Florence was one of the pit stops on my travels through Italy in May 2015. I had heard about the birthplace of the Renaissance, but actually left the city feeling somewhat underwhelmed after hearing so many stories about how awesome it is. Here’s my guide on how to make the most of your time if you only have the day there.
Head to Il Duomo di Firenze (Florence Cathedral) on Piazza del Duomo, but don’t be too hasty and get in line at one of the entrances. First you have to head to the ticket office, which isn’t actually in the cathedral itself, it’s in one of the buildings on the square on the same side as Via Dei Cerretani. This is VERY IMPORTANT. We were behind two women in the queue for the dome who were preoccupied with snapping selfies in front of the cathedral, blissfully unaware that they needed to buy tickets beforehand. They spent over an hour in this queue only to realise they couldn’t actually get in. I didn’t stick around to see what happened, but nobody wants to be the tourist who has to queue twice! If you aren’t prepared to queue for this length of time, my advice is to go later in the day between 3:30 and 4pm when the queue is much shorter.
The cathedral ticket costs €10 (price correct as of May 2015) and can be used for 24 hours once validated. You can also buy the ticket several days in advance. With this ticket you get entrance to:
- Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, the cathedral’s museum, which was closed for expansion and restoration when we visited and will not reopen until November 2015
- Brunelleschi’s Dome
- Giotto’s Bell Tower
- The Baptistery of San Giovanni
- The Crypt of Santa Reparata
Look out for the screens in the ticket office advertising which parts are open and their opening times so that you don’t miss out.
My favourite part of the cathedral was the dome (or cupola in Italian) as the views of Florence from the top were magnificent. But be warned: there are 463 steps that need to be climbed to get to the very top and fellow tourists were pretty unforgiving towards the ones who needed to stop and have a break. If you don’t like heights or confined spaces, this part of the cathedral is definitely not for you.
Climbing up to the dome has the advantage of being able to get a closer view of the cathedral’s magnificent ceiling, which features a fresco painted between 1572 and 1579 by Giorgio Vasari and Frederico Zuccari. But don’t loiter taking photos for too long or cathedral staff will shout at you.
Once you’ve taken your pictures – which may suffer in quality due to the Perspex barrier around the walkway and the staff ushering you along – your journey continues upwards into ever narrower stone staircases. Beware of dippy tourists coming down the stairs (they have completely missed the “Exit” signs at the top that take you down a different route completely) and keep on climbing until you see daylight. Be prepared to be amazed by the view – it’s pretty spectacular.
After gazing at the 360⁰ views of Florence, head back down the “Exit” staircase which leads to the other side of the cathedral. You may wish to view other parts of the cathedral, but if you’ve ever visited one of Italy’s basilicas then you may be left disappointed by the rather plain décor inside (apart from the dome’s fresco, but you can get a closer look from the dome entrance). Having said this, the crypt (accessible from inside the cathedral itself) was quite interesting and worth a look if you want to get the value out of your ticket. We skipped the bell tower and the baptistery, but again they may be worth a look if you’re interested.
These suggestions may not seem like much, but bear in mind that you need to queue separately for each part of the cathedral (apart from the crypt, which didn’t seem so crowded). We queued for the dome for over an hour in May and queues are likely to be longer in summer months. You can get the Firenze Card to skip the long queue, but at a whopping €72(!) it is definitely not worth the price if you only have a day in the city.
When it comes to eateries, I agree with this travel site when they say there are a lot of mediocre restaurants in Florence. It looks like they have sought out several good places, so you may like to give one of those a try. If you like a good cocktail of an evening, then I suggest reading this.
Have you been to Florence recently? Do you have restaurant and bar recommendations that you would like to share? Post in the comments below!