Five and a Half Hours in Florence, Italy

by Gray Cargill on October 24, 2012

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This is not one of those articles where I claim that you can “see Florence in five and a half hours!” Because we all know that’s impossible, don’t we? But if Florence is one of your stops on your Mediterranean cruise, then that’s about all the time you’re going to have there. Let’s assume you’ll arrive around 10:30am and depart promptly at 4pm. So….what can you do in five and a half hours in Florence?

If you want to concentrate on the world-class art in Florence, then I recommend you focus your attention on one or two museums (and keep a close eye on your watch), with a 1 hour break for lunch. The Uffizi Gallery has an amazing collection of works by such masters as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Raphael, and more. But if you want to see Michelangelo’s David in all his glory, you need to visit the Accademia. Whether you choose one or two museums, you should definitely reserve your ticket(s) in advance, because you don’t want to squander time waiting in line.

If you would rather experience Florence’s gorgeous architecture, hit up an attraction or two, do some shopping, and enjoy some local food, here’s an itinerary that I know you can do in 5.5 hours, because I did it:

Basilica of Santa Croce

Basilica of Santa Croce

You will start and end your tour in the Piazza Santa Croce, home to several excellent leather shops and restaurants of varying price ranges, as well as the magnificent Basilica of Santa Croce. It’s centrally located in the old part of the city; many tourist attractions are within walking distance. If you’re feeling a bit peckish, now’s a good time to grab a quick bite to eat. (Trust me, you’ll need some fuel to do all the walking you’re about to do.)

As you’re facing the Basilica, look to the buildings on your right and find a doorway marked with a simple sign that reads “Bar – Pizzeria – Ice Cream”. This is a small and inexpensive, family-owned cafe that serves very good paninis and gelato. Get yourself a panini (save the gelato for later). If you don’t already have a bottle of water with you, buy one here.

Statue of Dante in Piazza Santa Croce

Statue of Dante Alighieri in Piazza Santa Croce

Next, check out the Basilica, the largest Franciscan church in the world. It costs 8 Euros to go inside to see the famous tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli (among others). You won’t have a lot of time to dally here, because you have a schedule to keep. I’d give it 30 minutes max (or save it until the end of the day). Before you leave the Piazza, hit up the restroom at one of the leather shops; they’re free and clean and you don’t have to buy anything to use them.

From here, whip out your trusty map and make your way to the Duomo. There are a number of streets you can take that will lead you here from the Piazza. If I recall correctly, my route took me up Via Giuseppe Verdi and along Via Ghibellina, but there are many ways to get there. After a short while, you will see the dome of the Duomo and the Campanile di Giotto (Giotto’s Bell Tower) looming above other buildings, and you won’t need your map any more.

The Duomo in Florence

There it is. Head in that direction.

The Duomo

The Duomo

The Campanile

The Campanile

Be sure to stop outside for photos, and then enter the structure of your choice for a grueling climb to the top for some of the best views in Florence. I recommend climbing the Campanile, which is less crowded (quicker), less expensive (6 Euros), has fewer steps to climb (414), and allows you to include the Duomo in your scenic photos of Florence.

The Duomo and Florence

The Duomo and Florence as seen from the Campanile

At the top, stop to catch your breath and enjoy the stunning views of the city. If you’ve timed it right, you will reach the top just before noon. At noon, while gazing out over the rooftops of Florence, you will hear all the clock towers in the city begin to chime.

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy

After a bit of rest, head back down to exit the Campanile. You will emerge from the Tower, blinking, into the bright sunlit square, your legs shaking from the effort of the climb. Take a seat on the steps across from the Baptistry of St. John (The Battistero di San Giovanni), an octagon-shaped building from the 11th Century. It is one of the oldest buildings in the city and famous for its bronze doors, which are covered in reliefs. Dante Alighieri (author of The Divine Comedy) was baptized here. If you have a zoom lens, you won’t even have to fight the crowds to get pictures of the door from the steps where you’re sitting.

The Baptistry Door

The Baptistry Door

Close up of the Baptistry Door

Close up of the Baptistry Door

Once your legs don’t feel like limp spaghetti any more, get up and make your way to the Arno River and the Ponte Vecchio. If you take Via de Calzaiuoli from the Duomo, you will pass through Piazza Signoria and past its impressive Fountain of Neptune. This fountain was commissioned for a wedding of one of the Medicis and features Neptune, Scylla and Charybis, seahorses, and more. Take a moment to appreciate it. After all, you didn’t have to pay museum admission to see it!

Statue of Neptune

Mighty Neptune

Fountain of Neptune

Fountain of Neptune

Keep walking toward the river. Ah, there’s the Ponte Vecchio before you! Take some time to wander down the river for pictures of the bridge before crossing it. Stop to admire the rowers in their sculls gliding up and down the river. Look down, and you may see people sunbathing on lounge chairs beside the river.

Ponte Vecchio and sunbathers

Ponte Vecchio and sunbathers

Rowing on the Arno River

Rowing on the Arno River

On the bridge, you’ll see little shops selling jewelry, leather goods, and other souvenirs, with an occasional space between buildings for views of the river.



Wander a bit beyond the bridge on the other side of the river, but not for long. You’re headed back to Piazza Santa Croce for lunch. Walk along the river on your way back (for the views) and then turn left on Via dei Benci to return to the Piazza. By now, you should be more than ready for lunch and a bit of a rest.

Along the Arno River

Along the Arno River

On the Arno

On the Arno

Remember that panini shop you ate at this morning? Directly across the square from that is Ristorante Finisterrae, where you can sit outside in shade or sun and enjoy a plate of pasta while people-watching in the Piazza. Don’t have dessert here, though. Go back across the Piazza to the panini shop with the gelato and get a cone to go. The chocolate is good.

cheese plate

Slow down for a light mid-afternoon snack or a meal on the Piazza

If you still have time before your bus departs (and you should), you can either go inside the Basilica (if you missed it earlier) or check out some of the stores on the Piazza. I recommend Misuri or Galleria Michelangelo. Galleria Michelangelo has artisans who work on-site, in the store.

If you’re very lucky, you might catch a gold-stamping demonstration here, where gold is stamped into an exquisite bracelet that looks like it’s made of diamonds, not gold. They can also customize leather goods with the gold stamping (for instance, if you want your initials on something). Even if you’re not much of a shopper, this process can be fascinating to watch. And if you are a shopper, I can think of few places better than Florence to buy leather.

Galleria Michelangelo entrance

Galleria Michelangelo entrance

There. You’re done. In five-and-a-half hours, you’ve managed to see some of Florence’s major landmarks, gotten a birds-eye view of the city, sampled some of the city’s food, seen quite a lot of architecture and some public art, had a walk along the river, and perhaps done some shopping and witnessed a local artisan at work.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a day.


Tom @ Active Backpacker November 17, 2012 at 8:47 am

I liked Florence, it was a great little city to see. I think we had our best Italian food in Florence too – amongst all the touristy restaurants there was a little modern Italian food cafe tucked in a side street. It was so gooooooooood. I’ll always love Florence for that 😀 Great photos Gray!

Gray November 17, 2012 at 9:55 am

Thanks, Tom, always nice to connect with another Florence-lover!

Erik October 30, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Very informative, great pics.

I’ve been mulling a trip where I would have roughly the same time frame. Good to know it can be done!!!

Gray October 30, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Is it a stop on a cruise, Erik? In any case, I’m glad you found it helpful.

Erik November 2, 2012 at 1:56 pm

No, it’s because I was looking at going from Bologna to La Speiza, and I wanted to stop briefly in Pisa and Florence. (I’ve been to both before and just want to rephotograph them).

Julika October 30, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Florence is a long kept travel wish of mine! I bet you could be there for weeks and still feel like you haven’t seen it all… Your pictures are wonderful!

Gray October 30, 2012 at 6:05 pm

Thank you, Julika. I definitely could have spent a lot more time in Florence. It’s a very cool place.

JoAnn October 26, 2012 at 10:02 pm

I wish I had more time in Florence. My friends and I started out the day outside of Sienna, drove to Pisa and then to Florence. After dinner, I took a train back to Rome from my flight back to the States the next day. My friends stayed in Florence for the night and continued on with their European tour.

I recommend visiting the Accademia too. David is impressive. The museum also has unfinished works by Michelangelo.

Gray October 27, 2012 at 12:17 pm

I wish I’d had more time in Florence, too, JoAnn. It’s worth a lot more time than just part of a day. So much to see and do there.

Tracy Antonioli October 24, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Fantastic post. I’m not even tired after reading it–but I can imagine I’d be tired after doing it. Wonderful tips. Though I have to say–it makes me want to spend WAY more than 5.5 hours in Florence!

I also super appreciate your restroom tip. I’m always on the lookout for a restroom when traveling. But the ‘you don’t have to buy anything in the leather shop’ advice may not work for me. How could I NOT buy leather in Florence?!?

Gray Cargill October 24, 2012 at 7:50 pm

Well, you may have more stamina than me, Tracy. I was nodding off on the bus on the way back to the ship. 🙂 Florence was a big hit with me, which is interesting, because it wasn’t one of the top places in Italy I wanted to visit. But once I saw it….wow. In retrospect, I wish I had bought some leather while I was there. I think it would have been a good investment.

Jess October 24, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Holy time crunch. I will never understand why anyone would not at least want to give themselves 24 hours in Florence with everything there is to but, but this guide definitely hits the hot spots!

Gray Cargill October 24, 2012 at 7:53 pm

I didn’t have any choice, Jess. I was on a cruise that only spent one day in each port. It was over an hour’s drive to get from port to Florence, so that’s all the time I had. Cruising is definitely a double-edged sword. It allows you the opportunity to see more than you would on your own during a week’s time, but it doesn’t give you enough time in each place.

Kirstin October 24, 2012 at 4:38 pm

We went to see Michelangelo’s David. I have to say he has the finest arse around, yep could spend quite a while looking at this statue. Seriously though I would recommend visiting the Accademia.

Gray Cargill October 24, 2012 at 7:55 pm

LOL! Thanks for the laugh, Kirstin. Yeah, he’s pretty buff for a piece of marble.

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