When I was little, I would lie awake at night concocting dream vacations (clearly nothing has changed). Though twenty years ago, those dreams were much simpler. Quality car snacks, a hotel pool, and a bedtime-free week was my idea of the perfect vacay. I can definitively say these childhood fantasies never involved losing track of time at the Uffizi, sipping a cappuccino on a sunny Italian terrace, or a fling with a Ferragamo heir. For these very reasons many would assume that Florence is not the city to bring the babies.
Well, while Meg and I do not yet have children (insert your sigh of relief here), we know people who do. Not just people, two of the best mommies you’ll find in Florence – Michelle Tarnopolsky, blogger behind one of our favorite Monday-morning reads – Maple Leaf Mama, and Alexandra Lawrence, Editor-at-Large for The Florentine and art-historical tour guide. These lovely ladies each have a beautiful bambino of their own that they have spent the last several years toting around the cobblestone streets. After chatting with them about their boys’ favorite pass times, we’ve whipped up a playbook for capitalizing on kid-friendly Florence.
Both Michelle and Alexandra swear by ludoteche for a quick fix for a rainy day or mid-errand energy release. Ludoteche are essentially magical places (similar to a rec center) begging your kids to release all that pent-up energy on toys, games, and excessive room to run and play. The best part? Ludoteche are completely free, even for visitors. Simply fill out a small form when checking in, and kick back to watch your kiddo kickstart.
Ludoteche are often closed Saturday afternoons, so keep an eye on the hours. For more info on ludoteche and to find one near you, check out Alexandra’s article in The Florentine.
You can barely convince your friends to step foot in a museum; how can you expect to get your kid in the door without a full-fledged meltdown? Well, let’s start by cheering you up – all museums, city and state, are FREE for children (18 and under) of all nationalities. Museums would naturally prefer that you pay, so this is rarely advertised.
Now that you’re happy, how will you convince the little one? Take a tip from Alexandra, and stick to those museums that are a bit less heavy with art and crowds.
- Archeological Museum: Chock-full of mummies and mythical creatures, the Archeological Museum is a favorite of Alexandra’s 4-year-old. Free for him and only 4 euro for her, the massive museum makes for a cost-efficient morning. Check on open days and hours here.
- Palazzo Davanzati: This last remaining tower house of the medieval Florence is essentially a massive doll house. With a ticket price maxing out at 2 euro for adults, I think you can forgo one gelato (gasp! thank goodness I don’t have kids). Hours get a little wonky at Davanzati so make sure to check here before planning your visit.
- Museum and Church of Orsanmichele: The former grain market-turned-church is a treat for all ages. Make sure to point out the grain chutes in the sanctuary on the lower level. Then, climb climb climb up to the museum. If your kids aren’t into art (whose are?) allow them to indulge in some views of Florence that only the pigeons get to see. For a self-guided tour check out Meg’s fact-filled post.
- Museum of Natural History, Geology, and Paleontology: Dinosaurs. Enough said. As Alexandra notes, in true Italian form, what the website lacks in details about hours, exhibits, and so forth, it makes up for in rules.
Consider the gardens of Florence the big backyards of every kid in town. With little green space to frolic in the city center, these sprawling giardini draw parents and their stir-crazy children like moths.
- Boboli: The obvious favorite in the city center is Boboli. The private backyard for those spoiled little Medici is now open to your children as well. With winding mazes of foliage, tourists, college students lounging, and acres of property, make sure to keep an eye on the tikes.
- The Rose and Iris Gardens: Near Piazzale Michelangelo are these delightful little gardens for both you and your child to enjoy free of charge.
- Medici Villas: A FFF favorite is the network of Medici Villas just outside of Florence proper. Off most tourists’ radars, you’re likely to have these spaces all to yourself. Just you, your little person, and the gardens of the dukes! Check out our Villa Crawl for our favorite places to frolic.
Playgrounds are the local watering hole for children of all nationalities. They are where relationships begin, dramatically end, and then pick back up again. Fights can break out over irrational issues at any moment and hysterical tears can turn to hysterical laughter in mere seconds. Playgrounds are where we realize that children are really just tiny drunk people. But what can we say, they’re a staple. And just because you’re in Italy doesn’t mean you need to deprive your child of teeter-totters and underdog pushes on the swing.
- Santa Rosa: Michelle recommends Santa Rosa, along the Arno, for a great central playground.
- Piazza de’Azeglio: This park in the Sant’ Ambrogio neighborhood offers a small soccer field, basketball hoops, a jungle gym and even a carousel. Alexandra takes advantage of grabbing a cheap lunch on the go at the Mercato Sant’ Ambrogio, then finds a sunny bench at the park and hosts a picnic with her little guy.
- The Cascine Park: The Cascine is essentially the Central Park of Florence. Just west of the city center, the Cascine sprawls along the Arno. With acres of green space, multiple jungle gyms, trails, festivals, fairs, a pool and even a small zoo, the Cascine is the perfect place for the kids to run off the sugar rush from an afternoon gelato.
Of course it’s good to make playtime educational! Consider heading over to Michelle’s favorite library, English Lending Library of Florence, in the basement of the American Church. With an extensive book and DVD collection, Michelle is never lost for what to do during downtime with her little man.
If you haven’t noticed, Meg and I are pretty big cheerleaders of Palazzo Strozzi and their efforts to engage the community in the arts. Strozzi never fails to include the little ones when it comes to their exhibits and shows. We recommend visiting Thursday nights when the Strozzina is both free and open late. Michelle notes that they also offer workshops for kids on Saturday mornings. For programming, click here.
Perhaps Michelle and Alexandra’s most adorable tip is to take a trip on the Tram! The Tramvia currently only has one line that runs between the Santa Maria Novella Train Station and Scandicci. As children ride free with adults, why not go for an afternoon spin? With it’s train-like qualities, Michelle and Alexandra’s boys love the simple pleasure of a good tram ride. As Alexandra’s son reminds us, often times the journey is better than the destination (unless of course you’re headed to the Cascine, then you’re probably in for something awesome).
Sometimes all a kid really needs is space. The many sprawling piazzas of Florence offer just that, and (bonus!) they can be found around every corner. Alexandra’s two favorite running piazze for her son are Piazza Santissima Annunziata and Piazza Santo Spirito. SS. Annunziata offers two “monster” fountains, a horse statue, and light traffic. Alexandra also notes that the low stairs on either side of the piazza are perfect for a toddler to safely explore.
With a dash of creativity you can concoct fun games to entertain your children when playing in piazzas. For example, ask them to count the lions in Piazza della Signoria (that’ll keep them occupied for hours, we promise) or the bees on the equestrian statue in Piazza SS. Annunziata.
Last but not least, Meg and I couldn’t possibly forget the carousel in Piazza della Repubblica. With rumors that this iconic carousel may not be around much longer, we encourage as many of you to enjoy it as possible! For only €1.50, your little ones will have an unforgettable ride , and you’re sure to snag some timeless photos.
Thanks to Alexandra and Michelle for spilling the beans that Florence actually IS a kid-friendly city. And better yet, the fresh, eager eyes of a child may just remind you of what an awe-inspiring place Florence really is. With your arsenal locked and loaded, get out there to run the piazzas, love the ludoteche, and tackle the tram. Oh, and bring your little one, too.
…And remember, you never have to quit being a kid. We sure haven’t just yet.