Wondering how to spend 10 days In Northern Italy with kids? Here’s a family-friendly itinerary based on our trip as a family of five over the festive season.
Welcome to Firenze aka (Florence), the capital of Italy’s Tuscan region and the starting point of your trip.
Depending on how you arrive and at what time of day, settle into your accommodation then plan to get lost on foot. Don’t stray too far for little legs, but wonder up and down narrow alleys, over cobbled streets lined with delightful eateries, art shops and shuttered apartments. Eat real Italian pizza, pasta and gelato (icecream) at one of the many pizzerias and restaurants, preferably a little further away from the main plazas and attractions to get a better price and a more authentic experience.
All the must-see attractions are within walking distance of each other if you stay in the central historic district.
Cars are not allowed in the historic centre. Guided tours in golf carts are available and the red hop-on-hop-off (HOHO) bus circles the area and main areas of interest. With a 2 or 3-day city sightseeing bus ticket, it’s easy for families to get from one side to the other while listening to guided commentary available in different languages.
Discover the many artistic treasures of Firenze. Unless you’ve booked skip-the-line tickets or plan to buy them on arrival, get to the Florence Duomo, Accademia Gallery or Uffizi museum early, long before 9 am. I suggest you pick one, maybe two to visit depending on how much art and culture your kids can stand. We can get our kids to enjoy one per city.
No matter what time of year you visit Florence, there will probably be a long line of people queueing to climb Brunelleschi’s dome at the Duomo or to see Michaelangelo’s fascinating David at the Accademia. Take this into account and plan ahead.
A fun cultural activity for both adults and kids, is the secret passages tour at Palazzo Vecchio. You get to disappear behind paintings into hidden passages that were built in 1299 for the Medici’s to safely escape their enemies. How exciting!
Walk across the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge, lined with jewellery shops on both sides, over the Arno river. Stop at Caffe Maioli, sit on the 2nd or 3rd floor for a nice view over lunch or a coffee and cake. Get some sweet treats from their deli on your way out.
If you’re lucky you’ll be served by Bella, the best waitress in the world! Ask her to crank up the volume as she did for us when she danced around the tables with an extactic Milly on her hip. Only in Italy! Say ‘Hi’ from us and Milly if she’s there, will you?
Further down from the cafe are the Pitti Palace museum and Boboli gardens.
You can either spread out visits to museums and attractions in Florence over two days, which is what we did, or you can use the last day to go on a day-trip to nearby medieval Sienna or the walled town of San Gimignano. Both are highly recommended Tuscan must-sees.
If you choose to stay in Florence and you’ve either lazed away the morning or finished culture excursions early, make your way to Piazzale Michelangelo for a post card perfect panoramic view. Make sure everyone’s been to the loo before you get there! From Michael Angelo’s Plaza, it’s a short scenic walk back to the town centre across Ponte Vecchio bridge. Alternatively, enjoy an afternoon activity together as a family in the afternoon, such as outdoor ice skating.
In the morning, we took the HOHO bus to Piazzale Michaelangelo, drank in the panoramic view over lunch on the steps and walked that scenic route to town. This was followed by ice-skating in the park, hot chocolate (very strong and thick cocoa flavor – the kids were not fans), dinner and a lovely evening walk home through festively lit streets. Unforgettable!
Pisa & Cinque Terre
Today is a busy day, so start early, before 8 am if possible. Catch the train from Florence to Pisa Central station. Leave your luggage at the Bag Drop on platform 1. Take the bus from the train station to see The Leaning Tower of Pisa. You can spend about an hour admiring the tower and having breakfast at I Miracoli cafe. Their doughnuts are amazing. You’ll need more time if you want to climb the steep narrow stairs to the top. Expect queues.
Take a taxi back to the station, collect your bags and catch the train to La Spezia central.
If your accommodation is near La Spezia station, check-in, drop your bags and go back to the station to buy a Cinque Terre day ticket from the dedicated office. If you’ve booked accommodation in one of the Cinque Terre villages, continue on by train.
In an afternoon you’ll have enough time to explore Monterosso and let the kids play on the beach. End the day with a stunning sunset at Manarola with pizza and gelato for dinner.
Spend a full day exploring the quaint cliffside towns of Cinque Terre, meaning ‘five lands’, consisting of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. In summer you see them from the ocean by boat and kayak or you can hike between the villages if you’re up for it. Hiking is not permitted during most of winter, but they’re only a few minutes apart by train.
Travel day. Take the train from La Spezia to Milan Central to pick up a rental car as you’ll need one to explore around Lake Garda. Drive to your accommodation. We stayed near Sirmione from where it was easy to explore both sides of the lake.
Lake Garda – Sirmione
Find the enchanting Sinking Castle of Sirmione, Scaliger Castle. Get there before 9 am to find parking near the entrance.
Scaliger Castle is small and there isn’t much to see inside, but the view of the peninsula from the top of the walls are worth the small entry fee. Walk to the ancient ruins of Grotte de Catullo at the tip and see if you can find the small natural hot tub in the lake on your way there. It’s fed by a hot spring that allows residents to lay in it even in the heart of winter. We stumbled on it and wished we’d packed our cozzies even if it was mid-winter. Whatever happens, don’t forget to get gelato on your way out!
If you have enough time in the day, a visit to the Italian theme park, Gardaland, might be fun for the kids. We went over two days and had enough time to enjoy both Gardaland and Sea Life.
Hang out around the lake, have more fun at the theme parks and attractions, or go to the nearby city of Verona for the day.
We spent a full day at Gardaland and Sealife. As long as you don’t expect a full-scale Disney World, there’s fun to be had at Gardaland and the queues are much shorter. Don’t miss the warm white chocolate and marshmallow drinks (not to be confused with the sourish yellow milk drink) and warm chocolate doughnuts!
It will help if you can brush up on your Italian skills a bit. We found that people in this part of Italy spoke less English as it’s less touristy and some of the park rides were in Italian only.
There are many family-friendly attractions around the lake, such as Movieland park, aquaparks, safari park and zoo at Parco Natura Viva and more.
Return to Milan and return the rental car.
Explore the centre of Milan with its awesome white gothic Duomo and luxury shopping malls. Next to the Duomo, you’ll find the beautiful Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II where you must walk through to find the mosaic bull. It’s an old Italian tradition to spin on the bull for good luck! Near the galleria, you’ll find Starbucks Reserve Roastery, a Willy Wonka style coffee shop and Roastary that cannot be missed.
Milan has many noteworthy arts and cultural attractions, such as Da Vinci’s Last Supper (need to book well in advance) and the Da Vinci Museum for art enthusiasts and the Sforza Castle.
It’s easy to get around Milan with public transport.
The last day in Italy! How you spend it is up to you. Whatever you do, have fun and make wonderful memories that will last your family a lifetime before packing your bags for tomorrows journey home.
We met up with friends and family while we were in Milan, which made this holiday so much more special.
Contact me for tips and information about our ten days in Italy with kids or if you want to book a holiday to Italy.