Take the Family to Florence: A Complete Planning Guide
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For a lot of parents, the idea of a long-haul flight and European travel with young children is daunting. Still, from the time my kids arrived, I was counting the days and our pennies until the time was right for our family of four to visit some of my favorite European destinations. When we finally did get to Florence with our then 9- and 12-year-old kids, the experience was certainly different from the kind of travel I’d done in my previous life, but in a good way: There’s nothing like sharing our favorite places with our favorite people.
So, start planning your own trip to Florence, Italy. Here are some tips to get you started. (And, once you know when you want to go and where to stay, here is TPG's list of family-friendly activities in Florence.)
How to Get to Florence
Florence Peretola Airport (FLR) is on the outskirts of the city, but Florence is quite compact, so that’s just 2.5 miles from the center. There are no direct flights from the US to Florence, but FLR is connected to many other European cities, so it’s simple to fly into another European country — London (LHR), Paris (CDG) or Amsterdam (AMS), for example — or into Rome (FCO), Milan Malpensa (MXP) or Milan Linate (LIN) and take a connecting flight. United, American, Alitalia, Air Italy, Delta, Emirates, Iberia, Norwegian, and others offer nonstop flights from US cities to Milan and/or Rome.
Related: Best Airline Credit Cards for Families in 2019
All of this means you have many options to incorporate rewards through your airline or their partners. Use your British Airways Avios points to get to Heathrow and then on to Florence, or use those same points to fly American Airlines direct to Rome and transfer (this option avoids BA's hefty fuel surcharge).
The same flight pairs redeemed with American Airlines Advantage miles will cost significantly less. In this example, three tickets clock in at 135,000 AA miles and $521.19 cash as opposed to the above example using British Airways Avios that cost 180,000 Avios plus $1,402.89 for the same three people on the exact same flights.
You can also use Delta SkyMiles and book direct to Milan. If you'd like to arrive in style, fly Emirates from JFK to Milan. The airline has offered terrific fares in the past or redeem miles to fly business class. You can transfer American Express Membership miles to your Emirates Skywards account. Or, use Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles.
From Rome, Milan or most any European capital, you can also connect to a train to Florence. It takes about an hour and 40 minutes to travel from Milan’s Milano Centrale train station to Florence (Firenze Santa Maria Novella station), and from Rome it’s even less: about an hour and 20 minutes from Rome’s Tiburtina station on a bullet train.
If you plan to arrive in Florence by train, be sure to book train tickets through Rail Europe well in advance and use a travel rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve that awards 3 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel. The tickets are cheaper the further in advance you book, and if you can apply points to your balance later, that discount grows.
Once you arrive in Florence, make your way to the city center by taxi. This will cost about €25 plus €1 more per bag. The city regulates this taxi fare: The rate from the airport includes a base price of €22 (€25 Sunday and holidays), plus a surcharge of €2.70 for trips originating at the airport. A ride to the center should only take about 15 minutes in moderate traffic.
There is a bus station at the airport, but a bus ride to the city center costs about €10 per person. For families of three or more, the bus is more expensive and less convenient than taking a cab. The train does not travel between Santa Maria Novella station and the airport. If you’re wondering about Uber and Lyft, Italy only allows the pricey Uber Black cars to operate in cities, so taxis are more affordable.
Florence’s historic center is largely for pedestrians, and you can walk to many major sights from a centrally located hotel. However, if walking gets old, it’s easy to grab a cab at one of the many taxi stands around the city. You can also use the handy It-Taxi app, which lets you pay and enter your destination electronically online — especially helpful if you and your driver don’t speak the same language.
The most enjoyable areas for families visiting Florence are on the north side of the River Arno, within the historic center and walking distance from essential sights like the Duomo, Uffizi Gallery, Palazzo Vecchio and the Ponte Vecchio. Staying in the center gives you more time to explore Florence’s historic neighborhoods, and to be in the thick of things in the evening.
However, the Oltrarno area, on the opposite side of the river, sees fewer tourists and can feel more peaceful. It can be a nice refuge for families, a short distance from the center, but offering more quiet in the evenings and the chance to explore a part of the city that feels more like a place where regular people live. The Oltrarno is also most convenient to Pitti Palace and beautiful Boboli Gardens.
Points Hotels for Families
Some of the hotels we suggest below are not bookable with traditional hotel loyalty program points. However, there are ways to use flexible points and credit cards that let you"erase" travel charges from your monthly statement. We'll explain below.
During our Florence stay, we booked the Relais Uffizi, a three-star property that’s a stone’s throw from Piazza Signoria and walking distance to just about everything. We stayed in a comfortable junior suite with a loft for the kids (breakfast included), but this property also offers a choice of several apartments (three-night minimum, breakfast not included), each with a kitchenette, air conditioning, dining area and enough space to feel like a home away from home. Apartments with one double bedroom plus two twin beds and a sofa bed are bookable via the Hotels.com Venture partnership (use your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card through Jan. 31, 2020 to earn 10x miles per dollar spent) as well as the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal ($213 or 14,204 points per night when we checked with our Chase Sapphire Reserve). The entrance to the hotel is down a narrow street, so your driver will not be able to drop you right at the door, but it’s a very short distance to lug your gear, and this is also one of the reasons the rooms are relatively quiet.
Sina Villa Medici, Autograph Collection
To use your Marriott points, book the five-star Category 7 Sina Villa Medici from 60,000 points plus cash per night. For example, a Premium Guest Room with two twin beds goes for 60k points plus 120 euro per night. A Junior Suite with a king bed costs the same number of points plus 200 euro per night. The best option for families to fit into one room is to take the two-twin room where two rollaway beds or cribs can be added; a family of three can choose the king room that fits only one roll away for the same rate. The rooms are a spacious 484 square feet and they are beautifully appointed. Included are Wi-Fi (for Marriott Bonvoy members), satellite TV and a minifridge. There’s also a fine-dining seafood restaurant next to the hotel’s outdoor pool. In a city where there is not an abundance of centrally located points hotels for families, this property is a find, less than a 20-minute walk from most major attractions.
Four Seasons Firenze
Also less than a 20-minute walk from the Duomo is the palatial Four Seasons Firenze. A family of three can book into a one-king- or one-queen-bed room with the addition of a roll away or crib, but a family of four will require two rooms. So, this property may not have rooms to fit the whole family, but the offerings for kids are remarkable. Not only does the Four Seasons have a Michelin-starred restaurant, luxurious rooms and public spaces, a pool and a spa, but also it boasts the city’s largest private garden for kids to run and play. The hotel also offers a Family Package that includes round-trip transfers between the hotel and the airport or train station, daily American breakfast, tickets to the Galileo Museum (best for 8 and up) and -- in the summertime -- access to the complimentary kids club, which offers activities such as funny yoga or cookie decorating for children. Added to that are kids’ menus in on-site restaurants, babysitting services and lots of little details to make your stay comfortable and memorable.
Here are some ways to make it happen: Book through the Hotels.com Venture partnership (see above). You can also book with cash or points through the Chase travel portal for around $839 per night or 55,966 points with a Chase Sapphire Reserve card (CSR card holders earn 3x points on the cash purchase). Citi Prestige card holders can also book three nights and get the fourth night free as a benefit of that card. Another option: Use a card like the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card (card no longer available) or Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to earn enough points to “erase” your hotel bill.
Part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World network, where you can use your World of Hyatt points, is the Hotel Lungarno on the Oltrarno (South) side of the River Arno. Family rooms are almost 400 square feet, and are beautifully decorated with fine linens and luxury finishes. Each includes two queen beds (or one queen can be separated into two twins) with a privacy wall between, plus a cozy living area. Some rooms have lovely river views, and you’ll be just a five-minute walk to the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. Bear in mind that your dates may have to be flexible to use your Hyatt points (from 40,000 points per night). The hotel website includes special pricing for paying when you book, or adding breakfast to your stay.
Make It Fun for Kids
One of the great aspects of taking kids to Italy is, you’ll have no trouble feeding them! Make sure the kids know there’s pizza and ice cream in their future, and you’ll likely have some very willing travel companions.
Advance planning also goes a long way to keeping family members happy in Florence. Buy your Uffizi Gallery tickets in advance, for example, to avoid making your kids wait hours in line. You can also purchase advance timed tickets to see the Duomo; those tickets are good for 72 hours, so you can plan to break up your visit to the different sights within the Duomo complex.
For museums and other monuments you want to visit, check websites ahead of time to find tips and activities that kids might enjoy. For example, the Uffizi offers a guide to “Monsters in Art,” where kids can look for fantastical creatures in the paintings. The Palazzo Vecchio offers a number of specialized tours and activities especially for kids aged 4 and up; you can also pick up their activity Kit for Families (6 and up) if you book in advance.
The VisitFlorence site has some great suggestions for attractions that will appeal to kids, too. Let your kids decide if they’d like to see the awesome machines in the Leonardo da Vinci Museum first or the dinosaur skeletons in the Natural History Museum. Or maybe they’re interested in a family cooking class, where they’ll learn to make their own pizza and gelato. They’ll be world travelers before you know it.
Take the Right Cards
To save money and simplify your trip, make sure you’re going to Europe with the right credit and debit cards. If you don’t have one already, apply for a credit card that works with Europe’s chip-and-PIN system and charges no foreign transaction fees. Many banks charge up to 3% extra just for using your credit card overseas, but this is easily avoidable.
Most banks also charge a premium for using your debit card to get cash. If you have a savings account with Charles Schwab or Capital One, add a checking account and use that debit card to withdraw cash while you’re away; these are the only debit cards available that charge no foreign transaction fees for using any ATM. There are other options to help you save, though, if you don’t have or want one of those two cards. The Points Guy offers a guide to ways to avoid ATM withdrawal fees when traveling abroad.
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Florence is simply one of the most fascinating and artistically rich cities in the world, and it’s also extremely hospitable: Italians love to see parents travel with children, and everywhere you go, there are little surprises for kids. Whether it’s the beautiful antique carousel in Piazza Repubblica, street vendors shooting glowing toy copters into the night sky or a view of bats fluttering near the Ponte Vecchio at dusk: The moments your kids find memorable may not be the same as yours, but that’s half the fun.