Any people only have a day to ‘do’ Florence and practically die in the attempt like some sacred rite of passage. Over a couple of years I developed a plan to save friends from the nightmare of aching feet and missed opportunities and hopefully have a perfect day in Florence where they can see great art, be astonished at superb architecture, have a late lunch eating classic Tuscan cuisine and shop at the world famous leather market.
If you are going with others, check their preferences beforehand. Some of us have no head for art while others live to shop. If you just have to have the Prada jacket or will die if you miss the original David, then you can formulate your own plan or modify this one.
My perfect day includes one major museum. I always suggest the Uffizi but you can choose to go to the Pitti Palace, Bargello or Palazzo Vecchio which all easily fit into this schedule. A week or more in advance, book your visit by calling +39 055 294883 for 11 or 11.30am entry time. Be ready to take down our booking number. You’ll pay a small booking fee when you purchase your tickets at the museum.
Start at the train station Santa Maria Novella at 10am. At the station buy a 21 ticket for the electric bus (pulmino) from the newspaper stand, also a guidebook if you haven’t got one, to follow the map as you go. The buses are regular and stop in front of the station in the piazza. Board Bus D, ask for ‘Ponte Vecchio’, validate your ticket and ride across to the other side of the Arno, along the river, and finally down a narrow alley where the driver should announce that you’re at your destination.
With the Ponte Vecchio on your left, cross the road and proceed right to a small piazza where you enter the Church of Santa Felicita. Here are some delightful frescoes by the Florentine mannerist painter Pontormo. For 21 you can illuminate the prettiest Madonna and a floating Archangel Gabriel on one wall, and a highly coloured, emotional Deposition on the other.
On the way back to the Ponte Vecchio it’s a good idea to take this moment to snack on a pizza slice or an outrageously priced gelato to eat as you cross the bridge and ogle at the dazzling display of jewellery shops. Here’s the trick: now you can’t enter the shops as you’ve got food in your hand!
As you leave the bridge, take a right under Vasari’s corridor past the African peddlers and along the river’s edge which will bring you to the classic spot to take a picture of the bridge.
Cross the road and you’re within the embrace of the Uffizi, a large U-shaped building (time this about five minutes before your pre-booked entry time). Show your booking number at the ticket office on the left (caution: the museums DO NOT take credit cards), cross the courtyard to the door just left of those poor folk that have been waiting up to four hours and enter. Allow an hour and a half to two hours for your visit.
As you leave the museum, make you way to the Piazza Signoria and take a break in the Loggia della Signoria (1382) while you consult the guide book to the history of Palazzo Vecchio and the David (not the original) and soak up the ambience.
Make your way up Via dei Calzaiuoli where you’ll pass the medieval Orsanmichele Church (1337) and statue of Verrocchio’s Doubting Thomas. You may be hungry by this stage but try and stave off the pangs by window shopping.
At the end of this street you arrive at a knock out view of the Duomo with Brunelleschi’s fabulous dome (1434), and Giotto’s Campanile (begun in 1334). Pause at Ghiberti’s Doors of Paradise (1413) on the front of the Baptistery.
Food and markets
Cross the road along Via de’ Martelli, left at the large Medici Riccardi Palace and into the San Lorenzo market. Make your way through the market and take the third street on the right, after 100 metres it opens out into Piazza Mercato centrale with outdoor restaurants.
The last one is called Za Za’s (ph +39 055 215411) and usually has plenty of tables available around 2.00 to 2.30 (you have to queue at peak times). I highly recommend Za Za’s antipasti: four plates of delicacies, cold meats, goat’s cheese, truffle omelette, classic bruschetta and crunchy Tuscan bread. You can share or just have this as a meal in itself. The rest of the menu is mouth-watering and reasonably priced.
After Za Za’s wander back through the enormous markets which finish only two blocks from the station so you haven’t had to lug your trophies all the way around Florence. Depending on how fast you’ve walked it’s probably 5 or 6pm.
There are many more treasures to Florence and a quick flick through your guidebook you’ll be busily planning your next perfect day.