It was with mild trepidation that we arrived at 8:45 in the morning at the Piazza San Marco for our City Wonders Best of Florence walking tour. Not the kind of trepidation you might feel going to a job interview or the dentist – it was a holiday after all – but the worry that we might be pushing the kids a bit too far.
This was day five of our tour of Italy and during the the first three days in Rome we had already been on three tours including the Vatican and the Colosseum in temperatures that us West of Ireland residents are simply not used to. The first day of the trip, when we arrived in Rome, we had got up at 4am to get the flight and the previous day (4th) had been travelling from Rome to Florence. Suffice to say we were all rather tired and to top it off it was raining – though this is something Sligo dwellers are used to.
This tour of Florence was visiting an art museum, a church and looking at buildings without a gladiator in sight so we felt we might be pushing our luck with our weary 11 year old twins and nearly 13 year old daughter (it was her birthday in two days time). To be honest I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit either.
We needn’t have worried. The tour was absolutely amazing.
A large part of was down to our fantastic tour guide, Paul. An Italian-American who had grown up in New York, Paul has a PhD in Art History and has been running tours in Florence for 16 years. His knowledge is amazing and his manner and way of imparting his knowledge was infectious.
David (or Dave as he’s known in our house)
So, wireless receiver and headphones donned and soundcheck complete, Paul led us to our first stop, the Galleria Accadamia, a short walk from the rendezvous point. Skip the queue tickets provided with the tour meant we only had a very short wait to get in compared to the long queue of people who didn’t have tickets.
Paul took us on an amazing journey through history from the Roman empire, through the dark ages and into the Renaissance, specifically Renaissance Italy and more importantly Florence. He constantly engaged the tour group, asking us questions and really involving the whole group including our kids who loved his style and really got involved.
The tale he told used the history of art and the Florentine prominent family of the time, the Medicis (said with a nod to get the pronunciation right), to build up to the only reason people come to the Accadamia (Paul’s words not mine), Michelangelo’s David. Paul explained how, on David’s unveiling, the nobility and learned were shocked and angry as this was not how the statue of a young shepherd boy should look but how the uneducated understood and got it straight away.
He also explained the reason for David’s stance, his out of proportioned buttocks, overly large right hand and slowly walked us round the statue to understand exactly how people would have first viewed and understood Michelangelo’s masterpiece over 500 years ago.
The dome within a dome
After the Accademia we walked down to the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, or the Duomo as it’s known. On the way, Paul continued the story of Renaissance Florence and the Medicis, pointing out important buildings and giving a wonderful history of the city and the family in those times.
The Medicis, incredibly rich and full of self-importance, wanted the biggest church in the world and the Duomo was the largest until Pope Julius decided he wanted the biggest church to be in Rome and commissioned St. Peter’s Basicala. Now, it is 3rd largest behind St. Peter’s and Sir Christopher Wren’s St. Paul’s cathedral in London.
Before we went in Paul explained how the Medicis sent Filippo Brunelleschi to Rome for two years to study the Pantheon and how to build a large dome. When the first dome was built it was only slightly bigger than the Pantheon which was, of course, not big enough for the Medicis so they had a larger dome built above the first one, using the first one as part of its structure. This means that the dome you see on the inside of the cathedral is not the same as the one on the outside.
During the tour of the inside of the church Paul again provided huge amounts of information and history around the building including the painting of the Last Judgement in the dome and the 24 hour clock that works in an anti-clockwise direction.
From the Romans to World War II
Having left the cathedral we continued the tour down through the streets, stopping in the Piazza della Signoria, where David would have originally stood for over 300 years and where a full sized replica now stands, to end the tour at the Ponte Vecchio. During this Paul continued the story through the Renaissance and up to World War II and Hitler’s visit to Florence with Mussolini and how this saved the Florence’s buildings and artwork from destruction.
There was the option of a continuation of the tour in the afternoon with a visit to the Uffizi Gallery. We decided not to do that and with the benefit of hindsight I think that was the right decision for us and the children who’d thoroughly enjoyed it were now hungry and tired.
So, would I recommend this tour to other families? Wholeheartedly and absolutely yes. The kids loved it and we found out so much more that if we had visited these places on our own without a guide.
Yes, you might not get Paul as your guide – hopefully you do – but looking at Trip Advisor for the tour there is nothing but glowing praise for other guides too.
This and the other tours we took on our Italy trip have made us realise that walking down a road with headphones following someone holding an umbrella up in the air isn’t as bad as we’d thought. In fact it’s blooming fantastic.
Disclaimer – Thank you to City Wonders for providing us with a free tour of Florence for the purposes of this review.
This review is, as always, 100% honest and our own opinion.