Florence in One Day

The view of Florence from Piazzale MichelangioloFlorence in a day? “Impossibile,” a Florentine might tell you before throwing up her hands in despair and striding away, convinced you are mad. But 1 day in Florence is better than none—provided you rise with the roosters and move with discipline and stamina, to make the most of it. This “greatest hits” itinerary begins with the highlights of the Uffizi, the most rewarding and time-consuming stop. After lunch in the Centro Storico, you’ll take in the city’s majestic ecclesiastical complex, including the Duomo and Baptistery. Round out the day with a trek to Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia, followed by an aperitivo on the city’s lively Left Bank and a stroll across the Ponte Vecchio as night falls.

Uffizi. This is one of the world’s great museums, and its single best repository of Renaissance art. In room after room, you’ll confront masterpiece after masterpiece—including Leonardo da Vinci’s Annunciation (with an angel that could be Mona Lisa’s brother), Michelangelo’s Holy Family, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Giotto’s Ognissanti Madonna, and more. In old Florentine, uffizi means offices, and that’s what Vasari deigned this building to be in 1550. But it’s come a long way, bambino. These Uffizi will dazzle you.

Piazza della Signoria. The monumental heart of Florence (and Tuscany’s most famous square) is an open-air museum of sculpture, dominated by Michelangelo’s David (a copy of the original, which used to stand here). The powerful mass of the Palazzo Vecchio dominates one side of the square; another is defined by the 14th-century Loggia dei Lanzi, filled with ancient and Renaissance statues (the most striking being Bevenuto Cellini’s bronze Perseus holding aloft the severed head of Medusa). Also check out Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabines, which marks the point (1584) when Tuscan tastes abandoned drama in favor of melodrama.

I Due Fratellini. This old-fashioned hole-in-the-wall fiaschetteria sells central Florence’s favorite lunch on the move. Choose a tasty sandwich from the long list, wash it down with a “shot” of chianti, and continue on the sightseeing trail.

Battistero San Giovanni. On a hurried first-day tour of Florence, you need invade the inner precincts of the Baptistery only to take in the magnificent 13th-century mosaics lining the inner dome. The major excitement is outside, on the world-famous bronze doors that face the Duomo. Sure, they’re replicas (the originals are in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo; but even the copies are masterpieces. Ghiberti’s north doors—a commission he won in 1401 in a public competition against Brunelleschi, Donatello, and Jacopo Della Quercia—are said to mark the start of the Renaissance.

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo). Consecrated in 1436, one of Europe’s most majestic cathedrals rests under Filippo Brunelleschi’s revolutionary dome, a triumph of engineering over gravity. As the symbol of Florence itself, it’s a tourist stamping ground of horrendous proportions—but justifiably so. It’s part church, part candy cane, part zebra—in stripes of marble-white, bottle-green, and pink. The interior, by contrast, is spartan but has one of Europe’s classic views from the top of the cupola.

Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. For connoisseurs of Renaissance sculpture, this museum opposite the rear of the Duomo is a shrine, hosting everything from an unfinished, heart-wrenching Pietà by Michelangelo to its premier attraction—the restored panels of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise. The works here were deemed too precious to be left to the elements, and so were moved inside from their positions adorning the ecclesiastical monuments.

Galleria dell’Accademia. You’ve seen replicas of Michelangelo’s David all over the world. This gallery has the real thing (1501–04)—a monumental icon of youthful male beauty and a stellar example of Michelangelo’s humanism. His four unfinished Slaves are equally expressive. Admission can require an hour-long wait, unless you reserve space.

Piazzale Michelangiolo. For a fine view over Florence, head for its panoramic piazza, laid out in 1885. From the balustraded terrace, the city of the Renaissance unfurls before you. In the center of the square is yet another replica David.

San Miniato al Monte. As the shadows lengthen, there’s no better spot to drink in the views, and the silence, than this ancient Romanesque church surrounded by its monumental graveyard. Time it right and you’ll catch the Benedictine monks who still inhabit the complex celebrating Vespers with Gregorian chant.

Ponte Vecchio. The Ponte Vecchio, as its name suggests, is the city’s oldest bridge; its latest incarnation dates to 1345, but the shops along it have been taking advantage of the foot traffic since at least the 12th century. Originally occupied by blacksmiths, butchers, and tanners, the shops that flank the bridge have mostly sold gold and silver since the reign of the Medici. Sunset is the ideal time to cross.