Trying to budget time when planning your vacation to Florence is stressful. It’s so stressful. You drained your savings account and kissed your entire stash of PTO goodbye. You better take full advantage of every single second–and you try to. But as you stand in front of David, staring into his eyes, you might feel yours beginning to droop. Although you have spent years dreaming about meeting Michelangelo’s masterpiece, at the present moment all you can dream about is that bench behind him.
Successfully budgeting your precious vacation time, whether a week or a semester, is something of an art, and it’s one we have not yet fully mastered. As Meg and I put the finishing touches on our upcoming week in Florence, we also struggle to balance our impulse for overbooking with knowing our limits and accepting that sometimes you can’t control everything in la dolce vita.
For us visitors, it may feel like there is never enough time in Italy. However, with a few simple tips we hope we can help you maximize your moments, planned and unplanned, in Florence.
As fun as it sounds to turn up in town without a plan (and sometimes it is), the more you know when you arrive in Florence, the more time you’ll save. Find a book, a blog (wink wink), or a guide that you love and take time now to do your research. Read about museums, palazzi, churches, and piazze. Decide which ones interest you and prioritize your must-sees. Think of it this way: the more time you spend making decisions about the sites you want to see now, the less time you’ll spend planning your day from your hotel room in Florence.
While you’re at it, you owe it to yourself to learn a little about getting by in Florence. Understanding your transportation options (trains, buses, and cabs), cultural nuances and the difference between buongiorno and buonasera will get you far and save you from some real time-draining mistakes.
2. Sleep in the center
The Orbitz/Expedia/Venere expedition for a hotel in Florence may start as exciting but typically (and quickly) devolves into a terrifying reality check. As you convert euros to dollars, you’ll find your “miles from the center” radius increasing. It’s easy to compromise location to save a few euro. As victims of that temptation, we strongly suggest that you do not cave on your hotel hunt just yet. Having a nearby home base is priceless and well worth a few extra euro. It allows simple luxuries, like 20 minutes of kicking your feet up between sightseeing and dinner, to become instant possibilities. You won’t have to worry about wasting time traveling in and out of the center for a break or cutting your evening short to catch a bus home. And although you may pay a few more euro up front to stay in the center, you will ultimately save money on cab rides and bus tickets while in Florence.
The best perk of staying in the historical center of Florence? The history! Some of our favorite historical palazzi (and even a prison!) have been converted into pensioni awaiting your stay. With a little Trip Advisor elbow grease, you can rent your very own piece of history for a reasonable price.
3. Know your map
We’re not saying you need to memorize every via and borgo, but arriving in Florence with a rough orientation will save you time from staring at your map and/or yelling at Siri. Before landing, we insist that you are at least familiar with the general location of a few basic landmarks: the Duomo, the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Arno. We’ve got resources here and here to help you get introduced.
4. Respect the siesta and plan accordingly
Think this siesta thing is a bunch of bull honkey? Think again! Italians need their naps. Can we blame them? While some of the bigger tourist attractions, such as the Uffizi, may not abide by siesta rules, don’t be fooled into thinking these precious hours of rest are not taken very seriously throughout the city. The majority of churches, smaller museums and specialty shops shut their doors in the afternoons after a hard morning of, well, whatever it is they do. Typical siestas range between noon-ish and 5-ish. Being aware of these potential roadblocks will save you the time and frustration of trekking across town to your next site only to find it shut down for siesta.
Siesta rules can also affect meal times. Think you’ll opt for a late lunch one day? Think again. Most trattorie (well, the good ones) will close around 1:30 or 2 and do not reopen until dinner (7:30 – 8:30 pm).
So how will you hack the siesta? If you haven’t had the chance to note all opening and closing times of your tourist to-dos (who does, really?), a good rule of thumb for churches and small museums is to visit in the morning. That means saving your bigger items, such as touring the Uffizi or climbing the Torre of the Palazzo Vecchio, for later in the afternoon. OR you can make like a true Florentine and indulge in a siesta yourself (thankful for that hotel in the center about now, eh?).
5. Lines are for losers
Ti prego, don’t find yourself wasting precious moments of your fling with Florence in this mess. For the typical tourist, lines are part of the deal if you plan on hitting the popular must-sees (Uffizi, Accademia, Duomo). But good news! You don’t have to trade your Botticelli face time for a line-free vacation.
First, as we noted earlier, schedule your time at these biggies later in the day. Most tourists think they are “beating the crowd” by scheduling early visits to the Uffizi and Accademia, when in fact they are the crowd. If you are visiting in the busy season (May – September) making a reservation is a very good idea.
The other major line offender in Florence is the Duomo. In the mornings, tourists line up like ants around Santa Maria del Fiore for a peek inside and/or to trek to the top of the dome. The trick to the Cathedral, like the museums, is a late afternoon visit (a perfect siesta activity). By 3 p.m., lines are practically non-existent for the Cathedral itself and significantly reduced for climbing either the dome or bell tower. General opening hours of the Cathedral are between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Like any good Italian establishment, however, the opening hours vary based on the day of the week, week of the month (and position of the constellations, etc). Instead of memorizing the schedule, just remember to arrive by 4:15 p.m. at the latest for ample time to tour.
6. Stay up late
Perhaps the greatest trick to seeing the city of Florence is staying up late. I have yet to figure out quite how this works, but a city that pulses with tourists, students and peddlers during the day clears out after the sun goes down. Maybe Florence has a vampire problem I am unaware of? Whatever the reason, by night, the city of Florence is yours to share with a few fellow romantics. Take the piazze and ponte, which typically swarm with tourists by day, for yourself by night.
Suddenly that siesta sounds like a pretty good idea.
I once had an Italian professor left speechless when my classmate asked her how to say “to go” in Italian at a restaurant. Sure, they’ve invented a word for the Americans now (porta via), but rushing or leaving before you’re finished are still quite foreign concepts in Italy. Here, each moment is worth enjoying, experiencing, and truly living. Whether it is a moment alone with your freshly frothing cappuccino, a few deep breaths in front of your favorite fresco, or a 3 a.m. heart to heart with your best friend while sitting in the middle of Piazza della Signoria, promise us that you will relax and simply live in that moment.
8. Sweet talk your way onto the back of a Vespa (they get around faster!)
Kidding! Or am I?
For all the tricks we have for maximizing vacation time, Meg and I have yet to find a hack for that sinking feeling in our hearts that we inevitably feel every time our plane departs Florence. The city is sort of like a bad break-up that you just can’t seem to shake. How do you deal with that? Well, you could start a blog like we did. But perhaps an easier solution is to take those simple life lessons of Florence home with us. Take an extra moment to enjoy your morning coffee. Maybe start incorporating afternoon naps into your schedule (we’re sure your boss will love that!). Most importantly, make sure to abuse your #TBT rights with Florence photos, prompting you to relive your vacation every time an envious friend double taps. And try to live in the moment, Italian-style, even if on the inside you’re always secretly counting down to your next visit.