Alright, you may read the title of this post and wonder why on earth you would spend only one day in Florence, the unofficial capital of Tuscany. And you’re right—the city deserves at least two full days. That being said; if for some reason you only have one day to spend in Florence, that will be enough to get a good feel of the city and to visit a few of its major highlights.
As the very birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is home to a couple of truly world-class museums. However, when you have only one day to spend, it is suggested to skip those—as crazy as that may seem. Unless it rains, your time is better spent outside.
Start your day in Florence with a visit to the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, better known as the Duomo. This iconic church is easily the most beautiful I have ever seen and arguably the one main attraction in Florence. It is hard to overstate the sheer magnificence of this building with its green, red and white marbled exterior. Construction began at the end of the 13th century, but the cathedral wasn’t consecrated until the third decade of the 15th century.
The Duomo’s most striking feature is its Cupola (dome), an enormous octagonal dome designed by none other than Brunelleschi. On the inside, you can admire frescoes by Vasari and Zuccari, and stained-glass windows by Uccello, Ghiberti and Donatello. The 82-meter-high Campanile (bell tower) is another notable feature of the structure, its construction initiated by Giotto and completed by Talenti and Pisano. Both the Campanile and Cupola can be climbed, respectively via 414 and 463 steep steps . It’s a long walk up and the stairways are very narrow at certain points. Think twice to climb it if you’re afraid of heights or claustrophobic. On the other hand, the views from both tops are absolutely spectacular.
For 10 euros, you can buy a ticket that lets you climb the Cupola and Campanile, a ticket that also includes entry to the monumental Battistero (baptistery) with its fabulous ceiling painting. Entry to the Duomo itself is free, but women are required to cover their legs and shoulders.
Just visiting all the features in and around the Duomo takes up all morning and is worth your time. Now, grab a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants that surround the cathedral.
In the afternoon, make your way past the Piazza della Repubblica to the Piazza della Signoria, the most striking square in Florence. There, you can admire the iconic Palazzo Vecchio, which has been the city hall for many centuries. Also at the square, you can see a perfect replica of Michelangelo’s David, the original of which is in the Galleria dell’Accademia, and the statue of Perseus by Cellini. In addition to the Palazzo Vecchio, there is also the open-air museum known as Loggia dei Lanzi showing sculptures dating from the 14th through the 16th centuries.
Next, stroll eastward to the Piazza di Santa Croce, dominated by the Basilica di Santa Croce. While the other museums in Florence are too big and crowded to visit when you only have one day, the Basilica di Santa Croce makes for a nice and easy alternative. At first sight it appears to be a rather unassuming church, though it is is actually where several of Florence’s most famous inhabitants are buried or commemorated. Inside, you can see the sarcophagi of notable Florentines such as Michelangelo, Gentile, Machiavelli, Galilei and Ghiberti—no wonder it is also known as the “Temple of the Italian Glories.”Wandering through the basilica and its cloisters doesn’t take much longer than an hour and you are left with plenty of time to see two other highlights in Florence.
Walk back to the Piazza della Signoria, cross it and keep going until you reach the Arno River. Now, you will see one of Italy’s most iconic bridges, the Ponte Vecchio. This bridge, lined with ochre-colored buildings, is now home to numerous gold, silver and jewelry shops. It’s a crowded place and you are advised to keep an eye on your belongings at all times.
Cross the bridge while window shopping for precious metals and gems, then turn left and walk along the Arno River for some amazing views of the bridge. Keep following the river until you see signs pointing to Piazzale Michelangelo.
This is where you will finish your day in Florence. The Piazzale Michelangelo is home to yet another replica of Michelangelo’s David, but it’s not more than that. In fact, it isn’t more than a big square with a parking lot and souvenir stalls. There is a good reason to come here though. Piazzale Michelangelo has by far the best view in all Florence. During sunset, it is impossible to find a better vantage point. Located on a hill, the square overlooks the city of Florence, offering downright extraordinary views of the Ponte Vecchio, the Palazzo Vecchio and the Duomo below.
Enjoy the sunset with a drink and head back to wherever you came from this morning!
Written by and photos by Bram Reusen for EuropeUpClose.com