Best Things to Do in Florence – What to See in 3 Days?
What are the best things to see and do in Florence in 3 days? At first sight it may seem quite overwhelming to do the city in such a short time. Anyway, if you prioritise well, you may still get a good blend of all the best of Florence’s churches, museums and art galleries. Here is our suggestion for an itinerary incorporating important highlights.
Ainnelise Niyvold Liundbye UPDATED: 17 JAN 2020
Florence is the epitome of Tuscany. It played an important role in medieval trade and very soon became one of the wealthiest cities in Italy. Known for its outstanding Renaissance architecture and style, the city is also considered the birthplace of Renaissance in Italy – and in Europe.
Wherever you turn in Florence, you will stumble upon palaces and other buildings previously in the powerful Medici family’s possession. Their financial influence infiltrated the art, the sculptures, the monuments and everything else.
Florence counts a significant number of churches, monuments, palaces, museums and galleries featuring the culture, architecture and art from all the last centuries. You can easily spend weeks in the city – every day discovering new places and facets!
But maybe you are here for just a few days. How to make the most of your time? We have made a suggestion of a 3-day itinerary, which we believe include some of the best things to see and do in Florence from a cultural point of view. 3 days is definitely a short time in Florence, and you cannot get to see everything, but… with a good plan you will still get time to do many of the best things in the Tuscan epicentre of Renaissance art.
If you have more than 3 days, you can choose to stretch the itinerary over more days – and if you have only 2 days, we recommend that you do Day 1 and Day 2 – and skip Day 3 – apart from Ponte Vechhio which you will then squeeze into one of the other days. You may then also opt to swap the Casa di Dante for the Bargello National Museum.
Bring good shoes, since Florence is a city where all the best things to see and do can be done and should be done by walking!
DAY 1: What are the best things to see and do in Florence
You will start the day with one of the absolutely top sights in Florence, namely the Duomo – the Cathedral, located in the heart of the city.
1. Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is part of the Florence Duomo Complex, which includes the Cathedral with Brunelleschi’s Dome and the Santa Reparata Excavation, the Baptistery of San Giovanni, Giotto’s Campanile (Bell Tower) and the Museum of the Opera del Duomo. It is a must-see in Florence. You can get a combined ticket for the whole Complex.
The Duomo – the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in red, white and green marble was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296. It used to be the largest church in the world until St. Peter’s Basilica was built in 1615 in Rome. As one of the top artworks the Cathedral features the frescoes of the Last Judgment by Giorgio Vasari.
The magnificent Dome of the Duomo was added later in the 14th century by Filippo Brunelleschi after winning a design competition due to his deep understanding of geometry and engineering techniques. Walk around it and notice the outstanding marble panels in red, green and white everywhere on the façade! It is a true masterpiece and the cream of the crop of Florentine architecture! If you are adequately fit, you can opt to climb the 463 steps in the narrow corridors of the Dome!
2. Giotto’s Campanile
Climb the 400 steps to the top of the Bell Tower (277 ft / 84 m) designed by Giotto in the 14th century – or stick to admiring it from the outside if you are not up to more exercise today! Notice the magnificent reliefs and statues by Donatello and Pisano. The views over Florence are breathtaking from the top.
3. Baptistery of San Giovanni (St. John)
The Baptistery of San Giovanni from 1059 is the oldest building in Florence. It has its name after San Giovanni or St. John, the patron saint of Florence. Located opposite the Cathedral, it matches the Cathedral’s fine architecture with similar white and green marble tiles. It features the tomb of Antipope John XXIII, and the interior of the Baptistery is decorated with inlaid marble and fine Byzantine golden mosaic. There are three entrance doors to the building. The most famous one is the Gates of Paradise from the 15th century with 10 bronze panels representing stories from the Old Testament. It has become a symbol of Florentine Renaissance.
Now it may be time for a delicious Italian ice cream – or maybe a cup of cappuccino at a café to be able to sit down and relax a bit (especially if you have climbed the stairs of the Cathedral or the Campanile)!
Before or after lunch you will find your way to the famed Piazza della Signoria.
4. Piazza della Signoria
Piazza della Signoria is the main square in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. The square was named after this palazzo also known as the Palazzo della Signoria. It is a central square in Florence and a favoured meeting point – you will see flocks of both tourists and locals here.
Other buildings flanking the square are the Loggia della Signoria, the Uffizi Gallery, the Tribunale della Mercanzia and the Palazzo Uguccioni.
Just opposite the Palazzo Vecchio the square houses the iconic café Rivoire. Take a seat here to do some people-watching on the square.
5. Loggia dei Lanzi
Now you will take a closer look at the Loggia dei Lanzi.
Three open arches make up an open-air sculpture gallery of both antique and fine Renaissance art. One of the major artworks is the Medici Lions. One of the lions is Roman and dates to the 2nd century AD, and the other one is from the 16th century. Previously, they were both at the Villa Medici in Rome.
6. Palazzo Vecchio
Palazzo Vecchio is a blend of Renaissance architecture and paintings, Roman ruins of an ancient theatre and an old medieval fortress. The construction was initiated in 1299 right above the ruins of the earlier Uberti Ghibelline towers. At the time, it was meant to host the city council. The original design can be attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio.
Throughout the years the Palazzo Vecchio has also been known by several other names depending on the use of the building: Palazzo della Signoria, Palazzo del Popolo, Palazzo dei Priori and Palazzo Ducale.
Outside the Palazzo Vecchio a replica of Michelangelo’s ‘David’ sculpture today stands on the location where the original statue once was erected.
The main hall is absolutely impressive with dimensions 54 m x 23 m x 18 m (177 ft x 75 ft x 59 ft) and lavishly decorated golden ceilings and amazing wall frescoes above grandiose sculptures. The wall decorations with battle scenes of Republic victories are masterpieces by the top Florentine artists Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti.
Around 1540 the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de’ Medici converted, together with his wife Eleonora of Toledo, the palace into their private residence. They undertook works to turn it into a true labyrinth of chambers, terraces and courtyards. Room decorations can be attributed to Michelangelo, Donatelle and Giorgio Vasari, among others. Between the chambers they constructed secret corridors and passages!
If you still feel a bit energetic (and have caught your breath after your morning exercise climbing the Cathedral), you may now ascend the 416 steps of the 95 m (312 ft) high old medieval tower, the Torre di Arnolfo, which has today become a symbol of Florence!
7. Piazza della Repubblica
Continue to Piazza della Repubblica, the site of the city’s old Roman Forum located in the very centre of Florence. The Colonna della Dovizia marks the place. Maybe a bit surprisingly, it was also the location of the Roman ghetto.
Then, during the 18th century, the old city was ‘modernised’. The old 13-th century city walls and fine medieval towers were unfortunately torn down, and the medieval roads disappeared. The place changed completely character. There were afterwards no visible traces of many of the original constructions.
Later, in the 19th-century excavations, also foundations of a bath complex and a religious building have been revealed.
The piazza developed further in the late 1800’s. In 1890 a bronze equestrian monument in honour of King Vittorio Emanuele II was inaugurated. However, today, it is just the Arc of Triumph that still stands.
Behold the elegant Florentine Renaissance architecture surrounded by trendy restaurants and cafés like the historical Caffé delle Giubbe Rosse and the modern Hard Rock Café.
8. Casa di Dante Museum
Last sight today it the Casa di Dante Museum. It is a fine museum showcasing the life and works of the Italian poet and politician Dante Alighieri, born in Florence in 1265, right at the location where the museum is today. Dante’s masterpiece and contribution to the world literature was the comedy ‘The Divine Comedy’. Depending on time and your preferences, you may choose just to see the house, which is an interesting building in itself, from the outside.
Finally, it is time for a Tuscan dinner in one of Florence’s awesome restaurants!
DAY 2: What are the best things to see and do in Florence
Today, you are off for the world famous Uffizi Gallery! You will wisely already have reserved you tickets online – not to risk being disappointed. In this way your visit will be as smooth as possible!
9. Uffizi Gallery
For the next few hours you will be soaking up the atmosphere of a world-class art museum!
The Uffizi Gallery is one of the most visited museums in the world and has been open to visitors since the 16th century. The buildings were initiated in 1560 by Giorgio Vasari, as a work for Cosimo I de’ Medici, and were intended to house the offices of the Florentine magistrates. ‘Uffizi’ means offices, which explains the name of the buildings.
Today, the Uffizi Gallery features sculptures and paintings from the 14th century and the Renaissance. Among the world-famous artists you will find Botticelli, Giotto, Correggio, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raffaello. Masterpieces like Boticelli’s Birth of Venus, Michelangelo’s Tondo Doni and Leonardo da Vinci’s The Baptism of Christ can be found here, just to mention a few of the unique pieces in the vast collections.
Also European art is represented here by painters such as El Greco, Velasquez, Goya, Rembrandt and Rubens.
Moreover, the Gallery has obtained a number of Roman copies of ancient Greek sculptures and busts from the Medici family. These sculptures are today displayed in the impressive Gallery corridors.
A real gem and a special feature of the Uffizi Gallery is the Vasari Corridor. It is an elevated, enclosed walkway connecting the Palazzo Vecchio with the Pitti Palace on the other side of the River Arno, crossing the famous Ponte Vecchio and continuing through the Boboli Gardens. The Medici family constructed this subtly located Corridor to be able to move unnoticed between their home in Palazzo Pitti to the seat of government in Palazzo Vecchio. The entrance to the Corridor is found inside the Uffizi Gallery, through a door on the first floor. Noticeably, a part of the Corridor was severely damaged by a terrorist attack involving the Italian mafia in 1993 – and a number of paintings were greatly demolished in the attack.
Since the Uffizi Gallery can be quite overwhelming, we suggest that you see the next two things on the agenda only ‘from the outside’.
10. Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Now, cross over to Palazzo Medici Riccardi, which you will only see from the outside (or from the inside too, if you have a Day 4 in Florence!). Today, the palace houses temporary exhibitions of modern and contemporary art.
Palazzo Medici Riccardi is with its arched windows and large rings on the walls to tether horses another one of the outstanding palaces you can see in Florence! It is from 1444, initiated by Cosimo the Elder (designed by the architect Michelozzo), and constructed as a residence for the Medici family.
However, in 1494 the palace was confiscated by the new government, and the Medici family was expelled. Donatello’s David was then transferred to the Palazzo Vecchio, also known as the Palazzo della Signoria. In 1540, the Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici moved permanently to Palazzo della Signoria closer to the River Arno.
In 1659 the Palazzo then became Marquis Gabriello Riccardi’s property – hence the name. He renovated the interior of the building in Baroque style (ceilings by Luca Giordano). It was in private possession right until 1814, when the State took over the place. Finally, in 1874, the Province of Florence purchased the palace.
One of the remarkable constructions the palace still features, is the stunning Chapel frescoed by Benozzo Gozzoli – the Procession of the Magi.
Now, continue to the large and impressive church – just ‘round the corner’ from the Palazzo Medici Riccardi. You easily spot the Basilica di San Lorenzo!
11. Basilica di San Lorenzo
You will have to prioritise your sightseeing, since you have a limited number of days in Florence. We suggest that you only see the Basilica di San Lorenzo from the outside (or save the full visit for a Day 4 in Florence – in that case you can book tickets online beforehand).
Once the Duomo of Florence, which it remained for 300 years, the Basilica has a fascinating history. Sources document that it was consecrated back in year 393 by Saint Ambrose of Milan. Later, it became the parish church for the Medici family.
The Basilica in Renaissance style and with bronze pulpits by Donatello is an example of outstanding Florentine architecture. It includes a cloister complex, the Cannon’s Cloister, and a two-storey loggia with a round-arch arcade resting on Ionic columns. The tomb of the artist Donatello and the tomb of Cosimo di Medici can be found in the crypt. Strikingly, the main body of the church is remarkably distinct to other Florentine churches as it is dominated by simplicity, light, straight lines and space.
You can take some great photos of the colourful Basilica from the right angles outside.
12. Mercato Centrale (San Lorenzo Market)
Now it is time for lunch – you are probably already starving after quite an intense morning! Luckily you are just at the San Lorenzo Market with several lunch options both inside the market and around.
Florence’s historic market from the 1870s is the old marketplace for artisan products and food: cheese, bread, meat, vegetables and fruit. The architect behind the stunning building with wrought-iron ceiling and covered arcades is Giuseppe Mengoni, who was also the architect behind the Galleria Vittorioi Emanuele II in Milan.
Still today, there is a whirl of activity around the place. The San Lorenzo Market comprises both the market building and the surrounding streets with their multitude of shops and stalls. The first floor opened in 2014 with a complete food hall, on the occasion of the 140th anniversary of the Mercato Centrale.
In the afternoon you will do TWO of the FOUR options stated below.
You will now have to prioritise – either you will choose to see the Galleria dell’Academia (5A) or the Galileo Museum (5B).
13A. Galleria dell’Academia
Galleria dell’Academia features an outstanding collection and houses among great Renaissance sculptures the original David by Michelangelo, sculpted between 1501 and 1504. Also works by Boticelli and other grand Italian artists are on display in the Galleria. A large number of these masterpieces were previously in the Medici family’s possession.
If you are interested in Italian Renaissance sculptural art, this museum is a must-see.
13B. Galileo Museum
The Galileo Museum boasts both the Medicean collection of scientific instruments, as well as other mathematics and physics collections. Specifically, the museum features two telescopes and the objective lens of the very telescope with which Galileo spotted the Galilean moons of Jupiter. Also the Grand Duke Peter Leopold’s chemistry cabinet is on display.
The museum is a real gem if you are interested in science and scientific discoveries.
As the last thing today you will again have to make a choice. You will now choose between the Palazzo Strozzi (6A) and the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella (6B). Opt for the one that appeals most to you.
14A. Palazzo Strozzi
Palazzo Strozzi from 1489 is one of the finest examples of Italian Renaissance architecture.
It was Filippo Strozzi the Elder’s impressive construction to manifest his political and his family’s status in Florence.
When he died in 1491, Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici confiscated the palace and continued the works – shaping it in the same rustic style as the Palazzo Medici Riccardi. It wasn’t returned to the Strozzi family until 30 years later – and remained in their possession until 1937.
14B. Basilica di Santa Maria Novella
The Basilica di Santa Maria Novella is adjacent to and has given name to Florence’s central railway station. It was built by the Dominican order of the Catholic Church between 1246 and 1360.
The term ‘Novella’ refers to the fact that there was already a Santa Maria church on the same site that the new church was built on.
The church and the Green Cloister house significant art treasures such as Gothic and Renaissance frescoes. Moreover, the church includes a number of funerary chapels and monuments for Florentine families.
The church is famed for its impressive green and white marble façade featuring a unique Renaissance architecture. The Romanesque façade was designed by the architect Leo Battista Alberti and completed in 1470.
This is end of the agenda for Day 2 – which probably is the ‘toughest’ of the 3 sightseeing days, so now it is time to relax and get a genuine Italian – and maybe even Tuscan – dinner.
DAY 3: What are the best things to see and do in Florence
(If you only have 2 days in Florence, Day 3 can be skipped. You may then wish to swap Casa di Dante for the Bargello National Museum on Day 1 and squeeze Ponte Vecchio into one of the first two days as well)
You will cross the River Arno to get to the Palazzo Pitti on the other side.
15. Palazzo Pitti
The Palazzo Pitti from the 15th century can probably be attributed to Filippo Brunelleschi who designed it for Luca Pitti. It is a grandiose palace mainly in Renaissance style on the River Arno south bank.
In 1550 the wife of the Grand Duke Cosimo I de’Medici, Eleonora da Toledo, purchased it and turned it into the Medici family residence. As a curiosity it can be mentioned that the left wing belonged to the Grand Duke, and the rooms on the left side on the ground floor were used as his summer residence.
The palace has a long and intriguing history which goes beyond the Florentine family dynasties. In the late 18th century, Napoléon Bonaparte used the palace as a power base!
Today, the palace houses several magnificent museums. It is the largest museum complex in Florence and definitely a must-see for museum lovers. You will find the Imperial and Royal Apartments, the Gallery of Modern Art, the Palatine Gallery with the Medici ‘s collection of paintings, the Silver Museum and the Museum of Costumes and Fashion among them. Allow yourself time to pick one or two of the great museums to visit.
16. Giardino di Boboli
When entering and exiting the Palazzo Pitti, you will be right at the Giardino di Boboli – the vast park just in front of the palace. It is actually one of the largest Italian-style gardens in the world. Supposedly, it gave exemplary inspiration to other major gardens like the gardens of Versailles in France.
The Giardino di Boboli belongs to the Palazzo Pitti, and there you will buy your tickets to see the most impressive gardens in Florence!
Take a stroll around the lovely gardens and enjoy the fountains, the statues, the old oak trees and cypresses. Don’t miss the hippodrome-shaped Amphitheatre with the Egyptian Obelisk, Neptune’s Fountain, the Ocean Fountain, the 18th century coffeehouse, the Giardino del Cavaliere (which also houses the Pitti Palace Porcelain Museum) and the Grotta Grande with mosaic decorations, stalactites and carvings. It originally featured The Prisoners by Michelangelo – now being exhibited in the Galleria dell’Academia.
You will soon discover that it is a hilly garden – giving the opportunity to find good spots with excellent views of Florence!
Originally, the park was laid out by Cosimo I de´ Medici and by his wife Eleonora di Toledo when they purchased the Palazzo Pitti in 1550. At the time, architects such as Niccolò Tribolo and Giorgio Vasari were in charge of the design of the park area.
The Medici and later the Lorraine families greatly influenced the character of the park by including small meadows, lush groves and even an outdoor museum of Roman statues. It is a garden that developed throughout four centuries.
17. Piazzale Michelangelo
To get a real breathtaking view over Florence, make a stop at the viewing platform Piazzale Michelangelo before returned to the River Arno.
The neoclassical terrace was designed by the architect Giuseppe Poggi and constructed in 1869. It is dedicated to the Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo, and features bronze copies of his David sculpture and his statues in the Medici Chapel of San Lorenzo. Nine pairs of oxen were needed to bring the massive monument to its elevated location on the hillside.
When you have enjoyed the views and taken the ultimate photos of Florence, you will find your way down to the iconic Ponte Vecchio over the River Arno.
18. Ponte Vecchio
Now you will arrive at the most famed bridge in Florence, the Ponte Vecchio.
Originally, it was a bridge housing butcher shops. The butchers conveniently dumped the meat waste from the bridge into the River Arno! The architect Vasari brought this to an end by introducing jewellery shops on the bridge instead of the ill-smelling butcher shops.
This was part of the Vasari Corridor project undertaken for the Medici’s, linking the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the river through an enclosed, elevated walkway. During construction original medieval towers were torn down to give room for the project. For 200 years this 1-kilometre passageway was used by the Medici family. It only lost its importance when the Lorraine family took over and the Uffizi Gallery became private property.
When you look at the Ponte Vecchio from the street along the river, notice the small windows on the upper part of the buildings over the bridge. From the Corridor on top of the bridge, the Medici family would get a panoramic view of Florence through these windows! Both Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler were impressed by the stunning Ponte Vecchio, and it was therefore spared during WWII as the only bridge in Florence!
Walk onto the bridge and take your time to do some people-watching and have a look at the small shops offering all kinds of jewellery and souvenirs.
By now it is probably time for lunch – so you’d better start looking for a nice restaurant!
19. Mercato del Porcellino (Fontana del Porcellino)
Continue a few hundred metres, and you will find Florence’s leather market at Mercato del Porcellino, also known as Loggia del Mercato Nuovo or Loggia del Porcellino. The Renaissance building you see there is from the 16th century and was intended for the sale of products like silk and other precious goods in Florence.
Still today, it is a vibrant marketplace stuffed with leather goods and other souvenirs. You may be able to make a good buy here!
Most famous in the marketplace today is the bronze statue of the wild boar which is a copy of the original Greek marble sculpture in the Uffizi Gallery. It is said to bring good luck when you rub its snout and insert a coin into its mouth. If it falls down into the hole below, you will then be sure to return to Florence! Will you give it a try?
The author Hans Christian Anderson got inspired by the wild boar and wrote in 1846 a story, The Bronze Hog. In the story a poor boy falls asleep on the back of the boar which during the night comes to life and takes the boy happily through the streets of Florence.
20. Basilica di Santa Croce
Next on your agenda is the impressive Basilica di Santa Croce, the principal Franciscan church in Florence and the largest Franciscan church in the world! It dates back to 1294, rebuilt by Arnolfo di Cambio. In all, it has sixteen chapels. Some of them were owned by noble, wealthy Florentine families who also contributed financially to the church works. Many of the chapels have fresco decorations which can be attributed to the Florentine painter and architect Giotto.
According to the legend Santa Croce was founded by St. Francis. Prior to the construction of the Basilica, this area was located outside the city walls and was plain marshland!
In 1966 the River Arno flooded the church with great damage here as in the rest of Florence. The visible proof today is the small plaque near one of the side doors indicating the height of the waters by then.
There are three cloisters, the Ancient Cloister, the Cloister of the Dead and the Primo Chiostro, or the main cloister. It features the chapel Cappella dei Pazzi, which was primarily designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, and is considered a real masterpiece within Renaissance architecture.
The church is also the burial place of famous people like Michelangelo, Galileo and Rossini. It is known as ‘The Temple of Italian Glories’. Leonardo da Vinci has a commemorative plaque inside the church, and there is also a memorial to Dante, although his sarcophagus is empty – he rests in Ravenna!
21. Bargello National Museum
What remains to see in Florence? Well, last thing to do today before a well-deserved dinner is a visit to the Bargello National Museum where you will get to see all its treasures.
The Bargello National Museum is located inside the impressive Palazzo del Bargello which is an old fortress in Florence. It is actually one of the oldest buildings you can see in Florence dating all back to 1255. In the beginning it was the headquarters of the Capitano del Popolo (meaning Captain of the People). Later, in the 16th century, it became the residence of the Bargello (the police), and even later, in the 18th century it was being used as a prison!
The building features a lovely courtyard, a balcony, a covered staircase from the 14th century and an impressive hall on the first floor.
Today, the old fortress houses the Bargello National Museum with a collection of important Renaissance sculptures and masterpieces by famous artists like Michelangelo (for instance his renowned David Apollo from 1530), Donatello, Luca della Robbia, Verrocchio and Cellini. The museum is as important to sculptures as the Uffizi Gallery is to paintings.
Congratulations! You have now completed an intense 3-day sightseeing of all the best things to see and do in Florence! Maybe the agenda has been packed with Renaissance art and traces of the Medici family, but you will not regret that you managed to do it all!
Read more about day trips in Tuscany: 3 Stunning Small Towns in Northern Italy – Itinerary – One Day and 5 Cream-of-the-Crop Day Trips from Florence in Tuscany
Going to Rome? Take a look at Palatine Hill, Vatican Museums, Piazza Navona – Rome 3 Days
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