I am often asked if one should spend their entire vacation in Rome or if it is worth getting out of the city for a day or two. Depending on how much time you have, a day trip to Tuscany or Naples is not out of the question. A friend of mine from Palermo recently visited me in Rome. He had never been to Florence and wanted to see something other than Rome. What better place to take your friends than to the beautiful city of Florence?
Getting to Florence from Rome is best done by train. The Frecciarossa leaves from Termini to Florence several times a day and takes about one hour and thirty minutes. My friend and I left Rome around 9:30 and pulled into Florence just before 11:00 AM. Trenitalia also offers discounts for travelers who arrive and depart the same day so check the tickets on offer before you buy.
Our departure from Florence was at 8:00 PM so we had 9 hours to explore. Florence is not that big, and it is a very walk-able city (although there are buses and public transport available). I find it is faster and more convenient to see the city by walking around than by getting on a bus. Often buses and cars crawl at a snail’s pace through the city because of the intense crowds.
What to see
If you only plan to spend the day in Florence, there are a lot of things to see. Some things are impossible to avoid, like the Duomo which is so massive and draws such immense crowds. It’s also visible from many parts of the city, and it is definitely worth braving the queue. The Baptistery just outside the Duomo is also a must see, especially the bronze panels by Ghiberti (Gates of Paradise). The interior of the Duomo and Baptistery are worth seeing — try to avoid spending the whole day waiting in line as this will eat into your time to see and experience Florence.
Don’t forget to make a stop at the Palazzo Vecchio and the Piazza della Signoria as well as the Loggia dei Lanzi! There’s also Orsanmichele, The Church of Santa Maria Novella (which is just across the street from the main train station) and the famous Ponte Vecchio as well as many other monuments and sites.
The Uffizi Gallery is also a must see. The Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze houses Michelangelo’s David — save time by booking your entrance to the museum. The collection in both of these museums are worth the wait and should definitely be seen on any visit to Florence.
As for lunch, try to avoid the large piazzas and touristy areas as these restaurants, in my opinion, do not offer the best there is in Tuscan cuisine. My favorite place to have lunch — and I got there every time I am in Florence — is the Fiaschetteria Nuvoli. Don’t let the ‘hole in the wall’ look of the place fool you. The main entrance is a small bar area, but downstairs is a grotto-like setting that features a small but serviceable dining area with tables and chairs. It’s a very simple place, but the food is awesome, and you will find a lot of locals eating there.
How to get there
Getting to Florence from Rome is best done by train. Try to take the fastest train possible. If you book early, a round trip ticket can cost as little as 40 euro, depending on the time of day and the month you travel. This faster train will get you to Florence and back quickly so that you can spend most of your time enjoying the city. I recommend that you stick to 2nd class since the trip is so short, and I found there to be very little difference between the two classes of travel.
Train tickets can be booked electronically on the Trenitalia web site or at any of the train stations in Rome.
I highly recommend Lonely Planet’s Florence Encounter guidebook!