Florence is a truly charming Italian city. Many travelers will rate it above both Rome and Venice. I certainly do. Set upon the banks of the River Arno, Florence is a place for both art-lovers and romantics. If I had only one day to spend in this city, this is what I would do; (and if you’ve already made up your mind, go ahead and book your last minute holiday to Florence now!)
First of all, stay in the Hotel Bretagna. With its classic style decor featuring Florentine furnishings, hand-painted ceilings and precious chandeliers, a river-view room in this hotel makes for an appropriate environment in which to savor the atmosphere.
Following a satisfying breakfast, walk eastwards along the river and at the first bridge, Ponte Santa Trinita, turn left and walk up the Via de Tornabuoni. At each intersection, look to your right until you see the road opening up into a wide piazza. This is the Piazza della Republica. There is not much to see here but walk straight through, turn left and after about 50m you will be treated to a sight to behold.
You will have entered the Piazza della Duomo. This is without doubt the piece de resistance of Florentine history. Filippo Brunelleschi’s masterpiece took almost 150 years to complete but now proudly stands out and can be seen for miles around from the hills that surround this beautiful city. If you’ve started your day early enough, enter the cathedral and ascend the spiraling steps to the top of the great dome itself from where you can treat yourself to a bird’s eye view of the red roof-tiled city below.
Quickly now, return to ground level and at this point, make a decision. If you are a fan of art, recommendation is you head for one of the greatest art galleries in the world; the Galleria degli Uffizi. If you are not a fan of art but would like a quick fix, recommendation is to get in a cab (or it’s a 15 minute walk if you know the way) and head for the Academia where you can feast your eyes upon Michaelangelo’s larger than life and enormously celebrated ‘David’. When you’re done, promptly jump back in the cab and return to the Duomo. If you aren’t bothered by art at all, you should question why you came to Florence in the first place!
Whether it’s the Uffizi or you’ve returned from the Academia, the next step is to meander down the famous Via Calzaiuoli. Bedecked with fashion stores, this area is the heart of trendy Florence. It leads down to the Piazza della Signoria which houses the famous Palazzo Vecchio. Its steeple and the dome of the cathedral are the two features that define Florence’s skyline (you will notice this later on if you follow the guide). Now don’t get tempted to visit the Palazzo Vecchio; frankly there is not a great deal to see here. Rather you should be heading straight for the Uffizi. Enjoy the art gallery and once you’re done, there is a lovely rooftop terrace café where you can enjoy an early afternoon cappuccino or espresso.
Exiting the Uffizi or walking through the Piazza della Signoria, you will see the river ahead of you. Walk up to it and you will see the Ponte Vecchio. You can’t mistake it. It’s one of those few bridges around the world that actually has buildings on it. These are gold shops, so don’t hold back.
Crossing the Ponte Vecchio, head left back along the river. Keep on walking for a while now until you come to a small open area with a road that winds up a hillside. Walk up the winding road and you will reach the summit known as the Piazzale de Michelangelo. From here you get a spectacular view of Florence. Do you notice the Duomo and steeple of the Palazzo Vecchio?
Explore this area, enjoy the romantic scenery, terrace cafes and the one thousand year old Abbazia de San Miniato al Monte that has been described as one of the finest Romanesque structures in Tuscany and one of the most beautiful churches in Italy. Now is the slightly tricky part. You have to find the Viale Galileo steps that will lead you down from the hill back into the city. You’ll find them nestled between two cafes as shown in the picture below.
These steps will lead you back into the city towards the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. It’s not a straight forward route but don’t be afraid to get a little lost. As long as you head straight on you’ll be ok. If in doubt turn right; this will always bring you back to the river. Suck up the Florentine atmosphere. Find your own piece of personal history. Enjoy lunch at a hidden trattoria.
Eventually you will find your way back to the Ponte Vecchio. Cross over and return to your hotel. Take a rest and then head out to dine at any one of the charming ristorantes you may have come across on your day trip.