How to See The Best of Florence In 1 Day
How do you see Florence in One Day?
Everything you need to know to fall in love with this city.
If you’re only planning on spending one day in Florence like we did, there are definitely highlights you’re not going to want to miss.
Is one day in Florence enough? We managed to see, learn, eat, and drink a lot without feeling stressed or too manic with a little itinerary planning and a lot of research. I used sites like TripAdvisor, US News Travel section, cntraveler, and Googles Travel Guide which pretty much all list the same top 10 sites. Below is a 1 day itinerary for Florence which includes the best things to see, where to drink, eat and take the best photos.
Florence in a day:
We drove from our hotel in Tavernelle to Florence as it’s only a 30 minute drive, dropped off the car at the airport and took a taxi to our Florence hotel to drop off our luggage before the 9:30 am Florence 3 hour walking Viator tour we had booked. We tend to always run early so we even had time for a quick espresso at a cafe in Piazza Della Signoria right next to the impressive Florence Duomo which is probably the most famous sight on the Florence skyline. What a breathtaking way to start the day. Beware, you’ll probably get haggled here and end up with an over-priced selfie stick (but hey, at least we got some good pics that day).
We figured the walking tour would be a good way to get our bearings, see the must-see highlights, and learn something of the history rather than just randomly walking and not knowing what we’re looking at. It also included a skip the line pass to Galleria Dell’ Accademia to see the famous Statue of David.
Beware of pick-pockets, even with the police presence, they are common especially in the Piazzas so as obvious as it sounds, don’t leave your bag open or put your wallet in your back pocket. The tour stopped at:
10 Things You Must See in Florence:
Piazza della Republica (tour meeting point): one of the main squares in Florence that has marked the center of the city since Roman times. Home to the historical Caffé Gilli, Caffé Paskowski and Caffé delle Giubbe Rosse which were meeting points for many of the city's artists and writers in the past. Also, facing onto the piazza is the Hotel Savoy on Via Roma. You don’t need much time here but there’s often markets here if you’re looking to pick up souvaniers.
Pitti Palace / Palazzo Pitti: (you’ll only see the outside on the walking tour). You’ll walk across Ponte Alle Grazie to get to the Pitti Palace which is probably one of the best spots to get photos of Ponte Vecchio as it’s the bridge next to it. There’s even a spot in the middle where you can sit for your photo and make use of your selfie stick!
Ponte Vecchio bridge: this iconic, romantic, jewelry shop lined bridge, which you’ll walk across and have time to snap photos on during the walking tour has had shops on since the 13th century. In 1593, Ferdinand I decreed that only goldsmiths and jewelers were allowed to have shops on the bridge in order to improve the wellbeing of all (and reduce smells from previous tennents such as fish mongers and butchers). Best place to take photos: there’s 4: either end of the bridge getting a perspective shot down the middle or either side of the middle of the bridge looking out to the river with Florence on either side.
Piazza della Signoria: I loved this square and didn’t know where to look or wander towards next! There’s so much history and beauty crammed into this one square: Palazzo Vecchio (the most important Administrative building in Florence), Neptune fountain, sculptures, Gucci and Gucci Garden Cafe, the replica Statue of David, and luxury shops such as Chanel. The Uffizi Museum (which houses the Medici’s art collection) is also located just off of this square. Best place to take photos: in front of Neptunes Fountain or get a little further back and squat down and take photos at an up angle of Palazzo Vecchio so you can get all of the clock tower in your photo.
Florence Duomo / Santa Maria del Fiore (outside only): You can book tickets to go inside but we knew we wanted to see St Mark's Basilica in Venice and weren’t on a cathedral tour of Italy (I hope that doesn’t make us sound super uncultured). You’ll also see:
Baptistery of St. John which sits in front of the Duomo and has Baptistery's:
Giotto’s Campanile / Bell Tower. More about that below. The walk goes past the designer boutiques of Via Tornabuoni & artist’s workshops of lively Oltrarno so you can scout them out and return to any later (got to love the tax-free shopping in Europe thanks to the tax rebates at the airport). Best place to take photos: on the south side on Via Della Agli, that way you can get Battistero Di San Giovanni, Giotto’s Bell Tower and the Duomo in your shot or early morning before the crowds anywhere in the piazza.
Michelangelo's Statue of David at:
Galleria Dell’ Accademia. The walking tour included a skip-the-line entrance pass. Our tour guide explained all about the statue of David: how he looks older from the front and younger from his profile, the intricate details including the veins, and how Michelangelo sculpted him out of a single block of marble, that it was intended for the roof of Florence's cathedral dome but the patrons loved him so much they wanted to display him in closer view. Best place to take photos: be patient and you’ll have a chance to take one center front, also snap one from the right side where David’s looking at you to see him from a more youthful perspective. The tour ends here and if you wish to explore the rest of the museum by yourself you can. We opted to go for lunch instead as we’re always hungry! .https://www.viator.com/tours/Florence/Private-Tour-3-Hour-Florence-Walking-Tour/d519-29762P1?mcid=56757
Lunch in Florence:
Finding a restaurant can be totally overwhelming in a large city. Avoid the main squares where the more touristy restaurants tend to be and look down smaller side streets or where the menu is only in Italian. A tell-tale sign of a tourist spot is where the menu is in several different languages.
We had Ristorante La Giostra recommended to us for dinner by a friend but since we already had dinner reservations and it was only a 10 minute walk from the gallery we walked over there for lunch. It’s the kind of place you’d walk past if you didn’t know about it. As soon as you go in you know you’re going to be in for an authentic treat. The service was exceptional and you’re greeted with prosecco and anti-pasto. Their menu is extensive but you can still order off the menu as well, they’re incredibly accommodating. Apparently, it’s even more romantic at night when it’s lit only by candle light. Definitely make a reservation whether you’re going for lunch or dinner as the secret is out and this place was packed by the time we left.
After lunch, we were over walking and the heat so walked to one of the bars I’d found online and had on our list. If you’re less of a drinker than we are you might want to see these other Florence highlights instead of going for drinks. But it was July, and we were hot and in need of refreshments and to take a load off our feet. La Terraza at Hotel Continentale is a very small rooftop terrace right on the River Arno, a 10 minute walk from Hotel Spadai and a cute spot to stop in for an Aperol Spritz, cold glass of rosé or cold beer.
After getting up at 6am, by this point we were ready for a siesta so that’s what we did. It gave us time to nap for 90 minutes (we’re not power nappers), go to find a gelateria, then come back and get ready for dinner. We planned on going out a couple of hours before our 9:30 pm dinner reservation so we could bar hop.
Florence Aperitivo and Best Places For Sunset Cocktails:
Aperitivo is a part of Italian culture I adore and keep going back home whenever we are going out for date night or meeting friends. I’ve listed all of the ones I’d found ahead of time below.
We chose to go to Se’Sto on Arno but first had to stop for golden hour photos at the Duomo and also for a cocktail at a cute little bar right on the river en route to Se’Sto. If you haven’t fallen for Florence’s charm and romantic side yet, there’s nothing quite like a pre-dinner drink on the river with your date.
I can’t say enough good things about Se’Sto on Arno which is the rooftop bar at the Westin Excelsiore. These panoramic views (both inside and out) blew us away. Thankfully, I have a very patient husband as I was way into taking photos of the city scape at sunset from the open air terrace (I wasn’t the only one). If you can make reservations ahead of time, definitely do, as it’d be a shame to miss out on this place. They also offer gourmet aperitivio for 28-32 Euro which includes the most divine food and includes a drink. We didn’t as we had a 7 course dinner ahead of us! Best place to take photos: outside on the terrace to the left before you enter the bar for the best panoramic views of Florence.
APERITIVO IN FLORENCE/ WINE BARS
Dinner in Florence:
I knew I wanted to do a Michelin star restaurant with a view in Florence. Italy is known for its cuisine, so I wanted to do it right and after much looking, decided on Borgo San Jacopo. I’m quite particular and I liked the look of their tasting menu, which is really the best way to do a Michelin restaurant, as well as their location. They have the smallest terrace right on the Arno River which seats 8-9 people max. You can request a seat here when making your reservation but they can’t guarantee it. They have 2 seating times so we booked for (1 9:30 pm so we had more time during the day (since we were only there for a day).
The food and service was exceptional. While neither of us liked every course we could certainly appreciate it; the thought and presentation. You can also do wine pairings but since we’re both picky with wines opted for Lauren Perrier Rosé instead since champagne goes with everything! 9 courses (they give you a couple of extras) plus some bread later we rolled out of there and were grateful for the stroll back to our hotel where we slept like babies!
More Florence Things To Do :
In Piazza Del Duomo you can climb Giotto's Campanile (Florence Duomo’s bell tower) for fantastic views of the city (it is mandatory to book tickets and reserve a time slot in advance).
Uffizi Gallery: Here you can see all of the Italian greats: Botticelli, Caravaggio & Titian to name a few. You’re best to book tickets in advance as this gallery is hugely popular. Give yourself 2 hours to explore the art, longer if you want to stop at the Uffizi gallery cafe with its spectacular views.
Piazza della Signoria - I really wanted go to Gucci Garden Cafe for drinks but unfortunately you can’t just do drinks here, you have to dine. It really has a great location in Piazza della Signoria with views of the fountain. I can’t vouch for the food but if you want to go be sure to make reservations ahead of time. It’s worth going into this gorgeous Gucci store and fashion museum. The dressing rooms alone make it worth trying on the latest seasons styles.
Boboli Gardens are claimed to be one of the greatest open-air museums in Florence and part of Pitti Palace. If you’re looking for a more peaceful side to Florence, escape to the centuries-old oak trees, sculptures, and fountains which inspired many European Royal gardens such as Versailles. Boboli Garden Tickets are 10 Euro and opens at 8:15 am. Closing times vary depending on the month from 16.30 - 19.30 so check their website.
Basilica of Santa Croce: if you are wanting your church fix and don’t want to deal with the long lines at the Duomo this is another option. Built around the same time as the Florence Duomo, it may not be anywhere near as big but the:
“interior is home to the tombs of some of the most influential Renaissance artists and scholars in the world including Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli.” The Crazy Tourist.
One day in Florence is enough to see the highlights, fall in love with it’s beauty and charm, and get a good feel for the city without feeling like you’re missing out. However, if you’re an art buff or want to spend time in the museums, then you’re going to need more time.
Hotels in Florence:
When choosing a hotel look for one close to where you think you’ll be spending the most time, the facilities, reviews on noise levels, and if they have views (either in the rooms or a rooftop bar, etc).
Hotel Spadai 4* there are so many hotels to choose from in Florence. We choose this for it’s location which was a minute walk (100 meters) to the Duomo and really central. The rooms aren’t large, as you’ll know is common in European cities but they are beautifully done with antique materials that blend naturally with a superb contemporary style and the beds are super comfortable. I was worried the church bells and police sirens would keep us awake but the windows are pretty well sound proofed. Don’t skip breakfast, you’ll need it to fuel all of your walking and exploring and the spiral staircase to their inside viewing deck is also by the entrance to breakfast.
Westin Excelsior Florence 5 * also looked lovely and had a great river front location. It’s also where the Se’ Sto on Arno rooftop bar I mentioned above is.
Getting From Florence to Venice
From Florence we took a direct train to Venice which was super quick and easy:
Train Venice Venezia San Lucia to Lake Garda (Peschiera Del Garda) 11:50am arr 1:16pm (1hr 26 mins)
Book any tours, restaurants, and even Aperitivo bars in advance. It’s a city and major tourist destination especially in July and August.
Wear plenty of sunscreen, a hat, and carry water. It gets hot walking around. My portable fan may have looked dorky but it was super helpful in the Galleria Dell’ Accademia which is stiflingly warm. We didn’t have an issue with mosquitoes here like we did in rural Tuscany.
Leave valuables in your safe and do up your bags. Wear them crossbody or if you’re using a backpack make sure it’s one that’s knife proof. We didn’t have any trouble and there’s a large amount of police present but it’s better to be overly safe than for things to go missing.