Nestled in the heart of Tuscany in Central Italy, Florence is known as the birthplace of the Renaissance and offers an incredible array of activities for travelers, even for those with only a couple of days to spare. This guide will highlight some of the best things to do in Florence in two days.
Whether you want to immerse yourself in the history of the Duomo, marvel at Michelangelo’s David, take a stroll across the Ponte Vecchio or indulge in Florence’s mouthwatering cuisine, we’ve got you covered. So, let’s jump in and make your two days in Florence some that you’ll never forget!
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A Brief Introduction to Florence
Florence is the capital and most populous city of the Tuscany region. It was once the center of medieval European trade and finance and one of the wealthiest cities of that era.
In 1982, the historic center of Florence was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This area boasts buildings dating back to the Renaissance, in addition to the 14th century medieval walls that once protected the city. In 2010, Forbes ranked Florence ‘the most beautiful city in the world’ due to its artistic and architectural heritage.
Now, the city attracts millions of tourists, who come to experience the art, history and culture that the city has to offer, each year. Florence also plays an important role in Italian fashion and has a major national economic center, as well as a tourist and industrial hub.
When to Visit Florence
The best time to visit Florence is between April and September. In particular, April through June offers some of the best weather in Florence and brings opportunities for art festivals, open-air dining and more. However, planning your visit in early April or late September will spare you from some of the crowds that come with visiting during peak season.
If you decide to visit Florence during peak season, plan your stay for a weekday (or weekdays). This will help with some of the crowds. However, some of the best things to do in Florence are closed on Mondays. These include the Uffizi Gallery, the Accademia Gallery, Pitti Palace, Villa Bardini, the San Lorenzo Market and Mercato Centrale. Be sure to tag on an extra day to your trip to Florence if one of the days of your visit falls on a Monday.
Where to Stay in Florence
We stayed at Dafne’s House, a cozy apartment located in the heart of Florence’s Sant’Ambrogio neighborhood on the pedestrian street of Borgo la Croce. Dafne’s House is walkable to the historic center of Florence, the fruit market and antiques market, lots of cute cafes and restaurants, and more.
We booked through Airbnb and paid around $400 for our two nights in Florence. Our host, Aida, was an absolute gem. She had great communication right from the time of booking, came to meet us to drop off the keys, and gave us lots of local recommendations during our stay.
Things to Do in Florence for Two Days
From its Renaissance art and architecture and vibrant streets to its world-renowned museums and art galleries, Florence has something for everyone. Here are some of the top things to do in Florence to make the most of your short stay.
The Duomo Complex
A visit to the Duomo Complex, which is home to the iconic Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Florence and should be at the top of your two-day itinerary for Florence.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, aka the Florence Cathedral, Duomo di Firenze or, more simply, the Duomo, is one of the most recognizable cathedrals in the world (the 4th largest in Europe) and the centerpiece of Florence. It’s part of the Duomo Complex, which also includes Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Baptistery of San Giovanni, Santa Reparata and the Opera del Duomo Museum, and is located in the historic center of Florence in the Piazza del Duomo. All of these monuments can be visited with a single ticket, the Brunelleschi Pass.
- Hours vary by monument (more details below, but times may change throughout the year, so it’s best to check the official website before your visit)
- Cost: €30 for the Brunelleschi Pass (though there are other ticket options)
- Time to Visit: 4 hours
A Broad Recommendation: The Brunelleschi Pass includes access to all of the monuments at the Piazza del Duomo. Ticket validity starts from the date selected for the Dome visit, and the remaining monuments can be visited within 3 calendar days from that date. Start at Giotto’s Bell Tower or the Opera del Duomo Museum at opening time, as these tend to get crowded quickly. Then, you’ll want to get in line for the Main Floor of the Cathedral (which opens later than the bell tower and museum), as that line gets quite long as well and will also take you to Santa Reparata.
Giotto’s Bell Tower
We started our day at Giotto’s Bell Tower, arriving right at 8:15 am, when the tower opened, to avoid having to wait in line.
Standing adjacent to the Florence Cathedral and the Baptistry, the majestic tower is a masterpiece of Florentine Gothic architecture. It was designed by Giotto, the master builder of the Opera and one of the most important artists living at that time, and construction began in 1334. When Giotto passed away three years later, the task was passed to his pupil, Andrea Pisano, and then to Francesco Talenti, who completed the building in 1359.
Despite passing before the tower was completed, Giotto became, along with Filippo Brunelleschi and Leon Battista Alberti, one of the founding fathers of Italian Renaissance architecture.
A visit to Giotto’s Bell Tower includes climbing the 414 steps to the top and taking in the breathtaking, panoramic views of Florence along the way.
The tower has 12 bells, the largest of which is called the ‘Apostolic’ and can be seen along the visit path. Note that all present works of art in the tower are copies. The originals were removed for preservation between 1965 and 1967 and can be seen at the Opera del Duomo Museum.
- Hours: Daily from 8:15 am – 6:45 pm
- Cost: Included in the Brunelleschi Pass
- Time to Visit: 45 minutes
A Broad Recommendation: Even if you plan to do the Dome climb during your visit to Florence, a climb to the top of Giotto’s Bell Tower should definitely still be on your itinerary. Both offer unique experiences and views, and the tower offers views of the Dome itself, so you won’t want to miss it!
Opera del Duomo Museum
Next, we visited the Opera del Duomo Museum, which was founded in 1891 and is one of the most important museums in the world.
The museum consists of 28 rooms distributed over three floors and showcases the places and artists who gave life to the Duomo Complex. It hosts original masterpieces from Michelangelo, Donatello, Brunelleschi, Ghiberti and countless others. It also hosts many of the original works of art created for the Florence Cathedral, the Baptistery and Giotto’s Bell Tower.
The museum also has a significant collection of paintings (mostly late medieval and early Renaissance), manuscripts, mosaics and more.
Keep an eye out for the original doors of the Baptistery, i.e. Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise, Michelangelo’s The Deposition, which depicts the body of Jesus Christ, newly taken down from the Cross, Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary, and Donatello’s Penitent Magdalene, a wooden sculpture of Mary Magdalene.
- Hours: 8:30 am – 7:00 pm (closed the first Tuesday of each month)
- Cost: Included in the Brunelleschi Pass
- Time to Visit: 60 minutes
A Broad Recommendation: Be sure to step out on the Opera del Duomo Museum’s terrace for another unique view of Brunelleschi’s Dome!
The Baptistery of San Giovanni
Next, we visited the Baptistery of San Giovanni, which was under construction during our visit but still just as beautiful.
Situated across from the Florence Cathedral and Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Baptistery is the oldest building in the Piazza del Duomo—and one of the oldest in Florence. The original structure, which was thought to be a Roman temple dedicated to Mars, the tutelary god of ancient Florence, dates back to the 4th or 5th century. The new structure was constructed between 1059 and 1128 in the Florentine Romanesque style.
The octagonal baptistery is a minor basilica and is renowned for its three sets of large, bronze doors, whose originals are now preserved in the Opera del Duomo Museum. The south doors were made between 1330 and 1336 by Andrea Pisano and depict scenes from the Life of John the Baptist, the patron saint of Florence.
The north doors, made by Lorenzo Ghiberti between 1403 and 1424, depict the life of Christ from the New Testament. And, the east doors, also by Ghiberti, are ornamented with ten scenes from the Old Testament, specifically those of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham, Jacob and Esau, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, and Solomon and Sheba. These were completed between 1425 and 1452 and were dubbed the ‘Gates of Paradise’ by Michelangelo.
- Hours: 8:30 am – 7:30 pm (closes at 2:00 pm the first Sunday of each month)
- Cost: Included in the Brunelleschi Pass
- Time to Visit: 15-30 minutes
Note: The Baptistery is undergoing restoration, so bear that in mind for your visit.
A Broad Recommendation: The Baptistery is a place of worship, so be sure to dress appropriately. If you’ve visited the Vatican, then you know that you won’t be permitted to enter with bare legs or shoulders or if wearing sandals or a hat. Plus, if you plan to climb Giotto’s Bell Tower or Brunelleschi’s Dome, you’ll want to wear comfortable, closed-toed shoes anyway.
Brunelleschi’s Dome Climb
Finally, it was time for our dome climb! One of the best things to do at the Duomo Complex—and in Florence in general—is to climb the 463 steps to the top of Brunelleschi’s Dome. Along the way, you’ll have stunning views of the interior of the cupola, and from the top of the Dome, you’ll have one of the best views of Florence.
Built between 1420 and 1436 in accordance with a plan by Filippo Brunelleschi, the dome is a masterpiece of art, the symbol of Florence and Renaissance culture, and, to this day, still the largest masonry vault in the world.
Along the tour path, you’ll pass two internal balconies where you can admire the eight drum windows by Donatello, Ghiberti, Andrea del Castagno and Paolo Uccello, as well as the incredible frescoes depicting the Last Judgment by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari on the internal vault. These took a total of 11 years to complete – wow!
- Hours: Monday – Friday from 8:15 am – 6:45 pm, Saturday from 8:15 am – 4:30 pm & Sunday from 12:45 pm to 4:30 pm (but you need a pre-booked time slot to enter)
- Cost: Included in the Brunelleschi Pass
- Time to Visit: 45-60 minutes
A Broad Recommendation: You have to book your time slot for the Dome in advance, so there’s no need to do this one first thing in the morning when it opens. The number of visitors who can visit at any given time is already limited, so you won’t have to wait in a long line to enter either. That being said, be sure to show up on time! There’s a 5 minute grace period, but after that, you may not be allowed to do the climb.
Main Floor of the Cathedral
After our climb, we hopped in line to visit the main floor of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. The name ‘Santa Maria del Fiore’, i.e. ‘Our Lady of the Flower’ alludes to the name of the city, ‘Florentia’, or ‘city of flowers’, and to its emblem, the Florentine lily.
The cathedral was built on the site of Florence’s second cathedral dedicated to Saint Reparata, an ancient structure that was founded in the early 5th century.
The church was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, who considerably enlarged the existing structure, and the first stone was laid in 1296. Nearly 140 years later, the cathedral was structurally complete, though the façade remained unfinished, and the church was consecrated by Pope Eugenio IV in 1436.
Designed by Emilio De Fabris, the current façade is covered in white, red and green marble with geometric figures and flowers and is a 19th-century neo-Gothic masterpiece.
Its interior preserves various important works of art, like Domenico di Michelino’s portrait of Dante, the Funerary Monument to Sir John Hawkwood by Paolo Uccello, and the Equestrian Monument of Niccolò da Tolentino by Andrea del Castagno, in addition to the clock with the four prophets painted by Paolo Uccello. Though, many sculptures that were originally made for the cathedral have since been moved to the museum.
Most of the stained glass windows were made between 1434 and 1455 based on designs by famous artists like Donatello, del Castagno and Uccello, and the wooden inlays on the Sacristy’s cupboards were designed by Brunelleschi and several notable artists of the time.
- Hours: Monday – Saturday from 10:15 am – 3:45 pm (closed on Sundays)
- Cost: Free
- Time to Visit: 15-20 minutes
We rounded out our Duomo Complex visit with a stop at the ancient basilica of Santa Reparata. Santa Reparata is a former cathedral and the foundation for the Duomo di Firenze (the current cathedral was built on top of this one). The original cathedral was named after the co-patron saint of Florence, Saint Reparata.
Inside the Florence Cathedral, a stairway descends to the site of the excavated ruins of Santa Reparata. The ancient basilica was brought to light during an archaeological campaign lasting from 1965 to 1973, and now, visitors can journey back in time and explore one of the first Christian temples in the history of Florence.
The basilica was in use for more than eight centuries, from its founding in the early 5th century to its demolition in 1379. The church was adorned with a magnificent mosaic floor of Solomonic knots, vases and the figure of a grand peacock, the symbol of eternity and resurrection. Bits of this floor can still be seen today, in addition to a series of funerary tombstones from the ancient cemetery area.
- Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10:15 am – 4:00 pm & Sundays from 1:30 pm – 4:00 pm
- Cost: Included in the Brunelleschi Pass
- Time to Visit: 30 minutes
Visiting the Piazzale Michelangelo is another one of the best things to do in Florence. This stunning square is located in the Oltrarno district and offers incredible views of some of Florence’s major landmarks, as well as the hills of Settignano and Fiesole in the distance.
The piazza was designed by architect Giuseppe Poggi and built in 1869 on the hill of San Miniato just south of the historic center. It was dedicated to Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo—the square actually has bronze copies of some of his most famous marble works—and now houses a restaurant.
Piazzale Michelangelo is one of the best places to watch a sunset in Florence. Get there about an hour early and watch as the lights come on and illuminate the city.
You can access the Piazzale Michelangelo by car via the tree-lined Viale Michelangelo or on foot by climbing the stairs or going up the ramps from the Piazza Giuseppe Poggi in the San Niccolò district. We visited the Piazzale Michelangelo on a one-hour Florence: Eco-Friendly Golf Cart City Tour. This was a fun way to see some of the city’s highlights without having to walk to all of them!
- Hours: Open all day, every day
- Cost: Free
- Time to Visit: 30 minutes or more
A Broad Recommendation: If you have more time, visit the San Miniato al Monte, a basilica that stands on the hillside just above Piazzale Michelangelo at one of the highest points of Florence and offers panoramic views of the city from its terrace. Minas, later San Miniato, was an Armenian prince who served under Emperor Decius. When the Emperor heard Minas was Christian, he had him beheaded, after which Minas supposedly picked up his head and walked to his hermitage—the location of the present-day church.
We started our second day in Florence with a visit to the Accademia Gallery, an art museum which is best known for Michelangelo’s statue of David.
The gallery was founded in 1784 by Grand Duke of Tuscany Pietro Leopoldo and contains the largest number of Michelangelo’s sculptures in the world. The gallery also hosts a large collection of paintings by Florentine artists, like Uccello, Ghirlandaio, Botticelli and del Sarto, from the Trecento to the Late Renaissance.
Don’t miss Michelangelo’s four unfinished Prisoners, intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II, and his unfinished statue of Saint Matthew. Also be on the lookout for Giambologna’s original marble statue of the Abduction of a Sabine Woman.
Walking through the room of statues and busts was pretty magical, as was seeing one of the most famous statues in the world!
- Hours: Daily from 8:15 am – 6:50 pm (last admission at 6:20 pm & closed on Mondays); from June 13 to October 31, hours are extended until 10:00 pm (last admission at 9:30 pm) on Tuesdays and 9:00 pm (last admission at 8:30 pm) on Thursdays
- Cost: €13
- Time to Visit: 1 hour
A Broad Recommendation: Visiting the Accademia Gallery is one of the top things to do in Florence. Be sure to book your tickets well in advance, as you need a pre-booked time slot to enter, and these sell out quickly. We ended up having to pay almost double the standard ticket cost, since all of the tickets through the Accademia Gallery’s website were already sold out for the dates of our visit.
Next, we visited the Uffizi Gallery, which is one of the most important art museums in Italy and one of the largest and oldest art museums in the world. Home to thousands of Renaissance masterpieces by famous artists like Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Botticelli, Caravaggio and Raphael, the Uffizi Gallery is a haven for art lovers.
The gallery also hosts an invaluable collection of ancient statues and busts, which adorns the corridors and consists of ancient Roman copies of lost Greek sculptures.
Because of its huge collection, much of which was donated to Florence by the Medici family, some of the gallery’s works have been moved to other museums in Florence, like the Bargello.
- Hours: 8:15 am – 6:30 pm (last entry at 5:30 pm & closed on Mondays)
- Cost: €26
- Time to Visit: 2 hours or more
A Broad Recommendation: The Uffizi Gallery is another one of the most popular things to do in Florence. It sits adjacent to the Piazza della Signoria in the historic center of Florence and hosts more than 2 million visitors each year, making it the most visited art gallery in Italy. During peak tourist season, wait times can last up to five hours, so be sure to book your time slot in advance.
After exploring the Uffizi Gallery for a couple hours, we walked along the Arno River to Ponte Vecchio, the most famous bridge in Florence.
Ponte Vecchio is a charming medieval bridge lined with shops that once belonged to butchers, goldsmiths and farmers. Now, they host local vendors selling jewelry, art, souvenirs and more.
Historically, the bridge played a central role in Florence’s road system, starting from when it connected the Roman Florentia with the Via Cassia Nuova commissioned by the emperor Hadrian in 123 AD. Now, the bridge is closed to vehicular traffic and is crossed by extensive pedestrian traffic, as it connects the Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Signoria to the Palazzo Pitti and Florence’s Oltrarno district.
Interesting fact: Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge in Florence spared from the destruction that occurred during World War II.
- Hours: Open all day, every day
- Cost: Free
- Time to Visit: 15 minutes
Just a short walk from Ponte Vecchio, the Palazzo Pitti, i.e. Pitti Palace, is a vast, Renaissance palace on the south side of the Arno River.
The palace was commissioned in 1457 by Florentine banker Luca Pitti and purchased in 1550 by the Medici family as the new Grand Ducal residence. In the late 18th century, it was used as a base by Napoleon and later served as the principal royal palace of the newly united Italy.
The palace’s design is reminiscent of a Roman aqueduct and has withstood the test of time through subsequent additions by the Medici family that more than doubled its original size. Over the years, several generations of residents have amassed paintings, silver, jewelry and other luxurious items that visitors can now see while exploring the palace’s opulent interiors.
Today, the palace is the largest museum complex in Florence and is divided into five museums: the Treasury of the Grand Dukes, the Museum of Russian Icons (with the Palatine Chapel), the Imperial and Royal Apartments, the Gallery of Modern Art, and the Museum of Costume and Fashion.
I found our visit to the Pitti Palace to be very interesting! I read almost every description in each room and could’ve spent much longer here than we did. So, definitely add Pitti Palace to your list of things to do in Florence.
A Broad Recommendation: The Vasari Corridor is an elevated, enclosed walkway that connects Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti via the Uffizi Gallery and Ponte Vecchio. It was built to enable the Grand Duke and his family to move safely between the two. The corridor has been closed to the public since 2016, but check the Uffizi website, as it may be opening again soon. We’d hoped that the corridor would be open during our visit, but this was sadly not the case! Note: in the past, the Vasari Corridor could only be visited on a guided tour, so be sure to plan this in advance.
- Hours: Tuesday – Sunday from 8:15 am to 6:30 pm (closed on Mondays)
- Cost: €17 or €23 for the Combined Pitti + Boboli ticket
- Time to Visit: 1 hour
A Broad Recommendation: There’s a ticket option called the PassePartout 5 Days that is valid for 5 consecutive days and offers one single admission (with priority) to the Uffizi Gallery, Pitti Palace, Boboli Gardens and the National Archaeological Museum. Even without visiting the National Archaeological Museum, we still saved at least €10 with this option.
Directly behind Pitti Palace sit the lush Boboli Gardens. Established by the Medici family in the Italian garden style, the gardens served as the prototype for many other European Royal gardens, in particular, Versailles, and were opened to the public in 1766. Exploring here is another one of my favorite things to do in Florence!
As you walk through the vast green area, which consists of a maze of serene pathways, Renaissance statues and marvelous fountains, you’ll feel like you’re exploring a huge, open-air museum.
Be on the lookout for the Fountain of Neptune and the Fountain of the Ocean, and take in the gorgeous views of Florence along the way.
A Broad Recommendation: We visited Boboli Gardens before Pitti Palace because it looked like it might rain later in the day. You can visit in either order, but be sure to check the weather forecast before your visit.
- Hours (closed the first & last Monday of each month)
- January, February, November & December: 8:15 am – 4:30 pm
- March & October: 8:15 am – 5:30 pm
- April, May & September: 8:15 am – 6:30 pm
- June, July & August: : 8:15 am – 7:10 pm
- Cost: €11 or €23 for the Combined Pitti + Boboli ticket
- Time to Visit: 2 hours (but we could’ve spent even longer here!)
A Broad Recommendation: You can also visit Bardini Gardens, the Renaissance garden of Villa Bardini which offers stunning panoramic views of Florence, on the same ticket. Don’t miss the Wisteria pergola, which was brought from China to Florence by Marco Polo.
Aperitivo at the Divina Terrazza
No visit to Florence is complete without enjoying an aperitivo at one of the city’s incredible rooftop bars. Having an aperitivo, i.e. a pre-dinner alcoholic drink to stimulate the appetite, is a popular thing to do in Florence and in Italy in general, and the Divina Terrazza is a great place to do so!
We ended our trip to Florence with a stop at the Grand Hotel Cavour, where we took the elevator up to the sixth floor to the lovely Divina Terrazza. The Divina Terrazza serves specialty cocktails and fine wine and is open to both guests of the hotel and external clients. And, the views of the Duomo from up here are out of this world!
- Hours Daily from 6:00 – 11:00 pm (unless there is inclement weather)
- Cost: Free + the price of drinks
- Time to Visit: 1 hour
A Broad Recommendation: We got lucky during our visit, as there was one table available at the Divina Terrazza when we arrived at the Grand Hotel Cavour. If you’re planning to grab an aperitivo here after a long day of exploring, be sure to make a reservation in advance so you won’t be turned away.
Other Things to Do in Florence
Sadly, we couldn’t see everything that this incredible city has to offer in just two days, so here’s a list of other things we’d like to do in Florence on our next visit.
- Wine Doors: The wine doors in Florence date back to the 1500s when nobles were allowed to sell wine without paying taxes or owning a store. Their use exploded during the plague in the 1600s when people needed to limit contact with each other. All you had to do was knock on the door, and someone would refill your bottle or provide you with a new one upon payment. Some of these are still in use and one of them serves gelato instead of wine! We were SO sad we didn’t find any of these while they were open, but that just gives us another reason to go back someday.
- Biblioteca delle Oblate: This public library is located just steps from the Piazza Duomo. The café and covered terrace offer a wonderful view of the Florence Cathedral, and if you’re visiting in the summer, you may even be treated to some live music.
- Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella: Founded by Dominican friars, Santa Maria Novella is the oldest pharmacy in the world and has been creating beautiful fragrances, remedies and herbal products since 1221.
- Brancacci Chapel: Named for the silk merchant financially responsible for its creation, Brancacci Chapel is the first great work of art of the 1400s and is often referred to as the ‘Sistine Chapel of the Early Renaissance.’
- The Bargello: The Bargello, aka the Palazzo del Bargello or ‘Palace of the People’, is a former barracks and prison that now houses a national art museum.
- Basilica di San Lorenzo: Consecrated in 393 AD, the Basilica di San Lorenzo is one of the oldest and largest churches in Florence. It was the ‘official church’ and burial place of the Medici family.
- Cappelle Medicee: The Medici Chapels form part of a monumental complex connected with the Basilica of San Lorenzo. They were built for the Medici family and date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. The Sagrestia Nuova was designed by Michelangelo, and the Cappella dei Principi was a collaboration between the family and architect Matteo Nigetti.
- Fontana del Porcellino: Il Porcellino is a bronze fountain of a boar that was sculpted by Baroque master Pietro Tacca in 1634. It’s rumored that if you put a coin into the boar’s jaws, you’ll have good luck, and if you rub the boar’s snout, you’ll someday return to Florence.
Prego! Now you know some of the best things to do in Florence, Italy, and hopefully you’ll have an incredible, stress-free visit. Have you visited Florence before? What are some of your favorite things to do in Florence?
XOXO Sara at Travel A-Broads