Ahhh, Firenze (fee-REN-say). The name of this city sounds as smooth as Medici velvet. I say it and I am transported like Boticelli’s Venus arriving on the shore. I am transformed like Michelangelo’s David, rough marble to brilliance. I am catapulted back 20 years to my study of art history abroad, mesmerized by my professor’s melodic accent and emphatically rolled R’s: “Brrrrrrrrrrrunelleschi.” “Verrrrrrrochio.” “Rrrrrrafaelo.”
Then, the daydream takes a turn. Venus gets an eyeful of sand. David takes a blow to the chiseled pectoral. The Medici velvet…crushed. Yep. I’m definitely in Florence with my four vandals; I mean children.
But Florence is the Birthplace of the Renaissance and nothing can strip it of its title. Not even my wrecking crew. I insist we will learn something and have fun doing it. “You are so brave,” people tell me. I concur. Then, I hire a magnificent kid-friendly licensed tour guide with whom I can share the blame if things go wrong. Now, I am ready to tackle Florence with kids. Andiamo!
Day in Florence at a glance:
- If not staying in Florence, take a high-speed train (roundtrip) from Rome, Venice, etc.
- Michelangelo (plus) tour including Accademia with Florence Tours with Kids by Rachele
- Lunch at Osteria del Pronconsolo
- Life at Court tour for kids at Palazzo Vecchio
- Gelato at Perche No!
Day in Florence in detail:
Morning – Getting from Rome to Florence – Trenitalia
Perhaps you are staying in Florence already and have days to explore this glorious city. In that case, I am jealous. But, if you’re like us and Rome (or another city) is vaca-home-base, it’s my job to tell you – if you can travel to Florence in 2 hours or less, do not leave Italy without spending a day there. The train ride from Rome is only an hour and a half, the high-speed trains run frequently, and the tickets are reasonable. No excuses.
Tip – How far in advance should I book my tours? Buy my train tickets? If you are traveling at peak tourism season (summer), there is no harm in booking tours as far as 6 months in advance. You will get your pick of days and times. Your preference should be early morning when crowds are lowest at the museums and churches, etc. However, you may find availability as late as a month to two weeks before your trip. We were lucky with a short-notice tour for Pompeii. As for train tickets, we booked our roundtrip Florence tickets from Rome just a couple of weeks before our trip on the Trenitalia site. The tickets will arrive via email. Print them out and bring them with you. I keep a folder of every printed tour confirmation, ticket voucher, etc.
Tip – How should I get from my hotel to the museum? Can I Uber in Italy? This is so important that I am issuing two tips back-to-back. You’ve done all this work booking tours in advance, therefore, you should pre-arrange transfers to these tours! Uber in Italy is not as ubiquitous as it is here (yet). And the time estimates given are not as reliable. If you are a smaller family, you will have an easy time getting a taxi. If you are a larger family, you will have a hard time finding both Ubers and minivan-sized taxi (the 3rd and 4th kids are really putting a damper on things). We assumed we could easily Uber to Termini Station in Rome. Oops.
There is nothing more stressful than an Uber ride that is 25 minutes off its original estimated pick-up time, on your way to catch a train that leaves in 15 minutes while you’re still 10 minutes away from the station, in morning traffic, in another country, not familiar with the set-up of the train station, knowing that you stand to lose hundreds of dollars, all while Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” is blaring on the Italian radio station in the Uber. I invite you to have that experience never. Arrange a transport ahead of time – to your tour, or photo shoot, or train station, airport, etc..
Tip – Be early to everything. At least 20 minutes early. I can’t stress this enough.
I know the suspense was driving you crazy. We caught the train. Only because my husband can run far and fast while carrying a 45-pound kid. In contrast to the Uber, the train ride was beautiful and relaxing. I recommend a day trip from Rome to any nearby city for the experience alone!
We arrived in Florence and walked from the Santa Maria Novella train station to Santa Croce (25 minute leisurely walk). Here we met our tour guide, Giovanna, who turned our morning completely around. She was the “Good Guy” antithesis of Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy.” She was the Mary Poppins of Italian tour guides. Maria Poppine!?! Complete with a large bag full of surprises. Her way of presenting the substantive material of the day to the children was novel and memorable and fun! She involved all of us in a scavenger hunt game to play as we walked the city. The challenge – find the fleur de lis! This symbol of Florence is everywhere – high and low, on buildings, taxis, sewer grates, flags. The kids earned prizes (and a spoonful of sugar) for every 25 points earned.
The tour title is “Michelangelo Tour With Kids,” but we got so much more than we bargained for. Our walking tour took us past Michelangelo’s boyhood home, the Duomo, Ghiberti’s Baptistry doors, the Palazzo Vecchio, the apartment where it is said Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa, all while learning history and symbolism at each stop.
Finally, we arrived at the Accademia. We breezed inside with a flash of Giovanna’s guide badge, past a long line of people outside sweltering in the 103 degree heat. We were too hot to feel guilty. Inside was not much cooler, but the kids found an air conditioner near the instruments to suck on for a few minutes. This part of the museum was a huge bonus for our musical family!
At last, we reached the David. His stature is staggering. His intense stare, riveting. Giovanna told us how the genius 26-year old Michelangelo worked with a damaged, rejected piece of marble to create this masterpiece. She explained the out-of-proportion head and hand, the nudity and the story of David and Goliath as it served as a metaphor for Florence’s strength. We admired the David from all angles.
Alas, it was time to say goodbye to Giovanna. I let her go, but not before I tried to stuff all my kids in her large bag.
This highly-rate tour company offers several options in Florence, including the Uffizi Gallery. If you have time, avail yourself of more! They will make sure your day is supercalifragili… you get the idea.
You can also supplement your tours with the Mission Florence book, one in a series of scavenger hunt adventure books written for families exploring cities around the world.
Lunch at Osteria del Pronconsolo
It’s still 103 degrees. We could not walk very far before needing to rest and drink. Luckily, this restaurant is situated a few minutes away and is the halfway point between the Accademia and our next kid-friendly tour at the Palazzo Vecchio.
Osteria del Pronconsolo is a two-story, casual eatery with a unique pizza and pasta menu and exquisite traditional Tuscan fare, like wild boar and osso buco. They have air conditioning and plenty of fans, so we were finally able to cool off! We told them we had a tour in a little over an hour and they were happy to rush our order so we could enjoy our meal and be on time. The kids’ pizza looked wonderful – our older son ate a record 7 slices. My gluten free pasta with pesto and cherry tomatoes was superb, and they told me they took care to cook it in a pot with no cross-contamination. Plus, in an exciting twist, the kids tried the scrumptious wild boar ragu that topped my husband’s homemade pappardelle. One bite was enough. All in all, this was a fantastic lunch in a perfect location with an interior cool enough to revive us for the next tour.
We dragged the kids across the boiling lava field (Florence midday July) and made it in time to join our small-group tour at Palazzo Vecchio. We learned that unfortunately, the 700-year-old building has not been retro-fitted with central air. It’s fine. We wanted to get a sense for what life was really like for the Medici anyway, discomforts and all.
The tour, called “Life at Court” offers a glimpse into daily life at the Palace during the reign of the powerful Medici Family. It is geared toward children ages 4-10 and is guided by a member of the museum staff. The cost of the tour is reasonable and includes access to the most fascinating tucked away areas of the palace – we all felt like we had a behind-the-scenes VIP experience.
The guide gave us the challenge of determining which panel in the room of maps was the secret passage that the Medici family used to escape invaders. Once located, we followed the passage to another secret room, where the family could spy on visitors in the large banquet hall below. My kids, who are actual invaders and spies, were in luck.
The tour’s last stop was an area with a collection of replicas of outfits worn by the Medici family, and we were invited to try them on. We did, because we needed to break an authentic Renaissance-era summer sweat. The kids were then able to play with toys of the Medici children. Everyone took turns very well. Who could fight in this heat?
Tip – Keep citrus-flavored gelato to a minimum in the summer! When under the Tuscan sun, your instinct will be to submerge yourself in gelato. Gelato is refreshing, soothing, cold, creamy, delicious and irresistible. You may have the urge to partake three or more times a day. This is normal. However, we learned the hard way that it is a bad idea to combine citrus flavors with heat and prolonged sun exposure. It can cause an inflammatory response and a burning sensation on the skin called phytophotodermatitis. This happened to our son while in Florence. The poor kid had burning red skin on his face and neck (although he had on plenty of sunscreen and a hat) and we kept offering more of the offending food – lemon gelato. Sorry, buddy. We didn’t know! Next time we will stick with chocolate.
Last stop before your train home – Gelateria – Perche No! You will want to try to take at least one of your gelato baths at Perche No! This gelateria opened in 1939 and is a legendary fixture in Florence. You may wait on a line, but it is worth it!
Enjoy your trip to Florence!!! Contact us with any questions and let us know about your trip!