Navigating the crowded streets of Florence with kids in can be a challenge for families traveling to this famous Renaissance city. With careful planning, however, Florence has much to offer curious little minds in an environment in which museums and sites are increasingly providing unique exhibits and educational programs designed just for children.
When staying in the city during peak months such as the summer, the Oltrarno district just across the river from the Ponte Vecchio can be much less crowded and offers a variety of delicious less-touristy dining choices, as well as convenient supermarkets. The Oltrarno is also much easier to access by car than many of the neighborhoods across the river with very restricted traffic limitations, although parking is expensive. Nearby must-see sites with kids include the Boboli Gardens at Palazzo Pitti, with plenty of wide open space for the little ones to run around and let their imaginations fly, these legendary gardens are also the perfect place for a picnic (there is a supermarket directly across the street). During the summer, my daughters and I like to peek in the courtyard of Palazzo Pitti on our way home from dinner to catch a glimpse of the musical performances produced here. Only after stopping first at our favorite Gelateria Santa Trinità directly across from the Ponte Santa Trinità — try the dark chocolate (fondente).
Plan your itinerary in the city deliberately, taking care not too pack too much in. Strolling through the side streets can be just as enjoyable as shuffling through the halls of the Uffizi. If you do plan to visit the Uffizi Museum with kids, purchase your tickets well in advance, and browse through their collection online with your children before your visit so that they are familiar with some of the masterpieces they will be seeing. Rather than attempting to view every item in every room, stop to admire and chat with the kids about certain select pieces. The Arte al Sole Florence Art Workshops for Kids provide a fun interactive way for kids to get to know the local art and architecture of the city on their own level.
Florence’s Children’s Museum at the Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria next to the Uffizi brings the Renaissance city to life for kids with demonstrations of how the Medici lived and ruled. Exhibits at the Palazzo Strozzi Museum are explicitly designed to be family friendly with an educational program for children in English that guides them through its current exhibit. The Institute and Museum of Science in Piazza dei Giudicci also has appealing exhibits for kids, particularly the many instruments and personal items related to Galileo.
Of course, no visit to Florence is complete without visiting some of the city’s treasured churches and monasteries to marvel at both their architecture and the masterpieces within. Try telling your children the story of the competitions for the both the construction of the Cathedral dome and the Golden Doors on the Baptistery, so that when you visit in person, the stage is set for them to comprehend the genius of these creations. Pippo the Fool by Tracey Fern and other great kids’ books help to bring the story of Brunelleschi’s Dome to life. I also suggest visiting the cloister and church at San Marco in Piazza San Marco, where children can view iconic works in the setting they were intended for, such as Fra Angelico’s Annunciation. San Marco is also a brilliant example of the alignment of art and architecture that ultimately came to define the city as a hallmark of its glory.