Florence is probably best known as the birthplace of the Renaissance. But in addition to being home to some of the greatest artistic moments ever created, its architecture, fashion and culture will make you swoon. As small as this city is, though, you could spend days wandering its narrow streets, soaking in the skyline of charming terracotta rooftops while marveling at museums, and still not have enough time to experience everything it has to offer. But if you needed help squeezing in as much as possible into 48 hours in Florence, we’ve got a masterpiece of a map for you.
Check into Four Seasons Hotel Firenze, the perfect place to spoil yourself before a long day of sightseeing. Just about a 10-minute walk from the center of town, the Four Seasons is an oasis that offers exclusive access to the legendary Giardino della Gherardesca (formerly an entirely private botanical garden). Service and amenities, in usual Four Seasons fashion, go beyond what is expected, and suites are decked out in original frescoes and hand-painted sculptures.
Once you finish admiring your surroundings, have breakfast at Il Palagio (which has a well-curated buffet and a separate one for kids), where you’ll enjoy anything from freshly baked pastries to egg specialties. Afterward, head over to the Palazzo Vecchio to marvel at the magnificent painted hall, Michelangelo’s Genius of Victory sculpture and Dante Alighieri’s death mask (discussed at length in Dan Brown’s book Inferno, which has a Tom Hanks-starred movie adaptation that recently filmed in Florence). Be sure to visit its tower, Torre di Arnolfo, where you can take in sweeping rooftop views of the city. Next, pop around the corner to Florence’s principal Franciscan church, Basilica of Santa Croce, where Italian greats like Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli were laid to rest. If fashion is your thing, you may opt instead to peruse Museo Salvatore Ferragamo or the Gucci Museum. Word to the fashion-wise: The boutique at the latter attraction sells items exclusive to this location, so you can get your hands on accessories that aren’t sold anywhere else in the world.
When your energy starts to lag, visit Trattoria Marione, a small restaurant with excellent homemade pastas. Undoubtedly, you’ll need another cup of espresso after lunch for an action-packed afternoon. Some sugar might help, too. Duck into Forno Top, a wonderful bakery next to Trattoria Marione where you can pick up fresh Tuscan sweets. Your next stop is the Uffizi Gallery — a must-see for all visitors. One of the world’s most famous art museums, Uffizi is the home to priceless works of art by Botticelli, da Vinci and Caravaggio. Purchase tickets at least a few days in advance, as lines, even during off-season, can be extremely long. Consider signing up for a tour to ensure you get the most out of your visit; Uffizi is so vast that it can be overwhelming without a guide. Seamlessly book an Uffizi Gallery group tour at the same time you purchase train tickets by using Rail Europe. Or, for a more intimate experience, sign up with Artviva, which offers smaller group tours with English-speaking guides. Michelangelo fans will want to choose a session that also stops at the Galleria dell’Accademia to see the iconic David.
After you’ve basked in the brilliant artwork, it’s time for some much-deserved shopping. While Milan may be the fashion capital of Italy, Florence is renowned for its high-quality leather. Pick up leather handbags, belts, jackets and wallets for a fraction of what designer brands cost. But don’t just go to any shop — be sure you’re buying from a store with fair prices and quality merchandise like local superstar Massimo Leather (where else can you get a designer-quality leather jacket for less than US$250?).
Dine like a true Italian and make late dinner reservations so you’re able to squeeze in a visit to the Four Season’s private Italian spa. Indulge in a couple’s treatment in a separate garden building that features a free-standing bath and view into its own private garden — that’s right, a private garden within a private garden. A visit here is worth the splurge: Many of the therapies are inspired by ancient methods and approved by one of the world’s oldest pharmacies, Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella.
For dinner, return to the renowned Il Palagio to treat yourself to a feast for the senses. Its alfresco terrace overlooks a magical green space, while the palatial dining room features a grand chandelier, elegant décor and vaulted ceilings. Chef Vito Mollica serves authentic Italian cuisine with a modern twist. Ingredients are sourced from local artisan producers to complement exquisite carpaccios and housemade pastas. Though everything from the kitchen looks mouthwatering, we recommend the tasting menu with dishes like lemon-scented potato gnocchi.
For your second day in Firenze, your first stop will be the city’s most beloved place of worship, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (St. Mary of the Flower), to look at Brunelleschi’s brilliant architecture. This grand Gothic structure, which is most commonly called the Duomo, is one of Florence’s can’t-miss landmarks and also home to Giorgio Vasari’s famous fresco, Last Judgment (though it was actually painted by Vasari’s student, Federico Zuccari). Climb 463 steps to the top of the cupola (the dome), where you can see its interior up close and experience impressive city vistas. Don’t forget to also check out the Giotto’s Campanile (bell tower) and the Baptistery — these three buildings together make up Florence’s city-center UNESCO World Heritage site.
Next, cross over the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s last remaining original bridge, and admire the glittering jewelry displays in its shops. Cross the river and explore “the other side of the Arno” by walking through the Boboli gardens to gaze at its 16th-century sculptures and fountains or seeing an extravagant display of wealth at the Palazzo Pitti. The palazzo, designed by Brunelleschi, was once the primary residence of the famous Medici family. Now, the structure hosts some of Florence’s most important art museums, like the Palatine Gallery (a large collection of 16th- and 17th-century paintings by artists like Titian and Raphael) and the Silver Museum (a collection of the Medici’s household treasures).
For lunch, make your way to Piazza Passera, a small square outside of the main tourist bustle. Nosh on Italian classics at Trattoria 4 Leoni or, if you’re feeling adventurous, try a lunch of lampredotto (a sandwich made with tripe) at the unassuming Il Magazzino, which serves locals other rustic Florentine recipes, too. And no meal in Florence is complete without homemade gelato. Get some of the best artisanal gelato at Gelateria della Passera.
Spend the rest of the afternoon with a hired guide from Guida Turistica. Based on your interests and preferences, the person will prepare an itinerary where you’ll discover hidden gems many locals may not knew existed: underground towers; a whimsical jewelry workshop where the master Alessandro Dari works; a rose garden perched on a hill; and a street artist’s gallery.
Your feet will probably be tired, so ease into the evening with aperitifs, a drink Florentines sip before dinner to stimulate the appetite. The spritz is a local favorite; it’s a refreshing cocktail of Campari or Aperol, prosecco and soda. Enjoy yours at Golden View Ristorante, which boasts excellent vistas of the Ponte Vecchio, or from the rooftop tower at Hotel Torre de Guelpha, a spot delivering 360-degree views of the city.
For dinner, make advance reservations for celebrity-beloved La Giostra (when we were there, Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ family was seated nearby). Try the cingiale bianco (white boar), a Florentine specialty, or anything with truffles — you won’t be disappointed. Of course, if you have your heart set on finding the perfect bistecca Fiorentina (Italian-style T-bone steak), head to Buca Lapi, a cozy, subterranean dining room where Italian dignitaries go for classic Tuscan fare. If you have any room, end the night with gelato at RivaReno, an area favorite just a few blocks away from La Giostra.