How to discover Florence, including some off the beaten path gems, if you only have one day.
Florence is a fascinating town, and it would deserve more than one day of your Italian itinerary. But if you have to rush, here is a walking itinerary to get the most of the town in just 24 hours.
Some quick notes before we start our walking exploration:
- This is a very long tour, and you do need one full day. My suggestion is to get to Florence the day before, spend the night there and start early in the morning (especially in Summer time!).
- Florence is easy to walk, and I think it is a really enjoyable way to discover it. However, if you get tired or if the weather is not perfect, you can use the convenient public transportation network – click here for the timetables and routes
- This Florence walking itinerary doesn’t include any visit to the awesome museum you can find in Florence, such as Uffizi, Palazzo Vecchio, Accademia, Bargello. You should plan a second day in Florence if you wish to visit them.
- For the sake of time, I had to make painful choices (based on my own tastes!) and skip awesome attractions such as Santa Maria Novella, the Duomo Bapistery, Fiesole… If you have more time don’t hesitate to visit them.
So put your walking shoes on and let’s go! (click on the image to open the interactive Google map)
Start your day with a cappuccino at the historical caffè Rivoire, in piazza della Signoria. It’s a delightful place to enjoy the famous square, before all the tourist arrive. There you will see the Palazzo Vecchio, la loggia della Signoria and its sculpture masterchiefs from Giambologna and Benvenuto Cellini, the Nettuno fountain and Michelangelo’s David (but what you see is a copy, the original is in the Accademia museum).
From Piazza della Signoria, head to Santa Croce church, walking down the beautiful Borgo dei Greci medieval street. It’s a lively pedestrian street, full of shops and small restaurants. At the end of it you will find the basilica of Santa Croce. Less famous than the Duomo, it shares the same renaissance architecture and hides breathtaking works of art from artists such as Giotto, Cimabue and Canova (and many more!)
It is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, Gentile and Rossini.
You need to buy a ticket to visit it (7 €), but it is definitely worthwhile. The ticket includes the many cloisters and the “Cappella de Pazzi”, Bruneleschi renaissance master piece.
After your Santa Croce visit, walk back to Piazza della Signoria. The itinerary will lead you to Dantes’ house and to the Bargello museum (you can admire the beautiful medieval court from the outside).
Cross via dei Calzaiuoli, one of Florence main shopping streets, and you will get to the church of Orsanmichele.
Originally built as a a grain market, it doesn’t look at all like a church. It’s a unique and extraordinary monument, encompassing both civil and religious functions, and one of my favorite churches in Florence.
Your next stop is the “Porcellino”.
The Porcellino (“piglet”) is the nickname for the bronze fountain of a boar, located under the Loggia del Mercato Nuovo. Visitors put a coin into the boar’s gaping jaws, with the intent to let it fall through the underlying grating for good luck, and they rub the boar’s snout to ensure a return to Florence (and this is why the boar snout is so polished!)
From the Loggia del Porcellino, walk down via Tornabuoni with its posh boutiques , give a quick look to Santo Spirito church and its awesome painting from Ghirlandaio, then cross the Arno river on the Santa Trinità bridge, were you can stop for nice views on Ponte Vecchio. Your next stop is Santo Spirito square.
Santo Spirito church is not among the most beautiful in Florence, but the square is delightful, and could be a good place to stop for a quick lunch in one of the many Trattorie (my favorite: il Gustapanino). Otherwise, grab some sandwiches in the “Alimentari” just in front of the church for a self catered picnic (do taste “Finocchiona”, Florence traditional fennel flavored salami). Once per month (the second Sunday), piazza Santo Spirito hosts an antiques market.
This area is called “Oltrarno” (literally: on the other side of the Arno), and is far less touristic. Enjoy the old streets, full of Trattorie and antique shops, then walk to Palazzo Pitti.
Palazzo Pitti is the biggest and most impressive of all Florence palaces (but not the most beautiful, in my opinion). Here you have two choices: entering the Boboli gardens (entrance ticket required, but very enjoyable), or go on your left around Palazzo Pitti and walk up the steep Costa san Giorgio. Both roads will get you to Forte Belvedere.
This fort is a nice example of Florence renaissance fortifications , and enjoys fantastic views over Florence and the hills behind it. It often hosts art exhibitions and is totally ignored by mainstream touristic flows. It’s a perfect place to stop and to relax after all this sightseeing!
From Forte Belvedere, an ancient walled street will lead you to the lovely piazzetta di San Miniato. Walk up via del Monte alle Croci and you will find the Giardino delle Rose. This is a true hidden gem: a rose garden with amazing view over Florence, enriched by inspiring bronze statues from famous Belgian artist Folon. And it’s free!
Continuing up the via del Monte alle Croci stairs, you will get to my favorite church in Florence: San Miniato.
Built between the 11th and 13th century, the abbey of San Miniato al Monte is one of the masterpieces of the Tuscan Romanesque. The facade is decorated with green and white marble in geometric patterns similar to the facades of Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella. The interior is Romanesque, with three naves and an elevated presbytery and a crypt.
With your back to the front of the church you can enjoy an impressive view of Florence, from the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio, to the last standing parts of the medieval walls that once surrounded Florence.
It’s a magical place, especially if you visit with the warm light of a late summer afternoon!
Turn back to Piazzale Michelangelo to enjoy the most famous of all Florence viewpoints!
Then, go to your right to discover the Giardino dell’Iris (Iris Garden). The Iris is the flower symbol of Florence, and this garden displays some of the best varieties of this gorgeous flower. The garden is open only during the Iris blossom (usually april-may).
Going down via Monte alle Croci, you can stop at delightful Piazzetta san Miniato, just passed the city wall, for a glass of wine or a gelato, before crossing the Arno river on the Ponte Vecchio, and head to Mercato San Lorenzo.
On the way, stop to admire Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Duomo): at that time most of the tourist should be gone, so your visiting experience should be much more enjoyable.
500 meters from Santa Maria del Fiore, in the lively San Lorenzo area, you will find the Mercato di San Lorenzo, the gastronomic highlight of your tour.
This is the old food market, that has just been renovated. The ground floor is still a food market, but the first floor has been transformed into an amazing food hall, were you will be able to taste all kind of delicious Tuscany dishes and wine. You can choose your dish among dozens of stalls, many specialized in particular food (such as soups, hams, truffles, cheeses, …): just use your finger to show what you want, take a dish and eat it on one of the many tables. It’s good, it’s fun, and it’s cheap! (in case you would like suggestions about what to eat, have a look at my post: What to eat in Florence).
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