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How to make the most of Florence in a day

Enjoy one day in Florence
Enjoy one day in Florence

How much of Florence can you really see in a day? Well, not all of it that’s for sure but don’t let that put you off. A day in a city as beautiful as historic Florence is better than nothing at all. Be prepared to want to come back though.

Whether you really only have one day in Florence or just want to know what the must-see attractions on your first day are then this guide is for you. Before you start you’re going to need to make some tough decisions. You really can’t see everything Florence has to offer in a day. You can see some really great sights though and have a fantastic time.

If you love art, you’re in the right place. Most visitors want to see at least one of the most famous galleries if not both. Unless you specifically want to visit the Uffizi Gallery then I would suggest visiting the Accademia. Firstly, it’s smaller so you can see everything it has to offer in a short time. Secondly, it’s the home of Michelangelo’s David which is a must-see on most visitors list. Book your Accademia tickets online in advance and choose an early slot. Make it your first stop of the day.

Start your day in Florence at the Accademia Gallery

Michelangelo’s David is the big draw at the Accademia but don’t make the mistake of thinking that’s all there is to see. Take your time and explore the museum and you’ll find some plenty more amazing pieces of art.

As you enter the gallery and you’ll first approach Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabines. This is actually the plaster cast which the artist used to create the sculpture. You can view the sculpture itself in the Piazza Della Signoria, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.  The sculpture represents the abduction of young women from a story in Roman mythology.

Giambologna's Rape of the Sabines at the Accademia Gallery
Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabines at the Accademia Gallery

As you approach David, you walk through the Hall of Prisoners. This contains a series of unfinished sculptures, also by Michelangelo, called Slaves. You’ll feel drawn towards the end of the hallway but take time to gaze on these further examples of his work.

Michelangelo's David
Michelangelo’s David

Obviously, there are many more pieces of art to view. So relax and allow yourself time to wander and explore the gallery. Even though you only have one day in Florence you still want to take your time. Enjoy what you do have time to see and don’t spend the whole day feeling rushed.

Original violin by Antonio Stradivari in the Museum of Musical Instruments at the Accademia Gallery
Original violin by Antonio Stradivari

Before you leave take time to visit the Musical Instrument Museum. If you leave it until last you need to backtrack towards the entrance as it’s on the other side of the museum from David. You can see an original Antonio Stradivari violin as well as a number of other interesting instruments.

Next stop on your Florence in one-day itinerary is the Duomo complex

After your visit to the Accademia gallery take a short stroll down to the Piazza del Duomo. Choose one of the many pavement cafes and sit with a coffee or gelato and admire the amazing architecture in the piazza. It’s a great place to catch your breath and so some people watching.

Take time out of your day in Florence for some people watching in the Piazza del Duomo
Take time out of your day in Florence for some people watching in the Piazza del Duomo

No visit to Florence would be complete without seeing the famous Duomo complex. Although the square is dominated by the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore the complex consists of a number of visually striking buildings.

You can buy your tickets online in advance and I’d advise doing this as you only have the one day in Florence. Tickets cost 18 Euros per person and covers all the monuments. You can actually visit inside the cathedral for free but purchasing the ticket is still worthwhile.

Expect to stand in line for a while to get inside the cathedral since it’s a popular attraction. Don’t panic about the time though as the line moves quickly and you’ll soon be inside. Once you’re inside you’ll find yourself in the large open cathedral which is more plainly decorated than you might expect. Make sure you look up though to get a spectacular view of Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome.

Inside view of Filippo Brunelleschi's Dome in Florence cathedral
Inside view of Filippo Brunelleschi’s Dome in Florence cathedral

Before you leave the cathedral look for the steps going underground and find your way down to the crypt of Santa Reparata. Unlike many crypts, this one is set up like a museum and has a number of fascinating displays as well as allowing you to see the original architectural features.

Displays in the crypt under the Duomo Florence
Displays in the crypt under the Duomo

Take a break before continuing to explore the Duomo complex

By now you’ll probably be starving so pick out one of the many restaurants in this area and have some lunch. If you’re looking for someone to sit outside look behind the cathedral as there is a row of cafes with outside seating there. If you just to grab a sandwich there’s a kiosk there too.

After lunch, you’ll stay in this area and head to the Opera del Duomo museum. The Opera del Duomo is actually the cathedral works commission and they were set up in 1296 and tasked with overseeing construction of the new cathedral. Inside the museum, they have preserved many artefacts from all the cathedral and its surrounding buildings.

Spend some time admiring Girolamo Ticciati’s magnificent altar. This stunning altar was designed for the cathedral in the early 18th century. Now the cathedral altar has been restored to the original medieval version, the Ticciati altar is preserved here in the museum.

Wander through the sculpture gallery, a fabulous two-storey room which gives a real sense of how the sculptures would have been presented in the actual cathedral. Climbing the Cupola and Bell Tower is a bit ambitious timewise when you only have one day in Florence but you can see many of the decorative sculptures and reliefs here at the museum. If you take the stairs (or there is an elevator) all the way to the second floor you can walk out onto the terrace for a truly spectacular view of the dome.

The sculpture gallery at the Opera del Duomo museum
The sculpture gallery at the Opera del Duomo museum

Take a stroll along the river

From the Piazza del Duomo it’s a short walk down to the River Arno. Here you’ll find the wide open river gives a sense of space away from the crowds. It’s a pleasant walk. Try crossing one of the bridges to get views of Florence from a different perspective.

River Arno looking across to the Ponte Vecchio Florence
River Arno looking across to the Ponte Vecchio

Keep walking until you reach the medieval Ponte Vecchio. There is no escaping the crowds here but it is Florence’s oldest bridge and worth taking time out of your busy day to wander across. The bridge is lined with expensive jewellery shops so browse if you dare. In the centre is an opening where you can look out onto the river to both sides. It’s a popular spot for photos so expect the crowds to be worst here.

Time for some shopping

Now head back in the direction of the Piazza del Duomo. To do so, you’ll walk through the main shopping area. A shopper’s paradise particularly for ladies’ handbags – and who can resist the wonderful Italian fashions. You’ll also pass any number of cafes and gelato shops so feel free to take a break if you’re getting tired.

If you still have the energy, and the time, for one last visit use your Duomo complex ticket and visit St John’s Bapistry. The octagon-shaped baptistry stands in front of the cathedral and the exterior is decorated in a similar style. You’ll have already seen the original doors which are now in the Opera del Duomo museum. Look up once inside and admire the golden mosaics which adorn the cupola.

Golden mosaics of St John's Baptistry in Florence
Golden mosaics of St John’s Baptistry

That is probably enough for one day in Florence. I think we’ve packed a lot in though and hopefully you’ll feel that you’ve got a good taste of what Florence has to offer. Finish your day off with a delicious Tuscan meal at one of the many restaurants in the area. If you’re looking for something a bit cheaper than the restaurants in the Piazza del Duomo take a short walk to the Via del Giglio. It’s only 5 minutes walk from the Duomo but you’ll find many excellent and good value restaurants in the streets in this area.

If you’d like a map of Florence showing all the attractions then look here.

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