Visit Florence in 24 hours
The town is well worth more than a few hours, but you can get start to get an idea of its beauty in just 24 hours. Start from Piazza del Duomo, where you can see, face-to-face, the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, started by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296 and only completed in 1436 by Filippo Brunelleschi’s famous cupola, and the Romanesque-style Baptistery of San Giovanni, decorated with bronze doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti and Andrea Pisano.
Brunelleschi’s dome is the symbol of Florence: a bold and stately construction from which you can enjoy a fantastic view of not only the city, but also the inside of the Cathedral. Beside the façade, there is Giotto’s Tower, elegant in its use of colour and another panoramic spot in the city.
Follow the lively Via dei Calzaiuoli to get to Piazza della Signoria, Florence's political heart. Here stands the late-13th-century Palazzo della Signoria, better known as Palazzo Vecchio, the headquarters of the commune of Florence, as well as a museum. Crossing the threshold of the internal courtyard, you can admire the fountain with Verrocchio's putto and frescoes by Giorgio Vasari. The square is home to the 14th-century Loggia dei Lanzi, where you can see famous statues such as Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini or The Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna.
Connected to the Palazzo Vecchio is the imposing building of the Uffizi Gallery, designed by Vasari in the 16th century as the headquarters of the Medici Chancellery and now one of the most important museums in the world. The gallery houses paintings from movements ranging from the Primitives (Cimabue, Giotto) to Mannerism, and provides an overview of Italian Renaissance painting, thanks to masterpieces by Sandro Botticelli, Filippo Lippi, Paolo Uccello, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael.
From the Uffizi Gallery move on to Piazza San Firenze (where you can find the Bargello Museum, whose collection of Renaissance statues is one of the most important in the world) and then to Via dell’Anguillara, finally arriving at Piazza Santa Croce. The Basilica is a well-known Gothic masterpiece which is closely observed even by the stern countenance of Dante’s statue, as well as being one of the most visited monuments in the city. In the Piazza, the Historic Football Tournament takes place every summer, a competition between the four historical areas of the city which has been played every year since the end of the 15th century.
From Santa Croce, turn towards the river and head towards the Ponte Vecchio, one of the main symbols of Florence. Here you will find the goldsmiths’ and jewellers’ shops, as well as the statue dedicated to the most famous amongst them, Benvenuto Cellini.
Once you cross the bridge, you will be on the other side of the Arno, an important concept in Florence. Of the four Florentine neighbourhoods, three (San Giovanni, Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce) are on this side of the Arno and only one, Santo Spirito, is on the left bank of the river. From Ponte Vecchio you can reach Piazza Pitti, dominated by the majestic façade of the palace that is its namesake. Built in the 15th century, the Palazzo Pitti was bought by Eleonora, wife of Grand Duke Cosimo I, to be made into the new palace of the Medici family, who previously resided in the Palazzo della Signoria. Enlarged and enriched with a spectacular park, the Boboli Gardens, it is now home to several museums. Then head over to Santo Spirito, a neighbourhood that is home to many artisanal businesses and where the atmosphere is authentically Florentine.
Piazza Santo Spirito, one of the few tree-lined piazze in the city, is surrounded by beautiful buildings and the church designed by Brunelleschi in 1444. In addition to the church’s pure architectural lines, the interior contains important works of art.
Visit Florence in 48 hours
If you find yourself with two days to visit Florence, the area of interest is expanded.
Not far from Santa Maria Novella train station, a masterpiece of early 20th-century rationalist architecture is the basilica that gave it its name. Santa Maria Novella is a 13th-century church of the Dominican order, featuring an elegant white and green marble façade designed by Leon Battista Alberti. It has a beautiful Gothic Interior, with numerous frescoes and Renaissance masterpieces, the most famous is which is Masaccio’s Holy Trinity. Adjacent to the church is the museum of the same name.
Through narrow and picturesque alleys, you then reach Via de’ Tornabuoni, the most elegant street in the whole city, overlooked by the back of the vast Palazzo Strozzi, commissioned by Filippo Strozzi from Benedetto da Maiano. Home to some major art exhibitions, the building has a vast and majestic courtyard which is always open. Carry on, and you will arrive in Piazza della Repubblica, the heart of the city at the time of its foundation, currently the result of the 19th-century order.
Returning towards Piazza Duomo and crossing it, you will reach Via Martelli, where you will run into another large Renaissance building after only a few metres: Palazzo Medici Riccardi. Cosimo de’ Medici commissioned Michelozzo to build it in the mid-15th century.
The palace, headquarters of the Province of Florence, is also a museum with monumental spaces and a beautiful chapel frescoed by Benozzo Gozzoli. Nearby are the Church of San Lorenzo and the Convent of San Marco. San Lorenzo was the church of the Medici family; in its present form, it was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and is the epitome of Renaissance architecture. The façade is unfinished, but inside there are numerous painted masterpieces.
Around the church there are other important sites, such as the Laurentian Library, the Old Sacristy and the Medici Chapels with the New Sacristy, Michelangelo's masterpiece.
The Convent of San Marco, of the Fiesolean Dominicans, was once a true intellectual centre of the city that Cosimo de’ Medici invested in with extension and improvement works. The Museum housed in the convent is full of Renaissance frescoes by Beato Angelico; the library is one of Michelozzo’s masterpieces.
Not far from Piazza San Marco is the Galleria dell'Accademia, one of the most visited museums in Florence thanks to the presence of Michelangelo's David. The museum also contains other interesting sculptures by the same artist and a rich exhibition of Tuscan paintings from the 13th to the 16th centuries.
Continuing on, you will reach the peaceful Piazza Santissima Annunziata, surrounded by buildings with large porticoes; amongst these is the Spedale degli Innocenti, an architectural project by Filippo Brunelleschi, created in 1440 to house abandoned young children and now home to a very interesting museum. The Church of the Santissima Annunziata dates back to the mid-13th century and was built for the Servite Order; inside are the frescoes of Andrea del Sarto, Franciabigio, Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino.
To the left of the church, on the corner with Via Capponi, there is the entrance of the Archaeological Museum, an important site for the Etruscan, Roman and especially Egyptian collections. A visit to the museum will also take you through a splendid garden, where Etruscan tombs have been reassembled.