Three weeks in Italy with a two-year old

Apr 20th, 2015, 02:30 PM
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Join Date: Apr 2014
Posts: 95
Three weeks in Italy with a two-year old

We spent three weeks in Italy with our two-year old son in March and early April. It was difficult for me to find much information on traveling with a toddler, so I thought that a trip report might help others considering the same thing. I’ve put some general thoughts up front and some city-specific stuff below.

When we traveled before having our son, we would often stay in hotels outside the city center (but near public transportation), because the cheaper cost was worth a little extra time to get to tourist attractions. We often had long days of touring, and we also walked a lot. It was worth a long walk (or lots of stairs!) for us to have a great view or to get a good picture. I generally pre-booked many things, including our lodging, transit between cities, and tours.

We did a lot of that differently this time. Because our son still naps once a day, it was worth it this time for us to pay extra to stay a little closer to tourist attractions, although I made an effort to find places that would be quiet so that we could all sleep well. We didn’t bring a stroller because we didn’t want any extra baggage, and because I knew it would be very difficult to push around in some places (Pompeii and Venice, in particular). Instead, we brought our “baby” carrier (a Beco Gemini), which worked relatively well, especially when there were lots of people (the Vatican Museums or stairs (the Rocca Maggiore in Assisi and the Duomo in Florence). Our son is sometimes resistant to change (because, you know, he’s two), so we kept dried fruit and chocolate on hand and often gave him a small treat in exchange for getting in the carrier.

We tried very hard to leave as much flexibility as possible in case our son just wasn’t up for a busy day and needed some time to run around at a park. We purposefully only booked lodging and a tour of the Vatican Museums before we left. (However, our train from Florence to Venice was quite full – if I were to do the same trip again, I’d pre-book that leg.)

For lodging: I did a ton of research and we mostly stayed in apartment rentals. In fact, the place that we were least happy with (in Naples) was a late change to our itinerary, and it was a hotel room. It seemed to me that we paid about the same amount (sometimes less) but got a one- or two-bedroom apartment (meaning that our son could have a nap and we could talk or read in another room), and all we gave up was a 24-hour desk, a concierge, and daily room cleaning, all of which were less important to us than the space. One downside was that we often had to tell the apartment owner when we would be arriving so that they could meet us, somewhat restricting our ability to be flexible. I requested a crib (often called a “child cot” on VRBO and hotel websites) everywhere we went, and I was pretty surprised that every single place remembered it without me needing to ask. They also all provided cute sheets and a little pillow and comforter – more than my son gets at home! (Of course, if your child is young enough to be at high risk for SIDS, you would want to remove all that cute stuff before inserting the child.) Some places didn’t provide laundry detergent or bath soap, and this was a surprise to us – I’ve tried to note it. None provided shampoo and conditioner.

As for eating: Very few restaurants had high chairs (we brought a sticker/coloring book with crayons and – although we’ve never taken it to an American restaurant – our Kindle, to keep our son entertained), but the wait staff (and Italians in general) seemed perfectly fine with having our son around. (We do love good food, but it may have helped that we preferred home-style trattorias to Michelin-starred restaurants.) I never saw a child menu, but we just gave our son food from our plates as we do at home. We bought granola, milk, yogurt, and lots of fresh fruit when we first arrived in each city and ate breakfast on our own, and we had a few lunches and dinners in as well. If I had it to do over again, I’d probably eat in a little bit more in the beginning of the trip.

We brought enough diapers for our flight plus two days (with a couple more in my suitcase as a backup). Italian grocery stores are smaller than ours, and they generally only have one option for each thing you might want to purchase, but they all had diapers and wipes. He wears Pampers, and the sizes seemed to be the same there.

Rome: Stayed at VRBO 430233. This one-bedroom apartment was lovely. It was right near the Piazza del Popolo but was on a quiet side street. There was a washing machine with soap, and the owner provided some breakfast foods for us. My son enjoyed the Borghese Gardens and the fountains in the Piazza del Popolo, and we enjoyed being near the subway and also walking distance to the Castel Sant’Angelo and the historic center. I’m pretty sure “our” grocery store here was on Via Della Frezza. The apartment owner arranged for a private driver to pick us up from the airport for the same price as a taxi, which was worth the money to me – he knew exactly where he was going, had a car seat loaded up for us, and stopped at an ATM so that we could get cash. We did the Pristine Sistine tour because I didn’t want to stand in line with a two-year old but wanted to make sure we could see the Vatican Museums and St Peter’s. My son was pretty much done by the time we got to St Peter’s, so we left. If I had it to do over again, I would have taken my son back to the apartment so that my husband could look around or looked for a skip-the-line option for St Peter’s on another day. We considered visiting the kid’s museum (Explora) but never got to it. Restaurants we enjoyed included Fiaschetteria Beltramme, PizzaRe, La Campana, Babette, and Armando al Pantheon. Our favorite gelato places were Wonderful Ice Cream (on Via del Corso) and Fatamorgana. We enjoyed the park between Santa Croce in Gerusalemme and San Giovanni in Laterano that was along the city walls.

Naples: We rented the “1-bedroom apartment” at B&B Del Corso, but I’d call it a quad hotel room, because there was not a separate “living room” area. We had to stand at the doorway of the room to get any internet connection, and the router was literally just outside the door. They had solid reviews, but this was our least favorite lodging by far (although the breakfast was very nice). If I was planning a trip like this for someone else, I’d find an apartment rental near the subway line that stops at the train station instead. We loved Da Pellone for pizza, and they even took my son on a tour of the kitchen when he was wiggly and we were trying to eat.

Orvieto: We stayed in the top floor two-bedroom apartment at Affittacamere Valentina, which was very nice. It had a washing machine. My son loved the funicular. I wanted to see Civita di Bagnoregio and we would have taken the bus if we didn’t have our son with us, but the times just didn’t work for us (and reading that the driver “sometimes takes a siesta” didn’t instill the kind of confidence I need when traveling with a two-year old), so we took a taxi. It was 70 euros for a round trip plus an hour in Civita. My son adored all the cats in Civita. Restaurants we liked included Trattoria del Moro-Arrone. Our favorite gelato (maybe the only gelato in town, as far as I know) was Gelateria Pasqualetti. We found a couple of parks – one sad-looking park on the north side of town near what is described on Google maps as “Guardia di Finanza Comando Centro” and a nicer one above the funicular station at the top of the hill (turn left coming out of the station and then left again through the city walls).

Assisi: We stayed at Il Turrione. There was a washing machine, but we had to buy our own detergent, and there was no soap. We hiked up to the Rocca Maggiore and down to San Damiano (on different days) with our son in his carrier, both of which we enjoyed. I read that there would be a taxi stand at San Damiano, but if there was, we didn’t find it – we hiked back up again. There were a few parks, including one outside the Porta Nuova, but our son mostly enjoyed the fountain in the Piazza del Comune. We liked Trattoria Da Erminio, Trattoria degli Umbri, Trattoria Pallotta, and Hostaria Terra Chiama. I had no luck finding good gelato in Assisi, but bad gelato is still pretty good.

Florence: Oh, Florence. This is a good time to say that I’d been to Italy twice before and – don’t hate me – never really liked Florence. But I didn’t want any really long train rides because of my son, and I felt like I’d be cheating my husband (who hadn’t been to Italy before) if we skipped Florence, so we went. It was a little better this time, but the small number of major attractions means that they all have huge lines, and it still just isn’t a very charming city for me. That said, we stayed at VRBO 395402, which was a really lovely two-bedroom apartment right next to the Medici Apartments. Yes, there were bells in the morning, but they were at 7 am, and my son slept through them, so they weren’t all that bad. We stood in line and climbed the Duomo with my son in his carrier, and he hated the fact that we were just standing around half the time (because the people coming down are using the same perilous stairs as those going up). We tried a couple of times to just walk by the Accademia late in the day to see if the line was short enough to walk up without reservations, but it never was, so we paid extra for a last minute skip-the-line option to see the David. Restaurants we liked included Trattoria Katti, Mangiafuoco, and Cipolla Rosa, and we had some delicious fried fish in the Mercato Centrale. Florence has many delicious gelato places – we enjoyed Carabe, Grom, and Carapina, but we probably liked Mordilatte the best. We found a couple of playgrounds, including one extremely busy one at the Piazza Massimo D’Azeglio and a quieter one near the Piazza dei Ciompi.

Venice: We were a little terrified to bring a toddler to Venice, but he didn’t fall in a canal or dive off a boat. We stayed at VRBO 412963, a one-bedroom apartment near the S. Angelo vaporetto stop with a small patio that worked really well for us. There was a washing machine without soap, and there was no soap in the shower. There was a grocery store just down the street. We bought three-day vaporetto passes, just so that we wouldn’t stress about the extra cost of taking a vaporetto back to the apartment. We went to Murano, but I couldn’t bring myself to go into any of the glassblowing factories or shops. We got some great pictures from the bell tower at San Giorgio Maggiore (although the vaporetto stop there is under construction and required a special boat ride from San Marco), and it was nice to be able to take an elevator up. We didn’t love the food in Venice, although the pizza place near our apartment (Pizzeria L’Angelo) was good and quick. We found the guys working at the famous Dal Moro’s to be just as charming as promised and the price was right, but we didn’t love the pasta or the sauces. We found some of the gelato in Venice (particularly Vestri!) to be extremely expensive, but we really liked Suso.

Summary: Traveling with a two-year old is possible. Just try to prepare well and be flexible – and get lots of gelato.
margotheangel is offline  
Apr 20th, 2015, 11:55 PM
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 110
Thanks for the report Margo. We are travelling with our 4 year old daughter (who is ofcourse out of diapers and pram long ago) in early June. We have booked apartments in Rome and Florence for the extra space but hotels in Amalfi and Venice. I have booked all the train tickets. But have noted your point on not booking the tours etc.
shwets is offline  
Apr 21st, 2015, 03:27 AM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 670
What a great report. Thanks
littlejane is offline  
Apr 21st, 2015, 08:11 AM
Join Date: Mar 2014
Posts: 18
Thanks for this report Margo. It is very helpful. We are hoping to take 5 weeks or so in Italy, including Rome, with a two year old, coincidentally named Margot, and a 6 year old. Your VRBO experience and numbers are very helpful.

How was getting there? We're facing a 12 hour flight to Frankfurt and a day on a train after that. It is daunting.

Your second and third paragraph describe how you thought about the experience. Do you think it went well? Or as you expected?

I have a post about our sabbatical running on the Italy tag where I'm getting some suggestions of where to land for part of the trip I had assumed, to adjust to keeping a two-year-old in non-meltdown mode, we'd try to spend all five weeks in one place. This forum has convinced me to go for at least two basecamps, and based on your post I'm thinking maybe more.
jas_miner is offline  
Apr 21st, 2015, 08:30 PM
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Join Date: Apr 2014
Posts: 95
shwets: I think one benefit to having my son in diapers was that we didn't airways have to worry about knowing where the nearest public restroom was - you may want to do some research on that before your trip, but I think you'll have a great time.

jas_miner: Your sabbatical sounds great!

We live in Seattle, so it was a long trip to get to Italy, and we knew it wouldn't be easy. We used to do two-week vacations before he was born, but his jet lag was one of the main reasons we decided to go for three weeks this time. We left here at 2 pm on Friday and for direct to Paris, arriving at 8 am Paris time, and then we had a quick flight to Rome. We had hoped or son would sleep on that flight because it was overnight, but we really ended up losing the night entirely - it felt like nap time to him, so he only slept for about an hour. As a result, his sleep schedule was off for a while. (He tried to extend his naps but could only sleep for a few hours at night before he would wake up ready to go!) That lasted five nights, and it was tough for all of us. I had read about gradually changing time zones before you leave on vacation (gradually going to bed later and trying to sleep in later for a week or so before the trip), and I might try that if we do this kind of trip again.

One thing I tried to do was to minimize how much we were traveling on a given day or on consecutive days, and I think that was pretty successful - my son doesn't mind an hour in the car, and he enjoyed train rides, so a two hour train ride wasn't too much in a day, as long as he got to run around a lot afterwards. I think that we would ask have been unhappy with much longer train rides than that.

In general, the trip was really nice. We just had to lower our expectations about how much we could see, and I tried really hard to come prepared with lots of potential half-day itineraries, and then we selected what we do that day based on our priorities and what we thought or son could handle that day.

In trying to figure out what our son could handle, I tried to compare to what I would plan at home. If you would be okay with taking a two- or three- hour drive each weekend for the or for weeks in a row, then you'd probably be fine with three locations in your five weeks, if that makes sense.
margotheangel is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2015, 07:54 AM
Join Date: Mar 2014
Posts: 18
Thanks Margo. Again, thanks so much for the helpful insights. We live in Portland, OR! (and just back form the San Juans, Orcas Island two weeks ago). The 10.5 hour flight to Frankfurt, our closest direct flight, has me shaking in my boots. Our children don't tend to sleep on planes, cars, or trains.
jas_miner is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2015, 08:30 AM
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 22,599
Thanks for the TR. How great of the folks in Rome to drive you from the airport with child seat on the ready.

DH and I ended up purchasing a supply of face clothes and took a travel bar soap so that wasn't a surprise. Not having detergent is though.

Your point about the public toilets is a great one. As an adult I avoided them--can't fathom how a little tyke would feel.
TDudette is offline  
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