The most difficult part of planning a holiday in Italy is deciding where to go. Winter sports lovers gravitate north to the Alps and resorts such as Cervinia or Cortina d'Ampezzo. If you're interested in ancient Roman culture, then the capital is the obvious draw. Beach lovers are spoiled for choice, with family-friendly resorts on both the Mediterranean and Adriatic coasts. Art lovers might prefer Florence, fashionistas Milan – we could go on and on. However, there are some resorts which are consistently top of the pile when it comes to creating those perfect family holidays in Italy. The most difficult part of planning a holiday in Italy is deciding where to go. Here are our top 5 family holidays in Italy you shouldn’t miss.
1. The Riviera Romagnola
The stretch of Adriatic coast from Ravenna to just south of Rimini has provided lots of family holidays for generations of Italians. Travelling from the capital, Frecciarossa trains will get you from Rome to Rimini in just over 3 hours, with a change in Bologna. There's an equally good service arriving from the north, also connecting through Bologna. On Frecciarossa trains you can enjoy free WiFi, plenty of legroom and luggage space, a welcome service with complimentary drinks and snacks in all classes, except for the Standard Class.
The Riviera Romagnola's resorts are expert in ensuring that everyone has a great time, with miles of sandy beaches and hotel accommodation. Every facility and service you can imagine is available in the resorts, from deckchair rental and water sports to kids' clubs and some of Italy's best seafood restaurants. The Riviera Romagnola has a reputation for being warm and welcoming, with a particular emphasis on family fun. Away from the beach, the perfect family day out for all ages is Rimini's Fiabilandia, a water park packed with slides, rides and pools. It's the perfect place to cool off on a warm Italian afternoon. Another fun place to visit is Italia in Miniatura, also in Rimini. The park features miniature recreations of buildings from all over Europe, all set among trees, water and children's play areas.
Just south of Rimini is the resort of Riccione, possibly the best spot along this stretch of coast for family seaside breaks. The beaches are broad, spotlessly clean and with golden sand. There are water parks, aquariums, beach clubs and dozens of restaurants serving family-friendly pizza or pasta dishes. This is a resort with an authentic vibe, as most of the visitors are from other parts of Italy rather than from overseas.
2. Family fun in Gardaland
Gardaland, as the name suggests, is in northern Italy on the shores of Lake Garda. Gardaland itself is a complex consisting of a theme park, hotel and aquarium, and if you have children, you could easily spend your whole holiday here. However, Lake Garda itself is one of Italy's most scenic areas and exploring the wider area is easy. The other good news is that Lake Garda is easily accessible by train from the rest of Europe. Frecciarossa trains travel from Milan to Peschiera del Garda in less than an hour. From Milan, there are direct onward connections to other stations in Italy, as well as international services to Nice, Zurich, Paris and more.
The two main attractions in Gardaland are the theme park and the aquarium. The theme park has something for kids of all ages, from Peppa Pig-themed rides for preschoolers to high-adrenaline thrill rides to delight older teens. There's so much to do that you'll struggle to fit it all into one day, so consider buying a season ticket, which is better value than three individual day passes. Your season pass will also get you into the aquarium, where you can see the fish swim above your head as you walk through the glass tunnel, see the sharks being fed or get hands-on with smaller marine creatures in the rock pools.
Outside the theme parks, Lake Garda's spectacular mountain scenery has to be seen to be believed. Take to the water for a cruise along the 32 miles of the lake. A popular option is a dinner cruise, where visitors can dine as they watch the sun setting over the mountains. Another great day trip is visiting the 13th-century Scaligero Castle, which offers great views from its position on a narrow promontory of land at the southern end of Lake Garda.
3. Nature and food in the Aosta Valley
The Aosta Valley is right up in the north-west corner of Italy, close to the borders with France and Switzerland. This area is a popular ski destination in the winter months, but during the summer months visitors flock to Aosta from all over Europe to visit the famous national park and see the wildlife. Aosta is well-connected by public transport to both France and Spain. Regional trains run from Turin to Aosta every hour at peak times, and the journey takes a little over two hours. The Gran Paradiso National Park is just a short drive south of Aosta, with regular bus service between the two.
Once you arrive at the national park, you'll find yourself at the heart of one of the best-preserved natural environments in the Alps. There are over 300 miles of trails for walking or cycling, and keep your eyes peeled for the ibex, which has been successfully reintroduced to the valley. The best time of year to see the Aosta Valley is at the height of summer when the Alpine flower meadows are at their most colourful.
The Aosta Valley is a popular foodie destination too, and unlike other parts of Italy, pasta is most firmly off the menu. The area is famous for hearty, filling dishes and what could be better than a bowl of gnocchi or a plate of risotto after a long day spent walking? Cheese-making is an important industry in this part of the world, with the locally produced fontina cheese used for fondue and as a sauce for polenta dishes.
4. Under the Tuscan sun
For many visitors, Tuscany is the true Italy. Rolling hills, olive groves, vineyards and pretty villages – Tuscany has the lot. The starting point for any journey into Tuscany by train is Florence, and Le Frecce trains serve Florence from Rome and the northern cities of Turin or Milan. Then swap onto local services headed for Pisa, Siena or Livorno, all of which pass through several Tuscan stations.
For most visitors, a Tuscan break is about relaxing by the pool, enjoying the sunshine and sipping glasses of local wine. A day trip to Pisa is a must if only to get that iconic picture of someone trying to push the Leaning Tower back into position. While in the city, pay a visit to the Cathedral, often overshadowed by its leaning neighbour. Don't forget to look up, as the outstanding feature is the ceiling frescoes. And yes, that is real gold covering the ceiling of the main aisle. Pisa's also a great shopping destination, with everything from high-end designer boutiques to cheap and colourful outlets selling every Italian souvenir imaginable.
Tuscany is also home to many of Italy's wine-producing regions. Chianti is probably best known, but the neighbouring areas of Montalcino and Montepulciano also produce world-class wines. Book one of the many wine tours by coach around the region. They'll take you to the best vineyards, and you won't have to worry about missing train connections or not sampling the wine as you're driving home. If you have younger kids, take a trip to Pinocchio Park, a beautiful, shady garden decorated with bronze figures from Italy's most famous children's story. Try to time your visit for the weekend, as there are free puppet shows for the kids.
Want to discover more about travelling to Tuscany by train? Check out our page about how to get under the Tuscan sun by train.
5. Visit Florence
Florence, or Firenze, as the Italians call it, is one of the most photographed and most visited cities in the whole of Italy. It's easy to see why. For a start, Florence is home to art masterpieces such as Michaelangelo's David statue, which you can see in the Galleria dell'Accademia. The city's other main art museum, the Uffizi, is home to priceless works by Botticelli, da Vinci and more. If you haven't had your fill of art yet, then the Palazzo Pitti houses several different museums and another 500 pieces of Renaissance art.
Art isn't all Florence has to offer, though. The natural starting point for any visit is the Duomo or cathedral. The domed roof dominates Florence's skyline. Inside, the mosaic floors are impressive, but remember to look up into the domed roof to see the huge, 16th-century fresco of the Last Judgement. Visitors to the cathedral can also climb right up into the bell tower for amazing views over the city and the surrounding Tuscan landscape.
In recent years, there has been a boom in Tuscan cookery classes, so could this be the perfect complement to days looking at art? Book just a morning, a full day or a couple of days to learn how to recreate all those traditional Italian dishes you've been enjoying in Florence's trattorias – why not prepare an exquisite Italian meal with your family? The city's iconic dish is bistecca alla fiorentina, a large T-bone steak cooked over an open fire. Also worth a visit is Florence's bustling, noisy food market, where local producers clamour to sell everything from cheese to fish. It's the perfect place to pick up ingredients for a simple lunch or to get some foodie souvenirs to take home.
If you need more inspiration about where to go and what to do in Florence, read our pages about 3 days in Florence and the best weekend break in Florence.
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