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.
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 Scoan 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.
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.
The Southern Side of The River Arno
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.
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