Florence has good transport links, so it’s quite feasible to have a day trip there. However, you need to plan your day meticulously as there is lots to see in the city. It’s impossible to see everything in a single day, you could easily spend a few days exploring everywhere of interest in the city. But with some planning, you can certainly have a day out to remember.
The centre of Florence is very compact. Much of it is pedestrianised making it very easy and pleasant to walk around. In fact, you’ll probably do a lot of walking so make sure you have appropriate footwear.
Planning Your Day
Before you arrive plan a list of places you want to see. If you are arriving by bus or train, work out your arrival and departure times, so you know how much time you have to play with. If you are staying overnight, find where your accommodation is located and ask them if they will let you leave your luggage, most will. Ideally, you want to be able to walk from the station, drop off your bags and set out on your tour.
Many of the museums close on a Monday. Lots of Florence’s attractions have queues, so it helps save time if you book and purchase your tickets beforehand.
Realistically in a day you could visit a couple of churches, one of the museums, and watch the sunset before you leave. Take a picnic lunch to save time.
Churches in Florence
Santa Maria del Fiore
This church has the largest brick and mortar dome in the world making it one of the most famous cathedrals in Italy. Climbing the dome is one of the most popular things to do in Florence. Because of this, the queue can be 2 hours long some days. The other main sight in the complex are the doors of the Baptistery. If this is your first time in Florence you should at least walk around the outside of the cathedral and have a look at the doors of the Baptistery called the Gates to Paradise. I have written separate guides to both the Baptistery and Santa Maria Del Fiore.
This Franciscan Basilica has a neo-Gothic facade built with different shades of marble. Its name refers to a splinter of the Holy Cross which was donated by Louis IX of France in 1258. A lot of people visit this church to see the tombs of Michelangelo, Ghiberti and Galileo. There are frescoes by Giotto in the chapels next to the altar which are quite stunning. See Santa Croce website for opening times.
Santa Maria Novella
The Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella was built in 1246 on the site of a 10th Century oratory and was completed around 1360. Like Santa Croce, the building sits in a large piazza. The facade is articulated by coloured marble. The church is quite close to the train station and the lively piazza is always filled with lots of people and street vendors.
The church is full of artwork, including one of the first paintings to use mathematical perspective, a technique that was rediscovered during the Renaissance. There are paintings by Giotto, Lippi, and a series of frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio. As well as the church the Cloisters and Museo are worth visiting. See Santa Maria Novella website for opening times.
The San Lorenzo complex (Church of St Lawrence, the Old Sacristy, the New Sacristy, the Princes’ Chapel and the Laurenziana Library) has great architectural importance in its own right. On first sight the building looks rather drab as it lacks a decorative facade, this was never completed due to a lack of funds. However, the light, airy interior is very impressive with a beautiful marble pavement, columns supporting broad arches and an intricate coffered ceiling with delicate rosettes. It also contains many priceless art treasures. San Lorenzo was the parish church of the Medici family, and it is here that many of them are buried. The church was designed by Brunelleschi and decorated by Donatello. There are also works by Michelangelo, in particular “Night” in the New Sacristry.
Santa Trinità Church
Santa Trinita is less famous but worth visiting just to see the frescoes painted by Ghirlandaio and Lorenzo Monaco. The Church overlooks the square of the same name. It can be reached by walking down towards the Arno River along via de’ Tornabuoni. This is one of the most city’s shopping streets where you’ll find many designer brands.
Chiesa di Orsanmichele
This unique church was built in the 13th century inside an old grain market. Inside it has alcoves filled with statues representing the city’s guilds. Many of these were created by famous Renaissance artists like Verrocchio, Ghiberti and Donatello. The statues in the church are replicas. However, if you go upstairs to the small museum you can see the originals.
Museums in Florence
Florence has several amazing museums that you could easily spend a few days exploring. However, if you’ve decided to visit a couple of churches, you’ve probably only got time left for one of the museums. The main ones are the Uffizi Gallery, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Accademia, and the Pitti Palace and adjacent Boboli Gardens.
This is such a large building, that you really need a plan of what you want to see before you go in. Decide to see certain works or rooms to make the most of your limited time. The gallery has 101 rooms bursting with Renaissance art as well as paintings lining the halls. The Gallery boasts collections from artists such as Raphael, Botticelli, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and many more. See the Uffizi website for opening times.
This huge palace was where the Medici family lived when they were one of the principal sponsors of the Italian Renaissance. The art and architecture that they commissioned changed the course of history. The impressive main building looks like a fortress and has a tower that is 308ft high. The inside is equally impressive, especially the Salone dei Cinquecento. You can climb the tower if you don’t mind lots of stairs. The panoramic views from the top are excellent and the queues are usually reasonable.
The Palazzo is located in the large Piazza della Signoria. This is worth strolling around, especially to see the open-air statue gallery of the Loggia dei Lanzi. If you have time the Ponte Vecchio (Florence’s most famous bridge) is only a short walk away.
Visit the Florence Museum website for opening times.
The Galleria dell’Accademia
This museum is where the Michelangelo masterpiece – David is located. There is a replica of the statue outside the Palazzo Vecchio. This is possibly the most famous statue in the world. There are lots of halls in the museum with paintings by Botticelli, Orcagna, Sarto, Ghirlandajo and many more. The collection here is not as large as that of the Uffizi, which perhaps makes it a bit more manageable.
This was another residence of the Medici family, where they lived after leaving the Palazzo Vecchio. The Palazzo Pitti is several museums in one. It has a Renaissance art museum, a silver museum, a porcelain museum, a gallery of modern art, and a museum dedicated to the history of fashion and clothing. The Renaissance art museum is located in the former royal quarters, which are quite extraordinary rooms. Visit the Pitti Palace website for opening times.
The Boboli Gardens, which are next to the palace, are definitely worth visiting. The large green space is almost an open-air museum with statues of various styles and periods distributed throughout the gardens.
Florence in the Evening
In the summertime, early evening is when you’ll see the locals on the streets, coming out for their daily passeggiata (A long, leisurely walk or stroll). If you want to see the sunset and don’t mind a walk, then cross over the Ponte Vecchio and head up the hill on the other side of the river towards the Piazzale Michelangelo.
Once over the Ponte Vecchio walk along the south side of the river past the Ponte alle Grazie and continue to the Porta San Miniato gateway. Once here go through the gateway and up a short, steep street. Here there are stone steps that lead up to the piazza.
The Piazzale Michelangelo is home to the Basilica di San Miniato and the best views across Florence. Watching the sunset here is perhaps the perfect end to your day out.
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