Snapshots from A One Day In Florence Itinerary
I know the historic city of Florence or Firenze deserves more than 24 hours. But, tight schedules happen and we make the most of our time in any city. We stopped in Florence for a day last November on our way to Venice from an afternoon in Pisa via trains. Go on a virtual walk with us on our one-day itinerary of Florence as we explore squares, markets, churches and even a leather school.
We got in to Florence at night just in time for dinner. We stayed at the Hotel Sempione near the Firenze Santa Maria Novella station. It was clean, had complimentary breakfast and roomy enough for a family of four including a balcony. I found the many restaurant options overwhelming and we wanted something fast nearby. So, we asked the staff at our hotel for some recommendations nearby. They highly recommended Tratorria da Guido down the street.
The tratorria looked like a neighborhood hang out with the way we saw the customers interact with the staff. No tourist menus in sight were also a good thing. We had a great view of the kitchen including seeing them make pasta by hand. This was a sampling of our dinner. The food was delicious and very reasonably priced.
Our hotel staff also recommended the nearby Il Mercato Centrale which was open until midnight. The building was made of iron and glass and looked very industrial. But, it was a foodie’s paradise and filled with so much energy inside. The fruit and vegetable market is on the ground floor and operational during the day. The top floor was filled with various food shops and even a cooking school.
It was a modern, bright food court with large lamps hanging from the ceiling. We were here during a Wednesday night and it was still crowded. It was such a wonderful place to wander around. Our target was the desserts shops and ended with the gelato shop and their mouth-watering flavors. We wished we had room for seconds. We came back here again the following day for gelato before we left. It’s a great place to eat and hang out.
Our first stop in the morning was to visit the city’s most famous resident, Michelangelo’s David, at the Galleria de’ll Accademia. It really is a masterpiece that needs to be admired and seen in person. The lifelike qualities and details of this statue were unbelievable. Read more about our David visit. The museum also has some incredible works of art worth exploring. Visits are timed but go here early no matter what time of the year since it’s always busy.
A short walk down the street led us to the magnificent Duomo di Firenze, Florence’s cathedral, that looms over the city in honor of Santa Maria del Fiore. The Neo-Gothic style in white, pink and green marble design is one of the finest cathedral facades we’ve ever seen.
The imposing dome was designed by one of the finest Renaissance architects, Brunelleschi, was added in the 15th century. It was considered the world’s largest during its completion. The herringbone pattern gave it a distinctive look. Unfortunately, the line was too long to go inside and we didn’t have enough time or to go up to the tower.
These postcard stands and various depictions of the David statue’s anatomy were fairly common around the city. Look at some postcards closely! You can only imagine the giggles and comments my kids had going through these postcards and souvenirs.
Via Calzaiuoli was a pedestrian zone right off the Duomo and flanked on both sides by a lot of shops. Many of the stores were quite interesting. It took a lot of will power not to stop and go into many of them.
The shopping street led us to Florence’s famous square – Piazza della Signoria. This has been the city’s political center since the 14th century where leaders made speeches to citizens and where many important historical events happened throughout the centuries. It’s still an important historical center but was also where hordes of tour groups congregated. Many sidewalk cafes surrounded the square. We loved wandering around the variety of impressive sculptures displayed around the square. You can’t miss the 16th century Neptune Fountain with the Roman god and his sea nymphs.
Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace) is the medieval fortress palace with a tower. This was once Florence’s town hall but is now a museum. This was built between the 13th and 14th centuries.
A replica of Michelangelo’s David and Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus line the front area of the palace.
We briefly entered the palazzo and were greeted with an elegant courtyard, frescoes and colorful ceilings.
The arched Loggia dei Lanzi was the stage for an open-air sculpture gallery with several remarkable masterpieces. Cellini’s Perseo holding Medusa’s head and Gismbologna’s Rape of the Sabines were two of the incredible works of art displayed here. Take some time to walk around here and see the details on each sculpture. There’s a sign that lists all the sculptures here.
One of Florence’s most photographed attractions is the colorful Ponte Vecchio or Old Bridge. This was the city’s oldest bridge dating back to the mid 14th century and crosses over the Arno River. It was very near the Piazza della Signoria. Go to the Ponte Santa Trinita bridge a few blocks down to get the best vantage point.
Houses were built on the bridge during the Middle Ages and used by workshops by various craftsmen, food shops and goldsmith through the years. Shops selling mostly jewelry and some souvenirs now occupy these houses. We found entertainers and artists here too.
The Vasari corridor sits on top of the shops and connects the Uffizi Gallery to the Pitti Palace. It was built by Cosimo I de’ Medici, the Duke of Florence, during the 16th century so he didn’t have to walk between his residences among the crowds on the bridge.
We crossed the river to walk the quaint, neighborhood streets and found some little surprises. This was either a fancy water fountain or a large birdbath.
We were trying to save time so ended up getting pizzas to go at a pizzeria near the river walkway. They were cheap and had many pizza varieties and certainly better than some pizzas we’ve had at home.
We made our way to the Santa Croce Church and its neighborhood by crossing the Ponte Alle Grazie bridge. Santa Croce was built around the 13th century for the Franciscan friars. It has become the resting place for Italian greats that include Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Galileo. It has a stunning polychrome marble façade. There were quite a few stores and restaurants that surrounded the piazza.
In an effort to find something a bit different to do and to selfishly feed my love of purses, I somehow got my family to agree to visit a leather school. It was located at the 13th century Franciscan monastery behind the Santa Croce Church. This visit was masked as an educational experience on how leather items were made. After all, Florence was world renowned for its leather industry and goods.
The Leather School of Florence or Scuola del Cuoio was one of the most unique places we’ve visited. The Santa Croce Monastery’s Franciscan friar and two leather artisan families (Gori and Casini) created the school after World War II to help war orphans learn a trade and make a living. Over the years, the school has amassed a reputation for producing high-quality leather products. Today, it trains many students from around the world to create exclusive, unique and some of the best leather goods.
We loved walking through the buildings filled with so much history. It was interesting to see the different types of material used to create the leather goods. The products were all handmade by apprentices and artisans. It was great to see many of them at their workstations and just how much effort it took to create these products.
Surprisingly, my kids actually enjoyed watching the students make items. But, they didn’t enjoy waiting around while I was trying to pick a purse. For anyone who wants a unique Florence souvenir, this was the place to visit. They’ll even personalize the purchases with your initials for free. The school offers 3-6 hour workshops for visitors to make some products. This would have been a wonderful experience.
Their cabinets were filled with some of the most beautiful purses with cringe-worthy price tags.
This busy day ended by browsing through the many stalls selling leather goods (from wallets, purses to jackets), jewelry, souvenirs at the bustling San Lorenzo Market before heading to the Florence train station. The San Lorenzo Market is a shopper’s paradise. Many of the stalls sold practically the same thing. Practice on some haggling skills since bargaining was allowed here.
I heard varying opinions of Florence before we got here. We were only here for a day but it gave us a wonderful preview of what the city had to offer. We actually liked exploring its narrow and charming streets and enjoyed the attractions we got to see. The food we had was delicious and the people we encountered were friendly. I wouldn’t want to be here with throngs of tourists during the summer but we’d definitely like to return to Florence soon.
Have you walked the streets of Florence?
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