While I would never recommend that you try to ‘see’ Florence in 24 hours, sometimes that’s all the time you have. If that’s the case and you’re wondering if you should ‘bother’ seeing this historically significant city, I would say to go for it. Just keep in mind that you’ll only be brushing the surface and won’t be able to see everything.
To get the most out of a short trip, you should prepare to do a lot of walking!
A short stopover is exactly what we did during our 2019 trip to Italy. We were travelling between Lake Como and Lucca and I thought a quick overnight trip would provide a welcome break in the train journey.
A bit under 24 hours in Florence is enough time to see a few quick sights. These included the Cathedral, Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s grand Piazzas and the replica and real David statues. To break up the walking, you can even fit in some shopping (Florence is known for its leather). If you’re really organised and are keen for more walking, you can even watch the sunset overlooking the city.
So where to start?
While I tend to like venturing off the beaten path to avoid crowds, this doesn’t apply to Florence during a short trip. Partly because no part of the historic centre would be considered ‘off the beaten path’, and because there’s no time.
During my first trip in May 2008, I described Florence as a ‘Renaissance Disney World’. The only things I could remember of my short stay were the queues and people everywhere. Sad to say, the crowds have only become worse, which is why I recommend you walk around the historic centre in early morning if possible. But more about that later.
With only 24 hours in Florence, there’s not enough time to see all the major sights, but we’ll do our best!
A Walk through the Historic Centre of Florence
To see a number of ‘major’ sights in a short amount of time, I recommend doing a self-guided walking tour. While you won’t have time to go inside most of these places, you’ll at least see them from the outside. And unlike a guided tour, you can skip the sights you don’t want to see in favour of a few nourishment stops (thinking gelato and/or an aperativo). Florence is like an open-air museum, so for a ‘brush of the surface’ level of sight seeing, it’s perfectly fine on your own.
Big caveat: If you’re really rushed this could be a good place for a tour.
I also recommend downloading Rick Steve’s podcast for his Renaissance Florence walk. He has a podcast app, but you can also download the podcast using Apple’s podcast app. He provides an overview of a number of the sights I outline below.
Where to begin
This route starts at the train station, passes by Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, and weaves towards Ponte Vecchio. This zig zagging route takes you past a number of key sights. The walk is about 1km long but could take a couple hours, depending on how many stops you make.
Tip: I recommend downloading the city of Florence on Google Maps so you know which direction you’re going. Florence is not a grid and it’s easy to walk in the wrong direction. Though even if you get mildly lost, it’s likely you’ll come across a major landmark soon enough.
The first major sight on the walk is Florence’s very grand cathedral. If you haven’t seen the crowds yet, you’ll find them here, especially between 9am and early evening. Entry is free but the queue can be rather long. You can also climb the Campanile (large tower to the right) and the Cathedral’s Duomo.
For more information on times and prices, click here.
The Cathedral’s Baptistry with its golden doors
Make a 180 degree turn away from the entrance to the Cathedral to see the Baptistry with its 15th century Golden Doors. Actually, the doors you see are replicas but are still very impressive.
Via dei Calzaiuoli (a pedestrian only shopping street)
Piazza del Duomo (the area in front of the Cathedral) turns into Via dei Calzaiuoli. The photo below was taken in the early morning, but it is usually full of people and plenty of shops. Following this street takes you to Ponte Vecchio, but you should take a slight detour turning right. I did mention this was a zig zagging route!
Turning right onto Via degli Speziali (another shopping street), will take you to Piazza della Repubblica.
Piazza della Repubblica
This grand piazza was once the city’s Roman Forum and later became a ghetto and then a market place. Its grandeur is quite impressive, including its massive gate. There’s also an old fashioned carousel, the Column of Abundance and some cafes.
Following Via Calimala will take you past Mercato del Porcellino, a market that has been operating since the 16th century. There’s lots of leather vendors here and you’ll also find the Fontana del Porcellino, a bronze statue of a pig. Touch its snout and you’re guaranteed a return to Florence. Which is good because you’re only scratching the surface with these 24 hours!
Continuing south will take you to the river and Ponte Vecchio.
If you want to take a bit of a detour for a really good gelato, and take in some (murky) river views, turn right and follow the river to cross over at Ponte alla Carraia. I recommend this for two reasons: firstly, the gelato at Gelateria La Carraia is delicious. The huge queue told me we weren’t the only ones who thought so. Secondly, the next bridge over towards Ponte Vecchio (St Trinity Bridge) provides an excellent photo op for Ponte Vecchio.
If you took the highly recommended detour, following the river will lead you to …
Ponte Vecchio is considered by many as a must-see when you only have 24 hours in Florence. And it feels that way when you’re on it surrounded by all the other tourists! Still it’s definitely worth seeing, even if it’s only as a way to cross over the Arno River for some peace and quiet on the other side.
The bridge has been the place to shop for gold for hundreds of years. Unless you’re looking for gold, you’ll want to do your shopping elsewhere.
If you had more time, this would be a good spot to detour and check out the Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens. Alas, we only have 24 hours, so the palace and the gardens will have to wait.
Crossing over the Ponte Vecchio, you’ll be close to the Uffizi Gallery and the David replica statue.
Home to many paintings, the Uffizi Gallery deserves at least a couple of hours. This place is huge and deserves some time to make it worth it! So most likely not achievable during this visit.
One of its well-known paintings is the Birth of Venus (aka the lady in the clam shell). If you want to add it to a short trip to Florence, you will need to buy tickets in advance otherwise you could spend a couple precious hours just standing in line to get in.
Piazza della Signoria
Continuing past the Uffizi, you’ll enter into the large Piazza della Signoria. This is my favourite piazza in Florence as it includes a number of sights and is very centrally located. Standing in one place, you can see:
- the replica statue of David (not comparable to the real thing. I’d call it a distant second)
- the impressive Fontana del Nettuno fountain
- Loggia dei Lanzi or Signoria, the open air sculpture gallery including the Rape of the Sabine Women
- the 13th century Palazzo Vecchio
The first three are easily seen at a glance. The Palazzo Vecchio is free to enter and worth having a quick look inside. You can also pay to climb the tower with views of the Cathedral and its dome and of course the rest of the city.
Heading north from here, you’ll reach the Cathedral. Turn left to head back to the train station. This is a fair amount of walking and deserves multiple shopping / gelato / drink breaks to complete.
If you’re staying in the evening, I highly recommend making the trek up the hill for city views. You’ll feel like you’ve really earned your Italian dinner feast later in the evening.
Sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo
There really is no better place to watch the sunset than from up on the hill at Piazzale Michelangelo. If you want to walk it, keep in mind that it’s on a hill, so it involves a fair amount of steps and hill climbing. From Piazza della Signora, its about 1.5km / 25 minute walk. We reached it via the Scalea del Monte alle Croci after crossing over the Arno River on Ponte alle Grazie.
But what about seeing The David Statue?
Michelangelo’s David is located in the Galleria dell’Accademia, about 500m (5 minutes walking distance) from Florence’s Cathedral. To fit it into a very short trip, I recommend visiting when it opens in the morning since it opens earlier than most other sights. Ideally, you’d stand in the queue about 30 minutes prior to the opening time.
When you arrive there will be two lines. One line is for people with reserved tickets and the other is for people without these tickets. Make sure you pick the line you need or you could be waiting for a long time and not be in the correct queue!
The museum is open from Tuesday through Sunday, 8:15 am – 6:50 pm and some evenings. It’s closed on Mondays. If you can’t get there for opening time, I recommend buying a reserved ticket in advance for an extra 4 euros in addition to the ticket price.
The official site can be found here. It’s in Italian and will offer the cheapest tickets (i.e. no added on fees through purchasing from a third party site). To purchase tickets you can click here for their site in English.
Morning walk with few tourists
Instead of visiting the Accademia, which I had visited on two separate occasions, I chose to walk the route outlined above early in the morning. If the hectic crowds of Florence during the day are a bit overwhelming, the morning is pure bliss. All of the photos above with few people in them were taken during this walk.
I’m a big fan of taking advantage of morning walks to fit in extra sightseeing time. Keep in mind that a lot of sights won’t be open until later in the morning (past 8am – 9am).
Where we ate
With a super short trip, we only had two meals in Florence. We ate dinner at Trattoria Buzzino, located on Via Dei Leoni behind the Palazzo Vecchio. We chose it as we were walking back from Piazzale Michelangelo and it was pouring down. We saw a restaurant that was open and looked warm so we popped in. We ended up having a lovely meal with very nice service. I tend to over research restaurants to make sure we don’t end up with a dud, and this time no research and we ate a lovely meal. I guess sometimes you get lucky!
In the morning, I stumbled upon a cafe near the Basilica di San Lorenzo called La Ménagère. I’d probably call it a ‘hipster cafe’, which suited me fine for a light breakfast away from the cold. it also has a very French name, which I would typically avoid in Italy, but it was tres bien.
Where we stayed
Soggiorno Isabella De’ Medici
Our accommodation was far from luxury but it ticked one major box. It’s located five minutes walking distance from the train station. This cut down on our travel time to and from the train station with our bags. They have clean and basic rooms, and some have their own ensuite. The accommodation is on the third floor of a large building but does have a small lift. The staff were friendly enough though we didn’t spend much time speaking with them. No breakfast was included. For 110 euros for a triple in the heart of Florence, it was pretty good value.
Have you visited Florence? Are there any other sights you’d add to the list?
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