Florence and Tuscany with Teens

Part 2 in my Italy series: Rome, Florence/Tuscany, Venice

Tuscany

I highly recommend visiting Florence and Tuscany with your teens. On our visit to Florence we spent a full day on a private Tuscany tour through Tuscan Sunshine Tours. It was perfect for our group of 4, because we were able to choose exactly where to go and what we were interested in seeing. We researched in advance and chose Siena, Monteriggioni, and San Gimignano.

Our tour guide was friendly and knowledgeable, and even made an unscheduled stop at the U.S. Cemetery where many Americans are buried who died fighting in Italy during WW II. It was very interesting and moving. Then we went to Siena, where he dropped us off at the Piazza del Campo for our own exploration of the city. He talked extensively about their famous horse race on the way, so that when we actually got there it was pretty neat to see where the horses actually run their race. I am sure the race would be incredible to see and experience.

Florence and Tuscany with teens family in Piazza del Campo in Siena where annual horse races are held

 

 

Piazza del Campo in Siena, where the annual horse races are held

 

Another great site to visit is the Palazzo Pubblico, where you can climb the Torre del Mangia, which is 102 meters (367 feet) tall. Climbing to the top is strenuous, but once you reach the top there is a beautiful view of Siena and the surrounding countryside. 

Palazzo Publicco and Torre del Mangia in Siena, Italy with tall tower Florence and Tuscany with teens can climb

 

 

Palazzo Publicco: teens will love climbing the tower and seeing great views of the city and countryside

 

view from above of Piazza del Campo in Siena where horse races are held

 

 

View of Piazza del Campo from the tower

 

Florence and Tuscany with teens View of Tuscan countryside from the top of Torre del Mangia, Palazzo Publicco in Siena

 

 

View from the top of Torre del Mangia

 

Our next stop was the medieval walled town of Monteriggioni. The Sienese built it in 1214-19 as a defensive position in their war against Florence. The poet Dante Alighieri used Monteriggioni’s turrets as a symbol for the “ring of giants encircling the infernal abyss.”

Florence and Tuscany with teens Italian Tuscan hill town, fortress of Monteriggioni, and featured in Assassin's Creed

 

 

Monteriggioni

 

cover of the children's book Dante for fun Hell Florence and Tuscany with teens

 

 

A fun book my teens found to be humorous in the gift shop

 

What my kids really loved was that in Assassin’s Creed II and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Monteriggioni was the home to Ezio and his uncle Mario. There is a great little museum you can explore with weapons and armor that you can try on.

Florence and Tuscany with teens boy wearing Italian chain mail in Monteriggioni museum

Florence and Tuscany with teens girl holding shield and sword in Monteriggioni museum

 

 

Playing around with armor and weapons in the small museum

 

Florence and Tuscany with teens like assassin's creed product display in Monteriggioni museum

 

 

They were excited to see this Assassin’s Creed display

 

Florence and Tuscany with teens girl wearing armor and holding sword in Monteriggioni museum

You can also climb part of the walls and look over the beautiful Tuscan countryside. It wasn’t crowded at all and the small town had a fabulous restaurant right at the entrance. Monteriggioni is a very calm and beautiful place to explore.

Florence and Tuscany with teens family on walls overlooking Tuscan countryside at Fortress of Monteriggioni

 

 

On the city walls at Monteriggioni with a beautiful view of the countryside

 

Finally, we drove to San Gimignano, which is another small walled medieval hill town, also featured in Assassin’s Creed II. It is famous for all of the various towers that still dominate the skyline. Back in the day, rich citizens competed with each other to build the highest tower. About 14 of them remain, but in medieval times, there were 72, with the highest being 70 meters tall.

Florence and Tuscany with teens 4 of the towers remaining in San Gimignano Italy Tuscan Countryside

 

 

View of several of the towers that still stand in San Gimignano

 

We wandered around the beautiful, small city and stopped in a piazza where two different ice cream places claimed to have “The Best Gelato in the World.”

Florence and Tuscany with teens storefront of gelato restaurant with The best ice cream in the world sign

 

 

Great place to stop for a treat in San Gimignano

 

Florence

In Florence, your teens can visit the statue of David in the Accademia Gallery.

Florence and Tuscany with teens crowd viewing Michelangelo's statue of David in Florence at the Accademia

 

 

Inside the Accademia is the famous statue of David

 

What is great about the Accademia is they have an unfinished statue that shows just how much of a genius sculptors are, creating incredible beauty from a solid piece of rock. Just amazing.

unfinished statue by Michelangelo in Florence Accademia

 

 

This unfinished statue gives a great idea of just how amazing sculptors are that can create something like this out of a solid piece of rock

 

Of course, you can do more climbing in Florence, climbing to the top of the famous Duomo for a great view over the city. In addition, teens can see famous art in the Uffizi, and tour the Basilica of Santa Croce where many famous Italians (that your kids have probably studied) are buried or memorialized, including Michelangelo, Rossini, Machiavelli, Galileo Galilei, and Dante. Each has an incredibly beautiful, elaborate monument.

monuments and tombs in Santa Croce in Florence of Galileo, de Medici, Dante, Michelangelo, Machievelli and da Vinci

 

 

Famous Italians’ monuments in Santa Croce, clockwise from top left: Galileo, Cosmo de Medici, Dante, Michelangelo, Machievelli, and da Vinci

 

Overlooking Florence is the Piazzale Michelangelo, which offers a panoramic view of Florence. Around sunset, it is packed with lots of young people with picnics and drinks enjoying the weather and eagerly awaiting the beautiful sunset over the city. It is a great place to go to see an absolutely gorgeous view of Florence.

 sunset view from Plaza Michelangelo of Florence, Italy

 

 

View of Florence right before sunset from the Piazalle Michelangelo

 

My teens enjoyed our visit to Florence and Tuscany, but preferred the countryside and seeing the medieval hill towns, as these were less crowded than the big cities. It was also fun wandering through the streets. The Assassin’s Creed connection didn’t hurt, either.

Up next–In Part 3 of “Italy with Teens” I will discuss Venice. Please leave me a comment or share your ideas for great places to visit with teens in Florence and Tuscany below, and once again, thank you for reading and supporting me!

Rome with Teens

Part 1 in my Italy Series: Rome, Florence & Tuscany, Venice

Italy (and especially Rome) is a fantastic place to take your teens, especially if they are “Assassins Creed” lovers and have any interest in history and culture. In this travel series, I am going to discuss three different Italian cities that are interesting for teens and suggest great activities and sights that they will love!

Let’s start with Rome. My teens and I arrived in Rome and took the Leonardo Express train in to the city. From the train station, it was a quick walk to our hotel, Hotel Diocleziano. The hotel offers a great breakfast each morning, it is close to public transportation, and the rooms were very comfortable and quiet.

Roman Gladiator School

My two kids, (OK, only one is a teen) were 16 and 20 at the time. Their ultimate, all-time favorite part of our entire trip was a class at the Roman Gladiator School. The class started with a tour of the museum that showcased weapons and uniforms of Roman gladiators and soldiers. The kids got to try on helmets and costumes, and hold swords and other weapons.

Rome with Teens dressed up in Roman soldier costumes at Gladiator School
Dressed as Roman Soldiers in the Museum
Fancy head dresses in the museum (and spears, of course)

We then went outside to start the training. We were extremely fortunate that the class just had my two kids, so the amazing instructor worked them to their abilities. They started with a cross-fit type warm up, and then he took them through training with small swords, long swords, throwing spears, shields, etc. He taught them all sorts of moves and then allowed them to “fight” each other.

Rome with teens gladiator training
Learning moves from their awesome instructor
video of teens in Rome fighting with swords at Gladiator school
Learning to use spears and shields
teens using spears at Roman Gladiator School
The final fight to decide the victor

At the end they even got to use metal swords. Then he had them each fight me (I, of course, had only been watching and did not get the same training, so they pretty much slaughtered me). The class was top-notch the whole way through. I highly recommend this place, especially for older kids. It was truly fabulous.

kid fighting mom at Roman Gladiator school
I never had a chance!

Rome by Night Tour

When we first got there, I knew we would be jet-lagged. In order to get our bearings and see a lot of places quickly, we booked a private tour to take us around Rome, Rome by Night through Viator. On this tour, we got out to see several sights, then back in the car quickly and covered a lot of locations in a short time. This was a great tour, as it didn’t take too much out of us and gave us a great overview of Rome.

teens by Trevi Fountain Rome by Night tour
Trevi Fountain at night
Teens by Roman Coliseum at night
Coliseum and Roman Forum stop on our “Rome by Night” tour

The Coliseum

Another of their favorites was of course the Coliseum. We booked a VIP tour for multiple levels of the Coliseum and a tour of the Roman Forum through Walks of Italy. With our VIP entry, we didn’t have to stand in boring long lines for entrance to either. We also got to go underneath the Coliseum floor to see the elevators and underground staging areas. Very cool!

teens with mom at Roman Coliseum
Coliseum

Nero’s Golden Palace “Domus Aurea” Tour

Another favorite was a tour of Nero’s Golden House, the “Domus Aurea.” We booked an underground hard-hat tour from Through Eternity Tours. Our tour guide showed us the remains of Nero’s beautiful palace that was filled in and then used as a base for Roman baths above it. His house was so big that the Colisseum was built over the house’s decorative lake. You can still see the remains of ancient roman paintings on the walls and ceilings, some of which were discovered during the early Renaissance that inspired “Grotesque”-styled paintings. This artwork strongly influenced Raphael and Michelangelo when they lowered themselves down into what everyone thought at the time was just a cave, or grotto. It was very cool to see these ancient paintings and to imagine how the palace once looked. Our tour even included a 3D experience of a reconstruction of the original palace, which was pretty awesome.

teens wearing hard hats in Nero's palace tour Domus Aurea
Hard hats (and hair nets!) required in Nero’s Golden House
vaulted round room in Nero's palace Domus Aurea tour
Huge, round, vaulted room in Nero’s Palace

Catacombs and Crypts Tour

In the same “grotesque” vein, the Catacombs and the Crypts tour was also fascinating. The first part of the tour took us out of the city to the Roman Catacombs, where ancient Romans and early Christians buried their dead. We then went back into the city to the Capuchin Crypts, which were very interesting. The tour went through room after room of various bones of deceased Capuchin monks arranged in all sorts of designs—wall sconces, chandeliers, altar pieces, and other decor. Very creepy, but fascinating!

Rome is a beautiful city, and of course the food can’t be beat for most teens—you can always find pizza and pasta somewhere! We visited many other sights in addition to these, but I would say that they enjoyed these the most. I think it also helps to have a tour guide explain things to them along the way. I usually don’t book tours when it is just me and my husband traveling, but in this case, I think the tours were really great and worthwhile. Rome is an amazing destination for a family trip. In my next post, I will talk about Florence and Tuscany with teens. Check back here next Wednesday for the next post, and as always, feel free to share, leave comments, ask questions, and/or follow me on social media or on here (WordPress). Thanks for reading!

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My Travel Planning Tips

Recommended Books & Websites for Planning–my process

When my husband talks about our trips with his friends and they tell him they have an upcoming trip to one of those destinations, he always offers them a copy of our itinerary. That’s a great compliment to me for coming up with activities and locations that we both love. I have included our Scotland itinerary below, and will share more of these itineraries in the future, but for this post, I wanted to share my process and my favorite travel planning tips, books and websites.

woman hiking Old Man of Storr in Scotland travel planning tips
Hiking Old Man Of Storr on Isle of Skye, Scotland

Where I start

I usually start planning at least 18 months before we travel. We decide on a destination, then I narrow it down within that destination, based on things we love. I like to book hotels and airfare a year out. I hate the thought of having my heart set on a certain hotel, and when I try to book it, it is not available. So I like to do all of that early. I always book refundable reservations, in case I have to change our itinerary.

Everything is digital these days, but for me, I love the Fodors Travel Guide Books. I order them on Amazon and can then read through them at my leisure and highlight and dog-ear to my heart’s content. The books always have great travel planning tips. Old School, I know, but it works really well for me. What I love about Fodors is they give all sorts of information about the country, such as driving and cultural information, legal issues, shopping suggestions, weather, itineraries, and recommended hotels, restaurants and sites.

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When I initially plan, I usually get my Fodors out and highlight everything I am interested in, then take notes. Then I hit the web and double check on TripAdvisor.com, another of my favorite sources. Consistently, Fodors matches with TripAdvisor ratings. Usually, too, you can link directly to the site/business’ website from TripAdvisor. You can search in forums for travel planning tips. For hotels, I love to look at traveler-provided photos and room tips before I book. I don’t book anything that isn’t 4 or 5 star reviewed with a large number of reviews listed. There are exceptions, such as for new places, small boutique hotels/b&bs, and less traveled locations. But this has been my modus operandi and it has only steered me wrong once.

For restaurants, I also use Fodors and Tripadvisor. I am a very picky eater (no seafood), so when I plan where we will eat, I always check out the menu on their website first, just to make sure there is at least one item I will eat. That helped me a lot in Scotland with all the fish on many menus.

Making an Itinerary

So my process after all that research is to then start an itinerary, based on our arrival and departure city. I look at all of the tourist sites we want to visit and figure out how many days we need to spend in each place. If we are traveling by train, car or air, I need to allow time in our schedule for that. If we travel by train, I usually like to book something close to the train station, so it is easier to lug our baggage a shorter distance.

Once I have my cities/locations down, I then look at schedules for each day. I decide which site to visit first (sometimes based on crowds), and continue like that for the rest of the day, usually based on location. I write down an approximate time for each location as well as the address and walking directions if necessary. 

travel planning tips for allowing time to tour castles like gloms castle
We allowed plenty of time for visiting castles. This one is Glamis Castle. Incredible!

For hotels, I include the website link, address, room category and reservation number. For restaurants, I include a website link along with reservation time. I usually only reserve restaurants for dinner, to allow for stopping for lunch or breakfast wherever the inclination takes us. That gives us more flexibility. Our philosophy is, we are spending this time and money to visit this amazing country, we need to make the most of it and have a plan.

For an example, below is our itinerary for Scotland:

Scotland Itinerary June 21-July 7, 2019

Friday, June 21

  1. Fly from Washington IAD, ABWL0 UA 146 1025 PM
  2. Use United lounge pass for their lounge

Saturday, June 22

  1. Arrive SCOTLAND 1040 AM
  2. Bus or tram or taxi to Main Train Station Edinburgh, walk to Hotel, drop bags or check in Classic Room  Confirm #
  3. Visit Colton Hill
  4. 3pm Tickets to visit The Real Mary King’s Close, @ Warriston’s Close, High St.
  5. Back to Hotel, change for dinner
  6. Dinner: 530pm Michael Neaves Kitchen, 21 Old Fishmarket Close (Royal
  7. Mile) 9 min walk, .4 miles. Eat, then SLEEP

Sunday, June 23

  1. Arrive at Castle by 930am, get Scottish Heritage Pass from Info Desk, tour castle (about 2.5 hours)
  2. Walk to Palace of Holyrood, tour.
    1. Climb Arthur’s Seat
  3. Back to hotel, change for dinner
  4. Dinner: 730 PM at Contini George St, 103 George St. (14 min walk, .6 miles)

Monday, June 24

  1. Walk to breakfast, find a place on the way. Check out Greyfriars.
  2. Tour National Museum of Scotland, Royal Mile. Go to hotel, change.
  3. Dinner: 7 pm at Howie’s Victoria Street, 10-14 Victoria St (10 min walk)

Tuesday, June 25

  1. 830 am—CHECK out from hotel, go to 24 East London St to pick up Car at AVIS, Conf. #
  2. Drive 1.45 hour to Glamis Castle, 1 hour to tour
  3. Drive 1 hour to Dunnottar Castle, Tour, then drive 1 hour to Douneside
  4. Check in to: ABERDEENSHIRE Douneside House by 630 pm booking # www.dounesidehouse.co.uk   
  5. Dinner 730pm at Douneside, 730PM (Anniversary Dinner)

Wednesday, June 26

  1. If didn’t get to Dunnottar, go there first.
  2. Castle Fraser, tour; Drive about 50 min to Fyvie Castle, tour
  3. Check out city of Aberdeen, or visit other castles in area if time
  4. Dinner 730pm at Banchory Lodge Hotel, Dee St, Banchory

Thursday, June 27

  1. Check out of DOUNESIDE HOUSE
  2. leave early am to DRIVE 45 min to Braemar or Ballater area, go early and do hike 
  3. Drive 1.5 hours to Aviemore/Cairngorms, Do a hike—viewpoint and buzzard trail (2.5 hours).  By 430 or 5 pm Drive 1 hour (from Aviemore) to check in to NAIRNE Invernairne booking # http://invernairne.co.uk/. Change for dinner
  4. Dinner 730 pm Nairn
couple in Nairn Scotland in front of a sunset travel planning tips stay at Invernairne
This is the incredible guest house we stayed in during our visit to the Inverness area. I highly recommend it! Invernairne in Nairn. Amazing views, service and room!

Friday, June 28

  1. Tour Castle Cawdor, Culloden, maybe Brodie Castle if time or explore Inverness
  2. Dinner 730pm at Cafe1 in Inverness, 75 Castle St.

Saturday, June 29

  1. Check out of Invernairne
  2. Drive to Loch Ness Cruise, (about 45 min—A96 & A82) park at Clansman Hotel, Brackla Harbour, Inverness, arrive NLT 930 am for 10 am cruise cruise the Loch and visit the castle on two hour tour. One hour cruise, one hour visit to explore Urquhart Castle
  3. NOON: leave, drive about 1.5 hours to Eilean Donan, tour about 2 hours (cafe there)
  4. Drive to PORTREE/ISLE OF SKYE Hotel, booking # Premier Room B&B,
  5. Dinner 7pm at Hotel

Sunday, June 30

  1. Drive to Old Man of Storr, Quiraing and Kilt Rock and hike
  2. Dinner: 7 pm Flodingarry Skye Restaurant

Monday, July 1

  1. Dunvegan Castle, Fairy Pools, Fairy Glen; go to hotel, change.
  2. Dinner 8pm Marmalade Hotel in Chargrill Restaurant, Home Farm Rd. Portree

Tuesday, July 2

  1. Check out of Hotel
  2. drive to Armadal, take Ferry to Mallaig
  3. Drive towards Ft. William, do Nevis Range Gondola on way (eat at top!)
  4. Check in to FT. WILLIAM Factor’s Inn conf # Standard Rm, B&B  https://factorsinn.com/ change for dinner
  5. Dinner 9pm Inverlochy Castle (still celebrating Anniversary!)

Wednesday, July 3

  1. Check out of Factor’s Inn. Breakfast included at castle
  2. Drive to Glencoe then to Stirling Castle (take the A82 about 2.5 hours—allow time for stopping/pix)
  3. Tour Stirling Castle (we have tix), can eat lunch behind castle at River House Restaurant? Or at castle cafe.
  4. Tour Battle site, Wallace Monument if time
  5. Arrive b/w 330 and 5 to tour Doune Castle (have tix) (about 14 min drive to Doune) closes at 530, allow 2 hours, though!
  6. Check in to hotel conf. # Small Double. Change for dinner
  7. Dinner 830 pm at hotel

Thursday, July 4

  1. Drive to Balmaha, Loch Lomond, take ferry to Inchcailloch, tour
  2. Go to Battlefield or Wallace if no time yesterday. Hotel, change
  3. Dinner: 830pm Kailyard by Nick Nairn, Hilton Doubletree Hydro in Dunblane

Friday, July 5

  1. Check out of hotel early, drive 1.5 hours to Blair Castle, tour. Try to go through Falkirk for the Kelpies
  2. Drive to airport, return rental car (about 1.5 hour drive) to
  3. FLY from EDIN to DUB: 415 pm flight EI3257, arrive Dublin 530pm
  4. get taxi to Hotel, Dublin, booking #. Change for dinner
  5. Dinner 830 pm The Unicorn Restaurant

Saturday, July 6

  1. Tour Dublin, whatever hubby wants to do. Ideas for food: Darkey Kellys (live music), 1 Lord Edward St; Arthur’s Pub (near Guiness), music all day, 28 Thomas St, Ushers; Temple Bar: Old Storehouse Bar & Restaurant, live music from 3pm on (3 Crown Alley, Temple Bar)
  2. Dinner 630 pm Brookwood, 141 Baggot St, Lower

Sunday, July 7

  1. Check out of Hotel
  2. taxi to airport
  3. Fly home—1235pm, EI119 (Aer Lingus), arrive IAD 335 pm
  4. Drive home from DC

Right now I am working on the details and itinerary for my husband’s milestone birthday coming up in 2020. I have my Fodors, I’ve booked our hotel, and am just waiting for flights to open. I am checking out travel planning tips on TripAdvisor and other blogs. Next up will be our schedule for each day. Because this is a basic “chill” trip, I don’t have to come up with too much. We plan to do lots of lounging by a pool and the sea!

If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to comment. Other sites I love to consult include TravelFashiongirl.com for tips on what to wear and other great insights, travel sites related to the country we are visiting, and also Fodors.com. Of course, if I have any questions on planning that I need answered that I can’t find there, I just google the question, and the answer or tip usually comes right up. We live in amazing times!

Best Travel Purse: the Travelon Anti-theft Classic Mini

Review

The Travelon Anti-theft Classic Mini travel purse is my favorite travel accessory. I have this in the navy blue, and have now used it throughout Scotland and Italy. I love the small size of this travel purse, and you can really fit a ton of stuff in there. It holds my phone, my passport, extra camera batteries, my small camera, money, hygiene products, wallet, tickets, etc. It is also small enough to stuff into a larger “personal item” for the plane so that when you arrive at your destination you have a smaller item to tote around. I love this so much more than carrying a big backpack, unless I am hiking. It also has a slash-resistant body and shoulder straps, plus locking clasps for the large pocket and large flap pocket. It is made of durable nylon so it is water resistant and stays clean. Finally, it has RFID card slots and an led light.

If you are looking for a great travel purse, this Travelon Anti-theft travel purse is it! If you want to check it out on Amazon, you can click the link below. Here it is in action in Edinburgh:

woman wearing travelog anti-theft classic mini travel purse in Edinburgh
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