Finding your way around Florence in one weekend
Though small on a map, Florence has more historical riches and artistic treasures than you can shake a breadstick at. The birthplace of Leonardo Da Vinci is also home to Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, not to mention Medici-built Palazzos, the heart-capturing Ponte Vecchio and flame-hued Duomo. So how do you squeeze everything into one weekend break? Do you make a beeline for world-famous UNESCO-listed landmarks, or seek out the city’s fresh-faced hotspots? Start at one of the best-located hotels in Florence and you can’t go wrong.
OPTION ONE: OLD MASTERS
If it’s your first visit to Florence, don’t worry about wanting to tick off the best-loved sites. You’ll quickly see why they hold the limelight. Just time your visits to avoid the crowds. Ask your luxury hotel to book queue-skipping tickets in advance and opt for late afternoon entry, ideally after 5pm for a little breathing space. Bookend the day with an early-morning visit to the Uffizi, taking in works by Caravaggio and contemporaries, and you’ve got yourself a full-blown art fix.
You’ll want to join a queue, however, if it’s the best gelato you’re after. Wait in line with locals and visitors outside Eduardo’s for freshly churned, organic scoops. As you savour it, you could take in the sculptures around Piazza della Signoria, then step inside its Palazzo. It’s a major Medici site, but a guided tour of the secret passages gives undercover access to its hidden areas.
You’ll no doubt have seen the Duomo rising over rooftops. On your second day here, get an up-close-and-personal look. And don’t miss the Baptistery opposite, with its incredible octagonal interior. Everyone looks up, but pay attention to the doors – they’re celebrated artworks themselves, lorded over by beautiful sculptures.
It’s then a short walk to Florence’s most captivating museums. Museo Leonardo da Vinci holds some of the great man’s inventions and designs, and Museo Galileo will send scientific heads spinning. While Museo Nazionale del Bargello is often pleasantly crowd-free with works by Donatello, the original Baptistery doors and Michelangelo masterpieces.
After sunset is the most romantic time to browse the glittering goldsmith shops on Ponte Vecchio. But Ponte S. Niccolò is better for photo-perfect views of the bridge and the terracotta-topped skyline beyond. By now, it’s time to rest walked-out legs. So, ask your hotel concierge to reserve tickets to an opera or classical recital in the Auditorium Santo Stefano al Ponte Vecchio. After all, the piano was invented here in Florence.
OPTION TWO: NEW FACES
If you’ve been to Florence before, or don’t fancy walking in others’ footsteps, take a fresh approach to a minibreak here and unearth the city’s more contemporary spaces.
The late-opening Gucci Museum may be housed in a beautiful 14th-century building on Piazza della Signoria, but inside it celebrates modern sartorial style. If you’re here in January or June, you’ll also be in time for the fashionista favourite Pitti Fairs – Florentine Fashion Week.
Behind Pitti Palace are the Boboli Gardens. An airy antidote to busy art galleries and on the quieter side of the river, this alfresco museum features fountains, grottoes and statues. You’re then strollable distance from Piazza Santo Spirito. Considered part of Florence’s boho quarter, it’s the place to browse pop-up markets or watch the world go by, cappuccino in hand.
You’ll need to walk a little way out of the centre to find the Fondazione Scienza e Tecnica, but it’s worth it for the celestial planetarium alone. The Cabinet of Physics hails machinery while the vast Natural History rooms captures the imaginations of budding Attenboroughs – young and old.
Wander back towards the central hubbub for lunch at Mercato Centrale. A grand iron-and-glass covered market, the upstairs food hall is open from 10am until midnight. Squeeze through the bustling entrance to pick up small plates of artisanal salami and cheeses, fritto misto and hand-made ravioli, or mix things up with sushi. You can easily lose a whole afternoon here – luckily, it’s a buzzing setting for a glass of wine.
Where to stay
If opting for a Renaissance-fuelled visit to the city or a delve into the new world, Palazzo Vecchietti is the perfect booking. This 16th-century former aristocratic house is minutes from the Duomo and its collection of artworks make it a spot-on starting point for gallery-hopping.