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How to do Florence in 48 hours

You’ve just arrived in the Renaissance capital of the art world with a couple of days to spare, so where do you go and what highlights can you see in such a short amount of time? This is the guide for you to make the most of a short stay in Florence.

2:00 p.m.

Now is probably a good time to get acquainted with the city center, if it’s late summer it will start to cool down and hopefully the tourist crush will start to subside. The center of Florence is easy to get around as the streets are narrow and most are closed to traffic.

Starting from the main station is Piazza Santa Maria Novella with the church that gives its name to the train station. In front of the church is Piazza Nazionale and a path that leads to Piazza del Mercato Centrale. Here are some market stalls selling leather goods, souvenirs, and other items. The 2 famous buildings to see here are Cappelle Medici and the San Lorenzo and Laurentian Library.

15:00

You will see the Duomo before reaching the square it is in as you walk along Via Borgo San Lorenzo. The squat building in front of the cathedral is the Baptistery, built on the foundations of a Roman temple. The golden doors that lead to the cathedral are replicas of an original set made by Lorenzo Ghiberti and considered by Michelangelo as the “doors of paradise”. But the sight that wows most visitors is Brunelleschi’s dome, the cap of the already impressive Chiesa Santa Maria del Fiori. Standing guard next to it is the campanile, or campanile built by Giotto.

The view from the top of the Duomo is amazing on a clear day and well worth the hike to the top. Admission to the church itself is free, but you have to pay to go up. You can also go up to the bell tower, but you risk the bells ringing at some point and there is no lift if you need help getting back down.

4:00 p.m.

Many of the original works that were used to decorate the exteriors and interiors of the baptistery, church, and bell tower are housed within the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, behind the cathedral, the museum rooms that catalog the history of the buildings. There are many pieces by Michelangelo, including his Pietà which he partially destroyed and which was later finished by a student. The original doors of the baptistery are found here along with plans for the Duomo by Brunelleschi, statues and bas-reliefs by Donatello and others.

five pm

Walking along Via Roma you will reach Piazza della Repubblica, the edges are occupied by expensive hotels and even more expensive cafes. There are a few stalls selling various tourist type things including more belts, wallets and bags. Keep walking along Via Calimara until you reach the loggia that houses more market stalls. Here you can try your hand at spotting a fake leather item, although you don’t want this to be too obvious. Better still, you can drop a coin from the mouth of ‘il Porcolino’, the bronze statue of a wild boar, and make a wish.

17:30

Looking straight ahead, you will see what looks like a crowded street rising up at the end of Via Porta Santa Maria. This is actually a bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, the ‘Old Bridge’, which was the only one saved by the Nazis in World War II. The original shops were butcher shops, dumping their leftovers into the Arno below. The stench rose so high in the nostrils of the Medici in the 16th century that Grand Duke Ferdinand I ordered them to leave and the most aesthetically pleasing goldsmiths to settle. This is also one of the 3 bridges in the world to house shops.

18:00

Head back to the north end of the bridge where there is a covered colonnade heading left along the river. This was built as a secret passageway for the Medici as they walked above the town between the Uffizi and the Pitti Palace. At the far end of the walkway, you can look back to see the backs of the shops jutting out over the river.

Behind you is also the entrance to Piazza Degli Uffizi, a three-sided square lined with statues and busts of famous artists from across the centuries and, of course, home to the world-famous Uffizi Gallery. The collection inside is second only to that in the Vatican in terms of artistic significance. Giotto, Fra Angelico, Lippi, Botticelli, Da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo… the list goes on. The gallery is closed on Mondays and it takes at least half a day to visit it, as well as booking in advance if you want to visit it in summer. The square is often filled during the summer with open-air exhibitions, street performers and artists, mainly to entertain the long line of tourists queuing to get inside.

Continue along the narrow piazza away from the river until you reach Piazza Signoria. This wide open space is most recognizable by the statue of David, a copy placed there in 1873 as the original had to be moved inside the Academy to protect it from the elements. Below the loggia is a collection of other famous statues, including Giambologna’s The Rape of the Sabine Women, Hercules and the Centaur Nessus, and Cellini’s bronze statue of Perseus.

The main space is dominated by the imposing statue of ‘Il Nettuno’, the aquatic figure of Neptune which stands at the opposite end of the Palazzo Vecchio. Nearby is the mounted figure of Cosimo I Medici and the bronze plaque marking the spot where the priest Savonarola was hanged and burned for heresy in 1498. For super-sleuths there is another sculpture to look out for. On the wall of the Palazzo Vecchio is carved the outline of a man’s face. Legend has it that Michelangelo, in a fit of pique, was proving to Donatello that he was capable of sculpting great works of art, even with his hands behind his back.

6:30 pm.

Inside Palazzo Vecchio, the entrance displays ornate ceilings and wall decoration for this building that was once the seat of Florentine government during the 13th and 14th centuries. For a fee, you can see the opulent apartments above that were occupied by Medicis and other notables, as well as reach the battlements for another view of the city.

The rest of the evening can best be spent strolling through the narrow streets and enjoying a meal at one of the many restaurants and trattorias. Then there is the nightlife, as many bars and clubs open after 10pm and continue until very early in the morning.

08:00

Florence is a year-round tourist magnet, so an early start is essential if you don’t want to spend countless hours queuing. A sure way to avoid this is to part with a little extra cash in the busy summer months and book your tickets online or by phone. You then pick them up at the designated time at the ticket office with your reservation number. This way you can easily get to see the Uffizi and possibly another museum in the same day. To do this, simply log in at http://www.firenzemusei.it or http://www.weekendafirenze.com or book through your hotel.

The Uffizi opens at 8:15 am and closes at 7:00 pm, with the works of art divided into a series of rooms, all with a certain style or artistic period. The gallery is not limited to just the greats of the Italian Renaissance, but the collection also includes works by German and Flemish artists. To appreciate much of the work, you would need to spend at least several hours getting around.

15:00

Whether as an afternoon escape or a morning alternative, there’s also the Galleria Dell’Accademia, most famous for its prized possession, Michelangelo’s David, the original sculpture that once stood in Piazza della Signoria. The 5m tall statue was carved from a single marble slab which, by some accounts, has a fault line running through it. It is said that Michelangelo found it abandoned at the back of the crafts school and decided that he would use it to create a symbol of the Florentine spirit.

The Accademia also has other well-known statues, paintings and carvings by many artists on display, well worth an hour or two to look around.

To round off the day nicely, you can walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo from the south bank of the river, where you’ll find another copy of Michelangelo’s David, a bronze version overlooking the city. A great place to watch the city change colors at sunset, and public events are sometimes held in the square during the summer.

five pm

If there is still enough energy left to see one more church, Chiesa di San Miniato al Monte is worth the extra effort. Located in the parks behind Piazzale Michelangelo, the exterior is one of the best examples of Tuscan Romanesque architecture, while the interior is home to some extraordinary frescoes from the 13th-15th centuries.

08:00

Depending on your schedule, you might have time for another set of museums or just a nice walk in the park. Head to the Pitti Palace, another Brunelleschi creation for a wealthy banker that was eventually taken over by the Medici family. Inside are a series of museum rooms, all devoted to various items including silver, porcelain, and Renaissance clothing, as well as more modern artwork from the 18th and 20th centuries.

11:00

When art intake has finally reached its limit, there is respite in the form of the Boboli Gardens at the rear of the palace. Designed in the mid-16th century, it contains caves and gardens typical of the Renaissance aristocracy. A chance to leave the narrow streets and crowds of tourists for a while.

Your time in Florence has come to an end, but you may still have a chance to do some last-minute shopping before you say goodbye to all the teachers.

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