Florence, the capital of Tuscany and one of the most beautiful cities in Italy, the pearl of the Renaissance. It certainly deserves to be thoroughly visited and spend more time there, but the vast majority of visitors come for one day and flee from the crowd and high prices in search of a more rural Tuscany. How to plan Florence for one day in a version with overnight accommodation in the center and without accommodation, visiting from morning to evening? What to choose from a lot of interesting attractions? What times of the day are the best for visiting individual places?
My dilemmas about Florence
Florence is a place in Italy that I have a problem with. On the one hand, the city delights me with its richness of art, architecture, and history, on the other, it’s extremely annoying with crowds and tourist kitsch that flooded the very center. Plus high prices, often ridiculously high. Yes, I start this post with criticism of Florence and before I tell you what places in the center I find the most interesting from my point of view and before answering the question posed in the title of the text, I still complain a little. This time, however, quoting words that perfectly reflect what I think. Because although I love Italy, I do not like everything in this country and I do not intend to pretend that it’s different, despite the fact that a few people were able to let me know in harsh words that – attention – if I want to write about Italy I must do it only positively way, because I do not have the right to criticize this wonderful, perfect country. Well, I have the right – like everyone else – to have my own opinion, and Italy, although wonderful, isn’t perfect place, as everything else in the world. The author of the words that perfectly reflect what I think is Ms. Tessa Capponi – Borawska, for whom Florence is a hometown, so she knows it like hardly anyone. A Tuscan woman who moved to Poland with her heart, looks with these wards at the city of her childhood, and these words fell in the excellent book “Dziennik Toskanski” published in 2004, that is already fifteen years ago.
“[…] the heat is unbearable, and even more unbearable are the hordes of tourists visiting the city. American writer Mary McCarthy begins her book “The Stones of Florence” with the provocative question: “How can you stand here?” and complains about the noise, heat, tourists, etc. The book was written about 40 years ago, today poor Mary McCarthy would probably die. Florence, except maybe November, January, and February, is unbearable. Giant queues in museums, streets that resemble huge garbage cans, crowds of sweaty, screaming foreigners, and more. I get the most irritated, looking at small shops selling cheesy, tasteless souvenirs with the words “made in Florence” or “made in Italy”. To buy an ordinary postcard, one has to look for a long time among various types of shots of David Michelangelo’s genitals or other well-known sculptures with supposedly witty inscriptions. “Amen!
quotation tranlated to English done by myself 🙂
Florence – the positive look. Why is the city special?
Let’s leave complaining, of course, we have to talk about the other side of the coin, but the first one is fortunately still more important. What makes Florence special? The wealth of architecture and art, colorful history and the people who create it. It has been widely accepted that Florence is the cradle of the Renaissance because the Renaissance was developing here on an impressive scale. However, a few months ago I visited the neighboring region of Marche and the guide there argued that the Italian Renaissance was born in the small city of Urbino under the rule of Federico da Montefeltro and his wife Battista Sforza of Pesaro. I will come back to this topic in next articles. What made Florence grow so impressive? Certainly people, their confidence, a belief in uniqueness and audacity.
The proud people of Fmlorence
Tessa Capponi – Borawska writes about the inhabitants of Florence in these words:
“We are boldly proud of our conviction that, like in Florence, you do not live anywhere in the world. For this reason, we are not particularly curious about the world, and in fact foreigners, both visitors and those incumbents, do not interest us much. Therefore, those who do not like us claim that we are provincial. […] We also have historical contempt for other Tuscan cities: it sounds in popular sayings: “It is better to have a deceased person at home, than a Pisan at the door “[…]” In Arezzo, even the wind blows from the wrong side “[…] Besides, we are not too concerned about the opinions of others (any, Tuscan or Italian) about us.”
“Dziennik Toskanski” quotation tranlated to English done by myself 🙂
Florence for beginners. What is necessary to know
Those who have not been to Florence yet and did not even plan to tour should start here. Here are some absolutely basic information about the city from which you need to start a neat plan.
- Arno – the main river of Tuscany, cutting Florence in half. The northern part, i.e. located north of the river, as well as the southern part, located to the south, are like two completely different cities. You can feel it and you can see it, but this division has roots in history when Oltrarno (behind the river) was a district outside the center, poorer, worse. Florence for beginners. It is necessary to know
- Ponte Vecchio – the oldest and most characteristic bridge in Italy, on the podium – in my opinion – with the Roman bridge of Sant’Angelo and the Scaligero bridge in Verona.
- The Piazza del Duomo and the monumental cathedral with a huge dome considered an architectural wonder is an absolute must for any visit to Florence.
- Piazzale Michelangelo, a very large square in the “behind the river” district, from which there is the most beautiful view of the city.
- The most famous sculpture in Tuscany – David by Michelangelo.
- Piazza della Signoria – next to the Duomo, the most important square in Florence, where Palazzo Vecchio
- The Medici – a family that largely created the Florence we can see today.
Florence in one day – from afternoon to noon
Everyone should come to Florence at least once. Despite the crowds and kitschy commerce, give the city a chance to delight you. For the first time, I came to the capital of Tuscany to spend one night, staying in a hotel in the very center. It was the end of July 2010, a very hot day. We arrived with Arthur around 15 at the hotel, we gave ourselves about two hours to rest and shower, then went for a walk towards Ponte Vecchio, walking along the river Arno. First Lungarno Amerigo Vespucci passing in Lungarno Corsini, then Lungarno degli Acciaiuoli. She was then the golden hour, which is not the sunset yet, but the time when it is lower and shines diagonally. Because the Arno River stretches east-west and Ponte Vecchio across north-south, its west at this time of day is beautifully lit, as are the colorful tenements along the river. And just such a first look at Florence was deeply remembered.
How to plan one day? Arriving around 13-14 you get into the city at the largest tourist peak. It is best to first appear at the hotel, relax and gather strength for sightseeing. Before 18 tour buses and day-time tourists mostly leave, and those who decided to stay overnight stay in the city. Leave attractions such as entering the cathedral’s dome for the morning, when there are no queues and there is no danger of closing the door right in front of your nose because of the late hour. In the early evening, it is worth walking around the Oltrarno district, on Piazzale Michaelangelo, and up the hill with the church of San Miniato al Monte. In the morning Piazza del Dumo and the most crowded monuments. It’s worth getting up early.
Florence in one day – from morning to evening
When your base is agritourism in the countryside and you want to explore Florence arriving in the morning and leaving in the evening, then, first of all, do not sleep that long. It’s worth coming early for two reasons. First of all, it is easier to park in, secondly, it is worth dressing the others and queuing, for example, to enter the dome of the cathedral, before those who cannot sleep for a long time on vacation can do it. Before noon, when everyone arrives at the Duomo, you escape via Ponte Vecchio or one of the neighboring bridges into the atmospheric alleys of Oltrarno, at Piazzale Michaelangelo, to the Rose Garden, to the church of San Miniato al Monte, to the Garden of Boboli or Palazzo Pitti. With this solution, it is worth choosing a car park in a part of the city on the northern shore of Arno to end the tour there in the evening.
Overnight in the center of Florence with parking place
In 2010 I stayed for a night in the quite atmospheric Hotel Ariele in the very center of Florence, furnished in an old palace. Very close to the cathedral and Ponte Vecchio, unfortunately, average breakfast, but most importantly, the hotel offers several parking spaces in the garden behind the gate. You must also leave the car park after checking out.
Parking lots in Florence. Where to leave the car?
Florence is a city where parking spaces are scarce and, like all scarce goods, are difficult to get and mostly are expensive. There are several parking lots in the center. If you want to find a place without waiting in queue for free place, you must come to Florence really in the morning. Now listen to me because I give this advice from experience, very painful and expensive. Do not use free parking spaces! Even if it miraculously appeared. And certainly, don’t do it with your luggage in the car. You can read about how I was robbed of all the luggage left in the trunk of a car left in such a parking space, proceedings at the police, ignorance of the Polish consulate, compensation proceedings at the insurer and further proceedings you can read in my guidebook “By car around Italy” – Polish vershion only – where I devoted more than five pages to a detailed description of this story. It was not easy for me to share this information, but I know that by doing this I help many of you avoid a similar fate. Returning to the parking lot, what can I recommend to you? If you decide to stay in Florence for the night, then look for accommodation with parking, it’s difficult, but not impossible. What if you arrive for one day?
Florence by train – why is it worth it?
See how perfectly located the main train station in Florence is. Just catch a train – for example in Siena or Arezzo – and get off in the center, then walk around. When will this solution work? If you’re traveling between major cities, you’ve arrived in Italy by plane and travel by public transport. I would add that it’s not worth looking for cheap flights to Florence, you can fly to Pisa or cheaper to Bologna and get on the train there. When does it make sense to rent a car? If you want to focus on the rural part of Tuscany, in cities a car is just a hassle and generates additional costs.
Parking lot Oltrarno
I left my car here for the whole day in April 2013. Unfortunately, I had to wait a bit to enter. Cars are allowed behind the barrier only if there is any free space, if you don’t have to wait in line until someone releases one. The cost for the whole day was 18 euros, but due to strange circumstances, I didn’t pay anything. You can also find this story in the guidebook. The location of the car park is excellent, right next to the Boboli Garden, a few minutes walk from Ponte Vecchio along Oltrarno streets. Currently, the cost of parking is 2 euros for the first hour, for the second and subsequent also for 2 euros, but with the option of settling them every half hour.
This garage offers 300 parking places, a day costs 2 euros for the first hour, 3 euros for the next, 24 euros per night.
Garage Nazionale (via Nazionale 21)
I parked here in 2010 after we had to leave the hotel car park. Unfortunately, you had to leave the key to the staff. I don’t know the current prices.
Parking San Lorenzo
The car park next to the Basilica of San Lorenzo offers 175 spaces for cars, 30 for motorbikes and 4 places for disabled people. From 7 am to 2 pm the first two hours cost 1.5 euros for one, then the third hour 3 euros, each subsequent 8 euros. From 14 to 7 am each started hour of 2 euros. Sunday and holidays 24 hours a day, 2 euros per hour.
Uffizi Gallery – how to reduce waiting time in the queue?
One of the most famous and richest in gallery collections in Italy is a place that raises a lot of emotions. Art lovers are ready to queue for hours to come here. Others deliberately bypass Uffizi and turn – for example – into another atmospheric alley of the Oltrarno district to visit a coffee bar or a small studio of a little-known artist. I have done that until now. I’m just not particularly sensitive to art, I don’t feel the need to look at arts and portraits for hours and fight the nightmare crowd for a place, in return I love to feed the senses with the beauty of architecture and the street atmosphere. I will go to Galeria Uffizi when I realize one of my travel plans to come to Florence in the low season, but for a longer time. If you also don’t feel the need to visit the Uffizi Gallery, this does not mean that you are ignorant. Everyone has their taste and it’s okay. Once I read about a guy who came to Tuscany from the USA and was interested in absolutely nothing but wine. His right. But what do art enthusiasts do or those who want to see for themselves if Florentine works of art will steal their hearts? Use the internet. To shorten the waiting time in the very long queue of people willing to enter the Uffizi Gallery, you should – in the same way as in the case of the Vatican Museums – buy a ticket in advance via the Internet – click the page. On this site, various sightseeing options are available, not only priority entrance, but also entrance plus an audio guide, entrance plus guided tours, and even a VIP service that includes personalized assistance and care during the tour. When buying, you need to select a specific day and time of entry. This, in turn, requires you to carefully plan the order and time of visiting the city, but if you only have one day for Florence, it is not worth to waste a few hours in the queue.
Piazzale Michelangelo – panorama of Florence from the hill
Piazzale Michaelangelo is an excellent vantage point, which is available for free and around the clock. From here you can admire the views of Florence in the night scene, although there is nothing to cheat, for a good photo after dark only owners of good equipment have a chance. The cathedral in a straight line is about a kilometer away from the square.
The oldest Florentine bridge, made of stone in the first half of the fourteenth century, was the only one to survive the Second World War. It is called the Goldsmith Bridge, because of the studios and jewelry stores located in numerous stalls hung over the river. It is no accident, under the ordinance of Prince Ferdinand I Medici issued in 1593 on the bridge only goldsmiths and jewelers can have their seat. The reason? The meat and fish shops previously located there generated an unpleasant smell. In 1565, at the order of Kosma I, the corridor connecting Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti, called Vasari’s corridor, was added over the bridge. Since then, the Medici could cross the river without having to go out into the city streets, but the unpleasant smell from below had to disappear. To this day, you can find the best jewelers’ shops in the city on the bridge.
Piazza della Signoria
Next, to Piazza del Duomo, it is the most important square in the city, surrounded by numerous palaces and decorated with sculptures. Here is the Renaissance work of “David” by Michelangelo, and it was until the second half of the nineteenth century, when the original was moved to Galleria dell’Academia and replaced with a copy.
Copy David by Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni
Statue of Cosma and Medici
Palazzo Vecchio and the tower
The Medici Palace – Palazzo Vecchio – can be visited inside, and on clear days you can also climb the tower of the palace to admire Florence from above. During rain and on cloudy days, when the rain hangs in the air, the tower is closed for security reasons.
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and the entrance to the dome
I will never forget the moment when I saw the facade of the Florence cathedral for the first time. It brought me to my knees because it is a work of art. I assess the interior of the temple differently. While the Siena cathedral interior throws on knees, the Florentine cathedral is disappointing. Apart from the excellent frescoes covering the dome from the inside, I don’t think there is much point in queuing to get inside. You’d do better by putting yourself in a queue to enter the dome because it’s an amazing experience. What’s more, when entering you have at some point the frescoes almost at your fingertips and you can take a better look at them. Climbing to the top of the dome is very tiring. Almost 500 steps, including very high and narrow one between the outer and inner layers of the dome itself, but it’s worth it if you have no health problems. The dome of the Florence Cathedral remains to this day the largest brick dome in the world, one of the greatest engineering achievements of the Renaissance.
Giotto’s bell tower and the entrance to the top
Giotto’s bell tower is impressive. You can climb it and admire the dome up close in full glory. If you ask me what to choose: climbing the dome or climbing the bell tower, I will answer without hesitation – the dome! Entering the bell tower is easier and more convenient.
Santa Croce church
Santa Croce is one of the most important religious buildings in Florence, entrance is payable. Inside are the graves of Michelangelo and Galileo, as well as the symbolic tombstone of Dante Alighieri.
Basilica of San Lorenzo
The fifteenth-century basilica – like the dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore – is a project of the brilliant architect Filippo Brunelleschi.
Rose garden – Giardino della Rose
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The rose garden is on the way to Piazzale Michaelangelo. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get there, although I was passing by, and the season for roses was already underway. The weather was terrible, it was raining again and I must honestly admit that I didn’t feel like looking. From the information I found, it appears that the rose garden contains 400 species and 1200 pieces of bushes of these wonderful flowers, and was founded in 1865. The garden is available from morning to dusk.
Boboli Gardens and Pitti Palace
The extensive Boboli Gardens created by the Medici, stretching at the back of Palazzo Pitti are a proposal for those looking for a place to walk surrounded by flowers, greenery, and numerous beautiful fountains. Entrance tickets from spring to autumn cost 10 euros per person, in winter 6 euros.
Church of San Miniato al Monte
Few climb the hill behind Piazzale Michaelangelo to see the beautiful church of San Miniato al Monte. In front of the main entrance there is a magnificent panorama of Florence, similar to that of the square below, but from an even greater height and more to the side. On the right from the main entrance to the church, there is a cemetery. Those who are not superstitious and like sculpture should look there. San Miniato al Monte is the perfect place to escape the crowds.
Artistic road signs in Florence. Clet Abraham
Walking through the streets of historic Florence you will notice “crazy road signs”. These marks are the work of a 52-year-old Frenchman who has lived in this amazing city for 14 years. The beginnings of Clet Abraham – because we are talking about him – in Florence were difficult. The artist moved from France and began his work on the Arno River. He began to stick to existing road signs strange forms and characters, which sometimes create funny, sometimes surprising, and certainly original compositions. The city authorities initially removed the stickers from the signs, but after a while, they let go and left the artist a free hand. Now Clet has fans around the world, and his works are sought after for tens of thousands of dollars. Clet Abraham runs a channel on Instagram and Facebook, where he presents to thousands of fans his unusual and fun works. You can find the artist in Florence in his studio on Via dell’Olmo 8 (5 minutes walk from Ponte alle Grazie).
Red tourist bus – Florence + Fiesole
Probably most of you know red tourist buses that run around larger cities – not only Italian – and offer tickets a day or two, during which you can get on and off as many times as you like, and stops are located as close as possible to the biggest attractions of the city? This bus also runs around Florence, and also takes you to the town of Fiesole, located on a hill just near the city, with a beautiful view of Florence. Details can be found at hop-on-hop-off-bus.com.
My TOP 5 in the center of Florence
- Ponte Vecchio during the day and after dark
- Walk east along the Arno River at the golden hour
- Katedra i wejście na kopułę
- Cathedral and entrance to the dome
- Piazzale Michaelangelo
- Streets of the Oltrarno district
When to go to Florence?
Remember the beginning of the post words of Tessa Capponi – Borawska. There are crowds in Florence except for November, January, and February, but are they always the same? When to come and what to expect on specific dates? Prices?
Florence in spring
Spring in the last few years has become so unpredictable that it is difficult to write anything with conviction. Almost all of May this year was fatal, last year it was raining in Tuscany during the begining of month. In 2013, I walked in the rain with a very gloomy sky around Florence at the end of April, there were already a lot of people then. The spring season in Italy begins with Holy Week, which – as you know – is movable and falls differently every year. Here I will add something important for stays in Tuscany in early spring, late autumn and winter. While booking accommodation, pay attention to heating issues. In old buildings, this can be a problem, and moisture in underheated buildings increases the feeling of coolness. Be sure to pack warm pajamas for such a trip. Back to spring, some tips on this term can also be found in the post “Spring in Tuscany“.
Florence in the summer
Heat, in a city difficult to withstand, crowds and the highest prices. That’s how you summarize the summer in Florence. If you cannot afford to travel on a different date than July and August, I recommend putting on July. In August, in turn, the peak of high – season tourist traffic, because Italians have holidays and if they spend them in Tuscany, they also come to visit Florence. On the other hand, the inhabitants leave the city – also for holidays – handing Florence over to tourists. The advantage of the summer months is undoubtedly very warm evenings, during which you can endlessly walk the beautifully lit streets.
Florence in autumn
I love September in Tuscany, when in rural areas the hills are covered in half with freshly plowed soil in the famous shade of smoked Sienna, and in half with the greenery of just germinating winter cereals. September is the season in the kitchen for the famous Tuscan porcini and even for these mushrooms, it is worth coming then. At the turn of September and October, vineyards and deciduous trees begin to turn golden and red, and at the end of October, olives are harvested. You can find more in the “Tuscany in autumn” post. What in cities? Autumn – especially its first weeks – is still a lot of tourists who end the season with the arrival of November. The end of October is still not empty streets, but certainly not the wild crowds of August. Last year in this period I visited also touristic Venice and I highly recommend it. Organized groups have been rare in November.
Florence in winter
I have not been to Florence in winter yet, but I have received opinions that this is the best time to visit the city, especially for those who prefer streets free from crowds over high temperatures and beautiful sun. The sun, of course, shines in winter, although it is harder to find it on sunny days than in summer. December is such a winter peak of the season, quite a few tourists come to Florence again to enjoy the holiday atmosphere. A huge Christmas tree is set up in front of the cathedral in Piazza del Dumo, and the city streets are illuminated by fanciful light illuminations. When can you see this? Although some shop windows are decorated for the holidays at the end of October, street decorations, for which the city is responsible, start in full swing on December 8. Not only in Florence but all over Italy, then the feast of the Immaculate Conception falls.
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