The Italian city of Florence sits nestled among the rolling Tuscan hills, with an unmistakeable skyline dominated by the fabulous Duomo. With so much Renaissance art and culture, shopping opportunities, and of course incredible gastronomy, this 3 day Florence itinerary will take you through everything you should do in this beautiful Italian city, particularly if it’s your first time there.
How to get there
Visiting from the UK is pretty easy, with direct flights from most airports to Firenze/Pisa airport. We booked with Jet2 and did it as one of their holiday packages, where you choose flights and a hotel but just pay a deposit up front.
From the airport it’s about an hour transfer time, and transfers can be added in as a package extra. Flights from Newcastle were in the afternoon, so by the time we got there, and to the hotel it was dark.
Where to stay
Our hotel was called Hotel de la Ville, and was located on the newly pedestrianised Via Tornabuoni, but accessible by car for the hotel. The street is gorgeous, and even in the dark you can see how grand the area is.
The location is well sought after, walkable to everything you could want to see in central Florence and the old town. The staff were great, especially for local restaurant recommendations, and last minute reservations.
The hotel itself is beautiful, with an ornately designed reception and lounge/bar area, and rooms of a similar style. We were staying bed and breakfast, which was typical continental style.
Due to both the quality of the hotel and it’s jncredible location I’d definitely stay there again on a return visit.
First night dinner
We had a number of restaurants in mind for while we were in Florence, including a couple of recommendations off people. Being in Italy we obviously had traditional Italian on our list, a Florentine steak place, the original Harry’s bar, and of course pizza. I’d recommend all of the above for you too and over the three days I promise you’ll have them.
We asked at the hotel reception for somewhere traditional but close by on our first evening and they suggested somewhere called Gargani. It was just a five to ten minute walk from the hotel, but you could tell from the outside it was exactly the sort of place you’d want for good Italian food.
It was packed for a start, and had the window shutters and doors wide open in the warm evening air. There were big groups casual locals enjoying dinner, couples out for date night all dolled up in high end Italian fashion, and plenty of people being turned away for not having a reservation. Basically it was like any good Italian restaurant you’ve been to – loud, bustling, popular, great atmosphere, loads going on.
As for the food – we got everything you’d want from an Italian. Antipasto cold meat starters, mozerella, garlic bread, pizzas, and I had the best pasta I’ve ever had in my life. It was a prawn and saffron swirl pasta bowl of amazingness and I still think about it today. I’ve yet to have a pasta dish I’ve enjoyed more – even in Rome!
Florence 3 day itinerary – Day 1
After a good nights sleep and a continental breakfast, head out to explore the city. The entire city is walkable, but be aware it’s old and cobbled, with narrow paths and steep curbs, so you’re not going to need anything other than flat shoes. Like most people, our first priority was to see the Duomo, but on the way there we passed through Piazza Della Republica.
Piazza Della Republica
You’ll enter the square through the huge Triumph Arch, and find yourself in what used to be the Roman Forum, or centre of the old Roman city. In the past this area also used to be the city ghetto, but is far from it now. One full side of the square is made up of the Savoy hotel, and you’ll also find a number of prestigious cafes where you can enjoy an (expensive) Italian coffee or lunch.
These include Caffe Gilli and Caffe Paszkowski, but the most famous is Caffe delle Giubbe Rosse, which is recognisable by the bright red waistcoats and jackets that the waiters wear. The walls are adorned with photographs of all it’s famous guests of the past, and it’s a renowned meeting spot for local artists.
In the centre of the square is an ornate carousel, and you’ll always find any number of street performers and artists. Once the most central square in the Tuscan capital, today it is often used for festivals and musical performers.
Piazza Del Duomo
Keep going on to find Piazza del Duomo, it shouldn’t be too hard as if you look up the giant dome (Duomo) of the Cathedral looms above and is visible from most areas of the city. It definitely stops you getting too lost.
Piazza del Duomo is the busiest and most touristy part of Florence, but it’s so impressive. The square is huge, it would have to be to fit in the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, the Campanile bell tower, and Giovanni’s baptistery.
All three beautiful marble decorated structures date far back in history, with the baptistery being the oldest of them all. It’s the most religious building in Florence, and local children can be baptised here on the first Sunday of every month.
You could easily spend an entire day at Piazza del Duomo, exploring the religious buildings, climbing the 463 steps to the top of the Duomo, shopping in the Tuscan stores filled with pasta, cooking oils and wines that line the edge of the square, or grabbing a coffee or gelato to sit and enjoy whole people watching.
You’ll pass through the square numerous times over your stay, so don’t rush to see and do it all at once, make sure you actually enjoy it as there’s so much going on. Despite the street artists selling their paintings there aren’t too many souvenir stalls, which makes it unique as far as heavy tourist areas go. For your first day you might just want to wander around and take it all in.
For a much more in depth account of the square and the Duomo itself, including getting inside, and more info on the rest of the square take a look at my post dedicated entirely to it here – Piazza del Duomo.
Italian coffee break
By now you might be needing a coffee break, and for a cheaper option than one of the main square cafes, explore any of the streets that lead off it to the surrounding area.
Cafes are everywhere you look, and on the hunt to find one you’ll get to experience the beauty of Florence’s side streets. Colourful Italian shutters clatter overhead, plant pots overflow from tiny Juliet balconoes, and Vespers are parked up outside every other big wooden front door.
Find a cafe you like the look of, and enjoy a proper Italian coffee…
Experience the ancient artworks
There are pieces of artwork, sculptures and ancient architecture all over Florence, so much so that it feels like one big open air museum everywhere you turn. Of course some of the most high profile pieces have to be kept securely under lock and key, but they’re there to visit at many museums across the city.
Like Piazza del Duomo I firmly believe if you’re into Renaissance art you could spend an entire week exploring the museums and gardens and still not see everything there is to see. Greats such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli all have a significant presence across the city, and if you have anything in mind that you want to see I’d suggest you book museum entry tickets ahead of your visit for your first day. You’d kick yourself if you don’t and have to spend hours queuing.
For our first visit to Florence there was only one thing we had on our list as a must see, and we booked tickets for the Accademia Gallery specifically to see it – Michelangelo’s Statue of David.
The queue was huge to stand and wait, but with pre booked tickets we had a time slot to get in. Once inside though it was a free for all. There’s so many rooms and galleries to look at, but the direction to go in to see David is easily spotted by the huge crowds.
Towering at the far end of the hall, the giant marble David overlooks everyone, and the detail is incredible to see even as someone who doesn’t really know all that much about art. It was well worth the visit.
As a general summary, here’s some other museums and galleries and museums you might like to visit:
Palazzo Vecchio Museum
The Uffizi Gallery
Museum of Opera del Duomo
The Uffizi Gallery is one of the biggest and most important Italian museums, and is located on Piazza della Signoria. Even if you aren’t visiting the gallery, this piazza should be your next stop for lunch.
Piazza della Signoria
Here you will find the beautiful Rivoire cafe, a beautiful bistro style place with an outdoor terrace serving lunch, sweet treats and lots of wine. Here you can stop for a long lunch, or even just a desert as they had plenty to choose from. It’s a great spot to take in your surroundings, before getting amongst it all.
If the Piazza del Duomo is the most religious square in Florence, Piazza della Signoria is the most political. As well as the art gallery, this L shaped square is home to the Florence town hall, or the Palazzo Vecchio, and so is the political focus point of the city.
Palazzo Vecchio is unmissable, with it’s tower and stone facade that makes it look like a giant Roman fortress. Outside is a copy of Michelangelo’s Davis, and next to it is another open air gallery in the form of the Loddia dei Lanzi.
This raised platform, with overhead arches and big pillars holds a display of more statues, including the statue of Perseus holding Medusa’s head, Hercules and Nessus, and the Medici lions. It’s incredibly impressive to look at, as is the entirety of the square.
In the centre you have the giant fountain of Neptune, and in the far corner is the newly renovated Gucci museum and garden. If you’re into your fashion then you should definitely head there! After an entire day of square hopping from one famous Piazza to the next, and attempting to take it all in you’ll be ready to head back to your hotel to freshen up for the evening.
A window shop along the designer stores of Via de’ Tornabuoni on your way back won’t hurt though.
There are wine bars a plenty across Florence, and if you’re staying at or near to Hotel de la Ville then there’s a great one on Via de’ Tornabuoni called Procacci Firenze. Enjoy a glass of wine, or a bottle of prosecco if you’re splashing out, and perch at one of the high tables for a pre dinner drink. This particular wine bar is popular with the locals, and is known for it’s truffle ingredient.
For a slightly more formal meal on your second evening, and a chance to get more dressed up head to Il Barretto restaurant. Again this was recommended to us by our hotel, and is the original Harry’s Bar. Expect impeccable service, very high quality food, and to leave feeling very satisfied with everything you’ve just ate.
Florence 3 Day Itinerary – Day 2
Our second day was a Sunday, so we decided after a pretty full first day to slow it down a bit on the second.
Piazzo Santa Spirito
After breakfast we ventured along to another little Italian square, this one far less touristy, and home to a little market, lots of cafes to grab a coffee, and the perfect spot for watching the locals potter about their lives. Piazzo Santa Spirito was the kind of place where you could sit by the fountain, and while away a number of hours without even realising it.
A couple of local musicians sat themselves up against a lampost and started playing, and a group of kids were playing football using the flower beds as goal posts, occasionally being shouted at by the little nanas sat on the bench.
Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens
Head over the River Arno across Ponte Santa Trinita, where you’ll get your first glimpse of the iconic Ponte Vecchio bridge from a distance. Don’t worry on the way back you’ll cross it, but for now head over to Pitti Palace and gardens, a grand Renaissance, 15th Century Palace.
Of all the palaces in Florence, Pitti Palace is the largest, and sprawls over the Boboli Hill that make up it’s landscaped gardens. Being the biggest, oldest. and most beautiful, it was obviously home to the most powerful of Florentine people.
Built by and given it’s name by it’s first inhabitant, banker Luca Pitti, it kept his name even as it became home to others including the Medici’s, who ruled over Tuscany and were the most powerful family of their time.
Over years the palace expanded, and the gardens behind it became landscaped into what we know now as the Boboli Gardens. The palace courtyard expanded, terraces were built, and it was eventually passed to the Italian State in 1919. Today it is so large it has been divided into four museums – the Treasury of the Grand Dukes, the Palatine Gallery, the Royal and Imperial Apartments and the Modern Art Gallery and the Museum of Costume and Fashion. These are open to visitors every day except Monday’s.
The weather when we visit in September was so warm and sunny, that we decided not to go into the Palace itself, instead we appreciate it from the courtyard, with a cold lemonade and some pastries from the little cafe.
Once refreshed a walk among the gardens is a lovely way to spend part of your day. You’ll get to see the full scale of the Palace itself, as well as numerous sculpture displays, stunning fountains and views of the Tuscan countryside. The gardens were the inspiration for many European gardens across many countries today, including the gardens at Versaille, France.
The gardens are huge, so here are some of the things you will come across as you wander through:
Amphitheatre and Artichoke Fountain
The name of the artichoke fountain was given to it by locals due the it’s shape, and this along with the amphitheatre is one of the first points of interest you will come across in the gardens. The area is laden with statues of mythical beings and creatures, and there’s an Egyptian Obelisk stood in the centre that dates back to the 18th century.
This fountain was my personal favourite, it was huge and sit’s down in a big bowl of landscape known as the Basin of Neptune. Surrounding the fountain are many little stone benches, hidden away by the sculpted trees and hedges.
This is the name given to the steep path that runs back up the hill from Neptune’s fountain, and is flanked on either side by huge old oak trees, little side gardens, and many more statues. In the heat you really should take your time because it’s harder than it looks, but at the top turn around to get a wonderful view of Neptune’s basin and fountain from above.
Kaffee House and Lemon House
Among the gardens there are further buildings, greenhouses, storage buildings, conservatories and pavilions. They just add traditional Italian character to the place, and they’re totally adorable. I loved the lemon house, with its rows and tubs of lemon trees. It smelled amazing and citrusy.
One of the last structures you will come across as you make your way back round to the Palace, it the Buontalenti Grotto. The grotto looks very natural inside, by the water and the cave like interior, but of course being in Florence some famous art pieces have been placed there too to create the natural perception.
Once you’ve finished exploring the gardens, make your way to the exit, where you will find one final surprise. One of the most beautiful views over Florence, with the Duomo and Campanile standing tall over the city. A perfect photo spot.
Exploring the palace and gardens will leave you hungry, tired and ready for refreshment, so head back towards the city, this time via Ponte Vecchio.
The bridge is incredible, and has survived years of wars, feuds and traders trying to make their mark in it’s stalls. The shops and hatches line the bridge, in a rickety row made up of jewellers, leather traders, and craftsmen.
In the middle the giant archways allow for a view over the river, but if you look up you’ll see the secret corridor that runs the length of the bridge from the Pitti Palace to the centre of Florence. This was used to secretly transport the Medici family members safely to and from their Palace, and can be visited by the public.
The bridge is always busy, being yet another tourist hotspot in Florence, and there were quite a few beggars about so just keep an eye on your bags and pockets. At the far end of the bridge, there’s a lovely little restaurant, where you can sit in the shelter of it’s outside terrace and enjoy a beer and pizza.
Skip desert here though, and instead pay a visit back to Piazza del Duomo for an ice cream from Don Nino’s, taking the scenic route through the gorgeous side streets.
Evening’s in Florence
Another evening another wine bar, because what else would you do in Florence? They’re everywhere and some of the most atmospheric look like a tiny little archway off the street, but open up into a cavern of little sections inside with tiny tables, benches and a whole range of wine to sample.
For dinner, head to Antico Fattore, a restaurant we had recommended by so many different people and it dates back to the 1860’s. Recipes have been handed down through the generations here, and it is a known dinner spot for famous visitors to Florence.
Try something traditionally Tuscan, like a giant T bone Florentine steak, which they make to serve two, or tagliatelle fungi porcini e tartufo, which is basically a mushroom and truffle pasta from local ingredients.
The restaurant itself is lively and friendly, and another more casual option compared to somewhere like Il Barretto. It was one of our favourite meals of the trip.\
Florence 3 Day Itinerary – Day 3
After two very busy days in Florence with a lot of walking, and a lot of sightseeing we used our third and final day to revisit some of the places we liked the most.
We couldn’t not visit Duomo square again, and on this particular morning the queue to get inside the cathedral was fairly short, so we went in. It would be a good time to book tickets if you wanted to climb the dome itself too.
Following a look inside, we sat ourselves at one of the cafes on the square itself, and enjoyed coffee and crepes while people watching everything going on in the square. There are a number of artists selling their work in the square, so its a good place to pick up some nice souvenirs too, not just the tacky kind.
We retraced our steps back to Piazza della Republica and watched some more of the street entertainers, but for our final lunch in Florence I had somewhere very specific in mind. I risked waiting until the last day but this was largely due to them being closed on a Monday, but I would strongly recommend you pay Gusta Pizza a visit.
Gusta is located on Piazza Santa Spirito, but don’t get confused with the little brasserie place of the same name and ownership. What you’re looking for is Gusta Pizza, a fast food take away option that will likely have a huge queue outside. This, will be the best pizza you have in Florence.
They’re famous for serving their pizzas in the shape of a heart, but you have to ask to make sure you get one. It’s an amazing place, cheap, cheerful, rammed full of people but with very good reason. The pizza really is incredible and completely worth the wait.
For your final afternoon, you could do any number of activities depending on your preference. Tackle another museum or art gallery, go shopping along Via de’ Tornabuoni where you’ll find the original Gucci flagship store, hop from gelateria to coffee shop, or as we did find another wine bar to spend your final few hours in the city.
This time we went to the historical Cantinetta Antinori wine bar, found on the ground floor of one of the oldest buildings in Florence and right by the hotel. The building was the Antinori family mansion for over 600 years, and is a great place to round off your trip.
Other things to do when visiting Florence
Here’s just a couple of other suggestions, or additional things I would love to do on a return visit or if you were staying longer than just a few days:
Take a day trip to Pisa
Go on a Tuscan wine tour in the nearby vineyards
Visit the Uffizi gallery
Explore the secret corridor and passageways that run through the city
Florence is such a beautiful city, but small enough that you can easily enjoy the majority in a short break or a long weekend. I found it the perfect starter city as someone who hadn’t been to Italy before, and it pretty much prepared me for Rome a few months later. The weather in September was glorious, aside from one thunder shower on our first morning due to the heat. Remember Florence is completely walkable, but you will need comfy shoes for prancing around these amazing streets!
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