We try out family-friendly activities around the lake and take a trip to Verona
We are holidaying in the beautiful Lakes – but for once it’s not our beloved English Lake District.
The waters are a clearer turquoise, there isn’t a walking boot in sight and ice creams are in greater supply.
We are in the fashionable Italian Lakes for a slightly chilly October half-term break and I am feeling cosy but a little out of place in my ‘school run coat’.
We are staying on the southern end of Italy’s largest lake, Lake Garda, loved by families and affluent travellers.
And home for the trip is also a family favourite with a great lakefront location.
Bella Italia – a five-star campsite – is a 15-minute lakeside walk from the town of Peschiera Del Garda.
It has four pools (sadly closed at this time of year), the same number of restaurants with well-priced tasty food, playgrounds, a children’s club, ice cream parlour, bouncy castles, fairground rides and more.
Our three-bedroom mobile home, a Girasole Suite, is smaller than similar holiday homes we have stayed in but is an ideal base to explore the area.
And we start out on the pebbly beach in front of the holiday park before getting on to the water itself – the quickest way to get around the lake’s beautiful towns and villages is by ferry.
You can hop on and off, visiting several spots in a day. Among our favourites were the enchanting village of Lazise with its castle and playground and tourist magnet Sirmione – the most picturesque yet busiest spot on the lake.
Another busy spot is Italy’s biggest theme park, Gardaland, just 15 minutes away.
There are plenty of rollercoasters for older children but younger children are well-catered for too – there’s even a small Peppa Pig Land.
And a Sea Life aquarium next door is a good rainy day option – you can buy one ticket covering a visit to both on the same or consecutive days.
Just a short drive away lies a more relaxing day out. Parco Natura Viva is a zoo and safari park with hippos, giraffes, rhinos and bears among a lovely site.
Parco Giardino Sigurta
Another attraction worth a visit is Parco Giardino Sigurta. This 600-acre garden has a maze, small animal farm and plenty of space to run around in beautiful gardens. We explore on foot then hire a golf cart for 18 euros to get around the whole site.
Further afield, but still only half an hour away, is Verona.
Our children love the huge Roman amphitheatre, the 2,000-year-old Arena.
Others head to this city of Romeo and Juliet to leave love notes at Juliet’s balcony, linked to the fictional star-crossed lovers.
But it isn’t the most child friendly spot with a cramped courtyard full of selfie hunters taking photos at Juliet’s statue and balcony.
You are better off exploring Verona’s pedestrianised centre, the square around the Arena and its riverside walks. It is a compact city and in a day you can see historic churches, castles, museums or stop by one of countless gelato outlets.
To keep younger ones really happy, the city’s new Children’s Museum is a fantastic hands-on place where they can learn about light, water, power and science through play. It is well worth a couple of hours of your time.
Children’s Museum, Verona
We throw ourselves into the Verona experience with an authentic Veronese feast prepared for us at Locanda Ristori – one of the city’s traditional eateries.
Our full guide on where to take children on a family holiday to Lake Garda in Italy
Tourists flock every year to stunning Lake Garda (Lago di Garda) in northern Italy.
It’s a fabulous destination for a family holiday as we discovered on a recent trip.
Here’s our full guide to the best activities for children in and around this, Italy’s biggest lake, with its beautiful turquoise waters.
1. Visit a lakeside town
Spend time exploring the lovely towns and villages around the lake and enjoying an ice cream or two, such as:
A pretty village on the eastern side of the lake dominated by a 14th century castle and walls.
The centre has a ferry stop, small harbour and plenty of ice cream shops and restaurants.
It is mostly pedestrianised with car parking around the outskirts which means it feels safer to walk around with children.
Near the centre next to the castle is a small playground.
The town which gave the lake its name has a nice lakefront walk along its harbour, cobbled streets to explore and a busy market every Friday.
Our children were interested in a fun bridge on the lake shore where couples from around the world have left padlocks proclaiming their enduring passion!
This is the area’s tourist trap. Sirmione gets busy quickly, its narrow streets full of tourists, ice cream shops and restaurants.
It’s a stunning spot, the castle entrance is spectacular and worth a walk around (children enter for free, adults 6 euros).
On the other side of the town’s streets are thermal baths and at the top of its peninsula the remains of a Roman villa, Grotte di Catulla. It is incredible but a long walk for children so only for the most dedicated walkers.
Everything in Sirmione is more expensive than elsewhere in the area. The ice creams here are massive but at least double the price of other places.
There are plenty of lovely spots to sit and play away from the main thoroughfare, a few stony beach areas and nice park towards the Roman remains.
This town is made by the stunning blue waters of the river Mincio as it meets the lake. Its centre isn’t as pretty as some as Peschiera is also a working town.
However there are plenty of restaurants around the streets near the ferry port.
We walked into the town a few times from our holiday park Campeggio Bella Italia (see our review of it here here), which was a pleasant 15-minute stroll along a tree lined lake shore promenade.
2. Get around by ferry
The most fun and often the fastest way to see Lake Garda’s towns and villages is by ferry.
Every major place has a ferry stop and in high season there will be a boat roughly every hour between 8 and 6pm.
You must buy tickets before you board which are priced based on the distance you are travelling, from around 10 euros for a short return journey to 35 euros for a whole lake pass for a day. Children’s tickets cost around half an adult’s price.
The ferries are large, accommodating 500 people, boarding is efficient, there are toilets on board and a food and drink service in high season.
It is a smooth journey but because the lake is 50 miles long it takes at least three hours to get from top to bottom.
You can pick up ferry timetables from every ticket office where the boat docks or follow this link.
3. Parco Naturo Viva
This large zoo and safari park was set up by a husband and wife in 1969 and has expanded over a huge site.
The ticket price includes both the zoo and safari drive and you must do both to see all the animals – giraffes and zebras for example are only on the safari.
The safari takes around half an hour and is safe to do in your hire car. There are no dangerous monkey enclosures to threaten your windscreen wipers!
The main zoo is a large parkland which is steep in places.
It is divided into continents with the Africa section near the start featuring lions, rhinos and hippos. The Asian area has tigers and snow leopards with the Americas section including bears and colourful macaws.
Their latest attraction is a giants of the world indoor enclosure which has a Komodo dragon, anaconda, piranhas and giant otters.
There is also a dinosaur area with full size scale models of a T-Rex, stegosaurus and triceratops.
Picnics are allowed and there are several reasonably priced restaurants across the site.
The site is beautiful and makes for a pleasant walk – it will take you at least four hours to get round.
Signs are in Italian, German and English except for the dinosaur section.
Parking costs 2 euros on top of the ticket price.
This is Italy’s biggest theme park. There are lots of rides (and lots of queues) and you can easily spend a whole day here.
For smaller children there are four main sections, including a Peppa Pig Land.
This is smaller than the UK equivalent with only four major rides – a balloon ride, small train, circular boat trip and Peppa Pig’s house, which is frankly just a room where you can find pretend strawberries and pancakes.
It won’t take more than 90 minutes to do this part of the park but will still be a thrill for Peppa fans. All the music and songs are in Italian but the signs are also in English.
Near the entrance is a large carousel and other rides for younger children. And it’s only a short walk to Fantasy Land which has a plane ride and farmyard tractor ride.
Our two children loved an area for under 7s at the far end of the park with two gentle rollercoasters, a relaxing monorail, teacups ride and a dizzying Peter Pan ride.
Tweens and teens are more than catered for in the rest of the park with rides including spectacular rollercoasters.
Daily shows take place in two on-site theatres and there are themed events through the year at times like Halloween and Christmas.
There are lots of food options from candy floss stalls through to a la carte restaurants and everything in between.
Car parking costs six euros on top of your ticket.
5. Sea Life Aquarium
At Gardaland – on the other side of the car park – is the Sea Life Aquarium. You can buy joint tickets to Gardaland and Sea Life and visit them on the same day or consecutive days.
It doesn’t take that long to go round but is interesting and a good option for a rainy day. Children can do a quiz on the way round, in English, with the answers to each question on the information boards.
There is also a cafe at the end of the route around the aquarium.
6. Movie World
This is a smaller theme park just up the road from Gardaland based on films and special effects.
It has live shows and themed restaurants. We didn’t have time to visit on our trip.
7. Parco Giardino Sigurta
For a relaxing day out, the huge gardens of Parco Sigurta are a 15 minute drive south of the lake, on the banks of the river Mincio.
This 600 acre park is vast with a small animal farm, beautiful gardens, a fun maze and other trails like a zig zag path through woodland.
The park would take hours to get around on foot but you can see it all in an hour if you hire a golf cart or take the train which circles it.
Our children enjoyed walking around first, despite wet weather and then taking a golf buggy (you need a driving licence to hire one) to explore the far flung parts. It has a screen with an interactive map and English commentary.
There are food kiosks and toilets around the park plus a restaurant on site.
8. On and in the water
The lake is clear and inviting – most towns have places where children can swim and some offer water activities like pedalo boats and windsurfing.
The beaches are pebbly so take beach shoes for paddling.
We stay in a mobile home at this campsite in Peschiera del Garda
Campeggio Bella Italia.
Where is it?
On the shores of Lake Garda, at the bottom right of the lake, in Peschiera del Garda. Lake Garda (Lago di Garda), the largest lake in Italy, is in the north of Italy between Venice and Milan.
What is it?
It is a large holiday park with mobile homes, apartments, bungalows and camping pitches.
Is it family friendly?
There are little playgrounds/play parks, swimming pools and slides (not open out of season), a children’s club for 4-12 year-olds, as well as evening entertainment like mini-discos.
The site is good for riding bikes, walking and backs on to the lake which you can swim in during warmer weather.
Sport-wise, you can play tennis, football, basketball, beach volleyball and table tennis. And during the summer, guests can do water activities on the lake.
There are four types of mobile home here – we stayed in a Girasole Suite.
It slept six, with three small bedrooms, a kitchen/diner and bathroom with good-sized shower.
The kitchen had a hob (no oven), microwave and fridge/freezer. Towels and bedding are provided in the Girasole Suite properties only.
There was a sofa bench on one side of the dining table and a TV (no English channels on ours). Outside the mobile home, there was a decked area with table and chairs plus parking space for a car.
It also had a heater/air conditioning unit and the warmth from it was very welcome when we stayed.
Food and drink
There are four restaurants on site and the prices are very reasonable. We ate twice at Le Terrazze, overlooking the lake.
There is also Corte Riga, which has an almost identical menu to Le Terrazze but offers a takeaway option, Trattoria Bella Italia and a diner and takeaway cafe offering fish and chips and burgers which has an ice cream parlour attached.
*The lake – the site is on the southern banks of Lake Garda. There are exits on to the shallow pebbly beach and a small pier where you can walk down steps into the lake for a swim.
*It’s a 15-minute walk along the lake to the town, Peschiera del Garda, where you can shop, eat or catch a ferry.
*Gardaland theme park is a 10-minute drive.
*Verona is less than half an hour a way and we had hired a car so visited this city which was the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. For our top tips on what to do with children in Verona, read our guide: What to do with children in Verona
*There are other lovely towns around the lake you can visit by car or ferry – we tried Sirmione, Lazise and Garda.
*Supermarkets – there is an Aldi and Lidl nearby, handy if you have a car and want to stock up.
*The park was lovely and quiet as we visited at October half-term in the last week before the site closed for the winter.
*The ice cream parlour – we sampled a LOT of ice cream in different towns on this trip and the ice cream from here was our favourite. Great to walk to for a leisurely dessert after a meal too.
*The park’s position next to the beautiful lake.
*The children’s areas which open in the evening – a little fair and another part with a bouncy castle and bouncy slide.
Combined with evening entertainment and mini-discos, there is a lot to do after dark.
There is also a games room/arcade.
*The choice of restaurants and good-priced range of food.
We ate at Le Terrazze where a child’s pizza was only 4 euros and a plate of adult pasta around 8 euros.
*The swimming pools and water slides here look amazing. We sadly didn’t get to experience them as we visited out of season and they were closed.
*There are sports facilities like tennis courts and beach volleyball courts plus you can hire bikes.
*The distance from Verona airport – about a 25-minute drive.
*You can do water activities at the park’s Waterski Centre between May and mid-September. For an extra fee you can try parasailing, paraflying, a banana boat and more.
*You pay extra for wi-fi.
*You pay extra for bedding and towels.
*If your children will be going in the lake, take beach shoes as it is pebbly.
Campeggio Bella Italia, Via Bell Italia 2, Peschiera del Garda 37019
For more information visit the Campeggio Bella Italia website.
Disclaimer: We were provided with complimentary accommodation for the purposes of this review. All opinions are out honestly held views.
Our top tips for activities on a family holiday to Verona in Italy
How do you take in this beautiful, historic Italian city while keeping both adults and children happy? Read our guide for the best ideas of what to do and where to go.
This Roman amphitheatre is right in the centre of the city in Piazza Bra square and makes a good starting point for exploring.
It dates back to the first century and is second only to Rome’s Colosseum in terms of its size and history.
You can explore inside, climb to the top, walk inside the walls and across the stage area where Roman gladiators once fought and our children really enjoyed it.
The Arena is really well preserved and is still used today – it is a world-famous music venue and hosts big operatic shows.
Piazza Bra (also called the Bra)
Verona’s main square, next to the Arena in the centre of the city, is one of the largest in Europe.
There are plenty of places to sit and eat with restaurants and cafes along one side.
There are historic buildings around it and a small park in the middle with a fountain. It is mostly car free.
Romeo and Juliet’s Balcony
A ten-minute walk from the Arena, through a pedestrianised shopping area, is ‘Juliet’s House’, Casa de Giulietta.
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet may have been fictional but this house is linked to the star-crossed lovers as it was once inhabited by the Cappello family, a surname similar to Juliet’s, Capulet.
Tourists enter the courtyard and queue up for photos with Juliet’s bronze statue (and rub her right breast for luck in love).
People also take pictures of the balcony where they like to imagine Juliet was wooed by Romeo (although the balcony was actually added at a much later date) so keep a hold of your children as it gets busy here.
Inside the house is a small museum.
There isn’t much for children once they have seen the balcony and statue but the walls outside scrawled with love letters and graffiti are interesting to see.
And it is near Piazza Erbe with plenty of ice cream parlours and a market.
Torre Dei Lamberti
Just around the corner from the famous balcony is the best viewpoint of Verona – from the top of an 84-metre-tall tower.
But there is a lift for an extra euro which takes you almost to the top of the first viewing platform.
And from there you get 360 degree views of Verona.
The view of Verona from Torre Dei Lamberti
A ticket for the tower also gives access to the an art gallery next to the tower, the Gallery of Modern Art.
Verona Children’s Museum
This bright museum opened in 2019 and offers lots of hands-on fun for children.
Situated on the edge of the city, it is essentially one big space of science and learning, disguised as fun.
Before you go in, everyone must remove shoes and leave coats and bags behind, so you automatically feel more carefree.
Tickets are for allocated 90-minute slots through the day to make sure it never gets too crowded. Then the staff tidy up again so that everything is neat and clean ready for the next group.
It is designed and created for children – you can build your own mini-houses, milk a pretend cow, learn about light and shadows and play in a ball pit and climbing area.
There’s a also a water section where you can use water to create music, put balls into a whirlpool and more.
The staff are really friendly and helpful. If you have children under 10 they will love it here as ours did.
It also makes a good rainy day activity as it is all indoors.
This large Veronese building on the banks of the Adige river is part museum part castle.
There is a lot of 16th century religious artwork here which didn’t hold much appeal for our children. But some of the exhibits had old swords and armour.
And the walk around the castle was good fun. You get a good view across the river to Ponte Scaligero which was rebuilt after being blown up by the Germans in World War Two. And you can walk along the castle walls and into raised courtyards.
Visitors have to leave backpacks in lockers at the entrance.
Have a traditional Veronese meal
The Veronese take food very seriously. There are restaurants at every turn and they welcome children.
Almost all will serve you a plate of tomato pasta or a pizza, if that is what you are after.
For a real authentic experience, we tried Locanda Ristori, a traditional Veronese restaurant just outside the touristy centre near Castelvecchio.
The restaurant was mostly full of locals when we visited on a Sunday lunchtime, which is always a good sign and staff are warm and attentive.
The lovely owner Lia, a former ballet dancer across Europe, is very friendly and passionate about the food, explaining it all to us.
The menu includes a mix of pasta and meat dishes.
The Veronese tradition is a big plate of up to eight mixed meats including tongue, which my husband tucked into. It was served with mashed potato, vegetables and a broth which takes four hours to cook.
Lia serves a Veronese speciality
My children just fancied a plain tomato pasta (pasta pomodoro), not on the menu, but Lia was more than happy to make them some and they loved it.
There is also a good selection of desserts, including ice cream and we grown-ups sampled some fabulous wine.
Get a Verona card
The quickest and cheapest way to get into the main sites is with a Verona card, which costs 20 euros for a day and 25 euros for 48 hours.
If you are going to visit the Arena and at least two other sites then you will save money with the card.
It includes free entry to all the attractions above (except the Children’s Museum), all the largest churches and city centre museums.
You can pick up the card at the tourist information office in a corner of Piazza Bra.
Our children were also given a couple of city centre trails to do while we wandered around.
Disclaimer: We were provided with a Verona Card and a complimentary meal for the purposes of this article. All views are our own.
*Have you taken children to Verona? Where did you go? Tell us below!
We take our children to Florence, Pisa, San Gimignano and Volterra in August and try out Airbnb for the first time, read our review of our Italian adventure here.
Famous landmarks around the world are a remarkably hot topic of conversation between our children.
This is thanks as much to the Cbeebies programme Go Jetters as educational efforts on our part.
So when the Leaning Tower of Pisa comes into view, even the sweltering August Italian heat doesn’t cool their excitement.
Children under eight aren’t allowed up the tower and the streets are heaving so we stop just long enough to take it all in.
Posing in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Alongside thousands doing the same, we get the all-important pictures next to the extraordinarily slanting building, before we grab some pizza and hot-foot it back to our hire car.
We’ve already managed a day in Florence, taking our two on a whistle-stop tour of the city before their legs got tired.
The Duomo cathedral, Ponte Vecchio bridge and glorious Boboli Gardens were ticked off in a morning, before another rewarding pizza and gelato.
The Duomo cathedral in Florence
We’d bagged a cheap deal in an airport hotel for our first two nights to tackle the cities but now it was time to leave these bustling hotspots in search of the tranquillity of the countryside and the Dolce Vita.
Off to the country and the Dolce Vita
Our home for the next five nights is atop a hill, very much off the beaten track. Literally. A 10-minute dusty, bumpy, beaten track.
We wondered where our first foray into the world of Airbnb had taken us.
This global phenomenon lets people rent out their properties or spare rooms to guests, from small rooms, to shared houses, villas and even entire castles, across more than 65,000 cities. Don’t miss out full guide to Airbnb here.
There were hundreds of appealing options at decent prices, even at peak season and we narrowed down our search using the list of criteria, map view, photos and reviews.
La Farneta with Airbnb
We finally chose an intriguing property on a large private estate in the hidden hamlet of La Farneta in central Tuscany.
Here there are a dozen or so apartments in a classic Tuscan setting, surrounded by olive trees, scorched fields and forests as far as the eye could see.
Exploring the grounds of our accommodation in La Farneta.
The only sound – apart from our children in the shared swimming pool – was that of crickets in the towering trees of this 230 hectare estate.
The pool was the big draw here. The weather can get so hot in summer I would say you have to have one if you have children in tow.
The outdoor swimming pool at the apartments on the private estate in La Farneta
The owner Gianfausto gave us the authentic experience Airbnb has built its success on – welcoming us to his home, giving us a guided tour and even playing his piano to provide some pleasant poolside accompaniment.
The accommodation wasn’t luxurious but it was authentic and I can’t remember staying anywhere as peaceful.
It may have been 15 minutes from the nearest shop or restaurant but two Tuscan treasures aren’t far away.
The walled towns of San Gimignano and Volterra provided entertaining excursions. Our children loved the narrow alleys and the nooks and crannies of these picturesque places while the adults could enjoy the sights and sounds of Tuscany.
We visited San Gimignano, an Italian hill town in Tuscany, south-west of Florence
Pizza and pasta time!
With every second shop seemingly selling pasta, olive oil or wild boar, food is a big part of any Tuscan trip.
We found several places for a plate of pasta including Osteria Del Borgo in the pretty village of Mensano.
Staying in a remote location meant it was easier to have lunch out and dinner on our terrace with views over the rolling hills as the sun dipped below the trees.
The perfect evening temperature was ideal for a family walk around the estate, roaming the land and spotting the occasional wall lizard or deer.
We knew Tuscany in August was a gamble.
But we discovered it is possible to beat the heat and the crowds and enjoy complete tranquility.
And we ticked a landmark off that rather demanding wishlist.
For more details of how Airbnb works, read our guide here.
Accommodation: Via Airbnb. We received a discount from Airbnb for the purposes of this review. All opinions are our own.
Travel: Flew with British Airways to Florence Airport.
Five hacks to help make a perfect family break to Florence, Pisa and Tuscany
Coping with the heat
It can be intensely hot in summer. The temperature is at its best before 11 and after 6. We found early morning excursions and late evening walks worked best for us.
The middle of the day is the time to make sure you’re either in air conditioned accommodation or by a shaded pool.
Beware the siesta
No fewer than four times in a week we were caught out waiting for the local supermarket to open (it was closed between 1.30 and 4) and as we were staying 10 minutes drive along a gravel track that wasn’t ideal.
If you need supplies for little ones plan ahead and get all the essentials in one go. Often in small towns the choice isn’t what you might be used to and shops close in the early afternoon.
Research your parking
At busy towns like San Gimignano and Volterra it can be tricky to get close by car.
San Gimignanohas a decent park and ride system but in August the car parks were almost full by 10.30am.
Volterra has even less parking near the historic centre, which means a long hot walk. The best idea to minimise a long walk is to visit early morning or late afternoon.
Keep walking to a minimum in Florence during the summer
Florence has so much to see, but not all of it is interesting to little ones and the heat soon saps their energy.
Pick one or two main sights, rather than packing it all in, and choose two close together to cut down on walking under the blazing sun.
One good option is the Boboli Gardens and Ponte Vecchio, which work well and are quite close together. Similarly the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio are quite close.
You can’t climb the leaning tower of Pisa until you are eight years old
The Leaning Tower
Yes, it’s a must with children but stick together, get the pictures done and retreat to a little market outside the walls of the site where there are toilets, snacks and stalls to browse.
You have to be eight to climb the tower so once you’ve snapped that shot there’s not much reason to hang around.