Trento in Trentino…3 days, 2 kids, 1 authentic Italian city
Trento is a perfect family destination. Set in a valley en route from the stunning northern shores of Lake Garda to World Heritage site of the Dolomites, the Alps and Austria; Trento has held a strategic position for centuries on a frontier of invaders, now, giving visitors an authentic Italian experience.
Trento is a relatively small city in Northern Italy, with lots of activities to do and even more to see. Trento is awash with true Italian charm but yet to be inundated with tourists. The city has a relaxed feel and is super easy to get around. This makes it a perfect Italian city to visit with kids, in my books.
My two travel companions- Hugo, 10 years old and Max, 7 years old- loved wandering around in Trento. We walked a lot and loved the inner city with a mixture of shops, restaurants and beautiful, varied architecture. In places, it feels like stepping into the scenes of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
The highlights of Trento with kids
Trento really surprised me with some awesome little twists to help me, as a single parent travelling with the kids, make “plain ol’ , boring sightseeing” fun for the boys. These were some of our favoutire things to do and things to see in Trento were:
1) Pavements with a secret
The whole old town of Trento is paved with Trento Rosa pavers, quarried nearby. It gives the city a grand feeling and also helps transport your imagination back in time. The most exciting thing about this with kids, though, is that these sandstone pavers are filled with fossils, ammonites mostly.
On one walk we started counting fossils, but gave up at 50(!).
This is my dinosaur-loving little one’s dream paving.
I mean, what better way take the boring out of any walk than go fossil hunting with each step?
2) Buonconsiglio Castle and Museum
The Buonconsiglio Castle is magnificent as rises above the old town. Inside the tall walls there are hidden gardens, many levels to explore and lots of artifacts in the museum sections; The views over the old town from the balcony at the top are, alone, worth the entry fee (a family ticket of 10 Euros for an adult with children)!
Once the seat of Prince Bishops governing the region, the castle was built, extentded and modified by occupants keen to put their own stamp on it between the 12th and the 18th century. The museum has a very interesting film about the history of the region of Trentino and it’s role in the eb and flow of the border between Italy and Austria over the centuries.
However, both the boys and I most enjoyed the Torre Aquila, a tower at the south of the complex (where there is an additional 2 Euro entry fee) which has the fresco of the famous Cycle of the Months. This painting consists of 11 scenes, each showing month of the year (sadly, the 12th month is lost due to some alterations couple of hundred years ago). Each scene portrays the general life and agricultural activities of peasants and pastime of nobility from the 14th century.
During our visit, we each had an audio guide which guided us through every scene, highlighting the most interesting parts – like a woman with a beard, farmers milking cows, preparing for a festival. You sit in the middle of the room, as the paintings surround you and listen and watch in awe. It’s a good 15-20 minutes and the boys sat through most of it, especially when I helped point to some of the things the narrator was talking about.
3) What lies underneath the Trento Cathedral
The Cathedral stands tall to one side of the main square. It is grand and beautiful, both inside and out.
On the outside, on the market square side, the marking for measuring fabrics are still visible. Inside the stairway to heaven (a staircase leading seemingly into nothing, but actually to the bell tower) is fascinating.
In any church, we always take a moment for contemplation, sit down, if we can. (Often this is a grateful relief from the bustle of a town, the heat or the cold outside). Churches can say so much about a place through the decoration, the saints portrayed, the people buried or commemorated there.
Trento Cathedral, like the Buonconsiglio Castle, has been molded and modified over the centuries since it was built in the 12th century. It was originally built over a pre-existing 6th-century church devoted to Saint Vigilius, the city’s patron saint. … And therein lies the most fun we discovered in this church: in the basement, where normally crypts lie, there is an archaeological site with the old church ruins. This is complemented with VR goggles that recreate the original church. Such fun! We laughed, as we watched each other with the goggles on, looking around, focussing in on different things. Amazing to see history brought to life like this!
4) Uncover the myths of Trento on a walking tour
Walking tours can be a hit and miss with kids- some are just too historical and in-depth and the kids lose interest. However, we got lucky with the trip booked through the tourist office and had a really engaging tour guide, a real storyteller!
She kept us entertained with small anecdotes and historic snippets linked to buildings, statues and frescos. Also, uniquely to Trento, when our guide got into some aspects of a little deep or over the head of the boys, they always had fossil hunting to fall back on.
The power of a good storyteller shows: Even today, my boys will tell you of two favourite statues;
The eagle in Trento – a statue in a corner of the main square, which led to a man being sentenced to death for his deceit- and the statue intended to be of Narcissus (the beautiful youth from Greek mythology who fell in love with his own reflection), but morphed into the statue of a boy longingly gazing towards the balcony of the building near-by (the sculpture fell in love with the rich noble’s daughter living there.)
5) Ride high above Trento on the cable car
Trento has a couple of stunning vantage points, but none really rival the views from the top of the cable car. Starting from the river, the cable car takes its passengers up to a series of viewing platforms and a cafe. The cable car, built in 1960, serves the neighbourhood in the foothills as a very valid and efficient transport option, and is great for tourists, outside of the commuter times. In stronger winds, this can be a little hair-raising for those not comfortable with heights, as there are few pillars to stabilise the suspended lines of the cable car. Reassuringly, at the top, the size of cables used and their weight-bearing capacity is shown. (I really just wanted to sit down on the floor, close my eyes and weep on the way up and down, while the boys took the utter piss out of their wimp mother. )
The platforms and seating area to enjoy the view, however, cater to the adventurous as well as the vertigo-challenged.
Apparently, near the top station, there is a little path with a nice walk from here, but we couldn’t find any signs to it.
6) Play, learn and experiment at MUSE
MUSE is Trento’s new Science and Natural History Museum. This airy building is in a revived part of town, flanked by new, modern buildings and a fabulous park. When the musuem was first suggested by the tourism office, it wasn’t high on my priority list, as we’ve been to some amazing science and natural history museums over the world. However, my prejudice would soon be quashed: The boys and I ended up returning to the museum for a second visit after our first trip! MUSE has lots of interactive displays, the natural history side of the museum is portrayed with a local focus and twist; it’s really intriguing!
The physics experiments on the ground floor kept the kids occupied for at least an hour. My favourite was the tropical rainforest with a couple of resident birds and beasties.
My only gripe about MUSE was having to read out lots of subtitles for the kids from the many informative films. (Most were in alternating with German and English subtitles.)… but to be fair to the curators there’s little they can do without a large investment to change this and having the English and German subtitles are really appreciated and made the museum infinitely more appealing to me.
7) Easy Italian food & Gelato
I think one of my favourite aspects of an Italian holiday is just how easy it is to feed even the fussiest of eaters. For my lactose sensitive child I came prepared with tablets to help digestion of regular dishes and lots of ice cream parlours have a selection of sorbets. Trento didn’t disappoint and offers some excellent food options.
Our favourite place, where we returned, again and again, was Forno Urbano (on Giannantonio Manci 20. What3words: /// ladders.mimed.below ) This very simple bakery is perfect for a quick snack, lunch or a light dinner. We popped in for all of these options. Everything is baked on site. The husband and wife team who run the place are lovely and, as you can imagine, it’s super quick & easy to grab a bite, as all the focaccias are pre-prepared so they only need warming up and the kids can see the options and choose what they want. A parent’s and a tired tourist’s dream!
Bugs is a cafe with a chilled atmosphere. (Located at: ///thrones.crass.thumps)
We enjoyed an evening drink here and some delicious local bites. What impressed me most about it was, however, their hospitality towards the boys: the staff were so attentive, found some paper and pens to keep the kids occupied.
We had 2 restaurants that really won us over:
Ristaurante Al Vo
Restaurante Al Vo, a family-run restaurant, where we stumbled in by chance. Tucked away in one of the alleys near castle, this restaurant was a fortunate find. (Located at ///ambient.invite.duck ) We were lucky to get a seat, as the restaurant was full (at lunchtime) with locals. Despite this, the service was accommodating and prompt, the food excellent. Al Vo serves a good range of traditional local foods. We were treated to a brilliant example of local hospitality even though the staff spoke very little English. For example, I ordered 2 main courses to split between me and the boys (because I know they won’t eat a full portion and I hate food waste) and I asked for a spare plate and cutlery. The staff understood my thinking and bought out both courses as a sharing dish for the three of us.
All the deserts are made by the matriarch of the family, and are AMAZINGLY good…and rich.
Ristaurante Antico Pozzo
Ristaurante Antico Pozzo, another restaurant tucked away in a little alley below the castle, was the venue for a hosted lunch during the conference I attended. (Located at: ///backed.dining.painter) The menu at Antico Pozzo. has a twist on the local cuisine with many ingredients sourced locally. Despite it being a hosted lunch for a full house of guests, we found the service very good and considerate towards the kids. Some of the meals weren’t your standard kid’s favourites, like beef tartar (which was absolutely delicious and we’d highly recommend it, if you eat beef) and deer ravioli. However, the thoughtful staff immediately recommended alternatives. We stuck to our menu and didn’t regret it. The boys are now converts to beef tartar.
ICE CREAM, Ice cream, Gelato
Finally, if in Italy you MUST have Gelato, aka Ice Cream, at least once a day! …it’s a rule!
Trento has a great selection of ice cream parlours and we weren’t disappointed in any we tried. Most have a selection of lactose-free options too.
In fact, one late night, after staying out till close to midnight I realised the local buses weren’t go anymore and we’d have to walk back to our hotel (a good 20 minute walk). Thankfully, we found an ice cream shop still open, so 2 scoops of ice cream each saved me from the whinges and wines of exhausted children asked to walk a bit more late at night.
Now for some practicalities about TRENTO:
Getting to and from Trento
Trento is not a hop on the plane and spend the weekend destination, as it has no direct airport. Saying that getting to Trento is NOT difficult to get to.
We drove, via Austria and even deciding against taking the motorway. The road is beautiful! There’s plenty to see, as you pass in valleys with a river roaring besides you, occasional castles above in strategic spots. A perfect opportunity for car bingo with the kids. It took us just over 3.5 hours from Innsbruck, Austria, taking the scenic routes. (On the motorway this 180km stretch would be about 2 hours.)
The visit Trentino site has some useful information for drivers.
The nearest airport is Verona‘s Valeria Catullo Airport, 90 km away. The best options to getting from the airport to Trento are either by car (rental car) or train: There’s a shuttle service to train station in Verona every day, every twenty minutes from the airport. Trains take just 40 minutes to get to Trento.
Bergamo, Italy’s hub for budget airlines, is about 2 hours drive away.
Trento is also on the main train route passing through Northern Italy to Austria and Germany. Train from Munich is a realistic travel option to consider.
Getting around in Trento
Trento isn’t a big town and the public transport, locally, is decent. Local buses serve the town well and timetables are easy to find. We used the buses many times a day, even though we had a car. (Parking is trickier! There are a couple of larger carparks near the train station, some parking houses around the edges of the old town and paid parking in the suburbs.)
For us, public transport was included in our Trentino Card which some accommodation providers give visitors, or you can buy it from the Tourist Office for €40 for a week. (Depending on your plans it can totally be worth it. For me, travelling on my own with two young children, it took the hassle out of travel and visiting places. Spending just 20 minutes in one museum, revisiting somewhere we’d already been became an easy decision.)
However, the fares are very reasonable even without a Trentino Card.
Alternatives are cycle hire and walking.
Parts of the Trento are scooter and skateboard friendly, but we decided to leave our microscooters home each day we went exploring, opting to walk and take the bus instead.
Accommodation- Hotel Everest, Trento
Trento has a good range of accommodation from hotels, bed and breakfasts to Airbnb accommodation.
We stayed at the Everest Hotel, a family-run hotel within 10-15 minute walking distance to the old city. I booked it through Booking.com and got a good deal for 3 of us, though I did need to haggle locally to have breakfast included (as that somehow “dropped off” in the booking process.) The Everest Hotel has limited free parking in a partly shaded courtyard and they accepted our dog without an extra charge.
The breakfasts weren’t amazing, but there were amazing bits to the breakfast: the honeycomb! Oh my, that honey (and I’m not a huge honey can) was truly luscious. I chose to eat it with the waxy bits, the boys just wanted the dripped out honey.
And, true Italian-style, the coffee gave a perfect start to my days.
The hotel, as I mentioned, is family-owned and -run and it shows in some of the practical things:
- the rooms aren’t cookie-cutter, bog-standard, but instead, there are so many different configurations (as I found out while I was being nosy during cleaning.)
- the hotel has a little laundry for use by guests… Perfect for their frequent cycling tourists and families, like us.
- when I needed to iron a dress, I used the industrial iron in the hotels own laundry.
Hotel Everest also has a pizza restaurant, which was highly recommended to us by locals. And the food looked amazing whenever we passed by, but our timing was totally off, so, sadly, we missed out trying it ourselves.
How long should you spend in Trento?
In a day you will get a feeling for the city and be able to explore the old town, squeeze in the cathedral and the castle, maybe make it up on the cable car, if you are travelling with kids.
In two days you can probably see all we’ve seen, but still at a slightly more rushed pace.
Three days or more will allow you to immerse yourselves in Trento, get the vibe, enjoy the cafe life, go at a child-friendly pace like we did. It will give you an opportunity to perhaps explore a little outside of the city too.
A week? Trento is also a good hub to venture out from on excursions:
Arco , the climbing capital is a short drive away… try climbing with kids