One day walking tour in Florence sounds like a crazy thing. And maybe it is. Since the city is a kind of open-air museum, one day is very little time to see its major attractions. Moreover, it is practically impossible to visit the museums, some of the richest and most important in the world.
But I had a day free, and since the alternative was to spend it at home, I preferred to jump on an early morning train and make a city tour alone and exclusively on foot. I traveled back home at night on the last train.
Anyway, Florence is not so big, and if you carefully plan your visit, you can get the most out of your trip.
With all that being said, why am I writing this post then? The time has been short, you find on the internet everything about Florence, and my photos are just snapshots taken on the fly? That’s easily said: to describe the experience of spontaneously organizing a day trip to one of the most famous cities in the world. If I did it, anyone can do it. And it’s still a rewarding experience.
Artistic, historical, commercial, and cultural center Florence is known as the birthplace of the Renaissance, a style of renewal as opposed to the darkness of the Middle Ages.
What you need for a one day trip:
- Nice weather (it is not up to you, but the weather forecast will help you with planning).
- Comfortable shoes.
- Patience and enthusiasm.
I have been thirteen hours around, of which five and a half on foot through the city, with two breaks for an unforgettable lampredotto. The lampredotto is a sandwich with meat and is the traditional regional street food in Florence.
The screenshot of my tour (light blue line) shows an indisputable fact: it was a kind of half marathon or even more (27 km!).
Despite that, I could not visit any museum, and it was already dark when I arrived at Palazzo Pitti. It was also impossible for me to reach Piazzale Michelangelo because I had to go back to the railway station.
Florence in a nutshell
The following is an interactive map. Churches, chapels, and places of worship are marked with red pins. Palaces, bridges, and other popular points of interest are marked with blue pins. Some museums are marked with brown pins.
No matter where you start your tour (hotel, railway station, etc.), in Florence, you can randomly stroll around the historic center, passing from one attraction to another without following an exact path. Although the metropolitan area is quite big, the most popular attractions are all gathered in a not very large area, and they are all within easy walking distance.
Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square)
How not to start from here in describing Florence attractions? Ok, the number of tourists in this area is impressive and sometimes even to take a picture you have to long wait for the right moment. Unless you came here at sunrise, there are just two things to do: keep calm and enjoy the beauty.
Piazza del Duomo hosts some of the most famous city attractions which, despite being built over several centuries, almost seem to compose a single architectural complex:
- Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower and Brunelleschi’s Dome. It is one of Florence’s landmarks. Its lines and shapes, as well as the white, green, and red marbles that decorate the façade, make it one of the most known and recognizable monuments in the world.
- Baptistery of St. John and the Gates of Paradise. It is the oldest religious building in Piazza del Duomo. Its current architecture is the result of centuries of tweaks, adjustments, and embellishments. The three bronze doors that represent a Bible narrated through images are an incredible work of art.
- Giotto’s Bell Tower. Detached from the Cathedral and aligned to the façade, it is both the bell tower of the Cathedral and architectural work of its own. You need to climb 400 steps to reach the top. And then the magic of seeing Florence from above happens.
Piazza della Signoria (Signoria Square)
Another of Florence’s landmarks. It has an unusual “L” shape and hosts so many monuments, statues, palaces, etc., that it is impossible to list them all without using a lifeline. To name a few:
- Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace). It is the city hall of Florence and is located pretty in the middle of the square. It stands out for its over 90 meters high clock tower, which is placed on the façade in an asymmetrical position.
- Loggia della Signoria (or Loggia dei Lanzi). Right next to Palazzo Vecchio, it is not a traditional building but a kind of open-air sculpture gallery.
- Fountain of Neptune.
- Equestrian Monument of Cosimo I.
- Michelangelo’s David. It is a reproduction because the original is housed in the Galleria dell’Accademia to better protect it.
Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge)
It is one of the most famous bridges in the world with its closed-spandrel segmental arch. Its shape is probably the thing that mainly impresses the visitors, together with the two rows of craft shops built along it.
Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross)
It is another of the most famous churches of Florence and a masterpiece of Italian Gothic. This architecture style diverges from traditional Gothic because, for example:
- There is no imposing vertical development.
- There is more brightness in terms of both materials and colors.
The Basilica houses the tombs of Michelangelo, Galilei, Rossini, and many others.
Basilica di San Lorenzo and Cappelle medicee (Medici Chapels)
The first thing you will notice here is the radical change of style. In fact, this Basilica, unlike the previous ones, does not have a bright marble façade, it is darker and made of rough stone instead (probably unfinished).
The Basilica of St Lawrence is, however, only part of a monumental religious architectural complex, which includes, among other things, the Cloister, the Old Sacristy, the New Sacristy, the Laurentian Library and the Cappella dei Principi (Chapel of the Princes
Well, this list could be very very long. This is only my short selection:
- Basilica di Santa Maria del Carmine (Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church), with the unfinished rough stone façade. It is mostly known for the Brancacci Chapel, which is considered one of the most impressive examples of Renaissance painting.
- Basilica di Santa Maria Novella. If you start your tour from the railway station, it is probably the first church you meet along the way. The façade is in Renaissance style (what else?), while the interiors include some Gothic elements.
- Basilica di Santo Spirito (Basilica of the Holy Spirit). It is actually not just a church but an architectural complex that includes a 70-meter bell tower, the sacristy, and the former Augustinian Convent with two cloisters: the Chiostro dei Morti and Chiostro Grande (Cloister of the Dead and Great Cloister).
- Chiesa di Santa Margherita dei Cerchi. They say that the famous poet Dante knew here his muse, Beatrice, and also married here.
- Basilica di San Miniato (Basilica St. Minias on the Mountain). Not right around the corner, this Basilica stands on the top of a hill, at one of the highest points of Florence. It is an incredible work of art, and if you have enough time, it is definitely worth a visit.
Piazzale Michelangelo (Michelangelo Square)
If you have already seen a panoramic view of Florence, this has been made 99% from here. Since it is not right around the corner, I didn’t have the time to go there. But I know this place, and it’s in my Florence to-do list.
Talking about Florence Museums is like talking about Florence Churches: they are many, all located in a relatively small area, and obviously, they are all impressive.
If you spend one more day in the city, you will have the chance to see at least 1 or 2 museums, I have these three in my to-do:
- Galleria degli Uffizi (Uffizi Gallery). It is among the most important museum complexes in the world, such are the magnificence and size of its collections. Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace), on the other side of the Arno, is part of this museum the complex. The Boboli Gardens stand right next to the Palace and are a kind of open-air museum with statues, fountains, and other civil architecture of historical and artistic importance.
- Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze (Gallery of the Academy of Florence). It houses an impressive collection of works, among which Michelangelo’s collection of sculptures, with the original of David.
- Museo Nazionale del Bargello. Mainly dedicated to sculpture, here are exhibited works of Michelangelo, Cellini, Donatello, and many more.
It was a long day, I have seen a lot of attraction, and there are still plenty to see. Conclusion: no matter how much time you have, but if you have some, go to Florence!