Florence, or Firenze as the Italians call the city, is a treasury of beautiful architecture, history, art and good food. This means you have a lot to do if you want to explore Florence in a day. In this Florence itinerary, I have picked out the absolute highlights of the city as I hate rushing when on vacation. To me, half the pleasure of visiting a new city is walking around at a slow pace watching everyday life unfold itself. And I don’t think I have ever been in a city more fit for that kind of exploring than Florence. The streets are small, narrow, curvy and full of people and architectural surprises wherever you look. I went on my own, but you can also bring your kids to Florence and have a great time.
The Church of Santa Maria Novella
The first place you want to see if you arrive in Florence by train is the Church of Santa Maria Novella at Piazza di Santa Maria Novella. It will take you about five minutes to walk from the station to the church, which is considered one of the most important Gothic churches in Florence. At the piazza, you have time to appreciate the craftsmanship, skill and knowledge put into building the church. While you sit there, pay attention to the facade of the church, as it is not only the oldest of all the churches in Florence but also the only church with its original, planned facade still in place today.
The complex of Santa Maria Novella is mainly known for its abundance of artwork such as frescoes done by artists from the gothic and early renaissance. Artists such as Giotto, Duccio, Brunelleschi, Botticelli, Masaccio, Giorgio Vasari, Paolo Uccello and even Michelangelo have all contributed to the artwork in the church. The construction of Santa Maria Novella was started by monks of the Dominican Order around 1246 and finished in 1360 when the monk Iacopo Talenti finished the roman-gothic belltower. At that point, only the lower part of the marble facade of the church was finished – the upper part followed in 1470 and was designed by Leon Battista Alberti.
If you are interested in history and art I highly recommend you go inside the church – a ticket costs € 7,50. Here you can have a look at the pulpit from where the indictment of Galileo was read out, see colored glass windows from the 14th and 15th century and frescoes inspired by The Divine Comedy by Dante.
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (or just “Il Duomo”) is the dome of Florence. It comes out of nowhere when you walk the small streets, towers above you with its decorative mix of pink, white and green marble on the outside, and the sight is just so impressive. The construction of the cathedral was begun in 1296, and in 1434 the gigantic dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi was completed. It remains the largest brick dome ever constructed and offers one of the best views of Florence. As soon as the dome was in place the church was consecrated by Pope Eugene IV. Next to the Florence Cathedral, you find the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile (the bell tower). These three buildings are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site covering the historic center of Florence, and you really don’t want to miss any of them.
The next stop on your tour of Florence is Ponte Vecchio. If you walk down Via Dei Calzaiuoli you will pass Palazzo Vecchio, the city’s town hall, on the way. When you get close to the river, you won’t have any difficulty locating Ponte Vecchio as it draws crowds of tourist who all want a picture of the iconic bridge with the many small shops “glued” to its sides. If you lived in Florence in the last part of the 15th century and decided to go to Ponte Vecchio, chances are you went there to buy meat as the city’s butchers had monopolized the shops on the bridge since 1442. The location was perfect for shops in need of good sewage. The Medici family, however, banned the butchers from the bridge in 1593 as the bridge had turned into a neglected, sordid and filthy place. This happened because the city fell into a cash crisis in 1595 and started to sell off the shops to anyone who might be interested. The result was not good, and in 1595 a decree was made that only allowed gold merchants to do business on the bridge.
When you look at Ponte Vecchio you should notice that there is a roof on the bridge. Under that roof, you find the Vasari Corridor – a walkway that Cosimo I de’ Medici had Giorgio Vasari build in 1565 so he could walk from Palazzo Vecchio (the Florence town hall) to Palazzo Pitti (his home) without having to fear for his security.
Where to eat?
Ok, so now you are probably hungry after doing all this sightseeing in Florence. I think you have covered the most important things to see in Florence, but there is still time to explore the city if you have set the day off to visit Florence. Before you continue on your endeavours I suggest you go to Via dei Neri, find All’Antico Vinaio and indulge in a porchetta sandwich. All’Antico Vinaio is considered one of the – if not the – best place to go if you want to eat a sandwich that will tickle your Tuscan tastebuds. And inside the shop, you find sausages the size of two-year-old children – fun, cheap and good! Check out the reviews here: All’Antico Vinaio. If you don’t like sandwiches you should still take a walk down Via dei Neri just to see the shops and huge porchettas, sausages and cheeses being displayed.
Other things to see in Florence
Here is a list of a few things you should consider seeing after having spent at least an hour getting lost in the small streets of Florence.
- Palazzo Medici Riccardi. Home to the Medici Family. It is open daily except for Wed, from 8.30 to 19.
- San Lorenzo. The burial place of the Medici family.
- Basilica di Santa Croce. Well – it is just beautiful.
And if you are going to Tuscany for a whole week, check out this itinerary: One Week Tuscan Itinerary And if you are a woman looking for wine (aren’t we always?) in Tuscany, read this post: Solaria: The Best All-Female Tuscan Winery You’ve Never Heard of
Thank you for reading this one day in Florence itinerary. I hope you found it useful. If you did – why not pin it? You have to do the hover-thing.