Let Florence Capture Your Heart in Three Days


Last Updated on February 24, 2024 by Grant

Florence has a way of capturing your heart. I have now visited three times, once in college with a few friends (1997) and twice with Grant (2013 and 2017). Each time I have been, I have found something new to love and remember about the city.

Florence skyline at dusk
Be sure to head across the River Arno to the Piazzale Michelangelo for this amazing view of Florence at sunset.

As the capital of Tuscany, Florence is the heart of this region. With a population just under 400,000, you will find all the amenities of a big city, with much of the charm of a small town. Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance and the culture and art housed here will entice just about anyone.

From the art galleries to the gardens to the amazing food, there is something for everyone to enjoy in Florence.

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Dinner in Florence and the Festival of San Giovani

We arrived in the late afternoon, after stopping in Pisa on our way from Riomaggiore in the Cinque Terre. After settling in at our hotel, B&B La Notte Blu, it was time for dinner.

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Grant found an amazing restaurant, Antica Trattoria da Tito, less than five minutes walking from the hotel. This was seriously the best dinner we had in our month-long trip in Italy! Dinner consisted of fabulous wine, cheese, pasta, steak and pannacotta.

Grant enjoying Beef Florentine at Antica Trattoria da Tito
This is, without a doubt, the best steak Grant has ever had.

It was here that Grant discovered his love for Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Beef Florentine). At Tito’s, this popular dish is served only one way – al sangue (very rare). Seriously, there was a sign on the door and on the menu letting you know that you will not get your steak prepared any other way. This is why Grant enjoyed the steak and I chose something else!

Up to this point in our trip (about three weeks), we ate very little beef, if any. Most of our meats were pork, with some chicken mixed in. Grant was more than a little excited to finally find a steak. This dish far exceeded his expectations.

At one point, Tito’s was one of the top-rated restaurants (#1 or #2) in Florence on TripAdvisor – not an easy feat when there are more than 2,000 restaurants. It seems to have fallen a bit lately but is still ranking fairly well. We have recommended this restaurant to anyone visiting Florence. Seriously, Grant has said on more than one occasion he would fly back to Florence just to have that steak again.

Festival of San Giovani

After dinner, it was time for fireworks! June 24 is the Festival of San Giovani, the patron saint of the city. Apparently, there are a decent number of things going on during the day – I don’t even know what all festivities there were, but most of the shops were closed. We did not plan this at all but it was a nice surprise!

Fireworks of the Festival of San Giovanni
We arrived on the night of the Festival of San Giovanni, the patron saint of Florence, and got to watch fireworks that night.

The day ended with fireworks over the river. The fireworks were as good as any I’ve seen in the US. Several times I thought, “Oh, this is the grand finale,” but then they kept going! Since we didn’t return home until July 5, we let counted this as our US Independence Day celebration.

Florence Day 1

After waiting for some rain to pass, we walked down to the River Arno and across the Ponte Vecchio (the iconic bridge in Florence). For me, it is not a terribly exciting bridge, honestly. The bridge is really just a bunch of jewelry shops. But, this bridge holds a lot of history and is a must-see landmark in Florence.

The Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy
The most famous bridge over the River Arno is the Ponte Vecchio. The bridge is lined with dozens of shops (mostly jewelry) and has a “secret” passage going over it, the Vasari Corridor.

What I really enjoyed was finding the bridge next to the Ponte Vecchio that we hung out on during my first trip to Florence in college! Seriously, the next bridge over is much less crowded and offers fabulous views of the Ponte Vecchio and River Arno. For me, it held some great memories, too.

Bonnie's Picnic Spot on the River Arno
Bonnie’s picnic spot along the River Arno from her college trip to Italy.

The Palazzo Vecchio, just a couple blocks from the bridge, is another amazing palace, but not that dissimilar to the one we visited in Venice: lots of big rooms with very ornate ceilings, walls and floors!

The biggest draw of the Palazzo is the copy of Michelangelo’s David outside. Honestly, though, the copy does not compare at all to the real thing. Go inside if you really want to tour the palace. Otherwise, save your time for the real artwork.

Uffizi Gallery

The Uffizi Gallery is a magnificent art gallery. And while we thoroughly enjoyed it, neither of us are art enthusiasts, so it was probably a shorter-than-average visit. Also, several rooms were closed due to a reconstruction effort, so that sped things up a bit for us.

We really did enjoy everything we saw. But, wow, there are there some ugly babies in the Madonna and Child paintings!

Basilica di Santa Croce

Another highlight of Florence is the Basilica of Santa Croce. It is the principal Franciscan church in Florence and the largest Franciscan church in the world. The church itself is extremely ornate, like so many others in Italy.

Piazza di Santa Croce
Ahh, to sit at a cafe on the piazza and enjoy the sights and people of Florence, especially with the Basilica di Santa Croce behind you.

The most interesting part of this church, however, is probably its tombs. Quite a few famous Italians are “buried” here, including Galileo, Michelangelo, Marconi, and Machiavelli.

Inside the church, there is a small museum with some of the restored “ruins” from the 1966 flood. The church is close to the river and when it flooded, there was about five meters of water and mud in the church and surrounding area. Several paintings and other items have recently been restored and were on displayed. 

Inside the courtyard of the Basilica Santa Croce
Can’t get enough of amazing churches? The Basilica di Santa Croce is amazing, has amazing grounds and is where Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Galileo are buried.

Florence Day 2 – Oltrarno

After finally figuring out the busses (not terribly difficult with an up-to-date map, but not as easy as the guidebooks led us to believe), we started our day “oltrarno,” which literally means “beyond the Arno” or on the other side of the river. All the best stuff over there is in one huge complex called the Palazzo Pitti, the largest museum complex in Florence. 

Along the River Arno
Along the River Arno

We toured a lot of museums, filled with treasures, gems, clothing and art…all housed, of course, in amazing buildings (an old palatial “house”). As we visit many of these palazzos and museums, we have to remind ourselves to look up and down, as the ceilings and floors are often just as amazing as the art and artifacts on display! The biggest “name recognition” of the day was probably seeing Napoleon’s bathroom.

Boboli Gardens
The views in and around the Boboli Gardens are amazing.

Directly behind Palazzo Pitti is Boboli Gardens. The gardens were huge; we could easily have stayed there the majority of the day. The landscaping, fountains, and statues were awesome and there were fabulous views of the city and the country hillside!

More Museums

Back on the “main” side of the river, we also saw a museum on Galileo and another art museum. The Galileo museum was interesting with all kinds of old instruments. While we enjoyed the visit, a science teacher (or any science enthusiast) would probably understand and appreciate it more!

Walking the streets of Florence
Walking the streets of Florence

The art museum was the Palazzo Strozzi. We probably would not have gone if it wasn’t covered on the museum pass that we bought, but there was a special exhibit called “Springtime in Renaissance” which is a traveling exhibit that will be at The Louvre next. So, we figured it must be pretty cool. The Renaissance part of it was fairly interesting. We have to admit though, at this point we’re sure we have seen hundreds of Madonna and Child paintings, so when we stumbled into a room full of them, we didn’t stay too long!

The “main” part of the Palazzo Strozzi was an exhibit called “An Idea of Beauty.” It was several rooms of various modern artists using quite a few different mediums – painting, photography, video, marble, just to name a few. So many parts of this museum just didn’t make sense… it’s hard to put into words. At least the €25 was already included in our pass!

Florence Day 3

Our last full day in Florence was full of some big sites! Don’t ask me why we saved these for the last day…they certainly should be at the top of your list of must-see landmarks.

The Duomo in Florence is specatular at night.
The Duomo in Florence is spectacular at night.

After walking past it a few times, we finally made it into the Duomo and the Baptistry. While both are very impressive, the Duomo is more exciting on the outside, while the Baptistry is more impressive on the inside (the doors, of course, are amazing, but even they are replicas). We did go to the associated museum and saw the original doors, “The Gates of Paradise” and they are, indeed, absolutely magnificent!

Duomo and Bapistry
Spectacular. That’s the only way to describe the Duomo on Florence.

We also went to the Santa Maria Novella church, which is very large and ornate as well. It is the biggest church after the Duomo and, while the outside is not nearly as impressive, the inside does not disappoint!

We ended our sight-seeing with the Galleria dell’Accademia, which is where the original David is on display. Again, even more impressive than you could imagine! The detail on the statue is perfect. It would take amazing talent to paint or mold (with clay) something that spectacular, yet this was chiseled from marble!

The vaulted ceiling of Duomo in Florence
The vaulted ceiling of Duomo in Florence

In addition to David, there are a few other cool things in the gallery including a Musical Instrument display…Grant finally got to see what a “Hurdy Gurdy” looks like (it is referenced in Macbeth by one of the witches). There are also several unfinished Michaelangelo sculptures, which just drive home the fact that these sculptures are chiseled from one huge hunk of marble!

In all, Florence is our favorite large city in Italy. The beating heart of the Renaissance, this city exudes culture and art, as well as Tuscan cuisine and wine, which are easily favorites.

Travel Resources
What do you use to find a flight?

We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start.
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What do you use to find a hotel?

We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. You can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express.
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If there are no Hilton properties available, we use TripAdvisor to read reviews and book the hotel. We find we can get the best price that way.
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We recently partnered with Stay22 to add interactive maps to each of our destination posts. This will allow you to see a plethora of hotels and vacation rentals all in one responsive map of the area.

What if I need more space than I can get at a hotel?

We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN, or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them.
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Who do you use for rental cars?

As a general rule, we book with Hertz for rental cars. We have had nothing but good experiences with them. Plus, we really like unlimited mileage and not worrying about crossing state lines. We have even rented from Hertz overseas in both Slovenia and Croatia.
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How about booking a cruise?

We have found some amazing prices for booking a cruise through Cruise Direct. We have saved a lot of money on our cruises compared to what we found elsewhere, making a last-minute Bahamas cruise even cheaper.
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What if I want to rent an RV?

We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
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What do you use for booking tours?

We don’t often book tours. Typically, we like to do stuff on our own. That said, there are some experiences you can’t have any other way. So, when we do want to book a tour, we always check Viator first.
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Do you use anything to get discounts on the road?

We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J.
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We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.
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Florence is one of our favorite places on Earth, not just in Italy. There is just so much culture, art, history, not to mention beautiful scenery and some our favorite cuisine. We have been multiple times and still can't wait to go back.
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