The art, the culture, the wine, the gelato – the list goes on and on. There are many reasons why Florence is one of Italy’s most popular travel destinations. This city is jam packed with so many exciting places to visit. We decided to spend one day in Florence as part of our weekend trip to Tuscany. Narrowing down the activities to do in this city was quite a challenge since we wanted to experience well, everything. We went into the city with a general idea about what we wanted to do and left with one-of-a-kind memories and insider tips about popular destinations. This guide to experiencing Florence during a 1-day trip allows you to gently explore some of the most amazing pieces of both modern and Renaissance Italian culture that Florence has to offer.
When did we visit? We visited Florence on Saturday April 1. (Tourist season is from April-June in Florence.)
How long did we spend in Florence? We were in the city from 9-6.
What was the weather like? It was low-mid 70’s (~21 Celsius) and delightfully sunny!
How did we get to Florence? We had a car and were staying outside of the city so we drove. Our hotel owner gave us a great parking recommendation called Piazza Beccaria. This lot was easy to get to by using GPS and was pretty cheap for the city. (1,70 euro an hour)
Any other tips? Florence is notorious for pickpocketing so always be wary of your surroundings. Save money by grabbing quick bites to eat instead of sitting down at restaurants.
Top 10 Experiences in 1 day – Florence, Italy:
1. Start the Day Right with Caffè Espresso.
If you are in Italy, you cannot miss out on Italian coffee. While I’m an avid espresso drinker, you could also enjoy a nice cappuccino. Many places in the cities offer Caffè Americano for American tourists. However, the Italian coffee is soooo much better than the majority of American coffee that I’ve tried. There are coffee shops on just about every block in Florence so finding some yummy coffee is easy. Since there is a lot of walking to do in this city, taking some time in the morning to relax while sipping some espresso is a good idea. Make sure you add some sugar if you’d like because this stuff is usually strong.
We stopped at a nice looking place that was on our way while walking from our parking lot towards the Duomo. We liked this shop because it had a lot of seating options, and it also served delicious looking gelato that my husband ordered for a mid-morning snack. Both the coffee and gelato were absolutely delicious!
2. Visit Religious / Historical Sites near the Duomo.
Florence has an abundant amount of churches and religious sites to visit. Besides being religious sites, they are known for being gorgeous pieces of architecture with beautiful interiors. Additionally, most of these places are historically significant as well since they served to be important gathering places for many of the Renaissance dwellers. A great option to get a taste of Florence’s religious sites is to purchase a ticket to visit all of the sites near the Duomo for 15 euro on this website or on location. If you are only in Florence for one day like we were, visiting the religious sites in the centralized Duomo area will allow you to save time and money.
Purchasing the ticket for Il Grande Museo del Duomo tour will give you access to 6 religious sites in the near the Duomo. We used these tickets to visit 4 out of the 6 places which was a lot to see in just a few hours. Unfortunately, we missed out on the Museo del Duomo and seeing the Duomo on the inside, but we did see the Baptistery, Cathedral, Bell Tower and Crypt museum. The sites that we saw were very interesting and enjoyable to walk around. Each site was different than the last so the visiting them all is not boring. We spent around 2.5 hours in the Duomo area touring religious sites and climbing the bell tower. It is definitely worth it to et boredcheck out some of these sites while you are in Florence to learn more about the culture and history there.
3. Climb 1 of 3 Amazing Towers.
The bell tower, the Duomo, and Arnolfo’s Tower at Palazzo Vecchio are 3 towers in Florence that offer amazing views of the city. None of the towers have elevators so that is why I only recommend climbing one of them a day (unless you want a great booty workout 😉 ). If you want to climb the Duomo, you have to book this in advance or else you risk not being able to do so since all of the spots can get reserved. If you are going to climb the bell tower, I also recommend that you book a reservation for this so you do not have to wait in line. I have not heard of long lines at the Arnolfo Tower, however, you will have to pay a separate entrance fee for this since it is not included in the Duomo area ticket (see #3).
Reservations for the Duomo or bell tower can be made in advanced when you buy the Il Grande Museuo del Duomo ticket online. Tickets for Arnolfo’s Tower can be purchased on site at the Palazzo Vecchio Museum.
We decided to climb the bell tower since we did not make reservations for the Duomo and thought it would be less crowded anyway. We loved this experience! The stairs were very narrow the higher you climbed so if you are claustrophobic this is not somewhere you want to be. For everyone else, climbing up the tower is a ton of fun especially since there are quite a few stops along the way offering views at different height levels and places to catch your breath.
We climbed the bell tower around lunch time and it was hot! If you can climb earlier in the morning or in the evening then that is a better time to beat the heat. We spent about 1 hour climbing the bell tower including a 20 minute wait on line. Save time by booking your reservation in advanced. No matter which tower you decide to climb, the views at the top are well worth the effort!
4. Sight See in the San Lorenzo Market.
Odds are that if you are traveling from the Duomo to Ponte Vecchio, you will stumble upon at least one of the main markets in Florence. Out of all the markets that we passed, the San Lorenzo leather Market was the most interesting to look at. This market is closed on Sundays and Mondays and remains open until the evening Tuesday-Saturday. The leather market is filled with various leather goods and souvenirs. The market is outdoors and is adjacent to the Mercato Centrale which is an indoor food market and a great place to grab a quick lunch. We, unfortunately, did not realize that the food market closed around 2pm so we missed out on that one which was empty when we got there.
Some tips that I have consistently read about the San Lorenzo market is to haggle with vendors when you feel an item is overpriced, and to check the quality of the leather before you buy it. Even if you are not buying anything here, it is worth it to just walk the the market and sight see all of the different handbags, jackets and knickknacks that the vendors have for sale. Additionally, it is a great place to browse before heading over to Ponte Vecchio.
5. Enjoy the Gorgeous Scenery at Ponte Vecchio.
Ponto Vecchio literally translates to old bridge in Italian hehe. The bridge is well-known for being picturesque and because it has shops built into it that you can browse while walking over it. Most of the shops today are Jewelry stores that are fun to walk by. Additionally, this is a crowded area where many vendors, teenagers and tourists hangout. It is a great place to people watch before visiting the Galileo Museum (see #6). It is worth it to take a stroll along the river to check out the bridge from afar as well as the gorgeous river environment. There were also many street performers on our way to Ponte Vecchio to stop and take a look at. Perhaps you will even find a nice spot to relax and chow down on some yummy gelato!
6. Explore a Science Museum.
Yes, there is more to Florence than art and history! There is also a selection of interesting science museums including two different Leonardo Da Vinci Museums (1 and 2) and a Galileo Museum. If you are looking for a change of pace, then visiting one of these museums is a great addition to your itinerary and is perfect for those that can only look at so much art in one day. These science museums in Florence are excellent ways to learn about some of Italy’s most prominent natives.
The Galileo Museum peaked my interest this time around since we have already been to two Leonardo Da Vinci museums in Venice and had plans to go to one in Milan. It cost 9 euro each to enter this museum and there were free lockers that you could use for your bags (yay!). We spent about 45 minutes going through this museum as it was smaller than we expected. Still, seeing how old clocks, telescopes, and physics projects worked was a refreshment for our brains after spending the majority of the day sightseeing religious and art sites.
7. Gawk at Italian Renaissance Art.
Florence is known worldwide for having some of the best art museums in Italy. While there are many art museums there, the two most popular museums are the Uffizi Gallery and Galleria dell’Academia. Unless you are an artist or very passionate about art, going to both museums in one day is a lot of art crammed into a short amount of time, in my opinion. However, it’d be a shame to miss out on the opportunity of seeing at least some of the Renaissance’s most amazing works by not visiting one of these museums. The Uffizi Gallery has a large collection of paintings and sculptures where as Galleria dell’Academia has a smaller collection of paintings, a musical instrument museum, and some sculptures (most notably David). For either museum, it is highly recommended that you book your tickets well in advance and make reservations.
I chose to make reservations for the Galleria dell’Academia since I thought that it would be more interesting for us since we are not that interested in art. Also, I wanted to see Michelangelo’s David sculpture that everyone raves about. I have to admit that the statue is pretty amazing and much bigger than expected. Overall, it is very impressive! Besides David, the other artworks (some paintings, a room of sculptures and some old instruments) are interesting to look at. When we arrived to the museum at 4:30pm, there were so many people without reservations waiting on line. I wouldn’t be surprised if those people waited an hour or two just to get in. Making reservations for this museum is 100% worth it. While we both enjoyed seeing David, we agreed that it would not have been worth it if we had to wait on that huge line for it.
In total, museum tickets cost us 16,50 euro each. This included the general admission price, the exhibit price that you have to pay for whenever there is an exhibit, and the 4 euro reservation fee. We spent about 1 hour at this museum.
You can reserve your tickets for either the Uffizi Gallery or Galleria dell’Academia here.
8. Relax and Observe the city at Piazzale Michelangelo.
Piazzale Michelangelo is a square known for giving amazing views of the city. If you are like me, you will not believe that the views are amazing here until you see them for yourself. I can now confirm that, yup, they’re amazing!! You can get here by foot on a mini hike, by car, or by bus. There is also a David sculpture replica here as well as some vendors selling souvenirs and snacks.
Every piece of advice that I read before going to Florence said that the best time to go to this area was during sunset. Well, we happened to do this by chance since we were driving by right at sunset and decided to stop. The area was very crowded and parking was limited but we got lucky and found a spot. We waited a bit for people to move so we could get our view of the city. It was definitely well worth it to make a stop here.
This is a fantastic way to spend some relaxing time in the evening enjoying the city from afar. You will be incredibly impressed!
9. Over Indulge with Gelato.
Obviously, getting gelato is going to be a must-do item on my list for any Italian city. We actually had gelato twice in one day while we were in Florence. Like the coffee shops, there are places to get gelato everywhere you go in this city! It is just so tempting to eat at all of them! Check out #1 to see the first place we ate at.
The second place we ate at was absolutely amazing. It had a chocolate waterfall!!! While the gelato was very tasty, it was the waterfall that brought us in so good job to the store designers. Yes, I know that’s exactly what they wanted, but I mean, how could we not?! We walked past this place several times when walking from the Duomo to Ponte Vecchio. Expect a long line as it is conveniently located on a street with many shopping stores. The gelato is delicious, however, and worth the wait!
Whether you go to one of the gelato places I mentioned or one of the many other gelato places in this city, having some is definitely a must-do when you visit.
10. Watch Amazing Street Performances.
One thing about Florence that we noticed is that there were so many talented street performers and artists! The musicians here were especially talented. We saw and heard everything from an opera singer, to classical music, to electric guitarists. If you see one of these musicians performing on the street, stop and listen if you can. Additionally, we passed by a mime performing for a large crowd and clowns making balloon animals for kids. How exciting!
Lastly, the street artists in Florence were stunningly talented. Not only is there creative graffiti and street art all over the city, but there were also artists painting with chalk and pastels on the street itself. We even bought a neat painting from a man that was spray painting works on the street. The amount of incredible street performances and artists that we stumbled upon in this city was astonishing and highly enjoyable. If you can spare the change, tip some of your favorites for their performances! They are very grateful when you do. 🙂
Note: Along with countless blog posts, I read two travel books about Florence before traveling there. One was by Rick Steves and the other was by Frommers. Both were from a few years ago but contained great information. It is worth it to check these out if you are looking for even more tips and travel advice.