When visiting Rome or touring Tuscany, why not make a day trip to Florence? It’s a UNESCO listed city and a world class sight, and taking the train you can easily visit Florence in one day.
The historic Florence is packed into a small area and is easily walkable. To help you explore Florence on foot I made a walking itinerary that links its best sights, and marked the itinerary and the sights on the map.
So take good shoes and spend a walking day in the historic Florence, on the boths sides of the Arno River.
The river Arno and Ponte Vecchio in the UNESCO listed Florence
Trains to Florence
As it’s a big stress to find where to park in the historic center of Florence, try to arrive by train. The main train station of Florence Firenze Santa Maria Novella is right where the historic part of city begins. You only need to walk less than a kilometer to the sights.
The train from Rome to Florence takes 1,5 hours (tickets on the Trenitalia website, and the Trenitalia website also shows train connections from different parts of Tuscany.
In the post Italy by Train and Car: Rome, Florence and Tuscany I will show you how to take a rapid train from Rome to Florence.
What else should you think about when preparing your visit to Florence? If you plan to see the Uffici Gallery, you will have to buy your tickets in advance (read below how). One more thing: don’t try to visit any Florence museums on a Monday as the museums are closed on Mondays.
So now you are in Florence, the capital of Tuscany, where should you go now?
Walking Map: Florence in One Day
Florence walking map
To help you plan your visit, I marked a Florence one day walk on a Google Map. You can click to open the map in Google Maps and use it either offline or online in your phone to guide you while in Florence.
So the Florence walking map shows the city center and the River Arno that flows through it. Florence’s Santa Maria Novella train station is up in the north-west and you will get it on the map by zooming out a little bit.
The place where to start in the morning is the bridge of Ponte Vecchio that in the morning sun looks best from the east. After that we will see the historic center north of the Arno and at the end of the day spend some time in Oltrano south of the river.
Florence in One Day: Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio, Florence
This is Ponte Vecchio in the morning, look at it from the east, as the opposite side doesn’t get the morning sun.
As the name Old Bridge says, Ponte Vecchio is the oldest bridge in Florence, built in 1345. Ponte Vecchio has always been full of workshops, many of which have their own extensions with windows and green shutters towards the river.
River Arno and Ponte Vecchio, Florence
Above the workshops hides a corridor built for the wealthy Medici family that long ago lived in the Uffici Palace from where they ruled all Florence. They absolutely needed a private corridor to cross the river. For what reason then? They wanted to avoid meeting any crowds when invited to visit their friends, the Pitti family, that lived on the south side of the river.
The Medici family corridor hiding above the workshops
We will see more of the Ponte Vecchio later on. Now it’s around 10 and we have a time reservation for the Uffici Gallery.
Florence in One Day: the Uffici
The facade of the Uffici seen from Ponte Vecchio
Uffici means office. This massive building with two long wings in the inner court was the office of the wealthy Medici family. Later on the family decided to turn their office into a museum, to show their huge art collection to others.
Among the 1700 works exist art treasures by such famous names as Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Raphael, Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci.
See Florence in one day: the Uffici Gallery
At all times of the year there are long queues to this world-class museum. To avoid them, plan your visit and buy your tickets in advance. There are different options for that available that you can read about on this unofficial Uffici website that also sells tickets.
Statues on the inner court of Uffici Gallery
Walking along Uffici corridors you will soon get an overdoze of art. A good advice is to print out a museum guide, or bring a guide book in some format to catch the highlights at least. Or, to make sure you will se the best of Uffizi, join a guided tour.
The corridors are a sight in themselves – the walls, floors, ceilings, and the marble statues.
Samples of Uffici east wing ceilings
The west wing has a roof terrace and café located on the roof of this building, the Loggia dei Lanzi on the square. When you’re ready with the Uffici, have a closer look at the Loggia:
Loggia dei Lanzi
Florence in one day: Loggia dei Lanzi
Our Florence walk continues on the street level, on the Piazza della Signoria that is full of fantastic buildings and monuments. These are the historic Loggia dei Lanzi arches from 1382, arches that contain a row of ancient Roman statues.
Florence walking itinerary: Loggia dei Lanzi
To mention some of the statues: among the sculptures are the green bronze statue of Perseus holding Medusa’s head, and the rape of Polissena sculpture in white marble.
Florence in One Day: Piazza della Signoria
Piazza della Signoria, the main square of Florence
The square Piazza della Signoria is an outdoor sculpture gallery, containing some world-famous statues like Michelangelo’s David, Ammannati’s Neptune Fountain and Giambologna’s Grand Duke of Cosimo I.
The Piazza is lined with restaurants with outdoor tables. In this climate they can be used round the year.
Below some more photos of the square Piazza della Signoria. The photo on the right shows the square seen from the tower of Palazzo Vecchio.
Piazza della Signoria, Florence
What to see in Florence in a day: Florence town hall Palazzo Vecchio
The Palazzo Vecchio was completed in 1322 to be Florence town hall, and it still is that. The thick Palazzo Vecchio walls house the huge city council chamber Salone dei Cinquecento, dozens of other exceptional halls and finally a courtyard with a water fountain.
Photos of the Palazzo Vecchio of Florence
The facade of Palazzo Vecchio
Museo di Palazzo Vecchio
Florence one day walking itinerary: Palazzo Vecchio
To get inside the building, visit the museum. To do that, walk to the Museum entrance on the north side where you can buy a ticket to the museum and the tower. They are both worth seeing. You can choose to look at the museum on your own, or alternatively take a guided tour.
The museum covers most of the building. You are free to stroll through decorated rooms and halls where rulers of Florence used to live and work. In fact, the rulers of Florence still work in this place:
Palazzo Vecchio: Salone dei Cinquecento
On the left you can see the Salone dei Cinquecento and a meeting going on. And I can tell you, it’s exactly the meeting we came for to Florence!
Florence Town Hall can be booked for many kinds of meetings, like this EU meeting in which Clas is participating. He’s sitting at the far end as one of the chairmans. I’m so proud I had a chance to see him there.
Palazzo Vecchio with its frescoes and paintings really makes a wonderful place for a meeting. Yet, as the stone walls are so massive it was an incredibly cold meeting room. Thick walls and a good isolation must be good in hot Italian summers, but came as a surprise in winter.
A typical Palazzo Vecchio hall ceiling
Climbing to the Torre di Palazzo Vecchio
Florence old town seen from the tower of Palazzo Vecchio
But don’t’ leave the Palazzo without climbing to the high bell tower. As there’s no lift, it makes a long climb, but it’s worth sweating. The higher you climb, the better views to Piazza della Signoria, Florence and the whole region you will get.
I went all the way up, but what I liked most was seeing Florence from the wall holes of the palazzo roof:
Walking in Florence: views from the roof holes of Palazzo Vecchio
The tiled roofs of Florence look amazing from above! If you climb the Palazzo Vecchio tower and get the views, there’s no need to climb the Duomo Bell Tower for the same views. As the Duomo tower tends to have extra long queues, the waiting time to Palazzo Vecchio is much shorter. As I was visiting, March mid-week, there was no queue whatsoever.
But of course if you stay longer than only one day in Florence, feel free to climb everywhere you can! Florence is worth it.
Behind this link you will find more information on the Museo di Palazzo Vecchio.
The red-roofed old town of Florence
Florence Old Town Alleys
A sunny March morning in Florence old town, Italy
Before leaving the north side of Arno we still look at the Duomo. To get there we will need to walk a little through the historic part Florence. In Florence all streets look almost the same, yet each street is individual. Florence is Italy at it’s best!
Wandering the streets of Florence
East of the Palazzo Vecchio is the church of Santa Croce that we have seen at distance from the tower. The Basilica di Santa Croce stands on a beautiful large square Piazza di Santa Croce lined with pavement cafés on all sides.
In March it was below zero every morning, but afternoons were warm:
A sunny spring afternoon on Piazza di Santa Croce, Florence
Florence in One Day: the Duomo
See Florence in one day: the Duomo
If the Ponte Vecchio bridge is the most famous Florence sigh, the Duomo certainly takes the second place.
The Duomo, officially the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, can be seen from everywhere in the city. It’s so much higher than all other buildings in the city. The massive dome can be accessed by 463 steps, so it’s a bit to climb. And the Duomo’s bell tower Campanile that you can climb as well is almost the same height.
Walking in Florence: the Duomo
Both the Duomo and the Campanile are all made of Tuscan marble that shines in white, green, pink and black. The Campanile from 1359 is the older of the two.
Yet the Baptistry building in front of the Dome is still older. Dating from the 4th century the Baptistry is one of the oldest buildings in all Florence, famous for its mosaic ceiling and east doors featuring the Gate of Paradise. So you don’t have to go inside to see the doors, the Gate of Paradise exists outside.
The Campanile, Florence
Entrance to the Duomo itself is free and with a ticket you can climb both to the dome and the Campanile for birds-eye views of Florence.
Florence in one day: the Duomo
Now it’s time to move to the south side of the river. Take the main shopping street south past the square of Piazza della Repubblica.
Florence in one day: Piazza della Repubblica
The Piazza della Repubblica has a massive Roman style triumphal arch with impressive arcades on both sides. This building style was used in a short 19th century period when Florence was the Italian capital. Yes’ Florence has been the capital.
At that time they planned to tear down the historic quarters to replace them with more buildings in this style. However arter the first new buildings were completed, the capital had already been moved to Rome and they had to abandon the plan.
Piazza della Repubblica, Florence
Today the Piazza della Repubblica is a central meeting place for Florence locals. The pavement cafés on all sides are popular meeting points and a carousel in the middle is great for kids.
The hotel we stayed at in Florence (we were here for a few days for business) was exactly in this triumphal arch building! A most central location and great square views from the breakfast room.
Mercato Nuovo and Piazza della Rebubblica
Above left is the Mercato Nuovo, a covered old market building, today filled by souvenir stalls.
Florence Walking Itinerary: Ponte Vecchio
Walking along Ponte Vecchio, the famous bridge of Florence
And now we will cross the Ponte Vecchio and get to Oltrano, the area south of the Arno.
The Ponte Vecchio with all its jewellers’ shops… There still are a lot of them, on both sides. So many that you can’t even see the river – except in the middle area where three arches exist on one side and an open terrace with love locks on the other.
Photos of Ponte Vecchio
Oltrano is a bit like Trastevere in Rome, the other side of the river. Trastevere means behind the Tiber. Yet, originally, Oltrano was a Pitti family area.
Florence in one day: the Pitti Palace of Oltrano
The wealthy Pitti family built their palace here in 1457. Then, as the building turned out to cost them too much, the family went bankrupt a hundred years later and had to sell their palace to the Medicis.
After that the Pitti Palace became the place where all Florence rulers lived and ruled from, one after another. Today it’s a museum with huge art collections, mainly art once owned by the Medici family.
In the Pitti Palace the top sights are the Palatine Gallery with Raphael’s paintings and the Museu degli Argenti with silverware.
Pitti Palace courtyard with the Artichoke Fountain (without the artichoke), lawn and amphitheatre
Florence in one day: Boboli Gardens on the Pitti Palace grounds
If you will only spend one day in Florence, you might not have time for any more palace interiors. Instead you could go and see the Boboli Gardens behind the palace. The gardens used by the Medici family were later made a public park.
The Boboli Gardens climb up the hill and from the hilltop you will get splendid views to Oltrano and Florence.
Boboli Gardens: a statue, a lake with a Neptune Fountain and March flowers
Florence in One Day: Oltrano
A square in Oltrano
Oltrano originally was an area of the less wealthy – until the Medici moved south. That got many aristocrats follow them and fine palaces stood up all around Oltrano.
Those palaces still remain. Otherwise Oltrano is a quiet residential area with small shops and nice restaurants in the narrow medieval streets – Oltrano is a very attracttive area.
Florence in one day: walking through Oltrano
We went to Oltrano restaurants and they were so good! They were authentic and the staff very kind and spontaneous. We had both lunches and dinners south of the river and really liked it here.
In the photos you can see Oltrano and Piazza di Santo Spirito that contains a church with the same name. The piazza is lined with artisan shops and pavement restaurants – and of course palazzi.
You can see one of the palazzi, Palazzo Guadagni behind the green statue above.
More River Arno Bridges
River Arno and Ponte Vecchio
Before ending our Florence walk we still have to see the sun set beyond Arno bridges.
Here, the medieval workshops of Ponte Vecchio from the west side when the sun comes from the west:
Ponte Vecchio from the riverbank and Ponte Santa Trinita
The next bridge is the Ponte Santa Trinita, named after the church of the holy Trinity on Via de Tornabuoni, the street where the bridge ends.
Florence in one day: Ponte Santa Trinita
To construct Ponte Santa Trinita, a new building technique was used. They had tree arches to support the bridge. Michelangelo, too, was involved in the project, which is why the bridge has a statue in each four corner. The statues are there to symbolize the four seasons of the year.
Arno riverbank at sunset seen from St Trinity Bridge:
North bank of Arno towards Ponte Vecchio
North bank of Arno towards another bridge, Ponte della Carraia
A canoe gliding towards Ponte della Carraia and vespas on the riverbank
And then it’s the time for sunset. Sunset beyond Arno and Ponte della Carraia will end our Florence walk.
So now you will know what to expect to see on a Florence day trip.
You have now seen the top sights of the Tuscan capital. Time to head back to where you arrived from this morning – Rome, Bologna, Tuscan countryside. Or maybe you decided to stay in Florence and now have to find a hotel room?
Florence in one day: Ponte della Carraia and Florence sunset
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The post also contains a day trip from Florence to Fiesole.
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