Home to some of the worlds best food, museums packed with world-famous Renaissance art, and beautiful architecture as far as the eye can see, it’s not hard to see why so many people fall for Florence. And even on a tight travel timeline, you can still take in a whole host of highlights in this laidback, picturesque city. Here’s your ultimate itinerary for making the most of a short visit.
Start your day in Florence with the perfect morning cappuccino at the oldest cafe in the city, Caffe Gilli founded in 1733. The bar is frequented by locals who typically select a coffee bar according to the type of coffee, the coffee machine, who is making the coffee and the quality of the pastries. So, if locals love it here – you know you’re in good hands. If you’re hungry, order up some fresh-baked pastries to go with your jolt of caffeine.
Take a 10-minute walk after breakfast to visit the Piazza Duomo, where you can witness the fourth largest cathedral in the world: Santa Maria del Fiore, an architectural masterpiece. Here you can see the first dome in the world built using masonry, by Filippo Brunelleschi. This dome marks the symbol of Renaissance and will give you an understanding of the genius inventors, artists and architects who helped shape the city.
Here you’ll also see the bell tower built by Giotto in 1377, and the gates to paradise by Lorenzo Ghiberti on the Baptistery situated in front of the Cathedral. You can enter the cathedral free of charge, or you can visit the Opera del Duomo Museum situated behind the Cathedral, for which there is a EUR 15 fee. The museum features the life-like facade that was designed by the original architect in 1296. You can also see the original tools used by Filippo Brunelleschi to build the dome.
Hungry? A great place for a fresh and local lunch is Casella 18, situated directly behind the cathedral complex and run by a Florentine family. The restaurant serves fresh, local fare along with salads and pizza made with a dough leavened for 24 hours and using 100% Italian flour and delicious local toppings.
Enjoy a 10-minute walk from your lunch spot down Via Santa Elisabetta to Piazza della Signoria, surrounded by some of the most famous buildings in Florence and the political heart of the city since the Middle Ages. Here you’ll see the imposing Palazzo Vecchio, and original statues by Giambologna and Benvenuto Cellini. As you walk, you’ll arrive at the Uffizi Gallery complex and the Ponte Vecchio, the most famous bridge in Florence. Cross the bridge over the Arno River and walk toward the district of Santo Spirito with a stop at Ditta Artigianale for a coffee.
Continue to the Pitti Palace where you can admire the last home of the Medici family, who ruled Tuscany for over 350 years when Italy was made up of city states. There are eight galleries to choose from along with the picturesque Boboli Gardens; we recommend a ticket to visit the Palatine Gallery and Royal Apartments. The Palatine Gallery covers the left wing of the first floor of the Pitti Palace, where you can admire a collection of works by Raphael, Titian, Perugino, Peter Paul Rubens and Pietro della Cortona. From the large windows you can also admire the Boboli Gardens, once a private hunting area for the Medici and the largest monumental green area in Florence.
After you visit the Pitti Palace, stop into Pitti e Gola (just a two-minute walk) for a glass of local wine with snacks for an aperitif. Then it’s about a 15-minute walk on Via Santo Spritio to the local eatery Ristorante Trattoria Angiolino. They offer a great selection of regional and national wines by the glass and delicious tasting plates of charcuterie to start. For your meal, choose from a selection of handmade pastas and seasonal vegetables, or try the local specialty of bistecca alla Fiorentina (steak Florentine).
For travellers on a short visit, we’d definitely recommend having a layover that will allow you to spend two hours in the city centre, and another hour for travelling to and from the airport.
The best way to get from the airport to the sites is by taking the shuttle bus, which takes you to the city centre in around 20 minutes (more in heavy traffic). Departures from the airport are every 30 minutes between 5:30am and 8:30pm, then every hour until 11:45pm. Heading back to the airport from the city centre, buses leave the central Santa Maria Novella train station every 30 minutes between 5am to 8pm, then every hour up until 11pm, with the last shuttle at 12:30am. A one-way ticket costs EUR 6 and can be purchased on the bus.
If you want to see Florence in two hours in the morning or afternoon, head for a stroll along the city’s oldest and most famous bridge: the Ponte Vecchio. Take in the views, snap some selfies, and then if you go straight after you cross the bridge, you’ll arrive at the beautiful Boboli Gardens on the grounds of the Pitti Palace. The gardens are more than a much-loved green space, and more of an open-air museum, home to Roman and Renaissance statues.
If you’re in Florence for an evening or nighttime layover, make your way to the mezzanine level of Mercato Centrale. While you won’t be able to shop the lower market (it closes at 2pm), the upper level is a foodie paradise open daily until midnight. Choose from an array of food stalls offering everything from pizzas and handmade pastas to burgers, gelato, fresh bread and just-made mozzarella. Order what looks good, pay up, find a seat and tuck in. There’s free Wi-Fi and even a chianti bar and a beer stall if you feel like a pre-flight beverage.