One Day In Florence, Italy - What to See in The City of Michelangelo

Florence is probably the second best known city in Italy after Rome. Sited in the heart of Tuscany, the famous, green region among rolling hills and vineyards, stands out as an enormously significant place in European history. Home to world's most famous thinkers and inventors: Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, Florence needs no introduction. The capital of Tuscany is visited by millions of tourists every year, it's the main attraction of northern Italy and a hub for onward travel to smaller but not less exciting destinations in the area, for example the villages of Cinque Terre, Pisa, Siena or virtually unknown, perched on a steep cliff among the lush green fields - Pitigliano.

 

Is One Day Enough to Visit Florence?

 

Opinions vary in many articles and forums all over the internet. Most of them imply that you should spend a couple of days to visit all the city's attraction at a relaxed pace. For me, Florence wasn't the final destination in Tuscany, I planned to stay and hike the trails of Cinque Terre and explore some less known places. At first, I had intended to stay in Leonardo da Vinci's city for at least a weekend but surprisingly, at the end of the day, I realized I'd seen almost everything I'd wanted. Of course, if you are a fan of museums and art galleries, you might want to stay longer to allow more time digest all of them. Having said that, to see the most important sights and museums, if you wake up early and you're not afraid of walking, one day will be enough (don't skip Florence if you have only one day!). Read on, below I wrote a simple guide on how and what to visit in Florence in just a little more than 12 hours.

 

What To See in Florence

 

The Northern Side of The River Arno

 

Depending on where your accommodation is, you can start your tour in Florence both - north of south of the River Arno. The best way, however, is to begin at the northern side as later, around the sunset, you might want to admire the best view of the city from the platform on the southern side at Piazzale Michelangelo.

 

Florence Cathedral

Florence Cathedral

The dome inside the cathedral

The dome inside the cathedral

The view from the Dome

The view from the Dome

Florence - view from the Cathedral Dome

Florence - view from the Cathedral Dome

Basilica of Santa Croce - view from the Cathedral Dome

Basilica of Santa Croce - view from the Cathedral Dome

The Cathedral and Piazza Duomo - view from the Bell Tower

The Cathedral and Piazza Duomo - view from the Bell Tower

View from the Bell Tower

View from the Bell Tower

Piazza Santissima Annunziata

Piazza Santissima Annunziata

The dome of the cathedral - view from Piazza Santissima Annunziata

The dome of the cathedral - view from Piazza Santissima Annunziata

The dome in between the buildings

The dome in between the buildings

Leonardo da Vinci Museum - Everyone can be the Mona Lisa!

Leonardo da Vinci Museum - Everyone can be the Mona Lisa!

The dome of Basilica di San Lorenzo (Basilica of Saint Lawrence)

The dome of Basilica di San Lorenzo (Basilica of Saint Lawrence)

Rough facade of St. Lawrence's Basilica

Rough facade of St. Lawrence's Basilica

Ponte Vecchio at night

Ponte Vecchio at night

The bell tower

The bell tower

 

The Forence Cathedral - Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore

 

If you're staying near the Piazza Duomo (where the Florence Cathedral - the 4th highest in the world, 13th century church in Florence stands), visit it early in the morning to avoid the lines. It's a must to climb both the dome and the bell tower (bear in mind you will have to climb almost 1000 steps if you decide to enter the dome and the tower - it is worth it however, the views are spectacular!) Both attractions open at 8:30 am - the fee is 10 EUR (12 USD). You can book the tickets online to save time and skip enormously long lines. Entry to the actual cathedral if free of charge, it's open from 10 am - 4-5 pm depending on the season.

 

Leonardo da Vinci Museum

 

After you've visited The Cathedral, head on to Leonardo da Vinci Museum. It's right around the corner - in Via dei Servi. It is one of the few museums in Florence where you actually can take photos and touch the artifacts. Here, you will see some sophisticated machines created by Leonardo and you'll be able to use them and see how they work. When I went there, it was really quiet comparing to other attractions in Florence. Entry fee: 7 EUR adult, 5 EUR student. Click here to visit the official website.

Keep going down Via dei Servi and you'll end up at the beautiful Piazza Santissima Annunziata. From here, you'll get one of the best views of the cathedral dome emerging between the streets of Florence.

 

The statue of David - The Gallery of The Academy

 

Walk back down Via dei Servi a little towards the Florence Cathedral and turn right into Via degli Alfani. Around the corner, right again into Via Ricasoli and you're near The Gallery of The Academy - where the world's most famous statue - David - stands. Decide yourself if you want to see it, as I've heard the opinions that it's not worth it for the price (especially that the exact replicas are strewn all over Florence) - 18.50 EUR (22 USD). You can book it online here.

 

Basilica di San Lorenzo

 

When you've finished admiring David, follow back Via Ricasoli towards The Cathedral and turn right into Via de Pucci. It will lead you to another cathedral, Basilica di San Lorenzo (The Basilica of Saint Lawrence). Michelangelo himself had his part in creating it. However, interestingly the outer facade is still unfinished to this day and has a rough, raw appearance. The basilica lies in the heart of the trade part of the city, so also visit the fresh food market and stalls nearby.

 

Basilica of Santa Maria Novella

 

Now, go past Piazza M. Aldobrandini and walk down Via del Giglio to Piazza di Santa Maria Novella. Here, you can admire the beautiful Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. The square is located right beside the city's main train station, so if you are staying somewhere near or you've arrived by train, it's very convenient to start visiting the city from here.

 

The Famous Bridge - Ponte Vecchio and The River Arno

 

You are coming close to the River Arno now, follow Via d. Porcellana to see The Ognissanti Church. On the other side of the river - the 17th century San Frediano in Castello church emerges before your eyes. Turn left along the river towards the most famous bridge in Florence - Ponte Vecchio. It's surrounded by buildings and shops which are all built on it giving it a special, medieval charm.

 

The Cathedral Dome

The Cathedral Dome

 

Uffizi Gallery

 

You've almost made the whole circle on the northern side of the river and now you can get ready for the most famous art gallery in Florence - Uffizi. Turn left into the second street (which looks like a gate) after Ponte Vecchio - Piazzale Degli Uffizi. It holds such treasures as The Birth of Venus, Venus of Urbino or Medusa. Buy tickets online in advance to skip the lines. Don't expect it to be cheap - entry fee around 18 EUR (21.50 USD).

 

Piazza della Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio

 

At the other end of Piazzale degli Uffizi is the Piazza della Signoria. You can find some fine statues here (including the replica of David, Hercules and the Fountain of Neptune). Palazzo Vecchio, impressive Romanesque city hall also is located at this plaza. The entry is free of charge.

 

Piazza Santa Croce

 

On the other side of Palazzo Vecchio, find Via Borgo dei Greci and follow it til Piazza Santa Croce. It is the last stop on the northern side - at another beautiful church - 15th century Basilica of Santa Croce. The white facade seems quite small but the entire building is very large. You will see it perfectly later, from the viewing platform on the other side of the river.

Supposedly, the best ice cream in Florence (as I learnt from staff at the tourist office) is near Piazza Santa Croce. I tried it and... got a bit disappointed. The only 'wow' I felt was when I heard how mush it was. Nothing will beat the completely home made ice cream I had in Eastern Europe or Brazil where you can enjoy it for 1/10 of the price you pay in Italy. But to each his own.

 

Basilica of Santa Maria Novella

Basilica of Santa Maria Novella

Sundial on the facade of Santa Maria Novella

Sundial on the facade of Santa Maria Novella

Piazza di Santa Maria Novella

Piazza di Santa Maria Novella

The rear side of Santa Maria Novella Basilica

The rear side of Santa Maria Novella Basilica

The Ognissanti Church

The Ognissanti Church

San Frediano in Castello

San Frediano in Castello

A modern sculpture with Ponte Vecchi in the background

A modern sculpture with Ponte Vecchi in the background

Palazzo Vecchio near Uffizi Gallery

Palazzo Vecchio near Uffizi Gallery

The statue of David at Piazza della Signoria

The statue of David at Piazza della Signoria

Piazza della Signoria

Piazza della Signoria

A typical narrow street in Florence

A typical narrow street in Florence

Piazza Santa Croce

Piazza Santa Croce

The river Arno

The river Arno

 

The Southern Side of The River Arno

 

Piazzale Michelangelo

 

Piazza Santa Croce was the last stop on the northern side. Now, if you are tired, you can just cross the bridge beside the piazza and hike up the steps to the Piazzale Michelangelo from where you can admire a breathtaking views over the river, bridges and monuments in Florence. I would recommend that you eat something down in the city or take lunch up with you as the prices in the restaurant at the piazzale Michelangelo are astronomical. There's a cafe right at the platform but the quality of food and drinks is appalling (so is the price). I had the misfortune to order lasagna there and I swear the frozen microwavable meals from a grocery shop tasted way better. My friend ordered a cocktail and managed to take only two sips because it had the flavor of cough syrup. I looked around and the reactions of others were similar. The rule is always the same - eat where the locals eat.

 

Giardino di Boboli (Boboli Gardens) and Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace)

 

If you still want to see more, leave Piazzale Michelangelo for later and walk down the river towards Piazza dei Pitti  (just off the Ponte Vecchio). It's a huge, impressive 15th century building with lavishly decorated rooms, surrounded by Boboli Gardens. The entry fees vary depending on how much you want to see from around 10-20 EUR (12-25 USD) (yes, Florence is a rip off city!) If you are on a tight budget, you might skip it as there are beautiful green surroundings everywhere around Piazzale Michelangelo.

 

Piazza Santo Spirito and Basilica of The Holy Spirit

 

Piaza Santo Spirito is located very near Pitti Palace, walk down Via Sdrucciolo opposite the palace. The square is a bit more quiet and off the beaten path with some nice cafes. In the center lies the Basilica of the Holy Spirit (Basilica di Santo Spirito). The facade is very plain and smooth comparing to other, lavishly decorated Florence's churches.

If you feel exhausted, you might skip the two last places on the list (Pitti Palace and the Basilica of Holy Spirit). They are not as impressive as the other attractions, however they hold historical importance.

 

Basilica di San Miniato a Monte (The Basilica of St. Minias on The Mountain)

 

San Miniato a Monte Basilica is the last stop on the one day tour in Florence. It's situated just above Piazzale Michelangelo and it looks like any other church in the city. Nevertheless, it's situated on the highest point in the area and offers wonderful panoramic views of the entire area. It's pleasant to come here right before the sunset, relax in the shade of the trees and just admire the stunning scenery, which is especially breathtaking after dark.

 

Sunset - view from Piazzale Michelangelo

Sunset - view from Piazzale Michelangelo

The cathedral - fiew from Piazzale Michelangelo

The cathedral - fiew from Piazzale Michelangelo

View from San Miniato al Monte

View from San Miniato al Monte

Santa Croce Basilica - view from Piazzale Michelangelo

Santa Croce Basilica - view from Piazzale Michelangelo

San Miniato al Monte

San Miniato al Monte

Piazza San Spirito - Basilica of The Holy Spirit

Piazza San Spirito - Basilica of The Holy Spirit

Pitti Palace

Pitti Palace

Sparrow at the viewing platform

Sparrow at the viewing platform

Florence at night - view from San Miniato al Monte

Florence at night - view from San Miniato al Monte

Duomo at night

Duomo at night

Fireworks in Florence

Fireworks in Florence

The river Arno

The river Arno

 

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