Taking children to Italy’s top destinations doesn’t have to mean standing in line at theme parks or constant searching for “kiddy” amusements. Kids love quirky places, and may not always find interesting the same places you do. So capture their imagination with offbeat, strange and outright bizarre experiences along with the great sights on your itinerary. Try these places the whole family will enjoy.
See the Coliseum and the Catacombs — the first because it’s an impressive icon where they can even take gladiator lessons and the second because kids love spooky places. Most tourists in Rome don’t know there’s a Changing of the Guard at Il Quirinale Palace daily at 4 p.m., complete with a band.
If a gondola ride is not in the budget, ride on a poor man’s gondola — the traghetti that cross the Grand Canal for €1. Visit a mask-maker’s shop in San Polo and take a boat to Murano to watch glass-blowers at work.
Bologna has plenty to interest little travelers, with more leaning towers than Pisa. If they dare, they can climb to the top of the one that leans the most alarmingly. Stand at one corner of the arch under the center of city hall and whisper. Someone standing at the opposite corner will hear every word.
Go to the roof of the Duomo to see the spires and gargoyles up close, and visit the nearby Santa Mari Presso San Satiro Church. As you enter, try to guess how deep the columned area behind the altar is, then walk closer until you stand to one side of the altar. It’s all an illusion.
Take a boat from Stresa to the over-the-top Palazzo Borromeo, a palace on Isola Bella, one of the tiny Borromean Islands. The entire island is covered by the wildly extravagant palace and its equally fanciful gardens. Take the little tourist train from Stresa to Villa Pallavicino, whose large park is inhabited by exotic animals
Ride the revolving gondola from Malchesine up Monte Baldo. North of Riva, explore the corkscrew-shaped waterfall of Varone, dropping straight down from a glacial lake. And if you do give in to the lure of an occasional theme park, Lake Garda’s the place to look.
Go to a spa. That’s right: One of Italy’s poshest spas, Adler Thermae Spa Resort in Bagno Vignoni, near Sienna, welcomes kids with special spa programs just for them.
Ride the train to Mount Vesuvius, to visit Herculaneum and Pompeii, which may be the highlights of an older child’s trip. They will have heard about it in school, but that’s nothing like being there and seeing the cone of volcano right there above the ruins.