Spending only one day in Florence might not be enough to enjoy to the fullest what the city has to offer. However, we cannot always spend as much time as we like in one place, thus having the perfect itinerary would make a difference.
While I always try to include as many stops as possible on my itineraries, I have come to the conclusion that sometimes less is more. And especially in a place packed with history as Florence is, there are certain places you simply cannot skip.
To make your trip as carefree as possible, this guide includes a map and much useful information.
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Get the most out of your one day in Florence
One day in Florence Itinerary Overview
A short history of Florence
Florence is the capital city of the Tuscany region and one of the major tourist destinations of Italy.
The city was founded in Roman times by Julius Caesar. After the Fall of the Roman Empire, the city was disputed by the Ostrogothic Kingdom and the Byzantine Empire. Eventually, peace returned in the 6th century, under Lombard rule. However, Charlemagne conquered Florence in 774 A.D. together with the entire Lombard Kingdom.
The city’s Golden Age began when Florence became a Republic around 1119 A.D. Although it was nominally a part of the Holy Roman Empire, the Republic of Florence acted more or less like an independent state.
One of the Florentine Republic’s hallmarks was the constant political infighting of its oligarchs. The Guelphs and the Ghibellines led the two opposing factions. While the elites supported the Ghibellines, the Guelphs had the support of the people. Sounds familiar?
After the Guelphs came to power in 1250, replacing the Ghibellines, they embarked on a series of reforms to develop Florence’s mercantile power. One of their first measures was the introduction of a new golden currency called the florin, which became one of the most commonly used high-value coins in Europe and the Near East due to its reliability, a kind of U.S. Dollar of its day. However, the Ghibellines returned to power in 1260 after Florence’s defeat at the Battle of Montaperti against Siena.
As it often happens in a political duopoly, the Ghibellines proceeded to undo most of the Guelph’s achievements as soon as they returned to power. For example, the Ghibellines demolished hundreds of houses, towers, and palaces erected by their predecessors. Despite having the full support of the rich and powerful elite, the Ghibellines were widely unpopular with the masses. In an attempt to cement their grip on power, they asked Pope Clement IV to arbitrate between them and the Guelps; the plan backfired, and the Pope restored the Guelphs to power.
In the following decades, Florence’s economy blossomed; the Pallazo della Signoria, hosting the ruling body of the Republic, was built in this period. However, the political rivalry between the elites and the people was far from over; the Guelphs and Ghibellines frequently succeeded each other at the helm of Florence. And, the widening social and political polarization led to violence more than once.
In 1304, rival mobs battled each other on the city’s streets. The fighting initially started between the Cerchi and Giugni mobs in the Via del Garbo area. Then, the Cavalcanti and Antellesi joined the fight, tilting the balance in favor of the Cerchi. Finally, rather than losing the battle, a priest has set fire to his own dwellings; the flames got out of control, burning down a big part of the city. Almost two thousand houses, in addition to many warehouses and shops, were turned to ashes while rampaging mobs looted and pillaged the city.
During this period, the Republic of Florence was the home of some of the greatest European writers: Dante Alighieri, Petrarch, and Bocaccio. They were among the first Europeans to write in the spoken language of the day instead of Latin. As a result, the Tuscan dialect used by them evolved into the standard Italian language of today.
Despite the political instability, Florence became a financial hub, its banks growing into an early form of what we call today a multinational corporation. But, as another echo to 21st-century events, the banking boom didn’t last; in 1340, most of the Florentine financial institutions went bankrupt due to a Europe-wide economic recession. Still, one of the banking families managed to thrive and inextricably link its name to Florence’s.
Cosimo de Medici used his family’s banking wealth to become the de facto ruler of Florence. Since Florence was officially a ‘democratic’ Republic, Cosimo rarely held official positions; he preferred to rule from the shadows through his political pawns placed into the Signoria, Florence’s government.
In addition to his fame as a political leader and businessman, Cosimo was one of the major forces behind the Italian Renaissance. He used his vast wealth to sponsor poets, philosophers, orators, and other artists. For example, Cosimo founded the first public library in Florence at San Marco. He also established a Platonic Academy in the city due to its desire to revive Neo-Platonism. Cosimo is also credited with commissioning Donatello’s statue of David, the first freestanding nude sculpture since Antiquity.
Cosimo’s family went on to dominate Florence’s political life for centuries to come. Even after the Florentine Republic ceased to exist, the Medici family continued to rule the city as Grand Dukes of Tuscany. As a result, there is a high chance that one or another of the Medicis commissioned the works of art and buildings you’ll visit today.
21st century Florence was ranked as the most beautiful city in the world by Forbes magazine due to its architectural and artistic heritage, the perfect place for a honeymoon in Italy. Furthermore, the city is one of the global fashion capitals. Not to mention the picturesque beauty of the Tuscany region surrounding it.
Your One day in Florence Itinerary
Start your day at the Galleria dell’Accademia
The Galleria dell’Accademia is an art museum in Florence, known for Michelangelo’s statue of David. It is worth knowing that there are several David statues in Florence plus a couple of replicas. Don’t let yourself be confused since we will meet another David statue by Donatello later on in our itinerary.
Michelangelo’s David is a marble statue of the Biblical hero David unveiled in 1504; you can see it in the Galleria dell’Accademia. Initially planned for the Florence Cathedral, the statue was placed outside the Pallazo Vecchio until 1873, when it was moved to its current location. A full-size replica can be seen in the original spot in front of the Old Palace, while a bronze version overlooks the square named after its creator, the Piazzale Michelangelo.
A hundred years earlier, in 1408, Donatello was commissioned to carve a statue of David; it was one of his first major works. The same Donatello casts his bronze David three decades later, the first freestanding nude statue since Antiquity. Both sculptures can be seen in Florence at Museo Nazionale del Bargello.
Climb the Duomo at the Catedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore in Piazza del Duomo
Florence Cathedral, formally the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, is one of the city’s monumental buildings and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage; no wonder it took almost 140 years to finalize. However, the most celebrated feature of the cathedral is its dome.
Designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, the dome is a marvel of engineering. Brunelleschi looked for the Pantheon in Rome for inspiration; however, the single shell of the concrete technique used by the Romans was long since forgotten. So he had to work out a lot of innovative approaches to finalize the impressive dome.
As you would expect, lines for seeing the interior of the Cathedral and climbing the cupola are immense. The only workaround is to book a priority ticket for a Dome climb. You will not only get to see Florence from the imposing cupola but will get to learn about the history of the city and of the Cathedral.
Make sure to book ahead of time, especially if you are visiting during the peak season.
Head over to Piazza della Repubblica
One of the main squares in Florence, this is the city’s central point. Take a picture with the Column of Abundance, the place where the Roman forum stood in ancient times, and stop for a coffee at one of the historical cafes: Caffé Gilli, Caffé Paskowski or Caffé Delle Giubbe Rosse.
See Piazza della Signoria
Piazza della Signoria is a W-shaped square that hosts many important historical buildings. The plaza is named after the Pallazo della Signoria or Pallazo Vecchio (the Old Palace), the former house of the Florentine government, the Signoria.
The so-called Old Palace had different names during its long history, reflecting its diverse functions. Initially, it was erected as the meeting place of the Florentine Republic’s government. The Signoria comprised nine members, the Priori, selected from the city’s guilds: seven from the major guilds and two from the minor guilds. In addition, the Gonfaloniere of Justice was selected every two months by lottery from the nine members government; his main role was to ensure public order and maintain internal security. As you might have guessed, the lottery was usually rigged and favored a handful of influential families.
Later, the building was called The People’s Palace, The Prior’s Palace, and The Ducal Palace. Today it hosts Florence’s city hall.
Other famous buildings in the Piazza della Signoria include Pallazo Uguccioni, Palazzo delle Assicurazioni Generali, Tribunale della Mercanzia and Loggia dei Lanzi.
Visit the Uffizi Gallery
The famous Uffizi Gallery is adjacent to the Piazza della Signoria.
Its construction started in 1560 by order of Grand Duke Cosimo I de Medici – he was the descendant of the banker and politician who initiated the Medicis’ dominance over Florence during Republican days.
The Uffizi was planned to accommodate Florence’s magistrates, hence the name (‘uffizi’ means ‘offices’). For a long time, the Uffizi had an administrative role as well as an art galleria role. Over the years, more sections were dedicated to the art exhibition.
Eventually, the Uffizi became the well-known museum of today.
Here is where you’ll see some of the most famous paintings like the Birth of Venus by Boticelli or Leonardo da Vinci’s Annunciation, along with works by Raphael, Titian, and Caravaggio. For me, it was worth paying for the headset guide so that I could learn about these masterpieces.
At the time I visited Florence and the Uffizi Gallery, I haven’t thought of booking a ticket online, so I had to waste precious time waiting in line. Thus, learn from my mistake and book your ticket online, especially when you only have one day in Florence.
Cross the Ponte Vecchio
The Old Bridge crosses the Arno River at its narrowest point, where it is believed that the Roman Via Cassia crossed the river. This is the only bridge in Florence that survived the Second World War, and it is today home to many jewelry shops.
Seeing the bridge from every angle is a must because it is such an iconic landmark of Florence and an amazingly photogenic location in town.
Enjoy the sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo
After crossing the river, you can pass by the Giardino Bardino – a 17th-century villa and garden, and make your way towards the best spot for watching the sunset: Piazzale Michelangelo.
Set between 2 gardens, Girdino delle Rose and Girdino del’Iris, head to the Vip’s Bar or just stop next to it, at the Bellview point.
What and where to eat in Florence
When in Florence, apart from the many delicious sweets, you must try a bistecca alla fiorentina. This is basically a steak seasoned with rosemary, garlic, and all the Italian goodness.
I remember having a delicious one at a restaurant just steps away from the Ponte Vecchio – “La Galleria Il Vino dei Guelfi cucina tipica fiorentina” and it was epic.
Try it at Osteria di Giovann (Via del Moro, 22) or at Mamma Gina (Via Nazionale, 79r).
Another great restaurant recommended by local friends is the Osteria dei Centopoveri.
And don’t leave without tasting some ice cream from La Carraia.
Where to stay for one day in Florence
When you only have so little time in town, you don’t want to waste it on the road. Choose a place to stay close to the city center or to the starting point of your itinerary.
If you are traveling from another town in Italy, such as Rome, the train station will be close to the Museo dell’Accademia.
Here are 2 great accommodation options worth considering when in Florence:
- Il Salviatino in Florence – what dreams are made of! Set in a Renaissance villa, with stunning interiors and a picture-perfect garden, this hotel is perfectly set in quiet location minutes away from Florence. See more here!
- Hotel Santa Maria Novella – set within walking distance from the main attractions in Florence, and also from the train station, this hotel has an impressive interior and a stunning rooftop terrace that offers a great view over the city. See more here!
What else to do when you have more time in Florence
Florence has many other impressive sights; the whole city is a museum. So if you are interested in architecture, or you are an art connoisseur, or you just want to walk the streets of one of the most romantic cities in Italy, Florence is a must-have destination for you.
You can also go on a wine tour on the hills outside of the city, start your day at the local market tasting fresh fruit and vegetables, buy some leather goods, go on a Pitti Palace tour, or do something different by choosing a Dan Brown walking tour around Florence.
Another thing worth doing is going on a day trip to the Cinque Terre, one of the most colorful places in Italy.
Check out also other day trips from Florence!
How to get to Florence
Florence is served by the Aeroporto di Firenze-Peretola located 25 minutes outside of town. You can easily get to the city center by public transportation, taxi or private transfer.
If you are planning a longer Italian itinerary, chances are you will be arriving in Rome or Milan. From both cities, you will have plenty of train options that will take you to Florence in no time. The high-speed train from Rome gets to Florence in 1.5 hours, and the high-speed train from Milan takes around 2 hours.
How to get around town
Unlike Rome or Milan, Florence is a relatively small town and it will be more than easy to simply walk around from one attraction to the other.
When to visit Florence
I would always go during spring or autumn. Shoulder season is not only the best for its lower prices, but also for the beautiful colors you’ll get to see.
April or late October would make perfect months for visiting Florence. Just avoid the last weekend of October because that’s usually when Italians have a public holiday and the streets are much more crowded.
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