, wine or a spritz and people watch. At night it is really popular for its excellent, well-priced wine and for its outdoor seating. Get a seat if you can.
Back in Piazza Passera, I love 4 Leoni. My favorite dish is their pear and cheese stuffed tortellini with asparagus. I like it so much I order it almost every time I visit so I can’t advise on the rest of the menu as I never deviate, but everything that I see coming out of the kitchen makes my mouth water. They serve food all day, so for non-Italians who are not aware that many restaurants close between 3-7 pm, this place might be a life-saver!