Where to take the kids in Italy?

A traveler on TripAdvisor asks,
"My husband and I would like to travel to Italy this summer with our children ages 6,5,2. I would appreciate any recommendations on family friendly areas and things to do. Thanks!"
Here's how I responded:

Italy's a great place to take kids, and there are a number of great regions for families with young children. The ideal family vacation in Italy would balance time in some of the major cities with time in countryside and smaller towns.
Cities offer a number of fun activities for kids, including museums, parks, rides, playgrounds, as well as piazzas and fountains (and pigeons!). The countryside offers a break from cities, wide open green space, the option of a pool, and a relaxed atmosphere, even the chance to stay in a castle!
Places to consider when planning a family trip to Italy
  • Venice
Why it's good: It's a fun place for kids because there are no cars. Streets are like mazes and older children can lead parents around the city to get happily lost. Young children are generally tickled by the idea the streets are made of water. And who doesn't love a gondola ride? In the summer you can also take the vaporetto out to the Lido for time at the beach.
  • Rome
Why it's good: there are quite a number of kid-friendly attractions in Rome, as well as piazzas, fountains, and several kid museums. The Villa Borghese has great kiddie rides, a theatre for kids, and a few (although not many) parks and playgrounds.

Check out my recent article on Slow Travel Italy which gives a lot of information on what to do in Rome with children.

  • Tuscany
Why it’s good: with a good family-friendly hotel in Tuscany you can enjoy beautiful surroundings, lots of green space for kids to run around, and a swimming pool all located near to beautiful hill towns filled with art, castles and historic places. Children tend to enjoy scaling the towers of San Gimignano, the Torre of Siena, and the Duomo of Florence.

The agriturismi in Tuscany (farm houses) are some of the most organized and offer a range of kids activities on site including cooking classes, local hikes, etc. and the Tuscan coast offers some pretty beaches.

  • Florence
Why it’s good: there are a number of kid friendly, and kid-oriented museums and attractions, including the carousel in P.za Repubblica, the Natural History Museum, and the Museo Ragazzi (children’s museum). This museum organizes a special tour for families available by advance registration. Guests are welcomed by an old turtle – a good friend of young Cosimo de’ Medici – who accompanies them through the rooms of the Palazzo Vecchio palace, to discover what everyday life was like for the Duke’s family.
  • The Dolomites
Why it’s good: the Dolomites might just be the most family-oriented place in Italy. Cute storybook villages, easy hikes, horseback riding, cute, family-run mountain inns plus swimming holes and mountain gondola rides make for a fun family experience, even with young children. Reachable from either Venice or Milan.
  • The Italian Lakes
Why it's good: There are amusement rides set up in summer, a little train that takes you between towns from Menaggio to Tremezzo. Kids love the idea of traveling between towns and across the lake via ferries. The lake is suitable for swimming and there are several places along the water to take a dip. I've rented a motor boat in the past, and it's great to explore the lake this way. It makes a relaxing base for a few days and is easily reachable from Milan.
  • Puglia
Why it’s good: beautiful unspoiled sandy beaches that slope gently to the sea, Hobbit-like trulli houses that are specific to the region. Nearby are caves for exploring, and the zoosafari near Fasano. Several beautiful hotels offer beach clubs for kids with organized activities for children as young as 2 years. Parents are then free to enjoy the pool and some down time.
For even more inspiration, check out a past post about three special places to take the kids.