Italy’s most family-friendly resorts are spread across the beach-heavy, classy island of Sardinia, volcanic Sicily with its historic attractions, and the broad sands of the Venetian Riviera, where fun fairs and waterparks come as standard. In our family guide we focus on Italy and its island’s beach-based breaks, as there’s no place that kids are more fulfilled than on the sand.
The holy grail of Italian beach holidays, Sardinia’s beaches are almost always sandy, backed by dunes and stretch for miles. Choose to stay in the centre of the west coast’s Coral Riviera at Alghero, boasting excellent snorkelling opportunities and a centro storico medieval centre.
Or head to the east for upmarket Costa Smeralda and Olbia, which share 20 kilometres of sandy coast and have plenty to do for families. Olbia is an ancient port with an excellent archaeological museum and a pretty basilica and Costa Smeralda’s Baia Sardinia is where you’ll find Aquadream waterpark.
With a 90-kilometre coastline, we can only really touch the surface of Alghero’s beaches. Some of the must-visit ones close to the centre include Maria Pia Beach, backed by rocks and juniper trees, with shallow waters for paddling, and Spiaggio Bombarde with restaurants and a dive centre. Just beyond Alghero’s harbour is the five-kilometre stretch of white sand, Lido San Giovanni Beach. Or drive 10 minutes to more natural La Speranza cove with calm, shallow waters and a beachside restaurant.
The golden sands of Costa Smeralda and Olbia shouldn’t be sniffed at either. At Olbia’s secluded Porto Istana Beach you can wade out at knee-depth for a long distance with tiny fish darting around your toes. Or try secluded Spiaggia del Pevero and the ultra-clear waters at La Celvia.
Things to do in Sardinia
With all that coastline, a popular activity is heading off on a boat. From Alghero’s harbour, see the caves and underground lakes of the remarkable natural formation of Neptune’s Grotto from the water. Or Costa Smeralda is an excellent starting point for whale and dolphin watching excursions. And in only a short hop you can be on the island national park of Arcipelago di La Maddalena, which covers 12,000 hectares ripe with Sardinian wildlife and a coastal reserve that dolphins frequent.
The historic sites in the Costa Smeralda area include Giant’s Grave, where the whole family will gaze in awe at the huge megalithic tombstones, reminiscent of Stone Henge. And just inland at Arzachena is the remains of a Bronze Age village called Nuraghe la Prisgiona.
To learn more about the history that’s still being unearthed in Sardinia, Olbia’s Museo Archeologico has Roman and medieval exhibits. The interesting architecture of the modern building and views of Olbia harbour make it worth the trip alone.
The largest of the Italian islands, holidays in Sicily are as much about the beaches as ancient towns like Taormina and historic sites that rival even Pompeii. Stay in hillside Castelmola to be close to Taormina with views of Mount Etna and pretty winding streets, or northern Cefalu with some of Sicily’s best beaches, Medieval buildings and even older ruins.
With everything from cliffs to curving bays and flat expanses of coastline, Sicily’s beaches are extremely varied. But some of the finest sandy numbers are found in Cefalu, like eight-kilometre Lungomare Beach, complete with kids’ play areas and lido pools. A slightly more rustic option is Spiaggia Caldura to the east of Cefalu but it still has plenty of loungers and a beach bar for snacks and drinks.
And over in Taormina, you can take the cable car from town to the twin curving bays of Lido Mazzaro, with a few restaurants and bars down at the beach so you don’t have to make the trip up again any time soon.
Things to do in Sicily
Sicily’s three volcanoes are sure to fascinate the kids, including the famous Mount Etna. As well as energetic walks, you can take an Etna jeep tour or ascend the peak without exertion on the 2,500-metre Funivia dell’Etna cable car, complete with astonishing views.
At 135 kilometres wide and 115 kilometres high at its widest parts, it’s easy to get around Sicily to see all of its historical attractions. In the south is the Valley of the Temples, a UNESCO site comprising of seven 2,000-year-old temples – you can reach it on a direct train from Cefalu.
Head to the centre of the island to see the roman Villa Romana del Casale with beautifully-preserved mosaics. Or south-eastern Syracuse has ancient ruins including a Roman Amphitheatre, with a museum displaying artefacts, plus there’s even a limestone cave here shaped like a human ear.
And when it’s time to pick up some gifts to take home, or the kids want to spend their pocket money, Cafalu’s Corso Ruggero has shops selling handmade pottery and crafts, delicious Sicilian food and fashionable clothes.
The Venetian Riviera
Radiating out north from the floating city of Venice are seemingly never-ending beaches. Two big and bouncy beach resorts, with family values at their core, are based here and you’re only ever a boat trip away from Venice’s gondolas, bridges and namesake Venetian architecture. Both Lido di Jesolo and Bibione offer mall and market shopping, parks to play in and waterparks for splashing good fun.
Venetian Riviera beaches
The closest beach to Venice, Lido di Jesolo is 16 kilometres long so even though it’s busy there are always sunloungers free. The scenery here is really open, with the northern part of Venice lagoon just beyond. Activities include spinning and zumba classes on the sand during summer, and Piazzale Zenit just beyond the promenade where the kids can play on the park and sports equipment.
Another whopper, Bibione Beach is slightly quieter and shorter at 11.5 kilometres but it makes up for it by averaging 400 metres wide, with pine trees at its rear. Both beaches have gradual slopes into the sea for paddling in the shallows, as well as loads of watersports, cafes and restaurants. Boat trips are common, particularly ones that take you across the lagoon and into Venice from Lido di Jesolo.
Things to do in the Venetian Riviera
There are two top waterparks in the area, with Aquasplash, near Bibione, the first one ever built in Italy, housing all sorts of slides and a surf simulator and zipline over the water. Or for a huge, Caribbean-themed waterpark, Aqualandia Jesolo features eight water zones and an adventure sports area plus live shows.
Both towns also have traditional funfairs by the coast. Bibione’s Luna Park Adriatico touts a ferris wheel and carnival games, while Parcho Giochi Gomma Piuma in Jesolo provides bumper boats, fairground rides, go karts and a bouncy castle. For the biggest ride though, you should head to Lido di Jesolo’s Wheel of Venice, which gives views across Venice lagoon and beyond. One other thing not to miss is Lido di Jesolo is the Friday morning market in the old town, with around 200 stalls selling items from clothes to antiques and local produce.
Speaking of Venice, a trip there from either town is really easy. The scenic boat ride from Lido di Jesolo takes around 90 minutes and a bit longer from Bibione. And once in Venice, you can hop on public water bus number one to see all the main sites along the Grand Canal and the city’s gorgeous palazzi buildings.
Let us know if any of these destinations have inspired you, or where you think is the best place in Italy to holiday with the kids.