Florence is not a city you want to rush. The world renowned museums, monuments, squares and gardens merit a slow paced visit, not to mention taking the time to enjoy every mouthful of Florentine food and gelato. Unfortunately, a drawn out visit is not always possible and if you only have one day to visit Tuscany’s capital you’ll want to see the best of the best. Of course determining the best of the best is completely subjective but if you find yourself wandering around the city in awe you are probably on the right track.
Piazza del Duomo
Florence’s busy main square has much to offer for history, religion and architecture buffs. The 15th century Duomo (Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore) has an unusual green, pink and white marble façade (added in the 19th century) and the dome is the largest ever constructed out of brick. The interior of the Duomo is quite sparse but it is well known for its stained glass windows and religious paintings. Entry to the cathedral is free but it’s €8 to take the 463 stairs up to the dome.
Giotto’s Campanile is the free-standing bell tower next to the Duomo and is worth a visit for the magnificent views of Florence and in particular of the Duomo dome. It’s €6 and 414 stairs to reach the top and I’d recommend going up the Campanile instead of the Duomo dome for the better views and cheaper ticket.
Piazza della Signoria
This is my favourite part of the city. I remember on my first trip to Florence back in 1995 when I came across Piazza dell Signoria and the statues out in the open in the loggia. I couldn’t believe there were so many works of art in such a small area and that everyone is free to walk around and admire them. It still amazes me to this day.
Although the statues in Loggia della Signoria are fascinating, the star attraction in the piazza is Michelangelo’s David.
This David and the one in Piazzale Michelangelo are copies. If you want to see the original David you’ll have to make a reservation to visit the Accademia. While I do think it’s a worthwhile visit, I wouldn’t recommend it if you only have one day in Florence.
The other prominent work of art in Piazza della Signoria is the 16th century Fountain of Neptune.
Two blocks from Piazza della Signoria is one of the most famous bridges in the world, the Ponte Vecchio. My tip for visiting the Ponte Vecchio is to not visit it at all and cross the river at Ponte Santa Trinita instead. That way you can avoid the crowds and tourist shops but get a great view of the 14th century bridge. This vantage spot is best enjoyed while eating a gelato from nearby Gelateria Santa Trinitia.
A short walk from the Ponte Vecchio, behind the Palazzo Pitti, is the Giardino di Boboli (Boboli Gardens). You can enter from the Palazzo Pitti or from the quieter entrance near Porta Romana. While not free, the Boboli gardens are a wonderful place to relax and get away from the nearby crowds. The park is quite steep in parts so it’s not for those with limited mobility but the panoramic views of Florence from the hill are fantastic.
There are many unusual statues from different eras throughout the gardens.
The amphitheatre near the entrance to the Palazzo Pitti has an small Egyptian obelisk at its centre which seemed a little out of place but the Medici’s must have liked it.
I’m in two minds whether to recommend a visit to the gardens. You’ll need 1-2 hours to see the fountains, statues, different gardens and the grotto and while I enjoyed it and thought it was worthwhile, there are many negative reviews on Tripadvisor. If you’re not a lover of parks and gardens I’d give it a miss and visit one of the other attractions. I do feel like €7 is seriously overpriced for a garden (although the ticket includes the porcelain museum), especially considering more beautiful gardens like Versailles are free. I think it will really depend on the time of year you are visiting. The gardens are no doubt more attractive in spring and early summer but I would definitely give them a miss in winter.
Where to Eat
Knowing where to eat when you don’t have much time is critical. I have only tried a few places to eat in Florence but would definitely recommend Trattoria Quattro Leoni, located not far from Piazza Pitti, where I had a wonderful eggplant parmigiana.
Where to Stay
Visiting Florence on a day trip is tough and I would recommend spending the night there, even if you can only squeeze one night into your itinerary. We stayed at the beautifully restored La Terrazza su Boboli bed and breakfast, just near Porta Romana and the Boboli Gardens.
One Day in Florence
For me, it was disappointing only having a day to explore one of the most incredible cities in the world. Of course if possible I would recommend staying much longer and spending time at some of the many world renowned art galleries and museums as well as visiting the Duomo, San Giovanni Baptistery and the Campanile at the very least. But if you are just passing through, Florence is compact enough to be able to visit many of the main sights on foot in 24 hours.