Just thinking about Florence makes me yearn to go back there. In Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance, history and the art combine to make a beautiful city with a cozy vibe and an historic city center that is supremely easy to tour on foot. If you have the time, you can do Florence really well in about three or four days, but it’s also possible to see the best of Florence in one day if that’s all you have. If you want to know more about what to do in Florence in one day keep reading!
How to See the Best of Florence in One Day
When spending one day in Florence, if you can stay near the Duomo in the heart of the city, I highly recommend it. From there, no major site on your Florence one-day itinerary will be more than a 15- to 20-minute walk.
We’re going to start with the Accademia Gallery (at Via Ricasoli, 58) as soon as it opens in the morning so book your tickets well in advance. If even you’re not an art aficionado, you’re going to want to make this museum a priority on your one day in Florence, Italy. Michelangelo’s David is its most famous resident, and as impressive as he is in photos, they don’t really do justice to the incredible detail the artist was able to carve into the marble.
This is a small museum, so it’s easy to get in, experience the best it has to offer and then get out before the crowd is too large. And you’ll definitely want to take a few minutes to enjoy Michelangelo’s David and Prisoners with lower crowds if you can. Plan to spend about an hour here. I don’t think more is necessary at all.
After you leave the Accademia, head to San Marco for some amazing frescoes. It’s just a five-minute walk.
The Dominican monastery of San Marco was home to monk/artist Fra Angelico. The cells he decorated with his work (while he was prior here in the mid-15th century) are preserved for you to see.
History buffs will also be interested to know that Savonarola—the monk famous for his pious reforms that led to bonfires of the vanities in Piazza della Signoria—also lived at this monastery (though his time there did no overlap with Fra Angelico, who died just a few years after Savonarola was born). Savonarola’s rooms are preserved for you to walk through and have some of his personal items on display.
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No need to buy tickets ahead of time for San Marco. Entrance is just 8 euros and it’s unlikely you’ll find a line to get in here. You will want to check ahead of time to make sure it is open, because it’s closed a few Sundays and Mondays each month.
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Lunch recommendation: Mercato Centrale
By now it’s probably getting to be close to lunch time. We’re going to walk about 10 or 12 minutes to Mercato Centrale. Mercato Centrale is a great place to eat in Florence. It occupies a large 19th century iron and glass building on Via dell’Ariento. You’ll find an incredible variety of food vendors and quick service prepared meals here.
If you’re not quite ready for lunch yet, you can purchase supplies for a picnic to eat later. Just keep in mind that Italy is starting to crack down on tourists eating (and leaving messes) at major historical sites, so be mindful of local regulations to avoid hefty fines…and be respectful of the residents of the town you’re fortunate to be able to visit.
Now we’re going to walk about 6 minutes to Piazza del Duomo.
The red tile dome of the great Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo) dominates the Florence skyline. It’s the cultural, historical and geographical heart of this great city.
Visitors can climb up into the dome of the cathedral, but you are required to have a reservation, so make sure you book this ahead of time. If you don’t relish the climb of 463 steps without an elevator, you might book a ticket for the Duomo terraces instead (only 150 stairs to climb).
Entrance to the cathedral itself is always free, so you cannot make a reservation to get in there. The line is usually rather lengthy, and while the interior of the Duomo is nice, it’s the exterior that is far more impressive.
If time is getting away from you (and you have a reservation go up into the dome), I’d prioritize the dome then stop in at the museum. I think it’s one of the most underrated sites in Florence. This museum preserves and protects the sculptures and artwork that were made for the Duomo and the other buildings including the famous baptistery doors designed by Ghiberti.
Gelato recommendation: Gelateria Edoardo
If you’re ready for some Florentine gelato, stop in at Edoardo. It will be to your left as you exit the museum. Edoardo is my favorite gelateria in Florence. Their flavors taste amazingly authentic and their sorbettos are some of the best I’ve ever tried.
From Piazza del Duomo it’s only a 5-minute walk to our next step, the Piazza della Signoria.
Piazza della Signoria
The Piazza della Signoria was once the center of Florentine politics and power. Here you will find the large Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace) city hall, once the domain of the powerful Medici family. Entrance to the Palazzo courtyard is free, so take a few minutes to take a spin.
In this square you’ll also find a bronze plaque that marks the spot where Savonarola was burned at the stake after his brief rule over Florence collapsed in 1498.
At the end of the Piazza near the Palazzo Vecchio you’ll find the Uffizi courtyard, which is lined with statues of important historical figures from Tuscany including Galileo, Dante, Machiavelli and more.
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The Uffizi Gallery
Here you’ll find one of the most important collections of Italian painting in the world. The Uffizi is home to two Leonardos, one of which is unfinished and was just recently displayed for public viewing after six years of restoration, and Michelangelo’s only known surviving easel painting. You also don’t want to miss Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Primavera.
Definitely get your timed-entry tickets well ahead of time for this important museum. Seriously. I’d buy my tickets at least 30 days in advance if possible.
Plan on spending about two hours here to tour the museum well, but you can see the best the gallery has to offer in quite a bit less if you’re pressed for time or are just tired and can’t take any more sightseeing. You can also take a break at the Uffizi terrace café if you need it. It’s pricey, but sometimes the chance to take a breather on a long day of walking is totally worth it.
After you exit the Uffizi you’re just a few minutes’ walk from the Ponte Vecchio.
This is the last stop on our one-day tour of Florence. The Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) was built in 1345, and it was the only bridge in Florence to survive the Nazi retreat through Italy in World War II. The bridge was once lined with butcher shops and tanneries, but now it’s home to watch and jewelry shops that cater mainly to tourists.
Dinner recommendation: Coquinarius
My favorite restaurant in Florence is Coquinarius at Via delle Oche, 11R. I’d recommend making a reservation if you want to eat here, otherwise you can probably get a table if you arrive very close to when it opens for dinner at 6:30 p.m. I recommend the gnocchi and the pear and cheese ravioli.
Gluten-free dinner recommendation: Ciro and Sons
The most extensive gluten-free menu I’ve seen in Florence is a Ciro and Sons at Via del Giglio, 28. My husband, who has celiac disease, has declared this his favorite restaurant in Florence. I recommend the eggplant parmesan here.
And that’s Florence in a day.
Florence is truly a wonderful city. I hope you have the chance to visit soon.
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