Every moment and every port on a Mediterranean cruise is incredibly special. And if your cruise includes a stop at Livorno, Italy, don’t miss the chance to visit Florence for the day. Here are my suggestions on what to do in Florence in only one day.
What to Do in Florence in Only One Day
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.
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 You Must See 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.
Stroll the Ponte Vecchio
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!
Plan a Visit the 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.
Basilica of Santa Croce
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.
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.
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.
Leave Some Time to Dine and Shop
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 for Florence
I learned this after my third motor coach ride from Livorno to Florence. To get the best overview photo of the stunning Duomo, be sure to sit on the right side of your tour bus as you leave Florence (your right as you face forward or left side as you enter the bus).
That’s 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, like it did for me – see the first photo in this article. 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.
What to See in Florence Next Cruise
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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