When I won Condé Nast Traveler’s Dream Trip contest three years ago, it was based on my essay about wanting to take my kids to Florence, a city I loved but that I didn’t think of as kid-friendly. Wendy and her WOW List expert Maria Landers from Concierge in Umbria crafted a great two-week trip for us—so great that Florence quickly became our family’s favorite destination, and we’ve now returned to the city every summer since the prize trip.
My advice to families heading to Florence for the first time? Embrace what Florence is known for—namely art, architecture, history and food. Here are my recommendations for how best to do that with kids:
Embrace the Art
Art is everywhere in Florence—in the public squares, in the museums, and even on street signs. Our kids loved the Bargello, Academia, and Uffizi Museums with Elvira, our extraordinary guide arranged by Concierge of Umbria. At each museum we were able to skip the long lines and we had decidedly kid-friendly tours, focusing on lesser-known important pieces, as well as the major works. We never spent more than an hour in any museum, and every stop involved not only seeing the art but also interacting with it. Elvira arranged scavenger hunts and sketching sessions for us around town. After my kids saw David, they went out to patio of the Academia and drew photos of what they thought Goliath looked like. And our private tour through the Uffizi’s Vasari Corridor was extraordinary. Our kids still remember the corridor above their heads every time they cross the Ponte Vecchio.
We’ve also done private art sessions. Context Travel (whose founder, Paul Bennett is another Trusted Travel Expert on Wendy’s WOW List) set up a fresco making session with a Florentine artist. And through Arte al Sole the kids had a sketching class combined with a scavenger hunt through the Boboli Gardens. The best thing about the Arte al Sole class? We, the parents, weren’t involved at all. We dropped the kids off with their art expert Andi and picked them up three hours later at the entrance to the gardens. It’s the only time we’ve separated from the kids in Europe and they loved it!
Embrace the Architecture
My favorite way to get the kids to appreciate the architecture of Florence? Climbing to the top of the Duomo. Buy tickets in advance across the street, get there early and enjoy! And don’t fall for this “private tour” scam.
This year we also added in a scavenger-hunt-with-a-twist through the city using cards from Tava Adventures. The cards are for kids and show the major sites of the city, like the Uffizi, Santa Croce, and the Duomo, along with some games for the kids to play during downtime. But since our kids had been to Florence several times they already knew the information on the cards, so we tested the kids by letting them lead us to each site in the city based on the cards. That challenged their navigation skills and memory (and our patience a little!) but they got us to all of the sites successfully.
The last thing that we do is to make an annual visit to Piazzale Michelangelo above the city. It’s a great place to enjoy the sunset, but we let the kids point out to us all of the elements of the skyline so that they remember, for example, the difference between the churches of San Lorenzo, Santa Croce, and Santa Maria Novella. The Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio, and Ponte Vecchio are all visible from there as well.
Embrace the History
History is obviously intertwined with art and architecture, but there are some excellent museums that are more historical than artistic—like the Bardini, Galileo and Stibbert museums—that our kids really enjoyed. We also had a great visit to the Torrigiani Gardens with Elvira and Maria, which included a tour of the gardens (Europe’s largest private garden) by the owner of the property and a private demonstration by the Bandierai degli Uffizi, one of the most prestigious flag carrying/throwing groups. Such a cool afternoon, all rooted in Florence’s history.
My favorite thing to do in Florence, sometimes with one of the kids and sometimes by myself, is to walk around the city right at sunrise. There are a few locals out but very few tourists, and it’s amazing to have all of the sites virtually to myself. I love standing in the middle of the Piazza della Signoria, closing my eyes and thinking about the Medici, artists, and others who have walked through that exact spot. Florence isn’t particularly enjoyable in the middle of a summer day with hordes of tourists and day-trippers off of cruise ships, but early in the day, as the sun is rising and the city is coming to life, it’s magical.
Embrace the Food
We love the food in Florence. Every year we return to our favorite restaurants and also make a point of trying new places. Even when we don’t love a trattoria we rarely have a bad meal. My primary dining advice to people when traveling to Europe applies in Florence just like it does in Paris or anywhere else: become locals! If you find a place that you love, go back again and again. You’ll find the service is completely different when the staff recognizes you and appreciates that you’ve returned. We typically eat at our favorite casual place three times a summer. The staff remembers us even when we haven’t visited in 11½ months and greets us with handshakes and hugs. We sometimes get a local discount. And this year we were given a bottle of our favorite wine as we were leaving the final time. The restaurant is barely in the top 50 percent of Florentine restaurants on TripAdvisor, but to us it has some of the best food in the city and the service is great. Find your own favorite place and go back again and again! I promise it’s worth it.
Beyond restaurants, we’ve done many cooking classes in and around the city. We’ve learned how to make pizza, gelato and pasta. We’ve made chocolate, tiramisu and salads. We’ve cooked chicken, pork and zucchini flowers using only local ingredients. Every cooking experience has been excellent and our kids have loved every minute. Maria and Concierge in Umbria set up several of the cooking classes for us. We’ve also found others through TripAdvisor—simply search for Florence, and then go to Things to Do and choose Classes and Workshops and then Cooking Classes in the menu on the left (here’s my full guide on how to use TripAdvisor to find great things to do). Our last class was extraordinary, through Let’s Cook with Jacopo and Anna, but there are a lot of highly-ranked classes.
Overall, we’ve found Florence to be extraordinarily kid-friendly, but it’s kid-friendly because we’ve gone out of our way to find family-friendly guides who make the art and history of Florence come alive, and we’ve made walking around and sightseeing highly interactive. Food is no longer something to order; it’s something to learn how to make, and then to build on that when we get home. Take your kids to Florence! But do it right.
Meet our writer
Eric Stoen, the founder of Travel Babbo, travels around the world constantly with his three kids. Wendy met him when he won Condé Nast Traveler’s Dream Trip Contest a few years ago and was so impressed with his travel savvy that she invited him to contribute to WendyPerrin.com.