If you're planning to visit Florence, Italy, and you've only got a few days to spend there, you may find yourself overwhelmed with how to see the city's major sights, find the time to eat and drink the best of its culinary offerings, and still save yourself some precious downtime to soak in the character of this quintessentially Renaissance Italian city. To help you make the most of your vacation time, we’ve compiled an itinerary for what to see when, where to eat, and where to relax and have an unforgettable 48 hours in Florence.
Day 1: Morning
10 a.m.: Chances are you'll arrive in Florence by train, so plan for a mid-morning arrival. Even if it's too early to check in, drop your bags at your centrally located hotel. For a luxury stay, Hotel Bernini Palace is a classic five-star property just behind the Palazzo Vecchio. Nearby, more modestly priced Peruzzi Urban Residences offers a self-catering option in a restored 13th-century palace.
11 a.m.: Once you've dropped your bags and freshened up, it's time for a restorative espresso or cappuccino, plus a pastry, or cornetto, to go with it. Go full-on tourist and sit outside at historic Rivoire, and revel in the views of the Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria. Afterward, take a stroll from the piazza down Via dei Calzaiuoli, until you reach Piazza del Duomo and one of the most magnificent assemblages of architecture in the Western world: Florence's baptistery and Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise, Giotto's bell tower, and the Duomo of Florence, with Brunelleschi's dome rising high above the piazza.
The Gates of Paradise are outdoors and free to look at. If you haven't reserved in advance to climb the dome but you still want a bird's eye view of Florence, ascend the 414 narrow steps up to the top of the 14th-century bell tower. Depending on how long the line is, use your time before lunch to see the inside of the Duomo.
Day 1: Afternoon
1 p.m.: Head to Florence's Mercato Centrale (Central Market), a historic produce market with a recently added gourmet food hall upstairs. If you can resist your hunger pangs for a half-hour or so, wander the produce and foodstuffs area downstairs to get an eye-popping glimpse of the bounty of the Tuscan countryside. This is a great place to buy foodie souvenirs or gifts to take home. Then head upstairs, where everyone in your party is bound to find something delicious for lunch, from pizza to panini to hamburgers, roast chicken and of course, gelato.
After lunch, wander around the San Lorenzo Outdoor Market, and maybe pick out a made-in-Italy leather jacket or purse. If you stop at a market stall and are urged to follow a vendor to a storefront with a bigger selection, don't be alarmed. This is standard practice at the market.
4 p.m.: It's time to add a little culture to your schedule by taking in some of Michelangelo's masterpieces. If you're reserved in advance, head to your afternoon appointment at the Galleria dell'Accademia to see the Renaissance genius's best-known sculpture, David. If you haven't reserved at the Accademia, or just prefer to see Michelangelo's work in a more intimate setting, visit the Medici Chapels, adjacent to the Basilica di San Lorenzo. The chapels contain the elaborate tombs of several members of the Medici dynasty, decorated with some of Michelangelo's most evocative sculpture.
Day 1: Evening
7 p.m.: After you've rested up a bit at your hotel, stroll across the Ponte Vecchio bridge and imagine it as it once was—home to the city's slaughterhouses before Ferdinando I de' Medici ordered the butcheries replaced by jewelers. It's still a popular place to buy gold jewelry, though not the cheapest place to do so. Then head to Piazza Santo Spirito for an aperitivo – think of it as happy hour with free snacks.
8:30 p.m.: Italians eat dinner late, especially in the warmer months, so you'll be right on time to claim your reserved table at Osteria Toscanella, a cozy, quirky locale for traditional Tuscan pastas and a bistecca fiornetina, or T-bone steak, washed down with hearty red wine from the region.
10:30 p.m.: If you're a night owl, head back to any of the bars on lively Piazza Santo Spirito for an after-dinner drink or two. If you've got kids in tow or don't fancy a late night on the town, make a beeline for Gelateria della Passera for some of Florence's best artisanal ice cream. Take the long way back to your hotel, via Ponte Santa Trinita, for a dreamy view of the Ponte Vecchio and the Florence skyline.
Day 2: Morning
8:15 a.m.: After an early breakfast at your hotel, head to the Uffizi Gallery, where you've pre-reserved tickets for the earliest time slot. With thousands of works of art, including major works by Botticelli, Giotto, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Carravaggio, you need a good three hours to do justice to the collection.
Day 2: Afternoon
12:30 p.m.: Your morning of art-admiring will likely leave you hungry. Pop into Osteria All'antico Vinaio for a truly inspired sandwich, served on a hard roll or on schiacciata, a Tuscan flatbread. Since we're in Italy, and it's after noon, pair it with a nice glass of chianti or a cold prosecco. Where you go next depends on whether your taste leans to art, science, history, or architecture. If you're up for another art museum, then you'll appreciate the relative calm of the Bargello sculpture museum after the crowds of Uffizi.
If science is your bag, visit the Galileo Museum, which features artifacts, instruments, and writings from the man who revolutionized scientific knowledge. If you're museumed out, walk over to the Basilica di Santa Croce to pay your respects to Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli, all of whom are entombed in this fresco-filled church.
4 p.m.: Cross the Arno River at Ponte alle Grazie, and make your way up to the best viewpoint in Florence, Piazzale Michelangelo. Continue up to San Miniato al Monte, a jewel box of a church and monastery with a gleaming marble and mosaic facade, interiors dating to the 11th-century, and sweeping views of the city. Try to get there by 5:30 p.m. (4:30 in the wintertime) to hear mass accompanied by haunting Gregorian chant. After all that uphill climbing (you can also take bus 12 or 13 to both landmarks), the easy downhill walk back into Florence will have been well earned.
Head back to your hotel to freshen up and rest before dinner.
Since this is your last night to dine in Florence, we suggest an evening food tour that allows you to sample a range of traditional dishes and learn about the city's history along the way. The Tour Guy and Eating Europe both offer highly rated tours. Note that evening tours tend to start around 5 p.m., so you may have to curtail some of your afternoon plans if you want to take a tour.
Day 2: Evening
7 p.m.: If you prefer to explore on your own, start your evening in style with a Negroni (Florence's signature cocktail) at one of the city's splendid rooftop bars. Try the Divina Terrazza at Grand Hotel Cavour. Plaza Hotel Lucchesi is justly proud of its Empireo Rooftop Bar, which offers an ample happy hour spread (for a fee) and swoon-worthy views of the Duomo and Santa Croce.
8:30 pm: It's almost obligatory that you eat pasta on your last night in Florence, and thankfully, the city obliges with a huge range of options. Local pasta specialties include pappardelle al cinghiale, a long, thick pasta served with wild boar ragu. Pappardelle al lepre is the same pasta, except with sauce made from wild hare. Pici is a fat, hand-rolled pasta, typically served with a simple tomato sauce or with just olive oil and garlic. There's also penne strascicate, penne pasta served with a tomato and red wine sauce.
Near the Ponte Vecchio, Buca dell' Orafo is a cozy, rustic place to try these and other Florentine specialties. The restaurant is small, so be sure to book ahead.
11 p.m.: After savoring your last meal in Florence you find you're in need of some nightlife, head just a few blocks over to Via dei Benci, which runs through the Santa Croce district. This street and its side streets are dotted with bars, many of which stay open into the wee hours, especially on weekends. Moyo and Soul Kitchen are both good bets.
If a slow walk through the gorgeously lit streets and piazzas of Florence is more your style, be sure to do it with a gelato in hand. Cross the Arno River at Ponte alle Grazie and swing past Cantina del Gelato for their interesting flavor combinations. We bet you've never tasted whiskey and cinnamon gelato, or gorgonzola and honey flavor anywhere else. Walk back towards the Ponte Vecchio and revel in the magic light of the city reflected in the river. Cross back over the river, either at the Ponte Vecchio or Ponte Santa Trinita.
If you still feel like wandering, take the long way home. Wandering through the floodlit Piazza del Duomo is a whole other experience at night when the crowds have dispersed.