To have but one day in Florence is a terrible fate. If that is yours, planning is an absolute must.
Florence is widely known as the birthplace of the Renaissance and offers extraordinary 14th and 15th century art and architecture by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi and hundreds of other artists and artisans. Their masterpieces are the reason that the historic city centre, the focus on this one-day itinerary, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
With only one day in Florence, you’ll have to be selective. You won’t have time to visit the massive Uffizi Gallery, one of the oldest in Europe, or the Leonardo da Vinci Museum, which requires a good deal of time to study his many inventions. Much of the tour I’m proposing is about experiencing Florence from the outside. However, there are a few buildings you will have time to enter–and they are a must.
The Accademia Gallery and Michelangelo’s David
Start your Florence tour at the Accademia Gallery where Michaelangelo’s original David stands. (There is a replica in the Piazza della Signoria but there’s nothing like seeing the original.) The Accademia opens at 8:15am, Tuesdays through Sundays. This will be your only scheduled stop of the day. Book your tickets and entry time online as soon as you know you’re going to Florence. The Gallery also houses the works of other Renaissance artists and the Museum of Musical Instruments where you can see a Stradivarius violin.
Now walk south along Via Cavour towards San Lorenzo.
Basilica of San Lorenzo
There are dozens of churches in Florence you could see but there are two I would recommend in particular. The Basilica of San Lorenzo is the first. It was the parish church of the Medici family and was consecrated in 393 CE but was added to over many centuries–especially during the Renaissance. In this one basilica you’ll see a sacristy by Brunelleschi, a sculpture by Donatello and a library by Michelangelo.
Continue along Via Cavour to Il Duomo.
The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore – Il Duomo
Il Duomo is the most magnificent church in Florence. The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore is known simply as Il Duomo due to its dome by Brunelleschi which is 180 feet wide and was an engineering feat in its time. It is still the largest brick and mortar dome in the world. (Read the fascinating history of the dome here. ) For EUR€10 you can climb the 700 steps to the top of the dome for a magnificent view of the city. You can go into the church for free. Inside take note of Vasari’s frescoes of the Last Judgement, the mosaic floor and the clock over the entranceway.
Now walk south along the Via dei Calzaiuoli to the Piazza della Signoria where a replica of Michelangelo’s David stands in the statue’s original location. Continue south to the Arno River and veer right to the bridge.
The Ponte Vecchio is the oldest bridge in Florence and is famous for it’s stores built along both sides. These were originally butcher shops (think blood dripping into the river below) but today they are primarily jewellery stores, art galleries and souvenir shops. Shop if you like but my purpose for taking you along this bridge is a brief brush with history and, more importantly, to get to the other side.
Continue south along the Via Romana to the Palazzo Pitti.
Boboli Gardens and the Grotta del Buontalenti at the Palazzo Pitti
You could go inside the Palazzo Pitti but given your time constraints you might be better to go around the Palazzo to the Boboli Gardens that stretch on for over 100 acres of formal 16th century Italian garden style. It contains an amphitheatre, a fountain of Neptune, an Egyptian obelisk and the Grotta del Buontalenti. The latter is a fascinating and baffling combination of classical and grotesque sculpture and architecture.
Now it’s time to walk back to your starting point. If it was the railway station you’ll have about a half hour walk at the end of a very satisfying day.
Have you been to Florence?
What highlight would you recommend?