Sicily with Children
Do you have children?
Come to Sicily!
Like all Italians, Sicilians are very family-oriented. So if you are travelling with children Sicily is a real good choice. Not only will children be welcomed - they will quite possibly be spoiled by the locals. You might also benefit from some free baby-sitting. Perfect!
You can take your kids everywhere, even in the evening to restaurants. There are special dishes and small pizzas for children, and never ever will an Italian complain about kids running around tables, shouting or being in the way. Even waiters in 5 star hotels just climb over children playing on the floor. And should your offspring be blessed with blond hair and blue eyes: lucky you, this is something like a joker for you (and the kid).
There are plenty of child-friendly activities for kids in Sicily that range well beyond days at the beaches or by the pool. Things in Sicily that might prove to be a winner for your kids are water and adventure parks, museums, archaeological sites and catacombs, aquariums, rides on historical trains, the children's town in Palermo, the Archimedes-Festival in Syracuse, the lunar landscapes of Mount Etna, coastal walks, the Necropolis of Pantalica, diving and snorkelling courses, a trip to Stromboli's fire slide by night, fishing and boat trips, the Aeolian Dolphin Center, the Alcantara Gorges, a quad tour on Mount Etna, picnics, and Medieval festivals like the Palio dei Normanni in Piazza Armerina where they can see knights on horses.
Volcano & Crater Exploring
Kids just love exploring volcanoes and their associated thermal activity. On Mount Etna you can actually ride a cable car up above the mounds of lava from Rifugio Sapienza and then take a 4WD to the main crater area. It's also possible to trek up to the craters on the isles of Stromboli and Vulcano on the Aeolian Islands and look down into their smoking depths. On Vulcano they can wallow and mud bathe. An exciting and unforgettable experience is a nightly boat tour to Stromboli’s "Sciara del Fuoco"
Water Amusement Parks
The biggest park Etnaland is close to Catania and you can be sure your kids will love it, and you too! There are several swimming pools with waves, slides and other activities. There is a cable car that shows you around the whole of the acquapark and a train that takes you to a fantastic dinosaur park. Number of monstrous toboggans, rides, laser shows, aquarobic and interesting events throughout the day in Etnaland will mark your holidays as something really special. Acquasplash is located close to Selinunte, in Campobello di Mazara. The park is smaller, but there is music all day long and dancing in the swimming pools. There are several slides and a self service restaurant that comes handy after all day packed with fun and swimming. If you are in Cefalu try Acqua Verde Park. Monreale is not only famous for its absolutely stunning Cathedral but also for its great water amusement park.
Exploring Ancient Sites
Sicily is dotted with archaeological sites where kids can clamber over, explore and wander ancient ruins to their heart's content. For kids these sights are like giant jigsaw puzzles they can piece together in their imagination. There are old Greek theatres, places where Roman gladiators fought in combat and cave tombs to explore.
The Alcantara Gorges near Giardini-Naxos and Taormina are a dramatic place where the Alcantara river has cut the basalt rocks. In some places it is only 2 metres wide with dramatic 25 metre high cliffs. In other places it widens into swimming pools. A visit here is a fun-filled day. You could wander down to the water’s edge and explore the area on foot. Take a picnic and relax while the kids swim and play. Older, more adventurous kids might like to join the groups wading further into the gorge through the cold water. Here you can go rafting and canyoning.The tour operator provides waterproof trousers, suits, boots and guides. Please keep in mind that the water of the Alcantara river is ice-cold even in summer!
Sicily has a liberal sprinkling of the macabre and, if they're not too young, kids will probably find the catacombs in places like Palermo and Caccamo quite fascinating. This would not be advised for children who feel frightened underground in dark, small spaces. Alternatively you could explore with your kids the Hypogeum in Ortygia.
You could head to Mount Etna in winter for skiing and in summer for biking, horse riding or walking. Your kids will love tree-climbing, cable slides and rope ladders at Parco Aventura delle Madonie. There are great coastal walks in the Parco dello Zingaro near San Vito Lo Capo and Scopello or you could take the kids on walking tracks.There is the Bioparco di Sicilia in Palermo which boasts an aquarium, an animal farm, a greenhouse and a botanical garden. Also at Palermo you'll find the "Città dei Ragazzi", the kid's town in Villa Orleans with a beautiful bird park.
Train rides with a difference
All children like train rides, don't they? Consider taking them on a trip on the Circumetnea, a narrow gauge railway line around the base of the volcanic giant Mount Etna. Randazzo is a nice stop on the way - the Swabian castle features a marionette museum. Catania could be explored by Fun Train. The Treno del Barocco, a historical train driven by an old steam engine, operates in summer between Syracuse and Ragusa. The kids will love the old train and adults can enjoy the beautiful architecture in this region. If your kids start to complain about the boring sightseeing just hop off in Modica - the town in plastered with confectionaries selling pastries, sweets and chocolate!
Children will also like some of the colourful Sicilian festivals held throughout the year. In Piazza Armerina is the Palio dei Normanni where there is jousting on horseback and the re-enactment of battle scenes. There are also a Maritime Festival of boat races in Syracuse and the "Feste Archimedee" - science, culture, art, cinema and theatre for the “development and enhancement of the youthful genius” (translation of the somehow flowery Italian text)
Your children have probably already tasted pizza and pasta so there won’t be too many unknowns for them. Those that are a little more adventurous might like to try typical Sicilian dishes such as Catania's Pasta alla Norma with aubergine and ricotta. And then there are delicious pastries, ice drinks, gelati and hot snacks on offer everywhere. Just remember that some shops close between 12-4pm, but restaurants and bars are open.
Sicilians eat late in the evening and this can be difficult if your children aren't used to dining late. If you have your own cooking facilities it won’t be a problem, but if you don’t you may wish to ensure they have a rest in the afternoon and a snack so they can manage until 7.30-8pm when restaurants open. To get child sized portions in Sicily ask for a 'mezza porzione'. Most restaurants and pizzerias offer special children's dishes and small pizzas.
If you are travelling with children always note this on your accommodation requests. Kids up to 2 years don't pay and up to 12 years usually will be charged at half rate. Many hotels have family rooms and special rates for families and singles with children.
Any additional services like a baby cot or a high chair should also be noted with your reservation.
There are plenty of holiday apartments and villas to let, club hotels, holiday villages, and hostels (in case you'd rather spend your holiday budget on excursions and pizza than on an expensive hotel). A great way to spend unforgettable holidays are country and farm houses, called agriturismo. Some of them are still working farms where your kids can get nose to nose with animals and Sicilian farm life.