How To Have A Kid-Friendly Family Vacation In Italy

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Now that my kids are
able to pull their own suitcases and keep themselves entertained for long
stretches of time, we’ve begun taking them on trips to different parts of the
world – something I’ve been waiting to do since the day they were born.  

Whenever I plan a trip, I spend a lot of time
online doing searches for “things to do with kids” wherever we’re going to
be.  Invariably, I find nothing but lists
of museums, beaches and amusement parks, and I end up having to figure it all
out on my own.  Which some might say is
all part of the fun, but I’d prefer to have things locked down before I
go.  

With that in mind, I thought I’d
share some fun things to do with kids in Italy – maybe you’re planning a trip
this summer, maybe you’re planning a trip in ten years – it doesn’t really
matter, because Italy’s been around a long time, and it doesn’t change much.

If you’re traveling to Italy for the first time, you’re
going to want to hit the big three: Rome, Florence and Venice. On a ten day trip, we divided it up with
three days in Rome, four days in Florence and two days in Venice.  

It was a perfect amount of time in each
city.  We flew into Rome, and the first
morning we were there we dragged our kids to the Vatican for a nine am
tour.  I’ve been to the Vatican twice
before, and both times I wandered through looking at paintings and statues and
having no idea what I was looking at. 
This time, we hired a tour guide (there’s a company we used called Rome
Kids Tours www.romekidstours.com,
that “specializes” in tours for kids.  I
wouldn’t go so far as to say they did anything so special for kids, but the
tour guides were very warm and friendly and did a great job of explaining
things so that my kids could understand. 
Our guide’s name was Barbara).  

In
addition to understanding what you’re looking at and learning a ton – especially for my twelve year-old, who is learning about ancient cultures in
History this year and loved all of the references to Roman gods and goddesses – our guide reserved tickets in advance which allowed us to skip the line. You
can do this on your own, too, but I’d highly recommend a tour guide to keep
your kids engaged in what they’re seeing.

We used the same tour company the next day for a four-hour driving tour of Rome. Our tour guide, Antonella, was fabulous.  She told us all kinds of fun stories, like
where Marguerita Pizza gets it name, and why there’s a big ugly rock blocking
the view of the Trevi Fountain from one particular shop nearby.  Having a driver to take us to each place
meant we were able to hit all of the major sites (Coliseum, Pantheon, Spanish
Steps, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona) in half the time, and compressing all of
the sightseeing into one morning was perfect for the kids.  

In the afternoon, we rented bikes in Borghese
Park and rode around.  Picture a small
version of Central Park, with a zoo, and a museum and bike paths.  And if you have a non-rider, like my son, you
can rent a side-by-side bike (imagine a golf cart with two sets of pedals), so
nobody feels left out.  Another fun place
to take kids in Rome is the Campo de Fiori, an outdoor market where they sell
pastas in all different colors, lots of cheap souvenirs, and fresh fruits and
vegetables.  My kids loved walking
around, tasting things, and negotiating with the different vendors.  

Florence, I thought, was less kid-friendly.  We bought tickets in advance to see the
Statue of David, which allowed us to skip the line, and we were in and out in
twenty minutes, which was perfect.  But
the next day we had a half day tour of the city, and it was not nearly as much
fun as the one in Rome.  The kids were
bored to tears in the Uffizi, they didn’t care at all about the Duomo, and
while the Ponte Vecchio is beautiful, it just wasn’t all that interesting for
them.  The real fun in Florence, for us,
was renting a car and taking some day trips out of the city.  

The best day of our whole trip was an outing
to Lucca and Pisa.  Lucca, about thirty
minutes from Florence, is an ancient, walled city that’s incredibly
charming.  We rented bikes (my husband
and son went on a tandem) and spent hours riding along the ramparts, which are
probably thirty feet wide.  There’s also
a small playground, and the kids got out and went on the swings and ran around.  Then we drove another half hour to Pisa, and
got there around four o’clock, just as all of the tour buses and massive crowds
were leaving for the day.  We spent an
hour taking pictures of the kids pretending to hold up the leaning tower, and
then we bought tickets to go inside and climb it.  However, if you’re at all claustrophobic or
afraid of heights, you might want to skip this. 

Our other day trip was to Siena and Montereggioni.  Montereggioni is a tiny little walled village
that you can get through in half an hour, which we did, and then we drove on to
Siena, which is basically a smaller version of Florence. If I were there in the
summer, I’d probably skip this and go to one of the beach towns about an hour
outside of Florence instead.

The last time I was in Venice, almost fifteen years ago,
I didn’t get it.  It was overpriced,
touristy and crowded.  And while those
things are all still true, this time I just fell in love.  My kids also said it was their favorite city
of the three.  We walked into St. Marks
Square and saw the pigeons, which kept my kids entertained for all of five
seconds, and then we went to see the Doge’s Palace.  The kids were a little bored until we got to
the prisons from the 1500s, and then they were intrigued.  We dragged them to the Peggy Guggenheim
Museum, which, with it’s modern art (Picasso, Kandinski, Calder, Ernst, Pollack)
was a nice break from all of the Jesus paintings, as my kids called them.  Peggy is buried there, along with thirteen of
her dogs, and the outdoor sculpture garden was a big hit even though the
paintings inside were less exciting to them.  

The two best things we did in Venice were a boat ride out to Murano
(fifteen minutes), where we had a free, private tour of a glass factory,
complete with a glass blowing demonstration by a master glass blower.  He even let the kids take turns blowing the
glass, which they just thought was the coolest thing ever.  The other was a boat ride out to Lido, a
beach town near Venice, where we rented bikes (another golf cart contraption
for me and my son) and rode along the bike path by the beach.  It would have been more fun in the summer,
obviously, when you could also rent a beach cabana and play in the ocean, but
we rode around the town and stopped at a pastry shop before we got back on the
public water bus back to the hotel.

The food in Italy
is also the most kid-friendly in the world, I think.  Who can complain about pasta, pizza and
gelato for every meal?  (Literally, every
meal).  My picky eaters were in heaven,
although by the end of the trip, they said they didn’t want to even look at
pizza and pasta again, words I thought would never come out of their
mouths.  My daughter actually asked for a
salad and chicken on our last night there, proving that in Italy, miracles
actually can happen.               

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