We started our big summer adventure in Italy solely because we were using miles for our transatlantic flight, and we found some availabilities there for the 6 of us. So we figured Rome was as good a place as any to start our summer. The last time Dan and I were there was 9 years previously, and we’d never been with kids.
We’d heard this from several people, but Italy is an AMAZING place with kids. Here are 7 reasons why!
1. THE PEOPLE. Italians are some of the warmest, friendliest, most helpful people we met. Neither of us speaks Italian, but we both speak other Latin languages so were able to understand a good bit of what was going on (Dan more so, as he speaks fluent Portuguese, which is decently similar). We constantly heard people talking about the “bambini” in joyous and indulgent tones. Even when our kids weren’t behaving at their finest (trust me, there were many times), we never felt judged, either for our parenting or for traveling with our kids. They just looked at us sympathetically and commented on how they must be tired or hungry or whatever else. It was really lovely (and a great lesson in giving people the benefit of the doubt!).
Italians will also be completely charmed if your kids know even a couple words in Italian, so be sure to practice saying “grazie” before heading over. In fact, we found that having the kids with us to say a few words actually made us MORE likely to get to know locals – the kids totally broke down any cultural and/or language barriers and opened up (albeit broken) dialogue for the grown ups.
2. THE FOOD. This should go without saying, but most kids (nay, most people) love Italian food. I mean, it’s pizza and pasta and gelato – what’s not to love? There was no pushing needed to try different things here; they were excited about it all. Plus, Italians love their food, and they love your kids even more when they’re willing to eat whatever is put in front of them. We ate at Sora Margherita (you MUST eat there if you find yourself in Rome) and our delightful server just brought us whatever she thought we’d enjoy (spoiler: we loved it all). She put fried artichokes and tomatoes directly in our kids’ mouths, and our kids didn’t mind a bit.
3. THE COLORS. Do you have any rainbow-obsessed kids? While we adults may appreciate some good monochrome, it seems most kids are of the philosophy that the more color the better. Which makes Italy total eye candy for them (and for us, to be honest). Venice/Burano are well known for being ultra-colorful, of course, but every city had its own vibrance, from the food to the flags (our kids loved comparing various dishes we sampled to the Italian flag) to the many flavors of gelato to the buildings and clothing. There are vegetables and flowers and fabrics and just so many pretty, colorful things.
4. WALKABILITY. We visited Rome, Pienza, Florence, and Venice. Each was super walkable and easy to get around. Paris and London, for instance, feel very accessible, but are so spread out (even in terms of tourist sites) that it’s difficult for little legs to quickly get from one spot to another on foot (good thing they both have terrific public transport). Italian public transport is significantly less reliable, so we ended up just walking a lot of places, which felt totally doable, even with small children. The great part of this is you get to see and experience way more than you do if inside a subway car. The few times we did use public transport was on a bus, which still provided great views of the cities.
We did take one small umbrella stroller along for our 3-year-old to nap. Then we wore the baby for the most part (or let him ride if he was awake – he wouldn’t nap in the umbrella stroller). Our little Maclaren Triumph that we’ve had for years and love was totally fine even with the cobblestone, and worth not having big wheels for the small profile of this stroller on tiny sidewalks.
5. THE HISTORY. Every day felt like a fantastic school lesson, with minimal effort on our part. And kids tend to think this kind of history is super fun. We learned about ancient building practices (which kid doesn’t like Legos?), entertainment (hello, gladiators), castles, rulers (it was really fun making connections with Hadrian and Caesar across the continent), and even ancient toilets. It never felt like a stretch or like we had to push learning on them. It happened organically all day long.
On that note, Italy as a million super recognizable monuments. The Colosseum. The Leaning Tower of Pisa. The Duomo. Gondolas. The list goes on and on. It’s very easy to plant a seed and/or a picture in your kid’s mind before that they will very easily spot and which they will be thrilled to recognize. For us, that excitement jus fueled further questions and learning, and made the entire experience way more enjoyable when our kids were eagerly anticipating certain sites (and really helped behavior while there because they were the ones looking forward to it).
6. THE ART. Along the same lines, the art in Italy is, of course, incredible, and informs so much other Western European art that we saw along the way. Plus, because Italians tend to be so family-friendly, all the museums we visited had multiple options for kid books/museum guides in English (unlike Paris, AHEM). This is the absolute best tip I have for getting your kids to enjoy an art museum. With some sort of book about art in the museum, my kids get so excited to do art treasure hunts and then talk about each piece we find.
Plus, Italian Renaissance art tends to be really accessible for kids. Mine loved seeing the famous sculptures (they were so into the David and also the slaves, and loved finding the other 2 in Michaelangelo’s series at the Louvre weeks later). We hunted for items/people that Caravaggio painted in shadow and light. Because we are religious, they really connected with a lot of Christian art, but I think that can be true whether you’re religious or not – kids in general love finding symbols and repetition in artwork (of which there is a lot in Italian Renaissance art). They loved pointing out Jesus holding up two fingers (to denote his dual mortality and immortality), spying John the Baptist in camel skin, the Holy Family, and remembering various other Biblical stories.
Even if they’re looking for the same thing over and over again, kids tend to feel really proud of themselves when something in art is familiar and recognizable, so find something to focus on and have them hunt for it.
7. LANGUAGE. If you’re a native English speaker, a lot of Italian words feel accessible to read and/or pronounce. Some of the languages we saw (I’m looking at you, Welsh) just looked too difficult for our American tongues to even attempt, while Italian definitely felt doable. Our kids were able to easily say and remember quite a few words and phrases, which helps so much in feeling immersed and engaged in the culture. They learned the names of their favorite gelato phrases, how to say hello and goodbye and thank you, and how to ask a couple simple questions. In a time of so much learning and memory exercises, it was nice when a few things felt a little easier.
What are your favorite reasons for taking your kids to Italy as a family-friendly destination?? I’d love to hear!