Two of the most visited cities in Italy, Rome and Florence offer the perfect combination of history, culture, cuisine and adventure. They are ideal destinations for families because there is so much to see and do, but keeping kids engaged requires some creative planning.
Pro Tip: Consider traveling over the Christmas holidays. The climate in Italy is generally moderate this time of year, requiring just a jacket to be comfortable. The festive light displays, decorations and nativity scenes make these already spectacular cities even more magical during the holiday season. And because there are generally fewer international tourists, visitors can enjoy an authentic Italian experience.
Direct flights to Rome are available from most major US cities, but if your itinerary calls for a layover, I can arrange for someone to greet your flight and help you navigate the airport and customs to make your connection. I am also able to secure a driver who will meet you once you arrive in Rome and can handle your luggage and get you straight to your hotel without any hassle.
Where to stay
A boutique hotel centrally located in the heart of Rome, the Hotel Stendhal is a short walk from the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain and within walking distance of the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. The four-star hotel mixes classic Italian architecture with modern amenities to make for a convenient and enjoyable stay. I recommend the updated annex suites with a private entrance and made to order breakfast space.
How to see Rome
Imperial Tour of Rome: Skip the lines and leave the teaching to the pros with a private tour of Imperial Rome. The three hour tour covers the Colosseum, the Forum and the Circus Maximus, and paints an excellent picture of what life was like in ancient Rome. Did you know that the Colosseum was once used for horse stables? Or that there used to be statues in every single one of the arched windows, before they wore down over time? And parts of the Colosseum were painted in vivid colors and featured colorful mosaics? How about that the pothole covers are stamped with SPQR, which dates back to ancient times and stands for “Senate - People - of - Rome”? Our guide was constantly engaging with our kids and sharing bits of knowledge that we all found intriguing. She even included a stop in a grassy area so they could run around and just be children!
Vatican City: Spanning 121 acres, Vatican City is home to the impressive St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and various museums. It is also the smallest country in the world! There is a lot to see and having a tour guide can help narrow down what shouldn’t be missed--like the Gallery of Maps, which features topographical maps from floor to ceiling, or the way that parts of the Sistine Chapel appear to move as you walk around thanks to the genius of Michelangelo. Climb the 551 steps to the top of the Vatican Dome or take an elevator to get a view of the entire skyline of Rome. Scheduling a tour early in the morning--sometimes before the Vatican even officially opens--can ensure smaller crowds.
Christmas Markets: Visiting during the holidays gives you access to something you can only experience one time a year--the annual Christmas markets. A long-time European tradition, these markets are open through the Epiphany on Jan. 6 and are filled with local vendors, food and holiday decor. Though there are more than a dozen Christmas markets throughout Rome, its largest and most famous takes place in Piazza Navona.
Photo Session: Cell phones have all but ensured that no vacation goes undocumented, but amid the hundreds of photos you take on vacation, rarely are there any that include everyone. One of the best decisions I made on our family trip to Rome was to hire a photographer for a 45 minute family session. Prior to our trip I was able to browse photographer portfolios and discuss locations and styles with the photographer I selected. On the day of our shoot, we simply showed up and smiled. It was such an easy and fun experience introducing us to yet another area of Rome. We thoroughly enjoyed our time with our photographer, gained more insider information from a true local and allowed us to capture our time together as a family in the Eternal City. (Tip: I can arrange this service for clients almost anywhere in the world!)
Local Restaurant Finds: There are few if any bad restaurants in Italy, but we were able to find some local hidden treasures that are definitely worth sharing. Ristorante Angelina a Testaccio is a casual Italian eatery that was once used for the sale of cattle. With white walls, butcher block tables and hanging lanterns, the restaurant has a rustic authenticity. On clear, warm nights, the roof can be opened to allow for dining under the stars. Tucked away down an alley is another family favorite--Il Giardino di Albino. An authentic, local restaurant, with little English spoken, there are no words to communicate how delicious the risotto with pear reduction is.
A two hour ride from Rome, Florence is easily accessible by train. Arrangements can be made for reserved seating and there is even a dining cart that gives you access to food and drinks during your journey. A driver can be waiting at the track to take you to your hotel.
Where to stay
Nestled along Florence’s Arno River, the five-star Hotel Lungarno is a really special experience. Part of a four hotel collection owned by the Ferragamo family, it is within walking distance of all the major sites in Florence, but removed just enough to make you feel like you are in the heart of the local community.
With decor meant to make you feel like you are floating on a boat on the Arno, the hotel is decorated in whites, blues and leather. Having undergone a complete renovation in 2017, it has a clean, crisp and comfortable feel. More than 400 pieces of art from famous artists like Picasso, Cocteau and Bueno are scattered throughout the hotel. Guests are greeted upon arrival with an aperol spritz which they can enjoy in the hotel’s Picteau Cocktail bar. Outdoor seating provides a picture perfect view of the Arno River and the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge, ideal for unwinding after a day of sightseeing.
Family suites are available and provide a spacious option for guests, complete with a living area and two bathrooms. One of my favorite perks was the Ferragamo eye cream and amenities included in each room!
Book with me to enjoy the following Virtuoso amenities: Upgrade upon arrival based on availability; complimentary one-way private airport transfer to the Florence airport or Florence train station for up to two passengers; daily buffet breakfast; early check-in/late check-out based on availability
Ferrari Tour in Maranello: About an hour and a half outside of Florence you’ll find the birthplace of Ferrari. Whether you’re an avid car lover or just seeking a thrill, it is worth a trip to Maranello for a first-hand look at these legendary cars. Take a guided tour of the Enzo Ferrari Museum where you’ll get to check out various model Ferraris, test out simulators and wander through the restored workshop of Enzo’s father. The highlight of the tour is taking to the road for a test ride. Is there anything more quintessentially Italian than riding through the streets in a Ferrari? The tour wraps up with lunch at a local cafe. And as if this memorable experience isn’t enough, you’ll also get a coffee table book as a memento of your day. It was the highlight of the trip for my son and husband!
Artisan Tour: Few places in the world have as rich of an artisan culture as Florence. From leather and perfume to jewelry making and goldsmiths, masters have been passing along skills to their apprentices for centuries. And although commercialization has caused these trades to take a hit, there are still artisans dedicated to their craft. Based on your specific interests, your guide will spend a half day taking you around the city to various shops. See artists using magnifying glasses to create intricate hand painted jewelry, visit the city’s best leather shop seeing leather makers hard at work and try your hand at making hand-painted stationery and notebooks. After lunch, our guide even took us to vintage couture shops where we found designers like Pucci and Ferragamo. It puts a different flare on seeing the city and my daughter was enamored.
City Walking Tour: Home to the Accademia, the Uffizi and the Duomo, avid history and art buffs could spend hours or even days taking in all Florence has to offer. But for most kids and families, four hours is ample. Our guide started off taking us to the Accademia where we saw Michelangelo’s impressive David up close. Because my daughter is a musician, we made a special stop at the Museum of Musical Instruments within the Accademia to see the gorgeous 1690 Stradivarius tenor viola. We also visited the working art school where students were busy taking measurements and completing the mathematics required to create sculptures. Our guide then led us through the streets of Florence pointing out more artisan shops and discussing history along the way ending with the spectacle of the Duomo where we admired the pink, green and white marbled fortress and ended with another perfect local Italian lunch.