The first time I found myself in San Niccolò, I was 19 years old, had my iPod stuffed in my ears, and was letting my mind get lost in the windows of the antique shops of the Oltrarno. As I headed east, I let workshops with their doors ajar, begging for stolen glances, and windows sparkling with artisan jewelry lure me down Via dei Bardi. Eventually, my wanderings led me to a piazza that was a most pleasant surprise. Friends and family lingered in restaurants and wine bars. Tables and chairs spilled into the traffic-less piazza. Bambini played pick-up games of soccer with their puppies. The church bells chimed reminding everyone that time was passing, but no one seemed to mind. The imposing Porta San Miniato set the scene with a medieval mason backdrop accented with ivy. It seemed completely possible that at any moment a little birdie would land on my shoulder, sing me a song and offer to fix my hair for the ball, solidifying that this was, in fact, a fairytale.
The charming piazza belongs to the equally charming neighborhood of San Niccolò. After only a few trysts with the area, it became apparent that, piece by piece, the neighborhood was stealing my heart. Take this as a warning or take it as an invitation – here are 10 ways San Niccolò will steal your heart, too.
1. The Tower
Towers, uhhh! Of course we’re gonna love this place. To these history-intrigued girls, a tall tower in Florence always means a good story. The Torre San Niccolò was constructed in 1324 as the bustling metropolis of Florence expanded across the Arno. For centuries, the tower watched as enemies approached and foreign trade entered. Today, it probably just watches the strapping young rowers practice (I’ll take it).
2. Piazza Poggi
Piazza Poggi claims the tower, which kind of makes it fantastic by default. But don’t let that take away from the loveliness of the rest of the piazza. In the summer, outdoor bars populate the base of the tower, fountains dance in the grottos lining the south side, and ducks splash in the multiple ponds. Climb the steps that lead you to the top of the grottos. Here you’ll find a teaser of the view that awaits only a few more flights up at Piazzale Michelangelo.
3. Arno Beach
A hop and a skip across the Lungarno lies the Arno beach. Ok, so it’s not a tropical, white-sand beach. But with beach volleyball courts, ping-pong tables, summer night movie screenings and a bar, there’s no reason we can’t become beach bums and hipsters all the same.
4. Piazza San Niccolò
Piazza San Niccolò is the perfect place to pass an afternoon or party in the streets at night. When it comes to food, pick your poison – Il Rifrullo, Bevo Vino, and Antica Mescita are our favorites. Grab a seat, grab a gelato, and stay awhile.
5. Fountain for Dogs
Love x 10.
6. Porta San Miniato
Casting a shadow on the fontana per cani is the imposing old city wall and Porta San Miniato, which will lead you up to Piazzale Michelangelo and San Miniato al Monte. You could blaze through if you want, but we encourage a moment with the wall itself. In the midst of modern Florence, these fossils remind us of the many layers of Florence’s past.
7. Rose Garden
Just past the gate is the Rose Garden of Florence. Bop through a secret-garden-style door and bask in the tiered grounds exploding with color, perfumes, and views to boot. Technically, the garden is only open May, June and July between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., but Meg and I definitely paid it a visit on our September trip. I don’t think we broke in?
8. Clet Abraham’s Workshop
If you haven’t heard of Clet Abraham, you surely know his work. This street artist is renowned for his clever hijacking of street signs, now featured all over Europe. Take the opportunity to pop into his workshop, located just off of Piazza San Niccolò. Here you can buy prints, stickers, or postcards of his more popular pieces; check out large-scale works; and, if you’re lucky, watch Clet work on his latest project.
9. Piazza Demidoff
Facing the Arno, Piazza Demidoff is a great place to grab a bench, take in the view, and watch Florentines bustle along the Lungarno. The centerpiece of the piazza is a monument to Nicolaj Demidoff, the Russian ambassador in Florence during the mid 19th century. The green piazza is a lovely garden in the spring and summer, as well as an outdoor bar. Just outside the green space are some of our favorite digs for a bite, including Negroni and I Tarocchi.
10. Church of San Niccolò
Last, but certainly not least, is the neighborhood’s namesake, the church of San Niccolò. Understated, simple churches are my favorite, and San Niccolò fits the bill perfectly. The 12th-century church was constructed by the monks of the nearby San Miniato al Monte. Behind the doors of the simple facade, the church bursts with art by big Florentine names like Neri di Bicci, Pollaiolo and Michelozzo. Although the church may remain in the shadows of other heavy hitters, little San Niccolò’s especially clamorous chimes insist on not being forgotten. And don’t you worry San Niccolò, we simply couldn’t forget you.
So pay this neighborhood a visit. Despite the chiming bells, I hope you lose track of time, lose yourself, and lose your heart to San Niccolò.