I studied abroad in Florence for a semester in college, taking courses in Italian and Art History. Yeah, life was rough back then. I’ve made two shorter trips to Florence as well.
So when a friend of mine was going to be stopping in Florence for a day as part of a European cruise a few years ago, she asked me for some recommendations. At that time, I was getting over a heartbreak and in desperate need of a distraction, so I spent a lot of time coming up with the perfect itinerary for her. Now I’m sharing it, including some improvements, with you.
There is so much to see in Florence that you will most certainly want to go back after spending only a day there, but this is a very good introduction to what I think is one of the world’s most amazing cities. This itinerary is jam packed, so plan to start early.
First off, grab a quick breakfast the Italian way. There are a plethora of little cafes where you can get yourself an espresso or cappuccino and a pastry. You actually pay less for eating at one of the standing-only tables. You don’t want to sit anyway. You have places to be.
After your delicious caffeine hit, you can head over to the Piazza del Duomo, home to the often-photographed domed cathedral in the center of town. Starting here is not mandatory for this itinerary, but it’s a good point of reference for navigating.
From the Duomo, walk north/northeast along the Via Ricasoli to the Galleria dell’Accademia (8:15a-6:50p T-Su). You can purchase your tickets online or by phone in advance for a specific reserved time. This is where Michelangelo’s original David sculpture is now housed, having been removed from its location in the Piazza della Signoria in 1873. There are a lot of other great works of art to be seen here, but I’d recommend keeping your tour brief for a one day itinerary.
After admiring the magnificent David, make your way back to the Duomo by detouring one block west to walk along the Via Camillo Benso Cavour/Via dei Martelli. As you do, you’ll pass the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, a Renaissance palace built between 1444 and 1484 for the (in)famous Medici banking family and later acquired by, you guessed it, the Riccardi family.
Santa Maria del Fiore, better known as Il Duomo (M-W, F 10a-5:00p, Th 10a-4:30p, Sa 10a-4:45p, Su 1:30-4:45p), was begun in the 13th century but not completely finished until the 19th. Many heavy hitters worked on various parts of the cathedral during that time, but the most noteworthy is probably Brunelleschi, who designed the dome itself. Take some time to admire the architecture, artwork and gorgeous stained glass windows. Admission for the main cathedral is free. The lines can get crazy, especially if there are cruise ships bussing people in that day, so try to get there as close to opening as possible. Skip the lines and expense of climbing the dome and bell tower and save that for your next visit.
Upon exiting the Duomo, head over to the baptistry, Battistero di San Giovanni, just across the piazza to take a look at the bronze doors with relief sculptures by Pisano and Ghiberti.
Walk south on the Via dei Calzaiuoli. You’ll pass by the church of Orsanmichele, which has 14 replica sculptures in niches around the outside. The originals, now protected in museums, were each commissioned to represent one of the guilds of Renaissance Florence. Take a detour to walk around the perimeter of the church. There are two by Donatello, made for the linen weavers’ and armourers’ guilds.
Somewhere along the way, grab a sandwich or stop into any number of pizzerias for an on-the-go lunch. For your sweet tooth, it probably goes without saying that a gelateria is the way to go. Perché no! (M, W-Su 12-8p) is superb and happens to be right on the Via dei Calzaiuoli. Stracciatella and pistachio are my personal favorites.
Continuing on the Via dei Calzaiuoli, you’ll come to the Piazza della Signoria, the original site of Michelangelo’s David. A replica now stands where the original once stood, outside of the Palazzo Vecchio, which functions as the town hall. Check out the sculptures in the Loggia dei Lanzi at the south end of the piazza.
From the Piazza della Signoria, continue your southward journey on the Piazzale degli Uffizi. You’ll come to the Uffizi Gallery (T-Su 8:15a-6:50p), one of the world’s most outstanding museums, housing works from the who’s who of Medieval and Renaissance Italian artists. Like the Galleria dell’Accademia, they offer advance tickets with reserved times online. This is a highly recommended time saver.
After you’ve spent a few hours viewing the delightful offerings at the Uffizi, walk west along the Arno River to the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s oldest bridge. Cross the bridge and enter the Oltrarno neighborhood, perusing the shops along the way, and continue along the Via Dè Guicciardini to the Palazzo Pitti (T-Su 8:15a-6:50p).
If you have time, tour the Palatine Gallery in the palace and check out the adjoining Boboli Gardens, or just do the gardens if you only have time for one.
End your day by finding a trattoria or osteria in Oltrarno for dinner. The last time I was in Florence, my policy was to order whatever the house specials were for that day, along with a glass of Chianti. I never had a bad meal that way.
Do you have two days? I’d suggest taking more time at each of the stops. If you haven’t yet had your fill of art, the Bargello is a very good addition to the list, as are the Medici Chapels at the Basilica di San Lorenzo. Maybe you want to actually go inside the Palazzo Medici museum or the Palazzo Vecchio, climb the dome and bell tower at the Duomo, or stop for an out-of-this-world hot chocolate at Caffe Rivoire in the Piazza della Signoria. An early evening trek up to the Piazzale Michelangelo is great for photo ops. For a sit-down meal, check out the very touristy but oh-so-delicious Il Latini for bistecca fiorentina or get the blueberry steak at Acqua al 2.