Florence, or Firenze, as the Italians call it – what’s there to say about a city that has it all? At first glimpse, Florence may seem overwhelming with its density of must dos – but that’s the thing: You can never see it all, be it in a day, a week or a month. So the perfect stay in Florence includes just as much as it needs for you to fall in love with the city and inspire in you the dream to come back time and again – and a day in Florence is more than enough for that.
Guest post by Maria from The Giramondo
What’s the best time to visit Florence?
Let’s face it, there is no time without tourists in Florence. Millions of people come to visit Florence each year, and at times the city can really feel swamped with tourists, who are said to actually outnumber the locals during summer. Next to the crowds, another reason not to plan your visit in summer is the climate. Although Tuscany isn’t as hot as it gets in Italy, Florence is based in a valley between six surrounding hills – and while that is all beautiful and picturesque, it also means there’s no mild breeze to occasionally cool you off in the heat.
If you’re really into historical celebrations and/or bare chested men wrestling each other, you might still want to plan your visit around 24th June, when the annual finals of the Calcio storico take place: This very physical competition between four teams from different parts of Florence has been held since the 16th century and is one of the city’s major events.
Apart from that, the best time to visit is autumn, preferably in October. There will still be crowds, but less than in summer. You will usually still be able to drink your Chianti outside in the piazza – plus, you can feast on castagnaccio (chestnut cake) and oglio nuovo, an oil made from freshly harvested olives, which itself is a reason to visit.
Few facts about Florence
Florence is the capital to the Toscana region, which you probably know for it’s world famous wine and beautiful landscapes. Despite it’s huge impact on the Italian (tourism) industry, Florence is rather small: With it’s population of around 380.000, Florence is only the eighths biggest city in Italy.
Florence is widely referred to as the “cradle of Renaissance” because of it’s architectural and cultural heritage, impressive signs of which can be found all over the place. With the Galleria degli Uffizi (Uffizi Gallery), it holds one of the most important art collections in Italy, if not worldwide.
In fact, the city itself is so abundantly lined with art it can easily come across as one big, stunning open air museum, but it’s so much more than that. A fashion hot spot, home to glorious food, site of a turbulent history and along with that of course the Medici – a family dynasty so rich, so influential and so dramatic you would think they will be turned into a TV show soon (until you find out they already have).
One day in Florence itinerary
Top things to do in Florence, Italy
Follow this guide and make the best of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do on your one day in Florence.
Discover why Italians go to the bar for breakfast
Starting your day off at a bar might sound strange in English – but it sure is the way to go in Italy. The Italian bar is the omnipresent concept of a social gathering point appropriate for just about any time of the day (Every village that has but two streets will have the bar for sure). If you’re interested in the historic bars of Florence, go check out Caffè Gilli or Caffè Paszkowski in Piazza della Repubblica, where poets and writers have savoured the coffee before you.
Other than that, any bar will do for your real Italian breakfast – because that is in a very literal sense short and sweet. Order yourself some coffee and a sweet pastry that resembles a croissant. If you’ve been to southern parts of Italy before, you might know this as cornetto, but in North Italy, it’s called brioche. As for coffee, if you like milk in it, make sure to get yourself a cappuccino NOW, because at anytime after 11 am, Italians disapprove of milk induced coffee because apparently that’s breakfast stuff. To minimize the options of being frowned upon, stick to caffè for the rest of the day, especially after lunch or dinner!
Pro tip: Make sure to actually call it caffè instead of espresso, because caffè is espresso (no such thing as filter coffee).
Piazza del Duomo
If you don’t see the Duomo, why bother to go to Florence at all? This magnificent cathedral is the city’s most iconic building for sure. With it’s dazzling white, green and pink facade, the outside is as marvelous as the inside is surprisingly plain.
You might still want to consider paying a couple of euros to enter (prizes vary over the seasons) because it gives you a chance to climb up over 450 steps to the actual dome and get a fantastic view of the city – same goes for the neighbouring campanile, the bell tower.
Make sure to check out the Battistero with it’s green and white exterior right in front of the cathedral, where people as famous as Dante Alighieri have been baptized.
Piazza della Signora, Palazzo Vecchio and Galeria degli Uffizi
Take a stroll through the bustling streets and narrow alleys to arrive at the next piazza along your way – and what a piazza that is. The amount of history aligned in Piazza della Signora will knock you off your feet. There’s Palazzo Vecchio, or literally the Old Palace, which was built in the 13th century to host the Florentine government – and still does today. In front of it, don’t get too excited to see the David statue that everyone is snapping pictures of – it’s a copy of Michelangelo’s famous original naked man.
Speaking of originals, there’s definitely more of them to see around here, because this is where the Uffizi Gallery joins the game. If you feel like diving into Renaissance art and discovering works from all the other guys you know from the Ninja Turtles, THIS is your place.
Pre-booking your tickets is crucial, so make sure to do so online or check with your hotel. Depending on your love for arts, you can spend two hours, a full day or a whole lifetime in there, but for the sake of your Florence trip, stay until you get hungry – and make it real hungry…
Lunch at All’Antico Vinaio
When you’re filled up on Renaissance art, but starving for food, the perfect place for you is just around the corner. Make your way to Via de Neri, where you will probably see a bunch to a mass of people waiting in line. Don’t let the queue scare you off – or you will miss out on a one in a lifetime food experience.
All’Antico Vinaio is the smallest, simplest shop you can imagine – or actually it’s two of them just across the street from each other. Now this place sure is no exquisite insider tip: It is much more a mandatory visit for just about everyone who loves food. In fact, Antico Vinaio is so famously known for it’s amazing food that in 2014, it has been the most reviewed restaurant on Tripadvisor – in the world (or at least that’s what they claim).
For the lack of the better word in English, let’s call this divine experience a sandwich. It’s the typical Tuscan schiacciata bread coming freshly from the oven, and then stuffed with the freshest, tastiest ingredients only: Imagine your favourite combination of prosciutto, salsiccia, salame, mortadella, pecorino, gorgonzola, mortadella, cremes made from truffles, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, fresh rocket salad, basil and what not.
Do it like the locals and get a plastic cup of red wine with your mouth-watering, gigantic schiacciata, then sit down on the sidewalk right outside where you line up with everyone else enjoying their glorious 7-euro-lunch (5 for the food, 2 for the wine, no kidding).
Turn another few corners and you’ll find yourself faced with another jaw-dropping church, the Basilica di Santa Croce. You can get inside for a few euros to discover the graves of Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli along with other important men – or keep on strolling and eventually turn your steps south until you see water glistening ahead.
Arno river and Ponte vecchio
With an enjoyable view, make your way along the riverside until you hit Ponte vecchio, the “old bridge” – another of Florence’s most well-known sights. Along with the crowds (that are always there), peer into the shop windows of the jewellers while crossing. Above the bridge’s shops, you can see the Corridoio Vasariano, a passageway built in the 16th century to allow members of the elaborate Medici family to cross from Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti on the other site in privacy and without having to encounter any real life poor people.
You can see Palazzo Pitti on your left as you come from Ponte vecchio onto the other side of Florence, the Oltrarno. If it’s still early, make sure to check out the palace’s beautiful garden Giardino di Boboli that is right behind.
Watch out for street art
Not only on the way to your next destination, but rather all day long, watch out for the amazing street art that Florence has to offer. The most famous artist without a doubt is the french Clet Abrahams (better known as CLET), who famously, critically, funnily and overall memorably alters the city’s traffic signs to turn them into pieces of art.
There’s also Blub, who puts some of the most famous paintings in the world in an underwater setting – and the the small but heartwarming stick figures of Exit Enter (to name just a few). Florence has a very rich street art scene and you are sure to see lots of it in one day if you keep your eyes open for it.
If you’ve enjoyed the street art you’ve seen so far, you can pass Clet’s studio in Via dell’Olmo 8, as it’s just on the way to your next destination: Piazzale Michelangelo.
Be prepared to take quite a steep walk – but lucky you, the view is absolutely worth it. Up in Piazzale Michelangelo, there is not only the second copy of the David(‘s butt), but more importantly, you can see the whole city stretching out in front of you from up there. Make your way down again only after enjoying a dramatic sunset over Florence.
Eat your budget
Start your night in Piazza Santo Spirito with an aperitivo, another Italian concept of food-and-beverage-intake that is not familiar to most other cultures. The aperitivo is a sort of pre-dinner served sometime between 6 and 9 pm and is much more about the drink than the snack that comes with it. Great aperitivo places in Santo Spirito include PopCafé and Volume, but there’s many more right on the piazza.
If you’re travelling on a tight budget and/or are poor student, you can easily turn that aperitivo into an aperi-cena – although you should know that many Italians wouldn’t ever do the same. But as many bars offer a buffet of appetizers for aperitivo, it is technically possible to eat your fill there instead of heaving a pricey dinner afterwards. Be aware that means missing out on even more amazing food though.
If your budget allows you to go a little further, leave some space for the actual cena (dinner). No need to go far, as Piazza Santo Spirito offers great options, like Tamerò with its fabulous homemade pasta, Trattoria Casalinga or the one with the simplest name of all, Osteria Santo Spirito.
All of these serve great Italian food in a reasonable price range. Make sure to try Florentine specialties like ribollita or pappa al pomodoro, both of which are stews rather than soups that include old bread that gets cooked up again with black cabbage and beans or tomatoes.
If you’re really not on a budget, make that a bistecca alla fiorentina – a T-boke steak simply seasoned with salt, pepper and some olive oil. If you like meat at all, this is your cena right there.
Nightlife in Florence
As you’ve already experienced all day long, everything in Florence is about your piazza – and so is nightlife. While there are some clubs around, it’s much more fun to buy a bottle of wine and mingle with the locals, for example in Piazza Santo Spirito.
If you’d rather enjoy your drinks in a bar, head to Via de Benci. Walking up this busy street, you will encounter many drunk Italians/Internationals pouring from the bars along your way. Still walking straight by the time you reach Piazza Santa Croce? Hit Via San Giuseppe, then Via dei Macci. In a nice little passeggiata (stroll), you will reach Piazza Sant’Ambrogio. It’s mostly locals drinking in the piazza again, but there’s great bars around, too, like Sant’Ambrogio Caffè and Monkey Bar.
End your day at Kitsch, a Florence favourite bar that lives up to it’s name with it’s corny interior, but makes up for that by serving good reasonably prized drinks.
Where to stay in Florence?
Leone Blu – Residenza d’Epoca
Leone Blu is the exceptional Historic House of the Ricasoli Firidolfi family, located in the heart of the town, super close to the Arno river. This luxurious palace combines grandeur and historic with the modern Italian design.
Grand Hotel Minerva
Grand Hotel Minerva combines the finest tradition in hospitality with modern features and it’s set in one of the best locations in Florence – close to the main railway station, a few minutes from all major sights. The hotel features rooftop bar, swimming pool, gym and relax area with large jacuzzi.
Plus Florence is definitely one of the best hostels in the whole city. It features an outdoor pool, indoor pool, sauna, restaurant and a bar. It has an excellent location perfect for those interested in sightseeing. It’s the best choice for young travelers and those that are interested in meeting people on their travels.
Extra tips for visiting Florence:
– Florence doesn’t offer great public transportation, but you couldn’t care less. All the ways indicated in the itinerary can easily be done by walking. For an even more local experience, rent out some bikes at your hotel and ride your way through the cobblestone streets.
– Scams and pick-pocketing are a thing, just like in every other touristy place. Being wary and using common sense should usually be enough to stay safe.
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