If You Only Have Three Days in Florence

Three days in Florence might sound like a long time, but there is so much to see in this Renaissance gem, that you need to plan your time well. In three days, you can fit in an intoxicating mix of art and culture, fabulous food and wine, great nightlife and lots and lots of aimless wandering. The centro storico, or historic centre, of Florence is very compact, so there may even be time to nip back to your hotel for a rest in between sights!

6 Piazzale degli Uffizi
Ideally you’d have a whole day to appreciate the world’s foremost collection of Renaissance paintings, housed in the 16th-century headquarters of the Medici court. But for those with less time, highlights include the three great Maestà altarpieces in Room 2, Gentile da Fabriano’s glowing Adoration of the Magi (Rooms 5 and 6), Piero della Francesca’s Duke and Duchess of Urbino (Room 7), Fra Filippo Lippi’s ethereal Madonna and Child with Two Angels (Room 8), and the celebrated Botticellis in Rooms 10 to 14. Advance booking is advised.
Piazza S. Croce, 16, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
The Franciscan Basilica di Santa Croce, with its striped green-and-white marble facade, dates from about 1294. Inside are the tombs of many celebrated early Florentines, including Dante, Michelangelo and Machiavelli. Among the many art treasures are radiant frescoes by Giotto and his pupil Taddeo Gaddi, which decorate the Bardi and Peruzzi chapels, and the newly restored Cappella dei Pazzi, a Renaissance architectural masterpiece designed by Brunelleschi.
Via dei Palchetti, 6R, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
One of the most fun places I dined at in Italy was Il Latini, in Florence. It’s in a large, maze-like building with aged prosciutto hanging from the ceilings, and art collaged upon the walls. Seating is at communal tables, and at times it felt like we were all at a wedding. In our case, my boyfriend and I sat with another couple from Australia, who were beginning their tour of Italy, but it’s easy to meet locals at this spot, too. The waiters and the owner are very persuasive when it comes to traditional Florentine food. I requested half of a Florentine steak, but I am sure I was given a full one—one of the largest I have ever seen served. It was cooked rare, and was extremely tender and flavorful. However, I am not much of a carnivore, and as such, my favorite part of the dinner was the fresh sage ravioli. After our meal, the waiter kept bringing shots and wine, which appeared to be on the house. There are no exact prices, and the waiter determines your meal’s cost.
Piazza Pitti, 1, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy
You will likely see Bronzino’s famous portrait of Eleonora (or Eleanor) de Toledo, in the Uffizi, during your visit to Florence. The Spanish noblewoman who became the duchess of Florence in 1539 when she married Cosimo I de’ Medici was unusual for her time, playing an active role in politics and as a patron of the arts. Her patronage extended to garden design, in its infancy (at least in Europe) in the 16th century. Eleonora commissioned the Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti Palace as a green escape from the city; they continue to provide a retreat for travelers today.

Among the earliest examples of the formal compositions that would dominate garden design through the 20th century, the grounds are dotted with classical statues and fountains while straight axes run up and down the hillside with an apparent disregard for topography. A moment in design history can be experienced first hand here. There’s a feeling that the man who planned the gardens (Niccolò Tribolo) conceived a formal plan and then simply laid it atop the site. Principles of garden design were later to shape city planning. The allées of the Boboli Gardens were early models for grand boulevards leading the eye to distant monuments. One of the pleasures of gardens, however, is that you don’t need to know their histories to enjoy the flowers in bloom or the sounds of birdsong and splashing fountains.
Piazza Santo Spirito, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy
Florence’s most lively square is dominated by the blank, unfinished facade of Brunelleschi’s last church. Lined with trees and centered around a pretty fountain, the piazza plays host to a small daily market (where local ladies do their shopping) and a buzzy night-time bar and restaurant scene. In the evenings, during the long, hot summer, café and restaurant tables spill onto the square, the place fills with revelers, and the action plays out well into the wee hours.
Via Rosina, 2r, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
Cramped it may be, but rustic Da Mario, located at the back of the mercato centrale, serves up a menu of consistently reliable Florentine classics to a mix of stall workers, business folk and tourists, and it’s always packed. The choice changes daily, but look out for earthy zuppa di fagioli e cavolo nero and peppato, a kind of beef stew laced with black pepper.
Piazza Ognissanti, 3, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
The rooftop restaurant of the Westin Excelsior hotel wins top prize for being the most panoramic spot for a meal in Florence; floor-to-ceiling, wraparound windows permit 360-degree views over the entire city and the hills beyond. Chef Matteo Lorenzini’s superb food lives up to the magnificent setting—so against the romantic backdrop of Brunelleschi’s Duomo and the thousand twinkling lights of the city, you can feast on seared scallops with chestnuts and lime, spaghetti with clams and crab cream, and Barbary duck.
Piazza del Duomo, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
Despite the fact that it was the last week of October, the line to climb to the top of the Duomo dome was wrapped around the building. The line to climb Giotto’s bell tower, right next door, was nonexistent. Lucky for us, we had our walking shoes on and were ready to climb the bell tower’s 414 narrow, slippery, dusty stairs. At each observation deck, we stopped to catch our breath and to take in the view. As is often the case in life, the higher and harder we climbed, the better the view got. Midway up the tower, I peered out the hole in the side serving as a window, and saw the view pictured. The red roofs of Florence stretched out before us, the Duomo towered to the left. Life was good.
11r Borgo degli Albizi
The perfect souvenir for the food-loving traveler? Slim bars of chocolate wrapped in paper patterned with groovy midcentury designs. Or a pale blue box tied with a satin ribbon, holding a treasure of pralines, caramels, and squares of dark chocolate. Vestri is a family-run establishment that has been turning out delicious chocolate creations for more than 30 years. The clan owns its own cocoa plantation in the Dominican Republic, which ensures the quality and ethical sourcing of its products. The shop also sells modern confections like white chocolate with salt and sesame, as well as sweets based on ancient Florentine recipes. Take decadence to the next level and indulge in a scoop of creamy gelato affogato, drowned in hot chocolate, while you shop.
Via delle Porte Sante, 34, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy
Most people who visit Florence know that walking to Piazzale Michelangelo is a must. However, fewer people know that walking a little higher to the old church of San Miniato al Monte is an even better experience. Amble down the Arno River to Viale G. Poggi, up the green pathways to Piazzale Michelangelo, then continue on until you reach the busy square with a bronze cast of Michelangelo’s David at its center. This church facing the square is one of the oldest in the area, a beautiful 12th-century example of Romanesque architecture. Note, especially, the mosaics on the facade and, inside, above the altar; the floor decorations are also worth a look. There is also a small shop next to the church, run by monks. Take in the views from the outside, stroll the grounds, and see the old cemetery. Entrance to the church is free, and if you’re lucky, you might even hear the monks singing.
Via della Scala, 16, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
Elevate the normally mundane experience of shopping for medicine-cabinet basics like soap and toothpaste with a visit to one of the oldest pharmacies in the world. In this 13th-century chapel with early Renaissance frescoes, Gothic carved wooden cabinets, and crystal chandeliers, most items are still crafted according to formulas originally created by Dominican monks. A small museum displays equipment once used to make Santa Maria Novella products, as well as a collection of beautifully painted ceramic jars that held the herbs and powders. Linger a little longer in this fragrant world by ordering a pot of herbal tea or a small glass of one of the historic liqueurs in the tearoom.
Piazza del Mercato Centrale, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
Foodies (and those simply interested in local color and a good meal) should head to San Lorenzo and its covered Mercato Centrale. Florence’s main market for edibles is housed in a 19th-century glass-and-iron building. On the ground floor, delis, stands, and butcher counters sell a fantastic array of local fruit and vegetables, cheeses, dried porcini mushrooms, baked goods, balsamic vinegars, and olive oils plus fresh fish, poultry, and meat. Upstairs, a modern food hall has opened: Stalls sell prepared foods and meals for happy and immediate consumption at a central seating area.
Piazza Vittorio Gui, 1, 50144 Firenze FI, Italy
If you get a chance to book seats for a night at the opera in Florence, grab it! The city has a new opera house, the Opera di Firenze, a €150 million theatre complex near the Cascine Park. Opera was born in this city when Jacopo Peri’s ‘Dafne’, was performed at Palazzo Corsi on Via Tornabuoni in 1598, and has always played an important part in cultural life here. The soaring cubic complex constructed on a plot near the Cascine Park was designed by Paolo Desideri twinkles from within at night: It houses a handsome 2,000-seater opera theatre equipped with state-of-the-art stage equipment, a yet-to-be-inaugurated second auditorium and an outdoor amphitheater for summer performances. Try and catch a performance of something Italian, maybe some Puccini, Bellini or Verdi. The Florentines do it very well!
Via Camillo Cavour, 3, 50129 Firenze FI, Italy
Located behind the church of San Lorenzo, this is where many members of the ruling Medici family are buried. The octagonal building with an opulent marble interior dates from 1519. The Cappella dei Principi houses sarcophagi belonging to the Medici grand dukes, including Cosimo I. Lorenzo the Magnificent is buried in the adjoining Sagrestia Nuova, which contains Michelangelo’s famous Night and Day and Dawn and Dusk sculptures.
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