The train is the best mean to reach Florence. The city centre is almost entirely pedestrian space. Most of the points of interest are inside this area and can be easily reached on foot. On the other hand, parking lots are scarce and quite expensive, so reaching town by car can be more of an inconvenience. If possible, you should avoid Florence in Summer, when the heat is unbearable, and during national festivities, when tourists crowd every corner of town. My wife and I decided to visit Florence in early November and arrived in town by train. The weather was still mild, and we could easily walk around the city centre.
During our stay, we took a room at the Locanda De’Pazzi, a small, unpretentious but clean facility, located in the heart of downtown. Whatever hotel you choose, I suggest you select a facility in the city centre, especially if you arrived by train. You may have to pay a little more, but you’ll be nearer to the main points of interest, and you won’t have to take public transportation to reach downtown.
Given the high number of attractions, a thorough visit of Florence requires at least three full days. We decided to stay for three and a half days. We arrived in the afternoon of our first day and left in the evening of our fourth day.
The best restaurants are always full. If you happen to fancy a restaurant while touring the city, don’t hesitate to make a reservation. We tried many different places, but I want to suggest you two in particular. L’Antico Fattore is a restaurant that serves typical cuisine. The Vecchio Vicolo is a little more refined but serves delicious traditional dishes as well. If you want a place for a quick lunch or a tasty happy hour, you can’t miss La Prosciutteria.
As it happens in many tourist cities, you can buy a museums card. It’s called Firenze Card, it costs 85 euros and lasts for 72 hours. The price may seem quite high. However, it can be advantageous if you plan to devote a lot of your time to paid attractions. When the number of tourists is high, the card can be useful to shorten the waits, because it will allow you to jump some queues. You can buy the Firenze Card both online or at the tourist information points in town.
If you arrive in the early afternoon, as we did, leave your luggage at the hotel and dive into Florence immediately. The best way to start touring the city is going to the southern part of the river Arno, in the district of Oltrano. You can easily explore it in half a day.
The first gem you’ll meet on your path is the Ponte Vecchio. This isn’t just a bridge you use to go from one riverbank to the other. It’s a symbol of Florence, a real street, with jewellery stores on both sides. You can take a stroll along the bridge, having a look at the shop windows and stop to take a picture with the river behind you.
Once reaching the other side of the bridge, go ahead toward Palazzo Pitti, the most imposing building in this district. Built halfway through the 15th century, Palazzo Pitti is based on a design by Brunelleschi. This Renaissance palace is bound to two of the most important families in the history of Italy—the Medici and the Savoy—who elected it ad their residence at different times. Palazzo Pitti hosts four museums. You should probably spend most of your visit touring the Royal Apartments and the Treasure of the Grand Dukes.
Just behind Palazzo Pitti, you can find the Boboli Garden, one of the most appreciated Italian gardens in the world. It’s characterised by the presence of fountains, statues and rare plants. Exceptionally beautiful during Spring and Summer, it’s worth a visit at every time of the year. But don’t linger for too long! There’s so much waiting for you.
When you leave Piazza Pitti, you can go on towards Piazza Santo Spirito, where you can visit the Basilica. This church was almost entirely rebuilt following Brunelleschi’s directions.
Not far from here, you can find Piazza del Carmine. Here you’ll see the Basilica di Santa Maria del Carmine and its famous chapel—the Cappella Brancacci—decorated with the Renaissance frescoes by Masaccio and Masolino.
Now it’s probably time to go back to the other bank of the river Arno and find some delicious restaurant to have your first meeting with Florence’s cuisine.
No tour of Florence can be considered complete without a visit to the Uffizi Gallery. This is probably one of the most visited museums in the world, but don’t feel discouraged. By following two simple tips, you can enjoy a thoroughly satisfying visit. If you don’t have the Firenze Card, book your ticket in advance using the online platform and select the first available hour of your second day. This way you’ll be able to visit the Gallery first thing in the morning. You need to book the ticket a month in advance at least, especially if you want to have the chance to select the preferred day and time. When the day of your visit comes, you need to do two separate queues—the first to collect your ticket and the second to enter the museum. Be sure to get up early and be ready at the Gallery ticket office a little earlier than the opening hour. Once you have your ticket, move to the line to enter the museum. You won’t have to wait long. If you have the Firenze Card you can go directly to the second queue, and stand in line with those who booked their ticket in advance.
By arriving early, you’ll be able to enjoy the beauty of the Gallery without being surrounded by too many tourists, and you won’t spend hours standing in line. The Uffizi Gallery holds such a rich collection that it would take days to examine each piece with the due attention. If you are passionate about art, you can get lost inside the museum for as long as you want. However, if you are mostly interested in the masterpieces, you should be able to conclude your visit by lunchtime. One of the most suggestive rooms is the one that contains Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Primavera. Take your time here and admire the exquisite art and the countless details.
After your visit, take a break at the cafe on the Uffizi’s terrace.
Now it’s time to explore the rest of the city centre. Once outside the museum, cross Piazza
The first is the amazingly beautiful Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. It’s the fourth biggest cathedral in the world; it’s decorated with green, white and pink marble on the outside and with incredible frescoes on the inside. The cathedral’s most amazing feature is Brunelleschi’s Dome—almost unthinkable given the 15th century’s construction techniques. On the inside, the dome is decorated with frescoes by Vasari and his disciple Zaccari.
If you have plenty of time and energy, you can climb the stairs to go up inside the dome. From the top, you can admire an incredible view of the town and gain a unique perspective over the cathedral.
Piazza del Duomo has many other monuments, such as the Baptistery of San Giovanni and Giotto’s Tower. Both are decorated with white, green and pink marble, in perfect harmony with the Cathedral.
Once you’re ready to leave Piazza del Duomo, head back toward Piazza
From April to September, Palazzo Vecchio extends its opening hours to the evening. Plan a visit it after dinner. It will make you save time during the day, and grant you an unusual perspective after sunset. Palazzo Vecchio was the core of power at the time of the Medici, and it was the seat of the Italian Government when Florence was Italy’s capital. Palazzo Vecchio is elegant, decorated with frescoes by Vasari, the highest expression of which is the Salone del Cinquecento. During the visit inside the building, don’t miss the Maps Room, where you’ll be able to admire maps of the entire world as it was known in the 15th century.
Since your first two days are going to be challenging, you can take it easy and delay your visit at Palazzo Vecchio to the third day.
However, if you already visited it, you can start your day visiting the Museo del Bargello, inside the Palazzo del Podestà. I know you probably think you’ll have enough after the Uffizi, but this museum is one of the most important Renaissance art museums in the world. It hosts masterpieces by Donatello, Della Robbia and Brunelleschi you surely don’t want to miss.
When you leave the Museo del Bargello, you can head towards Orsanmichele Church and Museum. This building was once used to store the wheat that was distributed to the population during famines to avoid speculations. On the first floor, you’ll see the statues that once decorated the exterior of the building.
After visiting Orsamichele, you can go on with your exploration and go to Palazzo Davanzati. This palace contains a museum with an excellent overview of the domestic life of the highest circles in society.
Along the way that will lead you to the next point of interest—the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella—choose a place to have a quick lunch. Then proceed with the visit to the Cathedral.
The Basilica di Santa Maria Novella is more than just a church. It’s a big complex, made of cloisters, chapels and the refectory. What makes this Basilica unique is the vast collection of work of arts by the most influential Florentine artists. Here you’ll be able to admire Masaccio’s Holy Trinity, Giotto and Brunelleschi’s crucified Christs, and Giotto and Ghirlandaio’s frescoes. During the Middle Ages, this cathedral’s crucial importance was marked by its richness in masterpieces and work of arts.
After visiting Santa Maria Novella, you can head toward the namesake railway station to take the bus to Piazzale Michelangelo. This is the best panoramic terrace in town. You can reach it with bus number 12 and 13. From here you’ll be able to see the entire city centre and take amazing pictures.
Now, all you have to do is go back to the town centre and enjoy the rest of your afternoon among shops and cafes.
Your fourth and last day can be devoted to the northern part of town. The first unmissable stop is the Basilica di San Lorenzo, one of the best Renaissance architecture in Florence, created by Brunelleschi.
Near the Basilica, you can find the Museum of the Medici’s Chapels. Here you can visit the Medici’s graves, a testament of the most influential family in Florence’s history. Most of the sculptures decorating the vestibules and the crypts were realised by Michelangelo himself.
Our tour of Florence ends with the Galleria dell’Accademia, a gallery that hosts several paintings from the 13th to the 17th century, sculptures and a few musical instruments. But what attracts thousands of tourists every year is Michelangelo’s David. In fact, the one you see in Piazza della Signoria is just a copy. The original statue is the central piece of the collection of this gallery.Is there a better way to conclude your tour of Florence?
I hope you enjoyed this overview of this magnificent town. If you have any question, please don’t hesitate to ask and leave a comment below!