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Italy with small children?

Hi all! For our anniversary in 2008, I took my wife to Italy and we fell in love with the country (of course). I've gotten to travel a lot internationally for work since then, but she hasn't had a chance to leave the US again. So I'm wanting to take her again for our anniversary this year.

The difference between our former and current situation is that we have two young children who will be 5 years old and 18 months when we plan to take the trip (late September into early October). I'm currently thinking three weeks with maybe three cities so that we can truly do the Slow Travel thing.

Here's my question for the hive mind: are we insane? I've read a lot of different travel blogs about European travel with children, but none seem to mention kids as young as ours. Are there special considerations we should take that maybe aren't obvious? Any places or activities to avoid? Any that we should definitely hit? Has anyone travelled with children this young before?

My older son loves to travel (we take a lot of domestic trips inside the US) and is very inquisitive. The baby is, well, a baby and will more often than not be strapped to my chest.
We have travelled internationally with our children since they were 18 months. Taking it slow is the key. Also a good carrier, we love the Ergo and the Beco butterfly.
I cannot advise you on travelling to Italy/Europe, but can honestly share that the trips when the children were young were so much fun, they opened up amazing experiences and dialogues along the way that we cherish the memory of.
Yes it was a bit trickier, we carried nappies (diapers) and other paraphernalia, but our children love to travel and each trip becomes easier and less encumbering.
Enjoy seeing Europe through the eyes of your children. x
We found the Beco butterfly was better as the children were older and heavier. When we travelled through Asia a lot, a night we would pop our 4/5yo in the Beco and head out to the markets so she would be up high in the crowds and then if they went to sleep it was ok too. Beats lugging a stroller everywhere!

I am a travel enabler, you will never hear us saying it was hideous. There were some moments that were not fun, of course, but I look at my children now and love that see the world as a small, inclusive place and are open minded about new things. (they are 10 and 7yo.)
Italy would be my choice for this, as it seems the Italians still dote on any children, especially the tiny ones. They'll get respect / attention they're not used to in restaurants, plus they'll have the excitement of gelaterie and pasticcerie which taste as good as they look. Pasta and pizza are tactile / visually stimulating for children, whilst you can explore the wider range of Italian food. I swear one reason Italian kids are often well-behaved is because of all the attention they get - no need to throw a tantrum if people are already paying you attention.

My sister and B-I-L took their 1 year old to Ravello and used one of those chest harnesses, and it was a very good move. The 1 year old even attracted the attention of a young Italian boy who came over with a daisy for her - they train them young over there!!! They had a great time.

So yes, but the destination does warrant some thought, as does the accommodation. However the time of year you are planning is perfect, probably our preferred time to go, allowing for town/city or rural or coastal or hill/mountains. Rarely baking hot, and rarely cool/cold. Often 'just right' as Goldilocks would say.

For accommodation, I'd make a strong steer towards an apartment to give you great flexibility, plus a little more space if tensions start to fray. It allows you to feed the little folk when they want, from the 1st meal of the day to the last. It will require more interaction in normal Italian shops / supermarkets / markets to pick up stuff, but take the kids and they'll generally break the ice for you. Also most apartments have a washing machine (do check) which helps reduce the amount of clothes to pack - my sister commented how little she could pack for herself, once all the kids stuff was packed - and that was only one child! Getting a place with a pool might excite the young ones, allowing one of you to potter around doing stuff, whilst the other keeps them splashing around safely.

Now for location, I'd definitely avoid Rome, Venice, Florence, as they are very busy with foreign tourists and won't be as obviously accommodating to the children. The crowds may be worryingly bustling. I'd probably avoid all the major cities as well, so no Bologna, Torino, etc. If the children get excited about the sea, then plenty of options but Italian coastal 'resorts' are a little different (not for me, but they seem popular), but there are places that have great appeal that are on the coast.

Cinque terre is an option, but some of the trails will be too much for a 5 year old, however the ferry or train will get you around very easily. It's visually stimulating and will seem a little 'fairy tale' in it's style.

Personally I prefer the Amalfi coast o CT, and for convenience I'd suggest Amalfi, though Sorrento is worth considering. Ravello is heavenly, but would require the mindset that you'll relax and take it easy up there most of the time, taking in the stunning views, villa cimbrone gardens and having the kids play in the square in the evening. Amalfi/Sorrento make it easier to venture to other places.

Rural Tuscany / Umbria has plenty of appeal and there are large numbers of villas to hire in the former, plus the advantage of English being widely spoken (as indeed it is in the above two locations)

Puglia offers something a little different and places like Martina Franca, Locorotondo, Alberobello etc. have unique style. Inbetween the towns the driving is easy, though it can be a little stressful in them, as the roads are sometimes narrow / twisty with quite a few now one-way. Trani near Bari airport has a good castle / coast, but for a stunning castle, head up to Castel del Monte.

There are many, many more options!

So not mad at all, though take advice on the kiddie logistics, and also try to keep the location logistics simple - ideally the whole holiday in one base location to avoid a stressful transfer.


p.s. If there are any fevers, colds etc. whilst the kids are there, just about every farmacia in Italy has someone who speaks good English, and there are many of them, often with the usual rota of late opening. Everything else is stocked you'd expect in shops/supermarkets etc. but the erboristerie are a useful resource as well with a strong history of herbal remedies.
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Our children began European travel when the older was three and the younger was still in utero. They continued to travel with us every year until the older one's junior year of high school when he announced that we "were ruining his life by making him go to Italy every year". What he meant was that he did not want to leave the beautiful Andrea home while he went away for the summer. The next year, we informed him that Andrea was going with us and we were wondering if he wanted to come too.

I digress from your original question, but we found enjoyment with our kids from every age from infancy through high school (OK, not so much the teenage years, but they get over that). They have resumed traveling with us again now that they are out of college (but not Andrea who is now in medical school and a pleasant memory to the family). The advice above about taking it slow is spot on. Cities are not kind to young feet, nor is extended time in cars. Rather than three cities in three weeks, you might consider an agro-turismo with a pool that is outside the city or a location with beach access. Find things that involve animals, boats, bikes, puppets, or other actions that help turn the attention away from mom and dad to external enjoyment.

For your five year old, he/she might enjoy the scavenger games that we used when we dragged our kids into museums or art galleries -- give them a list of things (a woman in a red dress, a dog -- preferably one in a painting, but, being Italy, it might be a live one -- a saint, a horse, a dragon, etc.) and tell them there is a gelato in their future if they find everything.

We had the advantage of a home for much of the month we spent every summer, but we did travel through Rome and Venice when they were young and always spent a week in another location -- including Munich, Vienna, Salzburg, Paris, London, Dublin and a few others. When visiting cities in Italy or elsewhere, be aware that the Metro systems can be very crowded and intimidating for little people.

I'd suggest staying away from places that are hilly -- a child that is being carried or pushed in a stroller gets to be quite a burden and cobblestone streets are not stroller friendly even on flat ground. Italian hotels are not really made for three plus a crib, so shop carefully when making your reservations. Your space might end up being extremely cramped. Look around for festivals -- there is usually music and dancing in addition to the highlighted food and makes for a relaxed evening for mom and dad as well as the children. There are places like Pinocchio Park in Collodi that are made for kids -- again, search around and see what you come up with.

Sorry for rambling on -- I'm envious of all the enjoyment and adventures you will have in the years that you have in front of you traveling with your children.
Sorry for rambling on -- I'm envious of all the enjoyment and adventures you will have in the years that you have in front of you traveling with your children.
On the contrary, a wonderful post, and I smiled when I read about Andrea being already in the holiday plans. Always think one step ahead of the kids!
Fully support the agriturismo idea - the right one could be a destination in it's onw right for the children, with pool, gardens, animals, etc. etc.
... and festivals, something we always look out for - indeed we're considering a festival in Cirie for this weekend! Stumbling on a procession, flag throwing or fireworks can be a wonderful surprise, but on the theme of staying one step ahead of the kids, some surprises can be planned :D


500+ Posts
So I write this as a grandparent and as you know by now we see things different than parents.

A few years back we got to take our two year old grandson to the islands, and I can honestly say it was our best vacation ever. His parents were with him, and we let him pretty much drive the train on much we could do in a day. I kept a blog on the vacation, but I wrote it from the eyes of my grandson. Here is a link to the blog and I think you will see how we split adult & kid time and still had fun. Thomas Takes A Vacation

To respond to your post, without a doubt this will be different trip than the first, but my bet it will be more memorable. When traveling with children, as I am sure you have experienced, it is easy to get caught up in the moment and push them to hard to see one more thing. The result can be disastrous! You and your wife know your kids and when they are about to hit the wall.

I would recommend you may want to take a look at a place like La Spezia. The city is not on the normal tourist destination list, or as I tell people - it as a real place. However it is located in the center of so much to see. La Spezia is a train station hub, so day trips to Pisa, Genoa, etc are easy, and the rumbling of the train provides excitement as well as down time for kids to rest. The ferry dock is right by a wonderful park and a short ride to the Cinque, Portovenere, or Lerici. Each of these destinations offer fun things to see and do for all ages. La Spezia also offers a lots of kid friendly restaurants that are very good because you will be eating with local families. But what really sets La Spezia a part are the evenings. Everybody who lives in town heads to the square, where the kids run and play, the parents sit in the cafes, and sip wine in one of the many cafes which surround the square all under the watchful eyes of the older generation on benches. The evening ends with a family walk, a ride on the merry-go-round, and some gelato. I sat in that square almost every night for two weeks and I never heard a child cry. It is just a happy place.

Would it be the place I would select for my wife and me to getaway for a quiet romantic getaway? No, it would not be the place, but with my grandson I would give it serious consideration. You have received some great recommendations in the posts above, I hope you will let us know what you decide. Have a great trip!
It is a wonderful passeggiata in La Spezia, and I suppose it's to the unremarkable towns and small cities that we should expect this, but it also requires the pedestrianised streets / squares to be aligned to encourage this, plus the locals making the effort to get out, which they certainly seemed to do, chatting, gossiping, commending fast growing kids, cooing over babies, etc. What is special in this context, is that I'd expect you children to have mixed with locals on the 1st evening and to have friends by the 2nd - a similar thrust to the Ravello square thinking, but on a much more vibrant scale.

It's a bold/brave suggestion, that would put someone deeper into the soul of Italy (or at least this area on the border of Liguria and Tuscany) than 2-3 trips to more famous locations. It probably makes sense for an active family who want to be out exploring different places on many mornings (typically on the train), head back for a recharge snooze at lunch and then have a stroll and a meal in the evening. Scenically, it's not great, and is miles away from the picture postcard images of Italy, but that's a bit of a trade off for the less obvious charms of the evening scene. Even if not taken up, I would definitely recommend it as a one-off to people staying in Cinque Terre, as the trains are frequent and the journey short. I'm very glad we did so.


500+ Posts
Thank you for writing "passeggiata"! For the life of me I could not remember that word last night. My Spanish kept getting in the way with "paseo". With neighboring towns of Lerici and Portovenere, there is plenty of beauty nearby. The one caveat I would offer - To enjoy La Spezia as described you need to find a place downtown near the park, ferry dock, and of course the main area of the passeggiata in the evenings. La Spezia is a small city, but to experience it and become part of it you need to be in the middle of it.

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In thinking about kid travel, I remember the fun they had at a restaurant owned by friends of ours near Borgo a Mozzano -- the Hotel Milano. The restaurant kept live trout in what had been an ornamental fountain -- when kids (not just ours) ordered trout, they were taken to the fountain and given a little fishing rod to catch their own dinner (I was raised in a hunting/fishing environment, so will acknowledge this might not be for everyone). Our kids never missed a chance to have trout for dinner.

While on the memories trail, my two favorite travel photos of our kids when little (Elba and London) -- as noted above, travel with children is much more than just a chance to irritate your fellow airplane passengers ;-) And then one of what happens when they grow up (Bahamas -- after a night at the casino -- enjoy them while they're little??)

I have no experience with children as I was never brave enough to travel with them (until they were adults, the is). However, you might consider Lucca. It's flat with limited traffic inside the walls and the walls themselves are a big park. Bicycles are everywhere, and you can rent a a carriage-like thing that has two bicycles driving the front and room for two passengers in the back. I saw them on the streets as well as the walls.


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