The Perfect 3 Day Itinerary for Florence, for First Timers and Repeat Visitors
Updated: Jan 18
Here's my detailed three day itinerary and travel guide for visiting Florence Italy. Florence is an overwhelmingly beautiful city, the "Cradle of the Renaissance." With the best Medieval and Renaissance art in Europe, Florence is a veritable art lovers paradise.
Florence is also a city that's alive, sensual, and romantic. You can be seduced by Botticelli and awed by Michelangelo, in a time tunnel experience. Not surprisingly, Florence's entire historic center is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. Florence is effectively an open air museum with stunning art and architecture at every turn.
You'd think 3 days would be enough time to really explore a small city. But there are so many amazing things to do and see in Florence. You could easily spend weeks there.
In this Florence itinerary, I take you to all of Florence's must see sites, some of Florence's hidden gems, and all the best viewpoints. Along the way, I tell you where to eat, shop, and stroll.
Florence Itinerary, Day 1
Day 1 Morning: Duomo Complex
Head to historic Florence and take in the complex of Florence Cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, nicknamed the Duomo. I recommend purchasing a 72 hour combination pass that allows you to see all the sites within the Duomo complex -- the Duomo, the Baptistry, the Giotto Bell Tower, and the Duomo museum. They're all eminently worth seeing.
You should start with the stunning Duomo Museum, the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, to get the historical backdrop for all these structures. The museum is housed in the Piazza del Duomo at the back of Giotto's Bell Tower, behind the Duomo apse. The museum space is a fabulous treasure box of sculpture. Its rooftop terrace also offers a mesmerizing view of Brunelleschi's dome.
The first thing you see is the museum's well lit showstopper -- the Hall of Paradise. The hall contains a magnificent reconstruction of a Duomo facade designed by the first Duomo architect Arnolfo di Cambio. In 1587, it was torn down to make room for a Renaissance facade (that was never completed).
The museum also has an unparalleled collection of Medieval and early Renaissance Florentine pieces that once decorated the Duomo complex structures. You will find pieces by artists such as Ghiberti, Donatello, Michelangelo, Arnolfo di Cambio, and Nanni di Banco. Click here for my complete guide to visiting the magnificent Duomo Museum.
Then, head to Florence Cathedral -- the most prominent, and popular, landmark in Florence. It was built over 172 years, beginning in 1296. The Commune of Florence hired architect Arnolfo di Cambio, a man responsible for building much of 13th and 14th century Florence.
Florence Cathedral is Gothic in style, but not in the light and elegant way you think of Paris' Notre Dame. It's made of brown sandstone and beautifully faced with pink, green, and white marble.
Filippo Brunelleschi's magnificent terra cotta colored dome, built from 1420-36, is the highlight. The burnt orange Duomo cupola is the very symbol of Florence. It’s decorated with frescos by Giorgio Vasari, a Florentine artist and the world’s first art historian.
For panoramic views, climb up Brunelleschi's dome. You can admire the Vasari frescos up close and have stunning views over Florence. Alternatively, you can take in views from Giotto's Bell Tower.
Next, stroll to the Baptistery, in front of the main facade of the Duomo. Dating from 1059, it's over a thousand years old. The Baptistery sports three magnificent sets of bronze doors. On the eastern side are the famous golden "Gates of Paradise" designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti and nicknamed by Michelangelo. (The originals are now fully restored and housed in the Duomo Museum.)
The Baptistry is lined with ancient Roman columns of gray granite, likely repurposed from the ancient Roman Forum down the street. The highlight is a stunning golden Byzantine style ceiling mosaic telling the story of the Last Judgement. You can plop down on the pews and admire it.
Day 1 Afternoon: Ponte Vecchio | Uffizi Gallery
Break for lunch and a wander, enjoying the joys of a traffic free Florence. Try Casa del Vino, where you can get sandwiches, crostini, or charcuterie plates with a delicious glass of wine. All'Antico Vinaio is also a must-try, just minutes away from Piazza della Signoria. Sandwiches are made with a local bread called schiacciata.
Then take a stroll across Florence's storybook bridge, the Ponte Vecchio. It looks like cobbled together houses suspended over the Arno River. The bridge has three arches topped with a jumble of charming shops. In an urban setting, space was at a premium, so the bridge became a sort of mall.
Originally, the Ponte Vecchio housed unglamorous butcher shops. But the Medici didn't like escorting their aristocratic guests and diplomats over the bridge with the wafting stench. So they swamped the butchers for goldsmiths. Now, you can buy expensive jewelry on the Ponte Vecchio.
Then, head to the Uffizi Gallery, Florence's #1 sight with the world's best collection of Italian medieval and Renaissance art. You'll need to make a reservation in advance. The lines are epically long.
The Uffizi is Italy's premiere gallery, preserving this precious legacy. The museum has the world's best and most abundant collection of Italian medieval and Renaissance art. The museum is a crowd pleaser, the third most visited site in Italy. It deserves its accolades.
The Uffizi houses seminal works from the 13th to 18th centuries, with a concentration on Renaissance art. Here's where you'll find one of the world's most iconic paintings, Sandro Botticelli's Birth of Venus.
If your time is limited, you should focus your efforts. The must see halls include the Hall 2 (Giotto), Hall 8 (Lippi), Halls 10-14 (Botticelli), Hall 15 (Leonardo), Hall 41 (Raphael and Michelangelo), Hall 83 (Titian), and Hall 90 (Caravaggio).
Click here for my complete guide to the Uffizi Gallery, with important tips for visiting and skipping the line.
Day 1 Evening:
For dinner, dine at Trattoria da Tito, not far from the Accademia, or Bobo's Trattoria. Or take a guided food tour for the total Florence food experience. If you need more art, the Palazzo Strozzi is often open at night with beautiful temporary exhibitions. Otherwise, you can just take a moonlit stroll through the beautiful historic center.
Florence Itinerary, Day 2
Day 2 Morning: Galleria dell'Accademia | San Marco Monastery
Start you morning bright and early at the Accademia Gallery. After the Uffizi, the Accademia is Florence's most visited museum. People flock in to see what is probably the world's most famous sculpture, Michelangelo's commanding statue of David.
The 17 foot sculpture is considered the embodiment of male beauty, a Calvin Klein-like model of physical perfection. David was commissioned for Florence Cathedral. The city intended to place the statue high above in a niche. But they decided that David was too beautiful for that location.
It's essential to have a reservation for the Accademia. Click here for my guide to David and how to skip the line to see it.
But there's more to the Academia than just David. Michelangelo's Prisoners grace the Hall of the Prisoners. They are four unfinished male nudes that were originally intended for the Tomb of Pope Julius II. You can see Michelangelo's approach to carving; the figures appear to be emerging from the marble. Another must see sculpture is Giambologna's Rape of the Sabine Women.
When you're done at the Accademia, head a few blocks to another amazing Florence art spot, the Museum of San Marco Monastery. The monastery is a serene and irresistible hidden gem in Florence Italy. Even though it's well known by art aficionados, it doesn't always get the love it deserves. Don't skip it!
San Marco is an extraordinary decorative complex, one of the most unusual things to do in Florence. It's a rare opportunity to see Early Renaissance masterpieces in situ. You can admire art in its original location and understand how contemporary audiences experienced it. This simply isn't the case at the Uffizi or almost any other museum in Europe.
At this Renaissance convent-museum, you travel back in time to a nearly perfectly preserved 600 year old Dominican monastery. It was paid for by Medici family money, designed by the stellar architect Michelozzo, and decorated with delicate frescos by one of the most sublime painters of the Renaissance -- Fra Angelico. The fiery preacher Girolamo Savonarola even lived there, in the monks dormitory cells.
Click here for my complete guide to visiting the unmissable San Marco Monastery.
Day 2 Afternoon: Central Market | San Lorenzo | Medici Chapel
You're likely ready for lunch. This is a good time to explore the San Lorenzo markets. There are two of them, an outside street market and an indoor food court known as the Central Market. I can recommend a rustic gem, Trattoria la Burrasca, on the market's north corner.
After lunch, tour the beautiful Basilica of Santa Maria Novella and the Piazza della Repubblica. Santa Maria Novella Santa Maria Novella was founded in 1279 by a Dominican order. The basilica has a similar design to the Duomo, with polychrome and white marble create a striking front facade.
The interior is a true marvel. It holds one of the most famous paintings in Italy, the Holy Trinity by Masaccio. You'll want to inspect three important highlights -- the Strozzi Chapel, the Filippo Chapel, and the Spanish Chapter House.
Close to the church is Florence's (and the world's) oldest pharmacy. It's housed in a chapel right next door, decorated with vaulted ceilings, frescos, and ornate gilding and stucco. Founded in 1221, its official name is the Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella.
Today, the pharmacy is a luxury store discreetly hawking beauty products with a cult following. Its products are handmade using Old World techniques. There's also a small museum where you can view antique pharmaceutical instruments and pottery.
Next, head to the monumental complex of the Basilica of San Lorenzo. The complex is a veritable haven of Renaissance art and architecture, a must see for history buffs. The complex is vast, including the basilica itself, Brunelleschi's Old Sacristy, Michelangelo's New Sacristy and the Medici Chapel, the Medici Crypt, and the Laurentian Library.
Most importantly? It has the largest number of Michelangelo sculptures in Florence, quite a selling point. And a Michelangelo-designed library. If you're on the Michelangelo trail, the the Medici Chapel and the Laurentian Library are must see sites in Florence.
The Basilica of San Lorenzo was the official parish church of the Medici family. San Lorenzo's facade was (and is) raw brownstone. It was meant to be "frosted" with marble facing like Florence's other churches. But it never happened. Don't like the rustic brick facade fool you. The real treasures lie within.
My favorite spot is the New Sacristy, an incredibly unique monument. It's an architectural space that was both designed and decorated by a single artist, Michelangelo. He may have intended to paint the frescos as well, but he was called off to Rome. There are six tomb sculptures carved by Michelangelo, including one of his best works, Night.
Click here for my comprehensive guide to visiting the entire Basilica of San Lorenzo complex.
Day 2 Evening: Palazzo Vecchio
The Palazzo Vecchio is one of the few sites in Florence open at night. And it's the best time to visit. The Palazzo Vecchio was the seat of government and one of the three palace-residences of the Medici dynasty. It sits in the Piazza della Signoria, which is essentially a free open air sculpture gallery. Click here to read about the highlights of the piazza.
It's definitely worth going inside the Palazzo Vecchio, though so many tourists don't. The Palazzo Vecchio is a doughty medieval fortress on the outside and a resplendant Renaissance palace on the inside. It's one of Florence's most historic and important buildings. In some ways, Palazzo Vecchio explains the entire history of Florence.
The Tower of Arnolfo can be climbed, and provides fantastic views over Florence and the Duomo. And the lines aren't nearly as long as for Brunelleschi's dome or Giotto's bell tower.
Inside, you can admire the stunning Michelozzo-designed courtyard, explore the grand Hall of the Five Hundred, admire Michelangelo and Donatello sculptures, and gaze admiringly at beautiful frescos at every turn. It's rumored that the Vasari frescos in the Hall of Five Hundred may hide a "lost" Leonardo da Vinci painting.
On the second floor are the sumptuously decorated private rooms of the Medici, with recently restored frescos in the beautiful Apartment of the Elements. You'll also find Donatello's groundbreaking Judith and Holofernes sculpture in the Hall of Lilies.
Click here for my complete guide to the Palazzo Vecchio. After admiring the palazzo, have dinner in the historic center. Click here for an excellent guide to the best restaurants in Florence to choose from.
Florence Itinerary, Day 3
Day 3 Morning: Bargello Museum | Santa Croce
Start your day at the Bargello Museum, Florence's underrated sculpture museum. If you need a hearty breakfast before you visit, head to The Dinner for all manner of eggs and pancakes. It's right by the Bargello.
The Bargello houses an amazing collection of Renaissance sculptures. The most important works are in the Michelangelo and Donatello rooms. Those include Michelangelo's first major sculpture, Bacchus, and his Pitti Tondo, Donatello's acclaimed Bronze David and St. George, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini's Bust of Costanza.
Commissioned by Cosimo de Medici the Elder, Donatello's Bronze David is the most famous piece in the museum. It's a daring depiction of a biblical theme. It's the first freestanding nude sculpture since Greco-Roman times. But it's not a heroic rendering.
A nubile David is peculiarly depicted wearing no clothes except for a hat and boots, perhaps to suggest his underdog status. The statue is affectionately nicknamed "Puss 'N Boots.”
The Bargello also houses the famous Competition Panels. In 1401, Florence held a competition for the first set of bronze doors to be made for the Baptistry. Artists submitted bronze samples. Ghiberti and Brunelleschi were the finalists, with Ghiberti winning the competition. 25 years later, he would create the "Gates of Paradise."
Click here for my complete guide to the masterpieces of the Bargello.
After exhausting the Bargello, head out to visit the amazing Basilica of Santa Croce. In a city studded with magnificent churches, Santa Croce really stands out. Santa Croce has one of the greatest assemblages of paintings, sculptures, and funereal tombs in existence.
Santa Croce is a place of superlatives. It’s the largest world’s Franciscan church, a fine example of Italian Gothic style, and home to many celebrity tombs (including Michelangelo), magnificent frescos, and Donatello sculptures. It’s a place of one stop shopping for Italian culture.
In particular, the frescoed chapels are impressive. The bests ones are the Bardi Chapel, the Peruzzi Chapel, the Pazzi Chapel, the Baroncelli Chapel, and the Maggiore Chapel. You'll find frescos by Giotto, the greatest artist of the 14th century, and other Renaissance luminaries.
If you have time, take in the basilica's museum, housed in the former refectory. There, you'll find Tadeo Gaddi's beautiful The Last Supper and Tree of Life. His Last Supper is the oldest Last Supper painting in Florence, a city with a cottage industry in this theme.
In the Santa Croce neighborhood, in the Piazza del Mercato Nuovo, you'll find the famous bronze Porcellino, or little pig, sculpture. The sculpture is a Roman copy of a Greek sculpture. For good luck, it's a tradition to rub the boar's well worn bronze nose.
If you want to lunch in the Santa Croce area, try the tiny but mighty Le Vespe Cafe. There will be lines, but it's well worth the wait.
Day 3 Afternoon: Oltrano Neighborhood | Pitti Palace
In the afternoon, cross the Arno and head to Florence's Oltrano neighborhood, This may be Florence's most trendy neighborhood. There are three must see sites in the Oltrarno neighborhood: the Pitti Palace, the Church of Santo Spirito and the Brancacci Chapel in Church of Santa Maria del Carmine.
If you didn't break for lunch in the Santa Croce area, there are plenty of places near the Pitti Palace in the Piazza della Passera. Other good restaurants near the Ponte Vecchio include Il Magazzino, 5 e Cinque, and Trattori 4 Leoni. Once fueled up, head to the Pitti Palace.
The palace is one of Florence's must see sites, a truly wonderful experience. To visit the Pitti Palace is to immerse yourself in beauty and history. The palace is an incredibly unique combination of splendor, in situ art collections, and beautiful gardens.
The magnificent Palazzo Pitti was the regal home of the Medici family. The palace is the largest palace in Florence and one of Florence's most stunning architecture gems. Built in 1457, it was built for Florentine banker Luca Pitti, a Medici rival.
The Palazzo Pitti houses the following museums and permanent exhibitions:
Galleria Palatina: the Medici’s painting collection with works by Titian, Giorgione, Raffael, and Rubens
Galleria d’Arte Moderna: with works from Classicism to Italian Futurism
Costume Gallery: the costume and fashion gallery
Museo delle Porcellane: the porcelain museum
Museo degli Argenti: the treasury of the grand dukes
Appartamenti Reali: the royal apartments
Museo delle Carrozze: the carriage museum
The one you can't miss is the Palatine Museum. It occupies the left wing of the first floor. The gallery houses an impressive collection of over 500 in situ paintings, chock a block on top of each other amid lavish stucco and silk furnishings. In the five Planet Rooms, there are beautiful ceiling frescos by Pietro da Cortona.
The collections include works by Raphael, Titian, Rubens, Caravaggio, and other European and Italian painters. Be sure to check out Botticelli's and Lippi's Madonna and Child in the Prometheus Room. Two versions of Andrea del Sarto's massive Assumption of the Virgin are in the Iliad Room. And one of my favorite artists, Artemisia Gentileschi, has another version of Judith and Holofernes in the Saturn Room.
After gazing at these master works, head to the backyard playground of the Pitti Palace, the lovely Boboli Gardens. The gardens are the largest green space in Florence, sprawling over 11 acres. The gardens are effectively an open air museum, with hundreds of nooks to explore. They opened to the public in 1776.
The gardens are laid out in the Italian style, with beautifully worn Renaissance statues and fountains. The Rococo Kaffeehaus is on the eastern edge of the gardens, and its terrace is the perfect viewing point.
The famous Fountain dell'Oceano and the Bathing Venus were sculpted by the underrated artist Giambologna, whose statues grace the Bargello Museum and the Piazza della Signoria.
The Grotto Grande, also known as the Buontalenti Grotto's, is a fascinating place. In 16th century Tuscany, it was the fashion to build decorative grottos reconstructing natural caves. The grotto once had a fresco by Michelangelo (now in the Accademia) and has copies of his four slaves.
Then venture on to the Basilica of Santo Spirito. This is Brunelleschi's second church in Florence, after the Basilica of San Lorenzo. It's a hidden gem, sitting in a shabby chic piazza in the Oltrarno district.
The Santo Spirito area has plenty of eating options. If you want a quick lunch, stop in at Gustapanino for a panini or at Mama's Bakery for a quiche or pastry. For coffee or espresso head to the hipster haven Ditta Artigianale.
Built in 1440, Santo Spirito is a pivotal work of the early Renaissance. Brunelleschi was one of the first architects to use perspective and geometry, breaking away from outdated medieval church styles.
Brunelleschi thought beauty resided in harmony and mathematical perfection. He was inspired by the classicism of ancient Rome, creating an unassuming exterior and a rather severe interior. Inside, you'll also find a fragment of one of Florence's oldest Last Supper paintings and a large crucifix attributed to Michelangelo.
If you have time left, head to the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria delle Carmine. It's a supreme example of Early Renaissance painting. The chapel is completely filled with frescos by Masaccio and his workshop. It's considered one of the three important chapels of the Renaissance, along with the Giotto's Scrovegni Chapel in Padua and Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel in Rome.
Masaccio's masterpieces are considered theThe Tribute Money and the Expulsion of Adam and Eve From Eden. By introducing naturalism and emotion into his paintings, Masaccio would influence later High Renaissance artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
Day 3 Evening: Oltrarno Viewpoints
Cap off your trip to Florence with some amazing views over the city from the Oltrarno. The best viewpoints are at Piazzale Michelangelo and the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte.
When people visiting Florence want a panoramic view, they usually head to Piazzale Michelangelo, Florence's famous lookout square. To be sure, Piazzale Michelangelo is nice, with a replica of Michelangelo's David sculpture. But it's also filled with bus loads of tourists and vendors hawking trinkets.
For a far superior experience, don't stop walking. Head 5-10 minutes further uphill to the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte. It's worth the arduous climb, I promise.
San Miniato is an oasis of calm away from the hurly burly of Florence with amazing Gothic art and unsurpassed views. The perspective over the city is absolutely extraordinary.
If you get there before closing, head inside. The ancient Romanesque church is a unique and harmonious blend of medieval architectural styles, pre-dating Florence's Renaissance treasures. San Miniato is a hidden gem in Florence, perfect for history buffs, and one of the best free things to do in the city.
Click here for my complete guide to visiting San Miniato.
Right behind the basilica is the Porte Sante Cemetery, which also boasts great views. Built in the 19th century, the cemetery was designed by Niccolo Matas, who was also the architect for the facade of the Santa Croce. The graveyard is an open air museum, stuffed with beautiful funeral art, mausoleums, and memorials of illustrious Florentine Catholics.
The private temples and tombs are in varying architectural styles, from Renaissance to Art Deco. Many of them are inspired by Florence's churches. Some are decorated with symbols, allegorical figures, and sentimental portraits. The most famous effigy (shown above) depicts the Mazzone siblings dancing together, fully united in the after life.
Must Know Tips for Visiting Florence
Florence isn't a big city. You can traverse the entire city in 30 minutes. So plan to spend your time walking for the most part. It's pedestrianized, so there's no traffic.
If you're going in high season, be sure to book tickets for the must see attractions in advance. But it's really better to visit in shoulder season in the spring or fall to avoid hordes of tourists.
If you plan on visiting most of the sites I've mentioned above, you should probably invest in the Firenze Card. It's Florence's 72 hour museum pass. It allows entry to 72 museums and sites in Florence. If you're going to 7+ sites over 3 days, it's worth investing in. The Firenze Card usually gives you skip the line access, but notably not to the popular Uffizi Gallery.
Here are some of my posts with must know tips for Florence:
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