I studied in Florence for 4.5 months. It was 4.5 months of Italian language classes, mostly one-on-one. 4.5 months of living in another country, another city, learning the ins and outs of Europe and Italy and how it all works. I spent 4.5 months walking under the shadow of the massive Duomo of Florence, perching on the walls of the Arno river and tripping over the stone streets. Needless to say, I, like most Americans who study there (and let me tell you, there’s a lot of us) have a thing for Florence. And I try to go back any chance I can get.
So, when my parents came for a visit I jumped on that chance. With a little more time than previously scheduled we decided to split up our drive from Milan to Rome by staying the night somewhere in Tuscany. You can argue all you want about all the other Tuscan towns that are better than Florence, in many ways I’d probably agree, but no one can deny the fact that Florence should be seen. It was my dad’s first trip to the area and probably last in awhile and he had never seen the city, so the decision was easy. We packed the car Friday morning and got into the city around 1:30 p.m., with me promising all the way that many major landmarks can be seen in just a half day.
I can assure you that even after 4.5 months and a weekend visit a year later, I still have much to learn about the city. Of course, there’s no way to fit all of Florence’s history, culture and character into just one day, but the truth is that as travelers, sometimes that’s all the time you have. Luckily for us, Florence is an incredibly walkable city and while you won’t get to dig much into the culture, many of the main sights can be seen in one loop.
Below is the basic idea of the route I took my parents on. Of course there are dozens of other churches, museums and areas of town that are “don’t miss!” sites, but with roughly 7 hours and two very tired parents to work with, this is what I chose.
**I encourage you to choose “view larger map” and to click on all the markers! Each gives a brief introduction to the landmark and at times tips or directions as to where to go next.
The tour begins at the Stazione Santa Maria Novella. Whether you fly, drive or take a train, the Santa Maria Novella Train Station is a major landmark and good starting point for our tour. Of course you can start wherever you need to and easily catch all the sights. Once you’re in the center it’s very easy to take a wrong street, but not so easy to get hopelessly lost – just look up to find the Duomo and base your direction off of that! (All Roads Lead to Dome!)
The map is listed in order of each site starting from the train station. The red markers indicate famous museums or churches that are worth seeing with a bit more available time. They’re put in order of where you’d find them in the city based off of blue marker locations.
You can’t possibly see everything in one day so for a 12-hour span choose the red marker that interests you the most or that seems the most logical. There’s the ever-famous Duomo, The Uffizi Gallery, the Boboli Gardens (with or without Palazzo Pitti included) and The Accademia, where the David is housed, among other Michelangelo sculptures.
I am well aware that there are dozens of other churches, museums and spaces that are absolutely worth seeing, but I suggested the ones I consider most important if you only have time for a quick visit. After seeing the time and the line we decided against the Uffizi Gallery (we definitely wouldn’t have made it in before closing time) and went to the Accademia to see the statue of David instead!
Lastly, the hike to Piazzale Michelangelo can take up to 30 minutes or more depending on age and fitness level. I suggest it as an after-dinner treat if you aren’t too worn out, but if it’s too much simply cut that part off the route and pick up back at the Ponte Vecchio, following it straight on until you see Piazza della Repubblica and its theatrical carousel on your left. Eventually you’ll run into the Duomo ahead and the end of the tour.
What route would you take if you had just one day in the city?