"NOT my idea of a holiday" my sister laughs when I tell her we are bringing the children to visit Florence, Italy. But dragging ourselves around the museums of this beautiful Tuscan city is not the plan. We've researched and prepared, and on a fine May day a few weeks ago we arrived in Firenze with three children under seven - ready to prove that you can still have la dolce vita even while introducing your little ones to a little culture.
This is a place that is famous for its Renaissance art and architecture. In fact, Florence's historic past has helped rank it as one of Forbes' most beautiful city in the world. We don't disagree. We'd explained to our 3, 6 and 7-year old that Florence is filled to the brim with real-life stories of castles, princes and princesses, battles and art. They were hooked. It helped that we had booked ahead for a special tour of the famous Palazzo Vecchio. The Palazzo Vecchio or ‘old palace’ is the town hall of Florence. It is located at the Piazza della Signoria which also boasts the copy of Michaelangelo’s David and the adjacent gallery of statues (Loggia dei Lanzi).
We had a great fun giggling about the fact that most of the statues are naked. In fact, I think that is all they will probably remember. The Palazzo Vecchio offers a ‘Life at Court’ tour, especially for families. It is advisable to book in advance and it lasts an hour and a half. It costs €14 per adult and children under six are free. It also means you beat the queues which can be up to two hours long in some places. Our tour guide, Victoria explained that the castle had belonged to the Medici family - once the ruling class of Florence. They tried on the traditional clothes and even got to explore some of the secret passageways. We all learnt a lot and the best part is that the history was suddenly very relevant for the children.
After the tour, it was definitely time for ice-cream. One of the best pieces of advice when it comes to visiting a city with young children is plenty of stops. We stumbled upon Venchi - which serves some of the best gelato in Italy (in our children's opinion). They especially loved the chocolate fountain inside its golden interior.
Next, it was time for a little carousel fun. We headed up via Roma to the Piazza della Republicca and the children adored the Picci carousel which only costs one euro per go. It is truly beautiful with hand-painted murals and hand-carved horses that has been in the Picci family for generations. They whirled around happily while we consulted our map and planned our Aperol Spritz Pitstop. The reason Florence is a good place to start cultural adventures with children is because all of the attractions are within a short distance from each other. Also, allow time to simply wander and see what you come across. It is all part of the adventure.
Everyone should experience lunch at the Mercato Centrale (central market). It is a huge converted indoor market with hundreds of traders selling typical Tuscan meals. We devoured our pizzas and Burrata (soft cheese) in this very vibrant marketplace and marvelled at some of the colourful fruit and vegetable displays.
Our last stop was the Leonardo da Vinci museum. Located on via dei Conti, this brilliant museum has samples of some of his engineering feats that our little ones adored trying out and isn't too big. There are working models of some of Da Vinci’s earliest attempts at gym equipment, underwater breathing apparatus as well as an intercom system. Our little adventurers pulled the ropes, twirled the loops and rotated the chains, fascinated how one man could have come up with all these brilliant ideas. The flight room was of particular interest to our daughter who claims she wants to be a pilot. There is also an interactive room with Jigsaws of the Mona Lisa, a sample of a Roman bridge that the children can build and the earliest forms of Lego-type wooden bricks.
We were hot and exhausted by the end of the day but the memories we made and the experiences we were able to share with our children were worth it. We also went to Siena and of course, had a few days poolside doing nothing except having waterfights and drinking wine (the kids had a great time too!). I'd highly recommend visiting somewhere like Florence once you plan around the children, don't overdo the museums and prepare to stop a lot. Happy holidays!