Italy is probably my favorite European destination. History, art, and great food – what more could you want? Italy is also a wonderful place for a family vacation. Life moves at a slower pace here, and it’s a lovely place for all generations to slow down and enjoy being with each other.
While visiting Italy, just be mindful that a slower pace of life means efficiency is not the prize that it is in America. Meals take longer and the waiter will not be in any rush to bring you the check. Facilities may not have changing tables or child-friendly restrooms. Traffic rules are mere suggestions. However don’t let this change of pace keep you from visiting this amazing and beautiful country!
Italy is a great place to get off the beaten path and see the countryside. Rent a house in Tuscany or Umbria and take day trips to Lucca or Orvieto. Hire a driver to get you out of Rome to see the Amalfi Coast – definitely doable in a day trip. While the cities contain the important historical sites, the countryside is where you and your family can learn to live “la dolce vita.”
General Tips on an Italian vacation with kids:
- The major historical sites can get very crowded, particularly in the summer. Plan ahead and pre-purchase tickets whenever possible. For the major cities, passes like the Roma pass or the Firenze Card can provide you skip-the-line access to sites.
- Pick 1-2 must-see sites in each location and keep the rest of your touring flexible.
- Investigate private guided tours of the sites that will be tailored to your family’s interests and will allow you quick access to the site. Rick Steves’ books, Ciao Bambino, and Absolute Italy are great places for guide recommendations.
- Transportation: The Rome subway is fine to use but is confusing and serves a limited area. Most of the major cities are very walkable so I recommend walking when you can. However watch for the motor scooters that will whiz by within inches of you. Always walk with your child on the inner part of the sidewalk, nearest to the buildings, and be especially careful at crosswalks. Traffic lights and crosswalks are not always obeyed. One unique way in Rome to see the main tourist sites is the hop-on, hop-off bus. If you want to see most of the city in a day or two, your kids will love riding this double-decker bus while it whisks you to many sites that are harder to access. Florence is much smaller and its main tourist area is (mostly!) pedestrian-only so it is much easier to see on foot.
- Getting to and from the airport: From Rome’s Fiumicino airport, it is fairly easy and inexpensive to take the fast train into Rome’s Termini station, depending on your final destination, children’s ages, and baggage. If you are headed anywhere other than Rome, I encourage you to think about renting a car. One of our bigger regrets is that we relied on the trains too much to get from the airport to our first stop in Orvieto. We took the fast train to Rome and waited for the Orvieto train for 2 hours – with our baggage and our tired children who had just gotten off an overnight international flight. Not a great start to any trip!
- Food: Pizza, pasta, and gelato – what’s there not to like!?! Meals tend to run long – 1-2 hours is the norm – but with the expansive piazzas (squares) in most cities, kids can run around and play with the local children while you enjoy your amazing food and wine. Unlike other fancy European restaurants, children are welcome at most restaurants. Italians are serious about their food and expect the dishes to be made fresh and with only in-season ingredients. Be sure to read the menu carefully to see what dishes are made there and always order those. Italians do not have big breakfasts so you will not find many restaurants providing breakfast. Those that do serve breakfast will have pastries available but you will pay more to sit down to eat. Most Italians drink a quick espresso and eat a small pastry standing up at the bar.
- Hotel vs. apartment: As in other European cities, renting an apartment will give you space to spread out and will make eating breakfast easier.
- Weather: Southern Italy gets HOT! We sweated through a trip to Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast in July and while it is doable, it is definitely not the best time of year to go. The good news is that the water flowing freely from Italian fountains (many from ancient Roman times!) is safe to drink so as long as you have a refillable water bottle, you can always find free water to help you get through those hot days. And don’t forget your daily allotment of gelato!
Don’t miss attractions with kids:
- Florence (coming soon!)
- Pisa and Lucca (coming soon!)
- Tuscany/Umbria (coming soon!)
Books to Read:
- 10 and up:
- 6 and up:
Have you taken your kids to Italy? What was your favorite site?
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