The top sights you should not miss!
If you only have one day in Florence and it's your first time visiting, accept you can't see everything. You can get a "taste" of the top sights and start planning your return to see more!
Let's get on to the TOP SIGHTS in Florence you should not miss:
The seat of political power: Piazza della Signoria
Here, you can enjoy many gorgeous sculptures under the Loggia dei Lanzi, including the Rape of the Sabines by Giambologna and the Perseus by Cellini but there is also the grandiose Neptune fountain by Ammanati and the grand equestrian statue of Cosimo il Vecchio AND, let's not forget, the beauty of Michelangelo's David. Note that this is just a copy, and it isn't possible to go all around it to admire it in all it's splendor.
Take the time to go inside Palazzo Vecchio, Florence's city hall, to admire the grand Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the 500) and then climb the tower by Arnolfo to admire wonderful views of the city, including the Duomo. If you don't have time for the museum, just climb the tower!
The seat of religious power: Piazza del Duomo
Here, you visit the Duomo for FREE and it is the first stop, as well as the golden doors by Ghiberti on the Baptistery. If you want to fully enjoy a treasure in Florence, go inside the Baptistery, you won't regret it (18€ pass, if you buy it, make time to also go visit the Opera del Duomo museum located behind the Duomo where you can admire art by Michelangelo, Donatello and the original Baptistery doors).
The original David at the Accademia
While there are replicas in Florence, including the one in Piazza della Signoria, nothing compares to the original and walking toward him in the museum's hall the first time you see him. There are no words to describe admiring him up close from all angles under the Tribune at the Accademia Gallery. Arrange for online tickets ahead of time to skip the lines outside, or better yet, visit with a private guide to truly enjoy the museum and all of Michelangelo's work, not just the David. David is the essence of Florence, it will remain in your memories of Florence until you return again.
The Gothic Basilica of Santa Croce
The inside of the basilica of Santa Croce is the final burial place for some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Rossini and Foscolo. Two crucifixes by Donatello and Cimabue (and many other works of art) make this church a must visit.
Sunset to see Ponte Vecchio
There are gorgeous sunsets all over Tuscany, romantic and beautiful so you want a good spot to enjoy it. Don't go to Ponte Vecchio itself, as it gets crowded but head one bridge down to Ponte Santa Trinita as it has the best view of the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge bright as the sun sets and lit up once the sun has gone down. If you don't have the time to wait until sunset or can't make it to the bridge, make sure to stop at the end of the Piazzale degli Uffizi at the panoramic viewpoint to get a good view of the most famous bridge in all of Italy!
Here's a map that shows you where everything is, so you can see it is doable in a day!
Not enough time to go indoors or need some help?
You can also choose to spend the entire day outside roaming around and not go into the cathedral or baptistery, city hall, Accademia or Santa Croce... or pick and choose among your favorite. Florence is known as an open-air museum so you could just roam its streets between all of these sights and enjoy the many palaces and monuments along the way.
Another alternative to doing this day on your own is to join a guided walking tour that takes you to the best spots in town in a certain amount of hours, so you'll know you'll get to see certain spots in a given time frame. These, if they include stops in museums, will also include skip-the-line access. Take a look at this Best of Florence Walking Tour which includes the Accademia and Duomo as one possibility (or this similar one that is a small group), this Florence Highlights with David tour, or this 2.5 hour Florence Walking Tour that just takes you along the streets, from San Lorenzo to Piazza del Duomo to Piazza della Signoria, over Ponte Vecchio and ending in front of the Pitti Palace.Take a look at more walking tours here. (Disclaimer: the links listed in this paragraph are affiliate links).
Where to Stay
If you're staying the night in Florence, try to stay central which means short walking distances to all of the sights: this means anywhere between the train station SMN to the east and Santa Croce to the east on the north side of the river. Even if Florence is a small and very easy walkable town, you don't waste too much time getting from one place to the next. Take a look at FlorenceAccommodation.com where we have reviewed many lodgings and give our suggestions, then contact the owners to book directly.
Where to leave luggage/bags for the day
If you're on your way to somewhere else, making a stop for the day in Florence and arriving at the SMN train station, know there is a baggage deposit service directly at the train station as well as secure lockers in other parts of town where you can leave your bags safely while you explore the city.
Where to Park
If you're doing a day trip with a car from another town in Tuscany, then take a look at some of our suggestions for parking - just make an important mental note to NEVER drive into the center of Florence UNLESS you are heading to a private car garage (they will take care of sending your license plate to the authorities so you don't receive a fine). The center of Florence is an off-limits driving area for anyone without a special permit to enter it, the so-called "ZTL" or "limited traffic zone". You can read more about the ZTL here.
Need more ideas?
If you end up with more time in Florence, take a look at some top sights in our 2 days in Florence itinerary.