I’m an American who’s been living in Italy for nearly 10 years and am often asked about visiting with children. First, let me say, that Italy is a country that loves kids. For example, it’s completely normal to bring kids into restaurants and essentially let them run loose (a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much). Understandably, many families choose Italy for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation thanks to its unique historical sites, gorgeous and idyllic villages, and well, the food and wine. But if I had a dime for every time I saw American families over-plan their trips to Italy, I’d be a millionaire. So if you’re looking to visit Italy with your kids, here are 10 tips to make the most of your trip.
10 Tips for Traveling to Italy With Kids
1. Focus on quality over quantity
Unless you’re going to be in Italy for more than two weeks, stay in one place (or general area) and really explore. So, if you want to explore Rome, go to Rome. If you want to go to Milan, go to Milan. I’ve seen so many families come to Italy for a week and go from city to city. What does that mean? Booking multiple hotels, moving baggage from hotels to taxis multiple times, and traveling from city to city whether via train, plane, or car. With all that moving around, it’s normal for kids to get fussy and overwhelmed. Not to mention, families don’t really get a sense of the city they’re visiting. My recommendation? Pick one place or general area you really want to explore for the duration of your vacation.
2. Leave room for “free days”
When you’re traveling with kids, it’s best to try to have as loose of a schedule as possible. So, book museum tickets and guided tours of course, but don’t book every day of your vacation. It leaves room for fun and spontaneous days to explore.
I travel around Italy with my almost 5-year-old daughter and find that those days left without plans can turn into the most fun, especially for kids. In Italy, just wandering around can lead to an amazing discovery—whether it’s coming upon a beautiful community garden, a fun new restaurant to try, or a small, local museum. Not having plans with kids can sometimes be the best plan.
3. Plan hands-on activities
While it’s easy to get caught up on exploring Italy, make some time to plan hands-on activities that kids will enjoy. No matter where you are in Italy, there are great cooking, painting, or sculpture classes available. The entire family will have fun and benefit from an active afternoon making pasta, gelato, or art. Kids will no doubt have fun getting messy while cooking or painting.
4. Have a supermarket crawl and plan a picnic
Kids may not want to have to sit still at a restaurant every day of your travels in Italy. Luckily, most places you will be traveling to in Italy have public parks or gardens. Take your kids to the nearest supermarket and have fun exploring and picking new foods to take to the park. Crusty Tuscan bread, prosciutto, olives, mozzarella, and grilled eggplant will make for a delicious lunch and kids can get a break and run around in the fresh air.
5. Take advantage of free kid-friendly events
Italy is a country that welcomes and loves children. Depending on where you will be, look into kid’s events. Many museums, for example, offer free kid’s days or kid’s hands-on workshops. If you are traveling in the summer when “sagras” (the Italian word for festival) are available, take a look at their programs and see what they are offering for children.
6. Engage in kid-focused activities
Again, Italy loves children. As adults, you may want to take in all of the iconic sites, BUT you can also look into museums, zoos, aquariums, and amusement parks. Italy has a ton of them—including more kid-focused museums such as a Toy and Pinocchio Museum or the hands-on Leonardo Da Vinci Interactive Museum in Florence or the Rome Kids Museum. Genoa is also famous for its beautiful aquarium, or you can go the Zoo Safari in Puglia. If your kids love an amusement park, visit Magic Land close to Rome or head up north to explore Garda Land—the Italian equivalent of Disney World.
7. Go to off-the-beaten-path towns
Yes, everyone wants to go to the parts of Italy that are famous—such as Rome, Venice, and Florence.
But think outside the box and consider exploring lesser-known parts of Italy. For example, Puglia, Sicily, and Naples are stunning spots to explore that will be less filled with tourists which will be a nice change of pace for the family—and will also be more budget-friendly.
If you really want to have a taste of real life in Italy, consider visiting a small village or town with less than 5,000 habitants—you can Google small towns in the region you’re looking to travel to—and just have fun exploring and seeing what real everyday life in Italy looks like. Kids can get gelato and the adults can indulge in a glass of wine in the piazza, people-watch, and relax. Find a local playground and let your kids run around and play with local children. Even just randomly wandering around a small town can create wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime memories.
8. Time the trip during the off-season
Italy is usually quite crowded and filled with tourists. To make it more manageable while traveling with children, consider going during the “off” months if possible—October for example is relatively quiet, as is January through March. A quick Google search can also check the Italian school calendar for the area you plan to visit.
9. Choose hotels with child-friendly amenities
Like the United States, Italian hotels go by the star system. I have found staying in 3 or 4 star hotels is best for families, as opposed to 5 star hotels. Five star hotels are wonderful, but usually not quite catered to children. Choose 3 or 4 star hotels and make sure to consider the location after a long day out. It is ideal to be close to the sites you are looking to see, especially since you can mostly walk everywhere.
Also, for hotels, keep in mind that some hotels offer baby-sitting services as well as play-rooms. And pretty much all Italian hotels offer baby cots, high chairs, etc. If you are traveling with babies, hotels are happy to store baby food in their kitchen if necessary (though luckily, most hotels have mini-fridges in the room) and are happy to heat up bottles. Again, this all depends on where you will be. For example, if you are going for an Italian resort location, most resorts have “ludotecas” with baby-parking. A “ludoteca” is essentially an indoor playground where you can drop off your kids for a few hours, and the service of watching your children is included.
10. Have fun!
Let’s be honest. Traveling with kids can be a lot of work. It’s sometimes essentially no different than parenting, but in a new environment—while spending more money. But the memories you can create are worth the fuss. Enjoy being in Italy, seeing new sites, and exploring, and remember that your kids may not want to spend hours at the Vatican Museum, beautiful as it may be. Make time for everyone’s interests and the whole family will come home happy.