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Family travel: Florence city break

From cathedrals to museums, culture to pizza, and, of course, gelato, you'll find plenty to keep the kids entertained on a family holiday to Florence

Family travel: Florence city break
Florence, Italy. Image: Getty

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“Who was the little boy who broke his finger?” asks my daughter. “How did he do it?” Michelangelo’s David stands an imposing elegant figure at 14ft tall, surrounded by tourists. Sculpted between 1501–1504, this famed Renaissance marble statue depicts the Biblical hero as a standing nude.

“What was his name? How old was he?” come the barrage of questions — not about the great master that was Michelangelo, but about the little boy who broke the finger.

David was originally carved from one piece of flawed white marble to be positioned in the niches of the Cathedral of Florence (Duomo). Deemed too exquisite to be hoisted up and hidden away, it was exhibited in the political heart of the city, the Piazza dell Signoria, as a symbol of Florence’s strong government and willingness to defend itself.

It finally came to rest at the Galleria Dell’Accademia in 1837 for preservation after a series of incidents — including a small child climbing up and breaking the middle finger, explains our guide Michael Lee. I’ve not been able to find the actual details of this event, though I did discover the statue has had a few knocks: its left arm was actually broken in three places during an uprising in 1527 (at one point a chair was thrown at it), while a hammer was taken to its left foot in 1991.

A replica now stands guard outside the Palazzo Vecchio — like the one at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

“Have you heard the story of David and Goliath? No. Oh,” I say. One quick RE lesson to a five-and-seven-year-old and they’re actually paying attention.

“I liked the statue of David because of the story,” says Luca, aged five.

“I like all of the Michaelangelo statues,” attests his sister, Rae, seven.

It feels like we’ve turned a corner and they finally ‘get it’. As much as they ‘get’ a museum experience that is. Since this clicked they’ve been running round the Galleria reading the information plaques; my daughter is excelling at uncovering the ‘stories’ behind the exhibits. It’s always curious to see what piques their interest. For my son, it’s counting the steps up to the top of the Palazzo Vecchio — 249 to be exact, although he counted 189 — following a Secret Passages tour that takes in some nifty nooks and crannies otherwise not open to the public.

For us, as parents it’s finding the balance between ensuring we can appreciate our whirlwind city break to Florence, while making sure the children enjoy it, too. From cathedrals to museums, culture to pizza, the kids have done surprisingly well to pound the streets of Florence with us and we finally reward them with a knockout gelato. And a pig splat. That’s a plastic gel-like pig that splats on the floor — the latest craze on the Ponte Vecchio, apparently. Well, it can’t all be highbrow, can it?

Family travel Florence - Enjoying gelato

Enjoying gelato in Florence. Image: Maria Pieri

Three to do in Florence

1. Uffizi
Head up to the second floor — 125 steps, according to the kids, to wander down the two long corridors featuring an outstanding collection of statues, and interjected with rooms featuring Boticelli’s Venus, Michelangelo’s Don Toni — a rare example of his panel painting — Caravaggios, Lippis and more.

2. Gelato
It’s a given the first ice-cream you’ll encounter will be your most expensive. Three gelatos at the foot of the Ponte Vecchio cost us €24 (£19). Ouch. Just outside the Santa Spirito (known as ‘the boring church’ as it’s so plainly decorated), is less touristy and also where we snagged the cheapest gelato for €4 (£3.18) Restaurant Ricchi).

3. Il Duomo
The third largest Christian church in the world is a must-see. Actually called Santa Maria del Fiore (duomo means cathedral church) it features the biggest dome ever built by famed architect Brunelleschi and illustrates the differing styles of painters who were to finish the frescoes, including Michelangelo.

Reviews

St RegisThis 100-room hotel was originally a palace designed by Brunelleschi. Located by the Arno River, it’s an easy five-minute walk from the Ponte Vecchio. The chandeliered dining room is one of the most opulent I’ve ever seen — ornate, frescoed, high-ceilinged. The rooms are equally sumptuous with modern touches — iPod docks and a universal charging system for phones. It also does an ace breakfast.
How to do it: A family room (two adults, two children under-12) from €700 (£560) per night.

Four Seasons FlorenceAn ideal getaway from the bustle, this hotel is within a five-minute walk to the Duomo. Big sell: it has a spa, pool and a Jacuzzi (the unofficial kids’ pool) plus our junior suite had a rolltop bath and a standalone shower. We were in one of the yellow theme rooms, but you can pick from Renaissance, decadent and modern. This historic building — once the residence of the Medicis — has its own chapel and was originally two palaces separated by gardens.
How to do it: From €646 (£516) per night for a family of four staying in two Superior Rooms.


Published in the Spring 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller – Family