Have a family city break in Naples, a hectic, often shabby but highly rewarding city in the shadow of Vesuvius, with a warren of fascinating ancient Greek streets in its historic centre to explore. Hop-on hop-off buses are a good way of getting an overview, especially with younger kids. Pizza-eating is a must-do while in Naples (see below), but make time for the National Archaeological Museum to see Roman treasures gleaned from nearby Pompeii and Herculaneum (see below). Another good spot for historical insights is San Lorenzo Maggiore church, beneath which you can tour the remains of a Roman market, complete with intact shopfronts, as well as see some Greek ruins. With kids, make sure to check out the famous presepi or nativity scenes made by local craftspeople for centuries – a great and unique souvenir, whether it’s Christmas or not. And don’t miss MADRE, the Museum of Contemporary Art – great with teens but also with younger kids, for whom there are special activities at weekends.
Venture to Mount Vesuvius just east of Naples, in its own national park with walking paths and wildlife including lizards, whipsnakes (harmless) and geckos. You can peer into the crater of this still-active volcano – there’s a bus that takes you nearly all the way then a short trail (tickets required); wear good shoes and bring an extra layer of clothing.
Visit the world-famous archaeological sites Pompeii and Herculaneum (Ercanolo) by day-trip for incredible insights into ancient Roman life. Award-winning tours firm Context Travel runs a Pompeii Adventure family excursion (eight hours, with the morning at Pompeii and the afternooon at the National Archaeological Museum, Herculaneum or another archaeological site). It also runs Ancient Naples: Above and Underground for Families, plus foodie tours (non family specific) including a short pizza-making session.
Take the boat or narrow-guage railway (see When & How) from Naples to Sorrento, popular for its architecture and luxury hotels, its limoncello (a liqueur made from the lemons grown on local terraces) and its sea cliffs. This is also a good base for visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum, and also for visiting Capri (see below).
Travel a little further to the glorious Amalfi Coast, where you’ll find the lovely towns of Ravello and Positano and some medieval cliffside Mediterranean fishing villages that have earnt it a listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With older kids you might enjoy walking or riding the Amalfi’s mountain paths (the most famous walking route is the twisty turny Footpath of the Gods with its awesome views) or sea-kayaking; with younger ones you’ll probably want to make a beeline for the beaches. Local mozzarella and limoncello factories also offer guided visits and tastings, while at the old papermaking centre of the Valle dei Mulini (Valley of the Mills) you can swim beneath waterfalls.
Head down the coast to admire the magnificent Doric temples at Paestum, a major Graeco-Roman city originally known as Poseidonia. Its modern town is now a popular resort with long sandy beaches.
Even further down the coast, seek out Palinuro, famous for its caves, including the Blue Grotto – which you can visit by boat trip – and for its Blue Flag beaches.
Take a boat out to discover the volcanic islands of Capri, Ischia and Procida. The most touristy, Capri, has another Blue Grotto to admire, plus sea stacks dotting the impossibly blue waters, ruined Roman villas and chichi shops and cafés. Prices are high in Capri Town and Anacapri, but Capri retains some corners of unspoilt charm to seek out. Ischia is best known for its dramatic Aragonese castle, its gardens, and its thermal spas. Procida is much quieter, with an authentic vibe and good beaches.