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Northern Italy - which city/routing is best?

Northern Italy - which city/routing is best?

Old May 9, 2022, 12:57 pm
  #1  
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Northern Italy - which city/routing is best?

Hi all! Traveling to Italy this August with two young children in tow. I have paralysis by analysis of the thousands of options of where to go/visit and would sincerely appreciate help from this group! The trip motto is: keep it easy and dont over schedule it. We have 12-13 days, with the 4 days in the middle already decided. Where I need the most help is: where do we stay for best experience on the front-end and back-end of the trip?

Current schedule:
  • Day 1: Fly from BOS to TBD airport (thinking Milan, Venice, Verona, or Bologna, depending on where we are going)
  • Day 2-6: help! Maybe northern Lake Garda or Venice or Cortina?
  • Day 6-10: Sirmione on Lake Garda
  • Day 10-12/13: help! Somewhere closer to our departure airport - so maybe enjoying a city like Verona, Bologna, or Venice?
Open to any and all suggestions - would love if someone has a strong view on towns I'm not considering! Or ideas on the best way to do this logistically. Cheers!
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Old May 9, 2022, 4:25 pm
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I've gone to Italy a lot with a young child (who is now not a young child and is a great traveler). And we did it a bunch of times from BOS, too. I would heavily prioritize a nonstop if you have younger kids - that means Delta or ITA into FCO. From FCO, there's high speed rail directly from the airport that goes to Venice via Florence and Bologna. Again with kids, I'd suggest Florence, as the historic center is really compact and easily walkable. It's also one of my favorite cities to visit and is now very familiar to us, but it really can't get any easier in terms of layout and things to do, and arriving by train makes it pretty easy to get where you're going. Good mix of restaurants, museums, and outdoor things. It's probably the easiest city in Italy to get around with young kids.

I'd suggest you also fly home from FCO if it means you can go nonstop. On the way back, spending a few days in Rome might be nice. Rome is a little less shut down in August, and while more spread out, you can position yourself and walk to things but it's a large sprawling historic center. Otherwise, if you're up north and want to stay there and fly out, I don't think there's too much difference between the secondary cities - just pick something that has an airport that isn't a hassle to get to or navigate, and is 1 stop from home. My own preference is to avoid backtracking or connecting at LHR. I don't mind CDG but others do. But if you can fly Swiss and connect through ZRH, that's about the best european hub there is - super calm, easily navigable, clean, etc. This opinion is probably controversial, but unless you'll never be in Italy again, I'd avoid Venice in August. It's beautiful all year round and worth seeing, but August is super crowded and hard to enjoy until the day trippers leave around 6-7pm.

If you do decide to fly back from FCO, either finish your trip there for a few days, or at the very least if you're going to FCO just to fly home, get there the night before and stay at the FCO Hilton. If you're going to connect, do it in Europe, not on the US side. You'll be a lot happier if you're clearing customs and heading home, not clearing customs and then reclearing security and getting on another flight.

A couple of unsolicited things:
  • August in Italy is tough as a tourist - Italians are taking their vacations, so a lot of what's left open will be tourist traps. Do some advance planning on where to eat and such and make reservations. It is worth double-checking by calling places to find out if/when they plan to be closed in August
  • Depending on the ages of your kids, getting from place to place is the hardest thing - try to limit the number of times you'll pack up and change cities
  • Global Entry is fantastic. Get it for your kids too, unlike Precheck they need their own enrollment
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Old May 9, 2022, 5:46 pm
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I don't think there are any BOS-Northern Italy airport non-stops running this summer. If you're connecting in US (likely NYC/EWR), MXP & VCE are non-stop options, BLQ & VRN requires connecting in UK/EU.

There are a lot of options. Your trip motto is smart and on point.

Assuming Sirmione is the fixed 4 days? How old are the kids? What are their interests? What are yours? Paint a picture of what type of experience you'd want at either end and people can provide options without feeling like we're advocating/dictating.
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Old May 9, 2022, 8:58 pm
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Each to their own, sure, but to my taste 4 days in Sirmione are about 2 too many. The lakes are nice to look at, but the experience of actually using them as a 'seaside resort' isn't great. Even the northern Adriatic is preferable, so if the OP were to be travelling out of VCE (which kind of makes sense for it's in the area) I'd go to Jesolo, or Cavallino, basically the beaches around Venezia.

As for what to do beforehand... Well, there's plenty of great mountain in the Dolomites! And I'd rather go to either Trento province or Bolzano/Bozen province. Cortina, don't get me wrong, isn't a bad place but to my tastes it's been a bit scarred by skiing and in the summer you see the damage done to the mountains for the sake of ski slopes. The area around the Tre Cime di Lavaredo is great.
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Old May 9, 2022, 10:38 pm
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Couple of observations.

1) flying into/out of VCE makes a lot of sense, Given you have 6 days in front and 2-3 days after, If you want to see Venice, I'd think about flying out of VCE at the end of the trip. You could fly into VCE but 6 days would be too much for Venice

2) If you're going to spend 4 days in Sirmione, I'd avoid spending another segment on one of the lakes. In August, the Italians will be on the water (lake/Med) or in the mountains to avoid the heat. A lot in the cities will be closed (restaurants, etc).

3) If you like opera, the Arena in Verona is a great spot. Verona itself is a nice city for a day, maybe two, but I wouldn't spend a ton of time there.

4) are you planning on driving or training? - that will dictate a lot of the choices that you have

Keep in mind that Ferragosto is August 15th and it, and the days around it, are a pretty big holiday throughout Italy so, if they intersect your trip, make sure that things are open, etc.

Finally, I'll plug Medievalis in Pontremoli (where we have a house in Italy). It is a multi-day celebration of medieval times that happens every August (except for last two years due to Covid). In a normal year 25000 people descend on the town/medieval center and drink, eat, re-enact battles, parade, etc. It is August 18-21 this year (https://medievalis.org/). It's not everyone's cup of tea but it is an example of an interesting local event that can be a lot of fun. They even have a medieval children's program.

Personally, if I wasn't there all summer (I will be this year) and on a short trip. I wouldn't do Medievalis for 4 days but only 1. Close by are the Bay of Poets (Shelly, Byron, Sand) with Lerici, Portovenere and around the point Cinqueterre. Go the other direction and you can do the boardwalk at Viareggio, go to Lucca and walk a walled city and even duck down to Pisa to see the leaning tower (and not much more, truly). From Pisa and/or Lucca, Florence is 40 minutes.

Honestly, I'm not saying you should do the above. It's an example of an itinerary that one could do. There are plenty others. Many pick the big three (Venice/Rome/Florence) and that is understandable. Those cities hold great history and contemporary experiences. At the end of the day, my personal belief is that the best trip is the one that reflects your and your family's interests and energy. So anything you can tell us about that can help in offering some choices.
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Old May 9, 2022, 11:02 pm
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Originally Posted by JMN57
Finally, I'll plug Medievalis in Pontremoli (where we have a house in Italy). It is a multi-day celebration of medieval times that happens every August (except for last two years due to Covid). In a normal year 25000 people descend on the town/medieval center and drink, eat, re-enact battles, parade, etc. It is August 18-21 this year (https://medievalis.org/). It's not everyone's cup of tea but it is an example of an interesting local event that can be a lot of fun. They even have a medieval children's program.
I agree with your other points, but this also sounds amazing. One of these years I want to see that.
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Old May 10, 2022, 6:58 am
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Originally Posted by 13901
Each to their own, sure, but to my taste 4 days in Sirmione are about 2 too many. The lakes are nice to look at, but the experience of actually using them as a 'seaside resort' isn't great. Even the northern Adriatic is preferable, so if the OP were to be travelling out of VCE (which kind of makes sense for it's in the area) I'd go to Jesolo, or Cavallino, basically the beaches around Venezia.

As for what to do beforehand... Well, there's plenty of great mountain in the Dolomites! And I'd rather go to either Trento province or Bolzano/Bozen province. Cortina, don't get me wrong, isn't a bad place but to my tastes it's been a bit scarred by skiing and in the summer you see the damage done to the mountains for the sake of ski slopes. The area around the Tre Cime di Lavaredo is great.
Interesting! Do you feel Trento or Bolzano are overall better in terms of hiking, restaurants, crowds, and hotels as well vs. Cortina? I'm not as bothered by the ski slopes, but care more about amenities and ease of access. And if so, any strong preference towards Trento or Bolanzo?
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Old May 10, 2022, 7:00 am
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Originally Posted by PWMTrav
I've gone to Italy a lot with a young child (who is now not a young child and is a great traveler). And we did it a bunch of times from BOS, too. I would heavily prioritize a nonstop if you have younger kids - that means Delta or ITA into FCO. From FCO, there's high speed rail directly from the airport that goes to Venice via Florence and Bologna. Again with kids, I'd suggest Florence, as the historic center is really compact and easily walkable. It's also one of my favorite cities to visit and is now very familiar to us, but it really can't get any easier in terms of layout and things to do, and arriving by train makes it pretty easy to get where you're going. Good mix of restaurants, museums, and outdoor things. It's probably the easiest city in Italy to get around with young kids.

I'd suggest you also fly home from FCO if it means you can go nonstop. On the way back, spending a few days in Rome might be nice. Rome is a little less shut down in August, and while more spread out, you can position yourself and walk to things but it's a large sprawling historic center. Otherwise, if you're up north and want to stay there and fly out, I don't think there's too much difference between the secondary cities - just pick something that has an airport that isn't a hassle to get to or navigate, and is 1 stop from home. My own preference is to avoid backtracking or connecting at LHR. I don't mind CDG but others do. But if you can fly Swiss and connect through ZRH, that's about the best european hub there is - super calm, easily navigable, clean, etc. This opinion is probably controversial, but unless you'll never be in Italy again, I'd avoid Venice in August. It's beautiful all year round and worth seeing, but August is super crowded and hard to enjoy until the day trippers leave around 6-7pm.

If you do decide to fly back from FCO, either finish your trip there for a few days, or at the very least if you're going to FCO just to fly home, get there the night before and stay at the FCO Hilton. If you're going to connect, do it in Europe, not on the US side. You'll be a lot happier if you're clearing customs and heading home, not clearing customs and then reclearing security and getting on another flight.

A couple of unsolicited things:
  • August in Italy is tough as a tourist - Italians are taking their vacations, so a lot of what's left open will be tourist traps. Do some advance planning on where to eat and such and make reservations. It is worth double-checking by calling places to find out if/when they plan to be closed in August
  • Depending on the ages of your kids, getting from place to place is the hardest thing - try to limit the number of times you'll pack up and change cities
  • Global Entry is fantastic. Get it for your kids too, unlike Precheck they need their own enrollment
Great details, thank you! I hear your suggestion on a non-stop and usually agree 99% of the time, but I'll need a car around Lake Garda, and feel as if I'd rather connect vs. drive/train for so many hours back and fourth north/south.
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Old May 10, 2022, 7:02 am
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Originally Posted by JMN57
Couple of observations.

1) flying into/out of VCE makes a lot of sense, Given you have 6 days in front and 2-3 days after, If you want to see Venice, I'd think about flying out of VCE at the end of the trip. You could fly into VCE but 6 days would be too much for Venice

2) If you're going to spend 4 days in Sirmione, I'd avoid spending another segment on one of the lakes. In August, the Italians will be on the water (lake/Med) or in the mountains to avoid the heat. A lot in the cities will be closed (restaurants, etc).

3) If you like opera, the Arena in Verona is a great spot. Verona itself is a nice city for a day, maybe two, but I wouldn't spend a ton of time there.

4) are you planning on driving or training? - that will dictate a lot of the choices that you have

Keep in mind that Ferragosto is August 15th and it, and the days around it, are a pretty big holiday throughout Italy so, if they intersect your trip, make sure that things are open, etc.

Finally, I'll plug Medievalis in Pontremoli (where we have a house in Italy). It is a multi-day celebration of medieval times that happens every August (except for last two years due to Covid). In a normal year 25000 people descend on the town/medieval center and drink, eat, re-enact battles, parade, etc. It is August 18-21 this year (https://medievalis.org/). It's not everyone's cup of tea but it is an example of an interesting local event that can be a lot of fun. They even have a medieval children's program.

Personally, if I wasn't there all summer (I will be this year) and on a short trip. I wouldn't do Medievalis for 4 days but only 1. Close by are the Bay of Poets (Shelly, Byron, Sand) with Lerici, Portovenere and around the point Cinqueterre. Go the other direction and you can do the boardwalk at Viareggio, go to Lucca and walk a walled city and even duck down to Pisa to see the leaning tower (and not much more, truly). From Pisa and/or Lucca, Florence is 40 minutes.

Honestly, I'm not saying you should do the above. It's an example of an itinerary that one could do. There are plenty others. Many pick the big three (Venice/Rome/Florence) and that is understandable. Those cities hold great history and contemporary experiences. At the end of the day, my personal belief is that the best trip is the one that reflects your and your family's interests and energy. So anything you can tell us about that can help in offering some choices.
As for timing, we are looking July 28 - August 1 for that up front part, so right before August hits. In terms of what we WANT...well, a nice, full service hotel, easy walking/hiking/activities for two kids <5, and some good food/wine. Not too much more than that!

We are planning on renting a car at whatever airport we land at, so driving to any location. I really need tips on the best location for 3-4 nights at the end of July...water or mountains (keep it cool).
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Old May 10, 2022, 7:25 am
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Originally Posted by PWMTrav
I agree with your other points, but this also sounds amazing. One of these years I want to see that.
There are a # of medieval festivals in Tuscany. Probably the most famous are the Palio in Siena. https://www.visittuscany.com/en/idea...ls-in-tuscany/

I will say the feel of Medievalis is more participatory than observational - one does feel pretty immersed in the experience.
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Old May 10, 2022, 7:40 am
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Originally Posted by BostonFlyer1624
Interesting! Do you feel Trento or Bolzano are overall better in terms of hiking, restaurants, crowds, and hotels as well vs. Cortina? I'm not as bothered by the ski slopes, but care more about amenities and ease of access. And if so, any strong preference towards Trento or Bolanzo?
For hiking, the provinces of Trento and Bolzano are surely better suited than Cortina. My knowledge of that side of the Alps is a bit limited, but I've been in Campo Tures (loved the area) and in and around the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. Food-wise, both Trento and Bolzano are "big" cities and they do have larger offer. They're also very different, Bolzano and environs being very German-speaking and Trento being more Italian. Bolzano also gets surprisingly hot in the summer.

some food for thought: Hiking and trekking in Trentino - Dolomites (visittrentino.info) Mountains and Hiking - South Tyrol - Alto Adige - Bolzano (suedtirolerland.it)
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Old May 10, 2022, 8:21 am
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Originally Posted by BostonFlyer1624
As for timing, we are looking July 28 - August 1 for that up front part, so right before August hits. In terms of what we WANT...well, a nice, full service hotel, easy walking/hiking/activities for two kids <5, and some good food/wine. Not too much more than that!

We are planning on renting a car at whatever airport we land at, so driving to any location. I really need tips on the best location for 3-4 nights at the end of July...water or mountains (keep it cool).
Book soon. Peak time and Italians are pretty diligent about planning & booking vacation/pleasure.
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