The Italian city of Florence is a UNESCO listed world class sight, but since its historic center is packed into a small area you can discover the best of Florence in one day. To help you plan what to see in Florence I put the attractions on a map and made a walking itinerary between them.
So whether you are visiting Rome or touring Tuscany you should make a day trip to Florence. Take good shoes and walk in the historic city of Florence. Florence is a perfect place to explore on foot!
River Arno and Ponte Vecchio from the Uffici Gallery
Since it’s hard to park a car in the historic center try to take a train to Florence. Florence main train station Firenze Santa Maria Novella is right where historic Florence begins and you only need to walk a kilometer to get to the top sights.
The train from Rome to Florence only takes 1,5 hours (tickets on the Trenitalia website) and in the same place you will find train connections from Tuscan towns.
What else should you think about? If you plan to visit the Uffici Gallery buy your tickets in advance (read below how) and don’t try to visit any Florence museums on Monday when they are closed.
So now you are in Florence, Italy, but what to see in Florence?
The Map: What to see in Florence in One Day
To help you plan what to see in Florence I marked a walk on a Google map. You can open the map in Google Maps and use it offline in your phone when in Florence.
The map shows the historic Florence on both banks of River Arno that flows through the city. Santa Maria Novella is north-west of the city center and you will get it on the map if you zoom out a bit.
My Florence walk starts at the famous Ponte Vecchio that in the morning sun looks best from east. We will start in the historic center north of the Arno and spend the rest of the day in Oltrano south of the river.
This Ponte Vecchio in the morning, from east. The opposite side doesn’t get the sun in the morning.
As its name (Old Bridge) says the Ponte Vecchio is the oldest bridge in Florence, built in 1345. From the beginning the bridge has been full of workshops and many of them have extensions with windows and green shutters towards the river.
Above the workshops is a corridor built for the Medici family that lived in the Uffici Palace. They needed a private corridor to avoid the crowds when they went to meet their friends the Pitti family on the other side of the river.
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.
Uffici facade seen from the Arno
Uffici means office. This huge building with two long wings on the inner court was the office of the Medici family that once ruled Florence. They decided to turn their office into a museum where their impressive art collection is displayed.
Among the 1700 works are art treasures by such famous names as Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Raphael, Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci.
At all times of the year the queues to this world-class museum are long, so you should always plan your visit and buy your tickets in advance. There are different options for that and you can read about them on this unofficial Uffici website that also sells tickets.
Statues on Uffici inner court facade
Walking along Uffici corridors you will probably get an overdoze of art. Print out a museum guide or bring a guide book to at least catch the highlights. Or take a guided tour.
The corridors make a sight in themselves – the walls, floors, ceilings, and the marble statues all around.
Some samples of Uffici east wing ceilings
The west wing has a roof terrace and a café located right above the Loggia dei Lanzi on the square. But what to see in Florence next, after you have seen the Uffici? – Take a closer look at the Loggia:
Loggia dei Lanzi
Our Florence walk continues on the street level, on the Piazza della Signoria that has some great monuments and buildings. This is the Loggia dei Lanzi, wide arches from 1382 that contain a long row of ancient Roman statues.
Among the sculptures are the green bronze statue of Perseus holding Medusa’s head and the rape of Polissena statue in white marble.
Piazza della Signoria
Piazza della Signoria is an outdoor sculpture gallery. There are many world-known 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 that are in use all year round.
Below some more photos on the Piazza della Signoria. The photo on the right shows the square seen from the tower of Palazzo Vecchio.
The Palazzo Vecchio completed in 1322 originally was and still is Florence’s town hall. The thick walls house the huge council chamber Salone dei Cinquecento, dozens of other impressive halls and a courtyard with a fountain.
Photos of the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence
Museo di Palazzo Vecchio
To get inside the building you must visit the museum. Go to the Museum entrance on the north side and buy a ticket to the museum and the tower. Both are worth a visit. You can tour the museum on your own or take a guided tour.
The museum covers most of the building. You can walk around in decorated rooms and halls where rulers of Florence used to live and work. And they still work here.
On left you can see the Salone dei Cinquecento and the meeting going on that we came for to Florence. The town hall is used for many kinds of meetings, like this EU meeting.
The Palazzo Vecchio with its frescoes and paintings really makes for wonderful meeting surroundings, but since the walls are thick it’s incredibly cold indoors. That must be good in hot Italian summer weather but kind of a surprise in the winter.
A Palazzo Vecchio hall ceiling.
Torre di Palazzo Vecchio
But don’t’ leave the Palazzo Vecchio before climbing to the bell tower. It makes a long climb and the views to Piazza della Signoria, Florence and the region get more and more amazing as you climb.
I went up all the way but what I liked most were these Florence views from defence wall holes on the palace roof.
The tiled roofs of Florence look so great from above! If you go up in the Palazzo Vecchio tower and get the views from there, there’s no need to climb to the top of the Duomo for similar views. But of course if you stay longer in Florence, climb everywhere you can!
Here you can read more on the Museo di Palazzo Vecchio.
Old Town Alleys
Before leaving the northern side we of course still have to see the Duomo, but before that take a walk in the historic center. All streets look the same and yet they all are individual. This is Italy at it’s best!
East of the Palazzo Vecchio is the church of Santa Croce, you have seen the church 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.
A sunny spring afternoon on Piazza di Santa Croce
If the Ponte Vecchio is the most famous sight of Florence, 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 taller than all other buildings in Florence. The dome is huge and can be accessed by 463 steps. And its bell tower Campanile is almost the same height.
Both the Duomo and the Campanile are decorated by bright Tuscan marble that shines in white, green and pink. The Campanile is the older of the two, from 1359.
But the Baptistry building in front is still older. It is from the 4th century and one of the oldest buildings in Florence. The Baptistry is famous for its mosaic ceiling and east doors featuring the “Gate of Paradise”. You don’t have to go in to see the doors, they are outside.
Entrance to the Duomo is free and with a ticket you can climb both to the dome and the Campanile for splendid views of Florence.
On the way to the other side of the river follow the main shopping street past the square of Piazza della Repubblica.
The Piazza della Repubblica has a massive Roman style triumphal arch with impressive arcades on both sides. They all remind us of a 19th century period when Florence was the Italian capital.
At that time there were plans to destroy the historic quarters and replace them with impressive buildings of this kind. After these buildings were built the rest of the plan was abandoned. The capital was moved to Rome.
Today the Piazza della Repubblica is a central meeting place for people in Florence with pavement cafés on all sides and a carousel in the middle.
And the hotel we stayed at in Florence was in the triumphal arch building! A very central location and great views from the breakfast room!
Above left is the Mercato Nuovo, a covered market building south of the Piazza della Repubblica that today is occupied by souvenir stalls.
And now again the Ponte Vecchio, to get to Oltrano south of the River Arno.
The Ponte Vecchio with all its jewellers’ shops… There really are lots of them on both sides so you don’t even see the river – except in the middle where there are three arches on one side and an open area with locks on the other.
Oltrano is a bit like Trastevere in Rome, the other side of the river. But originally Oltrano was a family Pitti area.
The Pitti family built their palace here in 1457. The building turned out to cost them too much and a hundred years later the family went bankrupt and sold their palace to the Medicis.
The Pitti Palace became the place where all Florence rulers lived one after another. Today the palace is s a museum with huge art collections, again 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 inner courtyard with the Artichoke Fountain (the artichoke has been lost) and amphitheatre lawn
If you area wondering what to see in Florence and just have one day you maybe don’t have time for the palace interiors. Instead you can see the Boboli Gardens. The gardens were first used only by the Medici family but became later a public park.
The Boboli Gardens climb up the hill from where there are splendid views to Oltrano and Florence.
A Boboli Garden statue and a lake with a Neptune Fountain
Oltrano was an area of the less wealthy until the Medici moved south of the river. That made many aristocrats follow them in the area and palaces were built all around.
The palaces still remain and otherwise Oltrano is a quiet residential area with small shops and restaurants along narrow medieval streets – a very attracting area for a stroll.
And those Oltrano restaurants are so good! According to what I saw the restaurants are authentic and the staff is nice and spontaneous. We had both lunch and dinner south of the river and we really liked it.
On the photos you can see Oltrano and Piazza di Santo Spirito with a church with the same name. The piazza is lined with artisan shops and pavement restaurants – and palazzi.
You can see one of the palazzi, Palazzo Guadagni behind the green statue.
River Arno Bridges
Before we have completed our Florence walk we still have watch the sun set and the most beautiful Arno bridges in evening light.
Ponte Vecchio medieval workshop walls look so good in the setting sun…
Ponte Vecchio from Arno riverbank and from Ponte Santa Trinita
The next bridge is the Ponte Santa Trinita, named after the church of the holy Trinity on Via de Tornabuoni where the bridge ends.
In the Ponte Santa Trinita a new technique of building was used, tree arches supporting a bridge. Michelangelo was involved and the bridge has four statues in the corners representing the four seasons.
Arno riverbank at sunset viewed from St Trinity Bridge:
North bank of Arno and Ponte Vecchio
North bank of Arno towards the next bridge, Ponte della Carraia
Local transport in Florence: a canoe gliding towards the Ponte della Carraia and and vespas on Arno riverbank.
And then – this sunset view of the Arno and the Ponte della Carraia ends our Florence walk.
Now you know what to see in Florence. You have seen the top sights and maybe it’s time to head back to where you are staying – or find a hotel room. It’s possible that you decided to stay in Florence!
More on Italy Travel:
I also have posts on Rome, Cinque Terre and the Tuscan countryside.