8 Hours in Florence Italy on a Mediterranean Cruise

The Cupola of the huge Duomo takes up the skyline view of Florence.

The Dome of the Florence Cathedral takes up the skyline view of Florence.

Four not-to-miss places to see with only one day in Florence.

Every moment on a Mediterranean cruise is incredibly special.  The west coast of Italy is resplendent with steep overlooks, precariously perched cliffside apartments and white-knuckle hairpin turns as your motor coach inches along the cliff-hanging roadway. Sleepy fishing villages are contrasted by busy seaports. But a Mediterranean cruise to Florence makes getting to the heart of this medieval city very easy.

To get to Florence, cruise ships dock in Livorno, the cruise port for Italy’s legendary Tuscany region. It’s an hour+ venture inland to reach Florence, past fields of golden sunflowers buffered against sloping vineyards and ancient walled, medieval villages.  On a clear day you can even see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, way off in the distance.

With a very limited amount of time to spend in Florence, here are my four not-to-be-missed suggestions to visit.  But first, you have to get to Florence.

How to get to Florence from the port of Livorno.

There are three easy options for getting to beautiful Florence; by shore excursion, a train from Livorno or renting a car.

For first-timers to Florence, your ship’s shore excursion is your easiest and best option. It’s a 1 1/2 hour motor coach ride to the city, but along the way your guide will tell you all about the surrounding countryside, point out where to look in the distance for the Leaning Tower of Pisa and share bits of knowledge about shopping and dining.  Be ready for a full-day trip, with about three hours total spent on the bus.

The second option is to board the train in Livorno, about a 15 minute taxi ride from the port. This is a relatively inexpensive choice when compared with a shore excursion. However, keep in mind that Italy is known for unexpected rail strikes and as wonderful as it would be to spend more time in Florence, it would be upsetting for your ship to sail on without you.

Third choice is to rent a car. Make your car rental reservation before you leave home, to guarantee availability. Major car rental companies have a check-in station right next to your ship, so it’s easy to get going on your own. Again, be mindful of the ship’s sailaway time and allow enough leeway to return your car and get a lift back to the ship.

What Not to Miss in Florence

There is so much to see in Florence that a visitor could easily spend several days touring and still not see nearly everything. However, there are a four must-see places of interest that should not be missed on your first visit: Ponte Vecchio, Accademia Galleria, Santa Croce and The Duomo.

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio in Florence Italy

Leave some time to walk through the interior of the bridge, with its dozens of shops and markets.

It’s the oldest bridge in Florence and is a favorite for photographers and artists from around the world. Once home to Florence’s butcher shops and ensuing odor, the bridge was long ago converted into a haven for goldsmiths and jewelers. Walk across the bridge, look over the sides in both directions and take a scenic walk along the narrow sidewalk that parallels the River Arno. Watch out for traffic!

Ponte Vecchio in Florence Italy

Here you can see the people walking inside the bridge. There are sit-down cafés too.

Accademia Gallery

A western Mediterranean cruise to Florence would not be complete without a visit to see Michelangelo’s world-famous Statue of David. The trick is to purchase your tickets to the Accademia and the Statue before you leave home. That’s the best way to avoid the incredibly long line of unsuspecting tourists and students. If your shore excursion includes a visit to the Accademia and a line-bypass opportunity, great! Check the cruise line’s website for their shore excursions and what is included in the tour.

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Replica of the Statue of Michelangelo's David in Florence.

That’s David. Sort of. The real statue used to be at that location. Vandals ended that idea. So David was moved to Accademia and a fake David is in his place.

Basilica of Santa Croce

Basilica Santa Croce Florence Italy

Walk through the Basilica Santa Croce in Florence Italy to see the tombs of Michelangelo, Rossini, Galileo and other famous people from the Renaissance.

The Basilica of Santa Croce is a Florentine gothic style building, located on the Piazza of the same name.  It contains the ornately carved tombs of some of Italy’s most famous artists, scientists, writers and composers. The oversized tombs, graced with incredibly life-like sculptures and detailed engravings, makes them works of art in their own right. Among the entombed in Santa Croce are Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli and Gioachino Rossini.

The tomb of Michelangelo at the Santa Croce Church in Florence Italy

You can easily spend a fifteen minutes just to discover all the details of the tomb of Michelangelo.

Florence Cathedral

Duomo in Florence, Italy

Begun at the end of the 13th century, the Florence Cathedral was completed two centuries later. It is the third or fourth largest cathedral in the world, depending upon whom you ask.

It’s impossible to miss this cathedral, one of the largest in the world. Formally named the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, it’s more commonly referred to as The Duomo.  The towering dome was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and is larger than that of the Pantheon and St. Peter’s in Rome. As with other attractions in Florence, it’s a good idea to purchase tickets online before leaving home.

If dizzying heights are not an issue, climb the 463 steps to the very top of the Dome. Step outside and walk the protected pathway along the railing to check out the panoramic view of the Florence. You can see the people at the very top if you look closely.  And then see the next photo.

SAVE THIS PIN!
florence-duomo-pin

Feeling more adventurous? The same ticket (currently 10€) covers your admission to the entire cathedral so go ahead and can climb 414 steps up to the top of the Bell Tower.  The climb is not recommended for people suffering from heart problems, vertigo or claustrophobia.

Dining and Shopping

Even though a mad rush through Florence may leave you exhausted, save an ounce of energy to buy something leather.  Aside from the kiosks in the Piazza, tiny shops line the narrow streets through in the old city while some famous Tuscan clothiers have huge stores near Santa Croce.  Although leather goods are one of the most frequently bought souvenir, gold and expensive jewelry are a close second.  Many jewelers have their shops along the Ponte Vecchio.  

Dining in Florence may have to be a bit hurried if you want to see as much as possible.  But if you do allow time, a Tuscan specialty is Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a char-grilled steak marinated in olive oil and black pepper.  There are some very nice, though touristy, cafés at Piazza Santa Croce, if you’re running out of time.

With careful planning, you can visit nearly all of these sights in Florence, grab a quick lunch and buy a handsome leather jacket before meeting your group to head back to the bus.  

Best Photo Tip

Sit on the right side of the bus (your right as you face forward) because the route leaving Florence takes a scenic tour around the city with the dramatic overview of the Duomo in the distance, on your right.  Keep your camera ready in case the bus has to stop for traffic.  You’ll have a couple of seconds for that perfect shot.

Ed. Note:While one day really isn’t enough to explore any city in Europe, you can experience more in one day in Florence than you can in Rome.  The port for Rome (Civitavecchia) can take longer to get to Rome than from Livorno to Florence, thus the inclusion of Livorno and not Civitavecchia.

More of Florence

These are only a few of the dozens of places to visit on a Mediterranean cruise to Florence. Other ideas, if time allows or on your next trip, include a visit to the Pitti Palace, a climb up the 414 steps of the Bell Tower near the Duomo (see the photo above), tour the art collection in the Uffizi Gallery which houses important works by Botticelli, Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Rubens.

You’re going to have to make another trip to Florence…no one can visit only once.

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6 Comments

  1. April 19, 2015 / 5:26 pm

    Enjoyed the pics and tips! Wanda and I are sailing on the Disney Magic in August. Florence is a location we will be exploring.
    If you are ever in Florida sailing from Port Canaveral area please let us know.
    Cruisexpress also on Facebook and twitter

  2. Sherry Laskin Kennedy
    April 19, 2015 / 10:54 pm

    Thanks, Mike. Have a wonderful cruise.

  3. December 28, 2017 / 1:58 am

    Hi, Sherry
    Italy has always been one of my favorite places to visit and at last i am planning to go there this year.
    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Sherry Kennedy
    December 28, 2017 / 8:41 am

    Hi Jason and Salman,
    Thanks for your comment and enjoy your trip to Italy!
    Sherry

  5. January 9, 2018 / 3:00 am

    Some absolutely stunning photos in this post. Italy is on the list of places I plan to visit and Florence is a place I will certainly be exploring.

  6. Sherry Kennedy
    January 10, 2018 / 2:03 pm

    Thank you, George. While all of Italy is spectacular, Florence has so much to see and do. Have a wonderful visit.

    Sherry

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