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Planning a visit to a city as historic and artistically abundant as Florence can be overwhelming, particularly when you’re short on time. Fortunately, the city’s historic centre is small and walkable, making it possible to see many of Florence’s famous attractions in a day. Here, a guide to spending a perfect day in the Tuscan capital – gelato break included.
8am: Start your day the Italian way
Fuel up for a day of sightseeing with a typical Italian breakfast: a cappuccino and a cornetto. This popular breakfast pastry, resembling a croissant but filled with cream, jam or chocolate, is sold in most bakeries in Florence. Grab yours from Caffè Scudieri, a historic café that sits across from Florence’s famous Duomo.
9am: Explore Florence Cathedral
Once you’ve finished breakfast, it’s time to explore the city’s most enduring icon: the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, more commonly known as the Duomo. Dominating Florence’s skyline, the church is famous for its red-tiled Renaissance dome, designed somewhat miraculously by the great Florentine architect Filippo Brunelleschi. It’s free to climb the 463 steps to the top of the dome, though for a panorama of Florence that includes the iconic cupola, you should ascend Giotto’s Campanile, the adjacent Gothic bell tower.
After climbing back down, spend a couple of hours discovering the immense complex of buildings that make up the Florence Cathedral and the surrounding Piazza del Duomo. The main 13th-century cathedral is free to enter, but tickets should be purchased for the museum, the crypt and the baptistery. Remember that some parts of the complex, such as the crypt, are closed or have reduced opening hours on Sundays.
Midday: Grab lunch at the Central Market
For lunch, take a short stroll from the Duomo to the big indoor food market, the Mercato Centrale. On the ground floor is a conventional marketplace with vendors selling Tuscan wine, cheese, oil, spices, honey, meat and fish, while the upstairs food court offers the perfect lunch pit stop, serving up everything from pizza and pasta to Florentine lampredotto. The market is open every day from 8am to midnight.
1pm: Take in the Basilica of San Lorenzo and the Palazzo Vecchio
After browsing the handbags and hats for sale in the outdoor section of San Lorenzo Market, take a breather from the bustling crowds and duck into Basilica di San Lorenzo, a magnificent Renaissance church designed by Michelangelo and Brunelleschi. From there, it’s a short walk down Via dei Calzaiuoli to Piazza della Signoria, home of Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s grand city hall. Explore the palace’s courtyards, halls and passageways before checking out Piazza della Signoria’s incredible collection of statues, which includes Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus and a replica of Michelangelo’s David.
2.30pm: Stop off for gelato
You can’t leave Florence without sampling its famous gelato. It was in the Tuscan capital that gelato was allegedly created, and there’s no better place to try this Italian treat than at every Florentine’s favourite ice cream parlour, La Carraia. To get there from Piazza della Signoria, cross over the Arno via the historic Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s oldest and most famous bridge, renowned for its many jewellery shops and photogenic central arches. Once you’ve reached the other side, take a right down Borgo San Jacopo then wiggle back to the southern bank of the river until you reach Piazza Nazario Sauro. You’ll be able to spot La Carraia from its bright green and yellow sign – and, of course, the line of people waiting for a scoop. For a taste of traditional Italian ice cream, order classic flavours like crema, chocolate and pistachio. Top tip: pistachio gelato, one of Italy’s most popular ice cream flavours, shouldn’t be any brighter than a dull browny-green.
3.30pm: Wander around Italian gardens in the Oltrarno
The Oltrarno is one of Florence’s trendiest neighbourhoods, home to artisan workshops, galleries and chic fashion boutiques. The two most important gardens in Florence are here, too — Boboli Gardens and Giardino Bardini. Which one you visit depends on how much time you want to spend exploring the gardens. You could easily spend the whole afternoon exploring Boboli Gardens, while you won’t need more than an hour to amble around the four-hectare (10-acre) Bardini Garden. While Boboli is larger and more famous, the vistas of Florence from Bardini are incredible. Plus, the garden boasts gorgeous wisteria flowers, plenty of statues and considerably fewer tourists.
6pm: Aperitivo time!
Aperitivo, everyone’s favourite Italian tradition, comes into its own in Oltrarno’s many wine bars and eateries. Try Pitti Gola Cantina, a great little wine bar with a view of Palazzo Pitti, or for something a little cheaper and more cheerful, head to Mad Souls and Spirits for cocktails and crudités. If you’re after a truly unforgettable aperitivo experience, make your way to Forte Belvedere’s terrace, which offers a spectacular setting to enjoy a Spritz, blazing sunset and dazzling views over Florence.
8pm: Choose a restaurant and tuck into Florentine cuisine
Florentine cuisine is all about fresh, locally sourced produce, and the generous selection of restaurants in Florence means you’ll have every opportunity to try local specialties like tagliatelle ai funghi porcini e tartufo, pappardelle al cinghiale and bistecca fiorentina, no matter your budget. Il Magazzino is a typical Tuscan taverna frequented mostly by locals, while Fuor d’Acqua is an excellent restaurant where you can try the freshest catch of the day, sourced from the fish market of the coastal town of Viareggio. Head to La Ménagère for homely dishes and beautiful interiors, and if you want to go out with a bang, Enoteca Pinchiorri is a three-Michelin-star restaurant serving up haute cuisine in Florence’s Santa Croce neighbourhood. Florence is also famous for its street food scene, so if you are looking for cheaper options there are lots of on-the-go meals available, such as trippa, lampredotto (cow stomach) and schiacciata (Tuscan bread salad).
This is an updated version of a story created by Francesca Masotti.