FLORENCE WITH KIDS AND THE FIRENZE CARD: A THREE-DAY-ITINERARY

A school class waiting in the shade in Florence
Recovering in the shade (photo Flickr user Toby Leah Bochan)

Florence with children? Visiting the city of the Renaissance with a bunch of unruly kids sounds like your worst nightmare? I’m with you: art, culture and Tuscan wine and food make of Florence a perfect adult only destination. 

But then, the most vivid memory I have from my last child-free visit at the Uffizi isn't of Leonardo da Vinci or Botticelli, but of myself downing over-prized espresso at the museum café in a desperate attempt to get over last night's hangover. In this sense Florence in the company of a few inquisitive kids seemed like my last resort to skip the wine and see the art instead. 

Once we'd decided to bring the kids, the question was how to go about it.

FIRENZE CARD: SKIP THE LINES AND ENJOY THE ART WITH THE FLORENCE MUSEUM PASS

If you have three days in Florence there is no better way to see frescoes, paintings and sculptures of the Renaissance masters than with the FIRENZE CARD. Florence’ fabulous museum card costs 72 Euro per person and provides free access to the city’s museums for 72 hours. Considering that you don’t have to book any tickets, don't need to queue at the Uffizi and the Accademia gallery, and get free access to public transport - the Firenze card is a great deal for everybody. Even more so if you travel with kids, as every adult Firenze card holder can access museums and sights in the company of one child or teenager (up to 18 years of age!). You think 72 Euro is still a lot of money? Start making the sums and you’ll be surprised about how much cash you free up for that new Gucci bag. 


DAY ONE: PALAZZO DAVANZATI, PALAZZO STROZZI MUSEUM AND BRANCACCI CHAPEL

Once we got our Firenze Card at Palazzo Pitti (there are 9 more sales points in the city) our friends’ 7-year-old daughter said: “Museums? Why? We already saw all of them last year in Paris!”
Our cultural tour-de-force evidently needed a subtle approach. Heading straight to the Uffizi might have conjured too many memories of boredom at the Louvre. 
  • PALAZZO DAVANZATI – A MUST! The Renaissance dwelling of a wealthy Florentine merchant family is in fact an easy way in. Studying the way of every day life during the Renaissance (from water collection in the courtyard to graffiti notes on stone walls and surprisingly sophisticated bathrooms), makes for an interesting but down-to-earth introduction to a cultural visit in Florence. Meet the people (and their loos) and you'll understand their art in no time! Reservations is needed for visits to the top floors of the building (we didn't, but still had a good time). For more information about this fascinating Renaissance home read Arttrav's Palazzo Davanzati guide
  • PALAZZO STROZZI: Not Just Exhibitions is the slogan of this beautiful museum complex close to Palazzo Davanzati. In fact, its museum café is a great place to hang out and enjoy some very tasty sandwiches without having to pay a fortune. Knowing that the Strozzi Foundation puts a lot of effort and money into making its exhibitions family friendly, this seemed a clever choice. Visiting The Thirties: the Arts in Italy beyond Fascism (till the end of January 2013), we were literally speechless when we got handed over the family kit for the exhibition: an expensively leather-bound Monopoly set focusing on the pieces of art on show, plenty of drawing and crafts material and for each child an original Moleskine notebook. The experience was quite incredible. Apart of the Monopoly part. Once we sat down inside the exhibition to start playing, we were immediately silenced by a museum attendant. After the third room and the third attendant shhing us, we decided to call it a day. We definitely weren't particularly loud or badly behaved, but playing Monopoly with kids just doesn't work in sign language. It was a petty for all the work Palazzo Strozzi put into this project. Nevertheless, our children did a lot of drawing, enjoyed Palazzo Strozzi's fun radio station and all the lovely arty-farty freebies they were given to take home (I obviously already confiscated their Moleskines).
  • CAPPELLA BRANCACCIThinking that taking in a third museum on the first day would mean stretching it a bit, we decided to visit - a church. Yep, the kids were really grateful for that one. Nevertheless, when comparing Masolino's and Masaccio's approach to painting Adam and Eve before and after expulsion from paradise, they were once more surprisingly cooperative (knowing that each clever question equaled an extra flavor of ice-cream afterwards helped).  


Three kids admiring Renaissance sculpture in Florence
Kids enjoying Art in Florence by Flickr user Lekasfamily


DAY 2: UFFIZI MUSEUM, BOBOLI GARDENS AND LA SPECOLA NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM

  • THE UFFIZI: A MUST - as long as you arrive prepared! We had a quick discussion about visiting the Galleria degli Uffizi with kids, as we all wondered whether it may be better to let the young ones sleep in whilst part of the adults went ahead to tackle the masterpieces. The world-famous museum’s last name being exhausting, this didn't seem like a bad plan. However on second thought – the Uffizi are tiring for adults too. Unless you plan your visit and turn it into an interactive exploration, the whole experience will just end up feeling like ticking off a point from a list. And what better way to engage and ask questions in front of a painting than with a few kids around? Just make sure you start as early as possible. We skipped breakfast at home, had Cappuccino and brioche the Italian way (i.e. standing up) at bar Rivoire nearby and felt very smug when entering the hall of fame at 8.20. There were no traffic jams yet in front of Botticelli and Da Vinci, and seeing the building Vasari had originally designed for the Tuscan administration lighting up with the morning sun was just stunning (if only the rest of Italy’s bureaucratic architecture had followed in Vasari’s footsteps). But whatever the hour you find yourself at the Uffizi, remember to streamline your time at the gallery. The crucial ingredient for the success of our visit was art historian Alexandra Korey's Guide to the Uffizi, which I brought along on my kindle (available as an app version for iPhone too): concise, engaging and making me appear very smart in front of the other visitors. 
  • BOBOLI GARDENS: Not to be missed! After nearly three hours spent artist hunting in the Uffizi, it was time to let everybody off the leash and enjoy the Tuscan sun. Access to the Boboli Gardens is via Palazzo Pitti, so we were nevertheless masochistic enough to have a quick look around the museums on the first floor, before letting the kids race around Eleonora de Medici’s Renaissance garden. Make sure you walk all the way to the porcelain museum at the top (no, nobody was forced to also look at that one!), but the view over Florence towards the San Miniato al Monte basilica and the surrounding countryside is breathtaking! According to one of our kids, the landscape looked exactly as if we were in Tuscany.
    After all that fresh air we were starting to get withdrawal symptoms. Next museum please! Leaving the Boboli gardens at the Annalena exit (next to the orangery) we were in perfect positioning for a visit at the Specola section of Florence’ natural history museum. And wow did we have fun!
  • LA SPECOLA Natural History Museum: no Renaissance here, but a HIGHLIGHT nevertheless! Florence doesn't have a zoo, but then why should it? La Specola is a perfect substitute for animal loving kids and people who get excited with anything retro or vintage. Not even ice-cream could be a better reward for hours patiently spent in front of Michelangelo & co. Our kids (between 6 and 10 years of age) also liked the section with wax figures displaying human anatomy (in detail!) at the end of the museum. You may want to cut short here if travelling in company of smaller kids, but toddlers will still love the countless animals on display in the rest of the museum.

DAY 3: PALAZZO VECCHIO FAMILY MUSEUM, GALILEO SCIENCE MUSEUM AND A FEW RANDOM MEDICI CHAPELS

  • ACCADEMIA GALLERY: Part of our group decided on an early rise again to take in Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia. I wouldn’t have suggested so, but a preteen boy insisted on having to see the real thing and his father supported him. Men! They spent 10 minutes looking at the David, but obviously didn’t have eyes for the rest of the paintings at the Accademia, which are sacral at heart and not easy to enjoy unless you read your way in. Skip and go to the Bargello museum instead (if you're after sculpture). Or - why not? - give yourself a break. 
  • PALAZZO VECCHIO FAMILY MUSEUM: A MUST! The family museum is accessible only with a guide (book well in advance). The tours are tailor-made to the young visitor, but adults will have fun and learn something too. We joined Life at Court (for more info read my detailed account of our visit at Palazzo Vecchio's Family museum). The museum has a lot of interesting videos on its website, which also make for a great introduction to the history and people of Florence before or after your trip. 
  • GALILEO GALILEI MUSEUM: Unless mum or dad is an engineer this isn’t much fun. The tools and scientific models Galileo & co. used are amazing, but you need to be able to explain them (something we were totally useless at). So if you plan a visit here, make sure you book a guided tour in English for kids before you come out!
  • MEDICI CHAPEL: No pondered decision, but as we happened to be nearby we decided to give it a go (try and error becomes an easy approach thanks to the Firenze museum card). To my surprise the kids really liked the main hall of the Medici mausoleum. To me it felt rather creepy, but maybe that's why. Or they just understand Michelangelo better than I do. 
  • PALAZZO MEDICI RICCARDI: even though a prime example of Renaissance architecture, I'm no fan of the overworked baroque interiors of the palace. However I planned to take the children to the Magi Chapel, to show them Benozzo Gozzoli’s splendid frescoes, which I just love! Make sure you read up about them beforehand, as they supply endless detail to talk about with kids (from monkeys and leopards to fancy head gear and amazing faces). 


two kids eating an ice cream in Florence, one of them holding a yellow balloon
One more ice cream stop (photo by Flickr user Giuseppe Martino)


WHAT ELSE TO SEE IN FLORENCE: MORE SIGHTS AND MUSEUMS WE DIDN'T MANAGE TO SEE (YET)

  • BRUNELLESCHI'S DOME this will be a must in case any members of the family have done some reading about the fascinating construction of the cathedrals cupola. 
  • GIOTTO'S TOWER If the queue for the cupola is too frightening, Giotto's bell tower is your next best option to get those kids climbing. Movement is always useful after too much contemplation.
  • STIBBERT MUSEUM: Incredible arsenals of European, Islamic and Japanese armors collected by Frederick Stibbert. A way to get misbehaved boys back into line. Or totally over-excited. Not in the historic town center, so you'll at last be able to use the public transport included in your Firenze card. 
    • FLORENCE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM - PALEONTOLOGY SECTION: if you loved the Specola museum and don't want to see another fresco or sculpture for the rest of your life, go back to animal bones and dinosaur skulls at the natural history museum. La Specula belongs to the same museum 'chain' looked over by the university of Florence, but is located in a different part of the city. 


    RESOURCES: GUIDE BOOKS, MUSEUM CARDS AND - THANK GOD - AT LAST A WINE SHOP
    • FLORENCE - JUST ADD WATER... is a wonderful children's guide book to the history, monuments and people of the city. In fact it's such an informative and enjoyable book, that my friends asked me whether they could take it home. Not for their kids, but for themselves to read. It confirms my theory that adult books should be written with children in mind

    • Alexandra Korey’s FLORENCE THREE-DAY-ITINERARY is a great introduction to the city. Travelling with kids we didn’t follow the itineraries the way she outlined them, but I continually checked into my kindle for ideas (like the Palazzo Davanzati museum) and background information. The perfect guide if you want to know in a nutshell what the city of the Renaissance is all about. We also followed Alexandra’s advice on ice-cream at Vivoli and lunch at Osteria 4 Leoni and didn’t regret any of our gourmet stints. Last but not least, make sure you read Alexandra's post with tips on approaching art with children. It will secure survival, in case you're planning to do what we did.
    • FLORENCE - A GREAT REASON FOR EVERY SEASON by Communicart. Cruising the city with kids you'll need to know plenty about ice-cream stops and Tuscan sandwich bars, restaurants and pizzerias. This guide makes sure you won’t end up in any of the tourist traps out of sheer desperation (nothing worse than hungry kids!). Adults will also enjoy the great advice on food and artisan shopping. 
    • Accommodation: we were lucky enough to occupy the beautiful apartment of a friend right in the center of Florence (and we managed not to destroy anything this time round!). Silivia Sferlazzo isn't just a generous soul, but also a great Yoga and Alexander Technique teacher, who organizes fun cultural stays in Florence. Spend your mornings looking at Renaissance art and afternoons stretching those tired necks and backs at LOTUS YOGA STUDIO (right next to the Annalena exit of the Boboli gardens) before moving on to Florence by night. Right, that's the way I'd travel, if it wasn't - yes - for those kids of mine.
    • Last but not least: WINE TASTING. No, not with the children. But you want to have that bottle ready to congratulate yourself on the end of another cleverly planned out day of art in Florence. I love the concept of LA BUCA DEL VINO (via Romana 129), a tiny wine shop where you can still get your hand on great Tuscan wine for little money. It's where the locals fill up their flasks. The TUSCAN WINE SCHOOL is a great option if you travel with a granny who's happy to babysit. Dash out for an hour to taste some of Italy's best right next to Ponte Vecchio. 

    GUIDED TOURS 

    • A private guided tour is one of the best ways to steer your family away from the tourist hordes and right into a fun treasure hunt in Renaissance town. My favorite guides have kids themselves and know what they are talking about: Guided Tours with Children in Florence.

    WHERE TO STAY


    • If you don't mind staying out of town, Irene and Paolo's wonderful B&B Val di Rose (half an hour from Florence) is my favorite place to holiday with kids. The location is perfect if you have a car and also want to do day-trips Lucca, Pisa or Siena.  
    • If you want to stay in the city look for a B&B or apartment in the Oltrarno area, which is the less touristy part of town south of the river Arno. Lovely shops and restaurants and car-free piazza Santo Spirito for the kids to run around whilst the parents have a second coffee or aperitif. 


    A final note in regard to the Florence Card. According to the Firenze Card website only children of citizens of the European union can accompany their parents for free. However, in our case nobody ever wanted to see a document (not even when we bought the card at Palazzo Pitti in the first place), so you should be able to walk through with your kids even if you’re not from Europe. If any case, if somebody happens to ask at any of the museums - you'll still be able to skip the lines, but you'll have to buy a child ticket right inside the particular museum (it works the same way if you travel with more than one child per adult card holder). 
    The Firenze card comes together with a little booklet with concise information about the city's sight and museums. I found it very useful - especially the maps - and will hold on to it for future visits. 

    STILL NEED MORE?! I'm done with Florence for the moment, but I'm happy to keep my kids busy in Siena or to take them swimming and playing anywhere in Southern Tuscany

    And in case you wonder, what we did with all the money we saved thanks to the Firenze card? Totally tacky, incredibly overpriced (50 Euro for 20 minutes) and super touristy, they went for a ride in a horse carriage. But hey, after managing to take their parents to something like 12 sights and museums in 3 days - these kids deserved a once-in-a-lifetime treat! 





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