It was only five weeks into my 10-week solo journey through Europe that I somehow found myself dancing in the streets of Florence at 2 am. I had just spent a day in Florence and here I was, absolutely buzzing with energy despite the time, giggling like a child, and grinning from ear to ear at the thought of being lucky enough to have landed in such a beautiful and old city, experiencing empty streets in a city that is normally crowded with tourists. It’s true, I did have a little buzz from Italian wine – Chianti to be exact – as I had just left a fancy steak dinner (a Florence specialty) after being invited out by locals earlier in the day. As I swayed down the street, hobbling from wearing wedges on cobblestone, I was humming to the tune of Taylor Swift and realized that I was the happiest I had been in a while. And it was all because I said yes to adventure and found myself in the magical city of Florence.
Florence is in Northern Italy, the capital of the famed Tuscany wine region just north of Rome. The city welcomes over 16 million tourists every year and is well-known as an art mecca, containing over 60% of the world’s art heritage. While I believe that Florence is a destination within itself, if you have limited time to spend you can still discover this incredible city. 24 hours in Florence is really all you need to fall in love with Italian culture, cuisine, and art.
Spending a Day in Florence
After spending six wonderful days in Naples and Rome, all thanks to an intense pizza craving I had after drinking one too many martinis in Budapest (you can read about that here), I hopped on a train north to see what Florence was all about. I wanted to know if it lived up to the hype, or it was just another tourist trap like Venice (yes, you heard me right). However, immediately as I stepped off of the train, luggage in hand, and walked out into the city center, I instantly knew that Florence was all that I had dreamed of and more.
I pulled my bag through twisting roads, dodging taxis, cars, tourists, and locals. Passing a gelato shop at every corner, and a pizza shop every other. Most people smiled and said “Ciao Bella!” Some had their heads down, scurrying on to their next chore of the day. As I got closer to my Airbnb I braved the crowded, but very famous, Ponte Vecchio Bridge, noticing that when the sun hit the bridge it lit up brighter and more brilliantly than any picture I had seen on Instagram. I checked into my apartment, dropped my bags, and immediately dashed out the door to begin exploring.
How to Spend the Morning and Afternoon in Florence
Begin your morning in Florence at sunrise, when the streets are less crowded and you can enjoy the city a bit quieter. Stop for an espresso and croissant at Café Scudieri, before braving the normally crowded Ponte Vecchio Bridge. As people begin to trickle into the streets, start discovering the many different squares of the city on foot. In the city center alone there are more than 20 squares made up of restaurants, gelato, wine, and souvenir shops. Upon discovering a majority, some on purpose, most on accident, Piazza della Signoria was one of my favorites. Here you’ll find Palazza Vecchio, famous for housing a replica of Michelangelo’s Statue of David. Following Piazza della Signoria, once again cross over Ponte Vecchio Bridge to Pitti Square. The square is an open and breathable space where you’ll find the Palazzo Pitti, housing the Boboli Gardens. Florence is an easily walkable city, by taking advantage of this you can see a big chunk of the city in a few hours and check some sites off your list.
Palazza Vecchio is Florence’s town hall and most famously where the David statue by Michelangelo is kept. If you’re spending 1 day in Florence, don’t miss the opportunity to step inside and see this famous piece of art history. Michelangelo created David from 1501-1504 out of marble; he represents David from the Bible. Aside from David, there are many other pieces of art history found at Palazza Vecchio. The museum opens at 9 am so try to get there early to avoid the crowds.
You’ll find the Boboli Gardens directly behind the Pitti Palace. The gardens were designed in 1549 and trees, hedges, rare plants, and fountains were constructed. This made Boboli one of the most significant gardens of its time and a model used by others throughout history. The gardens open at 8:30 am and a single, regular ticket costs €6.
After viewing the sights of Florence, head to one of the best restaurants in Florence, La Prosciutteria Firenze, to dine on rich cheeses, meats, and wine. It’s the perfect place if you want something on the lighter side and gives you a good sample of many different Italian slices of meat and cheese. I opted for the “Italian Female Beef” with truffle mushrooms and blue cheese. It was divine!
How to Spend the Evening in Florence
One of the most quintessential things to do in Florence is to hike up to the top of Piazzale Michelangelo where you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the city. Before taking the 100 stairs up to the top of the hill, stop and grab a bottle of wine to enjoy once you arrive. Enjoy the lush, rolling green hills on your right and the panoramic views of the city on your left. As the sun starts to set it illuminates the city making it look as though it’s been lit on fire. Once the sun finally drops you’ll be left with twinkles of street lamps guiding you back down the hill into town.
Upon descending Piazza Michelangelo head to Gusta Pizza for dinner. Gusta Pizza is a well-known Neapolitan pizza restaurant, and despite the crowds, I assure you it’s worth it. You might find that it looks a bit dingy from the outside, but on the inside, you’ll find be welcomed with the warmth of the pizza oven, a friendly smile, and a sea of people laughing and smiling. Expect classic Italian pizza, minimalistic, but not lacking in flavor or taste. PS – you can ask them to make your pizza heart-shaped… an extra thoughtful touch!
Before heading to bed stop at Il Santino, a small and cozy den that serves local wine.
Traveling to Florence
Oftentimes people visit Florence as one stop on an entire Italian getaway. Two of the most popular, nearby cities to Florence are Rome and Venice. Below you’ll find the best ways to get to Florence from both the ancient city of Rome and the romantic city of Venice.
Rome is located 170-miles south of Florence. There are multiple different ways to travel between the two cities, see your options below!
The trains in Italy are an excellent way to see the country. They are fast, efficient, and clean; and a very popular way for both tourists and locals to transfer from city to city. The Frecce train is a non-stop, high-speed train that takes you from Rome to Florence in only 1.5 hours. However, another popular option and more common is to take ItaliaRail which will get you between cities in 3.5 hours with costs as cheap as $25 per one-way ticket. ItaliaRail averages 61 trains per day between Rome and Florence so there are many different times to choose from. Most trains leave from Rome Termini station and arrive in Florence Santa Maria Novella Station.
If you want to skip train travel, you can opt to get to Florence by airplane instead. The flight is just under an hour and an average one-way ticket costs approximately $100. The two main airlines that service this route are TAP Air Portugal and Alitalia.
If you don’t prefer a plane or train you can also get between Rome and Florence by bus. The ride will be anywhere from 3-4 hours if you choose a non-stop route. I prefer to take Flixbus when traveling in Europe.
Another way to travel through Italy is by car. Make an adventure out of it by renting a car and navigating through the small Italian towns on your own! A pro? The chance to see off-the-beaten-path villages. The con? Getting lost. But then again you’re still in Italy so is getting lost a con? This road trip should take you a little bit over three hours if you don’t stop along the way.
If you are traveling to Florence from Rome (or vice versa), don’t miss: A Complete Guide to Visiting Rome
Venice is located 160-miles northeast of Florence. There are multiple different ways to travel between the two cities, see your options below!
No trains run directly from Venice to Florence. There will be a stop along the way and depending on which route you choose your ride will take anywhere from 4-8 hours. One-way tickets on ItaliaRail run from $30-$40. Pickup is usually at Venezia San Lucia and drops off at Firenze Santa Maria Novella. ItaliaRail runs about 50 times per day so there are plenty of times to choose from.
Flying between Venice and Florence isn’t ideal because there aren’t any direct flights. Instead, I’d opt for bus or car travel.
If you don’t prefer a plane or train you can also get between Venice and Florence by bus. The ride will be anywhere closer to four hours if you choose a non-stop route. I prefer to take Flixbus when traveling in Europe.
As mentioned previously, a great way to travel through Italy is by car. Make an adventure out of it by renting a car and navigating through the small Italian towns on your own! A pro? The chance to see off-the-beaten-path villages. The con? Getting lost. But then again you’re still in Italy so is getting lost a con? This road trip should take you a little bit over three hours if you don’t stop along the way.
Seeing Florence in one day is definitely doable, but if you have more time to commit to this incredible Italian city, I highly suggest that you stay longer.