Southern Italians adore bambini (children) and fawning locals are as common as espresso, olive groves and Vespas. On the flip side, Italy's southern regions offer few special amenities for little ones, which means a little planning goes a long way.

The Regions

  • Naples & Campania

Subterranean ruins and secret passageways in Naples will intrigue those over five. Kids under 10 may need a piggyback for part of the walk up Mt Vesuvius, though most kids and teens will enjoy exploring ancient Pompeii and Herculaneum. Ischia's bubbling beach and thermal pools have wide appeal.

  • Puglia, Basilicata & Calabria

Valle d'Itria in Puglia and Matera in Basilicata intrigue with otherworldly abodes. Puglia's countless soft, sandy beaches suit all ages, while its relatively flat terrain makes for easy cycling adventures. The national parks of Basilicata and Calabria offer hikes, skiing and white-water rafting for active teens.

  • Sicily

Fire up the imagination of primary (elementary) and high-school students with ancient temples and glittering Byzantine mosaics. Younger kids will love Sicilian puppet shows, while teens will get a kick out of climbing a volcano. Young and old will appreciate Sicily's irresistible desserts.

Southern Italy for Kids

Southern Italy's extraordinary history offers a wealth of unforgettable family adventures. One day you're snooping around ancient shops and villas on chariot-grooved streets, the next you're daydreaming about kings, queens and knights in a medieval castle. To engage young travellers more fully, verse them up on the history of the sights you're planning to visit. On the ground, guided tours, audioguides or smartphone apps also help bring those ancient ruins, churches and monuments to life.

Natural thrills are also in plentiful supply thanks to the south's varied landscapes. Beach-rich Puglia, the Amalfi Coast and Sicily sizzle with family fun on and off the sand, from splashing about in child-friendly waters, to snorkelling and diving in protected marine reserves. Volcanic landscapes in Sicily and Campania offer thrilling hikes, while Calabria's rugged mountains deliver everything from white-water rafting to river tubing for older kids.

Always ask tourist offices about any special family activities or festivals, especially in the high-season. Also, check out Lonely Planet's Travel with Children book.

Discounts

  • Discounted admission for children is available at most attractions.
  • At state-run museums and sites, admission is free for under-18s; EU citizens aged between 18 and 25 pay €2 for tickets.
  • Many other museums and monuments offer reduced admission for children, usually from the ages of six to 18.
  • To cut costs, try to take advantage of free admission days. All state-run museums and sites are free for 20 days a year: the first Sunday of each month between October and March, for a special week of openings (dates vary from year to year), and for a further eight days at the discretion of the individual museum or site.

Dining Out

  • Hungry kids are welcome pretty much everywhere, especially at pizzerie and casual, family-run trattorie.
  • While dedicated children’s menus are rare, it’s perfectly acceptable to order a half-portion (mezza porzione) or a simple plate of pasta with butter or olive oil and Parmesan. High chairs (seggioloni) are occasionally available, but if your toddler needs to be strapped in, bring your own portable cloth seat. Also note that southern Italians eat late and few restaurants open their doors much before 7.30pm or 8pm.
  • Pizza al taglio (sliced pizza), arancini (rice balls) and crocchè (potato croquettes) all make for tasty on-the-run bites. Local markets, delicatessens and grocery stores are ideal for self caterers, offering everything from fresh bread, salami, cheeses, to olives and fresh produce for a picnic or home-cooked feast.
  • Baby requirements are easily met (except on Sundays when most shops are closed). Pharmacies and supermarkets sell baby formula, nappies (diapers), ready-made baby food and sterilising solutions. Fresh cow's milk is sold in cartons in supermarkets and in bars with a 'Latteria' sign. Breastfeeding is common, and attitudes are relaxed.

Children's Highlights

Outdoor Thrills

  • Aeolian Islands Seven tiny volcanic islands off Sicily with everything from spewing lava to black-sand beaches.
  • Mt Vesuvius Play 'spot the landmark' from the summit of Naples' formidable, slumbering volcano.
  • Ischia Catch a water taxi to a bubbling thermal beach or pool-hop at a verdant spa resort.
  • Pollino National Park Kids over 10 can join the grown-ups for white-water-rafting adventures in Calabria's wilds.
  • Maratea Shallow, sandy beaches and a very walkable town centre.

Brushes With History

  • Tunnel Borbonico Escape routes, hideouts and vintage smugglers' cars bring wartime Naples to life.
  • Herculaneum Smaller and better-preserved than Pompeii, Herculaneum is easier to visit in a shorter time.
  • Valley of the Temples Agrigento's astounding Greek temples come with picnic-friendly grounds and space to move.
  • Castel del Monte Puglia's octagonal 13th-century castle boasts Europe’s very first flush toilet.
  • Villa Romana del Casale Mosaics of wild beasts and youthful gymnasts capture young minds at Piazza Armerina's ancient Roman hunting villa.

Kooky Kicks

  • Cimitero delle Fontanelle Tour Naples' bizarre Fontanelle Cemetery, stacked with skulls, shrines and fantastical tales.
  • Alberobello Was that Snow White? Imagination runs riot in this World Heritage–listed town in Puglia, famous for its cone-roofed trulli abodes.
  • Matera Relive the Flintstones exploring Matera's Unesco-protected sassi (stone houses carved out of caves and cliffs).
  • Piccolo Teatro dei Pupi Syracuse's little Sicilian puppet theatre brings old Sicilian tales to vivid life.
  • Catacombe dei Cappuccini Palermo's eerie catacombs are neatly lined with mummies in their Sunday best.

Planning

When to Go

Spring, early summer and autumn are generally best for families with small children. High summer temperatures can make life miserable for little ones – although good beaches and the occasional gelato should make this more bearable.

Accommodation

  • Generally, apartment rental is easy to find and works best for families who want to self-cater. Many hotels and pensioni (guesthouses) offer reduced rates for children or will add an extra bed or cot on request (usually for an extra 30% or so).
  • Agriturismi (farmstays) and masserie (fortified farmhouses) are excellent for children because they're always in a natural setting and often offer activities for guests, whether it be horse-riding, feeding animals or cooking. In high season (July and August), many camping grounds also offer activities for kids.
  • Another interesting option for young travellers are Puglia's traditional, conical-roofed trulli. Looking like the homes of storybook gnomes, they're especially prolific in the towns of Alberobello and Locorotondo.

Getting Around

  • Arrange car rental before leaving home. Car seats for infants and children are available from most car-rental agencies, but should always be booked in advance.
  • Public-transport discounts are sometimes available for children. In some cases, young children travel free if accompanied by a paying adult. Check details in specific destination coverage or ask at the tourist office. Inter-city trains and buses are safe, convenient and relatively inexpensive.
  • Cobbled stones and potholes can make stroller use challenging. Consider purchasing an ergonomic baby carrier before leaving home.

Useful Websites

Italia Kids (www.italiakids.com) Family travel and lifestyle guide to Italy, packed with practical tips and accommodation listings.

Context Travel (www.contexttravel.com) Superb guided walks for families in Naples.

Ciao Bambino (www.ciaobambino.com) Tours, activities, recommendations, and planning advice, put together by family-travel experts.

Baby Friendly Boltholes (www.babyfriendlyboltholes.co.uk) Search for stylish, child-friendly accommodation in Puglia and Sicily.