One day when our son was 7 we promised we would take him to Pompeii in Italy. 5 years later, as we return from our kids’ first trip to Italy, that promise has been kept and our son has learned the value of patience as well as a great deal about the Roman Empire 🙂
So if you only have a week in front of you and you want to give them a taste of Italy, here’s an itinerary that worked very well for us and our two kids aged 12 and 8. We walked a lot, but it was well worth it. And do consider going in November, as we did: we skipped most of the queues (except for the Coliseum) and still had a lovely weather. We even visited Pompeii in tees and shorts!
Start with Rome as the city will both impress your kids from an architectural point of view and offer them a snackable sample of Italy’s best culinary experiences – I’m thinking pizza and gelato of course, but also many different varieties of pasta and more exotic dishes like fried artichoke. For the latter, head to Gigetto near the Portico d’Ottavio for the best ones!
In Rome your kids will be fascinated by Roman history. Actually, who isn’t? As we’re French, we played a game with them that kept them busy for almost an entire day. We asked them to look out for ‘SPQR’ signs around Rome (on statues, pavements, etc.) and we first explained to them that it
meant « Sono Pazzi Questi Romani », which means « these Romans, they are crazy ». This is the sentence that Asterix and Obelix keep repeating in the famous French comicbook when talking about the Romans they like to beat. In reality it means « Senatus Populusque Romanus » which translates as « The Roman Senate and People » and now represents the local government.
We created two teams, the parents and the kids, and whoever got the most points would win a bigger ice cream. And guess who won? And since you can’t go wrong with ice cream in Rome they got what they deserved: a deliciously creamy and tasty natural gelato in the area of Cavour, a very nice district away from the tourist crowds with a vibrant local life.
The next day, with the kids’ grand-parents, we visited the Coliseum, the Roman forum, the catacombs of St. Calixthe, the Caracalla thermal baths and they liked each and every visit. We took our picnic to some of these places because the weather was gorgeous, and it is quite something to picnic amidst over 2,000 years old ruins!
We also rented two scooters one day and took them on a more extended tour of Rome, to Trastevere and the Vatican, back and forth across the Tiber river and they loved it! We didn’t stop at the Sixtine Chapel as the crowds there were even scarier than at the Coliseum, but they were impressed to know about the history and political situation of the smallest State on the planet. And they laughed very hard at the ‘clown parade’ of the Swiss guards, as they liked to call them.
After 3 days it was time to move on and drive south – we rented a car which proved easy and cheaper than any other transportation mode., that is if you can cope with the Italian driving style 🙂
Tips for Rome with children:
- Rent a scooter if you are comfortable driving, it’s the best way to get around and a real adventure for the kids. We loved the service at Bici Baci.
- Sample the local food, it’s pretty decent in most places, but avoid the busy piazzas which are just too crowded and expensive. We even discovered a mortadella with truffles at a mini Carrefour market that was to die for, so no need to go for a 3* restaurant!
- As much as possible book your tickets to visit the Coliseum and other monuments in advance, it helps to skip some of the queues (but not all unfortunately).
- Visit monuments in the morning and keep the afternoon for hanging around in parks where kids can run and chase pigeons (and SPQR signs), or for scooter rides.
Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast under the autumn light
We spent the next 4 days in a small village near Sorrento where we had rented a small and cosy Airbnb house overlooking the sea, with a garden full of lemon and orange trees.
Everyday we would venture out to a different coastal beauty: on the first day we visited Sorrento, overlooking the bay of Naples and the majestic Vesuvius volcano, and the small villages around it, full of delicious pastry shop serving the local delikatessen, including sumptuous lemon tarts and baba au rhum.
On the second day we drove along the Amalfi coast, sampling some of the best villages along the way: Positano of course, where the kids even dared to bathe in the sea (I chickened out at the last moment), but also Amalfi, Atrani and Ravello, where we had the best gelato of our trip!
The weather was a bit mixed but the late autumn light and the mild weather made it all the more special. Lemons growing everywhere in the hinterland reminded us that this is THE place to taste and buy the famous limoncello.
Kids tagged along to most of the activities and were genuinely interested in both the natural and architectural landscapes. It was a lot of driving though, but we were rewarded at the end with a superb sunset along the coast on our return.
The next day we dedicated to Pompeii. We left our cars at home and took the bus and then train, which was really cheap and convenient because parking around Pompei is complicated and very expensive (5 EUR/hour).
As we arrived before 11am there were no queues and the sun was shining brightly. A perfect day to walk 6 hours among the ruins, and I could have stayed on, honestly!
Luckily the kids enjoyed it almost as much as the adults, they had lots of questions, and were really grateful for the presence of their grandmother, a former Latin and Greek teacher. They even played games in the ruins – kids will be kids 🙂
On Sunday we decided to relax, and ‘only’ climb on top of the Punta Campanella, where it is said Ulysses resisted the song of the Sirens. We reached a white chapel after a steep walk along a windy and rocky path that lets you look at both coasts, the Sorrentino and the Amalfi Coast, as well as Capri.
Despite the stormy weather, it was one of the highlights of our trip, because the atmosphere there was very mystical – and our son is called Ulysse, so we shared stories about the hero he is named after which he had never heard of.
Tips for Pompei and the Amalfi Coast with children:
- Take at least one day for Pompeii and make sure you know about the history of the place, if your kids already go to school, they will be fascinated. Come early and by train to avoid the crowds and the parking fees.
- Drive or take the cheap buses from one little town to the next on the Amalfi Coast. Plan your journey from West to East so that you enjoy the sunset on the sea on your return.
- Stop for dinner at Lo Stuzzichino, a delicious restaurant in Massa Lubrense which has a lovely atmosphere and is run by a charming family preparing incredible sea food.
- Try the local specialties made from lemons – limoncello (for the adults) and lemon sorbet or cake (for all).
The only thing we didn’t like in our entire trip was Naples. We made the mistake to stop there on our way back with the cars, which was the worst idea in the world. Neapolitan traffic is crazy, they park their cars everywhere and it’s pretty chaotic, even by Asian standards! We only stayed half a day, because the kids felt insecure and found the city very dirty and uninteresting.
I have to admit that apart from the must-see chapel of San Severo which boasts the most exquisite marble sculptures I have EVER seen in my life, the rest was not memorable. Even the famed sfogliatelle and the ragú (local tomato sauce) didn’t meet our expectations.
And then of course, it started to rain, which was the perfect excuse not to miss our flight back to Brussels, where – surprise – the sun was shining, for once.