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Italy with Kids

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Hi all!! I'm excited to be here. I am planning a trip to Italy for 10-12 days (hopefully 12, but we have to see what work schedules will allow). I will be traveling with my husband (we are both in our thirties), 2 kids (2 and 4 years old), and my dad who is in his 60's (and in amazing shape, probably better than me!)

Out of our group, I am the only one who has been to Europe. I studied in Italy for a summer in 2002 and lived in Florence. It was the best summer of my life and I fell in love with Italy. I have been dying to return for the past 14 years! My dad and husband are very active travelers and are excited to experience Europe for the first time. My dad has always wanted to go to Europe, specifically Italy, and his circumstances have now allowed him to make a trip. I feel like this is a once in a lifetime trip, and not sure when any of us will be able to return to Europe or Italy.

I know that with the kids, it will make the most sense to limit the cities we visit, but I am so tempted to try to see a lot. I would like to spend most of our time in Florence and Rome. I would love to make smaller side trips (1 or 2 days?) I have interest in Venice... Cinqueterre... Almalfi Coast..... I know we definitely couldn't do all three of those places, but maybe 1 or 2? I have read that all of these places could potentially be challenging with kids. I just feel like my dad and husband would want to see Venice being first time visitors to Italy. And Cinqueterre was one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen... And I never made it to the Almalfi Coast and would love to go.

Given all that info, what are your suggestions for how to narrow it down to some select destinations? The problem is, that we want to do it all! We are all pretty active and adventurous and like to see a lot. My dad loves history, I love art. I don't want to sound naive or idealistic, but my kids are really pretty well behaved and easygoing. Granted, I've never taken them on a 12 day trip to Europe, but we have done a fair amount of traveling with them in the States, and theyve fared pretty well. Again, I probably sound idealistic.

My dad put me in charge of the planning and though I have lived in Italy, it was so so long ago, and I had such a different lifestyle back then, single and childless! :) another lifetime. Thanks in advance for your help!

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    What time of year? With 10-12 days, does that include the travel on each end?, meaning you will have 8-10 days on the ground? Assume it takes 1/2 to 3/4 of a day to move between cities and you are pushing it to do more than two cities. Florence and Venice would be doable - take the train between them. Your children are young so plan a couple of hours in the morning, lunch, nap and then a couple of late afternoon activities. Just a few thoughts to start the process.

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    It would help if you could fly into Venice and home from Rome. Since you've seen the Cinque Terre ((which has certainly got a lot more crowded since you were there), I would suggest you visit the Amalfi Coast, which I happen to like better than the Cinque Terre, but more importantly, I think you should try to squeeze in something you haven't seen.

    You could spendthree nights in Venice, to relax and get over your jet lag. Then two nights in Florence. Then I would take a direct high-speed train from Florence to Salerno (avoiding trains that have a change in Pisa or Rome). From Salerno, you can get a boat or private transfer to a town on the Amalfi Coast.

    You could spend three nights on the Amalfi Coast and four nights in Rome. This assumes you can squeeze out twelve nights in Italy.

    If you can't manage twelve nights in Italy, you could cut a night from Venice or a night from Rome, or both. I don't think the long trip to the Amalfi Coast is worth it to spend only two nights there, so if you can't manage three nights there, I'd skip that and just visit Venice, Florence, and Rome. Especially if you want to make side trips, you have to add a night for each one. I consider four nights to be about a minimum for Rome, especially when traveling with small children, or five nights if you want to take a day trip.

    I wouldn't take small children to the Vatican Museums at all. If your husband and father want to go there, I would suggest that you take them to a park (the Villa Borghese is good) and let them go alone.

    There are some nice side trips from Rome, depending on what interests you, but don't let your time in Rome itself be totally consumed by must-see visits, because those are the most crowded and chaotic parts of the city, and the real charm of Rome is totally elsewhere.

    You can see train schedules here.

    You can get great bargains on train fares if you buy tickets as soon as they go on sale, which is 120 days in advance. There are timetable changes in December and June, and often the new schedules are not posted that far ahead. You have to use the Italian names for the cities: Venezia, Firenze, Roma.

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    As cm notes, the time of year makes a big difference in what you want to do and where to go. Also, actual days on the ground are an important consideration.

    I'm in agreement that more than two cities would be pushing it. The other thing is that with that large a group, you'd be better off in an apartment (or two) in each city, rather than a hotel, for a lot of reasons.

    Re Venice: I was there briefly last summer, and I couldn't believe the number of people pushing strollers with tired, hot, cranky kids through the crowded narrow streets.

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    Thanks so much for your suggestions. We aren't quite sure when we will be going yet, as the trip is still going to be at least a year away. We were discussing possibly around Thanksgiving, or April/May. I think we can most likely get 12 nights on the ground.

    I was thinking maybe 2 in Venice, 4 in Florence, 3 in Amalfi Coast, and 3 in Rome...... Florence just holds a special place in my heart and I'd like to spend the most time there and share it with my family. If anything, I would probably cut out the Almalfi Coast, if that will be cramming too much in, though I am dying to see it. In which case, maybe I would do 3 in Venice, 5 in Florence and 4 in Rome.....

    Since we aren't set on particular dates yet, is a certain time of year preferable? And would the off season even be worth it in the Amalfi Coast?

    Thanks- again!

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    If you feel that the Amalfi coast may be too far, then consider a couple of days in a smaller town in Tuscany or Umbria (e.g. Spello, Gubbio, Lucca, Siena, Orvieto, etc, etc). You could then maybe add another day to Venice if you wanted. Alternatively if you want the water views, consider Varenna or Bellagio or another town on one of the northern lakes. I think May is a lovely time to travel in Italy.

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    Rachellaura81... Since you mentioned "adventurous" and you're all in good shape, I'd suggest something strange to you. Try to stay away from the touristy things--especially with kids. Don't torture them with the Vatican Tour or St Peters. We went in October, had a "private" tour and STILL got swallowed up in the fast paced cruise ship tours... the heat and humidity were unbearable. The private tour saved some time getting in, but that's about it. In Rome, I'd say the Colosseum is worth it for kids, although yours are a bit young to to play up the battles, blood and gore. Perhaps get a children's book for their age group before leaving on Rome and Roman life. I did that with my 11 year old son and it helped peak his interest before we left.

    Now, here's my strange idea... Take the entire family down south to Puglia where there are TONS of interesting things to do with small kids. Molfetta is a beautiful port town and could serve as a hub. There is even an amusement park just outside of town. Think about staying in a Trulli, the pointy roofed houses around the Alberobello area (it's got a few thousand trulli). In the same area is Grotte di Castellano, a huge cavern system. There is a dinasaur park nearby too. Then there are castles, fortresses, amazingly clear water beaches, Ignazia for Roman history, and all the hill towns shining white in the southern sun. Want more? Go toward Altamura for bread that lasts for weeks (and tastes MUCH better than the unsalted Tuscan bread) and the giant sinkhole just outside of town. There is even Altamura Man, a prehistoric mad trapped inside a cave. There are even thousands of real dinosaur footprints in an old quarry (call for an appointment). More ancient caves dwellings are just outside of Molfetta. Polignano a Mare is a great place for kids with a beautiful historic center and a cove beach surrounded by cliffs. There's even a restaurant in nearby grottoes.

    Go a bit further southwest to Matera and stay in a cave hotel. The entire town is caves dug into the mountain... with a gorge at the edge of town and more ancient caves and cave churches. The entire area is great for hiking or cycling.

    More beaches and natural landscape? Go up toward the Gargano, a natural peninsula with amazing beaches and grottoes.

    You might find 12 days tight on time if you're going with small kids and trying to see Venice, Tuscany and Rome--especially if you add Amalfi. Perhaps fly into Bari, do Puglia for 5-6 days,then go back to Rome by high speed train.

    As for Amalfi, if you are driving, it's fine for kids, although there are lots of up and down walking... very steep. Parking is difficult. Otherwise, you'd need to take buses everywhere. I'd definitely rule out Pompeii... too difficult and crowded and hot for young kids. Herculaneum, maybe, but not Pompeii. Herculaneum has more to see and the town is all around for gelato and lunch.

    Otherwise, for your original agenda, I'd recommend against Venice... it's just too far afield. Fly to Rome, maybe stay overnight (we didn't, but our son was 11 and did pretty well with almost 20 hours traveling the first day) Then take a train to Chuisi (that's what we did), drive throughout Tuscany (I'd really recommend one agritourismo... otherwise it's too much packing and unpacking every few days). Hit the small towns like Monteriggioni, Pienza, San Gimignano, and perhaps even do Pisa and Lucca. There is also Vinci for the Da Vinci museum, but again, I think your kids are too young. Perhaps check out the couple of towns in Tuscany that have funicular rides up to high villages. There are also a few ghost towns that might interest you. Oh, and the Roman baths (especially the natural ones at Bagno san Filipo south of Pienza. You could hike in and bath in the stinky waters with the Italian locals. Pisa is just a quick tour of the Tower, btw. Afterwards, take the train from Florence back to Rome and spend a couple of days.

    Actually, I just posted an article on our family blog about taking kids to Italy... maybe it would help....

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    Well you definitely don;t want to go to the AC at Thanksgiving. These are beach resorts and at that time of year many hotels and restaurants will be closed for the season, some ferries won't run at all and others will be on very limited schedule and it will be chilly and quite possibly rainy - with very little to do.

    April will be too early for pools and swimming - but will be doable May is the best option - we have been there twice and hotel pools were open and it was reasonably warm.

    Finally - with 2 hobbits I would definitely limit yourself to 3 places (I would do 2 but obviously you want to get to max places) so you don;t have 2 terminally tired and cranky kids.

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    <<I was thinking maybe 2 in Venice, 4 in Florence, 3 in Amalfi Coast, and 3 in Rome>>

    You need to slow your roll - that is NOT going to happen with two hobbits in tow, even if you can dump them on pawpaw frequently.

    The amount of touristic territory you can cover on your trip (cities, sights) declines by 1/3 if the kids are young and 1/2 if there are continence/sleep issues - i.e., your smallest junior is in nappies and needs naps.

    Do a week in Rome and __ days in Venice OR Florence and consider day trips. Picking up and moving that many times with halflings will completely S U C K.

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    Are your kids 2 and 4 now (therefore 3 and 5 when you take the trip? Just asking as that extra year makes a difference in terms of nappies/stroller logistics/nap schedules. Either way, I traveled a lot with my two kids in Europe over the past 5 years while living in UK (they are now 5 and 7 respectively) and with those ages I would totally rule out Amalfi coast or CT (imagine from your prior experience in CT hauling a 2 yr with you - not fun).
    Since it sounds like Florence is a key priority for you, I suggest you build around that plus Rome. Yes, you could add a third location like Venice but if so, better do it at the end (eg fly into Rome and out of Venice) because your kids (and therefore you) will be messed up on timezone/sleep schedule for a minimum of 2-3 days if you're lucky. If you start with Rome, for example, you can see sights between naps/strange sleep patterns and it's no big deal as many of the Rome sights can be chopped into small parts and you can divide and conquer with the adults while taking the kids to play in Borghese gardens or to eat gelato by a fountain....
    We were a big fan of apartments vs hotel rooms with kids of that age and used VRBO and related websites with huge success in all of those locations... Also, my biggest success factor with my kids was location location location in each of the cities - you do not want to be far from the action when hauling small kids or you will find yourself with kids hitting the wall before you even get to whatever sight you have planned. This is especially true in a city like Rome where the public transport is not so easy as say Paris or London and since I didn't like to put my kids in cabs as I'm uptight about car seats, etc we hoofed it most places :)

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    <<you do not want to be far from the action when hauling small kids or you will find yourself with kids hitting the wall before you even get to whatever sight you have planned>>

    Aye. Luckily central Florence is fairly small and Venice isn't too big. Unlike other major European cities both larger (London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow) and smaller (Milan, Barcelona, Madrid) that have extensive and well-developed metro/Tube/local train systems, Rome is bus-dependent.

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