walking tour: florence in a day

Hi, we’re Hannah and Meg, and we’re obsessed with Florence.  Recently, we took a step back and wondered, “Hey H&M, do you really think everyone wants to pack up their lives and move to Florence?” While we’re shocked the answer isn’t a unanimous YES!, we’re coming to terms with a new reality. Say you’d rather move to a charming town like…Parma, and only take a day trip to Florence. I mean, if you dared me to, I’d  move to Parma (again).

So! With the new year comes a new series of day-long itineraries in Florence. They will be for those that have limited time in the city but want to make the most of their visit. We’ll have walks for art-lovers, shoppers, shade-seekers and more. To kick things off, we’re starting with a back-to-basics, 12-hour run-down of free things to do in Florence in moderate (read: not July or August) weather. It’s great way to warm up to the city (as long as you’re wearing walking shoes). Let’s be real, we’ll cut you some slack, but we’re not going easy on you.

Time: 12 hours (give or take as much time you want/need at each stop, suggested times below)
Distance: approximately 7km or 4.5m
Cost: $0 for attractions, moderate $ for meals

9:00 | Stazione Santa Maria Novella

Assuming you arrive by train or bus, you’ll hit the ground running in the northwest part of city center. To be frank, this isn’t the most picturesque part of Florence. Shrug off the clusters of busses, taxis and people and keep your eyes on what looks to be the back of a church straight ahead.

Santa Maria Novella by kilmarnockwillow

Santa Maria Novella by kilmarnockwillow

9:05 | Basilica of Santa Maria Novella

You’ve safely crossed the traffic circle. Congratulations! Your reward is an intimate view of one of the most famous facades in the city. Renowned architect Leon Battista Alberti was given the bottom half of this already-started front and told to finish it (much like another Florentine master/masterpiece). Remarkably, he made it all work from the frieze up, taking into account proportions and relationships between the top and the bottom (see the squares?) and then using the scroll shapes to connect the two together.

A Gothic-style Dominican church (you can spy the cloister extending on the left), Santa Maria Novella is also celebrated for the treasures housed inside: Masaccio’s Trinity, Giotto’s Crucifix, and the Strozzi and Tornabuoni Chapels. There is an entrance fee, however, so if you’re keeping this strictly free, venture down Via degli Avelli to Via del Trebbio when you’re ready.

9:20 | Via Tornabuoni & Breakfast

Early in the day is the perfect time to window shop on Florence’s most fabulous street! You’ll feel like a million bucks flirting with Gucci, Prada and Ferragamo first thing in the morning.  While you might not be able to afford any of the goods on display, you can pop into Caffè Giacosa and feel like part of the jet-set set, at least for the length of one pasta and cappuccino. Founded in 1815, it has always been a cafe beloved by Florence’s elite. It was recently renovated by Roberto Cavalli, so it’s now more splendid than ever.

Ghirlandaio, Resurrection of the Boy, Sassetti Chapel by edk7

Ghirlandaio, Resurrection of the Boy, Sassetti Chapel by edk7

10:00 | Church of Santa Trinita

Ride your morning buzz down the street to Santa Trinita, where the Mannerist facade (by famous Florentine artist Buontalenti) belies the older gems found inside. With no entrance fee, this church is a trove of accessible art by the likes of Desiderio da Settignano and, in particular, Domenico Ghirlandaio. The latter’s work in the Sassetti Chapel is not to be missed. He even frescoed a view of Piazza Santa Trinita as it appeared in the late 1400s, which you can compare with the current space upon returning outside!

10:30 | Ponte Santa Trinita

Head over the Arno. Admire its particular shade of green, enjoy the buildings along the banks, and – most importantly – get your camera ready. From the bridge, you can see the incomparable Ponte Vecchio in all its glory. This is the angle you want for a clean composition of the (more) famous bridge. If you’re interested in its fascinating back story, visit here.

Piazza Santo Spirito by Scott MacLeod Liddle

Piazza Santo Spirito by Scott MacLeod Liddle

10:40 | Piazza and Basilica of Santo Spirito

Now’s the time you might start wondering why we’re taking you further and further from the “main” attractions. You can accuse us of being hipsters, but we would like to first show you the more authentic side of the city. You know, so you can say you knew it before it was cool. Well, to be honest, we’re all a little late to the game – Santo Spirito has always been cool, especially since Brunelleschi and Michelangelo got their hands on it – but that’s of no importance. Read up here on the piazza and neighborhood, then visit the church (free entry!) armed with Hannah’s guide. You’ll be so glad you did!

12:00 | Lunch

Piazza Santo Spirito has an abundance of lunch options. If you’d prefer to sit and soak up the piazza some more, you can enjoy crepes and drinks at Volume or fresh fare at Borgo Antico. Or, if you’re like us and would like to eat but relocate, may we introduce you to the Gusta family? Both Gusta Pizza and Gusta Panino offer walk-up service. Depending on your mood, get a sandwich or a pie to-go and follow the street out of the piazza for two blocks. It’s time for a Pitti picnic!

12:00 – 13:00 | Palazzo Pitti

If it’s one of the cooler months of the year, the open, rolling hill in front of Palazzo Pitti (also known as Eleonora’s front yard)  is one of the best places to soak up some sun and people watch. You can also go up to the gates and take a peek into the Boboli Gardens, with full views of Nano Morgante riding a turtle and Buontalenti’s Grotto. If you would like to go in, we can assure you the entrance fee is worth it. If you’re saving your euros, simply let your feet rest before the next leg of the trip. There’s a hike involved, and it’s a doozy.

13:00 | Ponte Vecchio

Walk back to the Arno, where you’ll now approach the Ponte Vecchio head-on. Peruse a jewelry box or two before venturing further along the Lungarno.

13:30 | Lungarno / San Niccolò

Keep close to the river and you’ll end up strolling through the beautiful neighborhood  of San Niccolò, marked by a tower facing the Arno. There will be small parks to enjoy, Clet’s studio to marvel at, and a number of delightful restaurants and cafes along the way. Enjoy the easy pace while it lasts. When the time comes to head up to Piazzale Michelangelo, hit those horse stairs running!

Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo by VT_Professor

Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo by VT_Professor

14:00 | Piazzale Michelangelo

Almost every panorama photo that you’ve ever seen of Florence (which led to endless dreams of visiting, which then led to you being here right now in this city) was most likely taken from Piazzale Michelangelo. Soak up the wonderful for yourself. It’s worth the steep hike up the hillside.

14:30 | San Miniato al Monte

If you’re legs aren’t shaking too badly, consider taking the final flight of stairs to San Miniato al Monte. We’ve written on multiple occasions why this is our favorite place in Florence (The view! The church! The cemetery!). If you’ve enjoyed the walk so far, trust us on this one and tackle that extra hill.

15:30 | Fuori Porta

After that trek, you deserve a drink – at least an acqua frizzante! Depending on when you arrive at this charming enoteca, you might be able to take part in their lovely aperitivo. Admire the view of the old walls and relax for a bit in this hip corner of the city – you earned it!

16:00 | Ponte alla Grazie

Your third bridge of the day and your final view of the Ponte Vecchio. Take it in while you can and say your farewells to the Arno.

Basilica di Santa Croce by Kathy Adams Clark

Basilica di Santa Croce by Kathy Adams Clark

16:05 | Basilica of Santa Croce

This Franciscan basilica is one of the most famous churches in all of Florence. Designed by Arnolfo di Cambio (of Duomo fame), the facade (added later) shares the same colors you’ve seen at Santa Maria Novella and San Miniato al Monte. The open piazza is often the heart of culture in city center, as many concerts and events are hosted here. Inside the church, in addition to priceless works of art by Gaddi, Giotto and more, are the tombs of Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Galileo (no big deal, right?). Going inside will cost a few euros, but it’s worth it if you have the time, energy, and funds.

If you’re looking for another free activity instead, check out the nearby Scuola del cuoio, the internationally renowned Florentine leather school. Hannah details the interesting spot here.

16:30 | Borgo dei Greci & Via dei Neri | Shopping & Dinner

Time to take a break from all the site-seeing and explore what really matters – Florence’s shops! As the school is nearby, the area is packed with leather factories boasting luxurious jackets, handbags and boots. There are also a number of lovely independent shops that are worth a peek. Once you’ve had your fill and are feeling hungry, duck into one of the number of local restaurants; although, at this hour, many of them won’t be open yet for dinner service. Since we’ve got a schedule to stick to, might I recommend La Prosciutteria? Open all day, this small eatery serves huge charcuterie boards along with deep pours of wine by the glass. It’s a great place to enjoy a Tuscan assortment of cured meats and cheeses, another true taste of Florence.

Piazza della Signoria by Ethan Lin

Piazza della Signoria by Ethan Lin

18:30 | Piazza della Signoria

Where to even begin? Grab a seat along the interior wall of the Loggia dei Lanzi after you’ve read up here and here. It’s the perfect place to recover from a long dinner.

19:00 | Perche No

Once you come out of your food coma, make your way across Piazza della Signoria towards Via Calzaiuoli. A few blocks up on the right, there is an often overlooked gelateria called Perché No on Via Tavolini. Indulge in a little something sweet before the final send-off.

19:10 | Piazza della Repubblica, Orsanmichele or Casa di Dante

Packed in this small area between the Arno and the Duomo are a number of Florentine treasures that deserve some attention. As the day is winding down, we recommend picking one, but if you’re walking up a storm, you might be able to combo a few of them. Piazza della Repubblica is one of my favorite spots in the city, so I’m partial to a stroll past the carousel, Caffè Gilli and Miu Miu. A walk around Orsanmichele to admire the structure and statues is also great. Or, if you’re a literary scholar, exploring Dante’s neighborhood will get your spirits soaring.

Duomo by scuba_suzy

Duomo by scuba_suzy

19:30 | Piazza del Duomo

Admit it, you thought for just a second we might forget to show you the Duomo. We’re crazy, yes, but not mean!  Almost every day-trip itinerary will have you make a mad dash from the train station straight to Santa Maria del Fiore. The end result is that throngs of people pack the piazza in the late morning and afternoon hours. If you can wait until the evening, the tourists, for the most part, have cleared, and some locals take to the steps to hang out and relax. Plus, the colors on the cathedral, bell tower, and baptistery are truly stunning when lit up against the night sky.

And that dome – that dome! – have you ever seen anything more magnificent? Of course we would want your final view of Florence to be of the incomparable dome. We saved the best for last.

21:00 | Stazione Santa Maria Novella

Time to push off once more! The train station is a relative straight shot from the Duomo. If you’re really pressed for time, there’s a taxi stand in the piazza here, but it shouldn’t be more than a 5-10 minute walk. We know your feet are hurting, but hopefully your heart is overflowing with love for the city. Buon viaggio!

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20 comments

  1. kim freire · · Reply

    Yep I want to do this.

    1. i think i know just the tour guide for you! 😉

  2. As y’all may (or may not) recall, Cathy and I are headed to Firenze on Wed for about a week. We’ve got our folders filled with info about all kinds of places to go and things to see, thanks greatly to your blogs. Since you’ll be doing these specialized itineraries, how about one for when the weather won’t be real warm and may be pretty wet… like we’ll probably be looking at next week? Could be sort of a follow-up to the one about best places to get out of the rain. And if you could publish it later this week, that would be great. Grazie mille.

    1. hi steve!

      wow, the trip is here! we hope you have a wonderful stay. i think hannah left you a note over on facebook, but in case you missed it there, here are some indoor-activity ideas off the top of our heads:
      1. museums and churches! beautiful, indoor and all yours this time of year! 2. shopping – second to none in italy! 3. take it as an excuse for long drawn out meals and coffee breaks – those are some of my favorite memories of italy. 4. photography – some of the very best photos are taken in the rain. get out there with your umbrella, splash around and show us what you got when you get back! we would love to share your photos here. buon viaggio!

  3. Such great info. Can’t wait till I’m back in Florence. Thanks. 🙂

    1. we’re glad you think so! happy to be of service 🙂

  4. about to make my first trip to Italy – so glad I found your blog!

    1. we are too kim! let us know if you need any specific advice. nothing makes us happier than spreading the italy love!

  5. MaryEllen Santare · · Reply

    Hi Meg looking at the photos in your one day tour brings tears to my eyes. I was there with the love of my life in 1970 on our honeymoon. I am returning in August but sadly not with Dennis. He passed away last September. But I will be with my daughter Carrie. Please let me know if you will do this tour in August with this sentimental Mom and her daughter.
    MaryEllen Santare

    1. mary ellen,

      wow! what a wonderful thing to have memories with such a loved one in this beautiful city. while we’re heartbroken that you cannot share this next trip with dennis, we have a feeling he will find a way to join you and your daughter in spirit.

      we wish we could be there to take you on this tour in august; unfortunately we won’t be in the city at that time. but please email us with any questions or thoughts you might have – we’d love to help you plan such a special trip.

      H&M

  6. Reblogged this on Delightfully Italy and commented:
    Florence in a day: ambitious walking tour to discover the best of Florence

  7. […] just stumbled upon a fantastic post from Hanna and Meg of Florence for free. It’s a perfectly engineered itinerary, from 9.00 AM to 9 PM, that succeeds in covering most […]

  8. Reblogged this on undersixtravelfree and commented:
    Ahh, Florence….

  9. teertha · · Reply

    this sounds fantastic… my husband and me would love to do this next month… is it still happening ?

    1. hello! while we wish we could be there to lead you, unfortunately this is (for the time being) a self-guided tour. hannah and i will both be stateside at that time. but if you have any questions for us, please feel free to email us! we love to help and are at florenceforfree@gmail.com. buon viaggio!

  10. […] For an interactive map of our route see… https://florenceforfree.wordpress.com/2014/01/17/walking-tour-florence-in-a-day/ […]

  11. Florence is so full of works of art to see that even though the city is very small, to visit them all in a satisfactory manner would take many days.

    1. We agree! This is more of a last-resort option for those whose time is very limited.

  12. We are traveling to Italy in February, for the first time. We were kind of lost with Florence, it has a lot to offer, and we’re going there just fo two days… Thanks for your post! Now it’s easier… We’ll take this walking tour in two days, so we can see better all those nice places. Do you think that weather will complicate our tour? We are going by the first week of March

  13. […] completely lost, and knew where the major landmarks were. A great self-guided tour can be found here, though we found that it was more fun to have a guide to tell us […]

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