Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance, and a historically important centre for art, music and fashion. As the European centre for trade and finance, it was also a very wealthy city. For any history or art lover, it’s hard not to love Florence. We show you how to maximize your 3 days in Florence.
Day 1 – Florence Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio, Ufizzi Gallery and Ponte Vecchio
Start your first full day by visiting the gem of Florence, the cathedral. Officially the Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore, it’s known by Italians and locals as the Duomo, and is one of the largest churches in the world. Construction of the pink, green and white polychrome marble-clad cathedral began in 1296, and was completed in 1436.
The cupola or dome of the cathedral is an architectural and technical marvel. It was the first double-dome structure of the Renaissance and set the standard for all Renaissance and Baroque domes that would follow. It was the largest dome in the world when it was completed in 1436, and would remain the world largest until 1881 (over centuries later). To this day, it remains the largest brick and mortar dome ever built.
Climbing to the top of the dome is a must-do. Not only does it offer amazing views of the city, but you also get a close look of the interior of the dome (although it was a bit challenging with my fear of heights). That’s why we recommended starting your day with this, so you can arrive before it opens and beat the crowds.
Just a short 5 minute walk due south of the Duomo is the Palazzo Vecchio. Literally old palace in Italian, construction started shortly after the Duomo (from 1298 through 1314). At the time, Italy was not a united country, so it was important for the wealthy Florentines to build a civil palace worthy of their status, and could act as a fortress in dangerous times. When Italy was first united, Florence was the temporary capital, and Palazzo Vecchio was the seat of government.
When the duke of Florence moved his residence across the Arno river to Palazzo Pitti, the old palace gained its current name. They even built a covered passageway between the two palaces, over the Ponte Vecchio bridge.
Michelangelo’s David, originally commissioned for the roof of the Duomo, was installed in front of Palazzo Vecchio, until it was replaced by a replica (we’ll visit the original tomorrow). Today, most of Palazzo Vecchio is a museum, but it still houses the mayor’s office and city council. The museum offers access to the stunning palace rooms and halls. They also offer tours of the palace’s secret passages, and the Vasari Corridor connecting Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti.
The Piazza della Signoria square surrounding Palazzo Vecchio also contains other sculptures and the beautiful fountain of Neptune.
Just a block away along the bank of the Arno river is the Uffizi Gallery, one of the most impressive museums in Italy, if not Europe. The Uffizi was one of the world’s first modern museums, with its collection having been gifted to the city of Florence when the Medici family died out. Its name means office, from its original purpose as city law offices, although the top floor was a gallery for the Medici family and their guests. Over time, more of the building became dedicated to housing painting and sculpture.
The Uffizi houses masterpieces that even those less familiar with art will recognize, including Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, and Caravaggio’s Bacchus and Medusa. To avoid lineups, buy your tickets online before your visit.
Finish your day by a visit to the famous Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) that spans the Arno river. The medieval bridge is noted for still having shops along it. Now jewelry, art and souvenir shops, they were originally butcher shops until the butchers were banned (and replaced by gold merchants) when the duke built the Vasari Corridor above it connecting his palaces.
Day 2 – Accademia, Mercato Centrale and Santa Maria Novella
Located on the northern side of the heart of Florence is the Galleria dell’Accademia, a small museum worth a visit to see the the original David statue by Michelangelo. (Although if you were happy seeing the replica at Palazzo Vecchio, feel free to skip this. But if you decide to visit, do it first thing in the day to avoid the crowds.) In addition to David, the museum houses a few other Michelangelo works, including unfinished statues that are strangely fascinating.
Only a few minutes away is the Mercato Centrale, the main food market of Florence. It’s the perfect place to pick up some Tuscan bread, lunch meat and cheese for lunch.
Also nearby is the Santa Maria Novella church, an important Tuscan Gothic church built between 1279-1357. It houses some interesting works of art, including a 13th century crucifix hanging over the nave.
Day 3 – Santa Croce, Giardino Bardini and Giardino di Boboli
The final day focuses on the eastern side and southern shore of Florence.
We start by visiting the Santa Croce basilica (Holy Cross), a stunning Franciscan church only 800 meters from the Duomo, constructed between 1294 and 1385. It is the largest Franciscan church in the world. A number of famous Italians are buried here, including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli and Rossini.
Next, we’ll cross the river and visit the Gardino Bardini, an Italian Renaissance garden, which offers amazing panoramic views of Florence.
From there, you’re only steps away from the Giardino di Boboli, or Boboli Gardens, located directly behind the Palazzo Pitti. The style of the Boboli Gardens would be replicated in other gardens throughout Italy. Expanded over time, it’s now a sort of outdoor museum with Roman, 16th and 17th century sculptures. The Belvedere fortress on the grounds was engineered by Michelangelo, and used by Galileo for some of his most important astronomy work and the site of some of his greatest discoveries. (It’s also where Kim Kardashian and Kanya West were married in 2014, renting it for a reported €300,000).
Have you visited these attractions or tried this itinerary for your 3 days in Florence? Let us know what you thought in the comments!