Florence is one of my favorite cities in Italy, if not in all of Europe. It’s a bit of a challenge with kids given the sophisticated tourist attractions; however, with meticulous planning (see our tips for cities with kids), you can make this city approachable and fun.
Shannon Kenny, the editor of Italiakids.com, outlines in this guest post how to see Florence highlights with kids. An Italophile through and through, Shannon also runs a wonderful summer camp in Italy called Art Al Sole. Families who want to combine a visit with structured activities tailored just for kids (Italian-style), look no further!
The magnificent city of Florence has so many marvels to explore that planning a family trip there can seem a bit overwhelming. Yet the beauty of this Renaissance city, perched proudly on the Arno River and nestled amid iconic villa-adorned hills, is not lost on the little ones.
Nor are the wonders of the local art and architecture. With thoughtful planning that involves the children in crafting a family-friendly itinerary, Florence will inspire lifetime memories in a lively, exciting environment in which museums and historical sites are providing more and more unique exhibits and educational programs designed just for children.
When staying in the city during high-traffic seasons such as the summer, the Oltrarno district, just across the river from the Ponte Vecchio, is typically less crowded. It also offers a variety of less touristy dining choices serving authentic Tuscan cuisine, as well as convenient supermarkets. The Oltrarno is much easier to access by car than many of the districts in the historical center with restricted traffic limitations, though parking is costly.
This neighborhood also boasts some great kid-friendly sites, like the Boboli Gardens at Palazzo Pitti — lots of wide-open space for little ones to explore, climb trees, people-watch and play games. The Boboli Gardens are a great spot for a picnic (there is a supermarket directly across the street). During summer evenings, consider peering into the courtyard of Palazzo Pitti on your way home from dinner. You might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the musical performances produced here, preferably while polishing off a gelato from one of our favorites: Gelateria Santa Trinità directly across from the Ponte Santa Trinità. Try the dark chocolate (fondente)!
In planning your daily schedule, present the children with fun visual maps so that they have a sense of what’s in store for the day, and be careful not too pack too much in. A leisurely stroll through the side streets and time for multiple rides on the antique carousel in Piazza della Repubblica can be just as enjoyable as shuffling through the halls of the Uffizi Gallery.
If you do plan to visit the Uffizi, buy tickets well in advance, and peruse the museum’s exhibits on the Uffizi website with the kids in advance of your visit — they will be excited when they are able to identify some of the masterpieces in person. Rather than visiting every item in every room, pause to admire select pieces and chat with the kids about their opinions of certain features, such as animals, flowers or facial expressions.
Florence’s Children’s Museum at the Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria, next to the Uffizi, brings the Renaissance city to life for kids with demonstrations of how the Medici lived and ruled. Exhibits at the Palazzo Strozzi Museum are designed to be family-friendly and offer an educational program for children in English that guides them through its current exhibit. The Institute and Museum of Science in Piazza dei Giudicci also has appealing exhibits for kids, especially the various instruments and personal items related to Galileo Galilei.
For many parents, the fact that the city holds so many treasures of art and architecture within its churches and monasteries makes it difficult to decide which buildings to spend time exploring, and which buildings to save for your next visit (per fortuna!). Seeing the Florence Duomo for the first time has had a continued influence on my own children. Rounding the corner to behold its size and scale is something they still talk about, and every return visit brings new discoveries from diverse angles.
Consider telling your children the story of the competitions for both the construction of the cathedral dome and the Baptistery’s Golden Doors, so that when you visit in person the stage is set for them to comprehend fully the genius of these innovative creations. Pippo the Fool by Tracey Fern and other great kids’ books help to bring the story of Brunelleschi’s dome to life.
Another favorite for our family is the cloister and church at San Marco in Piazza San Marco, where the kids can see famous paintings and frescoes in the setting in which they were intended for, such as Fra Angelico’s Annunciation. San Marco is also an instructive example of the alignment of art and architecture that ultimately came to define the city as a hallmark of its timeless glory.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Lisa Frederick.
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