Oh, Florence…one of those European cities you could spend weeks in and still not discover all of its art and architectural treasures. Beautiful and romantic, steeped deep in Renaissance history, winding streets full of artifacts to marvel at over and over. Which is why the thought of going there with kids, let alone for just 1 day (we had a tight itinerary), can seem overwhelming. Especially in the month of July, in the height of tourist season. How do you see a city as sophisticated as Florence with your family in 1 day?
How did we see Florence in Day? With the Help of a Tour Guide
For us, the answer came in the form of a tour guide. It was accidental planning, actually – my in-laws had hired a tour guide for themselves, but when they couldn’t go at the last minute, we decided to make use of the money already spent, and switched the regular tour guide to a family-geared guide. And she was great.
I am not a tour guide person – I’ve always traveled to the beat of my own drum – but with kids, a guide can change everything in a foreign country if you have limited time to site see. They know all the ins and outs of what in their city will spark a child’s interest, and they have it down to a science, as ours did for us.
This trip to Florence was much different than in years past sans-kids – we did not see Michelangelo’s David, we did not go to the Uffizi Gallery, and we did not climb the Duomo. But we saw some interesting things we might otherwise not have, and delighted in all of the Italian past times as we should have: food, gelato, piazzas and rambling streets. Below is a list of where we went with our guide. We packed a lot in, thanks to her, and there was no time lost trying to figure out how to get from place A to B.
Where we went and what we did with our Tour Guide
We started off at Florence’s beloved Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, otherwise known as the Duomo. Our guide had us look at the magnificent gothic cathedral, with its glorious dome, from different vantage points outside, but we never went inside. Even with a guide, the lines were crazy, being the middle of July. Just as well, we were contented to stare at this wonder of a building, with its beautiful green, pink and white marble. Its sheer size is impressive to anyone, including the kids. She also, interestingly, took us to the Duomo’s workshop around the corner, where parts of the building, including statues and sculptures, are made. It was fascinating – right before us, as we peered through a set of doors, men were working on parts of the Duomo. Had we not been with our guide, we would have walked right by.
Next we went to nearby Piazza della Signoria, Florence’s most famous square. With mythological statues and fountains, it is a good place for the kids to roam about and see all the outdoor art, as well as watch all the people bustling by. It’s a lively square, and good for some time, but crowded. We soon continued on to the courtyard by the House of Dante, Italy’s famed poet, a site that didn’t cross our minds. Again, we did not go in, but looked around outside, and our guide gave us a quick synopsis of Dante and the house he once lived in. She then showed us right before our feet, set in the ground, a tiny portrait of Dante engraved into the stone, whose artist is a mystery.
Our next stop was the Ponte Vecchio, because who goes to Florence without seeing this famous bridge. A road, marketplace and piazza all in one, it’s a bustling site, plus bridges are always fun for kids no matter where you are! We then headed to lunch and had a delicious meal at a restaurant called Osteria Santo Spirito, nearby the church and piazza of Santo Spirito. Recommended by our guide, it had a charming outdoor patio and fabulous food, and was not touristy at all. My girls declared it the best pasta of the trip.
We walked around after lunch, strolling about leisurely to work off our food, but of course that changed when we stopped at the upscale Gelateria Santa Trinita, across the street from the Ponte Santa Trinita. It came highly recommended, and I must say, it was indeed excellent gelato! Can’t go to Florence without feasting on some gelato. We walked around some more and made our way to Piazza della Repubblica, where there is an antique carousel in the center of the square. Surprisingly, there wasn’t much of a line, and the girls hopped on for a few rides; it was a good way to give them a break from all the walking. Nearby the piazza is the famous Bartolucci wooden toy shop, where you can find Pinocchio toys and souveniers, designed by the Bartolucci family. A perfect stop for kids.
Finally, we made our way to one last site – the Santa Croce in the Oltrarno neighborhood. This grand church, gothic in design like the Duomo, seemed at first like the last place we’d want to go to after a very long day, but it was actually just the way to end the day. We were able to go inside, where it was cool, and even cooler were all the tombs of famous men, including Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli. The art inside is beautiful, and it is considered by many to be a must-visit along with the Duomo. And the tombs certainly made it interesting for the kids, and the adults too.
I want to note that also in the Oltrano neighborhood are the Boboli Gardens. Located behind Pitti Palace, this park is filled with gardens, sculptures, grottos, fountains, open spaces, and wonderful views of Florence. It is a beautiful spot to get away from the crowds and enjoy the outdoors. It is also the perfect place to let the kids run around freely, outside of the confines of the narrow city streets. We did not have time for the Boboli Gardens on this trip, but I highly recommend them for any family visiting Florence.
As I said before, I’m not typically a guide person, but when you have 1 day in a city such as Florence, having a family guide completely took the stress away, and we accomplished way more than we would have had we been on our own. If you’re going to be in Florence for a longer period of time, and prefer to see everything on your own, well then, I would still suggest seeing all of the above!
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