For our first post-Covid international trip as a family, we opted to spend the better part of a week in Florence, Italy. Italy is the place I daydreamed about the most when travel wasn’t possible during the pandemic and Florence is a part of the country I’d never been to, so it was a natural choice. We spent five full days there with our four year old, but used one of those days for a day trip to an agriturismo in the Tuscan countryside for a pasta making class (more on this soon – it was a major highlight for all of us!), so we had four days to spend in Florence itself. Here’s how we broke down our time, hitting the major tourist highlights while traveling at a kid-friendly pace.
Day 1: Walking around, Museo Galileo, Piazza della Repubblica
We started our first full day in Florence with a visit to the Museo Galileo, which has a collection of Galileo’s scientific instruments (and some of his preserved fingers, for the less squeamish). This museum went over my 4 year old’s head, but would be great for older kids with an interest in science. In addition to the science stuff, this museum has really nice views of the Arno River and the south bank.
After leaving the museum we went for a walk through the Uffizi courtyard along the Arno River to the famous Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence, which today is known for being filled with little shops.
In the midst of all that walking, we stumbled upon Gelateria dei Neri, which ended up being our favorite of all the gelato shops we tried in Florence. We would return approximately twice a day every day for the rest of our trip. Dark chocolate + salted caramel is the best combination.
In the afternoon, we explored Piazza della Signoria, which is home to the Palazzo Vecchio (Florence’s town hall), before heading over the Piazza della Repubblica to ride on the carousel there.
Day 2: The David and Duomo Climb
Our second day in Florence we were up early for a guided tour of the Accademia Gallery, home to Michaelangelo’s David. Our walk to the gallery took us past the Duomo (Florence’s main cathedral, officially the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore) for the first time. My 4 year old loved chasing the pigeons around the cathedral area. I’m pretty sure it was up there with the gelato as one of her favorite things about Florence.
I’m not a big art person, but the David was simply incredible to see in person. Photos do not it justice. That said, a guided tour of the Accademia probably wasn’t necessary. The David is right there, and there isn’t much else to see. This is not a knock on our guide, who was great, but it just felt like sort of a waste of money when it was impossible to miss the main attraction. A guided tour is much more necessary for the massive Uffizi Gallery.
That afternoon, my husband and preschooler took it easy at the hotel while I climbed the Duomo dome. This ticket was the only thing I purchased in advance for our trip and am glad I did because even in low season they do sell out.
As you climb, you can admire the frescoes on the dome’s ceiling as well as the view outside from little windows that pop up here and there.
The real treat for me, however, was the views from the top. You can see pretty much the whole city of Florence, plus into the gorgeous Tuscan countryside.
Day 3: Uffizi Gallery, Duomo Bell Tower, Rose Garden and Piazza Michealangelo
We started our third day with a guided tour of the Uffizi Gallery. Unlike at the Accademia, a tour felt very necessary here because the museum is so big. The Uffizi has some amazing pieces like Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (which is right there, not behind glass like the Mona Lisa) and the architecture and design of the museum is incredible as well.
There are also really nice views of the Ponte Vecchio and the Duomo from the Uffizi.
After leaving the Uffizi, I climbed the bell tower at the Duomo (this is included with the basic ticket). This is the “easier” climb although I actually found it more exhausting than the dome climb, probably because it was the second day in a row of the Duomo stairmaster for me. The views from the top are splendid, and you get to see the iconic red dome as well as the rest of Florence. If you can only do one climb, I would actually recommend the bell tower for the view of the dome.
In the late afternoon, we headed across the Arno River to Piazza Michealangelo, which has a reputation as a fabulous place to watch the sunset. Unfortunately, it was cloudy that day so no sunset, but it was still a great place for panoramic views of Florence.
There’s a rose garden right next to this piazza. The roses weren’t blooming yet, but we spotted some beautiful purple irises (my favorite flower).
Day 4: Gelato making and revisiting favorite places
A fourth full day in Florence probably wasn’t strictly necessary. We debated using this day for another day trip out of the city, but decided to just spend a relaxed day walking around town and revisiting some things we’d done before. Given the choice between being over-scheduled and under-scheduled, I always choose underscheduled, especially with kids and especially in Italy, where simply sitting in a piazza with gelato is bliss.
We spent the morning doing a gelato making class. This class was a bit of a letdown (it wasn’t as kid-friendly as advertised, and the gelato flavor they had us make was not a favorite for any of us), but it ended with us all eating a bunch of homemade gelato (they had some flavors we all liked in the freezer), so I can’t complain too much. Also, the instructor confirmed that Gelateria dei Neri is the best gelato in town, which was a nice validation of my layman’s assessment.
After that, we spent the rest of the day just walking around Florence, soaking up our last day in this beautiful city and revisiting the carousel in Piazza della Repubblica.
Where we ate: Food is always a highlight of travel for me, and never morseo than in Italy. But kids require flexibility and so my days of meticulously planning every meal and making reservations at sought after restaurants are behind me, or at least temporarily paused. Fortunately we had no problem finding great restaurants to eat at on short notice (caveat that we visited in March, which is still low season). If you have a picky eater, know that pretty much any restaurant in Italy will serve you plain pasta if you ask, even if it’s not on the menu.
My favorite meal in Florence was Osteria Pastella, a place that is famous for their flambé cheesewheel pasta. Of course I had to order their signature dish, which you can watch them make. I opted for the black truffle version and it was stupendous. The meals come with a complimentary flute of Prosecco, a nice touch.
We also loved Auditore, a restaurant near Piazza della Signoria, which was perfect for our whole family because our kiddo could get pizza and the adults could get pasta. I loved the pasta dishes I had here.
We also enjoyed the pizza at Pizza Napoli 1955. It was heart-shaped, which was a big hit with the little one.
We had a great meal at Osteria del Borgo, where we tried a couple of new-to-us dishes: Florentine steak and gnocchi gnudi, which are basically spinach ricotta dumplings without the pasta wrapper (with truffles of course, because I never say no to truffles).
Where we stayed: San Firenze Suites, which was perfectly located in central Florence, on a quiet street off Piazza della Signoria, within about half a mile of everything we wanted to do (except the gelato making class, which was outside of the city center). We loved this hotel! We didn’t have a “suite” in the American sense with two separate rooms, but our oversized room with a sofa bed was perfect for our family of three, breakfast was great (and delivered free of charge to our room because of Covid) and we even had a glimpse of the Duomo from our room.
Florence quickly became one of favorite cities and in my opinion it’s one of the very best European cities to visit with little kids. The city center is so compact that little legs won’t have to walk far, Italian food is incredibly kid-friendly (hello, pizza, pasta and gelato) and there’s enough to keep adults interested without feeling like you’re missing out due to the slower pace of travel that kids necessitate. I can’t wait to come back to Tuscany again some day.