Florence almost needs no introduction. Undoubtedly one of Italy’s most famous cities, this beautiful art town lies in the North of the equally stunning Tuscany region. It is famous for its rich art history, delightful piazzas and the singular Ponte Vecchio. In Florence, there is no shortage of things to do and see, from the food, to the museums, galleries, the surrounding area, piazzas and its churches,. Florence can keep its visitors entertained and enchanted for weeks on end.
Just taking a look at its incredible history is enough to demonstrate the immense cultural wealth and importance of this city. Though it had previous settlers, the Florence we see now first took shape at the hands of Julius Caesar in the year 59 BC. Ever since, the city has overcome revolutions, wars, and plagues in its extremely colorful past. Florence really came into its own during the Middle Ages. It is known as the ‘Birthplace of the Renaissance’, perhaps because of the many artists and writers that called this city home. Figures such as Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Macchiavelli, and Guicciardini have left their mark on the area. Moreover, because so many writers of the time were writing in Florentine dialect, this became the widely-acknowledged literary language. In fact, 14th-century Florentine formed the basis of what we know call Standard Italian.
Other than its literary and cultural prowess, Florence also become one of Italy’s, if not Europe’s, wealthiest cities. In fact, such was its financial power that the Florentine banks funded the Papacy, English Kings and other international projects. Interestingly, the Medici family, who ruled Florence at the time, were also incredibly involved in the international political scene, with various family members marrying into royal families. Others set their sights on rising the ranks of the Church, all the way to becoming Pope!
Today, it still displays its important past in its streets and within its buildings. However, its history, though of intrinsic importance, is not the only thing Florence has to offer. For instance, it counts as one of the top 15 fashion capitals of the world and has an incredible gastronomic culture, including the famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina. With so much on offer, it is hard to decide what is worth seeing when you only have 48 hours in Florence. Let our two-day guide help you pick out the very best things to do in such a short time, with the perfect concoction of food, history, art, and taking in the Tuscan setting!
Start the day at one of Florence’s main attractions, the Duomo. A cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria del Fiore, it also features an external baptistery. Construction first started in the 13th Century, though there has been a cathedral on this site since the 7th Century. Its dome wasn’t added to the building until the 15th Century, and was designed by Brunelleschi. Its exteriors and interiors exhibit designs in green, pink and white marble, and create a beautiful mosaic of contrasts. It’s a good idea to arrive here well ahead of time because the queue can sometimes be quite long, given that entrance is free of charge. A visit should also include the stunning views from the cupola. Heading up the 463 steps, which can at times be narrow and steep, you will be rewarded by a stunning panorama of Florence’s historical center.
This is a great place to start your stay in Florence, giving you an overview of its size, and even roughly whereabouts in the city all the sights are! Take your time soaking up the city’s sights from the 360 terrace. Make sure to look up at the inside of the cupola on your way up and down. Here you can see the artwork from much closer than just the church floor. The work is intricate and it can be extremely interesting to look at it in more detail.
Heading back down the Duomo, you will exit on the opposite side of the church to where you entered. Circle back round and look for a small green door with a sign “Panini Toscani”. Though modest and humble-looking, this is home to one of the best panino shops in Florence. Squeeze past people at the counter to the end of the queue. Here the staff will talk you through all of their meat and cheese options, offering samples of each. You then proceed to the panino station, where you choose your bread, cheese, meat, and vegetables. Just a short wait for it to be toasted, and your very own bespoke panino will be ready! You can enjoy this on the go, or perch on a step in the Piazza del Duomo outside.
After this, wander down to the river, via the Piazza della Repubblica. This is a charming square, adjacent to the main shopping area. Note the large archway at one end. This marks the entrance of the original city boundaries. Continue down towards the Ponte Santa Trinità, taking in the beautiful designer shops lining these streets. Cross the bridge, stopping to admire the Ponte Vecchio. Take a quick break at the Gelateria Santa Trinità for some delicious gelato.
Carry on through the South of the River, aiming for the Palazzo Pitti. Though an interesting building in itself, with many well preserved chambers and interiors, it is the garden that is truly breathtaking. The Boboli Gardens back onto the Palazzo Pitti, and offer an oasis of carefully landscaped greenery in which you can relax with friends, a book, or simply the surrounding scenery. You can also access some galleries and small museums within this garden, which give a little context to your surroundings.
After spending a few hours at the Boboli Gardens, head back to the entrance. Turn left outside the Palazzo Pitti, and make for the Piazza Santo Spirito. This piazza houses some of the best restaurants in Florence. Either enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants on the piazza itself, or head to Gusta Pizza for some great take out. This is a very famous pizza haunt, and much loved by locals and tourists alike.
With the take-out pizza, you can climb up to the Piazzale Michelangelo, picking up some chianti wine on the way. This is roughly a 20 minute walk along the river, to the East. Climbing a small but steep set of stairs you will arrive at a large hill-top terrace. Take a seat on the large steps, along with the many others that will also have flocked here for sunset. Despite sometimes being crowded, the atmosphere is relaxed, tranquil, and friendly. Buskers will accompany the unforgettable setting of the sun over the historical center.
As the evening progresses, sip on the wine, nibble on the pizza, and eventually make your way back into the center of town, heading home for the night.
Today we start at the Uffizi, the large art galleries that lie just behind the Ponte Vecchio. Give yourself around an hour for queues; they are often long, though tend to move fairly quickly. Once inside, don’t rush around. Instead, take the time to see the works that aren’t considered ‘masterpieces’, which are often extremely beautiful and in less crowded rooms! Of course, don’t miss the masterpieces completely; Botticelli’s Venus is completely striking, and Da Vinci’s Annunciation is as legendary as it is beautiful in person. The audio guides can be very useful in fully understanding, and getting the most out of, your trip.
After a cultural morning, make your way to the Museo degli Innocenti and its beautiful café! It might seem like an odd choice, but you won’t regret your decision once you see the view. Its terrace café overlooks the florentine rooftops, including the Duomo peeking out between them. The atmosphere is elegantly tranquil, and the staff very friendly.
After a leisurely lunch in this secluded and beautiful café, head back through the historical center towards the Basilica di Santa Croce. Once you’ve arrived you’ll have deserved a gelato, so stop off at the nearby La Carraia for a much needed treat. Sit on the piazza of the church, and watch the people come and go. Gelato finished, head inside of the church to take in its impressive interiors. This church, much like the Duomo, was built in the 13th Century by Arnolfo di Cambio. It is the resting place of such icons as Michelangelo, Rossini, Galileo Galilei, and Machiavelli.
Walking back through the city centre, head towards the Mercato Centrale. Feel free to take your time, and breaks, en route. Soak in the evening atmosphere – why not make a slight detour to the Ponte Vecchio, and linger in the Piazzas on your way? Particularly beautiful at this time is the Piazza della Signora, with the Palazzo Vecchio and the Fontana di Nettuno.
By the time you arrive at the Mercato Centrale, you will definitely be ready for some food!
And you’ll be in the perfect place for it. This newly-renovated market hall offers fresh and local cheeses, meats, pastas, pizzas, beers and much more. Take your pick from your favorite delicacies, and create your own meal. You can then enjoy this at the large, communal seating areas. This hall is lively and atmospheric come evening, and a great place to find good quality food at reasonable prices.
If you have time and energy, take and evening passeggiata towards the Ponte Santa Trinità one last time. Stop here and gaze at the Ponte Vecchio in its evening illuminations. Then, head back home, for one last night’s sleep in this magical city.
Of course, this itinerary comes nowhere near to covering all that you could, or even should, do in Florence. But hopefully it gives a tour of its highlights, a taste of all it has to offer. Despite its size, this is a city that keeps giving. Its art galleries, fashion museums, historical buildings and towers merely lie on the surface of Florence. Digging deeper you discover its exquisite gastronomy, its purely enchanting streets, charming markets and friendly people. It may be one of the most popular, and thus touristy, destinations in Italy, but for good reason. Don’t let the crowds put you off, instead, discover your own Florence. Go exploring to find your own small piazza, your own favorite Osteria, and your own small backroad. The city’s charm is for the many and for the individual, and its atmosphere is not just for lovers, but for all.