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  • Writer's pictureSusanna Ask

7 Days in Northern Italy with Kids: A Road Trip for Active Families



You love Italy–the food, the beauty, the culture. But perhaps you’re looking to visit somewhere less crowded than Rome, less hot than Sicily, less touristy than the Amalfi coast? Venice is pretty, but there’s not much to do for kids: the lack of parks and unswimmable waters can make for stir-crazy children. Cinque Terre is delightful, but too much hiking for little legs.


Here is the answer: a road trip to northern Italy’s magnificent lakes and mountains. You’ll visit places you’ve heard of, and some you could never even


dream existed. I’ve got the perfect 1 week / 7 day itinerary for sightseeing and adventure, plus a few more suggestions to make it a 10 day trip or 2 weeks long trip.


Let’s get going.



Day 1 - Drive to Lake Como (2h), Explore Menaggio


Lake Como is famous for its dramatic scenery and equally gorgeous people. Be sure to check out my guide to Things to Do in Lake Como with Kids for detailed tips on how to make the most of your visit.

I recommend staying in Menaggio, and if you’re looking for something with the glamour of an old Hollywood film, you can’t beat Grand Hotel Tremezzo. Spend your first day exploring the town of Menaggio and the nearby Villa Carlotta.


Day 2 - Explore Lake Como


Take a ferry or private boat to Bellagio and Varenna, two absolutely stunning villages. Go for a dip in the lake, but make sure to check out my Lake Como guide for tips on where to swim.


For the extra-adventurous, it’s possible to kiteboard, windsurf, and SUP on Lake Como but you need a boat guide.


Day 3 - Drive to Riva del Garda (3.5h), Play at Limone Sul Garda beach, Bike the Scenic Lake Garda bike path


Head east toward the longest, largest lake in Italy: Lake Garda. Stop in Limone Sul Garda for the extremely family-friendly beach. This is a great place to rent a beginner windsurf rig!


Here’s the perfect way to spend an afternoon: Rent bikes from Limone Bike Rental and ride the newly constructed scenic bike path along Lake Garda. I guarantee this will be one of the most memorable parts of your trip and consider this activity a must if you are in the area! The pathway is built into the rock away from the road and hangs over the lake at some points. The owner at Limone Bike Rental is very accommodating and has plenty of available bikes, eBikes, and kid’s bikes, trailers, or child seats to meet your needs.


After swimming and biking, you’re hungry. The town of Limone Sul Garda has plenty of touristy shops and waterside restaurants, but I recommend getting away from the crowds and eating at Ristorante Pizzeria Tovo which has a large terrace, big enough for kids to run around and strollers / high chairs at any table. They serve superb pizza, seafood, meats, and local dishes.


If you’ve got an extra day, spend the night in Limone Sul Garda at the stunning Hotel Alexander. It looks like a testament to the grand, powerful mountains running into the lake behind it. Check out other great ways to extend your trip later in this post.


Day 4 - Wind & Watersports in Lake Garda


From your base in Riva del Garda, it’s just a 20 min drive to the Duotone Pro Center in Torbole. Here, you can learn to windsurf, kiteboard, wing foil, and sail. Plenty of bean bags and a wifi cafe enable those on the beach to enjoy their day as well.


Back in Riva del Garda, there are many good options for dinner. We enjoyed Pasta Fresco Bistro which serves, you guessed it, fresh-made pasta. They have a more casual vibe than other spots and it’s not far from the waterfront. You’ll want to walk there before/after dinner and let the kids dance to the music of talented buskers.


Day 5 - Drive to the Dolomites - Ortisei (2h), Visit Lago di Tenno


On your way from Riva del Garda to Ortisei, about half an hour north of Lake Garda sits the most pristine instagram-worthy lake you’ve never heard of: Lago di Tenno. With its turquoise-blue waters, striking mountain landscape, and lovely lakeside path, Lago di Tenno is the perfect place to spend a few hours swimming and walking around. Locals come here for the weekend, but if you arrive before 11am you can have the lake almost all to yourself. Eat at Ristorante Pizzeria Mama Giosi while you enjoy views and the kids enjoy a nice grassy play yard.


Another notable stop on this drive will be in Bolzano at the Museum of Archaeology. Show the kids some history that will WOW them: Otsi, the 5300 year old Ice Man.


Once you arrive in Ortisei, I recommend staying at Cavallino Bianco Family Spa Grand Hotel. It’s centrally-located and designed for all kinds of family fun!


Day 6 - Gondola to Alpi di Siusi, Bike path in Val Gardena on eBikes, Vallunga walk


This day will be one to remember. Be prepared for a day of walking and biking by renting your equipment in advance: all-terrain strollers, hiking backpacks, eBikes, trailers, and child seats can all be found in Ortisei rental shops.


Start the day by walking to the St. Ulrich Seiser Alm gondola and ascend high up into the Italian Alps. You’ll be struck by astonishing views of the largest alpine meadow in the world: Seiser Alm, and the impossibly high mountain peaks surrounding it.


Walk along a mountainside trail #6 above the meadow and stop at a family-run swiss-chalet style refugio for the best Apple strudel you’ve ever had. Descend into the picturesque landscape and stop at Malga Sanon which has a children’s playground, should the little ones have extra energy. But be sure to save some strength for the 20 min walk back uphill to the gondola!


Rent e-bikes at ride the scenic valley path to Selva Val Gardena, a town at the east end of the Selva valley. There, you’ll find the trailhead of the Vallunga Valley. It’s possible to bike this flat meadow trail, but I recommend parking the bikes and walking to give the kids a chance to stretch their legs and interact with the many natural wonders along the way.


Day 7 - Drive to Milan Airport (4h)


Sigh. The last day of a whirlwind adventure requires you to take a half day drive back to the airport. So be it. But…. if you’re able to spare a few more days, I have some extraordinary add-ons to this itinerary!


Highly Recommended Additional Stops:


Lake Molveno

Look it up on Wikipedia: this lake and the town of Molveno were basically designed by nature and humans to be the most ideal spot for a family vacation. Paddleboats, water park, pirate ship playground, paragliding, shuffleboard, and a football field of grassy beachfront all make for a full day of fun in the sun (and relaxing for the parents). It’s a locals’ spot: I only saw Italians here and I’m sure they consider it a cheat code when it comes to planning multi-generational summer getaways.

You can visit Molveno on your way to/from the Dolomites as it lies in between Riva del Garda and Ortisei


Verona

“...In fair Verona, where we lay our scene…” Yes, this is the town from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It's a quick half-hour detour on your way back from the Dolomites to Milan, just east of Lake Garda. The town still has a decidedly medieval aesthetic and you can easily picture yourself in one of Shakespear’s plays as you walk through stone streets and buildings.


Milan

Okay, this is an obvious one, but if you have half a day of free time, it’s not much of a hassle to stand in awe of the great Duomo, feel the pulsing energy of a thousand fashionistas, and stroll the grand streets of Italy’s financial powerhouse of a city. Grab a bite at Panini di Santis, a tiny shop which might be the originator of those wonderful, easy-to-eat-on-the-go, pressed sandwiches. Finish with dessert at Gelato Amorino, which serves organic gelato served beautifully in the shape of a rose. Ciao, bella!





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