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Often when planning a trip with the kids to another country we are excited to experience the tourist highlights and most popular places of that particular place. When thinking about Italy most will often list Venice, Florence, Rome with Amalfi and possibly some other Tuscan cities.
However, if you are in the north of Italy and want to experience somewhere less touristy with the kids then I suggest visiting Mantova. While the city is often known as Mantua in English- I have chosen to use the Italian name in this post. Whatever you call this beautiful city, you will find not only the culture that you are craving for here but you will also find a beautiful living city.
Mantova is surrounded by three artificial lakes. This adds to the beauty of this lovely city. If you drive into Mantova from the north then you will find yourself driving across a causeway and getting a remarkable view of Mantova. The city seems to rise out of the water.
Mantova’s beauty is owed to the Gonzaga family, who much like the Medici of Florence, invested in the arts and beautification of the city. Virgil, the famous Roman poet, is from this area as well. Mantova is also considered prominent in the development of opera as one of the first opera’s - L’Orfeo, created by the famous Monteverdi, was performed here for the Gonzaga family.
Mantova is a great place to visit with kids because it is a smaller walkable city with plenty of piazzas and green spaces near the lakes for the kids, but it also has grand palaces and churches .
There are many places of interest to see in here but here are the top places to see in Mantova:
This is an amazing palace in the city centre and very large- it has 100’s of rooms! It shows the incredible wealth of the Gonzaga family. You’ll need a minimum of 2 hours to visit. Make sure you feed the kids before you go in as no food is allowed once inside. The visit guides you through room to room- no shortcuts.
Please note that if you would like to visit the famous Camera degli Sposi (the Bridal Chamber) and Castello di San Giorgio: the Renaissance in Mantua room, you’ll need to book it in advance (and there is an extra fee) as there is a cap on the number of daily visitors. Also, if you are visiting during the colder months, bring the kids' jackets as the palace is constantly kept at cool temperatures.
This Palazzo is just outside the city centre, but many feel that this palace is better than the Palazzo Ducale. The kids will have to judge for themselves which one they prefer, but it’s also included in the Mantova card. It was created by the Gonzaga family as place to relax and they also received royalty and heads of state here. Pretty opulent! Definitely dedicate a good amount of time to fully explore. Children might find the Egyptian collection here interesting.
Rotonda di San Lorenzo
This amazing round church is the oldest in Mantova and is made completely of bricks. The frescoes in the inside have worn away in the inside. It is such a contrast to the usual type of churches you'll find around Italy. Entry is free.
La Basilica di Sant’Andrea
This beautiful Basilica is in the middle of Mantova and is worth stepping inside. It’s really a stunning church and is much bigger than what first appears to be. You could be forgiven for walking past it as the basilica is built so closely to the other buildings around it. It was constructed by the Gonzaga family in the late 1400’s and there is a crypt that is said to contain the blood of Christ. The tomb of Andrea Mantegna is here as well. He painted the famous Camera degli Sposi in the Palazzo Ducale. Entry is free
Fire Brigade/Department Museum
This museum is great for kids as it's completely dedicated to bright red fire engines and other fire department memorabilia. While it's free to enter, check their website for their opening times. However, it's usually open Saturday afternoon 2:30pm to 6 and Sundays 10-2 & 2:30-6.
Apart from the beautiful churches and palaces, Mantova is fantastic place to wander around with family. There are numerous bakeries and cafes where you can taste the local cuisine. Hopefully we have inspired you to visit this elegant city.
Nearby is the small town of Sabbioneta. If you have time, it’s worth seeing as it’s considered a renaissance treasure built by the Gonzaga family.
Mantova Sabbioneta Card- There is a tourist card that you can purchase that is valid for 72 hours from your first entry into one of museums and you can visit a number of the main sites in both Mantova and Sabbioneta. It includes public transport between Mantova and Sabbioneta. This card is worth it if you are going to be spending two to three days in Mantova.
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