It may be small, but Florence has enough going on after dark to keep most visitors on the lookout for night-time entertainment happy: just don’t make comparisons with the club scene back home.
A typical Florentine night out will start with a cocktail; the aperitivo phenomenon has hit the city big time and there are dozens of bars that include a spread of ‘free’ nibbles in the price of a drink. These can range from a few stale peanuts, soft crisps and the sad-looking, cut-up remains of the day’s unsold sandwiches, to an impressive spread of serve-yourself hot and cold dishes that effectively constitutes dinner and works out a lot cheaper than a meal in a restaurant. Some of the bars that kick off the evening with aperitivi morph into a more clubby/dance scene as evening becomes night, allowing you to stay put for the duration.
Note that the price of a drink during ‘l’aperitivo’ (usually from around 7-9pm) will include a supplement for the food whether or not you eat and can be anything from 3-4 euros in a simple bar to 10 or even 12 euros in a more sophisticated venue.
Here’s a selection of my favourite aperitivo bars:
Some of the most popular aperitivo spots are situated in the Oltrarno, south of the river. At the heart of the San Niccolò neighbourhood, Il Rifrullo (Via San Niccolò 55r; 055 2342621; www.ilrifrullo.com) has been a favourite Florentine watering hole for years. The atmosphere is low-key during the day, but the crowds begin to arrive at aperitivo time and by late, the back rooms are packed. Cocktails and nibbles are especially pleasant in summer served on the roof terrace. Five minutes walk from here is lively Via de’Renai with its strip of bars facing the river. I particularly like Negroni (Via de’Renai 17r; 055 243647; www.negronibar.com), named after the lethal aperitivo (equal quantities of gin, Campari and Martini Rosso) that was invented on this site. Art and photography shows are hosted within the red and black interior, the music (including DJ sessions) is cool and there’s a great little terrace out front. Oh, and the generous buffet is way above average.
Keeping south of the river but moving back towards the centre of town, the Golden View Bar (Via de’Bardi 58r; 055 214502; www.goldenviewopenbar.com) may look like a tourist trap sort of place, but the setting - right on the river overlooking the Ponte Vecchio - is incomparable. The décor is modern and cool, there’s an excellent buffet and occasional live jazz.
Piazza Santo Spirito is the hub of the bar scene in the Oltrarno and you are spoilt for choice. I like new-kid-on-the-block Volume (Piazza Santo Spirito 5r), an ex-wood turner's workshop-turned-bar with Boho interior, cool background sounds and plentiful cocktail nibbles. Next door but one is Cabiria (Piazza Santo Spirito 4r; 055 2345853), one of Florence’s historic pre-club grunge bars which these days attracts a studenty crowd who pile into the rather cramped interior or spread out on the large (unheated) terrace for well-priced cocktails and the sort of buffet that does for dinner.
Five minutes walk west will bring you to Borgo San Frediano and Café La Cité, a laid-back café and bookshop where early evening wine tastings and cocktails are often accompanied by live jazz. Just around the corner in Piazza del Carmine is another Florentine classic, La Dolce Vita (055 284595; www.dolcevitaflorence.com), still holding its own after many years in business and popular with a slightly older crowd.
North of the river there’s plenty of choice too. Slowly (Via Porta Rossa 63r; 055 2645354; www.slowlycafe.com) is a softly-lit Boho-chic bar with mellow background sounds and a super-central location near Piazza Santa Trinità. Nearby Colle Bereto (Piazza Strozzi 5r; 055 283156; www.collebereto.com) attracts a chic, sleek, designer-clad crowd to its sophisticated interior and huge summer lounge terrace.
Moving back east towards Piazza Santa Croce, another prime area for bars and nightlife in general, hip Moyo (Via de’Benci 23r; 055 2479738; www.moyo.it) lays on a great buffet to go with your aperitivo and has the added advantage of free WiFi. Rex Café (Via Fiesolana 25r; 055 2480331; www.rexcafe.it) to the north has been around for a while but is still serving great cocktails and tapas in a sensual red and gold mosaic-clad interior; DJ sessions and dancing gives it more of a club vibe.
Where to go to hear live music
Big name music acts tend to bypass Florence in favour of cites such as Milan, Turin, Rome and even Bologna, so the opportunities to hear live music at a certain level are limited. But they are by no means absent.
The main live music venues of any significant size are the 7,000-capacity Palasport Mandela Forum (Viale Paoli 3; 055 678841; www.mandelaforum.it) and Saschall (Via Fabrizio de André; 055 6504112; www.saschall.it), a tent-like 4,000-capacity hall on the river out in the eastern suburbs. Very occasionally, the football stadium will be used for really big names such as Bruce Springsteen, but that’s rare these days.
Smaller venues include Auditorium FLOG (Via Mercati 24B; 055 487145; www.flog.it), which hosts an eclectic mix of events including film, a world music festival and live gigs followed by DJ sessions. Tenax (Via Pratese 46; 055 308160; www.tenax.org) has been hosting cultish line-ups since the 1980s and is still going strong; the club has a huge dance floor and various bars and chill spaces. Stazione Leopolda (Via Frattelli Rosselli 5; 055 89875; www.stazione-leopolda.com), a huge disused railway station and a great performance space near Porta al Prato, hosts music events during the Fabbrica Europa festival in May (www.fabbricaeuropa.net) and occasionally during the rest of the year.
Jazz fans should check out the Sala Vanni (Piazza del Carmine 19; 055 287347), regular venue for the series of mostly progressive and contemporary jazz concerts promoted by Musicus Concentus (www.musicusconcentus.com). Hard-to-find Jazz Club (Via Nuova de’ Caccini 3; 055 2479700; www.jazzclubfirenze.it) has live performances most nights (local combos with the odd more famous name) and a jam session on Mondays. On Friday and Saturday nights, Caruso Jazz Café (Via Lambertesca 14-16r; 055 281940; www.carusojazzcafe.com) attracts mostly Italian talent including some well-known names while Pinocchio Jazz (Viale Gianotti 13; 055 680362; www.pinocchiojazz.it) hosts the odd international star along with local artists on Saturday nights.
Fans of Latin sounds head out to the western boomies and Girasol (Via del Romito 1; 055 47498; www.girasol.it) - one of the most colourful bars in town where the mojitos are great, live bands play most nights and the punters pile in to strut their samba and salsa know-how.
Clubbing in Florence has rather fallen from favour in recent years as more smaller (and cheaper) bar-come-dance venues open up. But there are a couple of places you can still find a good night out, although don’t expect anything too cutting edge.
Central Park (Via delle Fosse Macinate 2) is only open on Friday and Saturday nights these days, but it's the biggest clubbing venue within spitting distance of central Florence and is located in the Cascine Park. Choose between five dance floors and DJs who spin sounds that range from Latin, pop and house to drum ’n’ bass. From May until September, everything moves outdoors.
It may have been around since the 1970s, but YAB remains popular among both local night owls and visitors. This is helped, no doubt, by the fact that it’s bang in the centre of town (Via Sassetti 5r; 055 215160; www.yab.it). Saturdays are always packed out and the Monday hip-hop nights are a favourite of rowdy foreign students. Full-Up (Via della Vigna Vecchia 23r; 055 293006; www.fullupclub.com) is another centrally-located veteran and is also popular with foreign students who are given free entrance before 1am to the hip-hop Obsession nights on Wednesdays.
However, the hottest night out to be had in Florence is the regular Nobody’s Perfect spot at the warehouse-like Tenax (Via Pratese 46; 055 308160; www.tenax.org), the most international and influential of the city’s clubs, well-known also on the live music circuit.
Visit my overview on Florence nightlife or read my other guide: Nightlife in Florence: how to get a bit of culture.
Where to stay
For suggestions on where to stay in Florence, see my Florence Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Florence page.