An Introduction to Florence
As the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence, Italy deserves a spot any itinerary for first-time visitors to Italy, if only for two days. While Florence could keep you entertained for infinitely longer than two days, this 48-hour Florence itinerary shows you the Tuscan’s city’s very best. Get ready to crisscross this historic fort town as we follow footsteps of some of western civilization’s greatest thinkers.
A three-hour drive from Rome or a four-hour drive from Milan lands you in Florence, a small city with a population of about 383,000. With high-speed rail, it’s even faster to get to Florence so there’s no reason not to tack on a couple days in Florence on to any trip to Rome or Milan. Once the capital of the western world, today Florence serves as the capital city of Italy’s Tuscany region. The vast cultural legacy left from Florence’s Renaissance heydays attracts some five million visitors annually who come for the city’s art, architecture, old-world charm . . . and wine.
What Makes Florence Special
Today Florence doesn’t weld geopolitical cachet like other European metropolises such as London, Paris, and Stockholm. In some ways, visiting Florence is like stepping into the past. Impressive, important churches, palaces, and art galleries are practically stocked on top of themselves. As you’ll see in the itinerary below, you’re never more than a ten-minute walk to your next Florentine destination.
UNESCO designated Florence’s historic city center as a World Heritage Centre in 1982. As a result, much of this area is closed to traffic. Not only does this make the city extremely pedestrian friendly, it also heightens the sense of time standing still.
To understand how Florence came to be the Italian destination it is today, we need to go back to Medieval times. That’s when the riverside town found itself at the center of European wool trade. As the city generated more and more wealth, the Medici family started the Medici Bank in 1397. Soon the Medicis were one of the wealthiest, most powerful families in Europe.
Wealthy Florentines weren’t shy about conspicuous consumption. Word got out among artists that if you need a wealthy patron, Florence was the place to be. The city attracted individuals like Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Galileo, and others, leaving an indelible mark on the city . . . and the modern world.
Where To Stay in Florence
Known as a very walkable city, it makes sense to stay in the heart of Florence to take full advantage of its pedestrian opportunities. With only a couple days in Florence, you want to spend your time seeing Florence. not sitting on public transportation.
For hotel accommodations, I recommend checking out the Via Nazionale area in Florence’s San Lorenzo neighborhood. This well-appointed location close to the train station has many hotels to choose from. Because of its convenient, popular location, the neighborhood is well-versed in catering to international visitors.
We stayed at the Hotel Corona d’Italia near the Mercato Centrale. The rooms were clean, comfortable, and affordably priced. Most notably, they put out the most beautiful breakfast buffet I’ve ever seen in my life.
You’ll find no shortage of Airbnbs in Florence. I recommend staying on the north side of the Arno River for the most convenient location. From there, you’ll only ever be about a half hour walk from any main Florence attraction.
How to Get to Florence
Plane – Most people include a visit to Florence within a larger Italian itinerary. International travelers visiting Florence most likely arrived in Italy via Rome or Milan. However, Florence does have an international airport, Amerigo Vespucci Airport, on the northwest edge of the city. While it might not make the most sense for your overall Italian itinerary to fly into Florence, airfare from the United State into Florence is often about the same as flying into Rome or Milan.
Car – You can certainly drive yourself to Florence. But (and this is a big but!) remember that basically the entire city center is a ZTL, or limited traffic zone, closed to all but a few select permitted vehicles for much of the day. This makes the city great for pedestrians and very confusing for unfamiliar motorists. If you do decide to arrive via car, you’ll want to work with your hotel to determine how to reach the hotel and where to park.
Train – Many people opt to reach Florence by train. Italy has great train infrastructure and a high-speed train can make the journey from Rome to Florence in half the time a car can. If you choose this option, you’ll arrive Florence at the Santa Maria Novella train station in the city center.
Bus – There are several intercity buses in Italy that service Florence. When booking your ticket, make sure you’ve selected Piazzale Montelungo as your destination. This bus station is adjacent to the Santa Maria Novella transit station in the city center.
What To Eat in Florence
Hope you arrive in Florence hungry! Tuscany is known for simple, comforting food and Florentine restaurants showcase the very best of it. In addition to Italian standbys like wine, coffee, and gelato, you definitely don’t want to leave Florence without having a steak. Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a sirloin steak prepared on embers or a grill in a very specific manner, is a standby of Florentine cuisine.
Other traditional Tuscan foods to try in Florence:
Pappardelle – a long wide egg noodle often served with a ragu sauce
Schiacciata – a flat, crusty bread similar to focaccia.
Chianti or Brunello – these two well-known Tuscan wines both use Sangiovese grapes, although Chianti may blend in other grapes. Of the two, Brunello is aged longer . . . and more expensive.
Tagliere – basically a Florentine charcuterie board
You might find some staples of the Florentine diet a little off-putting. Florentines eat a fair amount of wild game, so don’t be surprised if you see wild boar or rabbit on the menu. Another street food favorite is lampredotto, a sandwich made with slow cooked cow stomach.
The Perfect Two Days in Florence Itinerary
Many travelers, including myself, find themselves with limited time in Florence. The city is often sandwiched into a longer Italy itinerary, but that doesn’t mean you should treat Florence like an afterthought. Whether you’re visiting over the weekend or mid-week, this perfect two-day Florence itinerary lets you get the most out of 48 hours in the Renaissance’s birthplace.
What to See in Florence in Two Days
Day One in Florence:
You’ll want to be well-rested (link: https://beyondyellowbrickblog.com/tips-for-a-good-nights-sleep-while-traveling/) for your first day in Florence. The city center brims with notable artwork, churches, and architecture. We’re going to cram just as much of it in today as humanly possible. Set that alarm for no later than 7 a.m. and let’s get going!
(One important note: today’s itinerary will not work on a Monday – both the Uffizi and Accademia are closed!)
Piazza della Signoria – Start your day in Piazza della Signoria, which served as the political center of Renaissance. It’s notable that the city’s town hall, Palazzo Vecchio, towers over the L-shaped square rather than a church. This indicates the Renaissance’s evolving thoughts about separating church from government. Artwork fills the piazza, including a cast of Michelangelo’s David, the Neptune Fountain, and sculptures in the open-air Loggia dei Lanzi.
From Piazza della Signoria, continue south towards the Arno River
The Uffizi – One of the best-known museums in the world, the Uffizi’s art collection is like no other. Located in a Renaissance-era government office building (Uffizi means “office” in Italian), the gallery’s collection includes works by Botticelli, da Vinci, Titian, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and so many more. The Uffizi opens at 8:15 a.m. and given the museum’s popularity, it’s advantageous to be among the first visitors through the door.
Depending on your level of art appreciation, budget 1.5 – 3 hours for the Uffizi.
From there, head to Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. This gothic cathedral often referred to as “the Duomo” dominates the Florence skyline. It’s said that Brunelleschi’s massive dome atop the Gothic Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore launched the Renaissance. Aside from the dome and its decorative exterior, the cathedral’s most interesting features are two extant buildings: Giotto’s Bell Tower (or campanile) and the Baptistry of St. John.
While you’ll have the opportunity to climb to the top of the Duomo, I recommend tackling the 414 steps of the bell tower instead. This allows you to get photos that actually have the cathedral’s dome in them. Giotto’s bell tower was a revolution when it was completed in the 14th century and it’s still a stunning piece of Florence architecture with great city views.
You’ll also want to visit the octagonal Baptistery of St. John. One of Florence’s oldest buildings, the baptistry features exquisite carved exterior doors and a breathtaking ceiling mosaic.
By this point, you’ve probably worked up an appetite. Pop over to the Mercato Centrale to grab lunch from one of the food stands or nearby cafes. Might as well do a little souvenir shopping while you’re here too.
You can’t visit Florence without seeing Michelangelo’s David (the original, not just the cast you saw at Piazza dell Signoria this morning) so once you’re properly fed and watered, make the short walk to the Galleria dell’Accademia. While there’s plenty of other art to see in the small museum, the main attraction is definitely David. Tip: buy advanced tickets to avoiding standing in a very long line!
From the Accademia, swing over to Palazzo Medici Riccardi. This somewhat underwhelming brick palace was the first home of the prominent Medici family. Now the Renaissance house turned museum features artwork by Donatello, Botticelli, and many others. If you only have time (or, let’s be honest at this point, attention span) for a short visit, make a beeline to the Magi Chapel to see Benozzo Gozzoli’s famous fresco. (Note: Palazzo Medici Riccardi is closed on Wednesdays.)
We’ll close out today’s sightseeing at Casa Buonarroti. Although this former home of Michelangelo celebrates the Renaissance sculptor, the house’s appearance was more influenced by Michelangelo’s nephew, Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger. The Younger Michelangelo modified the home significantly as he converted it into a museum for his uncle. Today you can see artwork by Michelangelo, as well as the impressive artwork commissioned by Buonarroti the Younger commissioned. (Note: Casa Buonarroti is closed on Tuesdays.)
Whew! Time to put your feet up. Grab a glass of Chianti with a view at Coquinarius or another nearby wine bar.
For dinner, plan to try Bistecca alla Fiorentina. You deserve it!
Day Two in Florence:
We hit the historic city center of Florence hard yesterday, so today we’ll travel a little farther afield at a more leisurely pace.
Today’s itinerary officially begins when you cross over the Arno River on the Ponte Vecchio. This pedestrian bridge lined with shops dates back to medieval times and remains a thriving marketplace. Above the shops, the Vasari Corridor connects the Uffizi with Palazzo Pitti. Duke Cosimo I de Medici constructed this private passageway so he could travel between his Piazza della Signoria offices back to his palace without being heckled by disgruntled Florentines!
On the south side of the Arno, continue straight ahead to the massive Palazzo Pitti. Today the palace houses four different museums. If you’re a little museum-ed out after yesterday, opt for the Palatine Gallery to see the Medici family’s extensive art collection.
Afterwards, enjoy a leisurely stroll through the beautifully manicured Boboli Gardens adjacent to Palazzo Pitti. From there, starting heading towards the meet-up point for our next activity, grabbing lunch (maybe a lampredotto sandwich?) along the way.
There are literally dozens of wine tasting tours in Florence every day. I suggest a half day tour that takes you out of the city so you can truly enjoy the ambience of the stunning Tuscan countryside.
Upon your return to the city, depending on where the tour drops you off, consider heading a restaurant in the Santo Spirito neighborhood near Palazzo Pitti. Known for its excellent food offerings, this true Florentine neighborhood isn’t as accustomed to dealing with tourists as the neighborhoods north of the Arno. Brush up on your basic Italian ordering skills beforehand.
If it’s summertime, close out your time in Florence by climbing the hill to Forte di Belvedere to grab some amazing sunset photos and great view of Florence’s historic city center.
Florence is truly a one-of-a-kind city. In just two days, you can truly immerse yourself and gain a much deeper understanding of its vast influence on modern life. I hope this two-day Florence itinerary makes you fall in love with this beautiful Renaissance city in the heart of Tuscany!
About the author: Ada Igoe is a Minnesota-based travel blogger on a mission to see all 50 states; only five to go! She owns Tuscarora Lodge and Canoe Outfitters on Minnesota’s Gunflint Trail and blogs at Beyond the Yellow Brick Road. Follow along on her adventures on Instagram and Facebook.
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