Florence in One Day: The Essential Sightseeing Guide

You can easily get through this tour in about 8-10 hours, and even enjoy a nice lunch and dinner, with a few snacks, breaks and gelatos along the way… We suggest you follow the tour in the presented order, but obviously, feel free to change it as you wish or to wander off in exploration… in Florence, even getting lost is beautiful!



1 – Duomo

Where else could you start? With its sheer size and utter magnificence, the first sight of the Duomo is often one of the most breathtaking experiences in a person’s life. Officially known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the church features one of the largest domes in the world, the brainchild of architect Filippo Brunelleschi. Adjacent to the Duomo is the much older Florence Baptistery, an octagonal structure begun in 1048, that today is famous especially for its bronze-relief doors. The East Doors, known as the Gates of Paradise, are especially noteworthy, and took Lorenzo Ghiberti over 27 years to complete.


  • Tip:  If you’re in good shape and don’t mind dark, narrow ascents, head to the top of the Campanile di Giotto (the cathedral’s bell tower) or to the lantern above the actual dome (on the way, you’ll get to admire Vasari’s frescoes up close) for fabulous views of Florence and the surrounding hills.


2 – San Lorenzo

San Lorenzo’s Basilica was the Medici’s parish church, and the striking Cappelle Medicee, partly designed by Michelangelo, house the graves of the family’s most prominent members. With its famously unfinished facade and asymmetrical architecture, the complex dominates a lively area of Florence famous for its many restaurants and shops, as well as for the iconic Mercato di San Lorenzo. Stands in the open-air market offer a variety of leather goods, clothes and novelty items, while the recently-renovated indoor market (Mercato Centrale) features a vast selection of grocery shops, eateries and bars.


  • Tip: In the market, there’s usually some room for haggling. Try offering a bit less than the asking price on leather goods or accessories… you’ll usually be able to get a discount!


3 – Santa Maria Novella

The oldest of Florence’s major basilicas, this Dominican church built in the Tuscan gothic style is gorgeous both inside and out. In fact, if you decide to enter just one Florence church, this might be our pick: the stunning interior houses an immense wealth of artistic treasures, both in the main nave and in the many chapels that branch out to the sides, from Giotto’s Crucifix to Ghirlandaio’s Tornabuoni Chapel and Masaccio’s Trinity.


  • Tip: Florence’s main train station is nearby and takes its name from the church. If you’re arriving by train, it’s certainly fine to start from this spot, then work your way to San Lorenzo and the Duomo before continuing towards Piazza della Repubblica


3 – Piazza della Repubblica

This beautiful square is relatively “modern”, as it was created in the late 19th century when Florence became the capital of Italy. The piazza is home to three of Florence’s five historic cafes: Giubbe Rosse, which was an important meeting spot for artists and intellectuals around the turn of the 20th century, the elegant Gilli, which served as the setting for the iconic photo ‘American Girl in Italy’, and the stylish Paszkowski, where you can sample an amazing home-made pastry while listening to live music.


  • Fun fact: The present-day square was constructed in the 1880s by clearing out the old ghetto of Florence (and destroying several invaluable landmarks in the process). Centuries earlier, however, this had been the site of Florence’s old forum, and the colonna dell’abbondanza (the only column in the square) marks the exact spot where the cardus and decumanus of the Roman city intersected.


4 – Piazza della Signoria

This magnificent square was – and still is – the political epicenter of the city. The imposing Palazzo Vecchio was the seat of Medici power, and today serves as Florence’s Town Hall. Its bell tower (the Torre di Arnolfo) was completed in 1310, and is still the city’s tallest tower. A copy of the David stands prominently in front of the “Old Palace”, in the same spot where the original was first placed as a symbol of the Florentine Republic. To its right begins the stunning colonnade of the Uffizi gallery, flanked by the Loggia de’ Lanzi which houses what is arguably the world’s finest open-air collection of statues. Florence’s most famous café, Rivoire, sits on the west end of square, letting patrons enjoy one of the city’s most emblematic vistas with a nice (and expensive) drink in their hands.


  • Fun fact: In recent years, the Piazza has hosted several temporary exhibitions of contemporary sculpture, so don’t be surprised if you notice a big ugly thing that seems somewhat out of place between all the neoclassical statues…


5 – Ponte Vecchio

Together with the Duomo and the statue of David, the “Old Bridge” is the most recognizable symbol of Florence. In ancient times, this fascinating structure housed the city’s butcheries, but in 1561 Grand Duke Ferdinand became annoyed by the foul smell, so he ordered the butchers to leave and replaced them with goldsmiths. To this day, the bridge is lined with exclusive jewelry shops and gold workshops.


  • Fun Fact: This was the only bridge in Florence to survive German bombings during World War II (all other bridges were rebuilt after the war). Some say that Nazi commander-in-chief Hermann Goering, who was quite the art lover, couldn’t bring himself to order its destruction. Others claim that it was spared for more practical reason: it was too narrow for American tanks to cross, so it had little strategic importance…


6 – Oltrarno

The Oltrarno area, which simply means the area “beyond the Arno river”, was recently ranked by Lonely Planet as the coolest neighborhood in the world. This part of Florence contains major landmarks such as the majestic Pitti Palace (the Medici residence in the later years of their rule), the imposingly austere Basilica di Santo Spirito and the ancient Chiesa del Carmine, whose Brancacci Chapel features the famous fresco cycle by Masaccio. What’s really special of Oltrarno, however, is the area’s authentic “old Florence” vibe, mostly gone in the more touristy parts of town, and which makes it perhaps the last remnant of true Fiorentinità.


7 – Boboli Garden

Behind Piazza dei Pitti, at the start of the hillside that leads into the Chianti countryside, is one of the world’s most dazzling gardens. Constructed in the mid-16th century by will of the Medici Grand Dukes, who had moved from their previous residence in Palazzo Vecchio to the adjacent Pitti Palace, the lavish park features an array of grottoes, nympheums, fountains, statues and a vast amphitheater.


  • Fun Fact: Boboli is regarded as the prototype of the “Italian garden”, and was the direct inspiration for many royal parks around Europe, most famously that of Versailles.


8 – Piazzale Michelangelo

Even if you’re in town for just one day, don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy one of the most breathtaking views ever. Piazzale Michelangelo is Florence’s terrace: a panoramic lookout point directly above the city, offering spectacular and unobstructed vistas over the entire city, as well as onto the verdant hills to its south, dotted with the luxurious villas of the city’s rich and famous.


  • Tip: The Piazzale can certainly be reached on foot, up the winding rampe that start behind the Porta San Niccolò, but if you think the climb may be too challenging, a bus (lines 12 and 13) or taxi will have you up there in just a few minutes (you can always walk on the way back, when gravity is on your side…).


9 – Santa Croce

We put this destination at the end of our tour because this is probably where you’ll want to end your day… and start your night! The area, in fact, is the epicenter of Florence’s nightlife, with a high concentration of bars, pubs, clubs and restaurants lining the streets that branch out from the beautiful Piazza Santa Croce. The Basilica that dominates the square is often called the “temple of Italian glory”, as its crypt houses the tombs of many great Italians, from Michelangelo and Galileo to Foscolo and Rossini. The body of Florence’s most famous son, the poet Dante (who was exiled in 1302), was never returned to the city despite numerous attempts throughout the centuries. Therefore, his sarcophagus remains empty, but his statue – the only one in the square – stands sternly outside the great church, seemingly looking down with contempt onto his long-lost hometown.


  • Fun Fact: On the third week of June, the piazza becomes the stadium of Calcio Storico, an ancient sport contested by teams representing Florence’s four quartieri. If you’re around and are able to score tickets, don’t miss the chance to witness this gruesome yet truly unique spectacle – a sort of hybrid between street-brawling and rugby… in Renaissance garb!



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