A fun family day in Florence

Sometimes it's easy to dismiss the great cities as just too much like hard work when it comes to little travellers, but guest writer Richard Harrison discovered that there's a lot of pleasure to be had if you just let the children take the lead...

“Having never visited Florence before June this year, I believed it was a place for romantic walks, fine Italian food and wine, and cultural enrichment: ideal for couples, not families. But wandering the city’s streets one day this summer, seeing some great art, and relaxing over meals and drinks only partly confirmed my preconceptions. My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed Florence’s delights; and so did our two young children (aged seven and five)!

Here’s how we managed to make a day out in Florence fun for everyone.

 

Start at “Il Duomo”

"The magnificent Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore – familiarly known as “Il Duomo” – dominates the centre of Florence. Walking through the streets and piazzas surrounding the city’s heart, the building keeps forcing its way into sight. Catch a glimpse of the curving segments of its marvellous, red-tiled dome. Or take in the green, pink and white marble bricks of the cathedral’s walls. And when you’re closer still, be awed by this building’s sheer size and the craftsmanship on display.

After joining the queue at 8am and waiting an hour (it’s much longer later on), all four of us climbed the 463 steps to the top of the dome. There’s no lift, so you’ll need to be reasonably fit – and ready for the double reward near the summit. The first is a close-up view of the frescoes inside the enormous dome, and the second is the stunning view from the viewing platform around its exterior. Our children loved having this unique perspective of the city and the hills beyond.

Let your kids be the tour guides

"The size of “Il Duomo” makes it a handy reference point, so we had the confidence to let the children lead our explorations once we were back on the ground. We kept a close eye on the traffic (some, but not all, of the centre is pedestrianised) as they decided whether to go right or left at each junction. They relished this responsibility and felt a sense of achievement when seeing the Duomo re-appear after turning a few corners.

The children helped us find an antique carousel (on Piazza della Repubblica) and a music school where we could overhear students practising. We also found a private art gallery full of interesting abstract sculptures, and at least two artisan ice-cream shops (signposted “artigianale”). These unobtrusive booths let us taste exotic – and delicious – flavours: the pineapple and peanut butter, and chocolate and liquorice, were our kids’ favourites!

Enjoy the food, glorious food at the Mercato Centrale 

"Later, we headed to the nearby two-storey market that’s full of wonderful sights and mouth-watering delights. Our two found the ground floor too pungent, thanks mainly to the array of cheese stalls, although the aroma (and taste) of fresh strawberries and other summer fruits helped redress the balance.

Upstairs, there’s a food hall where a range of specialists (positioned around a central dining area) create their fresh produce for eating in or taking away. We stopped for delicious pizza, juices and coffee before going back downstairs – leaving with fruit to sustain us for the afternoon and, for the evening meal back at base, some fresh pasta and vegetables.

See David, without queuing for hours

"Next stop, the Accademia Gallery... well, next door actually. Rather than lining up to see Michaelangelo’s marble marvel, we ambled to the nearby Palazzo Vecchio and admired the full-size replica that stands outside. The Fountain of Neptune is in the square too, along with many other statues. 

This gave us time to visit the much quieter Palazzo Strozzi for an exhibition of work by Kandinsky, Pollock and other 20th-century artists. The added advantage was that admission included a “family pack” crammed with child-friendly information and activities. The pack featured questions for each room of the gallery, such as “Which painting is the most colourful?” and “Which are the smallest and largest artworks?” Paper and coloured pencils were also included, so that the children could copy the art they saw – or use it to inspire their own creativity. There was even a piece of twisted wire with felt cut-outs (with a small hole in each) to encourage the children to make their own hanging mobile in the style of the Alexander Calder works on display. So, having hoped to grab 30 minutes of culture (at most), my wife and I were delighted that we were able to stay for three hours while the children remained so absorbed.

As the evening approached, we decided to head “home” rather than eat out again in one of the city’s restaurants. After all, we had to prepare our Mercato-inspired meal... and celebrate keeping two children happy for a day in Florence."