Italy often conjures up images of romantic getaways and is maybe not the first place you would think of for a family holiday destination. However, Northern Italy has a varied selection of activities perfect for your next family getaway. These are our top picks!
1. Discover your inner marine biologist in Genoa
As a seaside city, Genoa is a great destination if your little ones love all things sea related. Genoa is home to the largest aquarium, not only in Italy but also in Europe. It is home to 12,000 species and “Il Bigo” a panoramic lift which offers 360-degree vistas of the city and the sea. If you want to get closer to the sea, there are plenty of whale-watching excursions leaving from the Porto Antico just at the end of the aquarium pier which your children are sure to enjoy. Another option is the Galata Museo del Mare, a maritime museum home to reconstructed ships, original artefacts and even a submarine!
2. Watch street performers in Ferrara
Ferrara can be found in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, tucked in between Bologna and Venice and for one week in August; the city opens its doors to the Ferrara Buskers Festival. The festival lasts for 11 days and sees dancers, clowns, jugglers and many very original performers take to the streets in a celebration of street art and music. This festival is the biggest street music festival in the world, and with over 130 performances per day, there is no end of shows for you and your children to see. The city is small and flat meaning you and your family can spend the day walking around at your own pace.
3. Marvel at the Murano Glass Blowers in Venice
Everybody has heard of Venice! But not many know of its quieter neighbour Murano which is home to the city’s famous glass blowing workshops. This neighbourhood is a few minutes from Venice by water taxi and is much less crowded which makes it perfect for children to explore in safety. The craftsmen are not allowed to take their workshops off the island or share the secrets of their trade, some which have been passed down through generations, making it a must-see if you are in the area! Your kids will be amazed at watching the blobs of glass be transformed into vases and works of art!
4. Visit Juliet’s balcony in Verona
No matter how young or old your children are, they are sure to read, watch or hear about Romeo and Juliet (if they haven’t already!) meaning a trip to Verona is not complete without visiting Juliet’s house and the infamous balcony. You can pay to stand on the balcony and take a photo. Don’t forget to admire the walls of the courtyard which are full of love notes and take a selfie with the well-rubbed bronze statue of Juliet. There is also a museum where your children can enjoy sending their letters to Juliet on computers inside. (The address is: Via Cappello, 23, 37121 Verona VR, Italy)
5. Have a fun day out in Gardaland
From the people who brought you Legoland, Gardaland is an amusement park situated along the banks of Lake Garda, only a 40-minute drive from Verona. Your children can enrol in the Kung Fu Panda Academy to become the next Dragon Master and become besties with Peppa and George in Peppa Pig Land. There are plenty of different rides and attractions to suit the needs of all the family. There is also a hotel if you want to extend your visit and explore Garda and an aquarium if it rains!
6. Learn about the legends of Rocca Scaligera Castle
Situated in Sirmione on the southern banks of Lake Garda, Scaliger Castle is the perfect place to transport you and your family back to the time of princes, princesses and knights. Your children can let their imaginations run wild in this well-kept 13th-century castle. They can explore the castle keep, climb up the rectangular towers and pretend to defend the castle on the wooden drawbridge.
7. Take the toy train to San Luca Church
Bologna has plenty to do within the city centre, but if you prefer a trip out of town don’t miss out on taking the tourist “toy” train (the San Luca Express) up to the San Luca Church. This church sits atop a forested hill and offers great views across the city. The train departs from the Piazza Maggiore every day during Summer and is the perfect way to get up the hill with your children.
8. Go on the trail of mythical creatures in Venice
The winged lion is the symbol of Venice, and your children will have so much fun searching for them all over the city! The easiest winged dragons to spot are on the top of the columns in St. Mark’s Square. There are lions carved into canal walls and statues of lions in many squares. One of the oldest and most loved lions is a well-worn stone lion in Piazzetta dei Leoncini beside San Marco and is a great place for photographing children. Not only are there lions but there are also dragons if you know where to look. On the first floor of the Basilica de San Marco, you can get a great view of a mosaic of the Archangel Michael fighting with a green dragon, and there is a dragon statue at Camp Santa Margherita in the Dorsoduro area. This is a great way for you to see the sights while keeping your children occupied!
9. Take a tour of Bologna’s quirky buildings
Wonky medieval buildings, unfinished cathedrals and whispering walls? Bologna has it all, and your children are sure to love it! Start your tour in the Piazza Maggiore; there you will find the unfinished facade of the Basilica of San Petronio. Just off the Piazza Maggiore behind the Bologna Welcome Tourist Office are the whispering walls. You’ll have to look hard, but you should see an intersection with four corners. Go to one corner and have your children go to the corner diagonally opposite of yours and whisper into the wall (you have to be really close). A five-minute walk from the Piazza Maggiore you can see two very imposing but wonky towers rising above the city – the Asinelli Tower and the Garisenda Tower. In fact, the Garisenda Tower (the smaller of the two) had to have a few metres shaved off the top to stop the tower from toppling over. This tower is closed to the public as it is too unsafe to climb. However, the Garisenda tower and its 498 steps are open to the public. All these interesting buildings can be found within a short distance of each other within the centre of Bologna, and your children are sure to enjoy the unique buildings.
Italy has lots to offer. Check it out!