One day in Florence
Welcome to One day in Florence – a destination guide for cruise passengers. This is another instalment in my “One day in…” series of blog posts. Find out more about these destination guides here.
The aim of these destination guides is to help you plan your days ashore on your cruise itinerary. Time in port is often limited, and with just one day (or less) available to explore, it’s impossible to visit all the highlights. I’ve created this guide as a starting point if you want to do something other than one of the fully guided shore excursions offered by your cruise line.
Florence (Firenze) is situated central Italy and is the capital city of the Tuscany region. From a cruise itinerary perspective, Florence is accessed from the port of Livorno which is approximately 90km (90 mins) to the south west of Florence. Livorno was founded in the 16th century by the Medici Family, the Grand Dukes of Tuscany. If you don’t want to stray too far from port, Livorno is busy and interesting enough to visit on its own. From Livorno you can also visit Pisa, Siena or Lucca.
Birthplace of the Renaissance and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Florence is a compact city steeped in history, and absolutely drenched in art treasures, spectacular views and sights. It’s fair to say this is a jewel of a port destination on a cruise. If you’re looking for a culture stop on your cruise itinerary – this is it.
Florence is easy to walk around and perfect for exploring on your own. However, due to the vagaries of the public transport system and traffic in this area, I would suggest that if you intend to explore Florence independently, it’s advisable to book on a ‘Florence on your own’ type of tour offered by your cruise line.
There are a couple of reasons for this – firstly, you will be amongst the first groups of passengers to disembark the ship (organised shore excursions always take priority) and this will leave you with more time to explore port. Secondly as you are booked on an shore excursion operated by the cruise line, you are guaranteed not to miss your ship (as long as you arrive back at the meeting point in time). The ship HAS to wait for you – even if the mother of all traffic jams delays you on your way back to port. It’s also a convenient and hassle-free way of getting there and back in one day.
Florence is easy to navigate, even if you momentarily lose your way amongst all the narrow yet charming, pastel-coloured streets. The River Arno and the bell tower of the Palazzo Vecchio act as great reference points to get your bearings if this happens.
Most of the main attractions can be found on the Northern side of the river Arno. You could quite easily base yourself on this side of the river for the entire day. However a visit to the south of the river is not to be missed. Florence becomes very busy in the peak summer months – like most Mediterranean ports – so venturing over to the south of the river and slightly up hill towards the Boboli Gardens offers a calm and somewhat less crowded retreat. On this side of the river you’ll also find some stunning fountains a fortress and the Piazzale Michelangelo which offers some of the best views in Florence.
Click on the interactive map below to explore our walking route to Piazzale di Michelangelo from the cruise bus stop and central meeting point. A few key highlights have also been added to the map. Zoom and move around to explore more.
Bucket list ideas
Popular attractions - likely to be busy
The road less travelled - for a different perspective
- Bardini Gardens
- Fontane delle Rampe del Poggi
- Piazzale di Michelangelo
- Porta San Miniato
- Piazza Pitti
- Boboli Gardens
- Oblate Cafeteria: Located in the Oblate Library. This is a little gem of a refreshment stop, hidden in plain sight slightly off the beaten tourist track. Come here for refreshment with a view as the cafe overlooks the Duomo with panoramic views from a huge terrace.
What we did
The first time we visited Florence, we were with elderly relatives, so we tended to stick to the areas around the Ponte Vecchio and the Piazza’s (Piazza della Repubblica, Piazza di Santa Croche Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Signoria). We also visited the Uffizzi gallery and had some lunch in one of the Piazzas. Plenty of Gelato was also involved at various points too. We had a very pleasant day based in the north side of the river. One this occasion we all booked on the ‘Florence on your own’ excursion to get us all there and back, spending a whole day in Florence.
Having previously visited Florence in the peak summer season, we knew it would be very crowded at this time of year. We were also travelling with two kids under 10 this time, so we wanted something which would be budget-conscious, include plenty of comfort stops for food and drink and be of enough interest to keep everyone engaged.
I also wanted to see something which was off the beaten track a little and away from the crowds. Having visited the main attractions previously, I wanted to get a different perspective on this gorgeous city and head in a different direction – literally and metaphorically.
On this occasion we also wanted to fit in a trip to Pisa so we opted for the ‘Florence and Pisa on your own’ shore excursion, spending about 90 mins in Pisa before heading to Florence for the rest of the day. A guide for Pisa will follow soon.
On this visit to Florence, I knew we could tackle a slightly more strenuous climb up to the spectacular vantage point at Piazzale Michelangelo. It was a hot day and a steep climb in some places. If you have small children in push chairs, this might not be the best option as the steps near the top are quite steep.
On our arrival in Florence (approx. 10am) we were walked from the coach stop on the Lungaro della Zecca Vecchia near the Torre della Zecca to the Piazza di Santa Croce.We were informed that we needed to be back here by 2:45pm at the latest to be taken back to the coach. The walk from coach drop off to Santa Croce is on even ground and is approx. 800m/15 mins max.
From here we made our way straight to Piazzale Michelangelo which is about a 2km walk (see the interactive map for the route and directions). On our way there, crossed the Arno via the Ponte alle Grazie and this gave us a lovely, uncrowded photo stop with the Ponte Vecchio in the background.
Without rushing it, and taking plenty of stops on the way for photos, we made it to the top about 10:45 am. After a few more photos at the top and a quick gelato, we headed back down towards the Arno and stopped at this Restaurant for some lunch.
After a great lunch in the shade with the Ponte Vecchio as our backdrop, we headed over the river again – this time via the iconic Ponte Vecchio and then ventured into the main crowds toward the Piazza della Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio.
After exploring the sculptures around the Piazza della Signoria (including the copy of Michelangelo’s David) plus another stop for gelato, we made our way towards the Piazza del Duomo. The plan was to walk along the Via dei Calzaiouli but we somehow ended up going via the Piazza di San Firenze instead. This wasn’t a problem because we passed some wonderful sights on the way such as the Franco Zeffereiili Museum and the entrance on to the Piazza del Duomo was quite dramatic from this direction.
With about an hour left before we needed to be back at Santa Croce to meet out guide, we spent some time around this area for more photos and more gelato.
Budget-wise it was a great value day – the only things we spent money on were lunch, refreshments and of course plenty of gelato.
There was the additional cost of the coach journey to Pisa and Florence to add on to this, which worked out approx. £55 per adult and £35 per child. As a comparison, if we had booked on a fully guided tour around Florence and Pisa this would have worked out approx. £75 per adult and £49 per child. Lunch, refreshments and any entrance fees would not have been in included in the guided tour. We didn’t visit any on the museum and main attractions and we already had many souvenirs of Florence from our initial visit, so these would be an optional additional cost.
The ‘on your own shore excursion’ worked out at £180 for a family of 4. We were willing to pay this for peace of mind it offered. We found an alternative which was around £40 cheaper for the 4 of us at Get your Guide, (£35.55) per person but there was an additional cost of 5 euros each way for the shuttle bus between the ship and the pick up point in Livorno. Even without this additional charge we would have stuck with the ship excursion on this occasion as the difference in the over all price for the 4 of us (£10 per person) plus having to wait to get off ship after the tours and catch our own connections to the meeting point in Livorno and then at at Pisa wasn’t worth the price difference. Additionally it wasn’t worth the risk in the summer heat with two children – especially if there was some delay on the return journey – which can happen.
I hope this gives you an idea of how easy it is to explore Florence independently and to save some money too whilst still having the peace of mind that you won’t miss your ship.
Port ratings are given as an indication only and based on our own opinions and experiences.
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Please note: These are not meant to be definitive guides. They are written with the aim of helping you start to plan your time ashore. Any prices, services or experiences mentioned can and will change. Information contained in these guides is believed to be accurate. While I try my best to keep these guides updated where possible, I strongly recommend you check any details yourself before you travel. I have not received any form of payment or inducement to recommend any of the attractions or businesses mentioned in these guides. Where an inducement or payment has been received this will be clearly stated. I will only recommend a product, service or experience I have personally tried and enjoyed.