Florence is a spellbinding city. It is essentially a 505-hectare open-air fine art museum where people have lived for two thousand years.
Established by Julius Caesar in 59 BC, the city began as the Roman village of Florentia. A millennium and a half later, it became the cradle of the Renaissance, and today, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
There is so much to see and do in Florence. But what if you only have 1 day in Florence? What can you see in Florence in 1 day?
The good news is that Florence is a very walkable city. The main challenge is the crowds and long queues. The obvious suggestion is to visit Florence in winter. But with some planning and advanced booking, you can get a really good introduction to the city in a day and see some of Florence’s most iconic art. This 1 Day in Florence itinerary details how to make the most of the day.
Academy Gallery & Michelangelo’s David
- Time to visit: 1 hour
- Tickets: Timed entry tickets on the official Academy Gallery website
- Last-minute tickets: Skip the line entry and audio guide
Have you really been to Florence if you haven’t seen Michelangelo’s David? The magnificently life-like statue has been drawing crowds in Florence since the day it was unveiled to the public on September 8, 1504.
The Academy Gallery is a small museum, so you don’t need a lot of time to visit it. Providing you get your timed-entry ticket in advance, you can visit the gallery in one hour, with about 40 minutes inside the actual gallery. The gallery opens at 8.15am.
You need to turn up at the gallery at least 15 minutes before your allocated time slot. You’ll first have to exchange your electronic booking for a paper ticket at a counter across the street. Then join the queue that’s marked with your time slot. Make sure not to join the general queue, you’ll be there half the day.
Once you walk through the Hall of Colossus with several sculptures by Michelangelo, towards the magnificent David, admire some paintings, including several by Sandro Botticelli and Filippino Lippi, and explore Bartolini’s plaster casts gallery, you are done.
Unless you want to explore the Musical Instruments gallery in a different wing of the museum, and depending on your appetite for Renaissance art, you can see the Gallery in as little as 30 minutes.
From the Academy Gallery, walk to Piazza San Lorenzo, the heart of the neighbourhood that used to be known as the Medici Quarter.
There is a lot to see here, particularly if you are interested in Medici family’s legacy in Florence, but if you only have one day in Florence, I recommend visiting only the Medici Chapels, which form part of a monumental complex at the Basilica of San Lorenzo, the parish church of the Medici.
The chapels have a separate entrance to the main basilica and require a separate ticket/booking. As with all famous sites in Florence, it’s best to buy your tickets online in advance.
The chapels are composed of two rooms: the elegant New Sacristy, designed by Michelangelo, and the ostentatious Chapel of the Princes, strikingly decorated with white, red, and green marble.
The New Sacristy houses the sarcophagi of Lorenzo the Magnificent and his brother Giuliano de Medici, as well as a sarcophagus of another Lorenzo de Medici – the Duke of Urbino, and another Giuliano de Medici – the Duke of Nemours.
Michelangelo planned to carve the sculptures for all sarcophagi, but the only ones he actually completed were the statues of the Dukes Lorenzo and Giuliano, the allegories of Dawn and Dusk, Night and Day and the group of Madonna and Child placed above the sarcophagus of the two “magnificos”.
Two centuries after the completion of the New Sacristy, the opulent Chapel of the Princes was added to the family church. This chapel is quite possibly the most lavish room in all of Florence. This is where you will find the sarcophagi of Cosimo I, the Duke of Tuscany and his wife Eleanor of Toledo, among other prominent Medici family members.
Plaza del Duomo with Optional Dome Climb
- Time to visit: 1-2 hrs
- Tickets: Timed-entry Brunelleschi Pass for the dome climb on the official Duomo website
- Best skip-the-line tour: Cathedral and the Dome climb
Once you are finished at the Medici Chapels stroll to the Piazza del Duomo – the heart of the religious life in Florence. The square is dominated by the Cathedral, called Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore or simply the Duomo. But the Duomo is more than one building – it is an entire complex.
The Duomo Complex comprises the Cathedral itself with Brunelleschi’s famous dome, the 85-meter bell tower or Giotto’s Campanile, the Baptistery, Santa Reparata – an ancient cathedral underneath the Duomo, and the Duomo Museum that holds all the original artworks from the complex.
The Duomo Museum is the building where Michelangelo worked for three years carving his famous David from an enormous slab of marble. So you are literally walking in his footsteps there.
There are plenty of options for exploring Piazza del Duomo and the Duomo Complex. You can simply explore the buildings from the outside. The cathedral is enormous, so you can meander around it and admire the Campanile and the magnificent Gates of Paradise on the Baptistry (the bronze doors that face the cathedral).
But if you are reasonably fit and don’t mind narrow staircases and heights, you should really climb the 463 steps to the top of the Duomo’s dome. The dome itself is a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture. For a long time, the cathedral stood with a gaping hole in its roof because the brightest minds of the time could not figure out how to build a dome this big. Until Filippo Brunelleschi came along and, with support from Cosimo di Medici, designed his ingenious dome, the largest ever built at the time, in 1456.
And as you can imagine, the views of Florence from the top of the dome are to die for. Of course, if you want the view of the dome, you’ll need to climb another 418 steps to the viewing platform on Giotto’s Campanile.
The tickets for the Duomo complex are not entirely straightforward, so you’ll need to be prepared. If bookign on the official Duomo website, the only option that includes the dome climb is the Bruneleschi Pass. The pass is valid for 3 days and includes entry to all the monuments in the Duomo complex. These passes need to be booked at least a few days in advance.
If you find that the tickets for your dates are sold out, you can get a ticket from a third party provider, that includes skip-the-line entry to the cathedral and the dome climb.
If this is your only day in Florence, consider having lunch in a cafe with a view. One good option is Tosca & Nino Cafe on the rooftop of the upmarket La Rinascente department store on Piazza la Repubblica.
Alternatively, for a more low-key experience, check out the Oblate Library Cafe, a lovely hidden gem with a view. To get to the cafe, walk through the library courtyard and catch an elevator to the top floor. Don’t expect to hear much English speech here. While the cafe is popular with travellers, most of the patrons here are local residents visiting the library.
Piazza della Signoria
- Time to visit: 1-2 hours
- Tickets: Palazzo Vecchio & Arnolfo Tower
From Piazza del Duomo stroll along Via Calzaiuoli that will bring you to the second most important square in Florence, Piazza della Signoria. Dominated by the fortress-like structure of Palazzo Vecchio – the seat of Florentine government since the 13th century, Piazza della Signoria is the civic heart of Florence and an open-air museum of Renaissance art, which makes a visit to the piazza one of the best free things to do in Florence.
The entrance to Palazzo Vecchio is flanked by two colossal statues: a replica of Michelangelo’s David, the symbol of Florence, and Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus. To the left of the palace, another colossal male nude, Neptune, towers over a fountain.
To the right of the palace is the Loggia dei Lanzi – an open-air sculpture gallery crowned with Cellini’s magnificent Perseus with the Head of Medusa. The loggia is free to enter so make sure to have a closer look at the exquisite statues within it.
If you didn’t opt to climb the Duomo dome, you’ll have some time to spare which will give you an opportunity to squeeze in a visit inside Palazzo Vecchio. Home to the Medici family for nine years, the palace is exquisitely beautiful on the inside.
The Hall of the Five Hundred and the Royal Appartments are some of the most beautiful indoor spaces in Florence. You can find more details and images in my guide to visiting Palazzo Vecchio.
If you are an art connoisseur, I’d recommend choosing a visit to Palazzo Vecchio over the Duomo dome climb. Conversely, if you prefer adventure to museums, dome climb up a twisting narrow staircase is more fun.
For an iconic experience, before you leave Piazza della Signoria, have a coffee and some mouthwatering afternoon sweets at Rivoire and enjoy the view of the square that witnessed most of the key events in the last thousand years of Florence’s history
You can’t visit the cradle of the Renaissance and not see the best of Renaissance art. Nowhere else can you see several works of Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Rafael, Michelangelo, Fra Angelico and Filippino Lippi under the same roof. Even if you only have 1 day in Florence, don’t miss the chance to visit the Uffizi Gallery.
Unlike the Academy Gallery, Uffizi is huge, and if you have the luxury of time, allocate 2-3 hours to see most of its mind-blowing collection. But if you are short on time, concentrate on the rooms exhibiting the works of the Renaissance masters, including Da Vinci, Botticelli, Rafael, and Michelangelo. These rooms are located next to each other so you can see the most spectacular art in a short period of time.
Pre-booking your timed-entry ticket to the Uffizi Gallery is a must. As with the Academy Gallery, arrive 15-20 minutes before your allocated time slot and exchange your electronic booking for a paper entry ticket. The ticket counter is located in the part of the building right behind Loggia dei Lanzi. Then, join the entry queue for your allocated time slot.
Sounds simple. But the entry to Uffizi can be downright chaotic with hundreds of people milling around in different queues (italians seem to have a very high tolerance for chaos). Trying to figure out whether and where to swap out your tickets and which line to join can be quite stressfull when you are short on time. I am a big fan of ‘escorted entry’ tickets. It may cost you a few extra dollars but having someone guide you through the chaos, making sure you don’t miss your time slot is well worth it.
You visit of the Uffizi Gallery will start on the 3rd floor of the gallery. This is where the most important Renaissance paintings are located. The rooms are arranged chronologically, from medieval art to the Renaissance and Botticelli and Da Vinci rooms are located at the end of the hall.
So you can decide how long you wish to linger in the medieval art section as you make your way towards the Renaissance era. Once you reach Fra Angelico’s collection, slow down and let the beauty of the art around you settle in.
Towards the end of the hall, you’ll find Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and The Allegory of Spring, da Vinci’s Annunciation, Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo, and Rafael’s Madonna of the Goldfinch.
If you have the time, make your way to the 2nd floor to see Caravaggio’s Medusa shield and the portraits of the most well-known Medici family members, including Lorenzo the Magnificent and Cozimo the Elder.
The colourful, shop-studded Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) is one of the most iconic sights in Florence. And it also happens to be a wonderful spot for catching the sunset. So check the sunset time for your dates and either stroll to the bridge before or after dinner. Most restaurants in Florence don’t open until 6 pm for dinner.
The best spot for watching the sunset is the riverbank just below the Uffizi Gallery.
Notice the elevated corridor that runs from the second floor of the Uffizi Gallery, across Ponte Vecchio and into the Oltrarno neighborhood on the other side of the Arno River. This is the famous Vasari Corridor designed in the 16th century by Giorgio Vasari for Cosimo I de Medici.
When the Medici family moved from Palazzo Vecchio to Palazo Pitti on the the southern back of the river, they commissioned this elevated corridor to be built so that they could easily moved between their residence and the administrative offices at Palazzo Vecchio and Uffizi.
While you are here, check out a gorgeous artisan shop, Signum. There are three Signum stores in Florence, but the one at Ponte Vecchio is the most atmospheric. It sells a selection of gorgeous notebooks with hand-made paper, calligraphy sets, art prints and decorative items.
If you have the time, continue walking up the street from the bridge to explore the charming neighbourhood of Oltrarno. This is where you’ll find the best artisan shops in Florence.
To fully immerse yourself into Renaissance Florence, book a table for dinner at the Antico Ristorante Paoli 1827. Paoli is the oldest restaurant in Florence, located in a beautiful Renaissance building that used to be a church. You’ll be dining under a vaulted ceiling, surrounded by stunning frescoes on the walls.
Make your booking as far in advance as you can; this is one of the most popular restaurants in Florence. And once there, don’t miss their tiramisu for dessert.
Where to Stay in Florence
In 2023, the Florence government banned new short-term rentals, like Airbnb, in the city. This is a very welcome move, considering that there is a plethora of wonderful hotels in the old city already.
I spent my two weeks in Florence staying at Locanda Orchidea, and I couldn’t recommend this charming B&B highly enough. Located in a 13th-century historical palace, Torre di Donati, that may have belonged to Dante’s family, Locanda Orchidea is full of character. And it is located between Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Signoria, within a five-minute stroll from either square.
Final Thoughts on 1 Day in Florence
Florence is an easy city to explore. The main tourist area of Florence is only about 5 square kilometres, and the entire old city is easily walkable. The challenge is the crowds and the associated long queues and booked-out venues. But with some solid planning, you can see the city’s most important art and architecture in just 1 day in Florence.
This suggested itinerary for 1 day in Florence follows the city’s geography and flows in one direction so that you don’t spend too much time walking back and forth around the city.
As long as you pre-book your museum visits and follow the flow of this itinerary, you will have enough time to experience the essence of Florence and see all the must-see sights and art.
If you are curious about what you can do in Florence with more time, check out my guide to deciding how many days to spend in Florence, and detailed itineraries for either 2 Days in Florence, or 3 Days in Florence.
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