Though it sounds like a mission impossible, 24 hours in Florence can be an absolute blast if properly planned. The city – its historic centre declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO – is definitely quite compact with some of the most interesting sites and landmarks concentrated in just a few blocks that makes it perfect to move around by foot only.
Since I have moved to Tuscany, I came through several people that – as part of a rather rushed holiday – had spent less than 24 hours in the main Tuscan city. Though it may sounds really not enough to fully appreciate it, sometimes tight schedules and travel plans don’t allow for much more so making the best of it is the end goal.
Here is a quick walk through Florence to make sure you will leave the city absolutely gobsmacked – no matter how much time you have on your side! Get your map ready…
1. If not flying, Santa Maria Novella train station is generally the arriving and starting point of the great majority of people visiting Florence, being connected with the other main Italian cities by fast trains (Frecciarossa and Italo). Start here, have a look from the outside at the Santa Maria Novella church (just opposite the train station); don’t miss to visit the stunning shop Officina Profumo Farmaceutica Santa Maria Novella (Via della Scala, 16 – open every day from 9.00 to 20.00), very close to the train station and definitely an institution in its kind in Florence.
2. Head back to the station square and head towards the neighbourhood of San Lorenzo. Visiting San Lorenzo and the Cappelle Medicee solely depends on how much time you have got and what you plan to do next. The area is also renowned for some of the most affordable leather stalls (be prepared to bargain!), selling anything from handbags, suitcases, jackets, shoes etc. Quality varies but you can definitely find a good deal here! Right in the middle of the leather market stalls, you can’t miss the modernly refurbished San Lorenzo market (that reminded me a lot of Mercado San Miguel in Madrid): on the top floor it hosts plenty of food stalls/restaurants (some a bit on the pricey side for Italian standards) and a kitchen school, on the ground floor is a thriving and affordable local food market (opened until 14.00) perfect for some goodies, not overpriced and full of locals doing their daily shopping. A delight for all senses!
3. Leave Piazza San Lorenzo behind you, take Via De’ Gori, Via dei Pucci and then take Via Dei Servi on your left, heading north towards the stunning Piazza Santissima Annunziata and the Spedale degli Innocenti. I have visited the area on several occasions and it makes the perfect spot for a nice stroll just a few steps out of the madness of the centre.
4. Head back down on Via dei Servi to the hearth of Florence: Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral (“Il Duomo”, as it’s usually called) and the Baptistery. The closer you get and the more you realize the magnificence of the whole compound. At the moment it’s available a cumulative ticket of Eur 15 that includes access to the Cathedral, Dome, Bell tower and Baptistery among others. If you are short on time and have to choose what to visit in Florence, Eur 15 and a couple of hours spent here will be totally worth it. Plus, if you are a bit tight with time you can also book the slot to visit – once you have purchased the ticket – so planning ahead it’s definitely easier.
For lunch, don’t loose too much time in a long meal and get something quick and filling (and truly local) at the Fiaschetteria Nuvoli (Piazza dell’Olio 15/r), a tiny little place with an amazing selection of wine and a very reasonable food menu.
5. Follow Via del Proconsolo, leaving behind the Cathedral and heading south. Once in Piazza Firenze, turn left in Via dell’Anguillara and head straight down until you reach Santa Maria della Croce. Possibly my favourite church in Florence after the Cathedral, the square itself is simply beautiful, with plenty of food options in case you have not eaten before and plenty of back streets to not feel overwhelmed by the crowds – trust me, at the end of the day you will want to escape them!
6. Unless you want to visit Santa Maria della Croce, take Borgo dei Greci and head back to the core of the city, walking by Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria, where there is a copy of possibly the most famous Italian nude man in the world (David by Michelangelo) – that was long before Italy became famous for its porn-actors! 🙂 The square deserves a long stroll around, without missing out on the Loggia della Signoria and on the Uffizi (if you are short with time, you will have to leave them for another time since you may need a full day here) from where you will be able to easily get to the Arno River. On your left, you will get a great view of Ponte Vecchio, possibly one of the most famous landmarks of Florence.
7. Use Ponte Vecchio to cross over the Arno: now you are officially in Oltrarno, that is literally “the other side of the Arno river”, a buzzing neighbourhood with plenty of charm, unique antique shops, vast selections of restaurants for all budgets and overall a much more relaxed and authentic atmosphere than “the other side” – that’s my opinion, of course. 😉
Though you might be pretty tired at this stage, the ultimate effort will definitely be compensated: a steep climb up to Piazzale Michelangelo will undoubtedly ensure you some of the most amazing views of Florence. If you are here by the sunset, grab a couple of beers and a few nibbles from a local bakery and sit down (with plenty of other people) to enjoy the daily free show. Another option to reward yourself of a long day walking is to get a proper Italian aperitivo in Flo Lounge Bar, just next to Piazzale Michelangelo. For the price of a drink (if I am not wrong it was Eur 10 when I last visited…and their mojito was totally worth it!), you get to enjoy a tasty and well assorted aperitivo (including BBQ meat!) in a great stylish outdoor terrace overlooking Florence (just a note for the boys: even though dress code is not particularly enforced during aperitivo hours, long trousers would be recommended).
If you have still got a few hours to spend in Florence and you can wait until it gets dark, the evening lights from the top will be totally worth the wait.
Heading to Tuscany and need any ideas? Have a look at my other posts on Siena (plenty of insight on the Palio events, perfect if you are planning to visit next summer), San Gimignano, Certaldo and the best tips to travel around the region (including not-to-miss food!).