The Italian economy may be in shambles but Italy still puts on a good show albeit an expensive one. Museums, architecture, archaeology ruins. Beach resorts, amusement parks, natural spas. Hill towns, art cities, alpine villages. Hiking trails, ski slopes, bicycle touring. Agriturism, villas, rifuggi. And while the Italians may be laughing less they still take time for food and wine. What's more, kids are king in Italy. Italians take their children everywhere and pamper them obscenely. So what's the catch? Apart from the price tag, the biggest challenge to planning a family trip to Italy is likely to prove choosing what to skip. For every boat trip, restaurant and borgo that travelers' rave there are hundreds of other fun things to see and do that are just as good if not better.
Lowcost airlines have changed the way families travel to Italy from other points in Europe. Not only can flying be cheaper than the train and car there are many more destinations to choose from. Check EasyJet and RyanAir but also try flight consolidators, such as Momondo, they show all flights on one page. AirOne recently introduced low cost flights between Milan, Boston and Chicago. But in this case cheap flights also means poor service. For some, that might not correspond to value on a transatlantic flight.
Italy is an easy country to travel green. Train tracks crisscross the country connecting most towns big and small. (Be sure to stamp your train tickets - slide them into the slot of the yellow boxes located throughout the stations - prior to boarding the train. Conductors fine all violators even those proclaiming ignorance.) Public transport - city buses, metros and vaporetti - makes city touring simple. Bike trails and lightly traveled country roads are ideal for two-wheeled road trips. And thanks to an extensive network of footpaths Italy is a great place to walk. Yet despite the plethora of alternatives a trip to the boot can still require a car. Southern Italy, including Sardinia and Sicily, is less well connected than the north. As are some of the country's most famous hilltowns and resorts. What's more, being tied to someone else's schedule can be problematic with young kids. But before you rent a car here's a word for the wise, Italians are aggressive drivers. Notwithstanding the new highway code, they speed, drive bumper-to-bumper, pass on both the right and the left, and use their cell phones at the wheel. All major car rental companies in Italy rent car seats.
While there is no right or wrong time of year to visit Italy there are few things to keep in mind when traveling with kids. July is the hottest month and January is the coldest. November and March are the wettest months historically but rain can fall throughout the year. Italians no longer holiday en masse in August but take shorter more frequent breaks throughout the year. Expect to battle crowds in the peak season - December 24 to January 7, Easter Week (Thursday before to Wednesday after), and August 1 to August 15 - as well as holiday weekends (November 1, December 8, April 25, May 1, June 2) throughout the year.
Italy is child welcoming but isn't always kid friendly. Most restaurants don't have highchairs (pull your stroller up to the table instead) and most hotel rooms aren't childproof. What's more, most restaurants are open at fixed times only. Lunch is served from 12:30 - 14:30, dinner from 19:30 - 21:30. Shops selling pizza by the slice are open all day.
Which of the following animals are you likely to spot on an African safari:
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