I’m delighted to publish this guest post from Amie O’Shaughnessy of Ciao Bambino! on taking kids to Italy – especially since I loved Italy so much during my travels as a single gal. I can’t wait to one day share it with my children.
Expense aside and despite what I do for a living, many of my friends think it’s crazy to travel to Europe with kids under 12. “Why bother, they won’t get anything out of it” and, “What in the world will I do with them once I’m there?” are the most frequent concerns.
Very young children will not remember specifics about one tourist site or another -or even particulars about a given country in my son’s case-but I’ll argue that even babies and toddlers benefit from the flexibility required to travel far from home to a distinctly different environment.
School age kids and up, on the other hand, will get the educational opportunity of a lifetime.
My favorite destination with kids in Europe is Italy. Here’s why:
Loitering is an accepted and widely embraced pastime in Italy. North American families get very caught up in moving from one activity to another. It’s refreshing to be immersed in a culture that happily wanders without purpose and enjoys simple pleasures like relaxing in beautiful place for an hour or two. Parents assume kids will be bored “doing nothing”-but I assure you, it is amazing how they learn to entertain themselves in these settings. Last summer when we traveled through France, every night our group of boys (ages 5-10) would meet kids from all over the world and play tag in a random square. Electronics were nowhere to be found and not missed. The same thing happens when we spend time in Italy.
I wish we had Italian-like piazzas in American cities-a place without cars where the community congregates over coffee or again, over nothing at all. Other than keeping your eyes on your kids if it’s crowded, there’s nothing better than appreciating a cappuccino or glass of wine while your kids happily run around in a stunning, historic setting where you feel like you’ve traveled back in time.
Milk allergies aside, what child (or adult for that matter) doesn’t like an amazing gelato? When we are traveling, finding the best gelato in town is an activity in-and-of-itself and part of our daily ritual. Fear not, with all the additional walking you do in Italy, gelato eating is a guilt-free pastime.
Pizza and pasta are staples on kid’s menus all over the world. Italy has an endless supply of each and what makes eating so wonderful here is that many restaurants will go out of their way to make something special for your kids. Eating in a foreign country can be stressful. Not here.
Italians Love Children
I’ll never forget the trip we took to the Amalfi Coast when our son was a toddler. We rented an apartment in a small seaside village and every day one of our neighbors would be waiting for him with a treat of some sort for the day. It didn’t matter that they didn’t speak a word of English and none of us speak Italian proficiently. Moreover, it didn’t seem to matter when we walked by-someone was always there with a treat!
Our clients continually come back with stories around how well their children are treated all over Italy; this warm and welcome attitude is a big part of why the Italy family travel experience is so magical.
As kids get older and start to learn about European history in school, it’s entertaining and meaningful for them to see sites they read about in school first hand. From the Leaning Tower of Pisa to the Colosseum in Rome, the opportunities to recognize something are plentiful.
Variety of Experiences
There are a wide variety of possible travel experiences Italy within a relatively small geographic area. The beach, countryside, cities, and mountains all exist in abundance in Italy and each “category” has outrageous places to explore. I’ve spent weeks in Italy and I have yet to see so many of the appealing regions and attractions.
Places for Kids to be Kids
If your summer consists of ample swimming time to keep everyone happy, then stay at a resort or villa in the countryside with pool. It doesn’t mean you have to spend all day, every day there, but having a pool available to break up sightseeing time is a perfect set-up. Italy is filled with parks, playgrounds, and gardens where kids can run around and be kids-just like at home.
Variety of Family-Friendly Accommodations
Italy has a variety of family-friendly accommodation options. From apart-hotels in cities to countryside farm stays, there is something for every budget and travel need. I like a resort setting for individual families featuring all the essential onsite amenities without the isolation and expense of a villa.
Wonderful Structured Activities
Cooking classes, farm tours, gladiator school, art classes, and even just walking tours are plentiful in Italy and a wonderful way to incorporate more structure activities in an itinerary. We just launched a new Italy kid-friendly guides list where we’ll feature some of the best guide and activity options in the top tourist areas.
Are you inspired yet? Italy is the largest and most popular destination we cover on Ciao Bambino. Check our list of recommended Italy kid friendly hotels-everything on the list has been thoroughly vetted (I’ve personally stayed at many of these properties). Our family travel blog has corresponding articles on the best things to do once you get there.
Amie O’Shaughnessy lives with her 7-year-old son and husband in Oakland, California. She is the Editor of CiaoBambino.com, a worldwide traveling with kids site.