Ciao, Bambino! Making the Most of an Italian Vacation With Kids
Italy is a great place to visit, rich with history and full of gorgeous art, amazing architecture and famous historical sites. A big bonus for families is that it’s also kid-friendly. Italians, on the whole, genuinely like children, so it’s a fun place to take your little ones.
Explore History in Rome
Rome has a wealth of things to see and do that will fascinate kids, from the Colosseum to the catacombs to the Vatican. There’s so much to take in that it may seem overwhelming, so it can be a good idea to book a tour. One option to definitely consider for older kids and teens is Gladiator School (Via Appia Antica 18, Rome). Day-long or week-long classes are offered, where kids get to wear armor and simulate battles. After completing gladiator training, they even get certificates and new gladiator names.
Put Yourself in the Story at Pinocchio Park
It’s not the most famous site in Italy, but it is one of the coolest places to take kids. In the small town of Collodi, in Tuscany, you'll find Pinocchio Park (Via di S. Gennaro 3, Collodi, Pistoia). It’s an amazing outdoor wonderland designed by artists to depict the classic tale of Pinocchio in an interactive way. Be aware, it’s not the Disney version, so some of the depictions are a bit dark; it may be fun to read the original tale with your kids before the trip to make it that much more interesting. There’s an ivy maze, a gorgeous mosaic telling the story, carousels, a zip line, a puppet theater, wooded paths along which there are statues of the characters, and much more. The piece de resistance is the whale—in the original story, it’s a great dogfish shark. At Pinocchio Park, it’s a really neat structure that each member of the family can climb inside of. Built in the 1950s, this is basically a low-tech amusement park, and it can seem a little dated, but for anyone who loves Pinocchio it’s well worth the price of admission.
Hit the Beach
Italy has many incredibly beautiful beaches, but not all of them are kid-friendly. Viareggio beach, near Florence, is a good option for families. It has shallow water, a sandy beach and modern conveniences like showers and restrooms. Also a good option is Santa Marinella, near Rome, which features clear water, soft sand and a section of beach where it’s not necessary to pay for a cabana because laying a towel on the sand is perfectly acceptable.
Check Out Venice
Venice is a very romantic city, but it’s surprisingly kid-friendly as well. There’s so much to see even just walking around the city that it’s easy to keep kids engaged. Start at the Piazza San Marco, then go inside St. Mark’s Cathedral, which is interesting enough to keep kids’ attentions. Climbing from the atrium to the balcony, follow the signs to Loggia dei Cavalli, for a truly rewarding view from between two big horse statues. St. Mark’s is free, but go online to reserve tickets to avoid standing in line. For a great interactive thing to do with kids in Venice, take a mask-making class at Ca’Macana (Dorsoduro 3172, Venezia).
See the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Everyone knows about the Leaning Tower of Pisa (Piazza del Duomo, Pisa), and most kids find it fascinating. Kids romp around on the big green lawn, families tour the museum and cathedral, everyone takes the obligatory holding-up-the-tower photo and buys little souvenir towers that are always a big hit. Kids under 8 will not be allowed to climb the tower; between ages 8 and 18, they must be accompanied by an adult. All tickets are the same price.
Seasons and Weather
It’s sunny most of the time in Italy, so slather up the little ones with sunscreen. A hat with a brim is a good idea, too, to protect tender skin. Summer is very hot in most of Italy and also crowded, so it's better to head there during the shoulder seasons of spring and fall.
An amazing family vacation in Italy does not have to be expensive. It’s really fun to just walk around cities like Florence and Venice with kids, checking out all the sights, sounds and smells. Beyond that, though, there’s plenty to do on the cheap. Take a vaporetto, or water taxi, on a Venice canal instead of an expensive gondola. Eat gelato as often as possible. Remember to take time for small pleasures that will end up being the memories everyone will cherish. Don’t be so caught up racing to attractions that you forget to feed the pigeons in a piazza, stop and look at the view, and listen to street musicians.
Amy Curtis has been writing her entire life and professionally for the past decade. Her work has been featured on sites like Wayvs.com, 10Best.com and WorkingMother.com. A vagabond at heart, Curtis has lived all over the U.S. and Europe. She loves a good road trip, and has traveled extensively for business, pleasure, mission trips and as a military wife. She's currently busy working on a novel and planning her next big trip to Lake Powell, Utah.