Looking for a glorious country to explore with kids? Italy might be just what you need.
People are patient and accommodating and there’s no shortage of things to do, from treasure-hunting in Roman ruins to castle-building on sandy beaches. Add brilliant food to the mix and you’ve got the perfect recipe for an unforgettable family trip.
What makes Italy good for kids?
There are relatively few child-specific sights in Italy but museums and visitor attractions generally provide free or discounted admission for children. Many also cater to young minds with smartphone apps, touchscreen gadgets, audio guides and dedicated tours.
Eating out is a breeze too. Children are welcome in most restaurants and with pizza, pasta and gelato on the menu, good times are guaranteed. Kids’ menus are rare but it’s fine to ask for a mezza porzione (half portion).
Getting around can be hard work in cities where you’ll have to contend with steps, cobbled streets and darting scooters – not ideal if you’re pushing a stroller.
Where is best in Italy for kids?
Italy’s historic cities all have plenty to offer, from epic ruins in Rome to gondolas in Venice and heavenly climbs in Florence. Out in the wilds, you can cruise around Alpine lakes and have family adventures in the Dolomites. Puglia, Calabria and Sardinia harbor spectacular beaches at every turn while Sicily thrills with its volcanic fireworks.
Best things to do in Italy with babies and toddlers
Hang out in parks, piazzas and playgrounds
Among the museums and masterpieces in Italy’s great art cities you’ll come across many parks, piazzas and playgrounds. Places like Villa Borghese in Rome, Florence’s Piazza della Repubblica and Piazza San Marco in Venice are prime spots for letting your tots off the leash.
For older kids, there are several theme parks dotted around the country, including the ever-popular Gardaland near Lago di Garda.
Head to the beach
Do what the locals do and hit the beach in summer – though not in August if you want to avoid the worst crowds. Once on the sand, bathing clubs rent out umbrellas and sun-loungers as well as providing toilets and bar facilities. You’ll find beaches throughout the country but many of the best are in Sardinia and the southern regions of Calabria and Puglia.
Best things to do in Italy with young children
Poke around ancient relics
Children and ancient ruins don’t always make for holiday bliss. But even the most hard-to-please kids will be impressed by Rome’s Colosseum or the ghostly remains of Pompeii. Needless to say, these sites get very busy so consider visiting in the afternoon when temperatures have cooled and the throngs thinned. For somewhere less crowded, try the southern city of Matera where your kids can nose around ancient cave dwellings known as Sassi.
Go wildlife watching
As well as Rome’s zoo and Genoa’s aquarium, Italy provides plenty of scope for wildlife encounters. Dolphins ply the waters of Taranto and can be seen – if you’re lucky – on boat tours. Further north, Marsican brown bears, wolves and chamois roam Abruzzo’s remote national parks. You’re unlikely to see one but it’s fun to know you might.
Get hands-on in Italy's family-friendly museums
Museums are a good choice for rainy days. Child-friendly options include Explora, a colorful play-museum in Rome for under-12s, and the Gelato Museum Carpigiani near Bologna. Elsewhere you can meet a mummy in Turin’s Museo Egizio or go goggle-eyed at Milan’s Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia, Italy’s largest science museum.
Mess about on water
From sliding around Venice on a gondola to cruising Lago di Garda or touring Capri’s coastline, Italy’s waters provide thrills and spills. Older kids with a taste for adventure could try their hand at sea-kayaking in the Aeolian Islands or white water rafting in Calabria’s Raganello Canyon.
Do some sport in the mountains
The Dolomites in Veneto and Trentino Alto-Adige are a prime spot for year-round sport, boasting stunning scenery and activities for all ages and abilities. Places like Cortina d’Ampezzo, Val Gardena and Val Badia offer excellent family-friendly facilities such as skiing, sledding and snow-boarding in the winter and hiking and biking in the summer months.
Climb monuments for iconic views
Young explorers can summit monuments and towers across the country. Pisa’s Leaning Tower is one for the family album while the Campanile on Venice’s Piazza San Marco offers 360-degree views of the canal city. For more heavenly panoramas, climb the dome of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome or Brunelleschi’s landmark cupola in Florence.
Best things to do in Italy with tweens and teenagers
Venture up a volcano
Italy is one of only a handful of countries where you can scrabble around a volcano. Sure-footed teens will have no problems scaling Mt Vesuvius, mainland Europe’s only active volcano. Offshore, Mt Etna and Stromboli put on frequent fireworks displays in Sicily. But when they’re quiet, they can be visited on guided tours.
Italy’s underworld provides rich pickings for subterranean adventures. In Rome and Naples, you can plunge into creepy catacombs to see where the early Christians buried their dead. For stalagmites and stalactites, there are several spectacular cave networks, including the Grotte di Frasassi in Le Marche, Tuscany’s Grotta del Vento, and the Grotte di Castellana in Puglia.
Become a football fan
Seeing one of Italy’s top football (soccer) teams in action can be a thrilling experience. To cheer on Juventus, head to the Allianz Stadium in Turin. Fans of Milan’s two teams (AC Milan and Inter) should make for the San Siro Stadium while supporters of Roma and arch-rival Lazio can catch their team at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico. Check the clubs’ websites for match details. If you can’t make a game, all three stadiums can be visited on guided tours.
Family-friendly accommodation is plentiful in Italy. Good options include self-catering apartments and farm stays (agriturismi) which provide space and sometimes even animals to pet. Seaside resort hotels are also well set up for families with many offering babysitting services and private beach access.
Italy has an efficient train network which makes traveling between cities fairly straightforward. Connections to popular seaside resorts are also pretty good, either by train or bus. For more remote rural areas, you’ll really need a car.