Italy is a wonderful place to discover with children of any age. Italians love children—and the food, pace of life, and even the historical sites and attractions are very kid-friendly. If you’re ready to plan a family vacation in Italy, here are our 8 simple rules to make it a stress-free success.
1. Plan a manageable itinerary
Nothing ruins a family trip faster than spending too much time piled into a plane, train, bus, or car, so plan a route that minimizes travel time. A good rule of thumb is no more than one travel day for every three or four days of your trip. If you have 10 days or fewer, limit yourself to your three top cities. Fly in and out of different cities to avoid retracing your steps and maximize your time seeing new sights.
Keep your kids’ interests in mind when choosing your destinations. Your budding scientist will love the Galileo Museum in Florence, for example, and your teen fashionista will be wowed by Milan. The Amalfi Coast and a day at the beach is a delightful excursion for kids of all ages.
2. Involve your kids in the travel plans
Show young children where Italy is on the map and trace your route from home and through the country. Read books set in Italy or tell the story of famous Italians; it’s a great way to get them excited about the things they’ll see on the trip.
Older kids can help choose your daily activities—give them a list of options for each city you’re planning to visit. You can even help them learn a few Italian words and phrases. Italians love to see children learning to speak their language.
3. Buy tickets for tours and attractions in advance
Spontaneity is a wonderful thing when you’re on vacation—but not if it means standing in line for hours waiting to get into the Vatican and Colosseum. If there’s something you really want to do, pre-book a tour or buy advance tickets.
City sightseeing tours are a great way to get to know the main attractions of the city (and skip the lines for the most popular ones). If you do one on your first day in a new city, you’ll get a feel for the layout and be better prepared for some self-exploration on the following days. If you have any questions about public transportation or the best restaurant for kids, your tour guide is always happy to make recommendations.
4. Pack light
As a parent, you know that packing for kids is part science and part art form. But packing for Italy requires even more ingenuity—think of those quaint hotels, B&Bs, and agroturismos that don’t have elevators to your fourth-floor room. And while those cobblestone streets are charming, they wreak havoc on wheeled luggage.
Your best bet is soft luggage such as duffel bags or backpacks that you can wear or carry easily; limit yourself to one bag per person. It’s not as hard as it sounds; it’s easy to do a load of laundry here and there. And don’t worry about loading up on diapers, wipes, and other baby essentials—you can buy it once you arrive.
If your baby still eats prepared baby food, you’re in luck. Italian supermarkets carry several brands of pureed food, including organic varieties, so you’ll have no trouble feeding your little one wherever you go.
5. Trains are awesome
Trains link just about every city in Italy, and today’s modern train system is so fast and convenient, it’s even better than flying. You can buy point-to-point tickets right at the station, although it’s a good idea to reserve in advance if you know your itinerary and don’t want to risk a particular train selling out.
Children under four travel free on most trains and heavily discounted fares are available for children up to age 14 on the Frecciarosa, Frecciabianca, and Frecciargento trains.
6. Go off the beaten path for great Italian food.
Food is one of the most exciting and satisfying parts of a trip to Italy, and the best places are generally out-of-the-way restaurants favored by locals. If you’re with a tour group, ask your guide for recommendations. If you’re exploring on your own, try moving away from the tourist areas to find authentic Italian cuisine.
One thing to keep in mind—kids’ menus aren’t really a thing in Italy. The good news is that Italian food is inherently kid-friendly. Even the pickiest child can’t refuse delicious pasta!
7. Be prepared to abandon your “normal” schedule.
Life has a different tempo in Italy. Bursts of morning activity grind to a halt for riposo in the early afternoon; many attractions, restaurants, and shops close for a bit of rest each day after lunch. Restaurants rarely open for dinner before 7 pm—Italians generally dine at 8 or 9 pm.
Our advice? Don’t fight it, embrace la dolce vita. Plan to sleep in a little later and stay up past your normal bedtime (you can grab an afternoon nap, after all). Italy’s lovely cities take on an entirely new character after dark; grab a gelato and wander through the plazas or across a moonlit bridge after dinner. It’s one of life’s simple pleasures you won’t soon forget.
8. Don’t overplan
While you should definitely plan ahead for your must-sees and must-dos, resist the temptation to fill every hour of the day. Magic happens in the unplanned hours when you follow your interests and discover new passions. Leave time to play in the sea, relax in a park, or have an impromptu picnic in the garden of a palazzo.
Even simple things like shopping at an open-air market for fresh fruit or sampling street food take on an air of excitement for little ones.
Ready to plan your family trip to Italy?
Now’s the perfect time to put some plans in motion for your dream holiday in Italy this year. Whether it’s a trip to the coast, a city escape, a culinary tour—or all three!—there’s something for everyone in your family on a vacation to Italy. Why not start planning today?