How to Have an Italian Family Vacation Without Leaving Home

Are your kids into other cultures?

Is traveling out of the budget for now?

How about experiencing the sights, sounds and flavors of Italy with your kids, right from home. No passport required!

In this article I’ll show you how to recreate a bit of Italian culture from wherever you live.

You and your children will learn the language, taste the food, make something uniquely Italian, play a game and experience a fun Italian tradition.

Italian family vacation at home: learn the language, taste the food, make something uniquely Italian, play a game and experience a fun Italian tradition.

Why Italy, Why Now?

Italy has a long and rich history. Explorers, inventors, artists, architects, chefs – there’s hardly an area of our current lives where Italians have not influenced our world. Teach your kids about where these Italian influences came from and have a lot of fun in the process.

For children and grownups alike, it’s fun and interesting to learn about other cultures. There are also many long-term benefits when you expose young children to new places and ideas. Cultural activities that you share with them early in life, when they absorb their experiences, can stick with them for a lifetime.

Enjoy some great Italian music while reading this article.

Italy is a popular vacation spot for many people worldwide. While nothing can beat the experience of being immersed in another culture by traveling there, the activities in this article will help you recreate several elements of Italian life and give your family a taste of the country.

So keep your passports in a safe place, and stay far away from crowded airports and expensive hotels. Let’s take a journey to Italy without leaving home.

Viva Italia!

You Will Need:

  • Computer, smartphone or other Internet device with audio capability
  • Ice cream maker
  • Gelato ingredients: blackberries, sugar, milk, lime
  • Large desk or table
  • Tarp, newspaper, masking or painter’s tape
  • Children’s painting supplies
  • Toy boats, drinking straws, water source (pool, beach or bathtub)

Preparation Time:

  • Your ice cream maker may require that you freeze the inner container for 8-10 hours
  • Gelato prep time 15 minutes
  • 10 minutes to set up painting supplies

Activity Time:

  • Plan on a day to do all of the activities, or you can split them up over several days
  • Gelato freeze time 45 minutes


  • Your home and neighborhood
  • Optional: beach or other water source for Ferragosto regatta

All Roads Lead to Rome

Begin your family’s imaginary journey by learning something about Italy’s geography.

map of italy

Can you see the shape of a boot? Image source: Eric Gaba license CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Italy is a peninsula shaped like a boot. It’s about the same size as Arizona in the US and around 61 million people live there. The European country includes 20 regions and 2 islands, Sardinia and Sicily. Italy borders Austria, France, Slovenia and Switzerland.

For centuries, the Roman Empire influenced what’s now Italy and the whole European region. In turn, many of the world’s most famous historical sites are located in and around Rome, Italy’s capital.

Vatican City, in Rome, is actually an independent state. It’s the world’s tiniest country and it lies within another country: Italy.

Geographically, Italy is quite diverse with mountains, foothills, buzzing cities and beautiful beaches.

Ask your children to find Italy on a world map or a globe.

#1: How to Speak Italian

Let’s learn to say a few important phrases in Italian.

The official language of Italy is Italiano, the dialect spoken in the region of Tuscany. Each region in Italy has its own dialect. The Sicilian dialect is often considered its own language and has roots dating back before Italiano.

When you learn the Italiano alphabet, you’ll see that it has only 21 letters. The English alphabet has 26.

Il Tavolo Italiano has a chart that shows the letters of the Italian alphabet and how they’re pronounced. Ask your kids to find which English letters are missing.

italiano alphabet

Learn the Italian alphabet and phonetics.

Ready to learn a few words and greetings?

My friend Fabrizio prepared authentic Italian audio pronunciations so you can listen, and then say the words:

  • It’s always polite to say thank you: “Grazie
  • Now, let’s practice the Italian word for you’re welcome: “Prego
  • In Italian, the word for hello is the same as the word for goodbye:  “Ciao
  • Learn to wish someone a good morning: “Buongiorno
italian words

Listen and learn these Italian words!

If you had fun with these basic words, you might like to learn more Italian words and phrases on this website just for kids.

Be sure to say “Grazie” to Fabrizio for teaching you how to speak some Italiano.

#2: Enjoy an Italian Meal

Italian food is enjoyed all over the world. Pasta, pizza, biscotti, tiramisu and gelato (which you’ll learn how to make below) are favorites in places far away from Italy.

Each region in Italy (and even some cities) has its own specialties. Throughout the country, cooks tend to keep recipes simple and focus on quality ingredients.

Pizza is one kind of Italian food that’s eaten all over the country. Although pizza in Italy is a little different than in other parts of the world, my Roman friend and I agree that in any form, pizza appeals to most kids!

spinach pizza

A pizza topped with spinach in Turin, Italy. Image Source: Agnieszka Kwiecień, license: CC-BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In Italy, pizza crust is similar to pita bread. While pizza throughout Italy is made simply of dough and cheese, there’s an infinite combination of toppings – so many that you could eat a different pizza every day of the year and experience many regional specialties.

Italians are proud that something so simple can take on so many creative variations. It’s all in the ingredients!

People in Italy often go out for pizza with friends in the evenings. On your cultural journey to the country, share an Italian meal with your family or friends. Call and order a pizza for dinner tonight.

Gelato, a Cool Italian Treat

For dessert, you can learn to make gelato, a favorite Italian treat that’s similar to ice cream.

Gelato vs. Ice Cream:

  • Gelato is made with more whole milk and less cream (less fat).
  • With less fat, the flavor of gelato is more intense.
  • Less air is whipped into gelato than ice cream.
  • Gelato is usually served at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream.

Gelato tastes delightful and seeing all of the flavors to choose from in a gelaterie (gelato shop) is deliciously beautiful!


Gelato from a shop in Sicily. With so many flavors, it’s hard to choose one. Image source: Kat Phillips, license CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

When my family went to Italy, we tried gelato in almost every city or village where we stopped. Of the many flavors we tried, my daughter’s favorite was limone (lemon).

Ask your kids which gelato flavor they would try from the list below:

  • Bacio (chocolate with hazelnut pieces)
  • Caffe (coffee)
  • Cioccolato (chocolate)
  • Crema (egg-yolk custard)
  • Cocco (coconut)
  • Cocomero (watermelon)
  • Frutti di bosco (wild berries)
  • Limone (lemon)
  • Nocciola (hazelnut)
  • Panna (whipped cream)
  • Pistacchio (pistachio)
  • Stracciatella (chocolate chip)
  • Tarocchio (blood orange)
  • Tiramisu (tiramisu)

Make Your Own Gelato

Use an ice cream maker to make this delicious blackberry (frutti de bosco) gelato. It’s a fun and easy recipe to follow with your kids.

blackberry gelato

Frutti de bosco (blackberry gelato) – a taste of Italy.

Or try another gelato flavor. It’s simple to adjust the recipe to other fruit.

Whichever flavor you decide upon, be sure to plan ahead! Check the instruction manual for your ice cream maker. It may have parts that you need to freeze for several hours.

While you wait for your gelato to freeze, try to practice your Italian language or do one of the other activities in this article.


#3: Paint Like Michelangelo

Michelangelo is regarded as the most famous artist of the Italian Renaissance. He was an architect, sculptor, painter and poet. Michelangelo’s influence is still seen in architecture and art today.

vatican fresco

One of the many frescoes we saw in the Vatican.

One of his most famous works is the painted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican in Rome. The amazing frescoes took about four years to complete.

Paint Your Own “Sistine Chapel”

To paint the ceilings, Michelangelo laid on his back, perched upon scaffolding.

Wouldn’t it be fun to try to paint as Michelangelo did? What could your kids learn by painting from a different angle than they’re used to?

You Will Need:

  • Tarp, garbage bag or other floor cover
  • Newspaper
  • Masking or painter’s tape
  • Art paper
  • Paints
  • Paint brushes
  • Water
  • Pencil (optional)
  • Camera (optional)

Choose a desk or table to use as an easel. Be sure to place it in an area that can be protected without compromising favorite furniture and décor.

Cover the floor with a tarp, newspaper, garbage bags, etc., and tape newspaper to the underside of the desk or table. This will become your “ceiling.”

sistine chapel ceiling

Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel masterpiece. Image source: Aaron Logan, license CC-BY-2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

Prepare to paint according to your child’s age and ability.

Some kids wish to have a more defined idea of their project before they begin painting. You can let them sketch their ideas before painting.

Your children may want to paint their own version of Michelangelo’s work. Show them pictures of the Sistine Chapel and let them choose a section to copy.

hands of god and adam

Your kids may choose a tiny section of the Sistine Chapel or paint their own designs. Image Source: PD Art via Wikimedia Commons.

Other kids may prefer to paint their own designs freehand.

Whatever their preference, when they’re ready, tape the drawing paper or art paper to the underside of the table or desk. Have your child lie on his or her back under the table and begin to paint the “ceiling” above.

Parents or an older child should help hold the paints, brushes and rinse water to help minimize the mess.

Be sure to take pictures to document the experience and display the kids’ art in your home—maybe on the ceilings of their bedrooms for full effect.

#4: Play a Game From Italy

Strega Comanda Colore (“Witch Says Colors”) is an Italian version of tag you can play outdoors, in a large room or gymnasium or even at the swimming pool (just try not to splash people).

Gather a group of people to play (parents, you can play, too!) You need at least three. The ideal number is eleven. Choose someone to be the “Strega” (witch). Strega should call out a color.

The other players scramble to touch something of that color before being tagged by Strega. Clothing, playground equipment, trees, anything from your surroundings can be touched, if it’s the right color.

children playing game

Strega Comanda Colore is a traditional Italian game of tag. Image source: Almosava-Altosannio.

The first player tagged by Strega before touching the color becomes the next Strega. If no one is tagged and everyone is safely touching a color, Strega should call out another color and try again. There’s no time limit for the game.

Want an extra challenge? Call out the colors in Italiano.

#5: Ferragosto, an Italian Tradition – Buon Ferragosto!

Ferragosto is an Italian national holiday celebrated on August 15. It dates back to 18 BC and the Roman Emperor Augustus. During the Roman Empire, Ferragosto was a celebration to honor the gods of agriculture and hunting.

augustus bust

Augustus (great nephew of Julius Caesar) ruled the Roman Empire from 27 BC–14 AD. Image Source: PD Art via Wikimedia Commons.

Traditional festivities included horse races, donkey races, big feasts and other entertainment meant to celebrate the long final weeks of summer and the busy harvest.

Today, Ferragosto retains many of its historical Roman roots and also celebrates a Catholic holy day of obligation. Although Ferragosto is officially celebrated from August 13–17, it’s typified by month-long vacations from professional offices every August.

During Ferragosto, people head to the shore to relax and celebrate. Every city has some sort of special feast and Italians all over the country celebrate with:

  • Parades honoring the fertility goddess
  • Horse and donkey races
  • Special foods for the large feasts
  • Boat races
  • Fireworks
ferragosto celebration

Ferragosto is celebrated around the country with fireworks. Image Source: Lahiri Cappello, license CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Hold Your Own Ferragosto Regatta

For your family’s cultural visit to Italy, let’s reenact part of the Ferragosto celebration: a boat regatta. You don’t have to board a plane or even leave your hometown to experience this Italian summertime tradition.

Watch a real Ferragosto Regatta. Watch the finish is at 5:50 to see how they celebrate.

The real regatta in the video is a great example of teamwork, competitive spirit and sportsmanship – good values to teach children no matter where they’re from.

You can hold your own miniature Italian regatta at a pool or lake near you, or even in the bathtub.

Grab Barbie, Ken or GI Joe, their favorite water vessels and some pool toys. Use pool toys such as water noodles to set a course for the boats. Blow through a straw to push your boat through the course and race for the finish. Remember, the point is to experience the culture and tradition, not necessarily to win.

If you have access to one, use a real boat such as a canoe or raft, set a course and maneuver through it. Be sure to wear a life jacket as you race your friends. Award a prize to the fastest finisher.

Hopping in a boat can be fun, and you never know what you’ll see and learn!

gondola ride

The author in another type of Italian boat—a gondola in Venice.

Some Final Thoughts

I hope you’ve enjoyed your cultural journey to Italy. By experiencing some of the food, language, history and traditions, you and your family will have a greater understanding and appreciation of this rich and wonderful country. Grazie!

What do you think? What activity looks like the most fun? Was there anything that surprised you? Do you have questions about enjoying an Italian boat race? Please share your curiosities in the comments box below. If you took pictures of your Italian adventures, please post them here, too.

Images from Wikimedia Commons.

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About the Author, Keri Jaehnig

Keri Jaehnig helps brands achieve successful social media. Previously, she spent fourteen years in intercultural education, designated by the US Department of State for work with FLEX and YES. Other posts by »


  1. Trine says:

    Wow, Keri! What great ideas! Wish I had kids and some time off so I could spend a day in Italy :)
    Happy Ferragusto, indeed!!

  2. Thanks for this taste of Italy, Keri! Painting on the “ceiling” sounds fun–can’t wait to try it. We’ll have gelato afterwards, of course. Yum! Grazie and Buon Ferragosto!

  3. Happy Ferragusto, Trine!

    Nothing says you can’t grab your family and give some of the ideas above a whirl…haha… :)

    Thanks for your comment,


  4. Jennifer,

    Thank you for your enthusiastic words!

    Shall we show and tell our ceiling art when we’re both finished with our pictures? :)

    Thanks for your hospitality here. I’m all smiles.


  5. My kids are very interested in learning words in other languages…great ideas here! I had never heard of Ferragusto, either. This officially is my “something new” I learned today.

  6. Rosemary,

    Learning other languages with kids is a ton of fun! And hands-on experiences makes what they learn stick with them. Get them involved while they are interested – They’ll take new ideas so much farther… :)

    Glad I could help point you to something new today! Please keep me posted on your explorations – I’m curious to hear about your family fun.

    Thanks for your comment,


  7. Stefano,

    Thank you offering additional insight on Italy, kids’ experiences, and the imagery. Great to hear about your taking your kids into Italy for adventure!

    Italy is beautiful, and I enjoyed my time there. Certainly there is more to learn.

    There’s a whole world out there to explore… :)

    Thanks for your comment,


  8. chefdennis says:

    thanks so much for including a link to my blog for the gelato recipe, but I would appreciate it if you removed my recipe from your page, cutting and pasting the recipe is a copyright violation. Thanks

  9. Sorry about that Chef Denis! The attribution to your site was victim to some overactive cropping. We’ll send everyone your way to enjoy your delicious recipes.

  10. chefdennis says:

    thank you !

  11. Teresa Pangan says:

    Keri, great post. Love all your ideas to experience Italy without the 5 plane tickets for me and my 4 kids. Their votes for gelato went for Bacio, Panna and Cocomero. They also got excited when they saw the pizza. Can’t go wrong there. The painting is another great hands on way to have fun and understand a core part of Italian culture. Thanks for bringing the experience to us at home! Grazie Keri!

  12. Stefano says:

    Thank you very much to you and My Kids Adventure idea

  13. Teresa,

    Great to see your smile here!

    Love the gelato flavors your kids chose – Some of our favorites too.

    Pizza is always fun, and I hope your family will have fun experimenting with the toppings. You’ll have to share paintings with me — That just sounds so fun, doesn’t it?

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts,


  14. Thank you, Dennis, for making your gelato recipe available online. Really, a delicious gelato, and I was thrilled that flavors can be adjusted.

    Thanks also for your attentiveness.


  15. Lara says:

    very good job. thank you for sharing

  16. Lara,

    Thank you for reading, and for your comment here.

    Please let me know if you try any of the activities, and how they worked for your family.



  17. Fabrizio Stermieri says:

    Thank you for this interesting activity about Italian lifestyle. I’ll try to propose it to my daughter and friends even if we are in Italy. we italians ofter forget about our luck.

  18. Ann Shirley says:

    This sounds like a really cool idea. My family and I are going to be taking a vacation to Tuscany soon and doing this ahead of time will help us to prepare. We just
    booked our stay at the villas in Tuscany, Italy. I’m glad to hear the main dialect is spoken in Tuscany. Now I know what we’ll need to brush up the most on! I’m eager to try to make some gelato! Sounds delish!

  19. Toni Galante Benton says:

    Wanted to let you know we did this last weekend and it was wonderful!! We had Italian foods for every meal (frittatas for breakfast, salami and provolone sandwiches, lasagne, pizza, etc), Italian dinner music playing during dinner, Ferragosto horse races, Regatta races in the bath tub, soccer games (albiet already scheduled), Rita’s Italian Ices after soccer, etc. Only forgot the water color paints for painting under the coffee table. Six kiddos (all adopted from China, no less!) and two parents very happy and very tired. Thanks!! – So blessed!!

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