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Tuscany Family Holidays & Breaks

Pietrasanta.Pietrasanta.© Visit Pietrasanta
Parco Naturale Migliarino San Rossore.Parco Naturale Migliarino San Rossore.© Parco Naturale Migliarino San Rossore
Florence's Calcio Storico.Florence's Calcio Storico.© Visit Florence
Florence's Porcellino.Florence's Porcellino.© Visit Florence
Leaning Tower of Pisa.Leaning Tower of Pisa.© www.opapisa.it
The Parco di Pinocchio.The Parco di Pinocchio.© Parco di Pinocchio - Collodi
The Apennine Colossus in the Parco di Pratolino.The Apennine Colossus in the Parco di Pratolino.© Visit Florence
Tuscan countryside.Tuscan countryside.
Zipwiring at the Parco Avventura Fosdinovo.Zipwiring at the Parco Avventura Fosdinovo.© Parco Avventura Fosdinovo
Kids at the Museo Leonardo da Vinci, Florence.Kids at the Museo Leonardo da Vinci, Florence.© Museo Leonardo da Vinci, Firenze
Il Duomo, Florence, by nightIl Duomo, Florence, by night© Visit Florence
Flying Time 2.25hrs
Carbon Footprint 1.07 CO2
Timezone GMT +1
Currency Euro

Today

Overview

Italy may be most child-friendly country of all, and few Italian regions are as alluring as Tuscany. Despite being a major tourist destination, it retains the detached beauty and laidback charm that drew the first tourists. Several of its cities and towns are world famous for their art, architecture and culture, especially Siena, Florence, Pisa and Lucca, but just as important when it comes to family holidays in Tuscany are its festivals and its superb food – parents fighting the fondness of their kids for fast food will be happy to hear that the Slow Food movement is big in Tuscany.

The only problem is the tourists, especially in the cities, but there are swathes of idyllic country to escape into, as well as enchanting hilltop towns and villages. If the crowds have followed you there, too, you can always de-camp to the island of Elba (see below) for some beach life.

Things to do with kids in Tuscany

Have a family city break in Florence in the north of the region, once the heart of the Renaissance and still an awesomely lovely city with an unrivalled collection of art and architecture. Too many people, too many touts, and too much unrelieved history make it a place where you need to take it easy with children. The best things to do in Florence with kids are a trip down the Arno, an extended gelato stop, a stroke of Il Porcellino (a bronze fountain of a boar), a carousel ride or three, and a run around the Boboli Gardens with their statues, ponds, fountains and grottoes. With older kids and teens in Florence, be more adventurous: take in the Uffizi with its Botticellis, Michelangelos and Leonardos and the Museo di Leonardo da Vinci with its working machines, venture up the Duomo for its awesome city views, and check out the Museo Galileo science museum.  

Go green about 11km outside Florence, in the Parco Pratolino (Park di Villa Demidoff), with a vast statue of the Colossus of the Apennines by Giambologna, a lovely chapel, a Cupid's grotto, fountains, an aviary, and wildlife deer, foxes and hares to spot amidst the vegetation.

Travel west for a gander at the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the city's truly miraculous Campo de Miracoli – it's a genuine marvel that no amount of photos can prepare you for (you have to be eight or up to climb it; to do so in high season, you also need to book well in advance). The other must-see is the Cantiere delle Navi Antiche di Pisa, where you can watch excavation work on 11 Roman shipwrecks discovered in marshland once occupied by Pisa's harbour. If you're in Pisa at lunchtime, buy takeaway pizza slices or panini from one of the modest bars on Via Roma and head to the botanical gardens for a picnic. 

From Pisa, take a boat-trip into the Parco Naturale Migliarino San Rossore Massaciuccoli, with its impressive wildlife, birdwatching trails around Lake Massaciuccoli itself, cycling and horse-riding.

Discover Lucca just northeast of Pisa. It's the only town in Italy still fully surrounded by its walls, dating from the Renaissance. You can bicycle along these tree-lined walls – hire outlets have adult-child tandems, trailers and baby seats. Another highlight is the mummified body of St Zita in its glass shrine in the Basilica di San Frediano, but if you don't go inside, have a look at the extraordinary golden 13th-century mosaic on the façade, perhaps from the terrace of friendly Bar San Frediano, where you might be given a free panino with your drinks. Another scenic sight is the Piazza Anfiteatro, an oval-shaped piazza by virtue of the fact that its medieval houses were built within the remains of a Roman amphitheatre. 

Head for the Versilian Coast, also north of Pisa, with its large beaches and shallow waters perfect for younger kids, plus medieval Pietrasanta with its marble and bronze monuments and workshops with live demonstrations. The best seaside resort here is Viareggio, where, for a moderate sum you can stake out your space for the day on one of the private stretches of Mediterranean beach, some of which have play equipment and small seawater swimming pools. The sea isn't the cleanest, but the setting – a backdrop of mountains behind a seafront of beautiful Belle Epoque buildings – is sublime.

Try hiking, caving, horse-riding and other outdoor activities in those mountains, the Apuan Alps, which run parallel to the coast. The Parco Avventura Fosdinovo here offers treetop circuits, mountain-biking and quad-biking, or from December to March you can even ski, at Abetone. The Alps information centre, the Centro Visite Parco Alpi Apuane, is in Castelnuovo di Garfagnana. The Garfagnana region itself, adjoining the Alps to the east, is wild, wooded and full of wiggling hillside roads, its chestnut forests roamed by wild boars, porcupines and the like. Apart from food (yes, you can eat the porcupine as well as boar), the highlights are the Grotta del Vento (Wind Cave) formations, and the donkey-backed Ponte del Diavolo near Borgo a Mozzano, named for a legend that has it that Satan himself intervened to finish its difficult construction.

Loop back down towards Florence. If you like animal parks, Pistoia Zoo is highly regarded and includes summer nocturnal visits to see animals that aren't very lively during the daytime. Also near Pistoia (but heading back towards Lucca) is the Parco di Pinocchio, a slightly faded attraction with bronze statues of characters from the classic tale by Carlo Lorenzini, set within a maze, plus a mechanical puppet theatre, live shows, weekend face painting and other oddball fun.

West of Florence, stop off to see hilltop San Gimignano, which evokes the spirit of life in the Middle Ages more than any other Tuscan site, with its thrilling skyline – often described as a 'medieval Manhattan' – of medieval towers. In high season it can be spoilt by crowds.

Go further west still, to the Tuscan coast sweeping down from Livorno to the Maremma, which is popular with Italians – especially the 150km of white beaches and clear water of the beautiful island of Elba. Though package tourism has well and truly found this little gem, it's a great place from which to go island-hopping, or you can ride the cable car up to Mont Capanne for stunning views of Tuscany and its Mediterranean coast. Never ever come to Elba in late July or August (May and Sept are glorious, on the other hand).

Otherwise, explore the big draw of this coast, the Parco Regionale della Maremma, with its deserted beaches amidst a landscape of pine trees. The birdlife here is spectacular, and there are walking trails, bike hire, horse-riding and canoeing trips.

Venture to the biggest attraction inland from here, amidst the idyllic rolling hills and vineyards of central Tuscany: Siena, the stunning medieval town best known for its bareback horserace, the Palio, held on two days in July and August. The event can be challenging for those with children, as there's lots of standing about in crowds in the heat, but a family themed tour with award-winning Context Travel, with the option of a stable visit, can make it more a more child-friendly experience. (Context also run family walks in Florence.)

Eat

Eating is an art form in Tuscany perhaps even more than it is in the rest of Italy, and few places on Earth can boast such wonderful raw materials: the region's olive oil, meat, vegetables, beans and fish go into a host of internationally famous dishes such as risotto with cuttlefish ink, ravioli stuffed with ricotta in a tomato sauce, hearty fish soups, boar sausages, ham…  We could go on interminably. And don't forget the delicious fruit, cheeses, wines and coffee. Oh, and the ice cream isn't bad, either.

Staff in restaurants are as welcoming to kids as they are in the rest of the country, and outside the major cities and seaside resorts there are wonderful bargains to be had in many small, family-run, rural restaurants.

Foodie families might even like to sign for a Gastronomic Family Adventure for ages 5+.

When to go to Tuscany

May and June are gorgeous, with snow lingering picturesquely on the peaks and the lush meadows thick with wildflowers – perfect weather for picnicking. July and August are extremely hot, and while the heat drives many people from the cities, the coast gets overcrowded. It is, however, blissfully refreshing in the mountains.

In June, watch Florence’s Calcio Storico – a rip-roaring combination of soccer, rugby and wrestling dating back to the 16th century and played in historical costume, in the atmospheric setting of Piazza Santa Croce.

Autumn offers many fabulous clear days of sunshine, with the wooded slopes blazing with seasonal colour. Indeed, harvest time is the best time to visit Tuscany, with lively festivals celebrating everything from truffles to chestnuts and fabulous autumnal produce showcased in the region's restaurants, street markets and shops well into November. For October half-term trips for foodies, see our partner Sapori e Saperi.

If you happen to be here in February, the seaside resort of Viareggio hosts the country's largest carnival after that of Venice. 

Cost

Tuscany's cities and best-known tourist draws are generally expensive; the countryside is much cheaper both for accommodation and restaurants. If you're looking to save some pennies, try Lucca and the Garfagnana region, which are unspoilt and not overrun by tourists even during high season, meaning that prices are low.

By Rhonda Carrier

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