This summer we planned and enjoyed a fabulous trip to Italy as a family. My husband and I have traveled to Italy before and been to most of the “major” tourist cities, so for this trip we decided to stay off the beaten path and visit some new-to-us places with only a few old favorites. We traveled with our four kids and met up with extended family a week later for a cruise out of Ravenna. Our trip began and ended in Venice and we made a big circle around Italy driving for a total of about 25 hours driving time.
- Day 1: Arrive mid-morning, afternoon in Venice
- Day 2: Pisa/Portovenere
- Day 3: Cinque Terre
- Day 4: Drive through Umbria to Salerno
- Day 5: Positano
- Day 6: Salerno and Amalfi Coast
- Day 7: Matera and Alberobello
- Day 8: Drive back toward Venice to Ravenna
Why We Rent A Car for Family Trips
Cars give us so much more flexibility traveling with kids. We stick them in the car and off we go. No waiting and we get to see the beautiful countryside and visit some unique places as we drive. We also like stopping at local grocery stores or supermarkets and picking up some local food to bring with us to snack in the car and visiting some of the local rest stop areas for “authentic” Italian food. A car takes us out of the “touristy” areas and gives us a flavor for real life in Italy.
Renting A Car in Italy
Prepare for the Expense
Usually we can get a fairly good deal for a rental car. Finding a rental car for six people in Italy was not easy and our options were limited. Most options were for cars with 5 seats, so we had limited options based on our family size. This was one of our most expensive rental cars but we bit the bullet and we are glad we chose to travel by car (didn’t have to worry about all the Italian train strikes in the summer). Gas was also expensive, though we saved by bringing snacks with us in the car and enjoying some quick breakfasts and lunches at the freeway gas stations.
Many rental agencies close on weekends
One thing to keep in mind if you plan to return the rental car to a place other than an airport or a big city is that many rental car agencies are closed on Sundays or only open half day on Saturday. This limited our choices in returning our rental car as we did not return it to the Venice airport where we picked it up. After our road trip, we went on a cruise that left out of the Ravenna Cruise Port. We were unable to return our rental car to Ravenna because it is a smaller city and the rental car office is closed on the weekend, so instead we had to drive to the Bologna airport to return the rental car and then take public transportation back to our hotel in Ravenna. Worth it still, but will require some logistical planning.
Expect your car to be SMALL
Be prepared for the cars in Italy to be much smaller than what you drive in the U.S. We were actually lucky our luggage was lost for a week because I don’t think we could have fit three large bags and all our children in our small car. Despite the size, no one complained the entire drive! The kids were so excited to be exploring Italy with us!
Automatic May Be Worth the Up-Charge
If you are driving only a couple hours, this may not apply to you but for a long road trip like we did, we were very happy to pay a little extra for an automatic car instead of manual.
Our One-Week Road Trip Through Italy 2022
Day 1: Arrival & Afternoon in Venice
- Arrived, picked up our rental car and checked into a family room at our hotel in Mestre. We chose to stay in Mestre instead of in Venice because we had our rental car. We have read that soon Venice will begin limiting the number of tourists per day, so plan accordingly.
- Took the train into Venice (a short 10 minute ride) for the afternoon/evening.
- Walked and “got lost” as we made our way across the Accademia Bridge into the Piazza San Marco. Visited the Campanile in San Marco, Bridge of Sighs and made our way back to the train station via the Rialto Bridge. We had planned on a Gondola ride but legally gondoliers can only take 5 people so we had to pass on that with our 6. We visited Venice for another afternoon at the end of our trip with extended family and were able to take a Gondola ride then.
- Favorite eats: we loved the gelato here and here and had an amazing meal here (incredible pizza and pasta options).
Day 2: Pisa/Portovenere
- We drove about 3 hours to Pisa for a quick stop and a picture. Surprisingly this was a top stop for our kids because they have read about Pisa (or it is mentioned) in many of the books and tv shows. Be careful where you park in Pisa–lots of car jackings reported. We found this guarded lot and it was great.
- Another hour or so drive and we stopped to pick up some local food items at a grocery store for breakfast/snacks. Definitely pick up some Genovese pesto if you go this route. We checked into our AirBnB right on the coast near Portovenere. This was the accommodation splurge of the trip and it was an incredible seaside home with access to the ocean, a hot tub and beautiful outdoor spaces to relax. Highly recommend especially if you go with another family and can split the cost.
- We drove a few minutes and parked in Portovenere to walk through the old town and among the fort ruins. This town felt magical, especially in the evening as we watched the sunset and ate pasta and gelato near the water.
Day 3: Cinque Terre
- Up bright and early to beat the heat and begin our hike from Monterosso to Riomagiorre. We drove and parked in Monterosso and began the hike between 5 beautiful coastal cities. The Cinque Terre is a National Park along the Ligurian Coast and one of our favorite spots in Italy. With our group, we only managed to hike about 1/3 of the trail but the views were beautiful the whole way.
- We bought a family rail pass and took the train to visit the other cities: hopping off, exploring and then back on the train to the next city.
- A tip: When you arrive by train in a city, find a path and walk up just a bit. You will be out of the crowds and feel like you have the city to yourself!
- Manarola: We had the most delicious lunch with incredible views at Trattoria da Billy. Definitely make a reservation ahead of time or show up right when it opens to get a table.
- Corniglia: I am still dreaming about the lemon basil gelato I had at Alberto Gelateria. Probably the best gelato of the trip and worth the hike up all the stairs to get there.
- Vernazza: Bring a swimsuit and enjoy the Mediterranean waters in the little bay here. Just magical!
- Monterosso: Check out this amazing Focacceria. We enjoyed dinner at our villa that night with the amazing focaccia we bought.
- Riomaggiore: Hike up just a bit out of the main town to see the beautiful views.
Day 4: Drive through Umbria to Salerno
- We loved stopping at various gas stations/rest stops along the way to try their croissants, sandwiches and other fresh food.
- Our main stop for the day was Civita di Bagnoregio which is a small village perched on top of a rock formation and only accessible by a pedestrian bridge. We love going off the beaten path and this was the perfect place. The kids pretended they were in a Medieval fortress. We explored little alleyways, took beautiful photos and enjoyed a delicious lunch (truffle zucchini flower pasta?!!!). Definitely the perfect place to stretch our legs and get a feel for Tuscany/Umbria since we weren’t stopping this trip.
- Rome, Italy Temple (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day-Saints): We stopped at the Rome, Italy Temple because it was a short drive off the freeway as we were driving south. We enjoyed the beautiful grounds and the visitors center with the Christus statue, statues of the original 12 apostles and beautiful stained glass. This was a short stop and all are welcome to visit the grounds.
- We drove past Mt. Vesuvius and then down into the Salerno area where we found our apartment for the next three days. We booked it mainly because of the pool and the washing machine. Turns out it was in an Italian apartment complex which was beautiful and unique. Parking was safe and we really enjoyed our stay there (but no A/C…just fans!).
Day 5: Positano
- Cooking Class in Positano: We spent the day at La Tagliata for an incredible cooking class in Positano. The class itself was so much fun – from harvesting vegetables to making delicious Italian food and gnocchi with the Italian Grandpa showing us the way. It was a splurge for sure, but a fantastic memory. This cooking class took most of the day (10 AM to 3 PM). If you don’t have a day to cook, definitely try to get there for lunch or dinner. The views of Positano are incredible and the food was yummy and plentiful.
- If you are coming from Salerno, take a ferry to Positano. We drove to Sorrento in the morning and parked (it wasn’t too bad because we were early, but parking can be crazy there). Then took a cab to Positano. In retrospect, we should have just rented a driver for the day. It was difficult to find a taxi to take us back to our car because there were so many tourists at that time and public buses were full.
Day 6: Amalfi Coast and Salerno
- This day was incredible! We took a private tour of the Amalfi Coast by boat and it was the highlight of our vacation. We swam in beautiful blue water and enjoyed the gorgeous coastline from the boat. Lunch was served at a restaurant on the water with another swimming stop before finishing our tour of the Amalfi Coast. This was a definite splurge excursion, but we enjoyed every minute of it!
- Salerno: After our boat ride we walked around the waterfront in Salerno and grabbed a delicious gelato (we saw some people order gelato scooped onto an open bbrioche – a literal ice cream sandwich!). We loved the atmosphere of the waterfront with the beautiful trees and long stretches to walk.
- Pizza: We couldn’t stay in Southern Italy without eating pizza and after a recommendation from our apartment hosts, we stumbled on the most amazing pizza restaurant. It was at the top of a hill, overlooking a beautiful valley and the pizza was incredible. Best pizza of our trip, hands down!
Day 7: Matera and Alberobello
- Matera: Matera is an old cave city, you have to see to believe. It was very hot when we were there so we didn’t stay as long as we had planned (flexibility when traveling is key, especially with kids). We did enjoy the cave church, walking through little alleyways and caves and eating some of their traditional bread. Bread used to be stamped with the initial of the family who made it before it was baked. It was baked in a communal oven and the initial would let people know who the bread belonged to.
- Alberobello: We loved the evening we spent here walking among the Trulli houses. This was such a unique place and had a very fun evening atmosphere to walk around and enjoy.
Day 8: Drive back toward Venice to Ravenna
- Our last day we drove back up toward Venice, ending in Ravenna where we would catch our cruise the next day. We stayed in Punta Marina, a fun beach town devoid of cruise tourists. This is a new cruise port for Royal Caribbean and it definitely felt new! We enjoyed a Mediterranean Cruise after our family road trip, visiting many fun places on the Brilliance of the Seas.
Frequently Asked Questions
We love exploring as a family and seeing sites through our kids eyes. These family trips create so many shared memories that we look back on every year and we enjoy exploring new places and adventuring together. We have traveled with little kids for many years and always felt it was worth it–even if the kids “weren’t old enough to remember.” We remember as parents and have good memories. Kids will be kids wherever you are…you may as well be doing something fun!
Jet lag is one of the reasons we love renting a car on international family trips. We pile everyone in the car and kids can sleep when they need to, wake up when we get somewhere and be refreshed and ready to go. For Italy we arrived in the mid-morning. We checked into our hotel and then kept ourselves busy the rest of the day. We were exhausted and all slept well that night. We did expect to have our 6 year old climb in our bed at times. He struggled the most with the time change. Worst case: kindle fires/ipads are a tool we use when we (as parents) need to sleep in the middle of the night and the kids are awake.
One of our sons has type 1 diabetes. We always allow for extra time going through security (security protocols vary at every airport). We bring a note from our doctor about his supplies and we bring extra supplies, usually double what we’ll need. We try to book places that have refrigerators to store insulin and we bring ice packs and cooler bags with us. When he was first diagnosed I thought we wouldn’t be able to travel (or do anything!), but that is not true! There is hope and traveling internationally takes a little planning but is definitely possible.
Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy! We looked up restaurants on Google Maps and checked reviews. Most restaurants we ate at had a cover charge per person, but no tipping is required or expected. Bring extra water or be prepared to buy extra drinks at dinner –water is not free. Many restaurants take reservations, so either get there early and hope for the best, or make a reservation so you don’t miss out.
Food in Italy
I’ll leave you with these photos of some of our favorite eats on this trip. Each day when traveling we always eat out for at least one big meal so that we can enjoy the local food. Italy was easy to travel to with kids, food-wise. We could always find pizza, pasta and gelato that they loved, and we all tried some new favorites too. We are now back to enjoying our Ooni Pizza Oven and reminiscing about all the delicious food we ate, and doing our best to make delicious pizza and pasta at home.
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