The best of Florence with young children
The Tuscan capital is a work of art; a city built from stone that straddles the River Arno. The home of Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Botticelli and countless other painters, sculptors and architects is the heart of Italy’s most beautiful region, yet has an allure quite distinct from the rolling, hazy landscapes of central Tuscany just beyond its city limits. But a day-trip or a longer stay in Florence itself will be tricky with young children, won’t it? Actually, it needn’t be. With a bit of forward planning, and the right itinerary, exploring Florence will seem like one giant Renaissance theme-park ride…with added ice cream.
Donald Strachan's verdict on family holidays in FlorenceDiscount sightseeing card. The Firenze Card allows you to jump queues at cultural highlights—Uffizi lines are legendary—and gets you into as many of Florence’s major museums as you like for a 72-hour period. Children under 18 who are EU citizens and in the same family group as a cardholder also go free.
Museum shops . At any cultural heavyweights, visit the shop first and buy a couple of postcards—turning a museum visit into a treasure hunt adds child-appeal. The Uffizi has a great selection for this.
Pedestrian Piazzas. Increased pedestrianisation has made roaming with young kids much freer than it used to be. But you should still keep an eye out: even in zones closed to traffic, you may still encounter a taxi, electric bus, cleaning vehicle, or transgressing local.
Time-out time. If your tot needs to switch off from sightseeing, and just ‘do something normal’, the second floor of Florence’s central library, the Biblioteca delle Oblate, has a quiet, relaxed play space with toys and picture books. It’s free to use—and is worth the trip for the view of Brunelleschi’s cathedral dome from the café terrace alone.
As long as your little ones are confident walkers, reasonably fit and untroubled by vertigo or claustrophobia, they have what it takes to climb to the top of Florence’s icon, the dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. A 5 or 6-year-old should manage it comfortably, and after 463 steps you’re rewarded with the best view in the city, over ochre rooftops and medieval palaces to the Arno and hills beyond. For an alternative viewpoint, climb the adjacent 84m Campanile (bell tower), for a close-up look at Brunelleschi’s 15th-century dome. Don’t forget your camera…it’s a long way back down.
The seat of civic government for centuries, the art-filled Palazzo Vecchio also runs Florence’s best family-oriented tours in English. The engaging programme includes a turtle-and-snail treasure hunt for 4 to 7-year-olds and a guided visit led by a costumed Giorgio Vasari, aimed at anyone aged 10 and up. To book, call in at the museum desk in the morning to find out the day’s timetable or email ahead on email@example.com. Everything is available in English. Families with children aged 6 and over can also request a free backpack from the museum desk to help them explore the building’s art and history on their own. In 2012, the palace opened access to the Torre di Arnolfo, the crenellated 95m tower added to the palace around 1299. The ascent is limited to children aged 6 and over.
Museo Marino Marini
Renaissance-hunters often overlook the Museo Marino Marini, which means even a high-season visit offers open space for little ones to roam. The material is accessible and fun too: many of Marini’s large, modern, semi-abstract bronzes are on the theme of ‘horse and rider’. In 2013, the museum also unveiled L. B. Alberti’s restored Cappella Rucellai. The small private chapel contains the elaborate tomb of Giovanni de’ Rucellai, a powerful 15th-century Florentine, also designed in polychrome marble by Alberti.
Florence’s Renaissance garden is a welcome patch of green. As long as your children are beyond pushchair stage—the Boboli is criss-crossed by gravel paths that will tax your forearms—this is great place to escape the narrow pavements and the traffic. It’s a historic garden—originally built for Florence’s Medici rulers—so kids can’t just run anywhere, but it will still feel like the shackles have been removed. Surreal statues like those in the Grotta Grande and the Fontana del Bacchino (a Medici court jester riding a tortoise) will raise a grin.
Florentines have a claim to being the inventors of ice cream—disputes with the Sicilians are on-going. What’s certain is that they have taken the art of gelato (essentially ice cream made with milk rather than cream) to great heights, using organic ingredients, seasonal fruits and plenty of Florentine creativity. In the centre, make a beeline for Carapina, close to Piazza della Signoria, or Procopio, near the Piazza de’ Ciompi flea market.