Florence, Italy in One Day?

The birthplace of the Renaissance in one day? I’m going to be honest here…this premise is crazy. I had three weeks to savor Florence. It at least deserves an overnight. But hey, I did Venice in one day, which now seems laughable.

So, maybe this is your only option. So, do it right! Here are some suggestions for Florence in a day.

Tip #1: Narrow it Down to Two Major Tourist Sites
Choose to do one “famous” site in the morning and then another one in the afternoon. Perhaps the inimitable Duomo in the morning and the fabulous Uffizi art museum in the afternoon (note: the Uffizi is closed on Mondays at time of writing). You can purchase tickets for a specific day and time for both the Duomo and the Uffizi. The Duomo itself is a series of attractions: the main church floor, the crypt, the cupola, Giotto’s Campanile (bell tower), the Baptistery, and the Duomo museum.

Or how about the Duomo and the Palazzo Vecchio to get your fill of Renaissance architecture and history? Or maybe the Duomo, followed by the sumptuous Pitti Palace Boboli Gardens (again: Pitti Palace is closed on Mondays). Are you seeing a theme? The Duomo is a must-do, if nothing else.

And about the Duomo…the trip is not complete unless you climb the 463 steps to the cupola for breathtaking views of Florence. However, to get this shot below, you need to climb another series of steps: the 414 steps of Giotto’s Campanile. Well worth it!

View of the Duomo

Tip #2: Art Lovers, You Need to Choose
It’s a lot to do both the Uffizi and the Accademia art museums in one day. Michelangelo’s David statue is at the Accademia, while the Uffizi houses countless masterpieces by Botticelli, Raphael, and more. I’ll probably get hate mail, but the only real draw at the Accademia is the David statue. With that said, David is amazing. But after gawking at all angles for about 15 minutes, you’re ready to go. Plus, there is a David statue replica outside of its original location — the Palazzo Vecchio. The Uffizi has a much broader selection so that’s the one I would pick.

The Birth of Venus by Botticelli, at the Uffizi

Tip #3: Cheap & Quick Eats
You only have one day in Florence, so save yourself some time by having a quick lunch. Here are three of my favorite spots for a quick, delicious, but affordable meal:

  • Gusta Pizza, near Piazza Santo Spirito. My favorite pizza here is the appropriately titled “Gustapizza” — cherry tomatoes, arugula (rocket salad), mozzarella, and fresh slices of parmesan.
  • Mercato Centrale, the Central Market (aka San Lorenzo Market) features a food court with local vendors. You can sample fresh made pasta, pizza, cheese, wine, sweets, and more. It’s also a great place to grab picnic items.
  • All’antico Vinaoi, on via dei Neri, near Palazzo Vecchio. Great sandwiches, great prices, piled high with meats! This is how fast food should be.
  • Gelato: when in…Rome Florence. My picks for gelato are La Carraia, Dei Neri, and La Strega Nocciola. For flavors, try frutti di bosco (wildberry).

The “gustapizza” from Gusta Pizza

Tip #4: Self-Guided Walking Tour
Florence is a walking city. It’s compact and you can get to most things on foot. Here’s the perfect walking route starting from the Santa Maria Novella train station/bus depot:

  1. Make your way over to the Santa Maria Novella Church – one of the historic churches of Florence.
  2. Then go to the Mercato Centrale, San Lorenzo street market, and the San Lorenzo Basilica – burial place to the Medici family.
  3. After that, head towards Piazza del Duomo and tour the Duomo, Baptistery, and Giotto’s Campanile.
  4. Next, go to Piazza della Signoria, home to the Palazzo Vecchio – the Florence city hall and the center of Renaissance Florence.
  5. From there, it’s a short walk to the Uffizi Gallery.
  6. After getting your fill of art, head to Santa Croce Basilica, another one of Florence’s historic churches and burial place of da Vinci, Galileo, and Machiavelli.
  7. Head back in the direction of the Duomo. Stop at Piazza della Repubblica with its colorful carousel.
  8. Then head down via Calimala towards the Arno River. Stop at Il Porcellino – the bronze boar on the side of the Mercato Nuovo and drop a coin in and rub its nose for good luck!
  9. Keep heading down the street and you’ll come to the Ponte Vecchio – Florence’s most famous bridge. Allegedly, Hitler ordered that it be preserved during WWII.
  10. After crossing the Ponte Vecchio, you’re now in the Oltrarno – “beyond the Arno.”
  11. If you stay on the street that the bridge is on you’ll come to the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens.
  12. While in Oltrarno, consider visiting Piazza Santo Spirito–home to one of Florence’s historic churches, with a square filled with many nice restaurants.
  13. Lastly, walk along the river and then make the hike up to Piazzale Michelangelo for some skyline views of Florence. Not to be missed!

Florence walking map – click for full-size

Tip #5: You Must Stay for Sunset
If you’re only giving Florence one day, then staying for sunset should be a requirement–plus, it’s free.

Hike up (or taxi) to Piazzale Michelangelo for sweeping views of Florence and the Duomo–along with a view of the Arno River and bridges. It’s picture postcard perfect! However, it can get crowded. If you’re not willing to brave the crowds, hike just a bit further up to San Miniato al Monte for an even higher view of Florence–only downside: no Arno River or bridges at this higher vista, but the sunset will be just as gorgeous.

Florence – sunset

If you only have one day…make the most of it! Start early and end late. You won’t regret it!

For more Florence and Italy pics, check out my Flickr album.

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