Italy (Parma, Bologna, Florence) with children - recommendations & advice please!
Hi, I am new here so forgive me if I've not followed etiquette or this information can be found elsewhere.
We are travelling to Italy in August with our young children and I am looking for restaurant recommendations in each of the above places that would be suitable for taking children to and that are also reasonably priced. I have never been to Italy before so I have no real concept of whether restaurants are child-friendly or if there are more specific family-orientated restaurants.
I understand they eat later than I am used to in the UK which isn't a huge problem although I am considering whether it might be better to eat a bigger lunch and snack later on so as not to keep the children up too late after a days sightseeing in the heat!
Finally last question, for those in the know, is it worth booking restaurants in advance and if so, is this something I should do before we get to Italy or is a day or two in advance okay?
Thanks in advance for any help.
Where are staying in these cities and how old are your kids?
I think it is possible you won't want to be straying too far from your hotels for dinner, and possibly even for lunch too if you are headed back in that direction after a morning of sightseeing. (In both Parma and Bologna, many sights are only open in the mornings, and resting in the afternoon until the cities come back to life after 4pm or later is a good stategy.)
Bologna has a huge number of students in the city taking summer classes, so finding informal places to eat will not be hard at all, and it is also true that most restaurants will dote on kids.
Mainly I would target places with outdoor seating, and there are plenty in Bologna, which can often be rather breezy despite the August heat, because the covered sidewalks and narrow alleys are wind tunnels.
It's good to know about the very informal cafe Les Pupitres on Via de'Giudei (right near the due Torri), because they serve food all day/off hours, mainly light meals and home-made cakes. Food in Bologna does not need to be "heavy". One can easily find large substantial salads (insalatone) on many menus, or make a secondo of proscuitto and melon. Grilled vegetables are a very popular main entree to follow pasta in Bologna, instead of meat.
Some outdoor spots I like are Bistrot 18 on the via Claveture, pizzeria Niccola in the piazza San Martino, Il Tinello in the Via de'Giudei (but only if you want pasta), and Trattoria Pizzeria Belle Arti on the via delle Belle Arti, but only for salads. The organic health food store Alce Nero serves very informally at communal tables, where you can exercise a lot of portion control so you don't end up with too much food. It's on via San Petronio (off the via San Vitale), with several highly regarded gelaterie nearby (Stefino and Il Gelatauro).
One more good spot to know about is Zanarini, in the piazza Galvani, where you can get a variety of higher quality sandwiches served all day, and sit under the umbrellas and people-watch in the piazza.
But again, many of the places I just mentioned are in one corner of town that might not be convenient in the slightest if you are tired from walking.
By the way, Bologna is slightly less hinky than other Italian cities about people getting food to go from the piadina stands (a kind of wrapped sandwich) or the historic markets, or a fruit smoothie (frullata) and finding a shady perch amid beautiful historic surroundings to eat it. The town has so many students doing just that, it is unstoppable. The piazza Maggiore is a great place to enjoy.
I definitely agree with Jen about having the main meal at lunch, both because of the late dining hour and because it breaks up the day for the kids. All the better if you find a restaurant with air conditioning. If your kids are anything like mine, they'll be happy to sit for a leisurely lunch with AC.
Places that we always found very kid-friendly in Florence, as well as reasonably priced, are Casalinga, Da Sergio, and Armando al Pantheon. I have NOT checked August closings, though.
I haven't been to Parma for awhile, though it is a lovely city, but I remember walking my then-toddler in a huge park not far from the historical center. You can't go wrong with sampling the prosciutto and parmigiano reggiano on a picnic.
generally, if you avoid the most formal and expensive range or restaurants you will be fine with kids in Italy. Kids are generally welcomed warmly - what you need to consider is how long your kids will sit still, since meals are normally multi-course - even if you eat relatively quickly and eat just a couple of courses, you are talking about more than an hour, surely.
I think you might find it more suitable to eat your main meal at lunch and find pizza or other light things for dinner since most restaurants dont serve until 8 pm. But it all depends on your family pattern.
Re reservations, my main concern would be your August visiting time. We rarely have reservations when visiting informal restaurants in Italy except for very special meals or hot ticket places, but with all the seasonal closures in August as italians head for the country or beach, you may have more difficulty in snaring a table.
ViaMIchelin is a good planning source for working around these closures although these restaurants are small businesses and their plans can change.
Finally, Im wondering if you are travelling by car or by public transportation? Id say August is not optimum for the Po plain climate of Parma and bologna, or its heavy food. It might make sense to stay in the country, where there are many good restaurants, and vacation places, say in the appenines.where you can sample the regional food, the kids can run around, and you can take day trips down into the cities. At least thats what id consider for August.