FIRENZE, the Italian name for the amazing city of Florence, is one of the Italian cities I love! Not because it’s so famous, not only because it holds a limitless cultural heritage but simply because I love walking around its streets, squares, hidden alleys and along the river Arno. Each time I visit Florence, I discover something new: a different antique or handicraft shop I’ve never seen before, a new alley where I’ve never been before, a new coffee or wine shop, etc.
Here is a short guide for those who are coming to Tuscany and not staying in Florence, so who is coming just for a day trip. I have the opinion that when I visit any place, I want to have an overview experience which makes me be in touch with many aspects of the city instead of making the “Via Crucis” of most important and famous tourists points. So, even when I have only one day to see a city, I prefer to make 5 or 6 different kinds of activities which can provide me a taste of the local lifestyle, from art and architecture to the street market and shopping, passing through the local food and drink.
Anywhere you are staying in Italy or Tuscany – the best way to visit Florence in one day is to take public transportation. Most cities and towns have train connections while others, like Siena, have a better bus connection with Florence. All directions will lead you to Santa Maria Novella station. This is the name of Florence central train station (it’s important to know it because there are a couple of smaller stations and NO information saying that Santa Maria Novella is the central one). You will often find the abbreviation S.M.N. station.
In the Tourist’s Office or in any “tabaccheria” (tobacco store) or newsstands you can purchase a map of Florence, unless you have your smartphone with GPS or internet connection (WI-FI is available for free only in some spots of the city). Anyway, the city has a great system of attractions signposting (all brown signs are related to tourist’s points).
8 things to do in Florence in one day
1. From the train station you can walk into the historical centre, one of Tuscany’s UNESCO sites. You can easily reach the Cathedral square within a few minutes walk. See Santa Maria Novella church right in front of the train station, there is where you want to go (there is an INFO point there if you need). Lead to the S.M.N. square and just go ahead. Any street you take will lead you to the centre but if you want to go first to the Cathedral, take Via dei Banchi. It’s early in the morning so stop for a cappuccino and cornetto in the “BAR” which inspires you the best.
2. Reach the Cathedral square and admire the lovely facade of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Baptistery and Giotto’s bell tower (where it’s possible to climb, but I would not do it right now, maybe if you are staying longer).
3. From the Cathedral it’s very easy to reach Borgo San Lorenzo, where is set the Romanesque Church of San Lorenzo (which holds many important artworks and architecture by Brunelleschi, Michelangelo and other pieces by Ghirlandaio, Donatello, Filippo Lippi and others). But what I like best of this area is the street market of San Lorenzo, open every day except for Monday. Here you will find mainly leather products: pourses, jackets, cloths, shoes and much more. Leather is one of the most important Florentine manufactures. Besides you will find many souvenir stands with Murano jewelry and souvenirs (prices are lower than Venice!!) and other local handicrafts. Ideal place for purchasing souvenirs and great deals. If you prefer you can postpone this to the end of the itinerary or you will be carrying your stuff all the rest of the day (I just mentioned it in 3rd place because it’s very close to the Duomo)
4. Now you can make the way back and the opposite way from the Cathedral, along Via dei Calzolai till you reach Piazza della Signoria. Palazzo Vecchio is the Town Hall, in front of it you will see David’s replication (the original one is now in the Galleria dell’Accademia, which you can visit if you like, but it is highly recommended to make reservations in advance). On the side you see the famous Piazza del Nettuno and on the opposite side, Loggia della Signoria.
5. Behind the Loggia you will reach the Uffizi Gallery, not only one of the most important museums of Florence, for its art collection as well as for its history as the first museum of Florence but also one of the most important architecture projects by Vasari. If you plan to visit the Uffizi you’d better book it in advance, even if you will pay an extra fee for that. It can perfectly be included in a day trip because it is not so large and you don’t need too many hours to visit it. Anyway, it’s worth it even to see its building only from the outside. Along the square, there are many local artists which sell their paintings or make your portrait at the moment.
6. Go ahead to the end of Uffizi’s square till you reach the “Lungarno” – the river’s edge. To the right side you will reach the popular Ponte Vecchio, the most famous and older bridge of Florence and also the traditional jewellers and watchmakers of Florence. I recommend you cross the brigde and walk around the streets of the “oltrarno” (beyond the Arno). I’m sure you will find a lovely and delicious local restaurant (an osteria, or a vineria) where to have lunch. Try “pappardelle al cinghiale”, or a delicious “bistecca alla Fiorentina” and match it with a Chianti Classico or even the house wine which is always great! For dessert: Tiramisù, of course!
7. You can go back through the next bridge, Ponte della Trinità and walk back into the city centre. Walk towards Palazzo Strozzi, at a certain point turn right on Via delle Terme or Via Porta Rossa. You will reach another small street market at the square of the Porcellino (little pig). The legend says you must put a coin in his mouth. You will find this curious symbol really full of people. What I like the best about this place is that you find some interesting handicraft for sale, for example the beautiful tapestry work called “arazzo” (arras) which dates back from the Renaissance times.
8. From the Porcellino just go ahead on Via Pelliceria and reach Piazza della Repubblica. This square is the mark of the Unification of Italy (which became one single Nation in 1861). In fact, the neoclassical archway which leads into one of the main streets (also known in Italian as the “Corso”) of Florence where you will find all important brands. In this square, I highly recommend you to enter the department store called “Rinascente” – opposite to the arch. Climb all sliding scales to the last floor and look for the local Cafè. You must make some more steps and then lead to the terrace. This is an expensive but really worthy coffee break. You have a privileged view of Brunelleschi’s dome which is the symbol of Florence. (that’s from where I took the picture you see on the top of this post).
Well, this is pretty much some ideas of how you can spend a day in Florence. Of course, there is so much more to see and to do, like visit Giardino di Boboli (beyond Ponte Vecchio); the churches of Santa Croce, San Marco and Santa Maria Novella with so many important artworks by the most famous Italian artists; so many museums like the Accademia Gallery and other kinds of museums like the Archaeology and Ethnology museum, the Prehistory museum, the National Museum of Photography “Alinari”, Palazzo Strozzi exhibitions and much more.