Image source: Flickr - Giorgio Montersino
While Italy is known for its endless art museums, its marvelous wines and its buzzing nightlife, it is actually a terrific travel destination for families as well. In fact Frommer's calls it the most family-friendly destination in all of Europe. With delicious, yet familiar, food, tons of activities and amazing scenery, there is plenty to delight parents and children alike.
Stuffy fine art museums, large crowds and long walks can all ruin a perfectly lovely day with the kids, so you will want to plan your trip carefully. Here is a quick rundown on some of the best options for traveling through Italy with children.
Where to Go
Italy is an enormous destination with a lot of different options. Some places, like Florence, aren't generally recommended for young kids. There are too many delicate museums and historical attractions for it to be really fun. Here are some other options:
Rome is one of the most popular cities in Italy, and its size means there is a little something for everyone in your family. Kids will be amazed by the enormous Colosseum with its gladiators and bloody backstory. Budding history buffs will also enjoy the Forum and some of the elaborate churches. Younger kids can run wild in the many public squares or at the Villa Borghese parklands.
Some of the small beach towns can also make for an appealing family getaway. The Amalfi Coast is stunning, but the beaches are small and rocky. For a more traditional beach vacation consider the far south: Calabria, Sicily or Sardinia.
Another option is a farm-stay in the beautiful hills of Tuscany or Puglia. Agrotourism is a growing trend, and many of these farms offer luxurious accommodations and home-cooked food along with the chance to try your hand at some real farm work. The result is both enjoyable and educational.
What to Eat
While not identical to Americanized Italian food, Italian food is familiar enough to go over well with most kids. Consider taking a cooking class or visiting one of the many markets to help kids learn about Italian food culture. When in doubt, simple pasta dishes are a winner and pizza is ubiquitous. For dessert there is the universal crowd pleaser: gelato.
Be aware that most Italians eat late, and it is rare to find a restaurant with a kitchen open and ready to serve before 7 or 8 PM. You may want to indulge in an afternoon snack to prevent food-related meltdowns.
What to Do
There is a nearly endless list of activities to do in this culture-rich country. Depending on your child's tolerance, you may want to limit the amount of art museums and historic churches on your itinerary. Historical castles and Roman ruins may hold more interest. You can also spend a lot of time simply exploring: wandering grand piazzas, mysterious back streets and bustling markets.
If it's your first time in Italy, it may be tempting to cram your days with sightseeing and excursions, but that's a good recipe for cranky kids and probably cranky parents too. Pick one or two major activities per day and spend the rest of your time relaxing and enjoying the general ambiance that makes Italy so special.
What else would you suggest for kids to do or see in Italy?