If you love art, you may get to Florence, Italy, and decide to stay a lifetime. But sometimes, a day trip is all you can manage. That’s okay, we’re sure you’ll be back later.
If you love art and have one day in Florence, what should you see? Should you try to see the biggest highlights in the most important museums, or should you hit up lots of churches? It really depends on your interests as well as on your resistance to standing on your feet all day! Unless you’re a really die-hard museum-goer, the best idea is to find a balanced way to enjoy as much of what the city has to offer and come away with a positive impression that will make you want to return soon, for a longer stay.
Church of Santa Croce
Start the day at the Church of Santa Croce, located near the Arno river – if you arrive before the church opens at 9:30am (daily except Sundays), head over to the river for a good view and a photo! The reason this is a good place to start is that the church was begun in the late 13th century (although its façade was made only in the 19th century!) and it’s an opportunity to experience art in situ. Wealthy families commissioned frescoes for their chapels, and altarpieces also decorate these spaces. You can also explore the cloister, chapter house and refectory to the side of the church; these were the practical areas of the monastery, where monks could walk, talk, and eat.
Depending on how long you’ve taken at Santa Croce, we’d suggest going into one of the less crowded museums in town. The Uffizi and the Accademia both have long lines, even if you reserve in advance, and the Uffizi takes half a day to visit in and of itself. The Bargello is the city’s sculpture museum and it houses a few important monuments in the history of art. There’s a statue of Bacchus by the young Michelangelo, whose flesh-like figure you can admire up close, and a whole room dedicated to the great early Renaissance sculptor, Donatello, whose various standing saints were fundamental to the progress of Western art. In the summers it’s open until 5pm, while in the winter it’s open only in the mornings.
The Duomo Complex – as it’s called since it contains more than one important building – should take some time to visit. You can experience it quite well from the outside, but you might also want to go inside either the church or its baptistery with its golden mosaic dome. If you are wearing comfortable shoes and have enough time, you can also consider walking up either the dome or the belltower. The view is pretty much the same from each. A cumulative ticket for 10 euro gets you full access, though it’s free to enter the church itself.
If you’re at all interested in creating art yourself, Florence’s most historic art supplies store will be heaven for you. Zecchi, located on via dello Studio, a tiny street to the side of the Duomo, has a lot crammed into a small space. We could gaze all day at the display of pigments in jars behind the cash.
Not an artist? Another historic shop that is a delight to the senses is the Officina Profumeria Santa Maria Novella, a historic pharmacy that was run by the Dominican monks of the church of the same name. Their highly scented products are all natural. While it’s a pricey place, it’s perfect for picking up a special gift.
A note about Gelato
After any church or museum, we recommend a gelato break. While walking towards the Duomo from Santa Croce you may hit the very famous Vivoli’s, or go to Gelateria dei Neri on via dei Neri – owned by the same people as Vivoli’s but less well known, they have a ton of flavours and have kept their prices down a bit. Between the Duomo and the Accademia, there’s a tasty place called Le Parigine, which specializes in ice-cream sandwiches made on the spot. Finally, there’s Sicilian-owned Carabé, whose granite (a kind of fresh slushie) is a real treat.