Tuscany – tips for visiting with kids

Tuscany tips for visiting with kids

It’s been a while since I last posted on my blog. Mostly for reasons of planning, packing, travelling, unpacking, then – making up with work and then – the above repeats again šŸ™‚ But, I am getting back to my routine of blogging hopefully!

This post was provoked by a recent discussion I had on a family travel blog where the topic ”Tuscany with kids” was discussed. Well, I was amazed t hear that ‘Pisa is not worth it’, ‘Florence is packed with tourists and no way you should go with kids’, ‘Accommodation is way too expensive’ so – I decided to give my 5 cents on this in a blog post. Mostly because – Tuscany is amazing, and even more for kids so – you should definitely take them there.

Here I share a few tips that would make travel to Tuscany with kids easier and more enjoyable for your whole family, based on my recent travel experience.

Why go to Tuscany

Tuscany (Toscana in Italian) is a region in central Italy. It is famous, worldwide, for so many things – it’s the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and home to a whole lot of famous artists and scientists. It’s a place where examples of unique, amazing architecture could be seen (not just the Leaning Tower of Pisa). It’s a place where your kids (and you!) can see and touch artifacts that they would otherwise only imagine, by seeing them in textbooks and on the internet. So, my major ‘Why’ was – try to get my kids (and myself) acquainted, at least a little bit, with the story and challenges of the Italian Renaissance and the major figures behind it. Major cities are Pisa, Florence, Lucca, Siena, with Florence being the main city in the region. We didn’t manage to see Siena within 5 days spent in Tuscany, but – if you have a few more days, go for it!

Florence cathedral with its world-known dome

How to reach Toscana

I am a fan of low cost airlines. Always. Money should be spent on more meaningful things than transport. So – you may get Ryanair or Wizzair to either Pisa or Bologna, depending on where you want to start and how much you want to drive. I used Pisa airport. Rent a car is recommended if you plan to stay in the more quiet countryside and explore the region. In most cases I am booking a car with Economy car rentalsĀ – pretty affordable cars and easy booking process –Ā so check them out.

Where to stay in Toscana

I love the Italian countryside and the atmosphere you dive into when settling in an Italian home. There are many Airbnb homes as well as apartments for rent on Booking.com, just outside the big cities, in quiet small villages. You get a typical Italian atmosphere, peace and beautiful nature, and all this for much less money.

Stay outside the city but close to a main connecting road. We were based near Pisa, close to the so-called road FI-PI-LI (connecting road between FIrenze – PIsa – LIvorno – cute name isn’t it :)). It’s a first class road meaning fast driving without the highway tolls. So – travelling around (we spent each day in a different place) – was pretty quick and cheap, despite being based in the country.

Tips for visiting the major attractions in Toscana with kids

I don’t mean to cover the entire sightseeing options of Toscana – for sure there are plenty. I am giving here useful tips that would make your sightseeing experience with kids a truly enjoyable one, for all.

Pisa

Pisa tips for visiting with kids

Pisa cathedral and the Leaning tower

Of course, Pisa leaning tower is the main attraction here and the kids love it! Get a ticket for all 3 attractions here – the Leaning tower, the Baptistery and Camposanto and the Cathedral.

Now, in case you didn’t book online – head straight to the ticket counter upon your arrivalĀ since Leaning tower tickets are limited for each half an hour. By stopping by at the ticketing office as early as possible you can pick the exact time of your Tower climbing and allocate the rest of your time accordingly.

Pisa tips for visiting with kids

The Camposanto (The sacred field)

Before it’s time to climb up the tower – visit the Camposanto – the graves along the walls and inside the flooring, as well as the statues and pictures on the wall impressed my kids a lot. The Cathedral was grand and it was also interesting to check it out.
A great family-friendly feature of Pisa tower are the enormous grass areas around the tower and monuments around. Make sure to grab some food for picnic and a blanket, for a well-deserved rest before or after the big climb. Note that just outside the tower walls there is a Pam supermarket (5-10 minutes waling, locate it in your Google map). So no need to bring food and water from far away.

The tower climb, with the leaning stairs and the leaning top was the most amazing part for the kids of course, as well as the view from the last floor which, well, was a bit scary šŸ™‚ But it is totally worth the waiting and the climb – don’t miss it, despite the steep cost.

After the tower you can do a nice walk around the city and get that amazing view of the River Arno. Of course Italian ice-cream along the way are a must. Note: if your kids are big enough, you can bike around the city. Bikes given for rent are not that new (or at least my experience was such), but the small old city roads (around river Arno) are generally peaceful (few cars) and bike-friendly.

Florence

Florence is a must-see to visit with kids. Indeed, I was concerned at first about parking, crowds, waiting times for the sights, but – with some planning it can all go smoothly.

First, if arriving by car, have in mind that public parking just outside the city walls is free on Sundays.Ā Also, the city is generally less busy on a Sunday so I would say this day is perfect for visiting Florence.

No matter when you visit Florence (well, unless it’s freezing or pouring rain) – you always have the tourist crowds for the 3 key attractions and major sights you should visit with your kids: the cathedral, Giotto campanile (bell tower) and Ā Brunelleschi dome. Kids get impatient at queues so – make sure to book your visits to these sights online atĀ https://www.museumflorence.com. Booking online does not mean you will not wait – we did wait approx an hour, but without booking you are bound to wait much much longer).

Florence with kids Florence what to see

View to Giotto Bell Tower from the Cathedral

The dome of the cathedral (so-called Brunelleschi dome, named after its creator Philippo Brunelleschi) and Giotto bell tower triggered much excitement – the views were truly impressive! The climbing itself was really enjoyable too – on the way to the dome you may well see the interior of the Cathedral and the amazing paintings on its ceiling, so no need to wait on the queue to enter the Cathedral really.

Florence tips for visiting with kids What to see in Florence
While climbing the Bell Tower you can see the top of the cathedral complex with its amazing architecture so – a pretty interesting climb again!

Another sight worth visiting with kids are the statues of famous people of art and science – Michelangelo, Rafaello, Leonardo da Vinci and many more, just in front of Uffizzi gallery. Of course Ponte VecchioĀ (the Old Bridge) was also interesting to see and it was curious to find out that the term ‘bankruptcy’ originated here. CheckĀ out also the mark showing the level of the water of River Arno during the devastating flood of 1966, when the historical center of Florence had been badly damaged.

View to river Arno from Ponte Vecchio

View to river Arno from Ponte Vecchio

The above, along with quick lunch took about 5-6 hours and literally exhausted the capacity for Florence sightseeing. It’s important to stop when kids get tired and proceed with the ice cream, leisure walking, reviewing the toy shops, etc. I have seen that this helps retain the interest in future sightseeing…

Lucca

Lucca is a really well preserved fortified city (its walls are one of the few well-preserved city walls in Italy), just half an hour driving from Pisa. It’s a paradise for visiting with kids – no cars inside the old city and if you decide, you can rent a bike and safely bike around.

The walls of the old city are also circled by a really nice park – with beautiful trees, benches and kids playgrounds – and you can either bike or walk there, while also getting amazing views to the city. The length of the walls is about 4 km so you can walk them all within an hour or so.

The city has a couple of towers which are really impressive to climb with kids, so make sure to visit them – the Giunigi tower, with a tree growing on top if it and the Bell tower.

Lucca – at the top of Giunigi tower is an oak garden symbolizing rebirth

The seaside

What to see in Livorno Tips for visiting Livorno with kids

Little Venice district in Livorno

Being so close to the western Italian seaside and in the close of summer, of course we decided to spend some time sunbathing in between the city walks. I had been to Viareggio earlier and did not much like it – water was too sandy and the beach – crowded. This time we went slightly further on the south, in Tirrenia, following a recommendation from a friend and – that was a much nicer place for visiting with kids. Calm and clear waters, less crowded beach, easy to park on the street. Water was way more cold than this time in Greece lets say, but – it’s important to experience different sea waters and beach, and we did collect some nice sea shells.

Have in mind that when the weather is good and it’s a weekend – you can expect a lot of Italians to head to the beach (we went on a Sunday – a big mistake!) and hence, traffic jams! So, better choose a working day as your beach day. On the way back we strolled through Livorno and really enjoyed the Old Venice district with its network of channels, small bridges and tiny squares. There were lovely coffee shops and pastries as well.

Da Vinci birthplace

Did you know that Leonardo Da Vinci means ‘Leonardo from Vinci’? And Vinci is a small village in Toscana? Well, I didn’t, but figuring this out after seeing Vinci on a road sign, decided we should pay a visit to the birthplace of this stunning inventor.

Vinci is some 15 kms from the FI-PI-LI road (closer to Florence than to Pisa) and generally pretty easy to reach. In the village of Vinci you can see the museum of Leonardo as well as an exhibition of models of his inventions and some 3 kms further up – the house where he was born. Both were pretty interesting and – it’s recommended to know some facts about the life and achievements of Leonardo da Vinci before visiting these. (many videos are available on youtube). The kids did learn a lot about the life of Leonardo and I believe such an experience is bound to stay in their minds much more than anything learnt through lessons..

The warm pools of Casciana Terme

If you are in Toscana, it is a must to visit some of the mineral water pools in the region. We were lucky to be staying near Casciana Terme and so spent a few hours in their amazing outdoor pool. In early September the outdoor pool with numerous water massage options was almost entirely left to ourselves and the kids truly enjoyed every minute of it. The numerous massage options in the pool could be turned on and off individually, the pool was shallow enough for the kids to feel safe and swim and, should you need to get out – you could relax right on the grass.

Casciana Terme mineral pools

Casciana Terme mineral pools

There are lower-priced afternoon and evening tickets so, in case you do not plan to spend the entire day on the pools – take advantage of the lower price options.

The above are tips based on my travel experience with my own kids, of course. Your kids might have different interests and attitude to travelling and for sure each parent knows better how to make a family vacation truly enjoyable for everyone! But, we should remember that family travel is different than travelling alone or with your spouse and the ultimate goal should be to make sure everyone is happy on this vacation. If we cater about everyone’s needs, in a balanced way, I am sure there is a way to make family travel a truly satisfying experience.

Happy family travels!

 

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