Europe, Wanderlust

Uffizi tour with kids – a day in Florence, Italy

I put my eye to the locked door and peered through the crack. With a bitter March wind blowing up from the river, a flight of steps led down to the Vasari corridor, where once the powerful Medici family would have travelled from palace to palace via their own personal passageway.

A view over the river Arno in Florence, Italy, to the Ponte Vecchio and Vasari corridor - my Uffizi tour with kids and gelato making day in Florence

Stretching for a kilometre around the city of Florence, we had seen it first from the outside on a morning tour of the city with LivItaly tours, before making gelato at the oldest gelateria in Florence. This sneak peek inside came at the end of our day, finishing the second tour we’d taken with our wonderful guide Raffaela- a treasure hunt through the Uffizi gallery, once a Medici palace housing the offices of those needed to make sure the city ran smoothly (hence the name uffici and later Uffizi).

Just one of the facts we picked up during our two hours at the art gallery, our Uffizi tour with kids was the perfect family introduction to some of the world’s greatest masterpieces.

This time, the three of us – myself, Ting from My Travel Monkey and Daisy from Dais Like These – were exploring without kids, although we did enthusiastically get into character, jumping up and down to answer questions. Ahem.

With our prebooked tickets to skip one of the biggest lines for entry to the gallery, Raffaela used the shorter queue to the metal detector to introduce the tour and explain how she’d gauge the kids’ familiarity with different types of art and start capturing their interest.

The tour is best for ages five to 12, and groups of up to six, ideally for kids who can read although with parents and older siblings helping younger ones, that’s not essential. It can also be adapted for children with special needs, so the more information you give about the group when booking, the better, as they can choose particular guides with more experience to suit you.

At the end, there’s also a little prize for kids, again tailored to their age, and usually something unique to Florence, perhaps a sketchbook or souvenir from the gallery itself, which I thought was a great touch.

Treasure hunt from LivItaly Tours for the Uffizi gallery in Florence, Italy - my Uffizi tour with kids and gelato making day in Florence

Once inside Raffaela proved she knew just how kids’ minds work with a sneaky ploy to get them to use the toilets by the entrance – not least because there are no more until quite a bit further on – by revealing the ancient foundations and old church below that the palace was built on.

Essentials complete and it was time for the treasure hunt sheets to come out, with multiple choice options for the questions, which you could answer by looking at various works of art along the way.

One of the oldest museums in the world, with its collection on display from the mid 18th century, it is full of treasures, from the ornate and beautiful rooms to the individual masterpieces such as  Botticelli’s  Birth of Venus. As a trained painter as well as guide, Raffaela had all the facts at her fingertips – but her big focus was helping kids see how art is very much a part of everyday life, for example with the very same Botticelli Venus appearing on 10 cent coins

As we wandered, we discovered how painting had evolved – from early gilded wood, to faces becoming more individual and introducing perspective, then on to later canvases – each time with a story to bring it to life.

Who would have guessed that standing in front of Venus, the first artwork in Tuscany to be painted on canvas (as wood was much more freely available), you could look diagonally over to the next room and the very painting brought from Bruges (where canvas was the more usual choice) which had inspired Botticelli.

Or that the slits in the walls were put in deliberately during renovations, so that there was enough room to get the huge unwieldy altarpieces out. Perhaps my favourite was the discovery that one painting cost so much at the time it was painted in 1433, that you could have bought the country of France for the same amount. The detail is pretty spectacular, with child-friendly bonuses like spotting monkeys and leopards, but I suspect I’d have been tempted by a spot of empire building.

Along the way, we discovered a string of other ‘firsts’ – the first portrait painted since the advent of Catholicism, the first nude – and got a peek inside the tribuna, commissioned by Cosimo de Medici’s son for the family’s greatest treasures, and inspired by the elements. I am fairly sure I would feel more inspired if my own office looked like that.

With such a huge collection, you could spend hours looking at each artwork – but even as an adult, I get museum fatigue after a while, with each piece starting to blur into the next. For my daughter, that happens a lot sooner! Here, the two hours seemed to whizz by, and cherry picking the important pieces for our treasure hunt was a much better approach than trying to look at every one.

And before we left, a final surprise – that secret staircase, and a fantastic view out to the Arno river and Ponte Vecchio, as well as part of the passageway, which runs above the goldsmiths shops on the bridge itself (taking over after the meat market was moved, so that the Grand Duke’s noble nose wasn’t offended by the smell as he walked from his palace to the offices).

We had wandered across the bridge itself earlier in the day, on the first of our two tours with LivItaly, a food tour and gelato making class. The usual route, visiting the historic Mercato Centrale, with its food stalls, shops and places to eat, had a slight change of plan after the market itself was cancelled the week we visited – instead Raffaela took us to a small farmer’s market in one of Florence’s less visited districts on the southern side of the Arno.

With tales of Florence’s history to entertain us as we headed from the central Piazza della Signoria, we spotted street art and quirky doors, scooters speeding down little alleyways and grand churches dominating the squares, before reaching the small market where locals sold fresh spring salad leaves, honey and cheeses, while one man deftly weaved various creations from straw.

There’s usually a maximum of around six for each group, so LivItaly had made an exception for our tribe of 13, and provided us all with headsets to hear Raffaela. I admit my heart sank slightly when I saw those, but it actually worked perfectly – I could still catch every word, even if I was out of earshot snapping one of the many many lovely details of the city.

Then after a quick cappuccino and espresso stop at the kind of cafe you could while away long hours in, it was time to head to Perche No! One of the oldest gelaterias in the city, opened in 1939, it specialises in semi-freddo – invented, according to the history books, at Catherine de Medici’s request. Traditionally made with snow, honey and fruit churned together by hand, it’s lighter and has less fat and sugar than traditional gelato (which means, obviously, that you get to eat twice as much).

These days there are more high-tech machines to do the hard work, but with cold water, two types of sugar, half a lemon, fruit and a pinch of salt, owner Ciro Cammilli showed us how you could create banana semifreddo in surprisingly little time.

The shop always has a special flavour of the day, such as ricotta and candied fruit, or a version using syrup made from Ligurian roses, plus a special white mint. But Ciro’s own favourites are the more traditional – lemon and blueberry in summer – while chocolate is still one of the best-sellers. Having had a taste, I can see why: creamy but deeply, darkly chocolatey, it’s probably the best I’ve ever tasted.

Even more of a revelation was the pistachio ice cream: pistachio is one thing I’ve never been particularly fond of, but ever polite, I had a spoonful to try it. Then demolished the rest in record time – perhaps it’s the touch of honey that makes the difference, but the velvety smooth taste is a world away from the alarming green versions you normally see.

There was one final surprise: a mystery gelato that looked almost salmon pink. As we guessed what flavour it might be, our group’s volunteers spread it onto slices of chilled bread, sprinkled with basil and drizzled with olive oil. Well, why not – as the shop’s name itself suggests? Perche no?

Call it ice cream bruschetta perhaps, topped with a subtle fresh tomato semifreddo – and prosecco to celebrate. Viva Firenze and its fabulous surprises!

Need to know
The Uffizi Treasure Hunt Family Tour costs from 299 Euros, including tickets to the museum, and lasts two hours. The Florence Food Tour and Gelato Making Class also costs from 299 Euros and lasts three hours.

Raffaela’s tips for visiting the Uffizi:

  • If you want to check a bag in rather than carrying it around the museum, the only ones you can leave are backpacks – and don’t put any valuables in there.
  • Avoid Tuesdays if possible, as the museum is closed on Monday so it’s always busier. Early mornings are good, but late afternoon is also a good option.
  • Do pre-book tickets (or tours). In peak season, the museum sees over 12,000 visitors per day, potentially up to 15,000 (with at least 16 million visitors to Florence last year alone)
  • Il Bargello museum is another fun option for kids, with art and sculpture set inside a small castle. The Accademia Museum, with its famous statue of Michaelangelo’s David, can be a little overwhelming.

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My Uffizi tour with kids and gelato making day in Florence, Italy - discovering the family-friendly side of the city, with two tours from LivItaly tours. #florencewithkids #familytuscany #uffiziwithkids #uffizitour #livitaly #florencetour #italywithkids #mummytravels

Check out these posts for more details of LivItaly’s Tours, including a walking tour of Florence while I was in the Uffizi:

Essential Sights of Florence – Tin Box Traveller

A LivItaly private food tour of Florence – Mini Travellers

A family-friendly tour of Florence – Dais Like These

LivItaly Tours: Florence with kids – Flying with a Baby

Child-friendly tours in Florence – Travel Loving Family

Disclosure: My tours were both courtesy of LivItaly Tours for the purposes of review. All opinions and drooling over gelato are my own.

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