Like much of Italy, the city of Florence is bursting with things to see and do. The birthplace of the Renaissance is home to phenomenal museums filled with world-class art as well as incredible architecture from the fabled Duomo, clad in pink, white and green marble, to large, austere palaces built in local stone.
But how do you tackle Firenze, and all the history and culture it has to offer, when your group ranges in age from 9 months to 75-years?
The answer, we quickly discovered, was to book a Florence tour for families.
Disclosure: We were guests of LivItaly for the purpose of this review. This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please see our disclosure policy.
Updated for 2020
We were in Italy over Christmas to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday. This was the first time to Florence for many of the group and any previous visits had taken place years ago (some 30 years ago in my case!). Altogether we were a group of 12; seven adults and five children. The eldest of the cousins was aged nine and the youngest just a baby.
Finding a walking tour of Florence that we would all enjoy seemed like a Herculean task until I came across LivItaly Tours. This small, family-owned company specialises in small group and private tours throughout Italy. Many of them are family-friendly, including the Small Group Tour with Drawing Class that we choose.
[author] [author_info]Don’t miss the LivItaly Treasure Hunt tour of Venice! If you’re travelling elsewhere in Italy with kids then make sure to read the best things to do in Rome for families – written by a local mum – and all the reasons you should go to Puglia with kids.[/author_info] [/author]
A family tour of Florence
Normally LivItaly allows a maximum of six people on a tour (thereby avoiding the traditional tour model: large groups of tourists being herded from one sight to the next as quickly as possible). However, they kindly made an exception for us and so it was that we gathered on a rather wet and chilly morning, and the first day of our holiday, to meet our tour guide, Raffaela.
Our meeting point was Piazza della Signoria, a large open square home to the Palazzo Vecchio, and the heart of Florence. This square has been the centre of political life since the 14th century, the setting for great triumphs and even greater tragedies.
The Piazza also houses a number of sculptures, including a replica of the statue of David by Michelangelo. And it was with him, “Italy’s most famous naked man” that we began our tour.
If Raffaela had any doubts about shepherding such a large, disparate group through the city’s medieval streets, she certainly didn’t let on. And, without wanting to give away the ending, I will say that Raffaela was the reason why our tour was so great.
An Italian American artist, who speaks Italian like a local and English like a New Yorker, Raffaela has been living in Florence for some 20-odd years and is a truly brilliant – and kid-friendly – guide to the city.
Life in Florence
After an introduction to Piazza della Signoria, we set off through the narrow city streets and Raffaela introduced us to daily life in Florence, a city where “art is beauty” and “food is beauty”.
This personal insight is what we all enjoyed the most; seeing the city as a living, breathing place to live rather than just a museum-piece for tourists.
Raffaela showed us her local vegetable store and the fishmonger where she buys her lunch. At one point she stopped to point out the holes that punctuated the building walls above our heads. These, she explained, dated back to a time when political unrest keep residents indoors. In order to move from one place to another, locals would balance planks of wood between the holes and scuttle across.
We strolled along “artist’s alley” as Raffaela explained how the city had been made up of various trades controlled by the guilds. Along here was Zecchi, the art store for artists. This shop is where Raffaela buys her supplies and where we stopped to pick up the sketchbooks and pencils that we would need for the final part of our friendly tour.
An art shop has sat in this location for centuries and has always been an important destination for Florentine artists and painters. The Zecchi firm took over the business in the 1950s and has successfully managed to find, revive or reproduce all the colours and materials used by pre-Renaissance and Renaissance painters.
The older kids were delighted by the row upon row of vibrant dried paint pigments lining the shelves in glass jars – it’s these pigments for which Zecchi is so famous.
Less impressed was my six-year-old daughter who wanted to know why the shop didn’t stock crayons. Raffaela patiently explained that crayons often smudge when drawing and it was this, no-question-is-too-ridiculous attitude, that made this such a great tour for kids. Raffaela treated every question as if it were the final one on a round of Mastermind and, in so doing, the children hung onto her every word.
After Zecchi we wandered along to the Restoration Workshop, a studio where some of the greatest artists of the past once worked (this is where Michelangelo sculpted David, for example). Although the location has changed over the years, the current incarnation has been in situ since the mid-19th century.
The workshop was shut when we visited owing to Christmas holidays but we could still peek through the window and see the tools of the stonemasons’ trade. Interestingly – although, according to Raffaela not surprisingly given Italy’s still largely patriarchal society – the workshop employs only men.
From here it was just a few steps to the famed Il Duomo, Florence’s iconic landmark that is even more impressive in the flesh than in pictures.
The incredible cupola was the result of a contest held by the Florentine fathers in 1418 to find a way to deal with the enormous hole in the roof of their cathedral. But they didn’t want any old roof, they wanted something that would showcase the church as “more useful, more beautiful, more powerful and honourable than any other ever built”.
The competition was won by a “short, homely and hot-tempered” goldsmith named Filippo Brunelleschi. His design consisted of not one, but two domes, one nested inside the other. Remarkably, despite no formal architectural training, this design proved successful and incredibly, was built without scaffolding.
The result is one of the most miraculous buildings of the Renaissance. It is possible to climb to the top but we were happy to admire the view from below.
At this point the walking tour usually carries on to the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s most famous bridge. But by now everyone in the group was rather cold and wet and so we decided to head back to our starting point for the drawing part of our tour.
The best gelato in Florence!
Along the way Raffaela shared her best insider tip…not the best museums in Florence or the history of the Medici family rather how to find the best gelato store in town. The kids listened intently as Raffaela instructed them in how to differentiate between a good ice cream store and a bad one.
Clue: don’t go for the shop that has mounds of ice cream on display as this shows the gelato is not fresh. The kids followed this rule religiously through the remainder of our Italian adventure!
Once back at Piazza della Signoria we took shelter under the outdoor heaters of a café to warm up. Traditionally this part of the tour takes place under the shade of the Loggia, near the Uffizi gallery. However, inclement weather meant that hot chocolates took priority over art!
Nevertheless, Raffaela did her best to instruct us in various sketching techniques, which the more artistically challenged of our group (i.e., me), attempted to take on board.
The kids, however, were in their element. Their results were less Renaissance-inspired and more the products of some very active imaginations but that, for me, was what made this tour so wonderful. The children learnt that Florence was a place of great beauty and the birthplace of some of the world’s most famous art and architecture. As such, they were inspired to create their own masterpieces.
As far as family tours go, this one is hard to beat.
For more information on LivItaly Tours, take a look at their website. They offer a large range of tours to suit all interests and families. You can find more details on this particular tour here.
33 thoughts on “How to book this excellent Florence tour for families”
Oh, my gosh! I love this idea of a private group tour for the family–and one that includes drawing?! How perfect for Florence!
I know! It was the best way to be introduced to this beautiful city!
this is something my son would LOVE! He’s a budding artist already at 5 and loves to sketch things as he checks them out. He is constantly looking around for ‘inspiration’. I haven’t been to Italy yet.. maybe it’s time we go!
Oh then you would love this tour! It was such a nice way for everyone – but especially the kids – to end the tour. I think you would love Florence!
I am a HUGE fan of exploring new cities with guides ESPECIALLY guides that are great with kids. It makes a world of difference in not only the enjoyment aspect but also in how much knowledge the kids soak up while you are there. Livitaly sounds like a great choice and I loved that they accommodated your larger group so everyone could enjoy the tour together. Pinning for later.
Thank you! I agree that a tour and guide can be such a great way to learn about a city but finding guides that can truly engage kids is not always an easy thing. What I loved about Raffaela was the way that she really listened to the kids. At times (most of the times!) this mean diverging from her planned introduction to Florence, but the kids loved that she answered every question they had 🙂
I love that your guide was able to accommodate your multi-gen group so well. What a great recommendation for LivItaly!
She was great! From my hard-of-hearing father-in-law to my finds-it-hard-to-listen daughter, everyone was captivated! 🙂
What a fabulous looking family tour! I love having a guide to give you local insight. What a shame you had such bad weather for your tour – but still looks like you guys had lots of fun! I would love to take the kids to Florence.
Thank you! Fortunately, it was our only day of miserable weather and we enjoyed blue skies (and foggy mornings) for the remainder of our time in Florence. I’d definitely recommend it as a great city for families.
Great article and great fun for the kiddies. Florence has so much to offer kids of all ages.
It really does!
Great post! We absolutely loved Florence as well, and so did the kids, and part of me wishes we had used a guide! The downside for us was that while you were in the damp and cold, we were sweltering!
Thank you! How did you find Florence in the summer months? I’d love to go back in the sunshine but I wonder if it’s just too busy??
We have been in November as well as July. It was so much more enjoyable in the off season! The heat was insane and the tourists made everything so crowded. I’m glad I’ve seen it in both lights!
That’s good to know! I really liked visiting over Christmas as there really weren’t many tourists (we had the Uffizi almost to ourselves!).
Great posty – I love Florence and my husband is dying to go – the tour sounds perfect for us! #citytripping
It is a wonderful place! I hope you get to visit soon
What a great idea for a tour – I love the way it ended with the drawing, and how wonderful to see the city with a local. Florence can be quite overwhelming, especially with a short amount of time (and lots of different interests!) but this sounds like the perfect solution. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping
It was definitely a great introduction to the city – particularly with such a large group! And I would definitely recommend Florence in the winter for fewer crowds.
What a fun thing to do! We were in Florence in the summer and absolutely adored it: we didn’t take this tour but now that I know about it, I might see if there is something similar in other cities – it does seem like the kids loved it and the insider tip about gelato is the icing on the cake 😉
Absolutely! Ice cream is the way to any kids’ heart 🙂
What a wonderful tour this sounds – and so perfect for children! I love that all ages in your family enjoyed it. I think small tours can be a great way for children to experience a place as it’s often the stories they hear that make a place come alive. I too have experienced the wonder of a hot chocolate in winter in the Piazza della Signoria!
I agree, stories can make a place come alive for kids and can really help them to enjoy a place that before they might have just seen as “full of old stuff” (or maybe that’s just my kids!).
A brilliant tour. So informative to get an insiders perspective and that all ages were catered for. Will remember the tip about ice cream. I love Florence..we went in June and it rained as well! Love the drawing class at the end – nice touch. Will have to try this tour company the next time we visit Italy. Thanks for linking to #citytripping
Thank you! And yes, if nothing else, we all learnt what to look for when choosing a gelato store!
What a fantastic way to see Florence. I bet you had some great masterpieces by the end of your art session. Great tip about the gelato too! #citytripping
I think you can travel anywhere in the world as long as you know where to find good gelato! 🙂
I love florence we went there on our honeymoon and I would love to go back – funnily enough our 3.5 year old has requested a trip to Italy so thanks for all the tips xx #CityTripping
Really? What a cultured kid!!
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