FLORENCE - NEIGHBORHOODS
About as central as you can get. The Duomo is halfway between the two great churches of Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce as well as at the midpoint between the Uffizi Galleries and the Ponte Vecchio to the south and San Marco and the Accademia Gallery with Michelangelo's David to the north. The streets south make up a wonderful medieval tangle of alleys and tiny squares heading toward Piazza della Signoria.
Santa Maria Novella
On the western edge of the centro storico, this area really has two characters: the run-down unpleasant zone around Santa Maria Novella train station and the much nicer area south of it between the church of Santa Maria Novella and the river. The train station area is the least attractive part of town in which to base yourself. The streets, most of which lie outside the pedestrian zone, are noisy, dirty, and you're removed from the major sights and the action. This area does have more budget hotels and some try twice as hard to cater to their guests and are among the friendliest hotels in town.
Wedged between the train station and the Duomo, it is centered on the Medici's old church of San Lorenzo and its tombs designed by Michelangelo. The vast indoor food market is here, and most of the streets are filled daily with hundreds of stalls hawking leather jackets and other wares. It's a colorful neighborhood, if not the quietest.
San Marco and Santissima Annunziata
The northern limits of the centro storico. Piazza San Marco, now a busy traffic center, and Piazza Santissima Annunziata, the most beautiful in the city. The neighborhood is home to the university, Michelangelo's David at the Accademia, the San Marco monastery, and long, quiet streets with some real hotel gems. The daily walk back from the heart of town up here may tire some, but others welcome being removed from the worst of the high season tourist crush.
This eastern edge of the centro storico runs along the Arno. Santa Croce church is full of famous Florentine art and famous dead Florentines. The church is also the focal point of one of the most genuine neighborhoods left in the old center. The western edge abuts the medieval district around Piazza della Signoria and Via de` Bentaccordi/Via Torta actually traces the outline of the old Roman amphitheater. Few tourists roam off Piazza Santa Croce, so if you want to feel like a city resident, stay here. This neighborhood also boasts some of the best restaurants in the city.
Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti and Palazzo Strossi
The best base for museum hounds, the Uffizi Galleries, Bargello sculpture collection, and Ponte Vecchio leading toward the Pitti Palace are all nearby. It's a well-polished part of the tourist zone, but still retains the narrow medieval streets where Dante grew up.