Florence or Firenze, as it is known in Italy, is probably one of the most magical and romantic cities in Italy, if not the world. Manage your Florence itinerary well and it’s possible to see the best of this wonderful city in 24 or 36 hours.
Want to spend 36 hours in Florence? It’s easy… follow this itinerary and then add the extra half day suggestions you’ll find at the bottom of this post.
Florence was founded during the Roman period and later became a flourishing trade and economic centre. During the Middle Ages, Florence was considered to be one of the richest cities in Europe and had its own currency – the florin. From the 14th until the 16th century it was the most politically, economically and culturally important city in the whole world and was ruled by the famous Medici family.
The prominent Medici family were the most important dynasty in Florence. They were famous bankers and controlled almost all of the wealth in the city. From 1513 to 1630, the family produced four Popes and two Queens of France. In 1532, the family acquired the hereditary title Duke of Florence and in 1569, the family was elevated to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. They enjoyed great wealth and position until the Duchy became bankrupt in 1723. That is why some people call Florence the “city of the Medici” and this is not an exaggeration; everywhere you go in Florence you will end up either in their palace, library, church or garden!
When to Visit Florence
Whenever you go to Florence, it will always be an amazing experience. If you want to skip the huge crowds during the high season, then you should definitely plan your trip in the shoulder seasons of spring or autumn, although don’t expect the city to be empty. Like Rome, Florence tends to have a very nice climate almost all of the year and even during the Italian winter there will be plenty of sun.
However, if you want to get the most from your trip to Florence, consider going in March, April, May, September and October. Those are the perfect months to enjoy the weather and avoid the huge crowds that flock to Florence during the summer months.
Where to Stay in Florence
Florence offers lots of places to stay from five star hotels, to apartments and hostels. If you’re visiting during the high season, book well in advance.
A good location to stay in Florence is somewhere near the Boboli Gardens or the San Niccolò neighbourhood on the south side of the Arno river. Close enough to explore on foot and often with great views to to Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral, the places to stay in these areas offer good value for money and a more ‘local’ experience.
Porta Romana House is a great apartment option if you are a group of four people and would like to be independent. A fifteen minute walk from the Pitti Palace, this apartment is perfectly situated in one of the most picturesque neighbourhoods in Florence.
Hotel Silla is the ideal option if you want to dive into Florence’s oldest buildings. The hotel is set in a structure from the 16th century and is located on the south bank of the Arno, opposite the National Library.
If you love the hustle and bustle of a really central location, then book the cool and classy Hotel Spadai, literally a minutes walk to the Duomo and known for generous upgrades when they’re not full.
Italian City Break Ideas
Things to Do in Florence in A Day
If you only have 1 day in Florence, it is vital that you organise your trip well in advance. Because Florence is one of the most visited cities in the world and some attractions have to be seen, getting tickets on the day is impossible. If you want to organise a Florence one day itinerary with tight time slots so you can visit everything you want to see, then booking online at least two months in advance is advisable.
Explore Piazza del Duomo and Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral
Piazza del Duomo is the most visited spot in Florence and is home to Florence’s finest architectural and historical marvels. It is an absolute must see if you have just one day in Florence. Despite the inevitable crowds, the essence and rich history of the city can still be seen and felt all around.
Santa Maria del Fiore is one of those marvels, which require your attention. It was completed in the beginning of the 15th century by Filippo Brunelleschi, who also designed its famous dome. The cathedral is built in the Gothic architectural style and is entirely covered in white, green and pink marble panels. Inside the cathedral you will find a couple of art works of the noble men of Florence who financed the building of the cathedral. Along with that, there is a crypt, which houses the tomb of Brunelleschi and the ruins of the former ancient cathedral of Santa Reparata.
Entrance to the cathedral is free of charge, but in the summer you can queue for a long time to get in. The cathedral opens from 10am to 4.30pm daily. As an active consecrated Cathedral, visiting hours on Sundays are very limited so we suggest going on a weekday and getting there around 8am in the summer months so you don’t have to queue for hours.
For the other Duomo attractions (the Dome, Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Crypt, San Giovanni’s Baptistery and the Piazza del Duomo Museum) you will need a ticket which can be bought for €18 at the ticket office in Piazza San Giovanni (every day from 8:15am to 6:45pm). The ticket is valid for 72 hours but these are not a skip the line tickets or tours though (and do not include the Dome) and you will still have to queue.
Inside the cathedral you can observe the famous and awe-inspiring Brunelleschi’s Dome from below. The Dome was painted by Giorgio Vasari and depicts the Last Judgement. The artwork is a true masterpiece and will leave you speechless the first time you see it. To get up close to the artwork and the interior of world’s biggest dome you can climb the 463 steps along narrow staircases through the structure, admiring the incredible architectural masterpiece as you go.
It is essential that you book tickets in advance for a dome tour – often they are sold out three to four weeks ahead, and longer for popular time-slots.
Visit San Giovanni’s Baptistery
In the Piazza del Duomo is also the Baptistery of San Giovanni, famous for its unusual octagonal shape. It was built in the 11th century and is the place where many of Florentine notable figures, as well as the Medici, were baptised. The baptistery is well-known for its incredible golden ceiling and the Gates of Paradise created by Michelangelo. These can be observed on the outside as you stand in front of Santa Maria del Fiore.
Learn at Piazza del Duomo’s Museum
Visiting the Opera Duomo Museum will only make your experience better as you laern about historic Florence. In the museum of Piazza del Duomo are housed all of the original artefacts of all the architectural wonders, as well as the golden Gates of Paradise. There is also a religious library, a museum showing the creation of Brunelleschi’s Dome and lots of statues and busts that were found in the architectural marvels of Florence. On the top floor of the museum, you can observe Brunelleschi’s Dome from a closer distance and enjoy an Italian espresso.
Head south through the atmospheric streets, passing stunning historic buildings and beautiful piazzas until crossing the river Arno, using one of the most famous bridges in the world, the Ponte Vecchio. This bridge, the foundations of which are Roman, is lined with shops selling souvenirs, but blur your eyes for a minute and image this as a bustling shopping place for Florentines to buy their daily wares.
Visit the Pitti Palace
Probably a lesser known landmark, the Pitti Palace does not attract quite as many crowds as the Duomo complex does. However, the palace houses some of the world’s best masterpieces and artefacts from the Roman and Medieval periods. The palace was built in the 15th century and was later sold to the Medici family, who made it their family residence.
Nowadays, the palace has a couple of levels to be explored. On the first floor is the lavish Palatine Gallery, which houses many artworks from the 16th & 17th century, including those of Raphael, Titian, Tintoretto, Caravaggio and Rubens. There can also be found the Royal Apartments, which depict the way and style of living of the Medici family.
Then, on the ground floor is the treasury of the Dukes, displaying the family’s riches. Along with that, you can explore the Porcelain and Costume Museums, which depict the fashion of the Renaissance period.
Stroll the Boboli Gardens
Head for the Boboli Gardens, which make up the largest green area in Florence and provide welcome respite after a day in Florence. While exploring the gardens near the palace you will first see the the Amphitheater with the Roman basin and the Egyptian obelisk at the centre. The story behind the basin is unclear and many believe that is was brought there to show off the wealth of the family. Other notable spots in the gardens are Buontalenti’s Grotto, the Grand Duke’s Casino, the Cavalier’s Garden and Neptune’s Fishpond.
Take a Walking Tour
If organising yourself is not your bag, or you’re paying a last minute visit, a Florence one day walking tour is a great idea. You’ll see all the important stuff (from the outside) and get a real flavour of the city.
Climb Giotto’s Bell Tower
Giotto’s Campanile is another great Renaissance marvel of Florence. It was built in the 14th century and finished by Francesco Talenti. Giotto was the designer and architect of the bell tower, but sadly did not live long enough to see it finished. The bell tower is known for the beautiful views over Florence and its staggering height of 122 meters. To reach to the top there are 414 stairs that have to be climbed. However, there are a couple of terraces from which you can overlook the other marvels of Piazza del Duomo and catch your breath. It is good to note that near the entrance there are many hexagonal panels, which depict the history of mankind and the creation of the Adam and Eve.
Explore the Palazzo Vecchio
The imposing Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace) is full of hidden passages, secret symbols and medieval history, perfect for an evening visit. Between April and September, the Palazzo is open till 11pm every night of the week except Thursdays. The 14th century town hall has a wonderful interior with ornate decor, intricate tapestries and fine works of art by Michelangelo and Da Vinci, amongst others. The building overlooks the Piazza della Signoria where the replica of Michelangelo’s David stands.
Where to Eat in Florence
Our top recommendation for lunch in Florence is the fabulous San Lorenzo Market, a five minute walk north from the Piazza del Duomo. Here you’ll find the Mercato Centrale. Head upstairs for the gourmet food market where you’ll find stalls selling local meats, cheese and all manner of delicious lunch options.
For dinner, Matto Matto is a few minutes walk from the Duomo and offers well cooked traditional Italian food with attentive service.
Our favourite though is Osteria Enoteca Vecchio Cancello, a typical family run trattoria serving local and Tuscan cuisine. Just ten minutes from the Duomo, this one’s worth the walk!
If you prefer to take the hassle out of finding somewhere for dinner, why not take a food walking tour? This highly rated dine around Florence food and wine tour is an authentic restaurant and bar hopping experience which includes three courses, plus a selection of delicious Italian wines.
Florence in 36 Hours
Do you have just a little bit longer in this fabulous city? With just another half day in Florence, you could visit at least three more quintessential Florence attractions;
- The Galleria degli Uffizi houses the world’s leading collection of Renaissance paintings from artists such as Raphael, Botticelli and Da Vinci. The Uffizi Gallery is the one of the Florence must see attractions, but it’s vast and you could easily while away a whole day here – not ideal if you only have 24 or 36 hours in Florence. Take an Uffizi Gallery small group tour of the best bits, enough to get the essence of the place but ensure you don’t become over-immersed!
- The beautifully simple Basilica of Santa Croce is the burial place of the great and good of Florence, including Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli. It provides a sense of peace after the frenetic activity of the Piazza del Duomo and gives time to reflect on the history and importance of this incredible city.
- Santa Maria Novella is a spectacular church near the train station, with a vibrant piazza that is always thronged with people and street vendors. Inside, the church is a treasure trove of art by Giotto, Lippi, and a series of incredible frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio that are some of the best in Italy.
Our Top Five Tips for Your Florence 1 Day Itinerary
- The absolute best time to visit Giotto’s Campanile is at sunset, so that you can get the best view of the city and Brunelleschi’s Dome in the evening light.
- If you can, squeeze in a taxi ride to Giardino delle rose and enjoy one of the most romantic (and Instagrammable) views over the city of Florence.
- Book everything in advance, especially around the Duomo. Don’t turn up on the day expecting to queue, you won’t even be able to do that!
- Always carry cash, as the ATMs in Florence have high charges and some places in the city do not accept card payments.
- There are three (yes, three!) statues of Michelangelo’s David in Florence. The original icon is housed in the Accademia Gallery (Galleria dell’Accademia), a ten minute walk north of the Duomo. The second, a superb replica, can be seen in Piazza della Signoria, a two minute detour on your route from the Duomo to Pritti Palace. The third is a bronze replica and is mounted high on a plinth overlooking the city, in Piazzale Michelangelo (close to Giardino delle rose and offering the same amazing views).