Feast your eyes on extraordinary art and architecture from the Renaissance period. Walk across lively piazzas and gawk at sculptures that are truly masterpieces. Gorge on fresh food and wine. Florence is a beauty that we explored at the beginning of our classic Rome Florence Venice itinerary! And I dare say, the city has enough museums and medieval buildings to keep the culture-vulture engaged for a week. But what if you had one day in Florence? I give you a Florence one-day itinerary that I took to explore this enchanting city on foot with my family.
Florence is an open-air museum. Perfect for strolling around the narrow cobbled streets and taking in the stunning sights. Everywhere you look up, there would be history and architecture to ooh and aah at. It helps that the food and overall vibe just adds to a memorable city break, be it for a couple or a family.
Florence in a day
Strolling through history at Piazza della Signoria
If I can help it, I like staying in any city for a night or two, instead of day trips, even though this means checking in and out of more hotels/apartments during a trip. The real feel of a city comes alive in late evening or night when most of the day tourists have left. And so, it was with Florence. We had taken a train from Rome the day earlier and settled in our apartment, bought basic groceries and strolled around the neighborhood to get a feel of the place.
Thus, we woke up fresh the next day to tackle strolling through narrow streets and gazing at the palaces, churches, and basilicas through the open-air museum that the city is. Our apartment was across the Arno river and we crossed Ponte Vecchio. This being Florence, Ponte Vecchio is no ordinary bridge. Lined with jewelry and goldsmith shops from the 13th century, the Old Bridge itself is a historical marvel to walk across.
We first walked up to to the Piazza della Signoria, a large square with the imposing Palazzo Vecchio looming on one side. It is a great place for people watching, for seeing beautiful sculptures under the open blue sky and to get a feel what a power center Florence would have been under the Medici rule.
You can’t help but gawk at the marvelous David sculpture kept outside the Palazzo Vecchio. The original of this masterpiece by Michelangelo is showcased safely in the Galleria Academia. Uffizi Gallery, Italy’s top art museum and a Mecca for art lovers is not too far away. You could spend a whole day admiring the largest painting collection in Uffizi, and another day strolling past the masterpieces at Academia. But these are for serious art lovers. The one-day itinerary we followed for Florence suited us perfectly fine especially with a 4-year old kid.
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and the Duomo
If you ask me which is the one building you must visit during your one day in Florence, it has to be the imposing Cathedral. The earlier you go, the less crowded you would find the area in and around the Cathedral. Visiting the Cathedral is free and hence, a long queue is to be expected at all times. You can take a guided tour group with the audio facility to skip the line.
The Cathedral – a wonderful example of Gothic architecture – was built in the 13th century and looms above the tiny street that leads to it. The dome or the Duomo was added in the 15th century. While the interiors are quite plain, the exteriors are richly detailed and pleasing to the eye. The frescoes in the interiors of the dome would make you look up and gasp as the sheer detailing and richness of the colors that comes across vividly despite the distance.
You can even climb to the top of the dome or the cupola. The route, up more than 400 steps takes you much closer to the frescoes. But it is the same way up and down, and not advisable if you are not fit or may feel claustrophobic.
We didn’t climb the Duomo, instead took another path to the top of Florence. This is the Giotto’s bell tower next to the Cathedral and the effort to climb 414 steps would give you fabulous views of the Duomo and sweeping views of the city at all four sides. My daughter loved the huge bell kept on the top floor of the bell tower. This bell tower is another eloquent example of 14th-century Gothic architecture in Florence.
Piazza della Repubblica
Florence has one of the highest concentration of museums and art galleries in any city. With a 4-year old child in tow, we had shunned the world-famous Uffizi Gallery and the Galleria Academia, where fame brings long queues and requires significant pre-planning and booking of tickets.
Instead, we spent the day in Florence roaming around the historical streets and catching marvels in stone and marble wherever we looked up. Another great feature to be admired in Florence is the large squares where people have congregated since medieval times. We had started the day strolling through the impressive Piazza della Signoria and the afternoon saw us at the Piazza della Repubblica.
This Piazza doesn’t look like anywhere its original version. It was cleaned up and expanded in modern times and most of the original shops removed. The modern square is lined with old cafes and hotels on one side. Many of the restaurants and cafes would be expensive, but the expense is worth the food and the view. When we went, there was a charming carousel with richly detailed horses that young kids would absolutely love.
The best view of Florence
Staying in the city meant that we could go back to the apartment and rest ourselves for a bit. But we were cognizant of the time. For the one full day we had in Florence, we were not going to miss the best sunset view I had been promised.
Piazza Michelangelo offers a stupendous view of the Florence skyline, whatever be the time of the day. But it turns magical and wondrous when the sun sets over the Arno river and fires up the sky and the water beneath. Despite the name, it is not designed by Michelangelo. Rather this square is a modern addition to the city, built in the 19th century.
We walked up to Piazza Michelangelo. This is a pleasing walk where tackled many steps. We got in time to enjoy strolling through the large piazza. As sunset neared, the crowds swelled. But the sun going down brought about a hush and sense of wonder amidst the crows. I was lost in the view as the sun glowed and turned the city into a charming painting and could easily ignore a large number of people around me.
The view reminded me a bit of the one we saw of the walled city of Dubrovnik, from a viewpoint we reached via cable car. See this photo essay of the King’s Landing to fire your wanderlust!
Besides sightseeing during the 1 day in Florence, we used the 3 evenings in the city to enjoy the beautiful cafes and restaurants, eat fresh produce and also indulge in a bit of shopping. The city is also known for high-end boutiques for Italian fashion and leather items, not really for bargain hunters. And if you are considering day trips from Florence, do not miss out reading about our fabulous experience to the Tuscan countryside – exploring medieval towns and having an authentic wine tasting session.
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Have you visited Florence? Which is your favourite site or experience in this romantic city? Share with us in the comments below.
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