by Karen Quinn, Jul 01 2019
How to visit San Gimignano with kids.
San Gimignano is the most famous hilltop town in the Tuscany region of Italy for good reason. It’s super pretty, the views are breathtaking and the people are friendly. The walled town is so quintessentially Tuscan you can understand why thousands of tourists visit each year.
San Gimignano is known as the town of fine towers due to its medieval towers, built by wealthy land owners constantly trying to out do each other by building higher and fancier. Only 14 are remaining but once there were 72 overlooking the Tuscan Hills. As you approach San Gimignano you’ll see the towers standing proud on top of the hills, it’s definitely worth stopping to take in the view and maybe a quick photo or two.
San Gimignano Parking
The centre of San Gimignano is a limited traffic area meaning you won’t be able to actually drive through the city walls and you’d have to be a pretty advanced driver to get a car through the narrow streets anyway!
There are several parking areas available which, although clearly sign posted, we found it a bit tricky to find the entrances. We visited in the peak of summer, probably San Gimignanos busiest time so the traffic to get to the town was awful, lots of shouting and beeping so we did loop around the city a few times, eventually giving up and parking at a supermarket at the bottom of the hill. It took about twenty minutes to walk up to the walls, going at the pace of a seven year old. Phew!
If you’re staying at one of the local B & Bs outside the city walls then just leave your car there and walk in.
Exploring San Gimignano with kids
Once you’ve passed through the main city gates it’s about a 20 minute walk up to the Piazza della Cisterna, the historic centre at the top of town. 20 minutes that is if you don’t take it as slowly as we did, stopping in various shops, heading down winding sidestreets and hunting out the best views of the Tuscan Countryside.
I suggest you keep the kids happy as soon as you arrive and stop for a gelato, you’ll be spoilt for choice with the many quaint little shops but I highly recommend Gelateria Dondoli located conveniently in the Piazza Della Cisterna. There will be queues but the cooling sweetness of real Italian Gelato is worth it.
Once you reach the Piazza della Cisterna be sure to stop at the wishing well in the centre and treat the kids to a Euro or two to make all their wishes come true!
If your kids are anything like my daughter then they’ll love a little adventure thrown in to any visit. I recommend climbing the Torre Grossa which at 54 metres is the tallest tower in San Gimignano and was built in the 1300s. You can access the Torre Grossa through the Town Hall, the Palazzo Comunale. The steps are pretty steep but mainly enclosed, most people should manage it ok, just make sure to take plenty of water if you visit on a hot day. For other awesome Italian towers you can climb, have a look at my review of going up the Asinelli Tower in Bologna.
Make sure you pop into the Duomo to see the beautiful 14th century frescoes and to cool down a bit if you’re visiting when it’s hot. For some reason, my daughter also loved drinking for the public water fountains dotted around the town, she took it almost like a water fountain scavenger hunt!
If you have a couple of days to fill then you can save some money by buying a San Gimignano City Pass which will give you entry to the Palazzo Comunale, Town Hall, Torre Grossa, the Archaeological Museum, the Pharmacy of Santa Fina, Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art Raffaele De Grada, the Duomo, Sacred Art Museum and St. Lawrence Church all for just €16 per person.
San Gimignano family friendly hotels
San Gimignano is quietest first thing in the morning and into the evening so if you’re touring Tuscany it’s a good place to spend a night or two. If you fancy staying in or near San Gimignano then you have a few options
Outside the Walls
If you really want to treat yourselves then check out the Borgo Pignano, possibly the most luxurious place to stay near San Gimignano.The hotel is based on a beautifully restored country estate in 750 acres of Tuscan countryside. They offer rooms, suites and cottages all impeccably decorated and so comfortable you wont want to leave.
The hotel has an onsite spa and a heated infinity pool overlooking the countryside. They have a separate pool for kids under 12. There’s plenty of space for the kids to run, play, explore and build dens and over the summer months they have staff leading painting and modeling sessions. The hotel can even arrange horse riding lessons, it’s every childs dream!
For a slightly cheaper option (this is Tuscany after all!) you could try the Mormoraia, set on a farm just outside of San Gimignano. Once a convent, this beautiful building is run by the Passoni family and again, overlooks the towers of San Gimignano. The hotel is surrounded by vineyards and olive groves practicing organic farming. They have a beautiful pool area, outdoor terrace and a small wellness area.
Farm stay (Agriturismos)
You’ll find Argriturismi all over Tuscany, they’re basically farms which also offer places to stay. They range from very basic farm stays to opulent guest houses in acres of farm land. The beautiful countryside and often locally produced food make them a fantastic option when choosing where to stay in Tuscany. They great if you’re travelling with family as they all have plenty of outdoor space to run and play and some will even have farm animals to meet.
We stumbled on a gorgeous farmhouse called Il Segreto di Pietrafitta in the countryside just outside the city walls. It has a lovely pool with views up to San Gimignano, cosy “Tuscan style” rooms and you’ll be served food cooked with olive oil grown on the premises.
They even offer on-site Italian cooking lessons, who doesn’t want to be able to recreate all that delicious Italian food at home?!
Inside the walls
If you’re keen on staying inside the walls then the L’Antico Pozzo would be a great choice. Right inside the city but down a quieter side street so you wont be knocked off your feet as soon as you leave the hotel. The hotel has just 18 rooms and manages to mix Tuscan charm with modern design so it works. They even have access to some historic underground rooms giving an even better insight into the history of San Gimignano.
San Gimignano Airbnbs
Of course if you’re travelling with kids then an apartment or villa can be an even better option, you’ll have your own kitchen to keep meal costs down and separate rooms so you can have some space during naps.
San Gimignano UNESCO World Heritage
The historic centre of San Gimignano was named an UNESCO World Heritage site in 1990 due to its integrity of city design and some of the amazing Italian art that can be found within its walls.
San Gimignano wine
Of course we finished our visit with a cold glass of local wine, Vernaccia which is only made in the area and a sprite for Piper. I’d loved to have ordered the whole bottle, being so local its great value but unfortunately we had to drive back to our hotel.
There are plenty of bars and restaurants on the way back down to your car, choose whichever takes your fancy (the ones with the best views are to the left as you head back down the hill). We spent a happy half hour discussing the history of San Gimignano and what life must be like for people living in these hill towns before modern technology came along.
San Gimignano weather
When we were in San Gimignano in August it was hot, hot, hot! I’m sure the same could be said for June, July and September. Average temperatures in July and August are 27 degrees c according to holiday-weather but it definitly felt a lot hotter when we were walking the streets. If you don’t have to stick to the school holidays then Spring or Autumn is probably the most pleasant time to visit, you’ll also avoid the bus loads of other tourists looking to explore the area.
That said, just because it was hot and busy, didn’t mean it wasn’t a wonderful trip, I’d say if you’re in Tuscany with kids, visit San Gimignano at any time of year.
How to get to San Gimignano
I highly recommend hiring a car if you’re visiting Tuscany with kids, I can’t count the amount of times we spotted a gorgeous viewpoint or local restaurant and had to pull up for a quick pit stop. It also makes it so much easier to take extra clothes, water, entertainment and store it in the boot while you explore. You’re also not restrained by someone else’s schedule, love a place and you can stay till late, if you don’t, you can always move on to the next town.
The drive to San Gigmignano will take 1.5 hours from Florence and 1.25 hours from Pisa.
If you don’t fancy driving, then there is a bus from Florence which takes 2 – 2.5 hours. You’ll have to change once but it’s a very cheap way to do it.
You could also take an organized tour, there are many available, just remember you’ll be arriving at exactly the same time as a load of other people making it a very busy walk up to the top! Get Your Guide has a fantastic full day tour from Florence, where you’ll visit Siena, Monteriggioni and San Gimignano with a stop at a Tuscan farm house to sample some local food and wine on the way. Prices start at just £57.25 per person and include air conditioned bus travel, a 3 course meal, wine tasting in a Chianti wine cellar and a one hour guided tour of Siena.
If you’re flying into Italy to begin your adventure then the closest airports to San Gimignano are Florence which is 60km away or Pisa which is 80km away.
San Gimignano definitely deserves its title as the prettiest hilltown in Tuscany, I think it’s a great place to take kids to learn about the area Whilst there isn’t loads of kid centered activities, they’ll enjoy wandering the city and exploring the surrounding countryside. If you’re a fan of quaint Italian towns and cities then I also highly recommend a visit to Bologna with kids, it has all the charm of San Gimignano but is bigger with more to do for the whole family.
We visited the town of San Gimignano as part of our European Interrailing adventure, a wonderful way to tour Europe with kids.
If you’d like to visit some more Tuscan towns then check out this Tuscany Itinerary which will show you how to explore the area in one week.
Make sure you pin for later for planning your visit to San Gimignano with kids.
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