what to see in Florence in one day: walking itinerary in the historical center
What to see in Florence in one day. Itinerary on foot from Santa Maria Novella to Santa Croce, through the most characteristic neighborhoods of the Tuscan capital.
Florence has always been one of my favorite Italian cities of art. Elegant, rich in history and culture, lively. A city that was the cradle of the Renaissance and gave birth to great artists, from Dante to Boccaccio, from Michelangelo to Brunelleschi to Leonardo da Vinci. A city that, step by step, makes you dream of returning to the splendor of the Medici era. A city on a human scale, where you can stroll without haste and get lost in the less crowded alleys.
The historic center of Florence is a real gem. It can be easily visited even with little time available because the various attractions are quite close to each other and can be easily reached on foot. Today I recommend a one-day itinerary that touches all the city’s main points.
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Church of Santa Maria Novella
The first stop on our itinerary to discover Florence in one day can only be the Church of Santa Maria Novella, just a few steps away from the homonymous railway station. In my opinion, the facade is one of the most beautiful in the city, with a Romanesque style decorated with white and green marble that draws geometric shapes.
And the interior is no different, between Giotto’s cross on display and the very green cloister. Do you think that Michelangelo, speaking of this church, used the name “my bride” to underline its beauty?
Discover the San Lorenzo Market (Mercato di San Lorenzo
San Lorenzo is one of my favourite neighbourhoods. Here you breathe the Florence of the Medici, the merchants, and the people. Take your time to browse the Central Market and shop among the stalls of leather goods and leather jackets.
And walk with your nose in the air so as not to miss a single detail of the elegant Renaissance palaces, from Palazzo Medici Ricciardi to the Medici Chapels to the Basilica of San Lorenzo, was once the city’s Cathedral and which today is very recognizable for its unfinished facade.
The Renaissance complex of Piazza del Duomo
Piazza del Duomo is an open-air museum. A triumph of Renaissance majesty and beauty. From the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore with Brunelleschi’s Dome and the Opera Museum to the Baptistery of San Giovanni to Giotto’s Bell Tower. All are collected in a few steps. No one element predominates over the others, and the constructions are in perfect harmony.
The facade of the Cathedral is richly decorated in every part, from the rose windows to the entrance portal; while the interior is a bit disappointing, it lacks the warm and soft colors that I expect from a sacred place.
Baptistery, on the other hand, is simply beautiful both inside and out. It is no coincidence that one of the entrance portals is known as the “gate of Paradise.” The interior is a triumph of mosaics and frescoes in golden shades, almost seeming to shine with their light.
And finally, Giotto’s bell tower is considered the most beautiful in Italy. Almost 85 meters high and 15 wide, white, red, and green marble for geometrically perfect construction.
If you want to see Florence from above, you can choose between Brunelleschi’s Dome of the Duomo, the largest dome in the world, and Giotto’s Bell Tower. I opted for the first option and, despite the effort and the almost crawling climb in the last meters to accommodate the slope of the dome, I must admit that the view is crazy. Do it only if you are not afraid of the more than 450 steps and are not claustrophobic.
Piazza della Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio
Piazza della Signoria is the heart of historic Florence, where hundreds of tourists flock at any time of day or night—an L-shaped square overlooked by one of the symbolic buildings of the city: Palazzo Vecchio. Built in the fourteenth century, today, it is the seat of the administrative power of Florence and can also be visited inside, where the imposing Salone dei Cinquecento is located.
In front of Palazzo Vecchio, you can also admire the Fountain of Neptune and the perfect copy of Michelangelo’s David (the original is kept in the Galleria dell’Accademia). At the same time, on the side, you can see the Loggia dei Lanzi, which houses other splendid statues, such as the bronze Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini.
The Uffizi Gallery is one of the most important art museums in Italy and the world, and it is unthinkable to go to Florence without visiting it. Founded by Francesco I de Medici in 1581, it houses a collection of works by painters from the 12th to the 18th century, from Giotto to Botticelli, Raphael to Michelangelo, and many others.
A visit capable of leaving even the most insensitive without words. My favorite rooms? Those dedicated to Botticelli in which there are “The Birth of Venus” and “Spring,” two masterpieces among my absolute favorites. And the geographical map room and the mathematics closet are also quite interesting and curious, in which various scientific instruments of the time are displayed.
The only drawback of the Uffizi Gallery? The an endless queue every day and at any time, but to overcome this problem I’ll give you some advice later.
The (secret) old bridge – Ponte Vecchio Florence
From the Uffizi, we continue our one-day itinerary in Florence with another must-see: the famous Ponte Vecchio, which connects the two Arno banks and is the undisputed city symbol in the world. This is the first Bridge built with a segmental arch structure, a solution that has made it possible to have only three spans but much wider than usual to preserve the Bridge itself from the debris carried by any floods.
Ponte Vecchio is undoubtedly one of the most romantic places in Florence. You can stroll gently hand in hand, occasionally stopping to admire the shop windows and observe the flowing river.
It owes much of its charm to the fact that it is a sort of natural continuation of the road because on its two sides, there are dozens of very typical artisan shops (jewelry shops above all) crowded, closed in front by massive wooden doors and with a back shop develops towards the river, as you can see in this photo.
Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens
Crossing Ponte Vecchio, you arrive on the left bank of the Arno, in the so-called Oltrarno area, perhaps one of Florence’s most authentic. With just a few steps, you are immediately in front of Palazzo Pitti, which, despite the name, is a vast museum complex. It includes the Palatine Gallery, the Modern Art Gallery and the Costume Gallery, the Silver Museum, the Carriage Museum, the Porcelain Museum, and finally, the rooms of the Royal Apartments. In a single-day itinerary, it is unfortunately only feasible to consider visiting the interiors if you remove other stops or dwell only on some sections.
Organizing well, however, it is possible to take a nice walk in the Boboli Gardens, the green heart of Florence, a wonderful example of an Italian garden, wanted by the Medici and then completed over the centuries by the Lorraines and the Savoys. Elegant and refined, embellished with statues, fountains, and grottoes, the garden rises along Boboli hill to offer an unmissable view of the city from above. Since 2013 it has also been registered as a World Heritage Site.
Piazza Santa Croce
The Santa Croce district was the most pleasant discovery of my second time in Florence, and therefore I decided to include it rightfully in this itinerary. The central point is the square overlooked by the Basilica of Santa Croce, which I recommend you visit if you have time.
Inside are frescoes by Giotto and the tombs of artists of the caliber of Michelangelo and Machiavelli. And that’s not all. The church belongs to the Museo dell’Opera di Santa Croce complex, which also includes the Pazzi Chapel designed by Brunelleschi. Therefore, consider at least a couple of hours for a complete visit.
Then stroll through the streets, full of excellent restaurants and craft shops that evoke past trades (framers, antique dealers). Here time seems to have stopped, and you will see that it will be very pleasant to browse here and there without being surrounded by too many tourists.
We are at the end of this itinerary to visit Florence in one day.
With more time available, it is possible to see the other districts without haste, enter all the attractions I have mentioned and discover, for example, little-known gems such as the Opificio delle Pietre Dure (which I adore!), but also one day is enough to fall madly in love with the city. I’ll be back shortly for the third time in a few years. Now I leave you with some practical information.
Practical advice to better organize your visit
- Arriving by train – the Santa Maria Novella station in Florence is a few minutes from the historic center. The train is the optimal solution for getting to the city without having to go crazy finding parking, among other things, at exorbitant. Also, consider that, with only one day available, you can think of arriving early in the morning and leaving after dinner without worrying about driving.
- Book entrance tickets – especially for the most famous attractions, one above all, the Uffizi Gallery; make sure you buy the ticket in advance, relying on the official websites or, for example, on Musement.com, the online booking portal line which offers guided tours and very convenient skip-the-line options, which can also be booked on the day. You want to spend less time standing in line, do you?
- Where to eat – you know, throughout Tuscany, you eat divinely, and Florence is certainly no exception. But be careful to avoid the classic tourist-catching places, which offer menus at very low prices where perhaps the Milanese cutlet stands out (!!!).
- Lose yourself in the alleys and stop in the real taverns of the past, where you can taste the typical mouth-watering Florentine cuisine. The places with dark wood furnishings, perhaps with cured meats and crests of garlic hanging from the ceiling, those that offer pappa al pomodoro, ribollita, or a nice Florentine steak rare and that will let you end the meal with delicious cantucci at home.