Florence, Italy

One of my favorite cities in Italy is Florence. It has lots of amazing museums, restaurants, open-air spaces, and is a great location to plan day trips all throughout Tuscany. If you’re planning a big trip to Italy, Florence should be on your must-see list!


History

The city was founded during the Roman Empire in the 1st Century BCE and achieved international prominence during the Renaissance as a cultural, political, and financial capital under the reign of the Medici family. Some of the most famous artists in world history, including Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, spent vast amounts of time in the city. Its location along the Arno River made it strategic in travel between Rome and Bologna and helped provide the water supply for one of its famous industries – washing and dyeing of cloth. 

During World War II, Florence was occupied by the Nazis for a year and sustained heavy bombing, which destroyed many of its historical buildings. In late July of 1944, the Germans began retreating with the Allies closing in and blew up every bridge except for the medieval Ponte Vecchio bridge, which still stands today. 

Florence is now known as a cultural and artistic must-visit city on any trip to Italy with the many palaces of the Medici family turned into some of the best museums in the world. 


Visit

Visiting Florence with kids is a wild ride! It’s a beautiful city full of tourists and hustle and bustle. Hold your kids close and keep them to the inside on the narrow city sidewalks until you get to the mostly pedestrian-only historic zone. There is a lot to see but many of the important statues and artwork are outside in piazzas so that makes it easier to see with children. There are some important museums to go to, and advance planning/ticket purchasing is a must (check out the Firenze Card which allows you to go to the head of the line in many locations). If you’re there during the high tourism season, be ready to wait in lines or jostle for position under Michelangelo’s David

Before your trip, I recommend watching Kathy McCabe’s Dream of Italy and Rick Steves’ shows about Florence. They give wonderful and helpful recommendations of what to see and what you can miss.

For a kid-friendly overview of the city, I recommend hiring a private tour guide that can navigate through the city and give you a good overview of the places of most interest to families with kids. We did this on our first day so it gave us a good foundation for exploration on our own. Plus she shared with us the best gelato places so we were able to try those over the next few days! We hired our guide through our travel agent so check with Ciao Bambino or Absolute Italy for recommendations. 

As an alternative, check out Rick Steves’ Renaissance walking tour of Florence to hit the major must-see sights. With Florence being much smaller than Rome, it’s easy to walk from sight to sight (except for the crowds and narrow sidewalks!). You can see everything in the city in 1-2 days but leave time for some trips into the surrounding countryside. 


Historical Sites

Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral)

This is the grande dame of Italian cathedrals. Built in the 13th – 15th centuries, this red-tiled domed cathedral is the historical center of the city. The piazza surrounding the duomo is the epicenter of Florentine life and you should plan to spend several hours exploring it. 

The actual cathedral itself is most impressive from the outside with the pink, green, and white Tuscan marble and the Brunelleschi’s dome – the first of its kind. Your kids will love running around the cathedral’s walls, and you can go inside to see the third largest church in the world. If you have older kids, they might like climbing up the duomo’s dome or the campanile (Giotto’s Bell Tower). Be sure to get tickets in advance and/or use the Firenze Card to get a place in line to climb the over 400 stairs!

There are lots of other things to see in the piazza, including the cathedral’s baptistry, which is a separate building from the actual church. The “Gates of Paradise” doors of the baptistry are reproductions of the original Ghiberti’s bronze doors and are beautiful to behold. 

There is a duomo museum that contains many of the original artwork and sculpture from the cathedral. We didn’t take our kids in but I’ve heard it’s great!

Our kids also liked wandering around the square to see the street vendors and hucksters plying their trade. They also loved the nearby Grom gelateria. 

Piazza della Repubblica

This is one of my favorite squares in all of Italy! Located on the site of the Roman Forum, it contains the last column of that time period. The square is massive with lots of shops, restaurants, and a carousel to explore. Our children loved wandering through the square, watching the toy vendors fling their toy planes in the sky while riding on the merry-go-round. Even though the restaurants may be touristy, we loved people-watching during our meal on the square. 

Palazzo Vecchio/Piazza della Signoria 

Gazing on this fortress with its impressive statues and stone tower, you think you’re back in Renaissance times. Currently serving as Florence’s town hall, you can view the courtyard and piazza for free and pay to go to the museum upstairs in the building. The piazza is one of our favorite places to walk through after dinner, when the lights are flooding the statues and the Florentine people are out for a walk. It is a very crowded place so be sure to hold on tight to little ones’ hands! Don’t miss the statues in the piazza, including a replica of the David statue.

Ponte Vecchio

The most beautiful bridge in Italy, this bridge has been here since 1345, remarkable considering the flooding and battles that have taken place here! The buildings on the bridge are full of gold and silversmiths, dating back to the Medici time period (and a big improvement on the original butchers and tanners who occupied the shops and threw the detritus into the river below!). The upper part of the bridge is a secret passage called the Vasari Corridor, which was used by the Medici family to go from the Uffizi to the Pitti Palace

Church of Santa Maria Novella 

This beautiful church and cloister is one of my favorites in all of Italy. It was near our hotel so we wandered in not really knowing what to expect. The church itself is beautiful and contains many pieces of art that would be showstoppers if it wasn’t in an art town like Florence. Don’t miss the museum where you can see the Spanish Chapel and its frescos. My sons loved seeing the funny faces on some of the people depicted in the frescos! 

Santa Croce Church

We didn’t make it here but I wish we had. It contains the graves of Michelangelo (he grew up nearby) and Machiavelli. 

Medici Chapels

After seeing Rick Steves’ show about this chapel, I wish we had visited! It contains some of the most amazing sculptures in the Medici crypt.


Museums

Florence is full of art museums that are considered to be the best in the world, but when traveling with kids, it can be hard to spend a lot of time in them. I recommend getting a guided tour by a family-friendly guide (check out recommendations from Ciao Bambino or your travel agent) to point out the art of most interest. Or go in knowing that you’ll just hit the highlights. Give kids a scavenger hunt (check out this book from Amazon – affiliate link) and make it a game!

Uffizi Gallery

If you want to just visit one museum, make it this one. This amazing art museum contains some of the most well-known and beautiful pieces of art from the Italian Renaissance period, all located in a former Medici building from the 16th century. It is U-shaped and large but doesn’t get as crowded as the Vatican museums. Advance ticket purchases are a must (or use the Firenze card). The museum contains the greatest collection of art from masters such as Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Botticelli. The top painting to see is Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. Download Rick Steves’ gallery walk for more helpful hints. We stayed for about an hour, wandering through the galleries and seeing which pieces our children liked the most. An hour was enough for them! 

Galleria dell’Accademia 

This is the museum that houses Michelangelo’s masterpiece, David. There are usually very long lines so be sure to buy tickets and/or the Firenze card ahead of time. Pro tip: With kids, skip the museum and see the replica of the David statue in the Piazza della Signoria. Our kids were tuckered out by the time we got to the museum so we bailed on it! We saw it at the piazza and that was enough! If you do go, check out Rick Steves’ walking guide.

Leonardo Museum

We visited this museum instead of the Accademia, and our kids loved it! It’s interactive and fun, showing the complex and innovative creations of Leonardo da Vinci. Your kids can try their hand at building a bridge or putting together one of his famous machines. We could have spent hours here! It’s perfect for kids of any age. Make sure to read the Magic Treehouse book about Leonardo before going (Amazon affiliate link)! 

Galileo Science Museum

We didn’t visit this but I wish we had! It has many cool items, such as telescopes and maps from the Renaissance time period. And it also has bottles containing Galileo’s actual fingers! It would be a fun stop for older kids interested in maps and science.


Day Trips

Florence is centrally located in Tuscany, which makes it a great base for day trips to the surrounding towns. We did a few of these, and it was nice to get out of the hustle of the city and experience the Italian countryside. 

  • Lucca and Pisa are easy to see via train and can be combined into one day trip. 
  • The Tuscan towns of Siena, Montalcino, Montepulciano, Volterra, and San Gimignano are best seen using a guided tour or via auto. We did a day trip from Florence to Siena, Montalcino, and the Máté winery using a private guide, and it was amazing. 

Florence is a must-see Italian city with art, history, and cuisine sure to please everyone. Make sure to spend time in this architectural wonder and enjoy the Florentine life!


Helpful hints:

  • Spend at least three nights in Florence, more if you’re using it as a base for day trips throughout Tuscany. 
  • There are lots of hotels and apartments to rent throughout the city. We stayed in Florence for five nights at the fantastic Grand Hotel Minerva on the Piazza Santa Maria Novella, which was perfect for families. We had a family suite with two rooms containing two twins and a double. The location of the hotel is excellent, close enough to the train station to walk and out of the busy-ness of the historic zone (but just a 10 minute walk away). Plus the rooftop pool overlooking the duomo and Santa Maria Novella Church gave us a once-in-a-lifetime view! If you’re using the city more as a base for day trips via auto, plan to stay in the outskirts so you can keep a car (very few cars are allowed in the city). I recommend utilizing a travel agent specializing in child-friendly accommodations, like Ciao Bambino, to make sure your hotel or home is appropriate for children. 
  • Dining options in Florence are plentiful! We consulted Rick Steves’ guidebook for suggestions and found hidden gems near the Ponte Vecchio and in the Mercato Centrale – definitely recommended for families as there are lots of stalls so even picky eaters are happy! We also love EATaly for this reason.
  • While in Florence, don’t forget to try out all of the gelato shops. We loved them all but especially Grom near the duomo, Venchi on the shopping boulevard of Via Calimala, and La Strega near the Ponte Vecchio bridge. Get more ideas on gelaterias here!
  • Shopping is wonderful in Florence. It’s known for its leather goods, and you can spend hours wandering the leather market near Santa Croce. We spent some time in a stationary store where the owner kindly gave our children a demonstration of how the beautiful Florentine dyed paper is made. He let the kids make their own and we still have them to this day!

Books to Read:

Check out my Italy list on Bookshop.org (affiliate link).

5 thoughts on “Florence, Italy

  1. Wonderful – made me nostalgic. I spent one year living in the centre of Florence when I was twenty. I worked in a little shop in the Piazza della Signoria between my studies and in those days (the 70s), there were no queues for the Uffizi, so I spent my lunch hours in there, choosing a different patinter each time to study. While you’re in Florence, go up to the roof garden of La Rinascente department store and enjoy a drink while gazng over a perfect view of the Duomo and the Florentine roof tops. Also, visit Fiesole for an afternoon. Get the bus up from Piazza San Marco. Thanks for this article.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s