Experiencing the "Real" Florence: The Oltrarno neighborhood
Walking through the Oltrarno neighborhood of Florence one night, I caught many glimpses of normal life for Florentines, from solitary people walking the dog or biking from work to groups of young people crowded in restaurants, sharing laughs and evening drinks.
No matter what time of the day, the Oltrarno is an authentic slice of life in Florence. Its squares and streets are filled with some of the attractions that the historic center has become famous for--churches, beautiful shops, old palaces--but this area lacks the tourist crowds. One of the best reasons to come here is to look for artisan workshops, where traditional Florentine crafts are still being made by hand despite the next generation's disinterest in continuing such work. Big sights are here, too, including the Palazzo Pitti, Boboli and Bardini Gardens, and the Brancacci Chapel, but plenty of serendipitous moments are waiting if you devote a few hours to exploration.
The Oltrarno district is just across the Arno River. Try crossing the Ponte Santa Trinita, heading for Piazza Santo Spirito (where there are morning markets), then making a loop back toward the Boboli Gardens and even up to Piazzale Michelangelo. Allow time for stopping in shops and cafes.