48 Hours in Florence: How to Spend Two Perfect Days
By Dianne Hales
In other cities you visit museums. In Florence, the city itself is a museum, a dazzling indoor-outdoor exhibition of some of the greatest masterpieces ever created. You can't see them all in 48 hours, and you shouldn't try. Instead, make smart choices and use your extra take time to linger in a café, wander into an artisan's shop or stop to listen, as I have, to a lone violinist playing on a bridge over the Arno. These may be the memories you savor most.
If you have an absolute must-see priority, such as Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" at the Uffizi or Michelangelo's David in the Accademia, pre-purchase your tickets from an online agency or through your hotel. The time saved during a brief visit is well worth the extra cost.
A Morning on the Move
The best way to get to know the epicenter of the Italian Renaissance is on foot. Here is an itinerary that visits many of the high points:
Start at the towering Santa Maria del Fiore, known as the Duomo. The product of centuries of centuries of construction, this cathedral represents a triumph of architecture and engineering.
On the Piazza del Duomo are two other marvels: the Baptistery, with a replica of Ghiberti's famed doors on the side facing the cathedral, and the Campanile, or bell tower, designed by Giotto.
At the back end of the Piazza del Duomo, turn right onto the Via del Proconsolo, lined with leather shops and several museums, including the outstanding Bargello.
Turn right on the Via de Gondi along side the historic Palazzo Vecchio, which serves as Florence's city hall as well as a museum.
The best known statue in the Piazza della Signoria, Florence's historic heart, is the replica of Michelangelo's David. However, don't miss Cellini's legendary sculpture of Perseus holding the head of Medusa and the other sculptures in the Loggia della Signoria.
Follow the Piazzale degli Uffizi, surrounded by galleries housing the museum's world-renowned art collection, toward the Arno.
Turn right and make your way to the Ponte Vecchio (the old bridge), built in 1345, where goldsmiths have been selling their wares for centuries.
Rather than crossing the bridge, stroll in the opposite direction toward the lively Piazza della Repubblica, where you can stop for an espresso, a gelato or an open-air lunch.
An Afternoon of Art
To understand why Florence is Italy's premier citta d'arte (city of art), visit one of the following:
Galleria degli Uffizi (Tues. – Sun. 8.15 a.m. - 6.50 p.m.). Originally designed as offices for the Medici duchy, its 50 rooms present paintings by masters such as Giotto, Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raffaello and Tiziano.
Museo del Bargello (Tues. – Sun. 8.15 a.m..- 2 p.m.) This former prison displays some of the city's finest sculptures, including Donatello's extraordinary David and works by Michelangelo and Ghiberti.
Accademia Gallery. (Tues. – Sun. 8.15 a.m. - 6.50 p.m.) An estimated 6,000 visitors a day come to see Michelangelo's David, but the collection also includes paintings by other medieval and Renaissance masters.
Evening: Dinner with Dante—And Then?
Alle Murate (Via del Proconsolo 16/r), an elegant upscale restaurant in a restored guild hall, serves sophisticated cuisine plus a dash of art history: the oldest known portrait of Dante Alighieri, father of the Italian language, with an audiotape (available in English) of the story of its discovery. For a less-pricey, more casual meal, Ristorante Trattoria Dante (12/R, p. Sauro), housed in a medieval palazzo, specializes in oven-baked pizza and Tuscan dishes.
Florence offers a rich cultural life, including its annual Maggio Musicale (every May and June), outdoor concerts in various piazze and opera in the Boboli Gardens throughout the summer. Check local tourist information centers for what's on while you're in town.
A Morning In and Around Church
The light is best for viewing frescoes in the morning, so choose at least one of the following as your destination. Each is in a different neighborhood with lots of interesting side streets to explore. Be sure to dress appropriately (covered shoulders and knees for women; no caps or shorts for men.)
Santa Croce (Mon. – Fri. 9.30 a.m. - 5.30 p.m., Sun. 1-5.30 p.m.). This vast Franciscan Church contains tombs and memorials to Italy's grandi (great ones), including Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Dante, as well as frescoes by Giotto and a chapel designed by Brunelleschi.
Santa Maria Novella (Mon - Thurs and Sat 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., Fri. and Sun. 1 - 5 p.m.). Within its vast interior are works by Gothic and early Renaissance artists, such as Lippi, Massacio and Botticelli. Most famous are the vibrant frescoes in the chapels commissioned by important Florentine families.
Museo San Marco (Mon. – Fri. 8.15 a.m. -1 .50 p.m.; Sat. 8.15 a.m. - 6.50 p.m.; closed first, third and fifth Sunday and second and fourth Monday of every month). Beato Angelico, a Dominican friar who lived in this monastery from 1436 to 1447, painted sublime frescoes in the brothers' cells. His "Annunciation" on a staircase landing in the monastery is considered the best-loved painting of the Renaissance.
An Indoor/Outdoor Afternoon
Located in the Oltrarno (the neighborhood across the Arno), the splendid Pitti Palace and the adjacent Boboli Gardens offer a range of intriguing collections. For a quick lunch, try the simple but satisfying food at the café in the entrance courtyard (no ticket required).
Pitti Palace (Daily 8:15 a.m. - 6:50 p.m.; closed first and last Monday of each month). Florence's largest palazzo, once a Medici residence, includes the Palatine Gallery (with works by Raffaello, Tiziano, Rubens and Caravaggio), Gallery of Modern Art, Porcelain Museum, Royal Apartments and a Costume Gallery, with gowns dating back to Eleonora, the Medici duchess who remodeled the palazzo in the 16th century.
Boboli Gardens (Daily 8:15 a.m. - seasonal closing times) Amid grand paths and formal gardens are grottoes, fountains, sculptures and an orangerie. Don't miss the Bacchino (little Bacchus), a fat naked dwarf sitting on a tortoise, and the Fontana dei Mostaccini ("Fountain of the Little Ugly Faces").
Evening: The City by Sunset
My favorite way to end a day in Florence is by climbing above the piazza Michelangelo, with its massive bronze David and tourist throngs, to San Miniato, the oldest church in Florence. My daughter and I once arrived just in time for a vespers concert by a visiting Welsh choir. We walked outside as the sun was turning the roofs of Florence to gold. The spectacular sunset continued like a Technicolor slide show as we made our way down the hill.
About the Author
Dianne Hales spent considerable time in Rome studying Italian and doing research for her book, La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language, which is now available in paperback. You can find out more at becomingitalian.com.
Photo credits: (1) Duomo image courtesy of istock/Filippo Brandini (2) Uffizi image courtesy Shutterstock (3) Boboli Gardens image courtesy istock/Ana Amorim
You May Also Like
Member Comments (8) Post a Comment
One should order tickets for the Uffizi online. Otherwise one will stand in line for hours with no guarantee to get in. These tickets are then picked up at the office and the line is bypassed.
One has to know what time one is visiting when one orders the tickets. A must see.
Last month I went to Florence with my friends and fell in love with the city, we were there for one week and stayed in an amazing apartment near the Boboli Gardens. http://www.friendlyrentals.com/en/apartments/florence/apartment-3603-228.htm
It was very comfortable , we felt at home. People is lovely and helpful, the city is special, diferent, like almost all places in Italy. I recomend people to visit Florence even if visit is short stay.
You have hit all of the high points of Florence, but two day just doesn't get it. We spent two wees in Florence and still did not get a chance to see everything. The Uffizi is a day by itself. One big positive is that you can walk everywhere. If you have the time don't forget to take a day tour of the hill cities and also Pisa.
OK, us 4 ladies have 48 hours in Florence but want to shop! It's a gals trip!! Gold is on the Ponte Vecchio. Any suggestions for leather goods?
Firenze is my absolute favorite city. Small with lots of culture. I have been 4 times (fell madly in love on the 1st trip). Get tickets online for Uffizi and if you climb the steps at the Duomo be prepared for over 400 steps and claustrophobia. The people are very nice. Intense nightlife as well!
To where does one e-mail to purchase the tickets in advance which you so highly recommend??
You'll find the link for reserving tickets here: http://www.polomuseale.firenze.it/english/orari/orari.asp
I prefer to call the office because I can learn immediately what times are available and book the time then instead of having to wait for a response. You can find the phone number at that same website and much information about all the state-owned museums in Florence.
This is a good itinerary by Dianne Hales. My wife and I vacation in Florence, our favorite European City every year for 2 months renting an apartment which is cheaper than staying at a hotel or B&B. I can add many tips for tourists to Ms. Hale's article that may be helpful but I'll limit my tips to a few as follows: (1) Be prepared to pay an entrance fee to most churches like Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella. The Duomo is free. (2) Most shops close for lunch between 1 and 3:30 p.m. So, plan lunch around 1:00 p.m., because restaurants get crowded with locals and tourists between these hours. (3) There are several tourists information offices in the City -- one on Cavour -- where you can get a free map of the City -- unlike in Venice where you are charged for a map. (4) Take a local bus to Ms. Hales favorite way to end a day in Florence if you don't want to spend a lot of time to walk uphill to get to Piazza Michelangelo, a long walk from the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. Bus ticket cost is 1 Euro and don't forget to validate your ticket when you get on the bus by punching it in the small yellow box behind the bus driver. Then, climb above the Piazza to San Miniato, the oldest church in Florence. Michael Zullo, Upper Eastside, Manhattan.
Free Fodor's Newsletter
Subscribe today for weekly travel inspiration, tips, and special offers.
Fodor's Top News & Features
- 6 Dream Travel Jobs that Actually Exist
- Top 20 Spring Day Trips From New York City
- 4 Perfect Southern Summer Itineraries
- Fodor's Approved: Best Checked Luggage
- Airline Uniforms Get a Fashion Update
- 5 Last-Minute Memorial Day Deals
- 10 Best Small Towns in America
- Tips from the Jet Set: How to Do Paris Right
- Most Popular Honeymoon Destinations (and Where to Stay)
- Best Day Trips from Paris
Fodor's Trip Planning Ideas
- Weekend Getaways: Fodor's Recommends the Best Weekend Escapes in the US
- Great American Vacation: Find Your Next U.S. Trip with Fodor's
- 80 Degrees: Fodor's Helps You Find Your Best Beach Vacation Spots
- Go List: Fodor's Top 25 Places to Go in 2013
- Hotel Awards 2012: Fodor's 100 Top Hotels
- Best of Europe: Fodor's Picks the Best Places to Visit in Europe
- $1363* & up -- Premium Economy to London, R/TBritish Airways
- $529 & up -- Summer: Italy-Greece-Turkey 7-Night CruiseRoyal Caribbean
- $985 & up -- Panama: 7-Nt. City, Jungle & Beach Tour w/AirLatinEscapes.com
- $1527 & up -- Machu Picchu: 8-Nt. Trek w/Inca Trail HikingLatinEscapes.com