Be it kid-friendly capital, smouldering volcano or beach-laced coast, Italy spoils families with its rich mix of historical and cultural sights, staggering portfolio of outdoor activities and stunning natural landscapes. To get the most out of exploring as a family, plan ahead.
Ancient Roman ruins and world-class museums make Rome interesting for older children.
Gold for every age: subterranean ruins in Naples, gladiator battlefields in Pompeii and Herculaneum, and natural high drama – think volcanoes, thermal pools and coastal caves.
Beautiful seaside scapes and towns, islands loaded with swashbuckling adventure and an unembellished cuisine most kids love.
Volcano climbing for sporty teens and beachside fun for sand-loving tots, alongside ancient ruins, hilltop castles and traditional 18th-century puppet theatre to inspire and entertain all ages.
Alfresco paradise overflowing with dazzling beaches, water-sports action, horseriding and scenic hikes suitable for all ages and abilities.
Ski or snowboard in some of Italy's best family-friendly winter ski resorts. Summer ushers in mountain hiking and biking for all ages.
Italian family travels divide into two camps: urban and rural. Cities in Italy are second to none in extraordinary sights and experiences, and with the aid of audio guides, smart-phone apps and some inventive guided tours, parents can find kid-appeal in almost every museum and monument.
Away from urban areas the pace slows and good, old-fashioned fresh air kicks in. Sandcastles, sea swimming and easy beachside ambles are natural elements of coastal travel (beach-rich Puglia, the Amalfi Coast, Sardinia and Sicily sizzle with family fun on and off the sand), while mountains and lakes inland demand immediate outdoor action from kids aged five and over – the older the child, the more daredevil and adrenalin-pumping the activity gets.
When it comes to learning about art and history, Italy's wealth of museums beat school textbooks hands down. Few organise specific tours and workshops for children (there are dazzling exceptions in Florence), but an increasing number cater to younger-generation minds with multimedia displays, touchscreen gadgets and audio guides.
In Rome, time visits to the Vatican to coincide with the weekly papal address – kids love guessing which of the many windows the Pope will pop out of. Kill queue time for St Peter's Basilica by penning postcards home complete with a rare Vatican City postage stamp.
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. Many offer money-saving family tickets covering admission for two adults and two children or more.
Planning a family visit to museum-laden cities such as Rome and Florence on the first weekend of the month cuts costs dramatically: admission to state-run museums and monuments countrywide is free for everyone on the first Sunday of each month.
Children are welcomed in most eateries, especially in casual trattorias and osterie – often family-owned with overwhelmingly friendly, indulgent waiting staff and a menu featuring simple pasta dishes as well as more elaborate items. A menù bambini (children’s menu) is fairly common. It's also acceptable to order a mezzo piatto (half-portion) or a simple plate of pasta with butter or olive oil and Parmesan.
Italian families eat late. Few restaurants open their doors before 7.30pm or 8pm, making pizzerias – many open early – more appealing for families with younger children. High chairs are occasionally available; if your toddler absolutely needs to be strapped in, bring your own portable cloth seat.
In cities look out for branches of sustainable Slow Food champion Eataly (the impressive, hugely creative force behind Italy's dazzling new food theme park in Bologna), which serves meals all day using local, organic produce.
Pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice), panini from delicatessens and gelato are tasty on-the-run snacks. Markets everywhere burst with salami, cheese, olives, bread, fruit and other inspiring picnic supplies.
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.
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 Rome, Naples, Milan, Venice, Florence and other Tuscan cities.
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.
Italy's inspirational, down-to-earth agriturismi (rural farmstays) are perfect for families: think self-catering facilities, mountains of green space to play around in and stacks of outdoor activities (swimming, tennis, horse-riding and mountain biking) alongside traditional rural pastimes such as olive picking, feeding the black pig, making bread in ancient stone ovens and cultivating saffron. In southern Italy, kids enjoy accommodation in circular, whitewashed trulli and quiet, often luxurious masserias (farm stays like family-friendly Masseria Torre Coccaro near Alberobello in Puglia).
In cities and towns countrywide, family and four-person rooms can be hard to find and should be booked in advance. Increasingly, boutique B&Bs like Arco del Lauro in Rome, Palazzo Belfiore in Florence and Palazzo Puccini in Pistoia offer family rooms and/or self-catering apartments suited to families with young children.
Travelling in Italy with children involves little extra pre-departure planning. Your most important decisions will be about which seaside resort to pick (Cala Gonone, Stintino and Santa Teresa di Gallura are Sardinian favourites; on Sicily consider Cefalù, Taormina, the Aeolian or Egadi Islands) and when to visit (perhaps timing your Italian caper with one of the country's vibrant kid-appealing festivals such as Siena's famous Palio, carnival in Venice or Viareggio, or Florence’s Easter-time Scoppio del Carro). Beware July and August when prices soar and the country broils, even more so in the sizzling hot south
For all-round information and advice, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.
Colosseum, Rome Throw yourself into Ancient Rome with tales of brave gladiators and wild beasts in the Roman Empire's biggest, mightiest stadium.
Palazzo Comunale & Torre Grossa, San Gimignano Slip on augmented-reality glasses in this Tuscan town to learn about frescoes and its medieval past.
Matera, Basilicata One of the world's oldest towns with epic biblical scenery peppered with sassi (habitable caves).
Palazzo del Podestà, Bergamo High-tech gadgetry, animated maps and interactive gizmos bring Bergamo's Venetian age vividly to life.
Pasta Challenge your child to taste different shapes and colours of pasta while in Italy: strozzapreti ('priest strangler' pasta) is an Umbrian highlight, while in southern Italy Puglia's orecchiette con cima di rape (small ear-shaped pasta with turnip greens) is the perfect way of ensuring your kids eat some vegetables.
Gelato Museum Carpigiani, Anzola Gelato-themed tours with lots of tasting, or make your own with masters from the neighbouring Gelato University; 30 minutes from Bologna in Anzola.
Cook in Venice Kid-friendly food tours and cooking classes by Venetian mamma of two, Monica Cesarato.
Casa del Cioccolato Perugina, Perugia Wonka-esque chocolate-making workshops and tours at the Baci Perugina chocolate factory.
Eataly Torino Lingotto, Turin Dining with Italy's biggest champion of sustainable and Slow Food dining allows every member of the family to dine on a different cuisine.
Florence Town, Florence Gelato classes or pizza-making with a professional pizzaiolo for all the family.
St Peter's Basilica, Rome Climbing up inside the dome of Italy's largest, most spectacular church is undeniably cool.
Duomo, Florence Repeat the dome-climbing experience with Brunelleschi's dome in Italy's favourite Renaissance city. (For kids over five years of age.)
Catacombe dei Cappuccini, Palermo Climb down to Palermo's creepy catacombs, packed with mummies in their Sunday best. Find more catacombs beneath Via Appia Antica in Rome and Naples. (For kids over 12 years.)
Napoli Sotterranea, Naples A secret trap door, war-time hideouts, sacred catacombs and ghoulish cemeteries make this guided tour of subterranean Naples gripping. (For kids over eight years.)
Leaning Tower, Pisa The bare interior of this pearly-white icon is accessible to children from ages eight and up; otherwise snap your kids propping up the tower.
Torre dell’Orologio, Venice Climb inside the world’s first digital clock to examine its Renaissance mechanisms and the two bronze Moors hammering out the hour. (For kids over six years.)
Stromboli, Aeolian Islands A guided ascent to the firework-spitting crater of this volcano is a total thrill for active teenagers.
Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia, Milan Italy's best science and technology museum makes budding inventors go gaga.
Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Turin Multimedia displays and movie memorabilia make this museum a winner for kids and adults alike.
Museo Archeologico dell'Alto Adige, Bolzano Drop in on Iceman Ötzi, Europe's oldest natural human mummy.
MAV, Ercolano Multimedia installations at this virtual archaeological museum bring famous ancient ruins back to life.
Palazzo Vecchio, Florence Theatrical tours for children and families through secret staircases and hidden rooms, led by historical figures.
Sardinia Albino donkey spotting, horse riding, water sports on some of Italy's top beaches (including excellent bubblemaker diving courses for kids), rock climbing and caving adventures.
Aeolian Islands Seven tiny volcanic islands off Sicily with everything from spewing lava to black-sand beaches.
Venice Glide across Venetian waters on a customised sailing or kayaking tour, or learn to row standing up like a bona fide gondolier.