With a compact and easily walkable centre, Florence is ideal for a short break. Of course, you won’t be able to see everything in two days (the Uffizi alone could take the best part of a day), but you can cover off a surprising number of the Tuscan capital’s highlights in just 48 hours. Here’s how you could do it:
08:00 Set your alarm to be up bright and early, and head straight for Florence’s star attraction: Brunelleschi’s dome. You can’t start the 463-step climb until it opens at half past, but get in the queue at 8am and you’ll be one of the first in, meaning you’ll be able to walk right to the top with relative ease (later in the day you’ll often have to queue up through the tiny passageways inside). There is a ticket office on Piazza San Giovanni, but save time and book yours before you leave home (it’s valid for six days). Pause on the way up to admire the frescoes on the inside of the dome, which depict the Last Judgement. Once at the top, the city unfolds before you, a mass of terracotta rooftops and monochrome churches.
10:00 Back at ground level, pop inside the cathedral, check out the stunning bronze doors of the Baptistery, then head around the back to the museum, where you’ll find a fantastic collection of statues, reliefs and paintings from the medieval, baroque and Renaissance periods.
12:00 It’ll take you less than 15 minutes to amble to the next stop: the Basilica di Santa Croce. This imposing church dominates the Piazza di Santa Croce (the site of the annual Calcio Storico) – find a bench and spend a few minutes resting your legs and admiring its striking marble façade. Inside, seek out the Bardi and Peruzzi chapels, both of which are decorated with frescoes by Giotto, who also painted the scenes inside the dome.
13:00 Lunch time! Wander down the Borgo Santa Croce and onto the Via dei Neri and in five minutes or so you’ll reach All’Antico Vinaio, famous for producing some of the best panini in Florence. Five euros will buy you a giant hunk of bread, stuffed full of delicious fillings – salami, artichokes, cheeses, prosciutto… whatever you fancy. On one side of the street is the takeaway outlet (expect queues); on the other, an eat-in café. One panino is usually enough to share, but go for a plastic glass of wine, too – you’re in Italy!
14:30 All fuelled up? Now’s the time to tackle the Uffizi. Make sure you book your tickets before you go to avoid the queues – you just need to collect them 15 minutes before your allotted time. Spend a few hours exploring the art-filled halls; if you need a pick-me-up afterwards, there are plenty of cafes lining the nearby Piazza della Signoria where you can get a cold drink.
19:30 As sunset approaches, there’s only one place to be: Piazzale Michelangelo, one of our favourite places to take photos in Florence. Crowds flock to this viewpoint each evening to watch the sun sink over the Arno, bathing the city in a golden light. You can walk up, but it’s a bit of a hill, so if you’re not up to it you can catch the number 12 or 13 bus. There’s usually a lively atmosphere up here, with live music and people toasting their trip with a glass of Prosecco – why not pick up a bottle and some plastic glasses on your way and join them?
21:00 For dinner, wander back down the hill to the trendy Oltrarno neighbourhood, where you’ll find plenty of eateries, plus bars for post-dinner drinks.
09:00 After breakfast, head across the Arno to the Pitti Palace. This 15th-century palace is home to a collection of fantastic museums and galleries, including the Silver Museum (which displays the treasures of the Medici family) and the colourful Costume Gallery. Explore the interior, then head outside for a stroll around the adjoining Boboli Gardens.
12:00 Stroll up Via de’ Guicciardini to the famous Ponte Vecchio. The first bridge to be built across the Arno, the Ponte Vecchio was once lined with butchers’ shops; nowadays, the little boutiques are high-end jewellers. Have a nose at their glittering window displays as you cross.
13:00 Fifteen minutes’ walk north will take you to the Mercato Centrale, a great spot for lunch. Head up to the first floor and you’ll find a gourmet food court, with stalls selling delicious cheeses, pasta, pastries – and, of course, wine. Just outside is San Lorenzo Market, famous for its leather goods – ideal for a few souvenirs.
15:00 Just east of the market is the Galleria dell’Accademia, another brilliant art gallery. If you’ve had your fill of art, you’ve also got two lovely churches close by you could pop into: Basilica di San Lorenzo and Basilica di Santa Maria Novella. The latter sits in a green piazza that’s a nice place to sit down with a gelato.
18:00 Colle Bereto is one of our favourite aperitivo spots. If the weather’s on your side, take a seat on the terrace and order an Aperol spritz. The prices are steep, but they include the delicious buffet inside – load up your plate with pasta salads, breads and antipasti and enjoy the atmosphere.
20:00 Not many people realise, but the Palazzo Vecchio is open until midnight. Pop in to admire its beautiful frescoes and artworks without the daytime crowds. Last admission to the tower is 8.30pm, so if you want to go up then make sure you do that first.
21:30 Time for your final dinner in Florence. Try Ristorante Enoteco Pane e Vino, around 15 minutes’ walk away across the river. It was Florence’s first wine bar and boasts a cellar with over 1,000 bottles (closed on Sundays).