I haven’t always been an expert at travelling with kids. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes. Today I thought I would share my ‘do as I do not as I did’ tips for a successful Italian road trip with kids.
When Miss L was 2 and Mister G was still in my tummy we rented a place in Tuscany. My plan had been to see Florence. This wasn’t my greatest plan given it was August, the temperatures were in the high 30s, I was heavily pregnant and we had a toddler in tow. Needless to say we rerouted and found some other gems instead of Florence!
Nowadays my kids are older and I’m really excited by the idea of joining up the dots of all the separate trips we have made to Italy, and driving from Venice, via Bologna, to Florence, Rome and Naples. It’s only actually just over seven hours of driving in total, which means some of the most incredible cities in Italy, and arguably the world, could be visited over a week. You could even head for the coast after.
Tips for Venice with kids
My kids loved Venice, it’s a playground in itself with it’s lovely little bridges, steps and passageways – they had no idea how far they walked they were so engrossed. You can always stop for a snack if tempers fray. They loved looking at the shops full of colourful masks. I think given that we didn’t spend entrance money on anything while we were there, but just pottered, that some kind of water experience is money well spent. Mr A and I will never forget our gondola ride pre kids and as a family we will never forget speeding off in a water taxi to the cruise port.
Tip – If you have the money, don’t be put off by the negativity about the cost of gondolas, it is a truly magical experience. There are signs with prices, to ensure you get a fair deal.
Read More – Sailing out of Venice
Reasons not to forget Bologna as a family
I’ve travelled to Bologna with my Dad and the kids and without kids with a friend. It’s often overlooked but it is packed full of sights – gravity defying towers, yet compact and easy to navigate with kids and it’s the foodie capital of Italy. I’d really recommend it once you feel your kids are getting to the stage where a city break is doable.
You can easily spend the best part of a day travelling to San Luca Church on a hill top overlooking Bologna. While that might not sound like something the kids will love, you take the San Luca Express a tourist ‘toy’ train to the top of the hill, past miles of covered mind boggling, Unesco listed covered walkways.
Tip – After taking in the church and the stunning views of Bologna, head over to Vito a San Luca, across the road, an amazing family friendly pizzeria restaurant.
When are the best times to visit Florence?
There have been three times I didn’t quite make it to Florence, another time a press trip fell through at the last minute, and when we did our Mediterrainian cruise as a family we were too exhausted from Rome to tackle Florence the next day. However, I’m really excited to be heading back to Tuscany in March to stay in an amazing villa with Bookings For You, and to hopefully, finally see Florence.
Tip – Florence can be amazing all year round, and do check out Nadia’s blog, Lost in Florence, we met in Iceland of all places! With kids it may be too hot and humid in July and August and on the chilly side from November through to March. May or October are cooler.
Tip – It’s easy to get hung up on the main cities, but there are amazing sights all over Italy, San Gimignano is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a stunning medieval hill top village which was perfectly sized for exploring with a toddler and had the best ice creams and easy parking. Nowadays, Miss L is much older and I think she would like to see Montepulciano is a town in Southern Tuscany, the filming location for the Volterra scenes in Twilight.
When is the best time to see Italian Sunflowers?
I have wonderful memories of being driven through the country, sailing past fields and fields of glorious sunflowers. Luckily Mr A finds driving abroad a doddle, because my pregnant brain point blank refused to cope with a left hand drive vehicle on the right. I’ve never seen anything so cheery in my life. The sunflowers kept me and Miss L smiling despite the August heat.
Tip 2- In general, sunflower fields are in bloom between about mid-June and early August, in the regions of Tuscany, Umbria and Le Marche. They don’t bloom continuously though, so you may have to drive around a bit and hunt for some fields that are in full bloom. Another reason to hire a car!
Tips for tackling Rome as a family
Rome is huge and involves a lots of walking, we did it in a day and we were mind blown, in a good way – both exhilarated but exhausted. Don’t try to be too ambitious, or consider doing it over a few days or take a tour to help you save time and energy.
Tip – The Colosseum was incredible but often attracts two-hour queues. Booking online in advance skips this. Online tickets cost €14, compared with €12 on the door.
Or, if you’re buying on the day, the ticket also covers entry to the Roman Forum which includes remains of buildings constructed by Julius Caesar, and Palatine Hill, where the emperors lived. Buy your ticket at the entrance to one of these and the queue may be shorter.
How to see Naples as a family
Naples was easier to navigate. There are two things you must do in Naples, other than see it and die, you must eat pizza, which was invented here, and visit the incredible Via S Gregorio Armeno, a narrow pedestrian street dedicated to Christmas, or more specifically to nativity scene makers.
Tip – On our cruise stop here this was the one city where we were specifically warned to keep valuables safe. We didn’t encounter any problems, the kids were a bit taken aback by seeing more poverty and homelessness, graffiti and rubbish, but somehow it felt more real and the treasure we stumbled upon was far, far more rewarding.
Read more about our visit over at Space In Your Case
Tips for hiring a car abroad with kids
By the time we got to Italy on that very first family trip, Miss L was tired and hungry, but we still had to pick up the hire car. I remember the buggy tipping under the weight of the car seat we’d brought with us for her, and the only snacks we had left flying across the airport floor. Trying to get our car seat in the hire car was another challenge we didn’t need. We had stupidly booked a small car with very basic aircon, the temperature gauge read 36 degrees.
Tip – Book car seats and extras to make travelling with kids easier, like satnav. Book a roomy car with decent air con in the summer months.
Getting the best deal on car hire in Italy
Check out Easyterra to easily compare car hire options in Italy. Easyterra have have numerous pick-up points all across Italy. Enter your preferences and they will find the best car rental deal for your situation.
Have you driven in Italy? Taken a road trip? Any recommendations?
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Image credits, P Alexander except Tuscan Sunflowers, via Shutterstock.