Select Page

How to Do Florence in 48 Hours

By Katy Hyslop

You have just arrived in the Renaissance capital of the art world with a couple of days to spare, so where do you go and what highlights can you see in such a short time? This is the guide for you to get the maximum out of a short stay in Florence.


Now is probably a good time to familiarise yourself with the central city, if it’s late summer it will be beginning to cool down and hopefully the crush of the tourist crowds will be starting to diminish. The centre of Florence is easy to walk around as the streets are narrow and most are closed to traffic.

Starting off around the main station there is the Piazza Santa Maria Novella with the church that gives the train station its name. Opposite the church there is the Piazza Nazionale and a road which leads down to the Piazza del Mercato Centrale. Here there are a few market stalls selling leather goods, souvenirs and other items. The 2 famous buildings to see here are the Cappelle Medici and the San Lorenzo e Biblioteca Laurenziana.

You will see the Duomo before you reach the piazza it resides in as you walk down Via Borgo San Lorenzo. The squat building in front of the cathedral is the Baptistery, built on the foundations of a Roman temple. The golden doors facing the cathedral are replicas of an original set made by Lorenzo Ghiberti and regarded by Michelangelo as the “doors to paradise”. But the sight most visitors are bowled over by is Brunelleschi’s dome, the cap on the already impressive Chiesa Santa Maria del Fiori. Standing guard beside it is the campanile, or bell tower built by Giotto.

The view from the top of the Duomo is incredible on a clear day and well worth the trek to the top. Entry to the church itself is free but there is a charge to make the climb. You can also climb the bell tower but run the risk of the bells going off at some point and there is no lift if you need assistance to get back down.

Many of the original works that were used to decorate the exteriors and interiors of the baptistery, church and campanile are house inside the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, behind the cathedral, the museum rooms that catalogue the history of the buildings. There are many pieces by Michelangelo, including his Pieta that he partially destroyed, which was finished later by a student. The original baptistery doors are housed here along with Duomo plans from Brunelleschi, statues and bas relief’s by Donatello and others.

Walking down Via Roma you will reach Piazza della Repubblica, the edges are taken up with expensive hotels and even more expensive cafes. There are some stalls selling various touristy type things, including more belts, wallets and handbags. Keep walking down Via Calimara until you reach the loggia that houses more market stalls. Here you can test your skills at spotting a fake leather item although you don’t want to make this too obvious. Better still you can drop a coin from the mouth of ‘il Porcolino’, the bronze statue of a boar, and make a wish.

Looking straight ahead you will see what resembles a crowded street rising up at the end of Via Porta Santa Maria. This is actually a bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, the ‘Old Bridge’, which was the only one spared by the Nazis in WWII. The original shops were butchers, dropping their leftovers into the Arno below. The stench got up the Medici’s noses in the 16thC so much that Grand Duke Ferdinando I ordered them to move out and the more aesthetically pleasing goldsmiths to move in. This is also one of 3 bridges in the world to house shops.

Make your way back to the northern end of the bridge where there is a covered colonnade heading left alongside the river. This was built as a secret passageway for the Medici’s as they walked above the populace between the Uffizi and the Pitti Palace. At the far end of the walkway you can look back to see the rear of the shops as they overhang the river below.

Behind you is also the entrance to the Piazza Degli Uffizi, a three sided piazza filled with statues and busts of famous artists from over the centuries, and of course home to the world famous Uffizi Gallery. The collection inside is second only to that of the one held at the Vatican in terms of artistic significance. Giotto, Fra Angelico, Lippi, Botticelli, Da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo… the list goes on. The gallery is closed on Mondays and needs at least half a day to get around, as well as to be booked in advance if you wish to view it in summer. The piazza is commonly filled during the summer with outdoor exhibitions, street artists and performers, mainly to entertain the long meandering line of tourists queuing up to get in.

Carry on through the narrow piazza away from the river until you reach Piazza Signoria. This wide open space is most recognisable by the statue of David, a copy put there in 1873 as the original had to moved inside the Accademia to protect it from the elements. Underneath the loggia is a collection of other famous statues including The Rape of the Sabines, Hercules and the Centaur Nessus, by Giambologna and Cellini’s bronze statue of Perseus.

The main space is overlooked by the rather imposing statue of ‘Il Nettuno’, the watery figure of Neptune standing at the opposite end of Palazzo Vecchio. Close by is the mounted figure of Cosimo I Medici and the bronze plaque that marks the spot where the priest Savonarola was hanged and burned for heresy in 1498. For the super sleuths there is a another sculpture to look out for. On the wall of the Palazzo Vecchio is the carved outline of a mans face. One legend tells that Michelangelo, in a fit of pique, was proving to Donatello he was able to sculpt great works of art, even with his hands behind his back.

Inside Palazzo Vecchio the entrance shows ornate ceilings and wall decoration for this building was once the seat of Florentine government during the 13th and 14th Centuries. For a fee you can view the opulent apartments upstairs that were occupied by Medicis and other notables as well as reach the battlements for another view out over the city.

The remainder of the evening can be best spent wandering the narrow streets and enjoying a meal from one of the many restaurants and trattorias. Later on there is the night life as many bars and clubs open up after 10pm and carry on until very early in the morning.

Florence is a tourist magnet all year round so an early start is essential if you don’t wish to spend countless hours queuing. A surefire way to avoid this is to part with a little extra cash in the busy summer months and pre book your tickets online or over the phone. You then pick them up at a designated time from the ticket office with your booking number. This way you can easily get to see the Uffizi and possibly another museum in the same day. To do this simply log onto or or book through your hotel.

The Uffizi opens at 8.15am, closing at 7pm, with the artworks divided between a series of rooms all featuring a certain artistic style or period. The gallery is not restricted to just greats of the Italian renaissance but the collection also includes works by German and Flemish artists. To appreciate much of the work you would need to devote at least several hours to get round.

Either as an afternoon escape or a morning alternative there is also the Galleria Dell’Accademia, most famous for its prize possession, Michelangelo’s David, the original sculpture that stood in Piazza della Signoria. The 5m tall statue was carved from a single slab of marble which some tales relate as having a fault line running through it. Michelangelo was said to have found it at abandoned at the rear of the artisan school and decided he would use it to create a symbol of Florentine spirit.

The Accademia also has other well known statues, paintings and carvings by many artists on display, well worth an hour or two looking around.

For a plesant way to round off the day there is a walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo from the southern river bank, where you will find yet another copy of Michelangelo’s David, a bronze version overlooking the city. A great place to watch the city change colour at sunset and sometimes there are public events held in the piazza during the summer.

If there is still enough energy left to view one more church Chiesa di San Miniato al Monte is worth the extra effort. Situated in the parklands up behind Piazzale Michelangelo the exterior is one of the best examples of Tuscan Romanesque architecture while the interior is home to some extraordinary 13-15th C frescoes.

Depending on your time table you may have time for another set of museums or just a gentle stroll in the park. Head up to the Pitti Palace, another Brunelleschi creation for a wealthy banker that was eventually taken up by the Medici family. Inside are a series of museum rooms all dedicated to various items such silver, porcelain and renaissance clothing as well as more modern artworks from the 18th and 20th Centuries.

When the art intake has finally reached its limit there is respite in the shape of the Boboli gardens to the rear of the palace. Designed in the mid 16th C it contains typical grottoes and garden follies of the renaissance aristocracy. A chance to leave the narrow streets and tourist crowds for a while.

Your time in Florence is at an end but you may still have a chance to do a bit of that last minute shopping before bidding farewell to all the masters.

About the Author

Katy Hyslop has spent the past 6 years travelling, tour guiding and generally hanging around the European tourism industry. She is now based in Italy and in charge of keeping the crew under control at Plus. If you want to know more on what to see or where to stay in Florence click here.

I Love Touring Paris – The Eighteenth Arrondisement

The 18th arrondisement of northern Paris is located on the Right Bank of the Seine River. Its land area is about 2.3 square miles (a sliver over six square kilometers). The population is on hundred eighty five thousand and the area is home to about seventy thousand jobs.

The distinctive Moulin Rouge (Red Mill or windmill) is a major highlight of this historic district. It is one of the world’s best-known nightclubs or to use the French term, cabaret. The Moulin Rouge was built in 1889 by the owner of the Olympia, Paris’s oldest music hall located in the neighboring ninth district. You can’t miss this building because of the imitation red windmill on the roof. Josephine Baker, Frank Sinatra, Mistinguett, and Edith Piaf and many other famous entertainers regularly played the Moulin Rouge. The story has it that Elvis had a crush on a can-can dancer and never went to Paris without stopping at the Moulin Rouge.

This cabaret’s most unusual star was undoubtedly Joseph Pujol, who performed under the name Le Pétomane. His act consisted of “singing” from an unexpected body opening. His “songs” included the French National Anthem, La Marseillaise, and an imitation of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. I’m told Sigmund Freud used to catch his act. Believe it or not, for many years Pujol was the highest-paid entertainer in France. A present-day British comedian Mr. Methane dressed like a superhero does the same sort of thing, but to my knowledge has not played the Moulin Rouge.

This historic cabaret, arguably the site where striptease was born, has been immortalized in paintings by Toulouse Lautrec and to a lesser extent by two films nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award, the 1952 version starring Jose Ferrer and Zsa-Zsa Gabor and the 2001 version starring Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman.

Butte Montmartre is a hill about four hundred feet (one hundred thirty meters) high not very much more than a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Moulin Rouge. Its height and natural beauty have attracted religious ceremonies since time immemorial. Montmartre was probably used for druid ceremonies way back when and formerly hosted a temple to the Roman god of war Mars. Saint Denis, the Bishop of Paris and the patron saint of France, founded a church there before his martyrdom in the mid-Third Century. His church, the relatively unknown Saint Pierre de Montmartre, claims to be the founding location of the Jesuit order of priests. You are more likely to visit the hill’s other church, the Basilica du Sacre Coeur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart) described below.

The area itself was the site of the first Paris Commune insurrection in 1870-1871 and its former gypsum mines serve as unmarked tombs for many partisans of this French revolution. The whole affair was pretty bloody and the Archbishop of Paris was one of its many martyrs. When Paris was rebuilt in the Eighteenth Century by Napoleon III and his minion Baron Hausmann, the poor people of Paris were driven out of the city center to Montmartre and other parts of the outskirts.

Buy at
Ballooning Over Paris
Isiah Lane

From the late Nineteenth Century until the end of World War One Montmartre was home to the artists and their milieu. Among those who hung their hats in Montmartre were Salvador Dalí, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh. The list goes on and on. In later years the artistic center of Paris, and in fact the world, switched from Montmartre to Montparnasse in the south of Paris. In 1965 in his famous song La Bohème the popular French singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour tells the story of a painter reminiscing about his youth in a Montmartre that has ceased to exist: Je ne reconnais plus/Ni les murs, ni les rues/Qui ont vu ma jeunesse/En haut d’un escalier/Je cherche l’atelier/Dont plus rien ne subsiste/Dans son nouveau décor/Montmartre semble triste/Et les lilas sont morts (‘I no longer recognize/Neither the walls nor the streets/That had seen my youth/At the top of a staircase/I look for an atelier/Of which nothing survives/In its new décor/Montmartre seems sad/And the lilacs are dead’).

Montmartre is no longer bohemian. But what is? If you stroll around the Place du Tertre you won’t have any trouble finding artists, some of whom are struggling. Many renowned artists and other cultural figures such as Jacques Offenbach and Francois Truffault are buried in the Cimetière de Montmartre (Montmartre Cemetery).

In 1873 Paris city council expropriated land at the summit of Montmartre for the construction of the Basilica. The foundation stone was laid in 1875 and the church was opened for services in 1891. The Basilica was only completed in 1914, and formally dedicated after the end of World War I. Go to top of the dome for a spectacular panoramic view of Paris, which lies mostly to the south. The church and its surroundings have often starred in films, most recently the 2001 movie Amélie. You may want to take the funicular (cable-car) to get to the top of the hill.

Among Montmartre’s museums is the Musée de Montmartre, the house where the painter Maurice Utrillo lived and worked in a second-floor studio. Several other well-known artists including Pierre-Auguste Renoir lived here. In 1990 his painting Bal au moulin de la Galette, Montmartre featuring local people sold for more than $78 million. You might also want to stop by the Espace Dalí, a museum devoted to the famous Spanish painter Salavdor Dalí. More extensive collections of his work are found in Figueres, Spain and Saint Petersburg, Florida. Another museum is the Musée de l’érotisme in the nearby Pigalle section of the district. Do you need a translation?

When we launched this series we promised you a Paris vineyard. The fifteenth arrondissement in southern Paris also hosts a vineyard. But Montmartre’s vineyard is much more famous. Local intellectuals planted the vineyard in 1934. They chose a northern exposure (is Paris really that hot, temperature wise?) and organized the first grape picking a year after the planting, about three years too early. This ceremony attracted both the President of the French Republic and the Minister of Agriculture. Except during World War II, every October the grapes are picked and wine is made in the cellar of the Mairie (the local City Hall). Local artists paint labels for the bottles, sold in April at a charity auction. Yet one more reason to visit this Paris and Montmartre in the spring.

Of course you don’t want to be in Paris without sampling fine French wine and food. In my article I Love French Wine and Food – A Rhône Valley Crozes-Hermitage I reviewed such a wine and suggested a sample menu: Start with Foie Gras avec Gelée de Viognier (Goose Liver Pâté with Viognier Jelly). For your second course savor Chevreau à l’Ail et Herbes Sauvages (Baby Goat with Garlic and Wild Herbs). And as dessert indulge yourself with Granité aux Pommes et Calvados (Apple and Calvados Ice). Your Parisian sommelier (wine steward) will be happy to suggest appropriate wines to accompany each course.

Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian, French, or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. He knows what dieting is, and is glad that for the time being he can eat and drink what he wants, in moderation. His central website is devoted to the health and nutritional aspects of wine and its place in your weight-loss program. His global wine website is Visit his other websites devoted to Italian wine, Italian travel, and Italian food.