What to do in Florence with a toddler

By Grace Koelma | Dare List Mama

Florence + toddlers...

Two words that don't commonly go together. During our one month stay in Italy we spent most of our time in the beautiful walled city of Perugia, but we took a brief one night/two day trip out to Florence/Firenze (just 2 hours by train).

Florence is a 2000 year old medieval city ​steeped in a rich and bloody history. Centuries of being the home of wealthy Italian families has given Florence scores of exquisitely crafted Cathedrals and cavernous art galleries hosting some of the world's most famous sculptures and artworks. But like fine wine, Florence grows on you. And let's be completely honest here... most of the city's history, beauty and charm is lost on a 2-year-old (sorry, Florence).

We didn't have time to research Firenze before we went. Full-time travel has a way of making you much more relaxed about visiting new places. In the past, I would have researched for hours before we arrived. Now we just figure it out when we get there*. So when we arrived in Florence, we were a bit taken aback at the lack of parks and playgrounds visible in the city centre (a day-tripping staple when you have a 2-year-old). Most European cities we've visited have parks in the centre of town - something we gravitate to and use as a base.

*It's different when we're booking a location/Airbnb for 2+ weeks. That is when I do my research!

But the good news is there ARE things you can do in Florence with a toddler. Our guide will give you everything you need to know for a 'weekend trip'. (I'd reconsider if you're planning on visiting for longer. Firenze is beautiful, but really not designed for kids).

What to do in Florence with a toddler (no museums or Cathedrals!)

First things first... Gelato. 

Florence is famous for its world-class gelato, which is said to have originated in Firenze in the 16th Century. As is the case with most European cities, the gelato is most expensive near the big touristy piazzas and Cathedrals. We found a reasonably priced and delicious gelateria in the square around the BACK of the Duomo Cathedral (while all the crowds were milling around the front).

$$ Tip: The gelato on the Ponte Vecchio (the most iconic canal bridge in Florence) is exorbitantly priced, and there are few places to stop and enjoy it with all the crowds. 

Catch the Florence sightseeing bus (24 or 48-hour pass)

After 6 months travelling full time, this was our very first organised tour! And it was GREAT. Leo's tantrums and toddler antics left us fairly exhausted after our first afternoon/evening in Florence. We were pretty exhausted from walking around everywhere. Parks were few at that point, and he was tiring of all the sightseeing. We don't have a stroller, and Leo doesn't like being carried for long, but also can't be trusted running along beside the road. He's full of energy.

So many attempts at a good photo, but Leo was getting sleepy at this point!

But Leo also LOVES buses. So we figured in order to keep him entertained the next day (particularly through nap time) we'd try the double decker hop-on-hop-off bus. It had mixed reviews on TripAdvisor, but buying tickets was the best decision we made. At €23 each for 24 hours it was great value for us and here's why: 

  • It was entertaining sitting on the top level for Leo and had lots of good views for us
  • We got a tour around a very spread out city, including up the hill to the ancient city of Fiesole, which is BEAUTIFUL.
  • It meant not as much walking for us (and carrying Leo on our back).
  • We could hop off every time we saw something of interest (a park or playground etc). We saw places we probably wouldn't have stumbled across if not for the bus route.
  • It has an App you can download that fairly accurately shows the location of each bus (so you can see whether they're running on time).
  • The rumbling of the bus eventually sent Leo to sleep which is a high five in any parent's book!
  • Earbuds and audio commentary included with a history of sights as we passed. As parents, this was a perfect way to learn a little history while Leo was entertained. We can't really do museums and really miss learning the history of a location in that sense when we visit.

Catch the bus up the mountain to Fiesole

Fiesole was a complete surprise, and we're so glad we made the spur-of-the-moment decision to stay on the bus because otherwise we would have missed it. I'd highly recommend staying on the bus (Line B) for that part of the journey, and planning on spending an hour or so exploring the town.

Tip: The buses come every 30 minutes, so you can hop off in the main square of Fiesole and return an hour later for your return journey. The view as you descend the mountain is incredible!

Find the Piazza S. Spirito for lunch

Our lovely Instagram friends recommended we visit Piazza S. Spirito (a square on the south side of the river Arno). This Piazza is lovely because it's out of the way, less crowded and safe for kids to run around in. Plus, it has public toilets on the far side. They cost €1 each for entry, but it's worth it for the sparkling clean facilities.

$$ Tip: To save money paying for each family member, pay €1 to use the parent's room and change your toddler's nappy, and use the toilet inside while you're in there.

While you're in Piazza S. Spirito, look for Gusto Pizzeria (there will be a handful of groups of uni students/young people sitting on the stairs devouring boxes of the delicious pizza. Just ask them!). The pizza is cheap, takes just 2 minutes to make, and will be the best thing you eat in Florence, hands down.

Walk down to the Piazza T. Tasso - it's playground time!

The Piazza T. Tasso is a 10 minute walk along quiet backstreets from the Piazza S. Spirito (just plug both piazzas into Google maps to find the best route between them). P. Tasso has a children's playground - twice as big as what is pictured below. It's also just across the road from the hop-on-hop-off bus stop (No. 24 on the red Line B).

Tip: When looking at the map, it might be tempting to visit the nearby Boboli gardens, which are huge botanical gardens spreading over ​4 hectares. Unfortunately, we didn't realise the gardens are ticketed (around €7 for adults and €3 for kids over 2. Pretty pricey for a garden!)

Head up to the Piazzale Michelangelo for an AMAZING sunset view

Piazzale Michelangelo is set on a hill on the south side of the Arno river, overlooking the city. The lookout has the best view of Florence from afar. On a clear afternoon locals and tourists alike gather on the steps of the upper viewing area to watch the golden colours on the buildings as the sun sets.

Bring a bottle of wine or a little antipasto spread, and enjoy the sun warming your face and the chit chat of people with accents from all over the world. 

How to get up to Piazzale Michelangelo: You can walk from the base of the hill up a long flight of shallow stairs (just head to Via Monte Alle Croci and follow the crowds.) Or you can catch the hop-on-hop-off bus to the top. It's one of the most famous sites in Florence, you can't miss the stop!

The stairs to the top of Piazzale Michelangelo

Don't miss the SECRET best view of Florence!

We stumbled across one of Florence's best-kept secret views totally by accident. The below photo shows the view taken in a little nook in the Giardino delle Rose, directly below the lower viewing platform at the Piazzale Michelangelo. It's a beautiful quiet oasis in the chaos of the touristy area above, perfect for toddlers who want to run run run! The gardens close at 6pm. Oh and this time it's a free garden. 😉

Hint... Ponte Vecchio is best at sunset

When the crowds have faded away, gaze over at the famous Ponte Vecchio market bridge from it's little sister down the river, the Ponte alle Grazie. The views are magnificent!

View the iconic Cathedrals by night

There's something about the silent, eerily lit-up domes and ornamental facades that quietened Leo down straight away (in contrast to the high-energy fireball we were grappling with in the same spot earlier in the day!). We highly recommend a quiet stroll through the famous piazzas in the city by night as the perfect way to end your stay in Florence.

Playgrounds we saw from the bus, but didn't stop at

Have you been to Florence with kids? What did you enjoy? Comment below.

Grace Koelma

Grace is a writer, designer, digital nomad, mum (otherwise known as toddler chaser), slow traveller, wild things appreciator, culture immerser, coffee opportunist... She frequently uses big words (some of which are definitely made up), likes long walks and even longer books, and her focus on wellness in 2017 means she is learning to obey her FitBit. Except when she's glued to her computer!

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