Lucy Honeychurch arrives in Italy for the first time, dependent on a Baedeker travel guide and her stern chaperone, Miss Bartlett.
As she explores Florence, Lucy realises the constraints of her middle-class upbringing and finds herself attracted to George Emerson, a young man also staying at the Pension Bertolini.
Then an impulsive kiss and the confusion that follows prompt a sudden departure from the city. Back in England and engaged to the domineering Cecil Vyse, Lucy meets George again.
Caught between social obligation and a suppressed desire for a different life, she must learn how to be true to herself.