Until I took an unexpected outing on the Arno a few months back, I’d always (falsely) assumed that riding in a renaiolo was for suckers, a tourist cliché up there with gondola serenades for honeymooners in Venice. My quick expedition convinced me otherwise: the crowded streets, seen from below, took on an alarmingly calm air—it was a distinctly Florentine fly-on-the-wall experience, a reminder that the Arno is our lifeblood. Across seasons, years and bridges, there are numerous ways to stay in touch with the city’s most compelling force. Here are a few.
Ph. Mary Gray
Each year in late December, a crew of jolly Santa Clauses ditches the sleigh and takes a chilly cruise down the Arno, delighting pint-sized Florentines and their families. The Società Canottieri brings in these “Babbi Natale,” while a few weeks later, on Epiphany, the Canottieri Comunali host a riverfront morning with La Befana, who showers the children with festive surprises.
Walk on water once the weather warms up: ToscanaSUP (Stand Up Paddle) offers low-intensity guided cruises along the Arno, led by experts and suitable for beginners. Looking for something more relaxing? Indulge in a leisurely 45-minute ride in one of the traditional renaioli boats (from May to September; website; tel. 347/7982356), or try “hooking” up with local fishermen—the Arno is dense with (non-dinner-safe) nibblers. Important: get your license before you cast your line (35 euro, valid for one year; click here for details).
All the Arno’s a stage when Zauberteatro season gets going: this theatrical company performs in flat-bottomed boats during a series of shows running from July to September. Audiences depart from piazza Mentana and soak up live entertainment under the stars (website; tel. 055/5000640).
In peak summer heat, social life is anchored around the river: Easy Living, the “urban beach” accessed from piazza Poggi, is a popular hangout offering aperitivo, a restaurant, activities, DJ sets and an unmatched view of the annual San Giovanni fireworks show (June 24). The leafy Fiorino Sull’Arno, meanwhile, makes a perfect spot for a pausa caffe’.
A bittersweet sign of back-to-school season comes every September 8 with the Rificolona procession, when families parade through the city, paper lanterns in hand. For the occasion, the Società Canottieri lights up the area underneath Ponte Vecchio with lanterns, candles and torches, taking children for spins in brighter-than-ever boats and offering bankside entertainment (website; tel. 055/2381010).
Pretty-in-pink squad Florence Dragon Lady is a dragon boat racing team made up of breast cancer survivors, founded in 2006 and affiliated with LILT. They stay busy year-round, but autumn is a particularly active season—this year they organized initiatives during Corri La Vita, a September race benefitting breast cancer research, and Festa sull’Arno, a celebration organized by Unicoop.