Advice for a first time visitor with children?

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ianlin

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Hello: We are a family of four with 2 kids, 7 and 10. We are visiting Florence next month, April 3 to April 9. We are both excited and a little scared. It will be our first time visit, and none of us speak any Italian. I have so many questions, I don't know where to start.

1. Easter week. Will everything be closed? Will it be crowded everywhere? Will it be hard to find restaurants open? On the on other hand, there will be festivities only occurs during Easter. Is the "Scoppio del Carro" worth seeing? How early do we need to be there? Any other suggestions?

2. Pre-book guided tours? I have read everywhere that it is important to pre-book, especially for Uffizi, or stand in lines for hours. Is it better to pre-book before we leave, or wait until after we arrive? There are hundreds of vendors offering guided tours on internet. Which one can I trust?

3. Weather. Is it rainy in early April?

4. Food. Any suggestions for children friendly restaurants? I understand in Italy resturants generally do not offer children's menu. Is it rude to order half-portion for children? Are reservations generally necessary? My daughter's birthday is during the trip, how are children's birthdays usually celebrated in Italy?

5. Transportation. We plan to do at least one day trip from Florence. Is one day enough time to visit both Lucca and Pisa? Train, or a guided bus tour? Is is hard to get train tickets during Easter? Do I buy a round trip ticket, or buy a separate ticket for each leg of trip, ie, Florence to Lucca, Lucca to Pisa, Pisa back to Florence. Do train tickets have assigned seats? When leaving, how early before departure should we arrive at Amerigo Vespucci airport?

6. Toilets. I understand that people generally need to pay to use public toilets. Do we also have to pay for museum and restaurant toilets? How much is the general charge? If an adult goes in with a child, are you expected to pay double?

These are all the questions I can think of for now. I appreciate any responses and/or suggestions.
 

ianlin

New member
Not even one answer? Is it because I asked too many questions? I would be happy with an answer to any one of my questions.
 

Valentina

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Visiting Florence with 2 children on Easter

Dear ianlin,

we were looking for the information you requested and organizing them for posting.

  • Easter week - Florence is a tourist city and on Easter will be busy as usual. Most shops in the historical city center are open, but we don't have any list since it is at their discretion to be opened or closed. The only days shops can be closed are Easter Sunday and Monday. Also restaurants are always open during this time and you won't have problem finding a good one.
    The Scoppio del Carro certainly deserves to be seen. It's an ancient Florentine tradition that has been taking place on Easter for the last 300 hundreds years. The show will start at 11.00 am in Piazza Duomo. Note that it will be really really crowded out there and time doesn't really matter, since people are going to be there from early morning.
    At the moment there is no official calendar for other events in Florence on Easter, but generally the Scoppio del Carro is the main event. If you intend to spend a day in the countryside nearby Florence on Easter Monday there is a large and beautiful antiques market in Greve in Chianti. You can think about a nice day trip to the Chianti region.

  • Food - In Italy in general most restaurants don't mark themselves as being "children friendly" restaurants but that doesn't mean that children are not welcome. While it is true that we don't use children menus, it is very common use to ask for smaller portions or plain pasta for children. So you don't have to worry asking something different or smaller for your kids, since we usually do it and it's not considered rude at all.
    I suggest you reserve a restaurant for Easter Sunday and Monday. On these days you can have to wait before finding a seat in a restaurant. You may ask your hotel to book it for you.
    I wish a happy birthday to your daughter :D
    We generally organize a birthday party with cakes and candles, singing happy birthday. I understand that it can be difficult to do that when traveling abroad. I suggest you buy a surprise-birthday cake in one of the many bakeries in Florence and bring candles with you from home in your luggage to at least not have to worry about finding them here. She will be very surprised. If you are taking her out for dinner, you can ask the waiter to bring the cake with candles on at the end and then sing her happy birthday. You can make it be special celebrating a birthday in Italy.

  • Weather - in early April weather is generally mild and not too rainy in Florence and Tuscany. The countryside is blooming and everything is green and colorful. Unfortunately the weather is not entirely predictable since the weather has been really capricious this month. But I cross my fingers wishing the weather will be nice very soon ;)

I hope my suggestions answered parts of your questions and help you planning your holiday in Italy.
 

Lourdes

Administrator
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Ciao Ianlin,

You do have a lot of questions and hope little by little we'll be able to answer all of them. I'll try with a few of them right now:

toilets - there are several public toilets in Florence for which you do pay, I believe, around 60 euro cents. You can see a map here with their locations: http://www.comune.fi.it/servizi_pubblici/turismo/bagnipubblici.htm
These are useful when you are out and about. You might have to pay for a child to use it, although I am not sure about that.
You don't have to pay for using restrooms in museums and restaurants, you have access to them while you are there. What is not appropriate is to just enter a cafe/bar or ice cream shop to just use the restroom without making a single purchase, so generally you buy water, tea or snack or gelato and use the restroom while you are there. No need to pay for the use, as long as you do buy something to show your sole intention wasn't just to use their restroom.

transportation - you can visit Pisa and Lucca in a day from Florence. You don't need to buy tickets ahead of time because these are regional trains and seats are not assigned. Tickets are also valid for three months from the date of purchase and not tied to a specific train or time. Just stamp the ticket in the yellow machines at the beginning of each track before getting on the train, the ticket needs to be stamped for when the controller comes along.
The ticket total will cost the same regardless if you buy the entire trip at once or in parts. It is likely in any case that you'll get a ticket for Florence-Lucca, another for Lucca-Pisa and another for Pisa-Florence just for the reason stated above, you aren't buying for a specific train or date. To save paper, make sure to ask that each ticket is valid for the 4 of you (if you buy at the window).
I think taking the train and doing on your own gives you more flexibility than joining a tour group, but that all depends on how comfortable you feel with going on your own.
As for how long to arrive before at the Florence airport - depends on your destination. Most European flights require that you be at the airport at least an hour before hand....as most of the flights from Florence are national or to other European airports where transfers are made, I'd say try to be there at least an hour and a half before. Some times of the day are really busy and checkin is what takes the longest time.

prebooking museum tickets - Easter Sunday and Monday are really busy days in Florence and if you want to go to museums on those days, I do heartily recommend you pre-book tickets now - waiting until you get here might make it really hard to reserve tickets last minute. The rest of the days of that week might be less busy and you might not need to pre-book. In any case, lines at the Uffizi are a constant but waiting times can depend on the time of the day as well as by the weather on a particular day. As to booking sites, you can read what we offered as suggestions recently here:
http://www.discovertuscany.com/forum/florence/366-various-sites-pre-booking-florence-museums.html

As for museums in Florence - if you're planning to going to at least three of the museums listed on this page: http://www.amicidegliuffizi.it/become_a_member.aspx during the week you'll be here, I heartily recommend you buy the family membership to the Friends of the Uffizi - for 100 euro, you'll get your money's worth and you get entrance into all the museums listed for 1 whole year, as many times as you want. It also means you don't need to prebook any tickets, just go to the ticket office and pick up tickets and they'll tell you when to come back to enter at the "reserved" ticket line.

Ok these are some ideas for now, let us know if we missed some of your questions!
 

ianlin

New member
Thank you for your thoughtful answers.

Dear Lourdes and Valentina:

Thank you very much for your thoughtful and informative replies. You have provided valuable information for this first time visitor. Again, THANK YOU!

The Friends of Uffizi membership is a wonderful idea! I went to the website to join. But was stuck at the sign up web page. It appears to be for Italian citizens only, because there is no place on the address fields to enter country. I filled out the first page as best as I can, when I hit enter, next page is completely in Italian. It appears to ask for credit card information. I am not sure what else.

I don't know if membership material will be mailed or emailed. Since we are leaving in less than two weeks, I am uncertain if membership cards will arrrive before we leave. Would it be better if we buy the membership at one of the museum after we arrive?

If you know more about this I would be deeply grateful if you would tell me.

Grazie mille!
 
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Lourdes

Administrator
Staff member
wait and get membership in Florence

Ianlin,

Definitely wait and buy the membership here, it isn't just for Italian citizens but it is likely the online process is not well planned out.

You can't buy it at any museum though, you have to go to the Friends of the Uffizi welcome desk which is at Door 2 of the Uffizi Gallery museum - don't get in line to the right of the door, that is the line to get into the museum and can be really, really long. The door is divided into two entrances to the right and left - just go to the glass door and there you'll see the left door to the Friends of the Uffizi welcome desk. Go in and you'll find a small office - just head in, they'll have you fill out a form with your info, pay and you'll get the card (or cards, not sure since it is a family membership) right there. If you then want to go into the Uffizi as soon as you're done, you have to go across the courtyard to the ticket office, door 4 I believe, and they'll give you tickets with a "gratuito" stamped on it. You need these tickets to then go back to the door for reserved tickets and get in. You might still find a short line here since everyone needs to pass through metal detectors and to handle the flow they let a certain number of people go in every 15 minutes.

For all other museums also head to the ticket office to get your "free" tickets that let you enter into the museum, it is their way to know how many members go into the museums as the cards are not magnetic.

Hope you and your family enjoy your time in Florence! I hope you come back to the forum after your vacation and share with us your experience and any tips you might think might be helpful to other first time visitors :).

P.S.: just thought I'd add a disclaimer that we don't get any commissions for promoting the Friends of the Uffizi membership, I am telling you the info as I know it since I am a member myself and went and enrolled in the membership in this way :)
 

ianlin

New member
Thank you for your reply, Lourdes!

I am so glad to hear you are a member. I would love hear your first hand experience on how this works. After reading your previous reply, I did extensive searches on the net on this topic. For me the greatest benefit of this membership is being able to avoid long lines.

However, some visitors have posted that it didn't quite work that way. Some have reported that many of the museums (Pitti Palace especially), there is not much wait to get in, BUT there are huge lines at the ticket booth. So, even though they are members, they still have to wait a long time in line to get the "free" tickets.

It this true? Or these visitors did not use the membership cards correctly?
 

Lourdes

Administrator
Staff member
I know the membership for short term visitors is only a good deal if you plan to visit enough museums while you are here and to avoid paying extra in booking fees. You avoid long lines because there is generally a separate entrance for reserved tickets and membership ones count as such.

In your case with a family I thought it might be a better deal than paying at each museum... Florence really, really needs a pass of some sort to museums and attractions like so many other cities offer. I hope sooner or later it will come to be, for now the membership is the only sort of alternative.

From what you might have read on the internet it seems that maybe people got in the wrong ticket lines? It might also depend on the time of day and how crowded it was. You're coming Easter week, I can tell you the weekend of Easter plus Monday for Florence is a crowded weekend but after that the city will be less busy, relatively speaking.

Ticket lines at the Uffizi are generally not very long, I've gone in the middle of the week mid-morning and on Saturday mornings. The ticket line hasn't been that long while the line to get into the museum is - you need to go through the metal detector and then they allow a certain amount of people in every 15 minutes so the line gets longer as time passes.
Even the separate entrance for reserved tickets and members has a line since they make you wait to the next scheduled entrance, then you have to go through the detector. I've gone in with groups and that is when I've had to wait the most to get in. Consider that the Uffizi is the main museum in Florence so the most visited, so there is always some sort of wait although this way it is reduced.

The times I've been to Pitti I've never found a line at all at the ticket office, the line was at the entrance to go through the metal detector. There is only one for all the museums and the Boboli Garden. Tickets for the Pitti are valid for 3 days so you can actually go pick up tickets one day, check out the line to get in and if long, return later that day or on the following two days.
I'm going this Saturday, I'll let you know how it goes.

The Accademia is the other museum that gets a long line, I haven't been in a while but I think there was a separate ticket window for reserved tickets. If I find myself nearby in the next few days I'll check it out.

Which museums are you thinking of going to? If you like sculpture, I highly recommend the Bargello museum. AH... it is important to remember that the membership covers the museums listed on the website (Polo Museale) and not all museums in Florence are on that list, particularly Palazzo Vecchio. That is run by a separate administrative entity (city) and their museums are not part of the Friends of the Uffizi membership.
 

ianlin

New member
Again thank you for your reply.

I look forward to hear about your visits on saturday. We would like to visit Uffizi, Academia, Pitti and Boboli Gardens. We arrive late on Friday night, Saturday will be our first day. Since Florence would be crowded during the Easter weekend, would it be better to visit Pisa and Lucca during that time?

BTW, do visitors need to buy tickets to visit the Duomo?
 
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Lourdes

Administrator
Staff member
I'll let you know how it goes on Saturday. For the Duomo you only need a ticket if you want to climb up to the dome, otherwise entrance into the cathedral is free. You also need a separate ticket to climb up the bell tower.
 

Lourdes

Administrator
Staff member
Ok I went to the Pitti Palace this morning and there were maybe just 3 people in front of me at the ticket office. The line to get in was at the metal detector, not very long, took me less than 10 minutes to get in. Since there are several museums in there, after the metal detector you just head to the one you're interested in, there are people but the place is large so it doesn't feel like there are crowds at all.

I also went into the Boboli Gardens, there was another short line there as they checked tickets - there are two tickets for the Pitti Palace, one gets into the gardens and some of the museums, another gets you into the other museums and not the garden so pay attention at the ticket office when you ask for tickets. The gardens also have two other entrances - on via Romana 37 and at the top right next to the Forte Belvedere.

The Accademia gallery today wasn't very full when I passed, there was practically no line. I asked and members of Friends of the Uffizi go through the normal ticket line to get in through the metal detector, then there is the ticket line inside. I have to say I passed at 1pm so being lunch time here, it might for that reason that the line was pretty short.
 

ianlin

New member
Thank you so much!

You have been extremely helpful. I am deeply grateful.

Since Florence is expected to be crowded during Easter weekend, would it be better to visit Pisa, Lucca first, then concentrate on Florence itself after Monday?
 

Lourdes

Administrator
Staff member
:)

You're very welcome!

While I think it might be fun to hang around downtown to see the parade of the Cart through the streets of Florence on the morning of Easter Sunday (the area in front of the cathedral where the fireworks go off gets really packed), I do recommend that you concentrate most of your visit in Florence (museums and churches) to Easter Monday and after. Pisa and Lucca would be good alternatives, you might markets and church services for Easter in any case but I think the towns will not be too crowded.

Hope you have a fun and safe trip, do come back and let us know how everything turns out! We'd love to hear about your experiences.
 

ianlin

New member
Thanks again!. We are leaving tomorrow. I feel both excited and a little apprehensive.

Has it been raining lately in the Florence area?

My children all wanted to stay in Florence on Sunday to see some of the festivities. The area around the Duomo will probably be too crowded to see anything. Any suggestions as to the best places to visit on Sunday?
 

Lourdes

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Staff member
This week in Florence it has been cloudy with lots of sun at certain times as well as light rain. Predictions for this weekend are cloudy with chance of light showers on Sunday.

For Sunday morning I'd likely just walk around the historical center and stick around the area around Via Roma and Piazza della Repubblica to see the cart as it passes by. The area in front of the Duomo gets really packed but you might still be able to see the fireworks from down Via Calzaiouoli once they start without being right in the throng of people. If the weather permits it, I'd head to the Boboli Gardens and take a stroll through the gardens. Although picnicking is not really allowed, some areas of the garden are pretty secluded with benches and green grass with rubbish bins nearby. Make sure you just don't leave trash around, and you might have a very nice Easter lunch out. You can pick up delicious sandwiches to take with you just off Via Calzaiouoli on Via Cimatori at this small shop called I Due Fratellini... except they are closed on Sundays! They make pretty cheap delicious sandwiches, maybe you can try them for a quick lunch on another day - there is no place to sit down, so order and take your order back to a bench or back along the Arno River. In any case, you'll find shops along the streets that will likely be open where you can get panini and water bottles if you do want a picnic, otherwise there will be restaurants open for sure. If you see someplace you like on Saturday, stop and make a reservation for Sunday lunch or dinner, just in case.

Hope you enjoy your time here and have a safe trip!
 

ianlin

New member
Thank you Lourdes. We have arrived in Florence. Yesterday we visited the Duomo, but the line to get in was too long. We climbed the bell tower. It was much harder than I thought. I guess I'm really out of shape.

We have also visited the Uffizi briefly. We joined the Amici degli Uffizi. We will probably go back later during the trip.

I have a question regarding visiting Santa Miniato al Monte. It is little to far to walk, I think. Do you have any info about the buses? After some research, I think Linea D will work. It will also take us to Palazzo Pitti. I have been told I must purchase bus tickets in stores. If I don't use all of the tickets, are they returnable? Any idea how often the line D runs? Do you think it would be better if we try to hail a taxi instead?

I have really enjoyed the food here. I have not tried Bistecca Fiorentina yet, but definitely will. I have oredered half portions for the children. But when the bill came, we were charged the full price anyway, is that how it is supposed to be?
 

ianlin

New member
P.S. The water from tap tastes a little funny. All the resturants offer bottled water. Is tap water safe to drink?
 

Lourdes

Administrator
Staff member
Actually tap water is safe although it does have a taste that might be funny to those that don't normally drink it. Most restaurants only offer bottled water and it is hard to get them to give you tap water instead. A few offer microfiltered water at slightly less cost.

Buses - you need to buy tickets from bars or tabacco shops or newspaper kiosks before you get on the bus. You can also buy tickets on the bus but at higher rate. Then once on the bus you put the ticket in the machines a little inside to get them stamped with time and date. If you end up buying more tickets than you need you can't return them so buy a few at a time. Tickets last 70 minutes, so you can get off and transfer to other lines if you need to without problems. The time stamped the first time you get on is what matters.

The best bus to get up to Piazzale Micheleangelo and San Miniato al Monte is bus 13, you can get it on Lungarno Serristori near Ponte alle Grazie. This is the first bridge to the east of Ponte Vecchio. It goes up the hill, while bus D goes to Pitti along the river, it doesn't go uphill. You can also take bus C3 to get to the Pitti Palace.

As for half portions - yes, you'll still be charged complete dishes. It is better if you order a full portion and ask for an extra plate to divide them up between children or share from your own plate with your children. Sorry if this wasn't clear before.

Hope you are enjoying your time in Florence, did you already make it to Pisa or Lucca?
 

ianlin

New member
Thanks for your reply.

So far having a great time. Thanks for your advice. We plan to visit Pisa and Lucca tomorrow. I will probably not hear back from you before I leave, but, is it better to visit Pisa then Lucca or vice versa? I am assuming Lucca will take more time, and I must also allow time for lunch in between.

I have tried Bistecca Fiorentina. It was good, but not as good as I thought it would be. I guess I had unrealistic expectations based on my readings.

There is a railed electric trolley that runs by S M Novella station. I can find very little info on it. Where does it go?
 
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