Southern Italians adore bambini (children) and acts of face pinching are as common as Vespas, espresso and olive groves. On the flipside, Italy's southern regions offer few special amenities for little ones, which makes a little planning go a long way.

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.

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.

Planning

Accommodation

Southern Italy's agriturismi (farmstays) are especially wonderful for families: think self-catering facilities, fresh air and outdoor activities that might include any number of options, from horse-riding, cycling and swimming, to animal feeding, olive picking and cooking. Kids will love slumbering in conical-roofed trulli and atmospheric masserie (fortified farmhouses), among them family-friendly Masseria Torre Coccaro near Alberobello in Puglia.

Self-contained apartments are also sound options for families, offering multibed rooms, guest kitchens, lounge facilities and, often, washing machines. In high season (July and August), many camping grounds offer activities for kids.

Book accommodation in advance whenever possible. In hotels, some double rooms can’t accommodate an extra bed for kids, so always check. If your toddler is small enough to share your bed, some hotels will let you do so for free. The website www.booking.com specifies the ‘kid policy’ for each hotel listed and any extra charges incurred.

Getting Around

Arrange car rental before leaving home. Car seats for infants and children are available from most car-rental agencies, but should be booked in advance.

Public transport discounts are 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.

Mangia! Mangia!

Kids are more than welcome at most eateries. Highchairs are often available and though kids’ menus are rare, it’s perfectly acceptable to order a mezzo piatto (half portion).

Arancini (rice balls), crocchè (potato croquettes) and pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice) are great on-the-run snacks, as are panini from little grocery stores.

You can buy baby formula in powder or liquid form, as well as sterilising solutions such as Milton, at pharmacies. Fresh cow’s milk is sold in cartons in supermarkets and in bars with a ‘Latteria’ sign. UHT milk is popular and in many out-of-the-way areas the only kind available.

Best 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 a group of travel-avid mums.

Baby Friendly Boltholes (www.babyfriendlyboltholes.co.uk) Search for the Italian holiday property of your pre-schooler's dreams.

Southern Italy for Kids

Southern Italy bursts with extraordinary archaeological sites and museums. But while Pompeian frescoes might thrill mum or dad, a youngster unversed in the wonders of history and art might not be quite as keen. Kids' books or films about the places you visit can help bring these sights to life.

If you're travelling with young children, punctuate museum visits with plenty of rest stops – gelaterie (ice-cream shops), parks and beaches are always a good back-up – and always ask tourist offices about any special family activities or festivals, especially in the high-season.

For more information, see Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children book.

Discounts

Discounted admission for children is available at most attractions, although there is no fixed rule as to how much – or not – children pay. State-run museums and archaeological sites usually offer free entry to EU citizens under the age of 18. Otherwise, museums and monuments offer a reduced admission fee (generally half the adult price) for children, usually from the ages of 6 to 18. Some offer money-saving family tickets covering admission for two adults and two children or more.

Admission to state-run museums and monuments is free for everyone on the first Sunday of each month across Italy.

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 from climbing a volcano. Young and old will appreciate Sicily's superlative sweet treats.