A New Tradition
Five years ago my college roommate texted me out of the blue: “Any chance you’ve got an opening for a quick trip to Florence?” Of course! It would be fun to get back to my favorite city and a great opportunity to reunite with an old friend, in the same place we had studied together 26 years earlier. I booked two tickets using United miles for United/Lufthansa flights (business over, economy back, 200,000 total miles), and we flew out the second week of November.
Then this year I returned the favor, sending him a text to see if he wanted to do it again. I received a quick “Certo” back and booked flights, again using United miles for United/Swiss flights (business round-trip for 280,000 miles). We traveled in September – better weather than November, and actually fewer tourists this time given the pandemic. It was my first international travel in 19 months.
A California Getaway to Florence
On to Florence! I’ve written about what we’ve done on past trips to make the city kid-friendly (see this post with all of our highlights), but these two trips were without kids. With all six kids (three for each of us) back home, we thought about what we wanted to do that we couldn’t necessarily do if we had kids with us, and did whatever we wanted. Keep our hotel room in Florence but run to Cinque Terre to hike? Why not? Below are our highlights from both trips. If you have two weeks, do everything! Otherwise pick and choose based on what sounds the most fun!
A Vespa Wine Tasting
We booked a half-day Vespa tour through the Chianti countryside with Florencetown for 130 Euros each. I’ve always loved Vespas but had never driven one before. We met up with our guide and the other five people in our group in the center of Florence at 9:30am and were shuttled roughly half an hour outside of town. We started with a quick Vespa lesson and a test where we had to ride around a circle of cones a couple of times, and then we hit the road. It was fun, but in November it was cold! The helmet kept my head warm but I regretted not bringing gloves. We rode for several hours, stopping at two vineyard/wineries: Ruffino (where they make Modus) and Folonari. We weren’t able to taste wines while on the ride, which was probably a good idea, but we ended the ride with a lunch at a farmhouse restaurant with plenty of food and wine. We then hopped back on the bus for the ride back to Florence, getting back at roughly 3:30pm.
This was one of the last tours of the season for Florencetown. I’d recommend doing a Vespa tour in April/May or September/October, when there aren’t a lot of tourists but it’s a little warmer. In the peak of the summer you could be looking at very hot days and large groups of riders. There wasn’t much traffic anywhere we went. The Vespas were easy to drive.
A Hike in Cinque Terre
Two years ago I contributed to an online fundraiser to help rebuild Cinque Terre’s wine walls, and my perk was a guided hike. This was the perfect time to finally redeem it – and to do it without kids who may not want to hike to the top of a mountain! I write all about the experience in this post. Highly recommended as a Florence getaway! Just do what we did – stay overnight, eat locally, and support the farmers by drinking a lot of wine! As I explain in the post, tourism in the Cinque Terre is out of control and it’s negatively impacting the quality of life for the local residents. Day trips, especially on buses but also via train, negatively impact the locals. Overnight stays don’t.
An Alchemist’s Walk through Boboli Gardens
I love Boboli Gardens. Decades ago I would go there to study, and I’ve walked through with my wife and kids several times. My kids even did an art workshop there a few years ago. This time I booked a private tour through ArtViva – I find guided tours invaluable, even places I’ve been dozens of times, since I learn something new every time.
Laura met us at our hotel and we walked over to Boboli, stopping along the way at churches, piazzas and street art. I especially loved seeing the Santa Trinita church, which I had walked past A LOT over the years without ever going in, and the frescos are incredible.
The theme of our walk through Boboli was alchemy – which led us to a lot of paths and sections of the gardens that I had never seen before. Really, really enjoyed Laura’s explanations throughout. And then we ended at Sileno Cheloni, learning about the connection between their perfumes and alchemy.
Lunches, Dinners and Drinks with Friends
My kids absolutely hate when we’re traveling and I invite friends to join us for meals! So without them around, we met up with people frequently. Our first trip we made pizzas with the director of our university’s Florence program at her villa, and then this trip we had dinner with her and other program alums. We had a perfect lunch at Irene Firenze with Georgette Jupe and Laura Masi. We had drinks with the amazing Helen Farrell of The Florentine. We had coffee with Tullia from SloWays and lunch with Rose from ArtViva. And we had dinner with an old Italian friend one night. So fun to see everyone!
A Day Trip To Bologna
Even though I’ve traveled throughout Emilia-Romagna, I had never been to Bologna before. We took a high-speed train in in the morning (only half an hour from Florence) and had an amazing lunch at Vecchia Malga in the Medieval Market. We then met up with a tour guide (Micol Mazzeo) and walked around Bologna with her for three hours, learning about the city’s history, its towers, its canals and its porticos. I also purchased a lot of food to bring back to California! I didn’t fall in love with Bologna, but it’s a great city with spectacular food, and I now have a much better feel for it.
The Duomo’s Roof Terraces
I had seen a photo of the Duomo’s roof terraces on Instagram and it was a completely different perspective than I was used to from the normal cupola and campanile climbs. So I asked ArtViva about it and they got us tickets for a tour. We met up with the guide and our group at the side entrance to the Duomo, climbed 150 steps to the terraces, and then spent maybe 45 minutes on the terraces, both outside and inside the cathedral. Loved seeing the city from there, and learning new things. Definitely worthwhile, especially if you’ve already climbed the dome and bell tower on previous visits.
Bike Riding from Fiesole to Florence
What could be less kid-friendly than a three-hour bike ride in the hills around Florence? We met up with Giovanni from Fiesole Bike in Fiesole (a hilltop town easily accessible by bus from Florence), started with a 20-minute walking tour of Fiesole, and then drove 10 minutes or so up to our starting point. Giovanni had bikes, helmets and water for us, and we got going. I was picturing a purely downhill ride into Florence, but we went up and down a lot of hills – it was a serious ride, especially given that I’m not on a bike more than a dozen times a year. I couldn’t recreate the route we took if I tried – we traversed country lanes, went through small villages, stopped at overlooks and churches, went over pedestrian bridges and followed the Arno for a while. By the time we arrived near the Ponte Vecchio we were physically exhausted, but the ride was amazing.
I wouldn’t recommend the ride for kids under 14 unless they’re extremely confident on a bike and with traffic and pedestrians. There wasn’t much traffic in the hills, but once we entered Florence there were a lot of cars. Highly recommended overall – probably the best 45 Euros I’ve spent in Italy (Giovanni should charge more).
We’ve both been to the major museums more times that we can count, so we decided to see two new museums (for us at least). Casa Buonarroti is small but extremely impressive, filled with items from Michelangelo’s life, including several sculptures. There was maybe one other person in there when we were. Well worth checking out. No photos allowed.
And we went to the Museo del Duomo, which houses original sculptures from the Duomo and Giotto’s Campanile, the bronze doors of the Baptistry, tools from the construction of the cathedral and original plans. Add this to your Must Do list – it’s now one of my favorite museums. The design is amazing and the works extraordinary. And it’s part of the combined 15 Euro entry ticket that includes climbing the Duomo and Campanile, which makes it extremely easy and inexpensive to visit.
And we returned to the Accademia to see David again. He’s all over Florence, including life-size replicas in front of Palazzo Vecchio and at Piazzale Michelangelo, but it’s always great to see the original. This time we met up with Riccardo from ArtViva in the middle of Florence, walked with him to Accademia (learning interesting things along the way) and then did a private tour of the museum just before it closed. We had David almost to ourselves! Again, it’s always worthwhile to book tours – so much more interesting than if we had simply gone to the Accademia by ourselves.
Lots of Walking
We walk a lot whenever we’re in Florence with the kids. These trips we walked even more – usually over 25,000 steps a day. We went out of our way to discover new restaurants. We went shopping (for our wives). We went up to Piazzale Michelangelo for sunset twice. We climbed both the Duomo and Campanile (I don’t suggest doing those right before a three-hour bike ride by the way). Basically we never stop moving.
Where We Stayed in Florence
We’ve stayed at three Florence hotels these two trips:
25 Hours Hotel Piazza San Paolino
25 Hours Florence opened just days before we arrived, and it was a perfect, unique stay. The hotel is themed around Dante’s Divine Comedy and you can either stay in a Hell room or a Heaven room. We chose heaven (my friend’s a pastor after all), but both are amazing. Loved the location too, just a few minutes from Santa Maria Novella train station. Even if you’re not staying there, stop by to see the very cool deli entrance, the lounge and the restaurant. A great addition to Florence’s hotel scene.
Hotel Palazzo Guadagni
I love staying over in the Oltrarno area – slightly out of the tourist center of town but still only minutes from all of the sites. We’ve always gone over to Santo Spirito to dine on the piazza, but I hadn’t stayed on the square before. I loved it! Hotel Palazzo Guadagni has one of the best views in the city from its loggia (breakfast in the morning, drinks in the evening), and our room was perfect. Highly recommended!
I’ve stayed at Antica Torre di via Tornabuoni six times, with my family, solo and for our friend trip five years ago – still one of my favorite hotels anywhere. The location, right at the Ponte Santa Trinita, is perfect, and I’ve always had great views – either of the Arno, Ponte Santa Trinita and the Ponte Vecchio or of Via Tornabuoni and the Duomo. Five years ago we switched rooms halfway though our stay just to change views! And I love breakfast and cappuccino at the hotel in the mornings.
Where We Ate in Florence
When I travel to Florence with my family we typically make reservations at all of our favorite places a few days in advance, leaving a couple nights open to try new places. When my friend and I travel, we just walk and see what we find! It’s worked out very well.
Both trips we started with a very late lunch / early dinner at MaMMaMia. The food is always excellent and it’s open all afternoon so it works perfectly for when we’re jet-lagged and want to go to sleep early. For other lunches and dinners we’ve stumbled upon Locanda Fiorentina, Trattoria Pallottino, Yellow Bar and Ristorante il Clarinetto and had great Tuscan meals. We’ve also met up with friends at Signorvino, Acqua al 2 and Irene Firenze. And we had excellent lunches at Tamerò and Il Latini, two of our long-time favorite places.
FYI, my post on all of our favorite restaurants in Florence is HERE.
My Florence Tour
I now have my very own tour of Florence! I worked with Sherpa Tours and local guides on a tour of our favorite sites – at least the ones that could be easily linked together for an easy morning or afternoon walk. It’s perfect for families or just for adults. You can download the Sherpa app in the App Store or at Google Play. Then you’ll see me listed under Influencers, or just search for Florence. The tour is GPS-based if you’re in Florence, or you can listen to it from anywhere for some great history and insights. If you download it, please let me know what you think!
Your Turn: Florence without Kids
Have you traveled to Florence without kids? What were your favorite things? What should we do next time?