Florence is one giant outdoor museum. If you only have one precious day here, don't waste it standing in line for museums, but take in the city itself. 

Florence is a small and walkable city, you can see so much simply by walking through the city.  Here is a wonderful itinerary, easy to do, with plenty to see that you could stroll in several hours for a half day visit (you can make it longer yourself by lingering, stopping for a bite to eat or a bit of shopping etc!). Arm yourself with a good map and away you go!

From the train station, make your way to the Duomo - if you have the energy, climbing up it (8 euro) will give you the best perspective (literally) on why this building is an architectural masterpiece, otherwise you can pop inside the normal entrance for free. Afterwards, the main thoroughfare of Via Calzaioli to Piazza Signoria will take you to Florence's central piazza and the Palazzo Vecchio.

From here you could do either two things - Option 1 is head behind the Neptune fountain in front of Palazzo Vecchio towards Santa Croce square for a visit of the church (5 euro), where famous Florentines and Tuscans are buried and beautiful medieval frescoes are being restored. From there you could cross the bridge of Ponte alle Grazie and walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo for a brilliant view of the city - San Miniato church (free) is close by and also stunning, with even better views!  Take a few minutes to walk into the church and see some of the best examples of early cripts in Italy. Walk back down towards via San Niccolo - a great area for local bars, wine bars and casual restaurants. Walk down along the river towards the Ponte Vecchio, don't cross it yet but keep walking to Ponte Santa Trinita (nice gelato on the corner there!). The view of the city from here is wonderful. Try to stop here late in the afternoon sometimes if you are luck you get the best sunset for your pictures!!

Option 2 , is from Piazza Signoria head straight over to the Ponte Vecchio and its jewellery shops, cross the bridge and head up via Guicciardini to the Pitti Palace to marvel at the fortress like palace that 3 ruling families of Tuscany lived in. Have a glass of wine at Pitti Gola, facing the palace, then take the next right to Piazza Santo Spirito to soak in some of the local atmosphere and unusual church facade. Head to the bridge, Ponte Santa Trinita.

You might not want to miss the little treasure that is in the church of Santa Trinita on via Tornabuoni. It's closed for a long lunch between 12-4pm but otherwise it's free to go in. The right hand corner holds the beautifully frescoed Sassetti chapel, painted by Domenico Ghirlandaio when Michelangelo might have just begun his apprenticeship with him (1480s). It is one of the best representations of Florence during the Renaissance - famous portraits of famous Florentines such as Lorenzo the Magnificent and his sons, one of whom becomes Pope Leo X, are set in scenes with Piazza Signoria and via Tornabuoni in the background. There's even an image with Pisa (recognise the leaning tower) in it. You'll need a 1 euro coin to turn the lights on (lights arent always pointed on this chapel, to protect the fresco cycle). If you're not going to see any museums, this one little chapel itself is a wonderful peek into the Renaissance at its best.

It's a straightforward walk back to the station up the fashinonable shopping street and palazzo-lined via Tornabuoni after this.

Some other suggestions if you do want to squeeze more in:

  • The Bargello museum, wonderfully quiet, no need to battle crowds to get in or get a look at the Donatello and Michelangelo sculptures, open 8:15am-5pm (except some Sundays and Mondays of the month)
  • Palazzo Davanzati, a lovely look at a recreated medieval-Renaissance home on via Porta Rossa, you could add this in at the last part after Santa Trinita church, open in the mornings.
  • The Boboli Gardens are inside the Pitti Palace, if you have time this is a nice way to spend an entire afternoon! open 8:15am-6:45pm