Florence needs no introduction. It’s the first Italian city that I fell in love with, first through watching Helena Bonham Carter throw open the windows in EM Forster’s ‘Room with a View’ which I must have watched a thousand times, and then as a student visiting for the first time. Whilst my visit was in the height of the Summer and I do distinctively remember wilting under the heat slightly, even the intense rays of the searing sun couldn’t diminish my enthusiasm to climb the Duomo, queue at the Uffizi or simply meander through the streets.
So how do we recommend you spend 48 hours in Florence? Here’s our guide to Florence so that you can cram the most into your stay in this most wonderful city.
Arguably, Florence’s most iconic building is its Duomo and we think that the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and the Duomo serve as the perfect starting point for any stay in Florence. In the heart of the city, it sits shoulder to shoulder with Giotto’s Campanile and the Baptistry. Either choose to climb the 463 stairs of the Duomo or, instead, opt for the 414 steps in the adjacent Campanile so that you can enjoy views of the Duomo itself. Then catch your breath by taking a seat in the Pizza del Duomo and take the opportunity to admire the bronze doors of the Baptistry designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti (note that these are replicas of the originals which are now kept safe in the Museo dell’ Opera). Having studied these in my GCSE History classes as part of my studies of the Italian Renaissance, I vividly remember being in awe as I took in my surroundings and had my first glimpse of these glimmering doors all those years ago!
Book tours and skip-the-line entrance tickets to Florence Duomo.
All these stairs will have meant you’ll have built up an appetite though! Head a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the piazza to the first floor of the Mercato Centrale at Via del Ariento. Whilst the ground floor is home to stallholders selling anything from meat, poultry, fish and ham to oil and cheese, the upstairs is a restaurant and bar area where you will find several food stalls selling delicious food and drink including perfect pizzas and mouth watering pasta, all of which can be washed down with a glass of vino… or two!
In the afternoon, head to our favourite art gallery in Florence – the Uffizi. (Incidentally, en route, you may want to go via the Church of Santa Maria Novella which is the believed to date from 1427 and which is widely hailed to be one of the earliest examples of the Renaissance use of perspective). The Uffizi itself is home to a plethora of incredible artworks by some amazing artists from Giotto to Boticelli, Titian to Leonardo da Vinci and from Rubens to Michelangelo. This is a museum you would need days to do full justice to, but in one afternoon you can at least see some of what it has to offer. One word of advice: Make sure that you’ve booked tickets in advance to avoid the queues through one of our trusted ticket or tour platforms: With Locals, Get Your Guide or Viator.
The Palazzo Vecchio is just a couple of minutes walk from the Uffizi so, if you can squeeze in the time, it’s worth also trying to see this on your first day too. Whilst you may not have time to go inside, the Piazza della Signoria sits in front of the Palazzo Vecchio and is home to a wealth of statues including the replica of Michelangelo’s David.
Why not start your evening with a ride on the antique carousel in the Piazza della Repubblica before heading for a delicious meal in one of the many restaurants Florence has to offer? Wherever you do eat, the meat eaters amongst you should try the Bistecca alla Fiorentina at least once. The latter is a huge steak on the bone that typically weighs between 1.5 to 2 kg and is a mighty 3-4 cm deep! With 8 Michelin starred restaurants to choose from in Florence in 2020 as well as a range of lower priced options offering exceptional cuisine, you’re spoilt for choice. A couple of our favourites include the Golden View Open Bar (definitely request a table by the window in advance to enjoy views of the Ponte Vecchio whilst you eat) and Cibreo which has a number of eating options from the formal to the laid back, all under the same brand name.
Start your day at the Galleria dell’ Accademia if you want to see the original statue of David (as well as Michelangelo’s statue of Quattro Prigionieri (Four Prisoners) and other numerous artworks by accomplished artists such as Fra Bartolomeo, Botticelli and Ghirlandaio) before heading to the Basilica di Santa Croce, the resting place for several eminent Florentines, including Michelangelo, Rossini and Machiavelli, as well as for Pisan born astronomer, physicist and engineer, Galileo Galilei.
From here, head along the Via Ghibellina and the Via del Corso towards Florence’s main shopping street – Via de’ Tornabuoni – where you will find the showrooms of Italy’s top fashion designers including Armani, Gucci and Prada as well as plenty of cheaper high street options en route. Head even further on towards the San Lorenzo leather market should it be of interest.
In the afternoon, head from here across the Arno to the ‘other side’ of the river. Known as the ‘Oltrano‘ it’s home to a very different side of the city. Take the opportunity to cross the river via the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s oldest bridge dating back to 1345. This is also an opportunity to do some more shopping as small jewellery and goldsmith shops line the sides of the bridge. Incidentally, the good news is that, looking forward to 2021, it sounds like you will be able to also walk along the Vasari Corridor, an elevated walkway that connects the Palazzo Vecchio and Uffizi Gallery with the Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens via the Ponte Vecchio. This has been clsoed since 2016 but is planned to re-open to the general public in 2021.
Once on the other side, it’s time to explore some of Florence’s many gardens and villas. The Boboli Gardens and Palazzo Pitti are the nearest to the bridge. The latter was once home to the Medici family but is now divided into four museums – the Galleria Palatina, the Appartamenti Reali, the Galleria d’Arte and the Galleria del Costume – whilst the adjacent Boboli Gardens were also the creation of the Medici’s and is perfect example of a Renaissance garden.
There are many other gardens worth visiting in this part of Florence, among them the Giardino delle Rose, which is home to over 350 different varieties of rose, the Iris Garden which always looks its best in May when the flowers are in bloom and the Bardini Gardens which we love most in the Spring when its wisteria tunnel is in full bloom.
There can be no more charming way to spend your last night in Florence, than by enjoying the spectacular views over the city at sunset that can be enjoyed from either the Piazzale Michelangelo (where you can also enjoy an aperitivo in the cafe behind the piazza) or the Church of San Miniato al Monte slightly further up the hill. The latter is about 25 minutes walk uphill from the Ponte Vecchio but if you can muster the stamina to get there, on a clear day, you will be treated to views of the many bridges that span the River Arno including the Ponte Vecchio as well as the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio.
If you can’t wait to start planning your trip to Florence and try this Florence itinerary for yourself, then take a look at the villas and apartments in Florence available from Bookings For You.