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 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!