Florence – A One Day Itinerary
The impressive collection of art museums, renaissance palaces, beautiful churches and amazing views make Florence one of Italy’s most visited cities. There’s a ton of things to see in Florence, and it can be overwhelming to decide what to do if you won’t be staying for long. If you ask us, you can do a LOT of things in just one day if you stay out of the big museums like the Accademia and the Uffizi. We’re pretty sure they are well worth it, but they mean spending too much time in just one place.
Here’s how we got to see all the musts in Florence, and some extras, in just one day:
Piazza del Duomo – Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore
In Florence’s main square is where you will find what is arguably its greatest landmark: the enormous Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore (also known as the “Duomo”). This is also the place where you will see the largest tourist crowds. Entering the Duomo is free, but the lines are usually very long, and you can stand there for at least half an hour waiting to get in. The Duomo is undoubtedly beautiful and impressive on the outside, but if you ask us, it’s quite underwhelming inside.
You would expect that a building so richly decorated on the outside would be equally (or more) impressive inside. Well, get ready to be disappointed after your long wait in line when you step inside. Apart from the beautifully painted interior of the dome, there’s really not much to see inside.
Other renowned buildings on this square are the baptistery and Giotto’s belltower, which you can climb for great views of the city center and the Duomo. Both require that you purchase an entry ticket.
Piazza della Signoria
If the Piazza del Duomo is Florence’s religious center, then Piazza della Signoria is its political center. Here you will find Neptune’s fountain, a replica of Michelangelo’s David, and a small open air gallery with a great selection of sculptures.
However, the main landmark on this square is the Palazzo Vecchio, the home of Florence’s rulers since medieval times. Today, it’s the seat of the city government.
The basic ticket to enter the Palazzo costs 8 euros. One of the best things about visiting this place is that there are practically no lines to get in, in comparison with the famous museums in the city that draw the attention of most tourists. Inside the Palazzo you will see the incredible main hall (Salone Dei Cinquecento) featuring gigantic paintings on the two main walls, beautiful sculptures, and a ceiling that has to be seen to be believed.
The tour continues up to the rooms and minor halls of the palace, where you can get an idea of how the ruling elite lived during the renaissance, at the height of Florence’s power.
Gelato at Perché No!
A few blocks north of the Piazza della Signoria, on the Via dei Tavolini street, you’ll find one of Florence’s best and most renowned gelaterias: Perché No! The place may look like every other gelato shop in Italy, but believe us when we tell you it was the most delicious one.
For the record, we ate gelato twice a day during our trip to Italy so you can take our word on the matter. It’s also fair to say that this place had flavors that we had not seen in other gelato shops in Italy.
Bassilica di Santa Maria Novella
As we said before, we were a bit underwhelmed by the Duomo’s interior. Truth be told, it’s not worth waiting half an hour in line to see it, even if it’s free. If you want to see a church with beautiful interiors, head over to the Bassilica di Santa Maria Novella, located on the square just behind of the train station named after it.
Heads up: entry to the basilica and the entire complex costs 7.5 euros, but let us assure you it’s totally worth it due to the beautiful works of art that decorate the church’s interior. Also, since most tourists head straight to the Duomo, this place is often overlooked so you won’t find long lines or crowds here.
So our recommendation would be: gaze at the Duomo from the outside but don’t waste precious time waiting in line to see its no-so-worth-it interior. For gorgeous interiors, head to Santa Maria Novella.
Piazza della Repubblica
Another of Florence’s main squares, this piazza lies a few blocks away from both Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Signoria. That’s one thing we like about Florence: except for Piazzale Michelangelo, everything is just a few blocks away from the other attractions. This square is the result of city planning works known as the Risanamento, during the brief years during which Florence was proclaimed the capital of a reunited Italy. The most prominent feature is the triumphal arch, with its huge inscription that reads: “The ancient city center, restored from old-age squalor to a new life”.
Bistecca alla Fiorentina at Trattoria Zá Zá
If you enjoy food like us, then you might know that one of the staple florentine specialties is bistecca alla fiorentina. Our Airbnb host recommended a restaurant just in front of the Mercato Centrale (Central Market) called Trattoria Zá Zá for us to try the bistecca alla fiorentina. We must admit that when we got to the restaurant we felt a bit intimidated by how big and beautiful it is inside, thinking like “whoa this looks expensive AF!”. However, once we sat down at took a look at the menu, we realized the prices were ok.
The bistecca alla fiorentina consists of a whole T-bone steak, sourced from regional breeds of cattle. It’s a big cut of meat, with one portion weighing between 1 and 1.2 kilos, so it’s usual to share it between at least 2 persons. In this restaurant, the 1 kilo steak cost 40 euros. We ordered a 1 kilo steak for the four of us (we were travelling with Carlos’s cousin and his wife), a pasta dish for each couple and wine to wash it all down.
We don’t usually eat meat rare, but the waitress told us that that’s the normal way of cooking and enjoying a bistecca alla fiorentina, and we like to try food exactly how it’s intended to be prepared. The outer crust of the steak was golden and perfectly seared, but the inside was, well…rare. We had never tried meat like this before, but we can say it was the most delicious one we have ever tried. It was so juicy and tender that it melted in your mouth. Both taste and texture were incredible. We must also say that the carbonara pasta we ordered was also amazing, so even if you don’t order the steak, it’s a great place to eat.
Another of Florence’s most iconic landmarks, this bridge is a short walk away from Piazza della Signoria, and leads to the Oltrarno quarter. The river that flows through Florence is called the Arno, so “oltrarno” literally means “across the Arno”, much like “Trastevere” in Rome: across the Tiber.
On both sides of the bridge there are small shops, mostly of jewelry and gold works. Expect to find lots of tourists here!
Some 15-20 minutes away by foot from the Ponte Vecchio is Piazzale Michelangelo, a square on top of a hill that overlooks the city center. From this place you get the most famous view of the city’s skyline, and the Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio and Ponte Vecchio are all visible from here.
Also, there’s a replica of Michelangelo’s David in the square. Being the most famous viewpoint in the city, you can imagine this place is usually swarming with tourists, and it’s especially crowded for sunsets. If you don’t mind the crowds, you can stay here to enjoy the sunset. However, if like us, you prefer to find the lesser-known spots to get away from the crowds, we’ve got you covered:
San Miniato al Monte – The Best Views in Florence
San Miniato al Monte is a basilica located a few minutes away from Piazzale Michelangelo, just keep walking uphill.
From the basilica’s front terrace you will have an amazing view of the city center from above. Warning: the Ponte Vecchio is not visible from this spot because it is blocked by a hill, but the views of the Duomo and the Palazzo Vecchio are unbeatable.
The main advantage is that very few people know about this place! Just imagine this: during summer, at sunset, there were only like 20 persons up here calmly watching the sun go down.
There’s plenty of room on the terrace and the stairs beneath it, so each of the few persons here will have a really big “personal space” to take photos and even set up a tripod with no hurries.
This concludes our one-day itinerary of Florence! After the sun goes down, you can head back to the city center and have some delicious pasta and wine for dinner, and stroll around the city center until you feel like going to bed to recover your energies for yet another wonderful day in Italy!
Where to Stay in Florence?
Our recommended place is Florence Oasis, located in the heart of the city center, less than 10 minutes by foot away from the Santa Maria Novella train station. For more information about the available rooms and prices, and to make your reservation via Booking.com, click the following link:
What else to do if you’re staying for a longer time.
If you will be staying for more than one day in Florence, you might want to do some of the following things:
– Visit the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David, amongst other works of art.
– Climb Santa Maria del Fiore’s dome.
– Visit the Galleria degli Uffizi, which features one of the biggest art collections of the world.
– Climb to the top of Giotto’s Belltower.
– Visit the awe-inspiring Palazzo Pitti and its huge and beautiful Boboli Gardens.
– Enter the Baptistery in Piazza del Duomo.
All of these places require the purchase of an entry ticket. During high season, you can expect long lines to enter each of these places, so it’s always a good idea to wake up early to beat the crowds. Some other places allow (or require) you to book a particular date and time for your visit, which will help avoid lines. However, this comes at a loss of “flexibility”, because you are then “forced” to visit that places at that exact moment, leaving no room for a last minute change of plans.
Our recommendation: Buy the Firenze Card
If you are staying for 2-3 days in Florence and want to visit at least 5-6 of these places, and want maximum flexibility, we recommend buying the Firenze Card, which costs 85 euros, has a validity of 72 hours and allows access to literally every attraction in the city, at any time you want (without prior booking of a date and time), and entering through faster, priority lines.
So basically, this card is the way to visit as many places as you want (one visit per place), over a period of 72 hours, with priority access and maximum flexibility, with just one ticket. Warning: for this card to be a good deal, you must make sure to visit enough places (5 or 6, depending on their individual ticket prices) for it to be worth it, otherwise, it can be cheaper to buy the individual tickets to the 2 or 3 places you will visit.
If you want to learn more about the Firenze Card and the places you can enter, click here.
Disclaimer: since we would be spending only one day in Florence, we decided not to buy the Firenze Card, but we did a lot of research about it and would have totally bought it if we had stayed for 2-3 days.
If you are interested in doing a roadtrip in Tuscany, check our our blog post for more info: Renting a car and driving in Tuscany.
For a two-day itinerary of some of the most beautiful Tuscan towns, check our our blog post: Tuscany’s Hill Towns – A Two-Day Itinerary.