Italy Family Activities
Acquario di Genova
Genoa boasts one of the world's most important aquariums, with 70 tanks reproducing a variety of marine and terrestrial habitats housing more than 6,000 animals of 600 different species. In addition to being a major tourist attraction, with 1.5 million visitors each year, the aquarium also strives to increase public awareness regarding environmental issues.
An hour’s train ride from Milan, this charming city on the edge of the Alps in Lombardy is extremely pretty. Bergamo Alta is the picturesque part with the Piazza Vecchia and the church of Santa Maria Maggiore. Bergamo Bassa has a cluster of museums, including the Museo Donizettiano. The airport of Orio al Serio, largely serviced by budget carriers, is located near here.
For lace fanatics, and those who just want a look at another side of the lagoon, this out of the way island is a slice of Venetian life as it was decades or even dozens of decades ago.
Carnevale and Mardi Gras
Venice is famous for its masked celebrations, but the seaside town of Viareggio is equally worth a visit at carnival time. Started in 1873, the Viareggio revelries now feature huge papier-mâché satirical floats that parade along the seafront promenade for five Sundays between late January and early March (dates vary). At other times of the year, projects and miniature models of the most memorable floats can be seen in a dedicated museum.
This tiny train creaks and weaves its way along a single track through the lush, unspoiled so-called Centovalli (the “Hundred Valleys” from Locarno to Domodossola). Take some refreshments – the slow, scenic trip takes around 2 hours – and go early to avoid the summer crush.
Coffee in Piazza San Marco
Don’t miss the chance to fritter away an afternoon sipping a cappuccino and enjoying the live music in this beautiful town square that Napoleon called “the drawing room of Europe.”
Go in search of music at the birthplace of the famous Stradivari violin and home to some memorable medieval architecture. It was here that Antonio Stradivari set up his workshop in the early 1700s and artisans today continue the tradition. The Torrazzo bell tower is the second tallest brick tower in Europe, and houses the world's largest astronomical clock.
Duomo di Milano
Commissioned in 1386, this dramatic Gothic building has more than 100 spires and 3,500 statues. The highest statue – perched at 355 feet – is the copper-clad Madonnina, a de facto symbol of the city. Tradition says that no building can be higher than the Madonnina, so the current tallest building in the city, a skyscraper housing regional government offices, has a copy of the Madonnina at its summit of 525 feet. On a clear day the views from the Duomo’s terrace reach as far as the Alps.
Italy's largest amusement park lies by the shores of Lake Garda, and offers attractions in four categories: fantasy, adventure, energy, and live shows. Rides include six roller coasters and seven water rides. Open Easter through September and select weekends in the winter.
Italia in Miniatura
Sample the best of Italy's and Europe’s architectural treasures and natural wonders at a glance with over 270 fascinating miniatures of mountains, harbors, cathedrals, castles, palaces, and archaeological sites on a 1:25 or 1:50 scale. Other attractions include a science park, a Pinocchio area, and a prehistoric valley.
With exciting activities for young children and exhilarating rides for older children and adults, this amusement park makes an unforgettable day out for the entire family. Open from Easter to October. Ticket reductions are periodically offered online and a free shuttle service operates from the Lido di Classe-Lido di Savio train station.
If you don’t have time to visit Pompeii, why not visit the next best thing? The glorious ruins at Ostia Antica, just outside of Rome, are easily accessible by a local commuter train that will bring you to Portus, the ancient port of Rome, as well as a necropolis with 100 tombs excavated (and more to be uncovered).
Picturesque Padova (as the Italians call it) boasts a cycle of Giotto’s best frescos in the Cappella degli Scrovegni, the oldest botanical garden in the world (circa 1545), and a massive, beautiful town square called the Prato della Valle.
Carlo Lorenzini, the creator of Pinocchio, chose Collodi for his pen name as a tribute to this quaint hillside village (located within the municipality of Pescia), the birthplace of his mother. The theme park tells Collodi's version of the Pinocchio story (quite unlike Disney's!) through sculpture, mosaics, and puppet shows.
The hardy traveler based in Rome can easily travel here and back in a day, though total travel time each way is about 3.5 hours. But the fantastic ruined city of Pompeii, unearthed from the volcanic ash of Mount Vesuvius, is worth it. No other archeological venue gives you as much of a feel of what it must have been like to live in the Roman Empire. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Florence's oldest, most iconic bridge vies with the Duomo for favorite city landmark. The tiny shops lining the Ponte Vecchio were once home to the city butchers and fishmongers, who use to dump the rotting leftovers into the river. Because of the smell, in 1593 Ferdinando I de' Medici decreed that they should be replaced with goldsmiths, which remain to this day.
You don’t have to be an art historian to appreciate the Renaissance masterpieces of Florence, but having one show you the city certainly ups the wow factor, especially for kids who are learning about Michelangelo for the first time. Founded by National Geographic writer Paul Bennett and designer Lani Bevacqua, Context Travel runs walking tours of Florence, Naples, and Rome that are led by scholars who are knowledgeable about art history and can also engage children. Learn about history and architecture on a treasure hunt, trace the past of artistic greats, or explore 15th-century life in historic homes.
The medieval, cliffside town of Taormina offers views of both Mt. Etna and the Ionian Sea from its cobblestone streets. In addition to a beach, visitors will also find a Greek theater and several 14th- and 15th-century palaces.
Time Elevator Experience
This one-hour show consists of high-tech virtual projections of the most famous Roman monuments. Ride the “time machine” and discover Rome as you've never seen it before: Three panoramic screens, flight simulators, and a state-of-the-art surround sound system catapult you through 2,750 years and the most important events in Roman history.
Our Experts save you money with travel deals and advice
Before traveling to an unknown destination, alert your friends on Facebook; someone might connect you with a local who can show you around.
Alex Schechter Assistant Editor
Sign up for the Top 25 Newsletter
to get exclusive weekly deals