Florence With The Kids: Rocking The Cradle Of The Renaissance
Florence might be world famous for many things, but being child-friendly isn’t one of them. Galleries and museums, not amusements and arcades, make up the beating heart of the city’s cobbled UNESCO centre, not least the world-famous galleries of the Uffiziand the Accademia. These attractions have a rightfully high reputation as repositories of some of the finest collections of art in the world. We can all agree, however, that they’re not exactly great for kids…
The crowds, the cobbles, and—during the summer—the chaos can seem off-putting to even the most hardened of holidaying families. But scratch beneath the surface of the beautiful renaissance city and you’ll find that Florence has much more to offer than you might initially have thought. Let us at Roman Candle Tours share some of our recommendations for how you can pass the perfect time in Florence with the kids.
Museums in Florence
Before we go anywhere, we have to warn you:
Even for seasoned art veterans, the Accademia and Uffizi can be exhausting.
Or rather especially for seasoned art veterans. The sheer scale of exquisite art on display is even enough to overwhelm most adults, never mind children. The Uffizi and Accademia are often hailed as “must-see” sites in Florence. But be aware that, unless your children are at an age where they can appreciate art, they might not be the best places for a family day out.
Botticelli’s “Venus” in the Uffizi. Photo credit: Roman Candle Tours
If you’re set on paying a visit, however, don’t let us put you off. There are ways of keeping the little ones interested: do some background research on the collections; gamify the experience for them, either by creating a scavenger hunt or by asking for educational, child-friendly material at the help desk; and try to keep the visit short and sweet.
That, at least, goes for the Uffizi.
When it comes to the Accademia, I’d strongly recommend you do not go with the kids. While great for art lovers, it’s not as visitor-friendly as the Uffizi in terms of its layout, the descriptions of its collection, and its diversity. The only thing the kids might recognise is Michelangelo’s David, and they’re not going to notice the difference between the original and the perfect replica—in a much nicer setting—in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.
So follow this guide, set Florence’s marathon museums aside and check out some of these family-friendly museums and attractions instead:
The Leonardo Da’ Vinci Museum
Nestled between the Accademia and the Duomo in the beating heart of Florence’s city centre is one of the city’s most family-friendly attractions: the Leonardo da Vinci Museum. The museum offers a fully immersive, state-of-the-art multimedia experience that will teach you and your kids everything you need to know about great master and his most famous creations.
Photo credit: The Leonardo Da Vinci Museum
Its display includes several of Leonardo’s iconic inventions, from his armoured battle tank to the crane designed to build the Duomo. You’ll also find some of the great master’s anatomical drawings and replicas of his greatest works of art, including the world-famous Mona Lisa. Fun for all ages, the museum is a must, excelling in being engaging and educational while simplifying and repackaging Leonardo’s genius for the next generation.
Florence’s Natural History Museum
Photo credit: L’Italo Americano
Jam-packed with animals, insects, and fossils collected by the Medici from all over the world, the Natural History Museumis one of the most child-friendly museums in Florence. The museum is spread out over six areas in the city, each of which houses a unique collection. Fortunately, Florence is small enough that walking to them isn’t too much of a problem.
The one we’d recommend most—though it isn’t for the faint hearted—is La Specola, just across the river in Oltrarno. La Specola is the oldest science museum in Europe and, by quite some distance, the strangest museum in Florence. It has your usual fare of insects and fossils, but the main attraction for the kids is the display of stuffed animals the Medici gathered from all over the world, from snakes, to kangaroos, to even a seventeenth century hippopotamus.
Photo credit: L’Italo Americano
For the adults, what draws visitors are the gruesome eighteenth century anatomical waxworks. Most were made to educate rather than terrify (though any visitor will tell you they still somehow manage to do both). To visit the anatomical section, either call them up and arrange a private tour or contact us and we’ll sort it for you. Just don’t say you haven’t been warned!
No trip to Florence would be complete without paying a visit to the city’s main monument: Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, better known as the “Duomo”. Unfortunately, this is no secret, so the one thing you can guarantee on your visit is that you won’t be alone in appreciating it.
Before you go with your kids, let them discover its history for themselves by getting them a children’s book (for five to eight year-olds, Tracey Fern’s “Pippo the Fool” is an excellent place to start). Be aware though that while the cathedral’s façade is captivatingly stunning, its inside is rather Spartan. The best thing to do with the kids is to climb the cupola(dome) and view Florence from above.
Should you wish to do this, you should know two things:
1) It pays to have younger kids. Not only can they do it for free if they’re six or younger, but you’ll find you’re thankful for them waking you up early in the morning—you want to beat the crowds by getting there when it opens at 8.30am.
2) Don’t take toddlers up. Climbing to the top of the Duomo means marching up a confined, windy stairwell consisting of 463 steps. And while the view from the top is stunning, anyone with vertigo or a young child to watch after might find it more heart in mouth than hairs standing on end.
The Palazzo Vecchio
Photo credit: Visit Florence
The former seat of Florence’s governing Signoria, the Palazzo Vecchio is a wonderful attraction with collections and activities suitable for all ages. Once inside, make your way to the information desk and book yourselves onto one of their Life at Court tours. Suitable for kids aged four to 10, the tour lasts an hour and will take your kids through some of the Medici’s most interesting history, bringing the palace’s magnificence to life.
At the end of the tour they get to dress up as princes or princesses in sixteenth century costume and play with some authentic renaissance toys. Afterwards, climb with them up the ramparts—or even the bell tower if you’re feeling brave enough—so you can enjoy one of the best views over the city.
The Antique Carousel in Piazza della Reppublica
With its exquisitely decorated horses and ornately painted façade, depicting various Italian cities, Piazza della Reppublica’s antique carousel has long been the centrepiece of Florence’s family-friendly attractions. Going since the early twentieth century, it has been lovingly restored—and is still owned—by Florence’s Picci family. There’s enough space for you to stand next to your kids while they ride—if they want you to that is!
A spot of shopping in the centre
Tucked away on a side street between the Palazzo Vecchio and the Bargello, Bartolucci has been going strong since 1981 making beautiful wood-carved toys at reasonable prices. Its beautiful display of souvenirs and workshop at the back will have your kids hooked, especially its signature Pinocchios. No word of a lie, this is not to miss.
Treat yourself to some gelato
Did you know that the Cradle of the Renaissance is also the birthplace of gelato? No holiday in Florence would be complete without sampling some of the finest ice cream in the world; that’s why we have already published an article about where to get the best gelato in Florence.
We think Gelateria della Passera and Gelateria dei Neri are the best, but to be honest it’s difficult to go wrong as long as you avoid places directly overlooking the big sites (Ponte Vecchio, Palazzo Vecchio, and Duomo). Check out the map at the bottom of the blog, and depending on where you are you can find which recommended gelateria is closest.
Visit one of the many Gardens in Florence
Blending peace and quiet with a convenient, central location, the Boboli Gardens are the perfect place to take the kids on a sunny afternoon. Once nothing more than a large quarry, the gardens acquired their present form when the Medici purchased the land. They beautified the landscape by adding all sorts of quirky attractions like artificial caves, fountains, and statues before opening the gardens up to the public in 1766.
Since then, they’ve never wanted for visitors, attracting around five million people annually. That said, even in high season there’s more than enough space for the kids to run around and explore, ducking in and out of its labyrinthine hedgerows and cultivated garden paths. On a sunny day, stock up on supplies at the local supermarket—the Conad in Oltrarno is good—and head to the top of the gardens for an afternoon picnic overlooking the city.
It might be a little further out, but when the weather’s good Florence’s main public park, the Cascine, is also worth a visit. Once the Medici’s private hunting ground, it’s now a lush green sprawl, intersected by cycling and roller-blading paths, which provides some much-needed refuge from Florence’s built-up centre. Get there early on a Tuesday and you can explore the largest—and cheapest—of Florence’s markets. Or saunter down in the afternoon and let the kids run free at one of its little jungle gyms and playgrounds.
Get inventive in the kitchen
Photo credit: Ciao Bambino
Fancy trying your hand at making your own Italian cuisine? If you want to cook up a storm, and don’t mind heading an hour outside the city—we can organise a private driver for you—why not check out one of Tuscany’s hottest agritourism attractions: Al Gelso Bianco.
Open to kids of all ages, the course starts with them picking some of the region’s freshest vegetables from the surrounding farm. They then get to make their own delicious pasta dough, rolling it out, and running it through an authentic pasta machine. After cooking up a treat, we come to the best bit—eating it (and taking back in a doggy bag anything they can’t manage!)
Go swimming at one of Florence’s public pools
Le Pavoniere. Photo credit: Visit Florence
Springing up at the heart of Cascine is Florence’s chicest, most elegant pool: Le Pavoniere. While it does have a separate kids pool annexed to its side, Le Pavoniere is not the biggest pool in Florence. But it has got a fun, lively, and quintessentially Italian vibe. Swimming caps are mandatory and can be purchased at the entrance.
While Le Pavoniere is the chicest, it’s not necessarily the most child-friendly pool in Florence. Far better is the much larger Olympic sized pool at Costoli in the neighbourhood of Campo di Marte. Boasting a multi-storey diving board and a separate kids pool, it has more than enough space for you and the family to splash and run around, even at the height of summer. There’s a pool bar too, serving fast food, soft, and alcoholic drinks at reasonable prices, and a huge grassy lawn for ball games.
When to visit Florence with the kids
Take it from someone who’s been living in the city for several years: do not come to Florence at the height of summer. It might be outside school term time, but being taken around the city in July or August could prove an experience so traumatic they’ll be begging for you to send them back to school.
If you want good weather and a lively atmosphere, Easter is a great time to visit. Fireworks fly as the city plays host to several spectacles. If you can make it for the beginning of spring you can even catch Notte Bianca (White Night). Although it’s been rained off the last couple of years, normally captures that perfect Mediterranean atmosphere with family-filled streets and an evening full of entertainment.
Hopefully this post has given you some ideas for what to do in Florence with the kids. If you want some more tried and tested advice, Roman Candle Tours has published some recommendations about what you can do with your kids in Florence. Or, if you want some more ideas in the wider region of Tuscany, check out this piece, written by a mother of 3, 5, and 7 year old and published in Travel Babbo.
Whatever you decide to do in Florence, the most important thing is not to try and cram everything into a few days but to take the city at your leisure. The Italians have a saying, chi va piano va sano e va lontano, which is a little bit like “slow and steady wins the race”. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Don’t rush it, pick a couple of activities a day, and, above all, enjoy your time together in the Cradle of the Renaissance.