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Moving to Florence

Revered as one of the most beautiful cities in the world and the birthplace of the Renaissance, many of the expats who move to Florence do so to discover and experience the home of great men and women who changed history.

About three hours’ drive northwest of Rome, Florence is the capital of the Italian region of Tuscany and an attractive tourist destination. Millions flock to visit its ancient churches, museums and piazzas each year, and use it as a base from which to explore the surrounding wine region.

Most of the expats who move to the City of Lilies, as it’s also known, take advantage of its popularity as a travel hotspot to work within the tourism industry. Others find jobs in fashion or education or even open businesses of their own. Then there are the thousands of students that arrive each year to participate in study-abroad programmes and short-term courses that explore Italian language, art, history and fashion.

Florence is a compact city, so getting around is easy, especially on foot and within the city's historical centre. With many public green spaces, as well as intriguing architecture found around town, riding a bicycle is also a great way to take in all there is to see and do.

In addition to the city’s charm, Florence has an outstanding modern infrastructure, including excellent healthcare and education. The weather is also relatively pleasant – the city enjoys a humid, subtropical climate and summers are hot and muggy, while winters can be rainy and cool. Although the quality of accommodation in Florence is high, the variety is limited as most people live in apartments.

Expats should understand that with many foreign tourists passing through, locals can sometimes appear unfriendly. Expats relocating to Florence will encounter a beautiful environment filled with history and art, but they will need to develop a ‘go with the flow’ attitude to help them settle in quickly. 

Pros and cons of moving to Florence

Florence is an incredibly beautiful, culturally-rich Italian city that boasts gorgeous weather, incredible food and sights that would wow even the most seasoned traveller. As with all destinations, however, there are ups and down to life in this city, which is why we've created a list of some of the pros and cons of moving to Florence


Cost of living in Florence

+ Pro: It is cheap compared to other Western Europeans cities

The cost of living in Florence is low when compared to other major European cities. Grocery stores sell affordable seasonal local produce, while clothing prices are very reasonable too. Expats will also find that rent is quite reasonable, although the prominence of tourists in the city can hike up prices in the centre.

- Con: Salaries tend to be low

Although the cost of living in Florence is low compared to other places, it may not seem so cheap to people earning locally. This is due to salaries being lower than the average in other European cities. Work can also be hard to find in Florence, and expats may therefore struggle to find a well-paid job.


Lifestyle in Florence

+ Pro: There is plenty to see and do

As a city that is packed with culture and history, it also boasts a high quality of life, with plenty to keep expats busy throughout the year. For those interested in arts and culture, Florence contains many museums and beautiful architectural sites that are well worth a visit. There are also green spaces scattered throughout the city, where expats can enjoy an afternoon in nature. Foodies will have plenty of options to tantalise their tastebuds, and shopaholics should look no further than the countless stores and boutiques spread around town.

+ Pro: Florence is safe

Expats moving to Florence can rest assured that no matter where they choose to live in the city, they will be safe walking the streets day and night. Florence is incredibly safe, with few to no cases of violent crime being reported. Expats should, however, be aware of opportunists, as cases of pickpocketing and bag snatching do occur in tourist areas, although infrequently.


Food in Florence

+ Pro: There is delicious Italian food on offer

As with most Italian cities, the food in Florence is to die for. Expats are sure to find their mouths watering while walking past restaurants in the city; the aroma's wafting towards them from kitchens. They will not find themselves disappointed by the taste either, as Italians are famous for the incredible flavours in every dish. 

- Con: Eating out is expensive 

Once again, due to the large quantity of tourists that make their way through Florence each year, restaurant prices in the city centre can be exorbitant. Expats will find that it's much cheaper to buy local produce and an Italian recipe book and attempt to replicate the dishes themselves. It also couldn't hurt to enlist a local friend into giving them a couple of cooking lessons either.


People in Florence

+ Pro: People are friendly and generous

Despite Florence having a reputation for rude locals, many expats say they have found them to be friendly and generous. Although expats may come across a local that dislikes the influence that tourists are having on their precious city, those who make an effort to learn the language and culture of the people will find locals to be extremely helpful.

- Con: It can be tricky to make good, lasting friendships

As many expats come through Florence for a season or two before moving on, it can be difficult to make expat friends who plan on sticking around in the city. As for locals, an attempt at learning the language will go a long way, and persistence is key. Speaking only English and putting minimal effort into getting to know the culture is definitely not the way to impress potential local friends.


Florence city centre and surrounds

+ Pro: Expats can get around of foot

Florence is a small city, with an even smaller centre, and it's pretty easy to get around the city by walking or cycling. While public transport is useful to get to the outskirts of the centre, as it only takes 30 minutes to walk from one end to another, it's not strictly necessary. And, for that same reason, owning a car in Florence is just illogical.

+ Pro: It is centrally located

Florence is centrally located in Italy and it is therefore extremely easy to hop on a train and travel around the country. Italy’s location in Europe is also ideal for visiting neighboring countries.

- Con: It is over populated

While the city’s many pros make it an ideal destination for people to either live in or visit, they also contribute to why it is so over crowded. The bustling streets are teeming with tourists and locals all year round which can make this small city feel even smaller.

Accommodation in Florence

Securing accommodation in Florence is a priority for new expats. City-centre apartments are usually small, so expats looking for more spacious family homes should explore the suburbs. While foreigners can buy property in Italy, most expats rent, at least initially. 

The key to finding suitable housing in Florence is for expats to base the search on the lifestyle they prefer. If they prefer the hustle and bustle of the city life, then the city centre is for them, though quieter and less touristy areas do exist. There are many areas and suburbs to choose from in Florence. Keep in mind that it’s a relatively compact city, especially in the Centro Storico within the old city walls. The central areas are also more expensive than the outlying suburbs. 


Types of accommodation in Florence

Nearly all of Florence's housing options are in apartment buildings. These palazzi vary in size and some come with balconies, small terraces, cellar storage units or garage space, which will likely cost extra.

Few buildings have elevators, but the air and light are generally better on higher floors. Housing ranges from old buildings to newer structures, and expats are likely to get more space for their money the further they are from the historic centre.


Finding accommodation in Florence

The best place to start a property search is online. Even before moving to Florence, expats should browse web listings or even do a social media search. However, new arrivals should never commit to a lease or put down a deposit before physically viewing a property and getting a feel for the area it’s in.

For students moving to Florence, individuals can contact their institution or study programme to find out about student accommodation.

Once in Italy, expats can work through a local real estate agent or browse the affitto (rental) sections in the newspaper classifieds. There are also frequent advertisements in The Florentine, an English-language local newspaper. 


Renting accommodation in Florence

Most often, new arrivals will be renting apartments in Florence. There are certain factors that one must consider throughout the search, especially given aspects of finding accommodation in Italy.

Furnished vs unfurnished properties

Expats looking for accommodation in Florence have several choices. Apartments can be rented empty (vuoti), without any appliances or light fittings at all, partially furnished (parzialmente arredati) with a major appliance or two, or fully furnished (arredati). Leases

Leases

Normal rental leases tend to be for long periods, usually for a minimum of three to four years, depending on the type of contract. This can be renewed for expats who wish to stay longer. 

Shorter leases are common for foreigners who are in Florence for a short stint of work or study (one to two years) but these are more expensive. Expats staying for a shorter period usually sign a transitional-use contract with a fixed period of between one and 18 months. To enter into this kind of contract, the tenant must prove that they have a legitimate need for temporary housing. Expats working in Florence for a limited time can do this with a copy of their employment contract.

Utilities

Whether or not tenants have to set up connections for utilities on their own depends on their lease. Landlords can include electricity and water in the rent or bill the tenant separately. However, often, these costs are for the tenant and so must be considered when planning financially. Utilities in Italy can be pricey, adding to one’s general cost of living.

Deposits

To secure a lease, expats typically must often pay a deposit of up to three months' rent, but should always visit their prospective flat with the landlord and/or leasing agent before signing a lease to take note any repairs to be made before moving in. 

Areas and suburbs in Florence

The best places to live in Florence

Even though Florence is a relatively small city, expats will find that the areas and suburbs in Florence cater to all types of people. There are options for students who crave the hustle and bustle of the inner city and for families who prefer the peace and quiet of further-out suburbs. Each area has a different feel and expats should be sure to spend some time exploring the different options when looking for accommodation, before making a firm decision on where to live.


Areas for young and single expats in Florence

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San Marco

San Marco is to the north of the Centro Storico and is a mostly residential area that extends to Piazza Indipendenza and Piazza Libertà. The area gets congested with tourists but has a good selection of shops and restaurants, and the university botanical gardens provide some reprieve. Public transport in the area is good, but San Marco isn’t well suited to private vehicles.

Santo Spirito

The residents of this trendy area are a mix of expats, students and artists. Its lively piazza is lined with restaurants and it houses several museums and public gardens. Its narrow streets are lined with shops, but they aren’t easy to navigate by car, so most residents walk, cycle or use buses.

Santa Croce

Santa Croce hosts the Sant’Ambrogio Market – one of the best places to buy local produce in the city. It’s centrally located but tourists passing through are there mostly to visit the Santa Croce church, and the rest of the area is residential. There are plenty of restaurants and bars in the area and because it isn't too touristy, Santa Croce has an authentic Italian feel to it. Still, there are always people out and about, which makes the area feel safe even at night, and there is a vibey nightlife atmosphere with lots of music. For this reason, however, expats who prefer quieter areas may not opt for Santa Croce.


Family-friendly areas in Florence

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San Niccolò

The San Niccolò area offers a unique small-town feel. It doesn’t attract many tourists, except those passing through to get to the Piazzale Michelangiolo, but expats wanting to live in this peaceful area should be warned that rent prices are known to be high.

Novoli

Novoli is a city quarter that offers an alternative to the busy, touristy city centre but still well-connected with public transport links. This neighbourhood lies in the north-western part of Florence and is a perfect, quiet and cosy spot for families.

Via Bolognese

Perfect for expats who want to drive themselves around, Via Bolognese snakes northwards out of the city. It doesn’t attract all the tourist foot traffic like the city centre but its leafy atmosphere has its own attractions, like the gardens of Parnassus. The biggest downside is that residents have longer commutes than their counterparts in the city centre.

Lifestyle in Florence

The expat lifestyle in Florence bursts with the same fascinating combination of antiquity and innovation that makes up the soul of the city. A once-provincial town with its roots firmly planted in history is now a bustling international destination with plenty to occupy the eyes and the minds of those who move there.


Shopping in Florence

Florence is a shopping haven for locals and tourists alike with stores and boutiques that cater to a variety of tastes and budgets. Those looking for haute couture should head to the shopping streets of Via Tornabuoni, Via Roma or Via della Spada, all house well-known fashion designers and luxury goods. 

Rinascente and Coin are two of the most popular department stores found in the heart of Florence. Expats wanting to do all their shopping under one roof should head to I Gigli, a mall just outside of town. Those looking to get away from the crowds will find lots of traditional artisans working in botteghe (workshops) where they create clothing, jewellery, accessories and art.

For groceries, expats will find typical outlets from big Italian supermarkets in Florence, and they can head to local markets such as Mercato Centrale and Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio for fresh seasonal produce. Many ethnic markets have also popped up around town for expats looking for something more exotic.


Entertainment in Florence

With an incredibly rich cultural history, Florence is home to several well-known museums, including the Bargello Museum, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo and Museo di San Marco. There are also plenty of churches, monuments and piazzas, as well as modern art galleries such as Galleria dell’Accademia and the Uffizi Gallery. 

The city has a rich cultural life along with a continual string of similarly inspired events happening in and around town and expats will find plenty to see and do in the form of theatres, cafés, bookshops and cinemas.


Eating out in Florence

Florence is also home to some of the best Italian food, so expats should be sure to sample at least a few Tuscan delicacies and to adapt to the role of food in Florence. For Florentines, socialising is centred on food. The morning starts with a coffee at the local espresso bar, where people discuss the weather, sports, current events and everything in between. Early in the evening, locals return to trendy cafés and bars for an aperitivo. While Tuscan-style cooking is naturally popular with the locals, there are many other cuisines on offer, such as Japanese, Spanish, Brazilian, Chinese, Indian and Thai.


Sports and outdoor activities in Florence 

Expats will find that keeping fit is a priority for many residents, and lots of runners and cyclists take to the paths of Florence's parks. Football is the city’s favourite sport and expats can both watch and become members of one of Florence's amateur football clubs. Those that prefer to do exercise indoors will find that there are several gyms, yoga studios and indoor swimming pools across Florence.


Family activities in Florence

There’s plenty in Florence to keep children entertained all year round. The Oltrarno district, for example, is home to some great family-friendly sites. Among these are the Boboli Gardens at Palazzo Pitti, which boasts lots of open spaces for children to explore while their folks enjoy a picnic in a picturesque setting. 

Kids can learn all about the city’s fascinating history through the insightful exhibits at Florence’s Children’s Museum at Palazzo Vecchio, while the Palazzo Strozzi Museum offers educational displays in English as well as Italian.

In a city known for its food, there are plenty of great ice cream spots, so be sure to treat the little ones to a gelato after a fun-filled day out.

Weekend breaks in Florence

Although living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world is a reward in and of itself, expats living in Florence may find that they want to escape the city occasionally for the sake of a little solitude and exploration. After all, the constant stream of tourists through the Piazza dei Signori and San Lorenzo markets can be tiring and may inspire a need to spend at least some time away from Florence.

Those looking for an escape can rest assured that there are several options to choose from when it comes to a weekend break from Florence. 


Weekend breaks from Florence

Cinque Terre 

Those looking for a weekend getaway with natural beauty, fantastic food and a feeling of complete unity with their surroundings would be hard-pressed to find a better place to indulge than the Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre is a string of five small coastal villages. Easily accessed by train, expats can walk between each village, take in the scenery and admire the colourful buildings residing along the enchanting, rugged coastline. The Via dell'Amore (the Way of Love) offers a lovely walk that is neither too long nor challenging.

Versilia

Made up of a few small towns along the Mediterranean, Versilia is home to a diverse range of activities to enjoy that are all within a two-hour train ride from Florence.

The world-famous Carnevale of Viareggio with its parade of floats and masks, which takes place in winter, is rivalled only by Versilia's beaches in the summer – although expats shouldn't expect to find a fee-free beach. The harbour is equally famous and is home to the greatest yacht makers in Italy.

Expats who are in Versilia in July or August might be able to see the Festival Puccini, a summer opera festival. 

Porto Venere

If walking between each of the Cinque Terre seems a bit daunting, expats can visit Porto Venere, which is just before the Cinque Terre on the train line. Like Cinque Terre, Porto Venere is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Quaint seaside houses painted in bright colours against the backdrop of a stunning seascape, a lone church hewn in rock and stone overlooking the sea, and the magnificent view after walking through Byron's Grotto are just some of the highlights that visitors can look forward to. Porto Venere is a truly breath-taking place to spend a weekend. 

Maremma 

For expats who want to experience Tuscany at its most picturesque, South Tuscany and the Maremma are ideal for a quick stay. The natural hot springs of Saturnia will leave one’s skin feeling soft for days, and the exquisite wine, cheese and salami will any satisfy expat cravings. 

Exploring the countryside of the Maremma is not easily accomplished in a weekend. One may be drawn back again and again by Pitigliano, the town teetering on a mountaintop composed entirely of volcanic rock. Montemerano is another village that will lure visitors back with its lush plants and gardens in front of every house. Scansano also holds appeal to visitors, being home of famous wines and a fantastic medieval festival.

Getting Around in Florence

Florence is in many ways the antithesis of Rome. Thanks to its Tuscan roots, or perhaps the refined history of its residents, the Renaissance city is much smaller than Italy’s capital and far less chaotic.

That said, the ease with which expats can get around Florence depends on their mood. Few people in Florence drive and the city moves at an unhurried pace, so expats who enjoy leisurely walks down beautiful streets are in luck. 


Public transport in Florence

One would think that public transport in Florence would shine thanks to the scarcity of cars, but within the city itself, it’s lacklustre at best. There is no metro since the city is too small and much of its activity is focused in a 10-block radius, so there’s no demand for a metro system. However, there are bus and train services available which are quite comprehensive and especially useful for travelling to destinations outside of Florence. Travelling by public transport is cheap, whether by bus or tram, and expats can save if they buy a bulk of 10 journeys rather than just a single trip.

Buses

Buses are operated by ATAF and are orange, blue or purple and white. More than 100 routes reach most of the city and tickets can be bought at authorised coffee shops, tobacconists, newsagents, online and by SMS. There are also automated ticket machines at the Santa Maria Novella Station and the Piazza San Marco or from the ATAF booth at Piazza Stazione.

Passengers validate their tickets when they get on the bus and being caught with an unvalidated ticket will result in a fine.

Buses are a convenient way to get around, there are many throughout the day, and they have wheelchair accessibility and air-conditioning which is especially refreshing in summer.

Trams

Florence has one electric tram line which is a reliable means of transport and just as cheap as the bus. Trams run frequently and can be tracked easily using Google Maps. The tram runs from Via Alamanni to Scandicci, where other modes of transport can be caught to travel outside the city.

Trains

Florence is well-connected to the national railway network, which is run by Trenitalia. As well as being an important node in the bus network, Santa Maria Novella is the city’s main train station. The Campo di Marte station, near the football (soccer) stadium on the city’s outskirts, is also used as a hub for national and international travel. 


Taxis in Florence

Taxis can’t be hailed in the street and must be called in advance or found at dedicated taxi stops at major town squares and the airport. Passengers must pay an initial fee plus metered charges for the distance travelled.

Otherwise, ride applications such as Uber, Lyft and MyTaxi operate in Florence, which allows expats to order lift services via smartphone. 


Driving in Florence

While the outer limits of Florence can easily be navigated by car, the city centre is a different case entirely. As the centre of Florence was built to be traversed by foot traffic, it's not the easiest place to drive a car. The roads are often congested, and parking is difficult to find or expensive, especially close to tourist attractions.

Drivers will also need a ZTL pass from the city council to park in the city centre, although an alternative is hiring a driver who does have a ZTL pass. 

Expats can also drive a scooter in Florence and can rent Vespas and motorcycles from various locations. Although expats do not need to worry much about the ZTL pass for this, they must have a license for this type of vehicle.


Walking in Florence

Florence is a city for walking. Expats who live and work in the centre won’t have a problem getting around on foot. Most locals and all tourists do it, so expats in a hurry should avoid the heavy foot traffic of the main streets around Il Duomo. 

Buying a pocket-sized map to help get around in Florence during their first couple of weeks is advisable. The city is small, but it has many side streets and alleyways that are easy to get lost in, and navigation applications aren't always reliable because mobile reception can be patchy. 

Expats committed to walking everywhere should bear the weather in mind, though. Florence is prone to extremes, so walking in summer or winter can be a test of endurance. Summer days can be sweltering so expats travelling on foot should bring an umbrella and lots of water to avoid dehydration.

Florence is generally safe, as the main streets are packed with people at almost all hours. However, expats should be careful of walking around the San Lorenzo Markets, Santa Maria Novella Station and the outer streets late at night and early in the morning. These are some of Florence’s less wholesome and trafficked areas, so it’s a good idea to catch a taxi instead.  

Remember to always use caution when walking on or crossing the roads in Italy. Italian road culture can be aggressive, and many drivers assume that they will have the right of way, even at pedestrian crossings, so expats should always look before they cross. 


Cycling in Florence

Despite the abundance of car-free streets, there isn't a strong cycling culture in Florence as many locals don't cycle. There aren't any bicycle lanes in the historical centre, but that’s no reason not to get around on a bicycle. Outside the historical centre, there are around 56 miles (90km) of dedicated cycle lanes, mainly along the Arno River.

There are several stores where expats can purchase a bicycle in Florence while buying one online or through newspaper classifieds is also possible. The Florence City Council runs a bicycle-sharing scheme and numerous rental stations are located around the city.