One of the fun things about traveling with children is the opportunity to expose them to so many different aspects of the world as they are growing and learning. It doesn’t matter how young they are. Even very young children will be soaking up the environment around them, even if they don’t personally remember the experiences when they get older.
Taking a tour around northern Italy is a perfect place to show your children so many aspects of art, history, and Italian culture. Some of it must rub off into their attitude to life and their future. What better way to enthuse a budding artist than to show them some of the world’s most famous artworks? Or perhaps your daughter wants to be an architect. Northern Italy has plenty of inspirational buildings from ages gone by. If it’s fashion, then how about window shopping in Milan, one of the world centers for fashion. The list could go on, any budding foodie will love pizza and pasta, so there is never any reason to ask for the children’s menu.
Public transport between major cities and towns is fine. However, to really explore Italy, it is so much easier with your own transport. If you are hiring a vehicle, remember that it is always more expensive to have a one way hire with pick and drop off at different places, so plan your tour to start and finish in the same city or airport. Most airlines let you take your own car seats, but if you plan to hire, check in advance what size you need. Everybody needs their own seat belts, so inform the rental company of exactly how many are in your family when booking. And of course, don’t leave home without your international driver’s license which works in conjunction with your personal driver’s license.
In general Italians love children, and the whole country is child friendly for all ages from baby and toddler through to teenagers. Accommodation is available on all levels from pension, bed and breakfast, through to five star hotels. If you check in advance, most will supply child friendly furniture such as high chairs and cots. Bedtimes might be a tad different though, as children seem to stay up to all hours in Italy, especially during summer vacations.
If you’re heading to Italy soon, here are some top places to visit in Italy for a good family vacation or holiday:
Milan is one of the international centers for fashion, so it’s a great place to get some inspiration for the latest fashion trends and check out famous labels and brands. Gucci and Prada are two labels based there. Even if you don’t buy anything, the 19th century Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II mall is worth visiting for the beautiful domed glass roof, the mosaics, and the marble floors with four floors of exquisite shops.
If you happen to be in Milan just before Christmas, check out the awesome markets where stalls are set up throughout the various piazzas selling all sorts of food, crafts, and second hand goods. They are great places just to relax and share the best of festive cheer. The patron saint of Milan is Sant’Ambroglio, and a special market is held during the first week of December to celebrate patron saint’s day on December 7th. Saint Nicklaus visits European children the day after to see who has been good or bad throughout the year.
You can head to the coast for some sea and sunshine on the west coast of Italy to explore the Cinque Terre. The five villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza, Monterosso, and Corniglia link a stunningly beautiful part of Italy on the Ligurian Coast. The picture postcard buildings are so pretty and colorful as they cling to the cliffs on the edge of the sparkling Mediterranean Sea. Most of the villages can only be reached by train or on foot, so plan ahead. You can also break up your journey by mixing hiking with ferries between the villages. As you wander along picturesque trails between the villages, you pass by gardens with lemon and olive trees and bushes of lavender and rosemary to scent your way.
Of course you will want to check out Pisa! Everyone wants a photo looking like you are pushing the tower back upright with your finger. The leaning tower is actually the bell tower of the city cathedral. It’s always crowded and commercial, but it’s fun to spend a few hours around the area. Pisa also has great architectural buildings and bridges with evidence that it existed nearly two thousand years ago. The world famous physicist Galileo Galilei was born in Pisa, as was current opera singer Andrea Bocelli.
There are many famous places in Tuscany, and if it is art you seek, you must spend a day or two in Florence checking out various exhibitions and maybe visiting a church or two. Depending on the age of your children, you might want to spend some time at the Uffizi Museum. However, because of the size and complexity of it, plan ahead by checking online which works interest them most. Make a beeline for those pieces rather than wandering aimlessly from hall to hall. There are also often art workshops for kids, so check out what is available before your visit.
If you want to explore somewhere completely different, plan a visit to Nikki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden still in Tuscany. Colorful and bizarre, the Tarot Garden is a fabulous retreat that took the artist many years to complete just before the turn of last century. It is a strange mix of architecture and life size art which you can explore inside and out. There are large figures made of steel, cement, polyester, ceramic tiles, mosaic glass, mirrors, and large glass beads, and Saint Phalle actually used to live inside them.
From Tuscany, head north via cities such as Modena or Bologna, to Verona, the city of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Verona is a pretty city with many Roman ruins including a wonderful open air amphi theatre to rival the Coliseum in Rome. As you climb the steep ramparts, you can imagine how the annual opera must sound with no need for artificial amplifiers. The narrow streets are pleasant to wander around, and Verona is not as crowded as some other Italian cities.
If you want mountain air and fresh water, head to Lake Garda in Lombardy. The picturesque stone buildings, olive trees, and tall cyprus trees make for relaxing vistas in any direction. Lake Garda is glacial fed, so it’s always great for cooling off in warm summer temperatures. There are plenty of water sports to try out on the lake including wind surfing, sailing, and kayaking, as well as swimming.
Your Italian holiday will come to an end far too soon, but for sure all family members will have their favorite memories. Italy is a country you can return to many times and find there will always be plenty more special places to explore.