Florence in One Day – What to Do?

After spending three days in Venice and surroundings, we picked up another rental car—we had already road tripped around Croatia and Slovenia before that—and cruised down to Tuscany.

Tuscany is often said to be one of the world’s most beautiful regions and I can now attest to that. It’s absolutely stunning, dotted with vineyards, olive farms, picturesque farmsteads and photogenic hilltop towns.

A visit to Tuscany, of course, isn’t really complete without seeing Florence, the region’s capital city and undoubtedly one of the most exciting (and beautiful) cities on planet Earth.

The birthplace of the Renaissance, no city in the world has produced quite as many artists, philosophers, scientists and downright world-changing people as Florence has. Just to illustrate that statement with a handful of names; Florence is the city of  Michelangelo, Donatello, Dante, Brunelleschi, Da Vinci, the de Medici family, Machiavelli, Botticelli and explorer Amerigo Vespucci. That last one, by the way, if you didn’t know that, is the very person after whom the new continent of America was named, a pretty big deal if you ask me.

Nowadays, Florence is still a superbly fascinating city, home to a couple of the world’s greatest art museums, spectacular architecture, and—it’s Italy after all—exquisite food.

View from Piazzale Michelangelo, Florence
All five landmarks that we visited can be seen on this photo

Caroline and I only spent one day in Florence, but that was enough to see much of what the city has to offer. Although we opted to skip all the museums—the weather was much too good to spend the afternoon inside—we did end up visiting and seeing a satisfying number of highlights and attractions.

Read on to find out how we visited nd how you, too, can visit Florence in one day.

Visiting Florence in One Day – An Itinerary

The old city center of Florence is, luckily, quite compact. It’s possible to walk across it in no more than a half hour. (There are a number of guided walking tours in Florence.) We arrived in the city sometime in mid-morning and headed straight for the city’s most famous and most imposing landmark, the Florence Cathedral.

The Duomo

Florence Cathedral is officially known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, but also simply as the Duomo. Call it whatever you want to call it, it’s one of the most spectacular buildings I’ve ever seen in my life.

With a striking exterior of white, red and green marble tiles and dimensions that are mind-blowing, the Florence Cathedral is a monumental building in every sense of the word. The most well-known feature of the cathedral is the octagonal Cupola, or dome in English, which was designed by Brunelleschi. Inside the cathedral, frescoes by artists such as Zuccari and Vasari adorn the walls and ceilings while stained-glass windows by Donatello and Ghiberti let in plenty of sunlight.

Florence in One Day: View of the Cupola from the Campanile
View of the Cupola from the Campanile
Campanile of Florence Cathedral
The Campanile, or bell tower, is not attached to the Duomo

The Campanile, bell tower in English, is another striking feature of the cathedral. This 82-meter (269-foot) tower stands right next to the cathedral—it’s not attached to it. Both the Cupola and the Campanile can be climbed and offer, honestly, breathtaking views of the city. The ticket that allows you to climb both features costs no more than 10 euros per adult, which I think is an absolute bargain.

That ticket also provides entry into the Battistero, baptistery in English, one of Florence’s oldest buildings. A couple of highlights in the baptistery are the magnificent ceiling painting and the bronze doors.

Ceiling painting in Baptistery, Florence
Magnificent ceiling painting in the Battistero, or baptistery
Florence seen from the Duomo, Florence in One Day
Florence seen from the Duomo

I’d suggest visiting all of the above attractions, all located in and around the Florence Cathedral, first. It is the main attraction in the city and, especially on a summer’s day, you will want to climb the hundreds of steps up to the Cupola and/or Campanile when it’s still somewhat cool. These three highlights—Cupola, Campanile and Battistero—will take up the entire morning. You can visit them on your own or with a guided tour.

Piazza della Signoria

After lunch, stroll through Florence’s busy streets toward the Piazza della Signoria, the city’s main square. This extraordinary piazza is dotted with highlights, from the fabulous Palazzo Vecchio to the sculpture-filled open-air Loggia dei Lanzi to a copy of Michelangelo’s “David.”

Florence in One Day: Palazzo Vecchio, Florence in One Day
The Palazzo Vecchio dominates the Piazza della Signoria
Copy of Michelangelo's David, Florence
Copy of Michelangelo’s “David”
Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence in One Day
People relaxing in front of the Loggia dei Lanzi, a free open-air sculpture gallery

Additional reading: An Afternoon in Pisa

We spend a good half hour on the square, walking around, snapping pictures and taking in its ambience—although it’s many centuries old, Piazza della Signoria is as lively as ever.

Basilica di Santa Croce

We continued our self-guided walking tour toward the Piazza di Santa Croce, home to the namesake Basilica di Santa Croce. Now, I must say that there are many other museums in Florence that would have gotten my priority if I’d had more time. However, they are so big and busy that a visit would take up a whole day in itself. We only had one day, so we focused on this less-known museum.

The Basilica di Santa Croce, you see, is not only a religious building; it’s also kind of a museum. This is the very place where many of Florence’s most prominent inhabitants are buried—the place where you can see the graves of world-famous people such as Machiavelli, Ghiberti, Galilei and Michelangelo. That, for me, was more than enough reason to go and pay a visit.

Basilica di Santa Croce, Florence in One Day
The gorgeous façade of the Basilica di Santa Croce
Grave of Galileo Galilei, Florence in One Day
Grave of Galileo Galilei
Cloisters of the Basilica di Santa Croce, Florence in One Day
Cloisters of the Basilica di Santa Croce

A visit to the Basilica di Santa Croce, a beautiful building by the way, doesn’t have to last longer than an hour, which leaves plenty of time to enjoy a couple more highlights in Florence.

Ponte Vecchio

We retraced our steps to the Piazza della Signoria, crossed it again and headed toward to Arno River. Next up was the Ponte Vecchio, arguably one of the most famous bridges in Italy. What makes this bridge so special is the fact that it has buildings across its full length. Those gorgeous ochre-colored buildings now house gold and jewelry shops.

Florence in One Day: Ponte Vecchio
The ochre-colored Ponte Vecchio is a major landmark in Florence
People on the Ponte Vecchio, Florence in One Day
It’s a crowded place!

We, Caroline in particular, feasted our eyes on all those glittering, shimmering and shining bracelets, rings, necklaces and watches before ending up on the other side of the river. We turned left and headed toward what has to be Florence’s—for lack of a better expression—“best-kept secret.”

Piazzale Michelangelo

The Piazzale Michelangelo is situated on a hillside just south of the Arno River. It’s a steep climb up, but, trust me, it is totally worth the effort. Piazzale Michelangelo, although it’s really nothing more than a big parking lot dotted with vendors and food stalls, offers the best views of all of Florence. It is absolutely impossible to find a better lookout point during sunset.

Florence in One Day: Drinks with a view, Piazzale Michelangelo
Drinks with a view, Piazzale Michelangelo
Florence in One Day: Piazzale Michelangelo view
Palazzo Vecchio and Florence Cathedral during sunset

If, like us, you only have one day in Florence, you should make sure to finish it at Piazzale Michelangelo, enjoying a beer while taking in one of the most scenic sunsets you’ll ever see.

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