With spring just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to explore Florence in a weekend. I loved Florence and I must admit that I stayed for longer than 2 days. Fortunately, the historic part of the city is compact and it is very easy to walk to most of the sights. Walking through the cobbled roads and little lanes for me was a magical experience. The city oozes charm and around every corner is an Instagramable shot. It’s hard not to fall in love with it.
I stayed in an apartment in the heart of the old city, about a 5 min walk to the Uffizi gallery. I could not have asked for a better location as all the main sights we easily accessible.
This is not an itinerary as such, but just a list of the place that I think you will be able to visit over the course 2 days.
How to explore Florence in a weekend
Mercato Nuvo (Mercato Porcellino)
If you are a foodie then you can very easily overindulge. I really did not have a bad meal and only had one average meal during my stay.
I had to start with this market because it was about 100 m from where I was staying. I walked past it so many times that the vendors started greeting me like a local. It is called the New Market so that it is not confused with the Old Market. It was built between 1547 and 1551 and originally it sold silk.
Now you can find all kinds of leather items as well as souvenirs, but what I liked most was the piglet fountain that is actually a wild bronze boar (Il Porcellino). Legend has it that if you rub its nose and drop a coin in its mouth at the same time, you will return to Florence.
Central Market (Mercato Centrale)
This market was heaven for me. It was built in the 19th century using iron and glass. On the ground floor, you can find outstanding quality produce from meat to vegetables, cheese, olive oil and all the other market-related produce. There are a number of excellent restaurants in the immediate surrounds whose chefs arrive as the market opens eager to get the best ingredients available.
On the second floor is a super stylish food court. I use this term loosely because when I think of other food courts I have visited in different countries there is no comparison. It’s designed to be a gourmet food court and it had me salivating. I tried a number of different things while I enjoyed a glass of Tuscan wine. It was so good that I went back a second time for dinner to try yet more delicious food.
San Lorenzo Market
The market sprawls through the San Lorenzo district around the area where the Central Market is. Originally this market sold leather goods and it still does today. I also saw scarves, ties and souvenirs.
You have to be careful with what you buy and remember that not everything is real leather although you might have difficulty spotting the difference. You also have to haggle relentlessly. I preferred to shop in the more reputable stores to be sure that what I was buying was, in fact, good quality. This area is also known for pickpockets so be vigilant.
I had to include this because I discovered the most amazing shop in the road that I was staying in. I was in there every day trying some new flavour and I learnt quite a bit about what makes a good gelato. If you want to know how to tell the good from the bad then my post on how to find the best gelato in Italy explains it.
The Uffizi Gallery
If you like art then you can happily lose yourself in the gallery. There is so much to see, but if you are pressed for time the gallery website has a selection of itineraries to follow that vary in length. They recommend 2 hours to see the masterpieces or 3-4 hours at a leisurely pace. It really depends on your personal preferences.
I recommend booking tickets online in advance. They only allow a certain number of people in and allocate time slots. That way you won’t waste any time and you will be guaranteed entrance.
Piazza della Signoria
This pretty piazza has been the centre of life in Florence for centuries and a wonderful place to chill and watch the world go by. It is lined with cafes, sculptures and the Fountain of Neptune. Michelangelo said that the fountain was “a waste of good marble”, but I rather liked it. There is also a statue of David there, but it is not the original which is in the Galleria dell’Accademia.
Loggia dei Lanzia
As you look across the Piazza della Signoria you will notice an outdoor gallery. This contains some interesting sculptures and it is worth spending a couple of minutes admiring them.
Just on the edge of the Piazza della Signoria is an old Medici palace and the home of Cosimo Medici I. I loved the architecture and the design detail of the interior. The view from the bell tower is said to be one of the best in Florence, but I did not climb to the top.
If you want to see the original statue of David then this is where it is housed. There are also some incomplete sculptures of Michelangelo’s on display. It’s not a large gallery so you can easily see it in about 90 minutes. Once again I suggest that you book your tickets in advance to save time.
It’s hard not to like this iconic landmark. It’s also a great spot to get the perfect shot of the river. The bridge crosses the Arno at its narrowest point. A bridge has been on this spot since the days of the Ancient Romans.
This one dates from 1354 and has housed gold and silversmiths since the 16th century. Before that butcher shops lined the bridge, but Fernando I evicted them. There is a private passageway that was built for the Medicis (Vasari Corridor) from the Uffizi to the Pitti Palace that runs overhead. He hated the smell that drifted up from below so naturally, things had to change.
I walked over the bridge quite a few times at different times of the day. As the light changes, the mood seems to change as well. It can also be packed, although it wasn’t that busy in the early morning but later in the day it was heaving with people.
Santa Croce Church
Santa Croce was rebuilt for the Franciscans in 1294. The original structure is from 1212 when St. Francis of Assisi visited Florence and choose the site for a church. The exterior of the church is all marble and the interior is even more ornate than the Duomo.
It is the resting place of Michelangelo, Rossini, Machiavelli and Galileo and has a memorial to Dante, but his sarcophagus is empty because he is actually buried in Ravenna.
I took a bus from the train station to my accommodation. Initially, there was not too much to see and then we came around a corner and the Duomo was in front of us. I was stunned at its beauty. I have never seen anything quite like it. Not only is it iconic, but it is a fascinating place to visit. I spent quite a bit of time photographing it, walking past it, and simply just admiring it from all sides.
Its correct name is Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. After the impressive façade, the interior of the church appears quite minimalist as most of the treasures have been removed over the centuries and many can be seen in the museum.
Entrance to the Duomo is free, but entrance to the museums ( the bell tower, cupola, baptistery and crypt) all need a ticket. Combined tickets can be purchased at an office directly behind the Duomo.
If you are planning to climb up the cupola you will need to climb 463 steps to the top. These corridors were used by the workmen for maintenance purposes and the access is tight and steep. You will also have to reserve your place in advance and once you book a time slot it cannot be changed.
If you want a great view you could climb the bell tower instead, which also has a stunning view of the cupola.
The time of day you want to visit makes a difference so get there early or later in the afternoon.
Il Battiserio di San Giovanni
The baptistery is adjacent to the Duomo. The origins are unclear but it is thought to have been built over an old Roman Temple, dedicated to Mars, in the 4th-5th centuries. It was consecrated in 1128 and is the oldest religious monument in Florence.
It is dedicated to Florence’s patron saint John the Baptist The octagonal shap is clad with marble on the outside.
Campanile di Giotto
This has the reputation of being the most beautiful campanile in Italy. It is 84.7 metres tall and 15 metres in breadth and has 7 bells. If you are feeling energetic climb the 414 steps to the top and your efforts will be rewarded.
You should not miss visiting the Piazzale Michaelangelo perched on a hill above the city. For many years none of the buildings were allowed to be higher than the cupola of the Duomo. This is the picture postcard view of Florence. The first visit I made was in the morning, but it was really spectacular at sunset.
Don’t be surprised if you see some wacky street signs as you wander around the city. They are the work of a French artist, Clet Abraham. He decided to take the existing signs and make them humorous in a pop art style. The material he uses is removable so no damage is done to the signs. You can also visit his studio which is not far from the Piazzale Michaelangelo.
After you have seen the sights in Florence in a weekend I am certain that like me, you will want to return. It is like nowhere else I have been in my travels. I know that I just scratched the surface and that there is so much more just waiting to be discovered. Luckily I gave the wild bronze boar a coin so I am sure that I will to go back to dig a little deeper on my next visit.
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Ultimate 2 day guide to Florence