We have friends who are coming to Florence for just a day on a cruise ship excursion. They asked for suggestions of what to see. Florence has so many wonderful sites, but after thinking about this, here’s what I personally would recommend as my perfect day to get the best taste of Florence.
Morning: Palazzo Pitti (My Favorite Place)
Start off at the Pitti Palace. It is on the Oltrarno (the “other” side of the Arno River from the major sites). This means it is far less crowded and no lines. (My sister and I discovered this a couple of years ago when we were desperate to escape the heat and crowds in June.) Tip: The ticket office is at the extreme rigth side. Once inside the palace courtyard, there are WCs (50 cents).
The Pitti Palace is where the Medici Family lived, followed by the House of Savoy and other rulers (all the way to the early 1900s), so you can tour their amazingly luxurious apartments. You can even see a bathroom built for Napoleon.
But the best – they have almost as outstanding artwork as the Uffizi Gallery, but with no people. One of the former residents decided to hang the art in a manner that he thought was symmetrical, rather than in chronological order or by artist. So the walls are crammed with a dizzying amount of works. They have left it as it was originally hung. You have to look carefully because a Rafael or Rubens will be off to the side next to someone you’ve never heard of before. There are written guides in each room that point out the artwork so worth looking at these to identify the big artists. It is over the top extravagance.
After touring the inside, stretch your legs in the Boboli Gardens (this is a separate ticket – bought at same ticket office). You can lose yourself here and wander around little hidden paths and explore. At the end, as you are facing the palace, take a right down the hill. It looks like you are going down a driveway to a workshed. You’ll see some steps off to the right. Go down and find a fabulous grotto that the Medici family created for their children. They made it look like a cave inside and added little statues of animals. Michelangelo also contributed his “Prisoners” series (unfinished works – looks like they are escaping from the marble). The originals are now with David in the Accademia – these are copies. Look at the little blue door to the left of the grotto. This is the entrance to the famous Vasari Corridor, the secret passageway that the Medicis took across the Arno River on the Ponte Vecchio.
Last – head toward the exit, but take a look at the little statue on the right on the way out – it is Bacchus riding a turtle, a famous piece, if not a little odd. (There is a copy of it outside the pizza place at National Harbor!)
Lunch: Simple or Snazzy
Your choice: simple and laid back or fancier with a view.
Wander the streets toward the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. There are wonderful little shops and artisans on this side of the river.
If you opt for simple – head to Piazza San Spirito. It is a cute square with a number of restaurants and bars, where you can sit outside and watch the world go by. You will see everything here. Many mornings, they have a farmer’s market and on Sunday, a giant flea market. For eating, we liked Tamero Pasta Bar, where there is someone making homemade pasta in the window, graffiti on the walls, and house wine by the glass or bottle. http://www.tamero.it.
If you opt for snazzy – head toward the water. Turn right immediately before the Ponte Vecchio (bridge) onto Via de Bardi and go about half a block to the Golden View restaurant. Ask for a table with a view. They have gourmet dishes, white tablecloths, and the best view in town. http://www.goldenviewopenbar.com.
After lunch, take a leisurely stroll across the Ponte Vecchio. It is crammed with goldsmiths and jewelry shops. Notice the Vasari Corridor that has snaked its way from the Pitti Palace and is above.
Keep strolling up toward Piazza della Signoria (where the Uffizi and Palazzo Vecchio are – it has a big tower so hard to miss). Here, there are a variety of famous sculptures, including a copy fo the famous “David” by Michelangelo. If you don’t have time to see the original, you can at least see what the fuss is about.
Onward to the Duomo
Keep walking away from the water toward the Duomo. Sneak over one block to the corner of via Calimala and via Porta Rossa until you see an open air market. If you walk around it, you will find a statue of a boar – nicknamed “The Little Piglet.” The legend is if you rub his nose, you will return to Florence.
Circle back and keep walking up via Calzaoili. You will know the Duomo when you see it – the outside is the best part. You can walk around it and the Baptistery (look at the golden doors of Paradise on the side of the Baptistery). It is free to go into the Duomo, so if there is no line, you can pop in and take a look. The dome is spectacular.
Take a Break at Scudieri
Our favorite dessert place is on this square – Scudieri – on top side by Baptistery on at the corner of via de Cerretani. It is old-time glamorous with chandeliers and a case full of dolci (sweets). We go here a few times a week for coffee, tea, and treats. (There is also a WC for 50 cents.) http://www.scudieri.eu.
If you still have more time, head back toward the water on via Roma to the Piazza del Republicca. The Rinascente department store is on the right as you head toward the river, on the same side as Savoy Hotel. Go to the 5th floor, where they have a terrace bar. Have a glass of proseco as you gaze at the Duomo.
Of course there are tons of other sites, views and good places to eat. But if I only had a few hours, these would be my pick.