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Italy can make for a fabulous vacation destination, filled with opportunities for fun outdoors, from beautiful islands and glistening lakes to national parks with soaring mountains. In the smaller villages, there are lovely squares and other places where the kids can play. Families with older kids can learn history, art and more in a way they’d never get from simply reading a book. Then there’s the food – after all, pizza and spaghetti bolognese were birthed here, and there are few kids who would turn that down or the gelato for dessert. These destinations, in particular, are especially ideal for a family vacation in Italy.
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Sardinia offers gorgeous beaches framed by turquoise waters that everyone in the family will love, but you won’t have to spend all your time on the sand under the Mediterranean sun. There’s a wide range of activities and attractions for all. You can even check out a cave. The Grotta di Nettuno can be reached by boat from the Port of Alghero and hosts an underwater sea lake, a sandy beach and vegetation-covered “rooms” as well as stalactites and stalagmites. In Cagliari, Sardinia’s capital, you can explore a hilltop medieval castle or catch an open-air dance, music or theater in the Roman amphitheater. The list of possibilities is practically endless.
The modern pizza was birthed in Naples, so there may be no better place to bring your children for a slice of authentic pie than this city. For the best of the best, head to Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba in Centro Antico, which is widely regarded as the world’s first ever pizzeria. In business since 1738, its ovens are even lined with lava rocks from Mount Vesuvius. Don’t miss the underground city, it’s sure to fascinate. Napoli Sotterranea sits below the historic center of Naples, and features Roman roads and ancient markets, early Christian burial sites and air-raid shelters from World War II.
There are countless things to do with the kids in Rome. Take a guided tour of ancient Rome to skip the long lines, sign up to learn to make pizza at a local trattoria, sample various flavors of gelato and throw coins into Trevi Fountain – legend says there are a variety of benefits from tossing three coins inside, ranging from the opportunity to return to Rome to find true love. If they still have the energy to burn, take them to climb the Spanish Steps, one of the longest and widest staircases in Europe.
Sicily is incredibly family-friendly. Kids are welcomed at restaurants, cafes and hotels, with staff typically very accommodating. Plus there are plenty of things for them to enjoy, from beaches and ice cream shops to puppet theater. Older kids might want to climb the volcano and everyone can enjoy fun on the sand, right alongside hilltop castles and ancient ruins.
Cinque Terre is one of Italy’s most stunning regions, made up of five picturesque villages that cling to the cliffs, built around the 11th century and for centuries were only accessible via footpath or boat. There are walks for all ages and fitness levels, including kid-friendly options. You can also get from village to village by ferry. Riomaggiore has a rocky beach that’s ideal for a picnic.
Few kids don’t get excited about a visit to Venice where they can glide across the lagoon in a gondola, eat authentic pasta dishes, craft masks and much more. There’s an insane maze of winding narrow streets, hidden alleys and covered passageways that are fun to get lost in too. Turn those explorations into fun for the whole family by giving kids who are old enough a map and let them lead the way to the next destination.
The kids are sure to be thrilled by the opportunity to dine and sleep in a cave, and in the cave city of Matera you can do just that. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is known for its unique cave-like homes and structures that were carved out of the limestone rocks. Aside from Petra, Jordan, it’s the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in history. There are two neighborhoods, referred to as “Sassi,” that is made up of these stone dwellings, dating back to 15,000 BC. Many of the caves were transformed into eateries and hotels, making for an especially unique stay.
The Dolomites are jaw-droppingly scenic and offer a wealth of things to do in all seasons, including hiking in the warmer months and skiing in the winter, along with plenty of authentic kid-friendly sites. You can even feed the reindeer that live in the little village of Dwarf, swim in the emerald waters of lakes like Lake Braies, go horseback riding and picnicking.
Vieste is located in southern Italy, the “heel of the boot” in Puglia. It enjoys one of Italy’s most spectacular coastlines with postcard-perfect sandy beaches, caves, bays and crystal-clear blue waters. Even better is that there are stretches with calm, shallow waters ideal for small children. The most famous is Castle Beach (Spiaggia di Castello) with its towering stack of white rock. The soft, silky sands are fabulous and it’s just a short walk from what’s known as the Beach of Bats. You can also visit the Malacological Museum which exhibits some 10,000 shells from across the globe, many with quirky names and beautiful patterns that will have everyone in the family mesmerized.
Lake Maggiore offers lots for families with kids in a more tranquil atmosphere than its more famous neighbor, Lake Como. Children will love the boats – you can take one around a castle island, visit small islands and play on sandy beaches. Walk the lakeside promenade in Cannobio and enjoy gelato, and visit Villa Pallavicino, in Stresa with its stunning lake views and gardens, over 40 animals, a train and a playground. Older kids will appreciate Baveno’s Adventure Park where they can bounce on trampolines, try the climbing wall, walk a suspension route and more.