Florence, the birthplace of Renaissance and one of most beautiful cities in Italy, should be on everyone’s travel bucket list. Italy is re-opening to tourists this month, so if you’ve always wanted to visit the capital of Tuscany, now is a good time to do and enjoy this wonderful city without too many crowds. Here’s my guide on how to spend 48 hours in Florence.
Why You Should Visit Florence This Year
The last time I visited Florence was exactly one year ago for a work trip. I arrived just as a heat wave swept through the city; Florence can get oppressively hot in summer and freezing cold in winter. I spent three days walking through the congested historic centre alongside hundreds of thousands of tourists.
It was overwhelming and uncomfortable at times to navigate through the crowds, but I clung to my memories of a much-less crowded Florence from when I was a teenager on holiday there with my class mates. The city was as gorgeous and breath-taking as always, but at the same time you couldn’t deny that overtourism in Florence was an issue that needed to be addressed…
I decided not to blog about Florence at the time, but today the world is very different than it was a year ago.
Three months after the start of a lockdown that completely isolated Italy from the rest of world and brought the economy to its knees, Florence is ready to start again. Italian cities are reopening (with strict safety measures in place) and local businesses are in need of support from local and from tourists.
What makes Florence unique?
Its long history, fine art, and architecture. Walking through Florence is like walking through an open museum. I have been to Florence many times and I consider it one of most beautiful cities in Italy and in the world. The Cattedrale – with the Brunelleschi’s Cupola and the Giotto’s Campanile – is always been my all time favourite church.
And of course we cannot talk about Florence without mentioning Tuscan food and wine, which is adored the world over. In this post, I am sharing some of my favourite spots to eat in the city. You can find more in-depth guides by Tuscany-based food writers Jul’s Kitchen and Emiko Davies on their blogs. I also recommend the Florence WithGusto ebook guide.
Now it’s the time to add Florence to your bucket list and make plans to visit the city and the region. There are many beautiful places to visit, like San Gimignano, Monteriggioni, Pisa, Lucca, Pesaro and Siena. You could spend a few weeks driving around the region discovering them all! You can read my blog posts on Tuscany here and here.
Day One in Florence
Start the day like Italians do with cappuccino e cornetto at Simbiosi Caffè on Via de’ Ginori. Stand at the coffee counter to drink your coffee and have a chat with the barista. On the day of my visit, they were brewing espresso beans from Florence-based speciality coffee roaster D612.
Filled with caffeine and sugar, start your walking tour of the city centre. Don’t worry about local transports: all the main sights can be reached on food. Start from Piazza Duomo for a visit to the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.
Completed in 1434, it is the most important landmark in Florence the fourth largest church in the world. Do climb the 463 steps up to the magnificent Renaissance dome that was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi (you must reserve your place in advance).
Continue to the main square of Florence, Piazza della Signoria, where you will also find the iconic city hall, Palazzo Vecchio, and its 14th-century crenellated tower (which you can climb for a magnificent view of the city).
Finish your morning tour with a visit of the Basilica di Santa Croce, a church known as the resting place of Michelangelo and Galileo, and its chapel adorned by frescoes of 14th century painter Giotto.
A great spot for lunch in Florence is La Cantinetta dei Verrazzano, a café, bakery and wine bar where you can eat traditional stuffed focaccia, chickpea cake (cecina) and amazing pastries (like cantucci and sbriciolona).
No visit to Florence can be considered complete without a tour of the Uffizi Gallery. I have been there twice when I was younger; I remember being a high school student with a love for art history and walking through the museum rooms in awe of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and countless other Renaissance paintings. Book your tickets online to avoid the long queues outside the gallery. You can get a single ticket, valid for 3 consecutive days, to visit the Uffizi, Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens.
Take a break from sightseeing with a gelato at Gelateria Edoardo behind Florence Cathedral. It’s the first organic gelato of Tuscany and one of the best I’ve ever tasted! There are usually queues outside the tiny ice cream shop, but it is worth the wait.
Wind down the day with an aperitivo at La Ménagère, a café and restaurant that doubles up as florist shop. It’s good, it’s pretty and very Instagrammable!
For dinner, book a table at Buca dell’Orafo, a tiny cellar located in an old palace of 1200 next to Ponte Vecchio. Since 1945, Buca dell’Orafo offers traditional Tuscan dishes recreating the same atmosphere of an old style Florentine restaurant. The menu changes regularly and on their website you can see their specialties according to the seasons. I was there a few years ago for dinner with my parents and we all loved our meal. Some of the traditional Tuscan dishes you should definitely try are: finocchiona, a type of salami flavoured with fennel seeds; pappa al pomodoro, bread and tomato soup; fagioli all’uccelletto, a Tuscan dish of baked beans with garlic, sage and tomato passata.
After dinner, stroll along the river Arno and admire Ponte Vecchio, a medieval stone bridge that was the only way across the city until 1218. The shops built along it once housed butchers, tanners, and farmers; today it’s mostly jewellery and art shops for tourists.
Day Two in Florence
Start the day with breakfast at Ditta Artigianale, a café and roastery offering speciality coffee since 2014. I have been a Ditta fan since the beginning of their journey, having been one of the very first speciality coffee micro-roasters in Italy. They have two cafés in Florence, on both sides of the river Arno: the original shop on Via dei Neri and one on Via dello Sprone. In addition to the excellent coffee, Ditta serves tasty breakfast and brunch and has an extensive gin-based cocktail list.
Take some time to explore Oltrarno (meaning “beyond the Arno”), a trendy neighbourhood of tiny cobbled streets filled with art shops and independent boutiques.
In Oltrarno you will also find Pitti Palace, the former residence of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany and later the King of Italy. In the 16th century, it became the symbol of the Medici’s power over Tuscany. Today the Palace is divided into four museums housing collections of paintings and sculptures as well as the Imperial and Royal Apartments.
Directly behind Pitti Palace are the marvellous Boboli Gardens, another one of my personal favourite spots in Florence. Allow some time to wander around the garden, admire the flowers and relax under the shade of the lemon trees.
For a casual lunch in Florence, head over to Mercato Metropolitano, an indoor food market featuring some of the best Italian street food traders. You will be spoilt for choice between pizza, sandwiches, fresh pasta, fried specialities, cold cuts and cheeses, gelato and also craft beers, cocktails and wines. The crown for Florentine street food goes to the Lampredotto, a simple yet delicious sandwich (for meat-eaters) filled with tripe. Try it at Mercato Metropolitano or at L’Antico Trippaio.
Spend the rest of the afternoon to walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo, a square located on a hill just above the San Niccolò neighbourhood. It is the best spot to see Florence from above with stunning panoramic views, especially when the sun goes down.
Time for an aperitivo! Did you know that Florence was the home of the negroni? The cocktail was invented 100 years ago when Count Camillo Negroni asked the bartender at Drogheria Casoni to prepare him an “americano” drink, but with gin instead of soda. The rest is history! Head to Caffè Gilli in Piazza della Repubblica, the oldest café in the city, to taste this delicious cocktail prepared to perfection.
For your last night in Florence, treat yourself to an unforgettable meal at Gucci Osteria. The all-day restaurant, opened in 2018, is a collaboration between by the Italian fashion house Gucci and chef Massimo Bottura of three-Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana.
Gucci Osteria is housed in the historic Palazzo della Mercanzia in Piazza della Signoria and is part of an experiential three-storey space called Gucci Garden. This comprises of a museum; a concept store selling exclusive Gucci clothes and accessories; and of course the osteria. Restaurant’s guests receive a complimentary pass to visit the Gucci Gallery museum upstairs where a small, but well-curated, collection of vintage and modern clothes, shoes and bags is on display.
Where to Stay in Florence
As one of the most popular tourist destination in the world, you will be spoilt for choice of accommodation in Florence, ranging from luxury hotels to private apartments.
One of the places I can recommend is La terrazza sul Duomo B&B, a collection of charming rooms and suites located in the very heart of the historic centre of Florence. The location is impossible to beat, and so is the breathtaking view of Piazza Duomo you will get from the rooftop terrace of this charming bed & breakfast. From La Terrazza Sul Duomo, you can reach all the main places of interest on foot in minutes, like Ponte Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery. Santa Maria Novella Train Station is a 10-minute walk.
How to Get There
If you are travelling by plane, you have the option of Florence Airport, just 4 km from the city centre (around 25-30′ by taxi) or Pisa Airport (85 km, around 1h – 1h 20′ by taxi). Of course, the first is much more conveniente to get into the city but be mindful of the fact that it has a minuscule landing strip; as a result, flights to / from Florence Airport weather are likely to be cancelled when the weather is windy or foggy. It happened to me last summer and I had to pay 190€ for a taxi to Pisa airport where I boarded a different flight back to London .
If you are travelling by train, there are many daily connections to Florence from other cities in Italy such as Milan, Bologna, Rome and Naples.