First of all, I have to say I absolute agree with all the people that say "you really should spend more time in Florence than one day." This is true, but for the rest of us who have limited vacation time (and funds for that matter!) sometimes all you get in a place is one day. For those that are on the type of schedule I have to keep, here is some practical advice on what you can actually do and how to do it without wasting time and effort!
7 AM: Take train from Termini Station to Florence. You can get tickets several months in advance on the ItaliaRail site. The earlier you purchase, the less expensive your fares will be, with the exception of last minute. I think there are some last minute deals that pop up if you are just now figuring out that you want to go to Florence. Our tickets were 26 euros per person each way. And they gave us a free upgrade in class on the way there! It was a special they were running. The train was very clean and nice, free wifi, a bathroom on board, complimentary coffee and biscuits on the way there (but that may have been our upgrade in class, not sure if they did that everywhere). There was a diner car too if you forgot to get breakfast. We got breakfast at Termini Station. The trip lasted about 1 1/2 hours, so we arrived around 8:30 AM.
8:30 AM: Follow the Dome in the distance from the train station to the Duomo. The Duomo is beautiful and the square is virtually empty in the morning. We walked around looking at it, reading the history in our guide book, and taking photos. This is the least crowded time of day to see the Duomo. The later it gets, the more packed!
9:30 AM: Make your way to the Galleria dell'Accademia to see the statue of David.
We got a little turned around and thought we were in the correct square only to find out we were in the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata! If you have time, this is a 5 minute walk from the museum, it is a really neat area with an interesting fountain called Fontane dei Mostri Marini. Getting into the Accademia can be confusing. There are two lines: one for people with reservations (hopefully that is you) and one for people showing up on the day of. Both lines will be long, don't panic! If you made a reservation online (and you should), you will have to go inside the Accademia store that is across from the actual museum entrance and trade your printed off reservation for real tickets. This is important! There are no signs that designate this place as the place to get your tickets. I bought our reservations for both the Accademia and the Uffizi Gallery online at this website, so we got both sets of our tickets at this location. Our reservation was for 10 AM, we got in a little after that. Go in and enjoy the statue of David and Michelangelo's Prisoners sculptures! There is a good sized collection of Giotto works too on the second floor that are worth seeing.
Tip: There are metal detectors inside, save time by having your coat and back off and ready to scan, make sure there is nothing metal in your pockets.
Photo Credit: Chris Hancock
Noon: Eat a Florentine lunch!
We had a huge antipasto plate, Chianti wine, zuppa di fagioli (soup), panzanella, and more pasta! Read my post about what to eat in Florence for details.
1:30 PM: Head to the Piazza della Signoria.
It's on the way to our next stop (Uffizi Gallery) and filled with history and art! Admire the famous statues by Donatello, Bandinelli, and Giambologna. My personal favorite is Perseus with the Head of Medusa by Cellini. Check out the Medici lions that guard the statues and the Piazza Vecchio - the old town hall.
2:45: Make your way to the Uffizi Gallery. This museum is easy to spot because it is lined with people trying to get in. Take your tickets you have already gotten at the Accademia reservation/ticket office, and walk right up to the correct line - the line for folks with reservations/tickets. Our reservation was for 3 PM. This gallery is huge, you probably wont see it all, so I made a list of specific paintings ahead of time and printed off what rooms they were in so we could have some direction. Look for my post about Uffizi highlights coming soon!
5 PM: See Ponte Vecchio at sunset. Walk along the river, taking in the sites along the way. You will be able to access other bridges for a good view of Ponte Vecchio as the sun sets. Gorgeous! We also crossed the Ponte Vecchio just to view the shops and soak in the atmosphere. It was busy but still enjoyable.
7 PM: Eat a Florentine steak
On your way back to the train station stop for a steak! Florence is known for them. Walking from the Ponte Vecchio to the train station, you will walk through a quieter area of Florence with lots of restaurants and shops. Pick one that looks good and have a Florentine steak! Look for Bistecca alla Fiorentina on the menu. If steak isn't your thing, try one of the amazing pizzas. Don't forget the Chianti wine! Ask for the house wine for something local and inexpensive.
Photo Credit for steak photo: Chris Hancock
8 PM: Head back to Rome
Say goodbye to Florence! Late night trains are often cheaper and you can always take a taxi back to your hotel from Termini Station if you are tired of walking. The Florence train station is not as busy or as large as Termini so no need to get to the station early, 30 minutes is plenty of time to find your platform.