Sitting romantically astride the Arno River, topped by terracotta-tiled domes and medieval towers that lift the gaze skywards, and bathed in painterly light—Florence is one of Europe’s most captivating cities. The Tuscan capital has enough Renaissance art and architecture to keep you coming back for a lifetime, but in just one day you can get a taste of what makes the city great.

Planning Your Day in Florence

Part of Florence’s magic is that its views and moods change as much as the light on the river that runs gently through it. To rush this city is to do it an injustice. So even with just a day on your hands, try to factor in moments to simply go with the flow: be it kicking back on a piazza to watch the world drift on by, exploring a backstreet where artisans ply traditional crafts with the hand-me-down wisdom of generations, or sipping a glass of Tuscan wine in a rooftop bar with prime views of the skyline.

Slow the pace, embrace the dolce vita (sweet life) and you will be rewarded—if you’re here in summer, the city is too hot and crowded to blaze through anyway. You’ll need some flat, comfortable shoes for walking (the best way to get from A to B as central Florence is fairly compact), a sunhat and sunblock, and plenty of water to rehydrate.

Pre-booking tickets to the major sights and attractions is sensible, particularly in peak season when you can spend hours waiting in line. Bear in mind that many big-hitters (the Uffizi and Galleria dell'Accademia, for instance) close on Mondays, so save the sightseeing for another day. Modest dress is requested at religious sites, and photography is permitted in most places (without flash). Selfie sticks are banned.

For more inspiration of how you can factor Florence into a Tuscany trip, see this 14-day itinerary

8 am: Coffee Fix & Renaissance Art at the Uffizi

The impressive art and architecture of the Uffizi

Buongiorno! A fine spot to see Florence wake up is fountain-splashed Piazza della Signoria, where you can people watch over a cappuccino and cornetto (croissant) on the terrace of the landmark Café Rivoire. The café faces the strikingly crenelated Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s medieval city hall, guarded by a pretty impressive copy of Michelangelo’s David (you’ll be seeing the real deal later).

Inside you can glimpse another of the artist’s marble masterpieces: the Genius of Victory. Climb a steep flight of stairs up the Torre d’Arnolfo to begin your day on a panoramic high. Next to the palazzo is the 14th-century Loggia dei Lanzi, which shelters the Medici lions and some superb examples of Renaissance statuary.

Now make for Florence’s must-see Uffizi (be sure to prebook tickets to beat the crowds). Housed in a grand 16th-century palazzo, the gallery is a veritable feast of Renaissance art. Top billing goes to the Botticelli collection (rooms 10-14), where you can admire works like the Nascita di Venere (The Birth of Venus; 1486). For more, check out our article on Italy’s art trail.

11 am: A Dome to Lift Spirits

An uplifting view of the Duomo's marble facade

Florence’s Duomo is the city’s crowning glory and a cathedral like no other. Its huge red-tiled cupola and marble-banded façade is at its most beautiful in the soft light of morning or at sunset. A cupola which, incidentally, was destined to become the world’s largest back when building began in 1296.

Florence then was thriving on the wool and silk trade and wanted a cathedral to reflect its riches. But it took another 140 years and Renaissance master Filippo Brunelleschi (originally a goldsmith and sculptor by trade) to give the Duomo its finishing cupola touch in 1436. This was later embellished by Renaissance painter Giorgio Vasari's frescoes of the Last Judgment (1572).

It’s worth ascending 436 steps to the top of the Duomo for a view over Florence’s jumbled terracotta rooftops to the rippling Tuscan hills beyond. While you’re in the area, you could also visit the Grande Museo del Duomo, a treasure trove of sacred art, not least Michelangelo’s compelling Pietà (1547) and Donatello’s wooden St Mary Magdalene (1457).

1 pm: Market Lunch & Michelangelo’s David

The food court at the Mercato Centrale

For a buzz and a bite to eat around lunchtime, swing over to the Mercato Centrale, lodged in a beautiful iron-and-glass building dating to 1874 in Florence’s San Lorenzo neighborhood. Besides fresh produce (fish, vegetables, cheese, truffles —you name it), the market has some excellent food stalls where you can get everything from fresh pasta to focaccia, sushi, rotisserie chicken, gelato and pizza. Alternatively, you’ll find sweet and simple, family-run Trattoria da Giorgio close by, which does a good-value €13 set lunch.   

Providing you’ve pre-booked your ticket, you can now sneak straight into the Galleria dell’Accademia nearby. The star of the show here is Michelangelo’s David. Carved from a single block of marble, standing 17ft high and completed in 1504, the Renaissance sculpture of a biblical hero is one of the world’s most iconic works of art.

Time permitting, cross the Piazza di San Marco to the Museo di San Marco, a former Dominican monastery where friar and Early Renaissance master Fra’ Angelico made his indelible mark. Seek out his most famous fresco: The Annunciation (1446) on your way up to the monastic cells.

3:30 pm: Bridges, Boutiques, & Gardens

The view over Florence from the Boboli Gardens

There’s more to Florence than ticking off the trophy sights and it’s now time to ease up the pace a little on the other side of the river in Oltrarno. This hip enclave of mazy backstreets is the go-to neighborhood for a serendipitous wander, dotted with artisan studios, boutiques, and workshops selling everything from gourmet food and Tuscan wine to high-end jewelry and fashion, books, luxury fabrics, and hand-tooled leather. For that classic ‘I’m in Florence’ shot, you’ll want to pause at the Ponte Vecchio, the arched stone bridge that has straddled the Arno since 1345.

Head over to the vast Renaissance Palazzo Pitti, another of Brunelleschi’s Renaissance masterpieces, completed in 1457 and once home to the Medici family. It now harbors four museums, including a gallery with the world’s largest collection of Raphael paintings, which share the limelight with works by Titian and Caravaggio. Behind the palace, the landscaped, sculpture-filled Boboli Gardens are perfect for an early evening passeggiata (stroll).

7 pm: An Aperitivo & Osteria Dinner

Alfresco dining in the backstreets of Florence

The Italian ritual of the aperitivo (pre-dinner drink, often with complimentary snacks) is keenly observed by the Florentines, whether it’s in a café with a ringside piazza view or in a tucked-away enoteca (wine bar). One of our favorites for a spritz or signature cocktail is La Terrazza on the top floor of the Hotel Continentale. Floating above Florence like froth on a cappuccino, the lounge bar has stunning views of the skyline and river, especially as the city pinkens at sunset.

Florence is packed with restaurants of every kind but they can be pricey in the center. Bucking that trend is Osteria Il Buongustai near Piazza della Signoria, which has a cheerful vibe and whips up delicious Tuscan home cooking at reasonable prices, from pici al cinghiale (pasta with wild boar ragout) to tagliata di manzo (sliced beef steak) with rocket and parmesan.

For more, check out our Ultimate Guide to Florence.