Friday, June 30, 2017 / ... comments / ,

Florence Family Vacation

Eating gelato at Gelateria Santa Trinita in Florence, Italy.

Ciao, friends! I thought I'd send you a little postcard from Florence, Italy. We'll look at some of Firenze's sights, and I'll share what to do, where to eat, and where to stay in Florence with (or without) kids. Florence has been a favorite city of mine ever since I first stepped foot on its ancient cobblestone streets when I was 18. I got to know the city even better while studying art history abroad. Florence is the birthplace of Italian Renaissance art, and just about everywhere you turn there is art, from the architecture, to the fountains and statues, to churches, to paintings. Oh, and there's delicious gelato on every corner. 


Beautiful fresh fruit and vegetables in Florence Italy
First things first. 


When is the best time to visit Florence? 

When I lived in Florence years ago it was winter-spring and had a completely different vibe. The summer months bring heat (it was around 93 degrees while we were in the city) and throngs of tourists. Summer also means you can linger over an al fresco dinner late into the night in just a sundress without getting cold. The fresh summer produce is perfection and available at darling fruit and veggie stands on most streets. Don't even think about grabbing your own fruit and veggies, though! It's already been washed and you must ask the attendant to bag it up for you. During the winter Florence can be cold enough that you need a long coat, but there are few tourists and popping into a cafe for a thick hot chocolate will give you the warm fuzzies. I would have to say I prefer Florence in the off-season. It's then that you can really take in Florence without waiting in long lines to get into museums or being stuck in crowds. 
Looking out the window of an apartment in Piazza Santo Spirito in Florence Italy

Where to Stay in Florence

My preference is to stay on "the other side" of the river, more formally known as the Oltrarno district. Though it's only a short walk from the city center, the Oltrarno has a more local, less touristy feel. Florence has many beautiful hotels from The Savoy to the Four Seasons, and more. I've always dreamed of staying at Villa San Michele in Fiesole, just above Florence. With a family, however, vacation rentals are the way to go. Not only are they much less expensive, but everyone has room to spread out. We rented an Air BnB apartment right in Piazza Santo Spirito. I loved being able to walk downstairs in the mornings for a cappuccino and for dinner later on. Fun fact: the church of Santo Spirito has a crucifix made by Michelangelo at just 17 years old! That's Florence, for you. For a higher end stay in Florence I would check out Portrait Firenze, which is also right near the river.  



What to Do in Florence

An old marble fountain in the Oltrarno district of Florence Italy
Wandering around and looking at the shops and architecture is my favorite pastime in Florence, but there really is a lot to add to your must-see list! To enjoy the city without the crowds, I like to take an early morning walk. The 16th century fountain above made by Buontalenti sits on Borgo San Jacopo in the Oltrarno. Florence seems to stay up late (dinner reservations at 10pm is quite normal) and wake up late. My favorite time in Florence is a 7am power walk along the river followed by a cappuccino. It's then that the streets are quiet. One of my favorite things about Florence is its walkability - though it is a bustling city, most sights in the center are just a 10 minute walk away. 
The Ponte Vecchio in Florence Italy
See the Ponte Vecchio. The Ponte Vecchio translates to old bridge in English. This beautiful medieval  bridge was the only bridge that was not bombed by Germans during WWII. The bridge has always been home to shops, and today is lined with jewelry stores. The best view of the bridge is from the bridges on either side. 
Florence, Italy antique carousel in Piazza della Repubblica.
If you're traveling with kids, or not, head to Piazza della Republica for a ride on the antique carousel. It's not too fast and looks so cute in the big stone piazza. There are many shops and cafes nearby.

About another block from Piazza della Repubblica is the Duomo. The drama of this massive church and landmark is breathtaking. The construction began in 1296, and it always astounds me that this was done without modern machinery like cranes, etc. The Duomo's dome was the largest in the world until modern structural materials were created. The ornate gothic stonework is incredible. Hike to the top of the dome for a magnificent view of the city.


The Uffizi Gallery
Well, this did not go as planned. The Uffizi is home to many, many incredible masterpieces including Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, painted in 1486.  I remember walking right into the Uffizi and spending half the day in awe of the art and stopping for a cappuccino in the caffe. That was obviously pre-kids, and in the winter. This time, even with reservations, we waited in a big sweaty crowd for 45 minutes to get in the door. The kids were NOT having it. I think the exact words were, "Do people actually do this for fun?" The lesson is that the Uffizi may be better for older kids.

Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence looks over the city
 Piazzale Michelangelo
For that classic postcard view of Florence, head up to Piazzale Michelangelo. It's quite a trek to get there, but a great place to park yourself with a picnic to watch the sun set.


A pretty cone of raspberry and passionfruit gelato in front of the Arno river

Where to Eat in Florence

Trying the food in Italy is of course of one of my favorite things to do! Gelato is a must. We loved the gelato at Gelateria Santa Trinita. Here I'm holding half raspberry and half passion fruit, which was so refreshing on those hot days. Gelateria dei Neri is another ultra popular gelateria.
Beautiful fresh bread in baskets in S. Forno bakery
S. Forno in the Oltrarno for fresh bread, pastries, and gourmet food gifts. 
Ditta Artiginale for amazing coffee. 
Carduccio also in the Oltrarno for organic juices with lots of vegetarian and vegan options. 
La Menagerie for an almond cappuccino and pastry and flowery ambiance.
Borgo Antico in Piazza Santo Spirito for dinner 

Head to my favorite Florence blog, Girl in Florence, for more restaurant recommendations.  

Orange Aperol Spritzes on a table in Florence
The official drink of summer in Florence has got to be the Aperol Spritz. These refreshing prosecco cocktails can't be missed at cafes throughout Italy. I shared a recipe a from our Italy trip a few years ago here so you can make your own (if you're over 21). 
And the official morning drink of Italy, of course, is coffee. More specifically a cappuccino or teeny tiny espresso. A coffee date in a piazza? My happy place!

Ciao for now! Did I miss any of your favorite things in Florence? Let me know!
A postcard from the Tuscan countryside is coming up next!
xx,
Marina
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