Florence Museums with Kids

February 25, 2011

It was a museum-heavy weekend in Florence. We knew that visiting museums would be a large portion of our trip because there is so much art and history to see in the famous city, but also because we knew the weather would be chilly and possibly rainy. In preparing for the trip, I once again got books that I hoped would bring the artists/scientists and their work to life for our kids. I also tried to dig up web resources, but there just weren't many nitty gritty sites or posts about doing the Florence museum scene with kids. So here are our experiences and lessons learned along the way. 

The Uffizi
This is a biggie in Florence.It's one of the must-see spots and I am glad we did it, but it did take some active parenting to initially entice the kids. One of the things that hooked them in was to point out the evolution from two-dimensional painting to three dimensional. It was also interesting to notice the different ways Mary and Baby Jesus were portrayed. In some paintings,  Jesus appears to be a little man in a baby's outfit, in others he is a  chubby, blonde babe, and in one he is quite oddly proportioned. Mary also had a wide array of presentations: blonde,magestic, serious, adoring, stoic, formal, less formal, and even with a long neck. Our Jewish kids are becoming quite adept at identifying the Holy Family thanks to our life in Italy! It also helped to have the free Rick Steve's audio guide to the Uffizi because we were able to locate specific paintings and listen to the commentary (we brought along our I-touch and I-phone). Favorite paintings included Botticelli's Birth of Venus and his painting of Spring, and  Raphael's Madonna of the Goldfinch.

A few of the highlights beyond the artwork included the stunning view of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge from the statue gallery; the roof top terrace which also has a unique view of Florence and a tiny little cafe (good for a morning snack or light lunch); and last but certainly not least: the bookstore. Don't be fooled by the first bookstore near the exit of the Uffizi, continue on into a larger space where we were delighted to find a very big selection of children's art books in English, French, and Italian. And speaking of books, here are the ones that helped us before and during our visit to the Uffizi:

Katie and the Mona Lisa (Botticelli's Primavera painting)
Getting to Know Botticelli
Getting to Know Giotto

We reserved tickets in advance but once we arrived, we realized that there really wasn't a need for that in February. BUT, if you are traveling with kids at any other time in the year, do yourself and them a big favor by reserving tickets in advance.

That famous naked boy with a sling shot,David, has a magnetic pull that draws crowds even in February. We didn't have to wait in line or buy tickets on-line (although you really should do that during peak seasons), but this was the only place we encountered a bit of a crowd during our time in Florence. He is worth seeing up close and personal. Really amazing to see that beautiful piece of work from all angles. The kids had a good giggle about his nakedness but then turned their focus to sketching him. We usually bring along sketchbooks and art supplies on museum visits, but on that day it was raining and we weren't carry much beyond umbrellas and jackets. That's when the I-touch and I-phone came in handy again. Handed one to each kid and had them sketch with their fingers. I love what emerged. In addition to David, it was also interesting to see the series of statues which were works in progress for Michelango...they gave us all a greater appreciation of how blocks of marble can be transformed into human forms. The Accademia is small and doesn't take much time to see.  Books to read before or during a trip to The Accademia:

This was the smallest museum we visited during our time in Florence, but it was by far the kids' favorite one. It is basically three rooms filled with working models of DaVinci's incredible inventions and machines. On a rainy day in February we had the entire museum to ourselves, which was wonderful because the kids just kept running from one machine to the next (it's all hands-on). It would have been nice to see a bit more information about Da Vinci and the science behind the machines, but it was nice to see the kids having so much fun. Don't go expecting a fully fleshed out Da Vinci experience, but if you have kids and it's a rainy day or if you have kids with an interest in science keep this in mind while visiting Florence.  Also, there is a great little Turkish Kebab restaurant directly across the street. Good kid reads about Da Vinci include:

Getting to Know Da Vinci

The Galileo Museum
This was our biggest mistake of the trip and it was all my fault. I saved it for our last day and kept telling the kids they would love the science museum. Let me say this in a very loud and clear voice since we learned this the hard way:  "It is not a kid-friendly, hands-on museum". It is a museum about the history of science. I made the mistake of assuming it would be a hands-on science museum and I failed to fully research it before our trip. There are some interesting displays (including a few relics of Galileo's fingers) but after building it up for my kids, it turned into a sad and whiny experience for all of us.  This is a museum best for older kids and adults.

Having done the above museums with the kids, I have to admit that Adam and I both said on several occasions that Florence would be a city worth visiting without kids so we could spend more time really seeing the art and history that seem to be around each corner. Don't get me wrong. We love traveling with our kids and having family adventures. But the reality is that none of the museums we visited in Florence are especially kid-friendly. You won't find exciting kid activity guides, scavenger hunts, or cool little backpacks filled with art supplies like we have experienced at other museums in Europe. If our kids were just a tad bit older, I would probably have spent the extra money and hired a private guide like the ones at Context to help us experience it all more fully.
But here are two kid activities that don't need any special books or guides to enjoy: Grom Gelato (seriously delicious and seasonal) and the carousel in Piazza della Repubblica.
Nancy said...

What an informative post. Thank you for giving so much detail.

You will be appalled but the two places I didn't see in Florence were the David & the Uffizi. The Uffizi was closed for some reason during the days we were there. I did nearly all the sight-seeing alone because Dave was working. We shall have to go back some day (I hope!).

se7en said...

Oh a feast of Florence in my inbox - how lovely!!! My husband and I spent a week in Florence the year before our first child was born!!! We went because one of my favorite movies is: A Room with a View!!! Turns out we totally loved everything there... the food, the style, the history, the art and the science. You are right the science museum is a bit of an adult venue but the I will never forget the Leonardo exhibition - awesome, awesome, awesome!!! I loved all the working models - it was our first experience of a "Touch museum" and we loved it!!! Thanks for the memories and hope you have a great weekend!!!

Martha said...

Great info, Lucia. I have attached a link to this on my travel page about Florence. Let me know if that is not okay. And do let us know if you are back up this way again. We would love to meet you all.

Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish said...

Nancy, my theory is that you always have to leave some things unseen so you can return :) I hope you make it to both The Uffizi and The Accademia in the future!

Se7en, I also loved Room with a View (the book and the movie) and couldn't help thinking about it as we rambled and explored.

Martha, we plan to be back to the area and would love to meet up with you. I am honored to have a link on your blog and when we return for more Tuscan adventures I'll have to pick your brain for suggestions off the beaten path.

Emily said...

loved reading your posts on florence. it was, i think, the second european trip we took with the kids. it was in the fall. rowan was not quite three yet, and i remember some loud proclamations in the Academia about david's penis. got some laughs out of the other english speaking tourists. ha!

GBK Gwyneth said...

Wow, what a wonderful trip! I've never been to Italy apart from a day trip from France, but more and more I think we should try to get there at some point. You present it so wonderfully, I can't help but want to visit myself!! (PS I finally named our pop-top "Evie" based on the initials for EuroVan -- now, onto the more important task of acquiring those cute plates!)

Sonja said...

I'm a little behind this week catching up on last week's Photo Friday pix, but glad I stopped by! Since I blog about Europe with kids I love this post! I think I'll refer it to my readers!

Sonja said...

Do you have a Twitter handle I can follow?

Sonja said...

Hi there! I mentioned this great Florence post in my blog today! Check it out at http://www.toeuropewithkids.com/2011/05/travel-tuesday.html.

Unknown said...

Hi there! glad to drop by your page and found these very interesting and informative stuff. Thanks for sharing, keep it up!
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