72 Hours in Florence
Welcome to the New Roman Times’ 72 Hours series! Why 72 hours? Because the New York Times publishes a “36 Hours” series, but in my opinion, 36 hours isn’t nearly enough time to spend in Italy’s greatest cities and most compelling regions. From time to time, I’ll spotlight popular destinations like Milan, Florence, Venice, the Amalfi Coast and Capri for paid subscribers. Have a place you’d like a 72 hours guide to? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment here!
The cradle of the Renaissance, Florence has been an important city since the days of the Roman empire. It was a major stop on the Grand Tour and is still one of Italy’s most visited cities today. The first time I visited Florence, I remember staring in awe at Botticelli’s Birth of Venus in the Uffizi and Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia. I may not be a local, but I have returned to the city at least half a dozen times since then and always try to visit places I haven’t been yet.
The city was home to some of the greatest artists and thinkers who ever lived, including Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Dante, Galileo, and Donatello, just to name a few. The modern Italian language most closely resembles the Tuscan dialect used by Dante, as my Tuscan professoressa and friend Luisa Gregori likes to remind me.
You would need weeks to see everything, which is why I would never suggest visiting Florence for as little as 36 hours, as the New York Times recently did and caused a bit of a stir among locals. With three days, you can get a good overview of the city. Here’s how.
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Florence’s centro storico is quite compact, but it’s also packed to the brim with treasures (and tourists). Spend your first day getting your bearings and seeing some Renaissance masterpieces before tasting a traditional bistecca alla fiorentina for dinner.
12 p.m. - Arrive and check into your hotel
If you’re coming from abroad, you might fly into the tiny Amerigo Vespucci Airport, about 30 minutes from the city center, but if you’re coming from elsewhere in Italy, you’ll likely arrive by train at Santa Maria Novella station, which is very centrally located. When I was there a couple of weeks ago, there were long lines of people waiting for a taxi at the train station, but if you’re staying in the centro storico, I would suggest walking unless you have very unwieldy suitcases. Between the traffic and all the one-way streets, it’s usually just as fast to walk as it is to take a taxi.
There are plenty of great hotels in Florence. For luxury five-star digs, I recommend the Helvetia & Bristol, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, or the Savoy, a Rocco Forte Hotel, both of which are very centrally located. For something a bit more youthful and fun, I like Hotel Calimala, which has a great rooftop restaurant/bar, or the 25Hours Piazza San Paolino, which boasts a colorful, quirky design inspired by Dante’s Inferno. For a more local experience removed from the crowds, I recommend Oltrarno Splendid or their sister B&Bs, AdAstra and SoprArno Suites.
1 p.m. - Lunch at Cibrèo
Whether or not you’re staying at the Helvetia & Bristol, you may want to head over there for lunch at Cibrèo, the newest location of the iconic restaurant opened in 1979 in the Sant’Ambrogio neighborhood. During my recent trip, I enjoyed the endive salad with leeks and walnuts and the grilled langoustines with a side of crispy potatoes.
3 p.m. - Afternoon at the Uffizi
A quick walk will bring you to the Uffizi Gallery, which was designed by Giorgio Vasari in 1560 to house the offices of Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici and now contains a vast collection of masterpieces. Don’t miss the aforementioned Birth of Venus by Botticelli, as well as works of art by Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, and Caravaggio. Expect to spend anywhere from two to four hours inside. It’s worth the €4 surcharge to book your ticket in advance and skip the line.
6:30 p.m. - Aperitivo with a view
If you feel a bout of Stendhal syndrome coming on, don’t fret—now it’s time to relax. Make sure you book a table in advance for an aperitivo at La Terrazza, the chic rooftop bar at the Hotel Continentale, one of the properties run by the Ferragamo family, and savor an Aperol Spritz or a Negroni overlooking the Arno River and Ponte Vecchio.