We were just beginning to plan our trip to Italy when my friend Olivia mentioned that the World Expo, Expo 2015, would be in Milan at the same time as our trip. How fortuitous! The heavily architected pavilions are a designer’s dream and knew this would be our family’s cup of tea. In addition, the theme of Expo 2015 is Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life — yum, food!! — further proof that it could be a fun family adventure to detour over to Milan for a few days. Despite the heat, we had an amazing time and I want anyone planning a trip to Italy to know how easy and worthwhile Expo 2015 can be for kids.
This Family Survival Guide includes everything you need to know for getting the most out of your Expo 2015 experience with kids.
What is Expo 2015?
This year’s Universal Exposition, Expo 2015 takes place in Milan, Italy through October 31, 2015. As you walk through the main gate, you enter a theme park filled with 54 enormous national pavilions, food venues, 140 participating countries, and open spaces that are a wide-open playground for kids, adults, and families to explore. There are even a few small-scale rides, but you have to hunt for them. More on that in a minute. The scale and quality of the pavilions is mind-blowing, especially considering that the whole event takes place for just 6 months. It would be an amazing thing to see these world expo sites repurposed as universities or small towns at the close their runs.
Expo 2015 Best Pavilions for Kids
With 145 participating countries, getting to all of the pavilions in a day is an impossible dream. On a hot day, you can anticipate visiting 5-12 pavilions a day with kids. This number all depends on the heat, lines, what times you arrive and leave, and your energy level. We were there for one full day and one half day and managed to visit about 15 pavilions altogether.
With that in mind, I’ll share my top pavilion picks for families to help you maximize your time.
Czech Republic: There’s a shallow pool with a fountain right in front of the pavilion. This is a delightful place to cool off on a hot day, with a beer kiosk next door for libations. (bottom left)
Estonia: One of the pastimes in Estonia is relaxing on swings in the countryside. To capture that feeling, they installed a wall of swings. My kids loved this in the evening.
Brazil: The second story of the entire pavilion is covered with a wall-to-wall net that you are invited to walk across. So fun! The line was long for this when we entered Expo and we found that there was no line when we circled back at 5 pm. (bottom right)
Switzerland: There a number of pavilions within the pavilion. The one that stands out is the main pavilion that’s made up of four pillars. There is a separate line and entrance for this via an elevator that carries a small group of people up to the top of the pillars. Each pillar is stacked with one of four consumable foods: coffee, apples, salt, and water. When you enter the silos, it’s explained that you can take whatever you want, but to be mindful that the commodities should last for the entire Expo. When you look up it’s evident how much has been taken and how much remains, making it an excellent lesson in sharing limited resources.
Netherlands: This charming pavilion consists of a house of mirrors and a Dutch-looking landscape, punctuated with authentic and oh-so-cute food trucks that are carted all the way in from Holland. Since it’s hard to see from the main road, peel around the mirror house and you’ll find a small/ferris wheel cafe. Order some food and drinks and hop on for a slow loop-de-loop with a view. This was the best! Each car only seats two, so the kids took their own car and we all took a few spins. Scott and I hopped off to enjoy the much-needed shade and to toast a cocktail to our anniversary while the girls snacked on grilled cheese and spun around in Dutch style. (top right)
Turkmenistan: What a surprise it was to find this delightful rooftop patio cozy hut and performance stage. There was no sun protection and it would have been far too hot to spend much time there during the day, but at night it was pure magic and a nice place to relax our weary feet. Since we had it all to ourselves, the girls put on a few dance performances before we made our way to Morocco. (See the night photos in “Tips for Experiencing Expo 2015 with kids” below)
Morocco: Next to Turkmenistan is an inviting Moroccan garden, landscaped with fragrant herbs such as mint, lavender, and rosemary, twisting paths that the kids loved chasing each of around, and a long, gurgling creek. We visited in the evening and it was delightful!
France: My kids LOVED the swing that was hosted by Air France. (top left)
China: The highlight in this pavilion was the silk worm display. My kids raised silk worms earlier this year and it was cool to see what appeared to be 1000’s of silk worm cocoons.
Expo 2015 Food
Since the theme of the Expo is “food,” of course it is not at all difficult to find good things to eat. I wish I could do this more justice, but because of the heat we weren’t enormously hungry and the girls were not feeling too adventurous to try new things.
A few things about Eating at Expo 2015
Each country sells food and you don’t have to wait in the main pavilion line for it. You’ll find many of the food stalls or restaurants on the side or back of the pavilions.
Food is not cheap! My 4-year old adores Korean jap chae, so we ordered a bowl. It was tiny, like a small scoop of ice cream, and it cost €10.
What we enjoyed:
- Jap chae from Korea. Expensive but tasty. (top right)
- Make-your-own Magnum bar. My husband has adored Magnum White ever since he was introduced to it in Spain when we were on our honeymoon (there it’s called Magnum Blanco). If you’re not familiar, it’s an ice cream bar, covered in hard chocolate. It was fun to pick out our flavors and toppings, all made to order. Located behind the Ecuador pavilion.€5 for a bar. (bottom right)
- Grilled cheese (kid-approved) and sangria from the Netherlands. Both delicious. (top left)
- Raclette from Switzerland, served with potatoes and pickles. I could have eaten this all day.
- Kale and salmon salad from the USA. I can’t remember the exact cost, but it was under 10 Euro, delicious, healthy, and filling. We ordered the kids hotdogs, which they do not recommend.
- Scott was excited about the beer from Belgium, which was divine by the Czech pool on a hot afternoon. (bottom left)
- For a taste of home, McDonalds built a restaurant where you can find favorites including Happy Meals.
- It’s very easy to find Italian food and coffee bars. Everywhere.
Passport Stamps for Kids at Expo
One of my favorite memories from visiting Expo 86 in Canada was carrying around a passport to collect stamps from the pavilions we visited. We were sure to pick up passports for our kids at a kiosk near the entrance gate (for a fee). The kids enjoyed collecting and comparing the stamps. They also took it upon themselves to design their own stamps! Totally worth the cost.
Cirque du Soleil Allavita!
One of the highlights of our time at Expo was taking in the Allavita! show.
On the train to Milan we had the great luck of making friends with one of the aerialists, Leah Christiana, and she invited us to see her in the show. What a treat! My kids were beside themselves with joy. Leah is one of the bungee babes and you can follow her Facebook page for up-to-date info on her performances.
The show begins at 9:30 pm. Kind of late for little ones, but a thrilling experience if they can stay up for it. Designed by Circque du Soleil exclusively for Expo, 2015, the show was amazing! It’s scheduled to run through August 30, so check ahead for dates if you don’t want to miss it. Tickets are not included in the Expo admission ticket, and must be purchased separately for €25,€30, and €35. I would recommend splurging for the more expensive seats because you’ll see everything sooo much better.
Tips for Experiencing Expo 2015 with Kids
And if all of that isn’t enough, I have a few more tips for making Expo an enjoyable experience with kids.
- Recycle and Compost. The team that organized Expo did a great job installing recycling containers around the main concourse and beyond. The cans are clearly marked and it’s a great way to help kids think consciously about what they’re consuming and reusing. (top left)
- Bring water bottles. There are free water refill stations located throughout Expo, offered very cold flat and bubbly water (bottom right). We used this A LOT.
- Borrow a FREE Stroller. If you need a stroller, Chicco will loan you a stroller for no cost. Pick one up in the welcome area by the Triulza Ovest entrance. You can reserve yours by clicking here. Supply is limited.
- Wear a pedometer or fitness tracker. We picked up the inexpensive CSX walking tracker (affiliate) before our trip, and it made all the miles we packed on that much more fun to accumulate. We tracked our steps and could’t believe that we walked over 10 miles the first day, including the walk from our apartment to and from the metro station! With toddlers, a stroller (see stroller tip, above) will be a lifesaver.
- Baby-friendly offerings. High chairs, bottle-warmers, and baby-food warmers are available at Eataly, Tracce, Chiccotosto, Viavai, Let’s Toast, and Aroma. There are also breastfeeding and baby changing areas. Download a family-friendly map that shows these offerings.
- Don’t worry about Bathrooms. There are clean toilettes everywhere and we never had to wait in a line.
- Enjoy Expo at Night. The whole mood and energy changes once the sun goes down. The heat subsides, lights come on, and it’s pure magic. (top right and bottom left – Turkmenistan Pavilion)
- Avoid the Crowds. It was very crowded and lines were long in the morning. When we were there, things seemed to clear out between 4 and 7 pm. Expo offers €5 tickets to people who arrive after 7 pm, which is when the lines seem to pick up again.
- Use the free wifi. There are wifi hotspots around Expo, but they weren’t consistently easy to find so we mostly skipped using it.
- Stay cool. If you go in the summer there’s a good chance it will be hot. Really hot. And humid. It was 38C/100F when we were there. Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, bring a water bottle for free refills, and bring a hat or umbrella. Finally, find the Czech Republic pool or an air conditioned pavilion if you just can’t bear it.
Expo takes place northwest of Milan by the Rho-Fiera metro station, about 25 minutes from downtown. venue a few minutes from downtown.
If you know the date/s you plan to visit, you can save money by purchasing a fixed date ticket. There are also open date tickets for just a little bit more. Children under 3 get free admission. There are also special student and senior prices, so be sure to grab those if you qualify.
- Buy tickets online. Take a screen shot of the digital tickets to scan at the entrance gate.
- The Family Package includes one-day admission for two adults and two children for €86 (fixed date) and €99 (open date). More children can be added to the package at purchase. If you’re planning to go for two consecutive days, the 2-day pass is a better deal.
- Night Tickets. For extra savings there are evening only tickets for €5 for entry between 7 pm and 11 pm.
Expo 2015 Hours
Expo is open everyday from 10 am-11 pm, through October 31.
Expo is located in the Northwest area of Milan, about 25 minutes from the city center. It’s easy to get to via subway. Take the Metro Linea 1 (red line 1) to the Rho-Fiera Milano Metro station. Purchase an anextra-urbano (extra-urban) ticket for €2.50 each way. You can get this from a machine at most Metro stations. Keep your ticket so that you can use it to exit. Children under 10 travel free of charge on the metro when accompanied by an adult in possession of a valid ticket or travel card. More details on how to get there, including a Metro Map, can be found on the Expo 2015 website.
By car, there are parking lots near Expo that are available by reservation.