By MJ, ELE Editor & Travel Writer
Art, romance, history and food. Four words that for us sum up the beautiful city of Florence in Italy. As the capital of Tuscany, Firenze as the locals call it, is perfectly located as a starting point for a visit to the famous region.
On a recent trip to Italy we ended up with just 24 hours to explore this exquisite city. And while we could spend much, much longer in this city of treasures, as Florence is so compact and easily walkable, 24 hours is enough time to see some of the highlights and soak up a little of that classic renaissance style.
Arriving by train, we took a walk from the main station, Santa Maria Novella, to the centre of town and checked in to Relais Toshingi a lovely, small boutique hotel situated right in the centre of the city. Located literally 100 metres from the Duomo, Relais Toshingi was perfectly situated for a quick visit. Don’t be put off by the unassuming stairwell as it is lovely, bright, clean and comfortable inside, it is also great if you are travelling as a family as some rooms sleep four across two levels.
For a higher end five-star splurge try the beautiful nearby Rocco Forte Hotel Savoy, an elegant hotel which is also perfectly located on Piazza della Repubblica.
The walk from the station isn’t long (about 10 minutes) however be warned most of the streets are cobblestoned and some are quite narrow so if you have heavy suitcases you may prefer to catch a cab.
After a quick refresh it was time to head out and explore Florence’s impressive Duomo, the Cathedral di Santa Maria Fiore. With a stunning cupola dome built by Filipino Brunelleschi, beautiful frescoes, elaborate marble work and historic artwork this exquisite building is well worth exploring.
We were visiting in summer and the lines were long, so our top tip is to organise tickets in advance or go out of peak hours. You can just view the outside which is equally gorgeous, but to get the full experience it is definitely worth waiting in line to tour inside. Entrance to the main cathedral is free however there is a cost to climb the dome and bell tower, and to visit the museum and the Baptistery.
A quick late lunch of delicious mushroom pizza for 5 Euros from a nearby cafe and it was time to head off for some more exploring.
Time to wander around this gorgeous city, through cobbled laneways and back streets to the famous Ponte Vecchio, the bridge joining the left and right banks across the Arno River. A wander along the bridge with a visit to the many beautiful jewellery shops which lines its edges is a lovely way to spend some time (be warned – jewellery lovers could drop some serious cash!).
From the Ponte Vecchio, it was time to head up to Piazzale Michelangelo to see the spectacular pink and golden hued sunset across the river. It is a steep climb and there are steps so be prepared with flat walking shoes. Depending on what time of the year you are visiting it can be very, very busy, so arrive early to nab a great spot to watch the sun go down. There are a couple of cafes at the top if you need a refreshment to cool you down after the steep walk up.
Time to wander back down in to town and across the bridge to find one of the many bars to relax and enjoy an aperitif before heading to dinner – with so many lovely restaurants it is hard to go wrong, we found a quaint unassuming restaurant down a small back street that had the most delicious ricotta gnocchi with pesto and local Tuscan wine. A stop for gelato topped off the perfect meal.
A wander back to the hotel via the beautiful Piazza della Repubblica for a Carousel ride. A quick peek at the Duomo at night and then it was time to head home for a restful sleep.
We headed up to the cafe at the top of the La Rinascente department store for breakfast with a view of the Florence rooftops. A great sunny spot to start the morning with a few strong espressos and avocado toast.
It was time to wander again but this time with the intention of visiting some of the beautiful boutiques and stores located in the city centre. From leather shops to perfumeries and designer wares, the shopping in Florence is wonderful. A must visit is the famous Italian chocolate shop, Venchi which serves up the most delicious gelato and also has some great gifts to take home to the chocolate lovers in your life.
Heading back towards the station we make a stop at the oldest pharmacy in the World, Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella (read our full story on this pharmacy here) combining a beautiful shopping experience with history and a museum, it is another Florence must-visit.
One last stop for yet another gelato and it was time to bid farewell to this beautiful city, for now anyway.
*Note that as we have been to Florence a number of times before we didn’t visit some of the major artworks on this trip including Michelangelo’s David and Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus however if it is your first visit we would highly recommend fitting these in to your itinerary.