The Must-See Church
Although Santa Maria del Fiore and its immense dome tend to soak up the spotlight, Florence is home to a bevy of awe-inspiring churches packed with religious, historic and artistic significance. We highly recommend that you see Florence’s most famous church,but there are some other great options that you can see as well/instead. Here are the main churches in Florence, and why to see them:
Santa Maria del Fiore
This is one of the most famous cathedrals in Italy due in large part to its dome – the largest in the world from when it was built in 1431 until 1888. It’s still the largest brick and mortar dome in the world and architects are still trying to figure out how the architect, Filippo Brunelleschi, pulled it off. The dome climb is one of the more popular attractions in Florence but in high season the line can stretch to over 2 hours. The other main sight in the cathedral complex are the bronze doors on the Baptistery call the “Gates of Paradise”. While undoubtedly impressive, these are actually replicas, the actual doors having been moved inside the Duomo Museum for conservation purposes. If you’ve never been before and only have one day in Florence you should at least walk around the outside of the cathedral to get a feel for its immensity and see the Gates of Heaven.
The Basilica di San Lorenzo and Medici Chapels
The Basilica of San Lorenzo features works by a who’s who of leading Renaissance artists. Designed by Brunelleschi, and decorated by Donatello, it also holds the tombs of the Medici family, some of which were designed by Michelangelo. His figure depicting Night in the New Sacristy is considered one of the finest he ever chiseled. The Medici Chapels require a separate ticket for entrance, but the tombs are definitely worth the extra charge.
Chiesa di Orsanmichele
This church was built inside an old grain market in the 13th century and it’s one of the most unique in Florence. People mainly come to see it for the ornate gothic tabernacle on the inside and for the statues representing each of the city’s major guilds set into alcoves around its exterior. These aren’t just any statues, either: many of them were created by Renaissance masters like Donatello, Ghiberti, and Verrocchio. Today the statues you see outside are replicas; if you want to gaze upon the real thing head upstairs to the church’s small museum.
Sitting down in a restaurant, while delicious, will take up a lot of precious for people with only one day in Florence. Instead, head to the San Lorenzo Market for a quick and delicious lunch in a veritable Florentine institution. The San Lorenzo Market is actually comprised of two markets: an outdoor market selling souvenirs, clothing and leather products (one of our favorite areas for shopping in Florence), and the indoor market known as the Mercato Centrale filled with butchers, fishmongers and fruit and vegetable vendors. The entire upstairs, remodeled in 2014, is now a gourmet food market, filled with stalls where you can take your pick of delicious lunch options. Another alternative is to stop at one of the city’s famous lampredotto trucks. Lampredotto is a tripe sandwich that is Florence’s original street food. They aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but these succelent, sauce-drenched sandwiches are one of our favorite foods in the city, and you should at least try one when you’re here.
The Must-See Museum
You could easily while away days exploring the many jaw-dropping Florence museums, but if you only have one day in Florence (and you’ve already spent your morning in churches) you’ll have to choose one large one, or two small ones. The major museums to visit are the Uffizi, the Accademia, the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Pitti Palace and adjacent Boboli Gardens, which are also the most beautiful gardens in Florence. Here’s some info on each one to help you decide which to visit.
With the world’s preeminent collection of Renaissance paintings from artists such as Botticelli, Raphael, Da Vinci and more, this is the obvious go-to museum for one day in Florence. However, it’s also enormous, with 101 rooms bursting with art, as well as works lining the halls, the Uffizi can and does cause severe art fatigue in even the staunchest art lovers. Although we adore its encyclopedic collections, which include Michelangelo, Leonardo, Botticelli, Raphael, Caravaggio, Cimabue, Uccello, Lippi, Titian, and so many more, a solid plan is imperative before you go. Make a plan to see certain works or certain rooms so you aren’t overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the museum once you step inside.
Florence’s Accademia is home to the magnificent David – Michelangelo’s masterpiece and probably the most famous statue in the world. Lesser-known but equally impressive in their own way are unfinished statues by Michelangelo that give you a fascinating peek inside the mind of a tortured genius. Don’t make the mistake of thinking these are the only important works in the museum, though. There are numerous other halls featuring paintings by Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Orcagna, and more. The collection is smaller than that of the Uffizi and contains fewer works that casual art fans would recognize, but it’s also much more manageable. It’s a great Florence attraction for a relaxed morning or afternoon.
A Florence Sunset
Dusk is an important time in the life of an Italian city, especially during warmer months. The heat of the day begins to lift, the locals come back out into the streets for their daily passeggiate, and thoughts turn to the scrumptious food that will be enjoyed at dinner.
In Florence, you have a couple of great options for enjoying the end of the day – the first and most traditional is to find your nearest wine bar and settle in for an aperativo or pre-dinner drink, usually accompanied by some small plates. Although Florentines are big wine drinkers, you also can’t go wrong with an Aperol Spritz, or if you like your bitter liqueurs, a Campari and soda.
If you have a bit more energy, head to the Oltrarno. After passing over the beautiful and historic Ponte Vecchio get ready for a 20-30 minute hike up the hill to Piazzale Michelangelo, where the wonderfully-scenic Basilica di San Miniato sits. Be sure to get there before it closes so you can peek inside. Then watch the sunset from the best view of Florence in the whole city. It’s the perfect to end to an eventful day of exploring.
A Florentine Feast
You shouldn’t visit Florence without sitting down to at least one full meal showcasing the finest foods from the Tuscan Countryside. From thick-cut Florentine steaks and wild boar ragù over homemade pici (a Tuscan style of pasta), to cucina povera classics like ribollito, and panzanella, and seasonal favorites like truffles and figs, there will always be something on the menu to tempt your taste buds. You should be able to sit down for dinner around 7:00pm and make a 10:00pm train without issue. If you are staying the night – even better. Restaurants keep late hours, so take your time. We usually avoid the restaurants near the cathedral in favor of some of the lesser known spots around Santo Spirito in Oltrarno. The street, Borgo San Jacopo, also has some nice, slightly fancier, options.