Somewhere in the center of Italy, right in the heart of Tuscany, only 3 hours away from Rome, there is a romantic, blooming and lively city, visited by more than 10 million tourists annually, attracted by the open-air museum called Firenze or Florence. Obviously, I longed wished to explore the place Leonardo da Vinci called home, to walk on the streets that centuries ago the greatest Renaissance artists walked on and to enjoy a gelato right where it was invented. Therefore, fortunately, I have included Florence in my itinerary of the trip I had in Italy in June.
Florence is very old, and when I say old I don’t mean to exaggerate, since its first official attestations are sometime in the year 59 BC, when Emperor Julius Caesar set the foundations of a military settlement, right on the banks of the Arno river, the same river that today divides the city into two parts. Although more than 2,000 years have passed since then, the original name of the settlement has not undergone major changes, as Caesar has “baptized” it Florentia.
Florentia then became Firenze, a town that has experienced unpleasant and tumultuous times, as well as periods of glory beginning with the 14th century, with the onset of the Renaissance, known as the most flourishing artistic age of mankind, a cultural transition between the Middle Ages and the Modern History. One of the greatest contributions to the cultural and artistic development of Florence had the controversial family of bankers, Medici, the most influential in the city between the 14th and 18th centuries. The members of the Medici family were great lovers and collectors of art objects, supporting huge artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello or Brunelleschi in turning Florence into the city with the highest concentration of art in the world, as it is in present.
Obviously, if it were to assign Florence a single word, it would certainly be art. Therefore, I can bet that it’s no surprise that the city center was declared UNESCO World Heritage in 1982, or that it is very often included in the top of the most beautiful cities in the world.
I have underestimated the time I have devoted to the sepia city, as I like to name it, given the palette of colors in the shades of red and marron of the buildings, but on the day dedicated to Florence, I managed to tick off many of the places on the list.
But before I go on and tell you about what to do in Florence in one day, you have to know some very interesting and less known things about the city:
- is the place where the person who named America, America was born. Amerigo Vespucci was born here in 1451.
- if Florence had a day of mourning or a day of bad luck, then this would be November 4. Coincidence or not, both dates in which the city was flooded were on November 4. The first in 1333 and the second in 1966.
- is the first paved city in Europe since 1339
- is also the first European city to have given up on the death penalty and torture
- the place where the piano was invented at the beginning of the 18th century by Bartolomeo Cristofori
- the place where the Gucci brand was invented when its founder, Guccio Gucci, had the brilliant idea in 1921
What to do in Florence in one day
Go to Piazzale Michelangelo
As you already know, when I visit a new place, the first thing that I like to do is have an overview of the whole area. The best place to do this in Florence is to go to Piazzale Michelangelo, a platform built at the end of the 19th century, dedicated to Michelangelo, many copies of his most famous sculptures being found here, including the statue of David.
From here, you will have a complete panorama of Florence, you will be able to admire the Arno River and the bridges that cross it, you will carefully study the details of the imposing buildings that stand out in the “skyline” of the city, you will have an interesting perspective on Boboli gardens and, of course, you will enjoy a delicious espresso on the terrace with a view. Many tourists prefer to come here before the sunset to enjoy a more beautiful view, but this experience also comes with a big crowd, so I advise you to visit the market during the morning and leave the sunset for another place about which I’ll tell you later.
You have several options to get here. Whether you choose to take a bus from the city center, number 12 or 13, which will leave you exactly where you need to be, whether you come by car and park it in the parking lot, or walk half an hour, depending on where you are. There is no visiting fee.
Admire the panorama from San Miniato al Monte
If you want to see Florence from even higher heights, you must know it is possible. Just 500 meters above Piazzale Michelangelo, there is the Basilica of San Miniato del Monte, a 12th-century church built in the unmistakable Romanesque style with a very beautiful facade, made up of white and green marble details. It is one of the highest observation points in the city, so you will practically combine two things: visiting an architectural masterpiece, but also having a dream view.
Since you are already here, I recommend visiting the church’s two cemeteries, one bigger and somewhat atypical with many monuments, macabre, but also interesting, where many painters, sculptors, writers, and other artists have their forever sleep, and another placed in front of the church, which hosts the crypt of the family of the famous Italian director, Franco Zeffirelli.
Cross Ponte Vecchio
It’s time to leave the area and explore the other bank of the Arno River, not in any way, but crossing one of the most famous medieval bridges in Europe and even in the world, Ponte Vecchio. The construction, completed in 1345, initially hosted the butchers’ shops, but today it has a totally different use. Now it hosts some jewelry shops and is also a kind of promenade, dedicated exclusively to pedestrians.
The bridge is famous mainly because of its atypical appearance, with a lot of houses, placed one above the other and their image very beautifully reflected in the water of the river. It is so special that it has even succeeded in softening Hitler’s heart, being the only bridge in Florence that escaped unbombed during the Second World War because of its beauty that the Nazi leader didn’t want to destroy.
Enjoy a gelato
Mamma mia, che delizioso! You will say after you will taste an original gelato, right in the place where it was invented centuries ago. Because yes, the famous Italian dessert was invented by a Florentine architect, when in a hot summer of 1565, he thought it would be better to freeze his yogurt. Obviously, the formula has been improved since then, and now we can find gelato with many different flavors and shapes. I can’t recommend a specific place where you should go since Florence has plenty of gelaterias, but I want to recommend you the combination of pistachio or melon with chocolate cream! It’s so tasty!
Pass the Porcellino test
Who is Porcellino? A bronze fountain located somewhere in the Piazza del Mercato Nuovo, which is a replica of an original and portrays a wild boar surrounded by superstitions. It is said that if you want to make sure you will someday return to Florence, you have to rub the boar’s nose. Yes, you read that well! But that’s not all.
If you want to be lucky, you have to place a coin in the mouth of the wild boar, as strategically as possible, exactly where the water flows so that it falls into the hole placed in front of the statue. If the coin entered that narrow space, it means that a fortunate period awaits you. Obviously, I could not miss such a childish experience and I will offer you a tutorial in images, just in case you did not understand the complexity of the process.
Do some shopping
Even if Milan is the true capital of fashion, you will be surprised to see how many luxury brands you can find in Florence. The capital of Tuscany is not just an open-air museum, it is also an open-air mall, a perfect place for fashion enthusiasts. Of course, if luxury shopping is not your passion and you don’t want to cause major travel budget damage, you can limit yourself to a postcard, a magnet, a leather bag without a specific brand, a beverage in the shape of Italy or a copy of the statue of David. In all colors and sizes!
Visit the Dome Santa Maria del Fiore
If, while looking through the narrow paved streets, you can spot an immense, marble-filled building, loaded with details and continued by a huge dome with red tiles, you have just arrived at the third largest cathedral in the world, the one that dominates Florence’s skyline, the Dome Santa Maria del Fiore.
Its grandeur is easily justified also by the long time it took in order to be completed. The entire process lasted for 140 years. Practically, it began in the 13th century and ended in the 15th century on March 25, 1436. As I said, the most distinctive feature of the cathedral is the impressive dome that you will admire from the moment you are at Piazzale Michelangelo. Well, you can climb to its top and you can see another perspective of Florence that you are likely to fall in love with.
The visit to the cathedral is free, but to enter the dome you must pay. Besides the price of the ticket, you will also spend time and energy because you will have to climb not less than 463 steps to reach the top. If you have only one day at your disposal, I advise you to abandon the plan, as you might lose precious hours waiting in the queue.
If so far I have revealed to you three perfect places to see Florence from above, it is time to reveal the fourth. The more options you have, the better, right? This time is the bell tower or the Campanile di Giotto, just outside the Dome. The name was given by its architect, Giotto, who did not live to see it finished. Though the works began in 1334, the tower was ready only 25 years later, and nowadays can be visited. The good news is that you will only need to climb 414 steps, compared to the 463 of the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral. In translation, you will have muscle fever just 4 days instead of 5.
Recover your energy with a pizza
Unlike gelato, pizza was not invented in Florence, but in Naples, so it is still part of the Italian gastronomy. It’s a kind of dish that you can find on every street in Florence, in all possible forms ( round, square, smaller, bigger, thin, medium-sized) at more than reasonable prices, so it can be exactly the perfect lunch you need in order to charge your batteries and explore the places this delightful city offers you. Tell me what’s your favorite pizza 🙂
Visit Piazza della Signorina
Officially or unofficially, Piazza de la Signorina is a kind of Florence’s core. Cafes, museums, statues, monuments, tourists, photographers, luxury shops, ice cream stalls, all concentrated here harmoniously into a big, vibrant, and enchanting square. It is an open space where you can admire the Renaissance frenzy, either while enjoying a latte macchiato, on a cozy terrace decorated with many red flowers, or while trying to finish an immense gelato with pistachio flavor.
Here is the fountain of Neptune, a copy of the famous statue of David, Perseus and Medusa, Hercules, and many other reputable statues of the Renaissance, most of them guarded by the large vaults of the Loggia dei Lanzi.
Also, in Piazza della Signorina is the Palazzo Vecchio, one of the buildings that stand high above the others, as seen from Piazzale Michelangelo. Besides its resemblance to a fortress, the Palazzo Vecchio has two very important functions. It serves both as the town hall and as an art museum where you can find paintings, frescoes, and sculptures. In June, when I was in Florence, the Palazzo Vecchio was under renovation, but I walked a few feet inside and I was amazed by the fabulous contrast between the rigid exterior and the beautiful interior decorated with all sorts of wonderful details.
Lose yourself on the streets without having a specific destination in mind
Once you’ve been able to check all of the places on the itinerary, it’s time to randomly wander the streets. And Florence is the kind of destination that helps you do that, as the city is very easily walkable. It is also a non-car-friendly place, but it is extremely bike-friendly, the proof being the big number of parking for bicycles and scooters. So, if you want to see as much in a short time as possible, give your feet a favor and rent a bicycle.
Don’t forget to check the map from time to time, as the streets are so narrow and similar that you can easily get lost. If you want a point of reference or a starting point, you might want to start with Via de ‘Tornabuoni, which many travelers in love with Florence say is the most stylish street in the city. My opinion is that there is no street in Florence that is not synonymous with style and that wherever you go, by mistake or not, you will certainly have something to see and admire.
Florence is a very inspirational city for artists of all kinds, whether we are talking about musicians, painters or dancers. So you will often have the chance to see such characters exposing their artwork on the street. One of the most impressive for me was a painter drawing on the asphalt with colorful chalk some incredibly realistic images.
Also in the “randomly discovered places” section, I want to add other markets that you can visit and that do not necessarily differ with something, but that will make their place in the box with beautiful memories from Firenze. For me, two of them are the carousel of Piazza de la Republica, a commercial center of medieval Florence where took place the great literary movements of the last century, as well as Piazza San Marco.
Visit Galeria Uffizi
If you have time and if you are a fan of museums as well as a lover of art and culture, then you have to visit the Uffizi Gallery, opened in 1765, one of the world’s finest art museums, where you can find the originals of the statues you have previously seen throughout the town and many others. The list of artists who have exhibited the most valuable works here is almost endless. From Giotto to Masaccio, from Sandro Boticcelli to Leonardo da Vinci, from Michelangelo to Caravaggio and so on. Basically, the largest collection of Renaissance operas has their home here, surpassing 3000 elements.
For the Uffizi exhibition, we have to thank, at least, the members of the Family of Physicians, who gave the city a large part of their collection, provided they never leave Florence. It seems right to me!
Admire the sunset on the River Arno
You are in one of the most romantic cities in the world, the place that expresses beauty and good taste through every street, every balcony, each pavement stone, and each monument. What’s missing? Obviously, a gorgeous ending of the day, a sensational sunset from the Arno River. The bridge from which you choose to admire the sun hiding behind the sepia buildings does not matter, what’s important is to fully enjoy another intense moment in the city of Renaissance. There is not much to say, the pictures speak for themselves.