Updated: Feb 11, 2021
Florence . . . art, epic poetry, cibo tuscana, the Medici . . . do I need to say anything more?
This post is about our 2 ½ days in Florence (and a stop in Fiesole) and while it was a bit rushed, it’s what we had and was totally doable without burning our kids out on too many museums, churches, and historical sites.
Our time here was part of a 5-day adventure that included Venice as well (deserving of its own post coming soon). It is the 3rd post in a multi-part series on our travels through Italy during the summer of 2019, when we set up a home base in a small town outside Rome for a language and cultural immersion experience, interspersed with travels throughout la bella Italia:
- Part 3: When you only have 2 1/2 days in Florence and Your Son’s Name is Dante (what you're reading now!)
- Part 4: Two kids, a stroller, and 2 1/2 days in Venice
- Part 5: A quick escape up the central Italian Coast – Grosetto & Pisa (and why not Cinque Terre with two small children)
- Part 6: Napoli, Capri, and Pompei in 3 Days (2.5 if you have to)
- Part 7: All the hidden gems you never thought to see and are so much more authentic than the usual tourist attractions (Tarano, Tropea, Gargano/Peschici, Forme, Ortolano)
- Part 8: Logistics when traveling through Italy (internet/phone, transportation in and between cities, places to stay, etc.)
What follows is our Florence itinerary, taking into account our interests, historic sites, the children’s interests, plenty of gelato, and locally recommended food (a few close friends are from here and even do tours, so they know the city well!). Obviously, this itinerary can be stretched out over more days AND for the art aficionados, it doesn’t include some of the major art centers only because that’s too much for the kids. Adjust accordingly and enjoy!
While this itinerary is kid-friendly, it is by no means a with-kids-only one. The few sites we chose to explore in detail are incredible experiences no matter your age!
We also mention a few additional eateries to the ones we went to – there’s only so many times in a day you can eat and we got too many local recommendations to try them all. So, you’ll find all the recommendations – from locals ONLY – below!
IMPORTANT NOTE: as of the date of publication, all of the museums and historic sites with admission are closed due to COVID restrictions. Also, some of the restaurants are open, offering take-out or delivery. I will adjust this note as the situation changes. Hopefully, you can still use this post as a guide to planning your visit for when restrictions lift!
The Basic Itinerary
Here’s a quick look at the plans we had over the 2 ½ days in Firenze:
Arrive at 10am (from Rome by Trenitalia) at the train station di la Piazza di Santa Maria Novella
Scenic slow-walk through the historic center: Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, Catedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (and Il Duomo), Ponte Vecchio, and to drop our belongings off at our AirBnB just on the other side of the bridge
Lunch to-go from All’antico Vinaio to eat at the Piazza della Signoria in front of the Palazzo Vecchio
Piazzale delle Uffizi
Museo di Galileo
Dinner at Trattoria La Casalinga
Gelato at the Piazza Dei Pitti
Piazzale Michelangelo for night views of the city and. . . Ecuadorian Pan Flute music!?!
Basilica di Santa Croce – with entry and audio tour
Lunch at Demetra Hostaria (Yes, Air Conditioning!)
Afternoon in Fiesole – beautiful views of Florence, Etruscan ruins, an Aperitivo with a friend
Dinner at Ristorante La Spada
La Casa di Dante Alighieri
Basilica di San Lorenzo (Cappelle Medicee)
Train to Venice (Trenitalia)
To be perfectly honest, 2 ½ days is NOT enough to really see Florence. To see the city, yes. To see the city and a few museums, yes. To see even 1% of the art and architecture from the inside? NOT AT ALL.
As you can see from the itinerary above, we didn’t even plan on seeing the inside of the Duomo or Palazzo Pitti or the Galeria of the Uffizi, which are such iconic sites. We just knew that it would be too much for the kids – they’d be too “museumed” out.
AND, our naïve hopes to at least see some art at the Basilica di San Lorenzo (Cappelle Medicee), as well as just grab some scrumptious foods at the Mercato Centrale on the way to the train station, fell to the wayside as we realized we tried to squeeze too much into the short time we were there, given the heat, the kids' bandwidth, and Marino’s jet lag (he arrived the night before we caught the train to Florence).
If we could have gotten one more afternoon, I would have really wanted to go to the Mercato Centrale, with so much amazing Florentine street food to choose from. Still, we got to try some of the best anyway, as you can read more about below!
Ultimately, how much time you need to get your fill of Florence depends on your situation. If you’re not with kids, then you can probably do with the 2 ½ days. If you are with kids, try to give yourself even one extra night (even if you catch a super early train or flight to your next destination on the following day, just have the afternoon and evening of the third day really helps).
Alternatively, don’t explore the Tuscan countryside, as we did when we went to Fiesole. That wasn’t an option for us because there was no way our kids were NOT going to hang out with Marco in his home town AND we also got to see Etruscan ruins and a beautiful view of Florence from the Convento di San Domenico. There’s a delicious ice cream shop there too, right off the main piazza (see below for more details).
A Quick Note on Accommodations
We loved our AirBnB – loved! It was just one block from Ponte Vecchio and the city center AND there was a Coop store just around the corner, where we stocked up on breakfast foods, snacks, and drinking water. So the location was VERY convenient.
It had previously been an Abbey with a beautiful, grand iron door entrance that riders on horseback would enter through. The walls were so thick, you didn’t even need A/C, just some ventilation. It was magical.
Even if you’re not interested in this exact spot, the general location was very convenient and reasonably priced (see the map above for the general location). If you’re in Florence for such a short period like us, you don’t want to be using your limited time and the kids’ limited bandwidth on trekking to and from all the sites. It is true that the city is small and so, anywhere in the areas below is close enough, if budget is really a challenge. If not, just stay as close to the city and the Arno as possible – makes for wonderful strolls to and from your accommodations!
Tourist Sites – Why We Chose What We Chose
We were very intentional with the museums/sites we chose to see. The whole 5-day trip was going to be very intense with 2 ½ days in Florence and 2 ½ days in Venice, followed by the first intense day of our 3-day Rome itinerary. So, we knew we’d need to pick sites that would really engage our kids.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that our son’s name is Dante – like Dante Alighieri. . . and Florence is Dante Alighieri’s home town. So, needless to say, Dante was very stoked to do anything related to Dante. Also, both of our children are very interested in everything related to science so we couldn’t go wrong there either.
That meant that we HAD to do to Dante’s house and the Galileo museum seemed another exciting spot for the children – little did we know how many wonders it would have for us adults as well. The Basilica di Santa Croce also became a must-see (as I explain in more detail below). Given our short time in the city, we decided that three sites would be more than enough for us in Florence. Everything else, we would have to see from the outside or save for another time.
Here are my thoughts on these three sites and why I think they are fantastic places to visit and explore whether or not you are with kids:
Via Santa Margherita, 1
No ticket pre-purchase required
Not only do you learn everything about Dante Alighieri and his exile, but you also get SO MUCH information on the city, the politics, its internal conflicts, the architecture (did you know that the houses were built like towers – 1-2 rooms wide and 3-4 stories high because of the constantly-warring factions and families?).
It's the perfect size for children, even allowing them the opportunity to take in some of the details and descriptions. Without children, you can dive deep into the realities of old Florentian life. You learn so much about what life was like during Dante’s time and actually get to walk through it as you explore the different rooms. I highly recommend it to everyone, even if you don’t have a family member named Dante!
And if you had any doubt how impactful this could be on someone as young as a 6-year-old (excused some of the dizziness, a 6-year-old took this):
The gift shop also has some amazing finds – we got Dante’s Divine Comedy written for children (you have to purchase Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise separately. I know, strange content to give a child but, after touring the house and learning about the warring families, it really opened the question of the subjectivity of what we imagine the afterlife to be (or not be) – questions that have already come up before in our family and this just enriched that conversation.
By the way, right around the corner, you can find the church of Santa Margherita dei Cerchi, the very same church that Dante and his secret love Beatrice would meet at (and yes, our Florentine friends suggested we name Leila Beatrice. . .), that Dante supposedly married into the Donati family in, and that houses Beatrice’s family tomb. If you want, you can pass by the front of it too but be mindful that it is an active church and does not welcome unnecessary tourist interruption. Also, this is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Florence and worth wandering a bit to take in its heritage.
Piazza dei Giudici, 1
No ticket pre-purchase required
Breathtaking! People, Galileo is the father of observational astronomy, of modern physics, of the scientific method!! How could it not be incredible!?!
From an interactive space where you can play with the scientific concepts Galileo formulated, to learning about his revolutionary telescope and timing mechanisms, to the map and globe rooms, this place houses some of the most impactful mechanisms in modern science.
We were also fortunate to see a special exhibit of Da Vinci’s books, which included an original, hand-copied, hand-painted copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy. And who wouldn’t want to glimpse into the book shelves of Da Vinci?
Piazza di Santa Croce, 16 (you can’t miss it)
Prepurchase suggested - children under 18 free with family pass (children 11 and under free otherwise)
Before going into the ‘glories’ you will find there, just know that I would suggest pre-purchasing the tickets and the audio-tour gives incredible insights into the people buried there, the history, the architecture and everything in-between. When we went, there weren’t that many people there but the line really depends on the day and time. So, to be safe, you can pre-purchase.
Ok, can I say, WOW!!!! In my humble opinion, I would pick this place over Il Duomo any day – the architecture, the art, and the tombs it holds are a testament to the finest of Italian creation. Scroll to the Right in the series below.
You can find here the architecture of Brunelleschi, sculpture of Donatello, and frescoes of Giotto (said to be inspiration to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel). The tombs! The tombs! Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo, Dante’s tomb (but not bones), Marconi (the radio), Rossini (composer), Ghiberti (bronzesmith), and even a statue of Florence Nightingale.
This place is a treasure trove and even your young’uns can appreciate how incredible this place is. Obviously, it helps to introduce them to some of the people buried here before coming – e.g. we took the kids to the Galileo museum before coming, and we already knew about Dante and Michelangelo. That was enough to hook Dante (age 6 at the time) and the audio tour did the rest.
Anyway, it’s true that we didn’t see the inside of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. With the crowds, line, heat, and challenges to taking in its beauty from the outside (there really isn't much of a piazza so you're too close to really take it all in together - see the pictures below), I’d pick Santa Croce over Santa Maria del Fiore any time, if I have to, which we had to with the limited time in Florence that we had.
This is one of two great spots to get a view of the whole city of Florence, the other being Fort Belvedere.
We happened to find ourselves closer to the Piazzale and it turned out to be a beautiful (and steep) walk up a beautiful set of steps amidst the trees and bushes to the top. You get the most amazing views up here with the three main churches illuminated and standing out against the rest of the city.
We also were pleasantly surprised to find street performers and vendors up there – and it made for an interesting experience to look out over this iconic Italian city to the sounds of Ecuadorian pan flute. It was a nice end to a busy day. There was enough space for the kids to run around freely and just enjoy the quiet.
I highly recommend you go up to one of these sites to get some city views.
Afternoon Trip to Fiesole
I’m so glad our friend Marco happened to be visiting family while we were in Florence because we might not otherwise have done this afternoon trip, thinking to squeeze one more activity into our Florence itinerary instead.
It was wonderful! A quick 20-minute bus ride (Line 7 near the train station) with views of the Tuscan countryside.
Fiesole is built on a hill and so, almost anywhere you wander, you’ll be able to look out and see views of surrounding orchards, farms, and all the colors of Tuscany.
A lovely spot to explore is the Convento San Francesco, just off the main plaza on a bit of a steep hill, which dates back to the 1300s. I am always fascinated by convents and the glimpse you get into the life of the monks or nuns there. Plus, it has beautiful views of Florence as well. So, if you do take the trip, I highly recommend coming here.
Another awesome site is the archeological area and museum in Fiesole. You can see both Roman and Etruscan ruins (the Etruscans were conquered by the Romans in the 4th century B.C.E.). You’ll find an Etruscan wall, Roman amphitheater, and a museum filled with artifacts. We had made a plan to hang out with our friend and did not go in, but we took a walk around the area and could see into the ruins.
Instead, our friend took us around the city and to the coolest, most unasuming Etruscan ruins we could imagine because the kids could climb all over, in, around, and through them! Dante got to stand on a stone structure that was from the 4th century B.C.E.!!!!
After that, it was back to the main plaza for a gelato for the kids and aperitivo for the adults, after which we made it back to Florence, enjoying the sun setting over the Tuscan countryside on our way back. Here's our walking route from the Convent, to the Etruscan ruins (passing by the main archeological site) and back to the main piazza. Note that we entered the Convent from Via San Francesco and then crossed through the grounds to find a small dirt spiraling road to get us to Via B. M. Bacci:
My thoughts for all of you? If you want to see something other than the main tourist cities, if you have the time given everything you want to see in Florence, Fiesole is definitely a great place to come visit. I’m glad we did it and even though we did miss some of the sites in Florence, it was totally worth it and we’d totally do it again, even if we weren’t coming to visit a friend.
Locally Recommended Food and Restaurants
Florence has such an incredible selection of foods that pasta doesn’t even make it on my list for this city (you can even get good pappardelle al cinghiale (wild boar sauce) in other places and save your stomach space for the treats that only Florence can give).
After a quick summary of some of the non-pasta specialties you MUST try in this city, I’ll list off all the places we ate at (and what we were told to order), as well as the others that were recommended and we simply didn’t have time to try.
Can I just say that I LOVE that most of the typical Florentine foods are poor man’s foods – from making stale bread taste amazing, to reinventing innards into main courses, to using the toughest cuts of beef, Florentine’s know how to make amazing food, period!
So, without further ado, the must-try Florentine foods:
Bistecca alla Fiorentina: the best steak you’ll ever have. A massive, thick piece of meat that has to be bloody on the inside. It’s hard to eat it all by yourself, especially if you’re hoping to try a few dishes.
Panzanella: a typical Tuscan poor-man’s food meant to use up stale bread, this is a refreshing salad made of bread, tomato, onion, olive oil and vinegar.
Ribollita: another Tuscan poor man’s food, it’s a hearty potage again meant to use up stale bread, cannellini beans, lacinato kale, cabbage, and inexpensive vegetables such as carrot, beans, chard, celery, potatoes, and onion.
Lampredotto: Ok, just close your eyes and eat it. Get over your food wooziness. Yes, it’s cow stomach and, it’s amazing. Just do it. You’ll regret not doing it. It is generally slow-cooked with tomato, onion, parsley, and celery and traditionally served on a crunchy bun, often also soaked in the broth. It is a Florentine specialty and popular street food. NOTE: trippa (tripe) is also a great dish but can be found in other places too. So, if you have limited time and meals here, try trippa somewhere else.
Peposo: Florentines make a hearty stew from the toughest cuts of the cow, wine, and black peppercorns that is simply out of this world!
Porchetta: While not only found in Tuscany (Lazio also boasts a fantastic porchetta, which we got home-delivered while at our home base during our summer stay in Tarano), Tuscan porchetta is one of the best! Actually, some Italian friends here in Los Angeles started a porchetta shop and while they were perfecting the recipe, they experimented with it in our kitchen. . . so we got SO MUCH porchetta – and the process is amazing – the herbs that go in there, the green sauce, tying it all together, the skin crisping on the outside, the 8+ hours of slow roasting – my goodness (I don’t even sound like someone moving their family towards veganism right now!). It’s typically eaten in a sandwich with schiacciata bread – don’t ask for anything extra – it’s perfect the way it is, with the green sauce and something spicy, if you want!
Places to Eat
All’antico Vinaio – Legendary Sandwich Shop
Via dei Neri 65,74,76,78
You can easily share these giant sandwiches between two of you. Or, just get a few choices and share them between the lot of you and stuff yourselves silly. They’re made with Florence’s scchiacciata – a delicious, salty, crispy bread. And, if you don’t have too many meals in Florence, go for the porchetta to check off two Florentine specialties with one fell swoop!
Be warned that this place is extremely famous and the line snakes around the corner. It is so famous that it has actually opened three separate stands, each with its own line. . . just go for the shortest line or the line that affords you the most shade (if you’re going in summer). They all have the same menu. There’s also a sit-down space but you won’t get the famous sandwiches there and I’d say it is a bit overpriced. Just stick with what everyone raves about – the sandwiches!
Best part about grabbing a sandwich is you just walk around the corner to the Piazza della Signoria in front of the Palazzo Vecchio and enjoy the beautiful architecture and sculptures all around. Feed yourself and get some tourist attractions in at the same time!
NOTE: DO NOT CHANGE THE SANDWICHES OR REQUEST ANYTHING ADDITIONAL. They take great pride in their menu and their way of eating things. . . Dante wanted an extra meat slice on his sandwich and we got the, “Americans?” question with a clear no (maybe they would have if they knew it was for a kid). I was a little bummed for Dante but I know how Italians are about their food, especially Florentines (yes, you Marco!)
Mercato Centrale di Firenze
Piazza del Mercato Centrale, Via dell'Ariento
Sadly, we didn’t get to go here. We were running late to grab our belongings from the train station storage area and didn’t want to risk losing our train. However, there are some fantastic culinary artisans at this market (when COVID restrictions are lifted and it can reopen). I would suggest grabbing some food to go here if you’re catching a train, or just to eat while wandering the city.
Trattoria La Casalinga
This spot was fantastic – come here for the Bistecca alla Fiorentina. It was divine! It was also enough for the kids to try and for Marino and I to share, given that we also ordered tortellini al sugo di cognilio (rabbit) for the kids, fegato alla salvia (liver w/sage), crostini misti, several sides of potatoes and a huge wine bottle!
The atmosphere is very relaxed. Nothing too fancy, and if you’re lucky like us, you’ll get to peek into the kitchen to watch the magic happen. You never feel rushed and the staff is very patient in explaining everything on the menu.
It is one of two top recommendations from a local friend who is also a tour guide – really, come here to eat!
Via di Spirito Santo, 64/66
Another highly recommended one (by that same local tour guide friend) that we just didn’t have time to make it to. Just reading the menu is orgasmic and we’ll definitely be eating here next time. It definitely has a more loungy/upscale ambience and we just didn’t think the limited bandwidth of our children would last through a whole dinner there.
There are plenty of good choices on this menu, both traditional (ribollita) and even some very creative explorations – like black cabbage flan!
Via della Vigna Vecchia 23
We were actually on our way back from the Basilica di Santa Croce to All’antico Vinaio to picnic in another piazza when we came across this very unassuming spot. We realized that we were all so hot and the kids so hungry and there it was – with A/C!
The staff was so friendly and so thoughtful… they could see the kids were hungry and brought out some bread and extra panzanella for them. I don’t know what it was about our vibe or maybe they’re always this friendly but the waitress brought out so many little dishes of so many local traditional foods for us to try – and even followed it up with a limoncello at the end!
Here is a picture of our waitress (from Tripadvisor) because back then I wasn't thinking about a blog and I'm usually terrible at documenting, especially when I'm really enjoying something!
We got to try Panzanella (which the kids devoured), Ribollito, and we had another local specialty: Peposo Imprunetino (the poor man’s tough cuts of beef slow-cooked in red wine and black peppercorns) and Cacciucco dell’Aia – a typical Tuscan country stew (with chicken, duck, and rabbit). The kids had some more pasta!
I have to say, my Florentine friend Marco would be proud :)
To add to the wonder and beauty of the experience, it is situated in an old building, where you can see the thickness of the walls and, to top it all off, Dante’s Divine Comedy is framed on the wall!
Via Palazzuolo 31r
Ok, our lovely AirBnB host recommended this place and it looks fantastic but, again, we just didn’t have time to try it! It has many Florentine typical foods and a fairly large selection of handmade pastas, more so than some of the other menus we saw. There are also three prix fixe menu options, two with Bistecca alla Fiorentina and one seafood menu.
via della spada ,62r
We actually came across this one on our own as well! We had planned to head to Il Santo Bevitore (see above) after an afternoon in Fiesole but, as with Demetra Hostaria, the kids were too hungry to make it there from the bus stop (especially not knowing if there’d be a wait since we didn’t make a reservation).
According to Marino, the trippa alla Fiorentina was delicious. I know I mentioned that you can get tripe other places but since we didn’t plan on stopping here, we went with what the menu had. On the other hand, I was really needing veggies back in my diet. So, I went for the sformato di verdure (vegetable souffle) and the fagioli toscani (Tuscan white beans).
The kids? You guessed it, pasta! The staff was really wonderful and patient with our exhausted children, even bringing them extra placemats to draw on (not something typical in Italy). They look like they have a fantastic grill I’d love to try next time, when I’m not craving vegetables.
Florence, like many cities with rich histories, culture, arts, and food, has so much to offer and it is so hard to let go of seeing everything. . . Just remember, it's always better to. getto know a few things really well and skim everything.
So, plan according to everyone's bandwidth, piece your itinerary together in a way that brings coherence to the trip (ours was around Dante Alighieri and our children's love of science) and don't underestimate the value of simply letting yourself wander the city and take in the unexpected beauty and wonder of the mundane.