Home to the powerful Medici family that ruled Florence in the 13th to 18th centuries, Florence is perhaps most well known as birthplace of the Renaissance movement. The city is packed with amazing museums, magnificent buildings and culturally-significant art seemingly on every corner
There is something special about Florence that I found simply enchanting. I loved the grand buildings and beautiful artwork and over-the-top churches. Sunrise and sunset is an especially magical time in Florence, particularly when viewed from one of the graceful bridges spanning the Arno river.
And don’t get me started about the food! Florence is located in Tuscany (Toscana), one of my favorite of the 20 regions of Italy. I absolutely fell in love with Tuscan food and couldn’t get enough of it.
While my husband Daniel and I are typically not big museum-goers, we couldn’t help ourselves when we arrived in Florence after visiting Venice and Verona. From Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo to Donatello and Sandro Botticelli, important artwork from many of the world’s most influential artists are all located here.
We could have spent weeks touring museums and churches and still not have seen everything.
If you only have 4 days in Florence, here are my recommendations for a Florence 4-day itinerary to ensure you hit all the best sights.
Florence 4 Day Itinerary – Day 1
Galleria dell’Accademia (Gallery of the Academy of Florence)
We began our Florence 4-day itinerary with a visit to Galleria dell’Accademia to see the Statue of David. While I’m not the biggest art buff in the world, even I have heard of the Statue of David and I was eager to see it in person. Constructed in 1501-1504 by Michelangelo, the statue was originally located outside the Palazzo Vecchio. It was later moved to the Galleria dell’Accademia in an alcove that specifically designed to showcase the artwork.
At 17 feet (5.17 m) tall, David dominates the gallery with its commanding presence. We stood beneath the statue for awhile, circling slowly around it and admiring it from every angle. I was in absolute awe – it really is a breathtaking piece.
The Galleria dell’Accademia includes artwork by other notable artists, as well as a musical instrument collection and an assortment of plaster cast models for famous sculptures. That being said, the Statue of David really is the most interesting thing to see in the museum and worth a visit on its own right.
Piazza della Signoria and the Palazzo Vecchio
After bidding good-bye to David, we spent the rest of the day wandering around Florence and getting to know the city. One of our first stops was the magnificent Piazza della Signoria – a grand square which houses the Palazzo Vecchio or “Old Palace”. While nowadays the building is a famous museum, it also doubles as the seat of local Florentine government.
We kipped going inside the museum and contented ourselves with exploring the square as there are plenty of free things to see nearby. Highlights of the nearby area include the Fountain of Neptune (Il Biancone), a replica of the Statue of David, and the Loggia of the Lanzi – a small open air museum housing a number of famous statues.
Piazza di Santa Maria Novella
We continued our Florence 4-day itinerary with a stroll over to the Piazza di Santa Maria Novella. A lovely town square featuring the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, the space serves as a popular gathering point for both tourists and locals alike.
It was a pleasant sunny day and we spent some time relaxing on the curb and basking in the sunshine. It was the first time in several months that I felt comfortable sitting outside without a warm coat. Even though it was still February it definitely felt like spring was in the air!
Sunset from Ponte Santa Trinita (Saint Trinity Bridge)
Daniel and I ended the day with a stroll over to the Ponte Santa Trinita (Saint Trinity Bridge). We arrived just as the sun dipped below the horizon and were rewarded with an incredible sunset.
Florence 4 Day Itinerary – Day 2
Ponte Vecchio Bridge at Sunrise
On our second day, I got up early to catch the sunrise over by the picturesque Ponte Vecchio Bridge.
One of the more famous tourist attractions in the city, the Ponte Vecchio is a medieval stone bridge that houses a number of shops including jewelers and artists. It was all but deserted at that time of day.
I walked along the Arno River just as the sun emerged from the horizon, glad to have the city to myself for the moment.
The Uffizi Gallery
One of the most popular art museums in the world, the Uffizi is an enormous gallery housing important works from the Italian Renaissance period. Originally constructed by the Medici family, the palace was designed to showcase the family’s extensive art collection which has since been donated to the museum.
Works from many important artists are featured, including Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Rembrandt, among others.
Due to the museum’s size, we decided to devote the entire day to visiting the Uffizi. I’m glad we did because I wouldn’t have had the energy to do anything else when we were finished. I had an art hangover!
Florence 4 Day Itinerary – Day 3
The Florence Cathedral (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore or “Duomo”)
The most iconic landmark in the city, the Florence Cathedral or “Duomo” is truly like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The cathedral’s eye-catching neo-gothic façade is made entirely of green, pink and white marble.
Constructed between 1296-1436, the basilica is one of Italy’s largest churches and boasts the largest brick dome ever constructed. The interior of the Duomo is rather stark and plain in comparison to its exterior.
I was most interested by the underside of the dome which was covered with Giorgio Vasari’s frescoes of the Last Judgment (1572-9). These were difficult to see from the ground floor but I had a better view when I climbed up to the top of the dome later in the day.
Florence Cathedral – Giotto’s Campanile (the Bell Tower)
The free-standing Giotto’s Campanile (bell tower) is located next to the Florence Cathedral. At 277.9 feet tall (84.7 meters), the tower provides excellent views of the city and also the Duomo located right next door.
Basilica di San Lorenzo
The parish church of the Medici family, the Basilica di San Lorenzo is one of the largest churches in Florence. Although not as grand as the Florence Cathedral from the outside, the interior features decorations and sculptures by Donatello and Michelangelo. Many of the Medici family members are buried in the basilica’s crypt. Donatello is also buried here.
We toured the inside of the Basilica as well as the natural history museum which is located in the basement. It was interesting but compared with all the other amazing things that we saw in Florence I wouldn’t put it at the top of the list.
The church wasn’t terribly crowded, however, which was a nice change from the other tourist attractions that we visited in the city.
Florence Cathedral – Climbing the Duomo
I returned to the Florence Cathedral at the end of the day to climb the Duomo. As one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, admission to the Duomo is regulated by entry time so that everyone doesn’t climb it at once. I wanted to catch the sunset from the top of the Duomo so I picked an entry time about 30 minutes before the official sunset time.
As it turns out, I was not the only person with that idea. I ended up missing the sunset because everyone who was already up there didn’t want to leave and make room for anyone else.
Also I didn’t accurately anticipate how long it would take to climb 463 steps in a conga line of other tourists. I did eventually make it to the top of the Duomo, however, and got so see the tail end of a spectacular light show across the sky.
So – lesson learned. If you want to see sunset from the Duomo, pick an entry time at least one hour before sunset.
Florence 4 Day Itinerary – Day 4
On our final day in Florence, we headed to the other side of the Arno River to visit Pitti Palace (Palazzo Pitti).
The chief residence of the Medici family in the 1600’s, the enormous Renaissance palace was also used by Napoleon in the late 18th century. These days, the palazzo is the largest museum complex in Florence and houses the Palatine Gallery, Treasury of the Grand Dukes, Gallery of Modern Art, and Museum of Costume and Fashion.
The fabulous Boboli Gardens are located directly behind the palazzo and are also worth a visit.
We started the day with a stroll through the magnificent Boboli Gardens. By this time in our visit to Florence, Daniel and I were feeling a little burned out on touring museums. A stroll through the Boboli Gardens was just what the doctor ordered.
Palatine Gallery and Royal and Imperial Apartments
After strolling through the Boboli Gardens, we next headed inside the Palazzo. Even though our ticket provided entry to all four of the museums in Pitti Palace, Daniel and I chose to only visit Palatine Gallery. We were about done with museums by this point, thank you very much!
An impressive selection of artwork collected by the Medici family, the Palatine Gallery includes the largest concentration of paintings by Raphael in the world. It also includes important works by Rubens, Caravaggio, and other notable artists.
Sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo
We ended our visit to Florence with one last amazing sunset. This time, we headed up to the Piazzale Michelangelo which has fabulous views of the entire city.
While on the hill, we wandered over to the Basilica San Miniato al Monte to hear the monks sing Gregorian chants. After the conclusion of vespers, we walked outside and watched one of the most incredible sunsets that I have ever seen.
Sigh. Good-bye Florence. I shall miss you.
A Note about Tuscan Food
I about lost my mind over the food in Florence. As the city is located in the heart of Tuscany, we had the opportunity to sample many delicious regional Tuscan dishes.
At the time of our visit, we planned to spend more time traveling through the Tuscan countryside and getting acquainted with the food. If I had known that our departure from Italy was imminent, we probably would have taken some day trips into the countryside to some vineyards. Ah well.
If you’d like more information on the food that we ate during our visit, check out Daniel’s blog post: Florence (Firenze), Italy – Tuscan food and the Italian Renaissance.