*Not long ago Inghams Italy Travel Site and Tours contacted me about sharing some of my experiences about living and traveling in Italy as a family. Inghams Italy compensated me for writing this post but all experiences, thoughts and ideas are my own.
Over the last 13 years my husband and I have lived and raised our 3 children in Italy and done our fair share of exploring this beautiful country as a family. When considering travelling to Italy, one traditionally thinks of the wealth of historical sites, the breathtaking art and architecture, and one of the best loved cuisines, all within the stunning natural beauty from the Alps to the Aegean – a perfect tourist destination.
But, one of the things I love most about Italy, is that it is a family centric culture. Here, in Italy, family has the highest priority and this shows in how they treat travellers to their country, especially families.
Inevitably, you will encounter kind and generous people who will go out of their way to make your small travellers happy and comfortable. Italians love the little ones and aren’t shy to show it – usually by squeezing cheeks and loudly proclaiming “che bel bambino!”. No worries, your kids will get used to it and will most likely return home with an amazing sense of self-confidence.
Living in Italy has given us the inside scoop on the best places to visit, most comfortable accommodations, favourite places to eat out and just about anything else you would need to know about traveling through Italy in famiglia.
Italy is world renown for its delectable cuisine and luckily it’s also one that most kids absolutely adore. On just about any menu your kids will find something they’ll love to eat (and recognise). Some favourites of local Italian kids are Pasta Rossa (pasta with tomato sauce), Riso Giallo (saffron risotto), Milanese con Patatine (breaded pork cutlet with french fries) and of course Pizza Margherita (pizza with tomato sauce and mozzarella). And if you don’t see something your child likes on the menu don’t be afraid to ask – they are usually more than willing to whip up a simple pasta for the little ones. My kid’s favourite thing to order in a restaurant is a variety or antipasto plates. You can’t go wrong with sliced meats, cheeses, olives and fresh Italian bread.
Of course one of the main gastronomic attractions for kids in Italy (and adults actually) is the iconic Italian gelato. Gelaterias are found on just about every street corner and are usually made with fresh, high quality ingredients. A promised gelato will help kids get through the museum visits, the long hours of pavement pounding, the intense summer heat and the over exhaustion of traveling that can sometimes get too much for them. Look for signs that say Gelato Artigianale for the highest quality and home-made ice cream. And remember in the hot summer months it’s quite normal to visit a gelateria more than once a day!
When traveling with kids you can never go wrong with a beach visit. And Italy boasts both a myriad of coastlines and beautiful lakes to choose from. The world famous Costa Amalfitana (Unesco World Heritage Site), the Ligurian coast with it’s famous Cinque Terre villages, the Northern Lakes including Lago Como and Lago Maggiore and the pristine aquamarine waters of Sardinia will be appreciated by the whole family.
Italian beaches are very family friendly with chairs and umbrellas for rent, small beach playgrounds and restaurants just metres from the water’s edge. From here, parents can enjoy a plate of fresh Fritto Misto while watching the kids frolic in the warm waters. Warning: since one has to pay for a space, these beaches can end up being quite pricey but well worth it for a few days of relaxing family time.
Read on for more tips for traveling in Italy as a family…
One of our favourite places to visit and stay at are the many agriturismi, found all over the country. Agriturismi are small working farms that offer home-cooked food (usually using their own produce, cheese and/or meat). Many of these agriturismi also offer accommodations ranging from very simple to quite luxurious.
Since they are situated in charming rural areas, they are the perfect place for taking your children who can freely play outside safely, interact with farm animals or just get a break from a busy travel schedule and monument visiting. Staying at these farms lets you experience another side of Italian culture that is very different from the bustling cities and tourist laden sites.
FAI Heritage Sites:
One of our favorite tips for traveling families to Italy is to purchase a family card for the FAI which is an Italian National Trust, an organisation that promotes history and culture through the restoration of old villas, castles and historic sites across the country.
As a family you can purchase a family card for 66 euro which is valid for 1 year. The card allows you to visit all of their properties free of charge plus get many discounts and benefits for other museums and sites. When you think about it, this all inclusive card is more or less the same price as a family ticket to visit a lot of the city museums and has the added bonus of supporting the preservation of these old properties.
Your family will love exploring and visiting the insides of these old castles and important villas still intact with furnishings, art and even closets full of antique clothing. They are also usually surrounded by beautiful gardens (great for kids to run around) and offer guided tours (in Italian and English) that are interesting for both adults and children. We know of some families that planned their entire trip around FAI properties and had a wonderful time “off the beaten track”.
Italy offers a lot of museums. I’ll be honest and say that kids will not find them all as interesting as some adults do. Most kids can only manage to look at so many paintings of the renaissance era or Etruscan artefacts before having a meltdown in the middle of a museum hall. So when we travel as a family, we limit museum visits to one a day (OK, sometimes two).
On the other hand, a lot of Italian museums offer kid’s workshops and activities or activity books for them to complete while visiting. When arriving at the museum, ask at the information desk what they offer families and kids. And if possible I highly recommend booking tickets online to avoid the long line-ups, often in the burning hot sun (we love Musement for online booking).
Although we do most of our traveling by car, we absolutely love using the Italian train system as well. Italian trains have come a long way in the last decade and are an ideal way to travel as a family. The new trains are efficient, fast and clean (not like in the olden days!).
We recently traveled to Venice by train from Milan and it was so relaxing and stress-free to not have to worry about traffic and parking. The kids loved the fact they could stand up and wander around and we loved being able to sit back and enjoy watching the countryside.
Another huge advantage to traveling by train in Italy is the fact that TrenItalia offers kids under 15 years of age to travel for free (traveling with at least one adult). Read this post for more information about traveling as a family in Italy by train.
I’ll be back with more tips and ideas for traveling to Italy as a family soon. In the meantime you can also read all about what to do with kids on Lago Maggiore (where we live) here.