Piazzale Michelangelo - Take a break from museums and head out to the Piazzale Michaelangelo (you could drive or take the bus 12 up, but it's most fun to do the walk). Start on the south side of the River Arno, pass through Porta San Niccolo, and stroll up to the hill the Piazzale Michelangelo, passing by mossy fountains.
From this wide terrace are our favorite panoramic views of Florence - looking across the Arno River to the Cathedral and Palazzo Vecchio, the terra cotta rooftops, and Florentine hills in the distance. On a clear day in winter, you can see snow covered peaks in the distance.
Ice cream and snacks are available at the restaurant and from vendors. The square also has a copy of Michelangelo's David.
San Miniato al Monte - Just beyond the Piazzale Michelangelo is the church of San Miniato al Monte. It's well worth a visit, this exquisite church is much older than the Renaissance, and there's a great story that goes with it. In the 3rd century AD, St. Minias was a hermit living on this hillside. He was beheaded, but picked up his head, crossed over the river and returned to this site, where a shrine, and later the church was built.
Inside the church is an amazing 13th century mosaic of Christ and the Virgin Mary, embellished with fabulous winged creatures. Green and white geometric marble patterns adorn the church inside and out and in the crypt are thought to be bones of St. Minias. This is one of the most beautiful churches in Italy.
From San Miniato al Monte, it's a great walk back down toward the Arno on Via Monte alle Croci
(you'll come back down at Porta San Miniato). Or, if you have teens and want to take a longer walk
, follow south on Viale Galileo Galilei,
then return on Via di Leonardo, which ends at Porta San Giorgio and Forte di Belvedere. This is a super walk, the whole area is hillsides covered with greenery and olive trees, dotted with villas, it's an open feeling of what Florence was like outside the city walls in centuries past.
Old city walls and gates - In the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, Florence was often feuding with some other town - good defenses were very important. Starting in the late 13th and 14th century, stone walls, gates and watch towers were built to protect the city.
Today in the Oltrarno, whole sections of the walls and five gates still stand (Porta san Niccolo, Porta San Miniato, Porta San Giorgio, Porta Romana, Porta San Frediano). The wall starts at Porta San Niccolo, the oldest gate (built in 1327), on the eastern edge of the old city, just below the Piazzale Michelangelo.
Walk the city wall from Porta San Niccolo, along Via dei Bastioni, to Porta San Miniato. Continue following the wall (along Via di Belvedere) to Porta San Giorgio. The stone walls certainly look like they could keep out an army - crenelations, bastions, and solid construction. Walking along the city walls, kids can imagine Florence centuries ago, these walls give shape to the old city.
There's a gap in the city walls, as parts are now incorporated into the Boboli Gardens, but the next section to explore is Porta Romana to Piazza Torquato Tasso. The Porta Romana gate is impressive - very solid, massive masonry gateway, with two huge ancient studded wooden doors. Follow the city wall from the Porta Romana, all the way to the Piazza Torquato Tasso (follow the wall on the east side, it's more peaceful than the west side of the wall on Viale Franceso Petrarca).
The last section of city wall and gateway is Porta San Frediano, just south of the River Arno, at Borgo San Frediano. Walk from the gateway north, up Via Lungo le Mura di Santa Rosa, to the river and Lungarno Soderini.