The world’s capital of fashion and design, super-chic Milan is also a surprisingly great place to hang out with kids. Not only is Italian food always a sure-fire winner, but the locals in Milan give babies and children a heart-warmingly effusive welcome. There are plenty of things to see and do, and you can easily go swimming and boating at former seaplane-port Idroscalo if it all gets too much.
Rooftops and park life
Whatever your age, Milan’s ferociously spiky Duomo (Via Arcivescovado 1) is impressive. Children will particularly enjoy climbing up to the rooftop for stupendous views and a sense of adventure, peering out through the stalactite-style spires. For older children who enjoy gruesomeness, you may wish to point out the statue of the flayed St Bartholomew within the south transept of the cathedral. Or perhaps not.
Also in the centre of the city, Parco Sempione is where Milan takes it easy and kicks back. It’s not huge, but it’s a refreshing place to run about and relax, with a duck pond and a playground. And it’s got a castle too: the park skirts Milan’s impressive, hulking Castello Sforzesco (Piazza Castello), a Visconti fortress made of red brick, with defences designed by Leonardo da Vinci. The kids might not be too interested in the castle’s interior displays, but they’ll love exploring its nooks and crannies.
The park also harbours the metalwork folly Torre Branca (Viale Alemagna), a slender, glass and steel cobweb that looks like a more diminutive relative of the Eiffel Tower. This 108-metre tower was erected in 1933, and you can take the lift for fantastic bird’s-eye views over the city.
Yet another kid-pleasing attraction in Parco Sempione is the Acquario Civico (Viale G B Gadio 2), a free aquarium in a glorious building constructed for the World Expo of 1906, with floor-to-ceiling tanks of colourful sealife such as clownfish and starfish.
For a different kind of park life, head to Milan’s charming Giardini della Villa Belgiojoso Bonaparte close to the Galleria d’Arte Moderna (Via Palestro 16). Here, adults can only enter the park if accompanied by a child. The well-kept gardens have a 19th-century romantic feel, and contain a small lake and a temple dedicated to love.
Science and submarines
With interactive models of many of Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions, the Leonardo da Vinci Museum (Via San Vittore 21) will thrill curious kids and adults alike. It’s not only devoted to Leonardo’s out-there ideas, but has fascinating displays on scientific subject matter such as electricity, physics, space and communications. Entertaining hands-on activities allow children to explore some scientific fundamentals, including in the new nutrition section. You can also book a tour around a real submarine, the Toti, which dates from 1967, and travelled over 210,000 kilometres during its 30-year service.
Making a splash
Idroscalo (Segrate) was constructed in the 1930s as a seaplane airport, and is a 2.6 kilometre-long, spring-fed lake. Its aviation days are long over, and it’s now known as the ‘sea of Milan’. Locals head here in their hoards in summer when the beach just seems like too much effort. It’s not only a good place to swim, but you can go climbing, rollerblading, kayaking, take out pedalos, and more. Nearby is old-school amusement park Luna Europark (Via Rivoltana 64) too, in case you feel the need to go on a roller coaster.
Back in town, Milan also has some picturesque waterways. The Naviglio Grande (grand canal) connects the city with Lake Maggiore, and dates to 1177. In the summer, Navigli Lombardi runs boat tours around the city’s canals, but at any time of year it’s enjoyable to stroll along the canals, and children will enjoy looking at the boats.
Milan’s Trienniale Design Museum (Viale Alemagna 6) can be a good call with kids, as some of the exhibits are hands on, and the museum offers creative activities. However, the especially child-friendly reason to head here is the airy, bright café and the chance for children to run around in the museum gardens, which are usually full of quirky stuff.
Of course there are hundreds of great informal pizzerias and restaurants in Milan where you can take children, and one great thing about Italy is that you rarely feel out of place in a restaurant with a family. One choice that’s particularly good for kids is Il Rosa (Via Cesare Beccaria 4), which is not only an appealing hotel restaurant, but also offers an appetizing kids menu (think ‘spaghetti al dente and a veal cutlet’; not a chicken nugget in sight). It also offers colourful cushions for larger children, high chairs for smaller ones, and a free toy. For pizza, the classic Pizzeria Grand’Italia (Corso Garibaldi 9) is a bustling, lively choice, with thick-crust Neapolitan-style pizzas.
This being Italy, there’s also some of the best ice cream in the world on offer around town, which is always good when spirits are flagging, or even if they’re not. Introduce the kids to flavours such as almond at legendary Il Massimo del Gelato (Via Lodovico Castelvetro 18) or ‘morena’ (cherry with cream and cherry sauce) at RivaReno (Via Mercato 20).
Milan is a superlative place to shop, and although shopping with kids is rarely fun, toy shopping can be, especially here, where there are some amazing toy stores. For imaginative toys, try creative hothouse FunLab (Via Gorani 5), while Il Mondo E’ Piccolo (Via Cesare da Sesto 19) and Citta del Sole (several locations including Via Orefici 13) sell wooden, creative, unusual toys and books.
Time for bed
After all those activities, you’ll need somewhere comfortable to rest your head. For luxury with special child-friendly trimmings, try Hotel Principe di Savoia (Piazza della Repubblica 17). Often it’s easier to rent an apartment when you’re travelling with your family, as then you can do some self-catering, and a particularly lovely choice is the five Brera Apartments (Via San Fermo 1), with white rooms decorated with flashes of colour, set in Milan’s most boho and village-like district.