Looking to book a last minute family friendly getaway? From thin crust pizzas to historical architecture, there’s an endless list of reasons to visit Rome, one of the world’s most astonishing capitals. On that note, Sarah’s here to share her top tips on the best places to visit in Rome with kids!
Many children harbour a perfectly understandable fascination with Rome, associating it, as they do, with pizza and gladiators: what more could you want?! The reality of visiting this stupendous city is, however, somewhat less basic: there are crowds and queues to contend with, as well as inflated prices for (often fairly average) food near the popular attractions – and in the summer months, the weather can be oppressively hot. As tempting as it is to try to pack as much in to your stay as possible: don’t. Rome wasn’t built in a day and nor was it seen in a week – especially not when there are tired little legs to contend with.
The Colosseum and the Forum will probably top the list of must-sees when there are children in your party – and since most tourists, children or not, feel the same, you can expect lengthy queues. Let’s face it, time spent in queues is not fun. Time spent in queues with children is most certainly punishment for something unspeakable you did in a past life. Perhaps we were all decadent Roman emperors, boredly sporting with slaves and wild beasts for own amusement. Who knows? In any case, although you can skip to the head of the line at the Colosseum by booking a tour, it’s difficult to imagine a guide bringing Ancient Rome to life anywhere near as vividly as a morning at Gladiator School could.
Dressing in traditional gladiatorial costume, learning fighting techniques and sparring with foam swords not only burns off plenty of that childish energy, but also really brings history to life. To consolidate their interest, combine this, if possible, with a same-day visit to the Colosseum – just pre-book your tickets to avoid the queue issue (there are several ways of doing this online; otherwise your hotel’s front desk should be able to help).
Staying cool is also vital in the heat of the Roman summer and, while gelato is your friend in this regard, there are other methods at your disposal. Depending on the ages of your children, head underground to the catacombs – they’re delightfully creepy and the chill of underground air is actually quite welcoming (but take a light layer, in case the novelty wears off!). Some of the catacombs might really be too frightful for all but the most hardened of teens – avoid the Capuchin crypt under Santa Maria della Concezione near Piazza Barberini, for example – but the Catacombe di Priscilla, although a bit off the beaten track, are well lit, relatively high, wide and free from visible skulls and bones. The Pantheon is also a good option for its soothing temperature: with just one light source from the oculus in its huge dome, its interior provides a respite that is almost as cooling as it is magnificent.
Granted, both of these options still require a certain level of ‘behaviour’, which is often half of the stress of travelling with youngsters. Head to Rome’s largest open green space, Villa Borghese, to hang out the way that Roman families do, in tree-filled shade dotted with fountains and play areas . Ways of exploring range from boats to bicycles; in summer there are puppet shows, musical performance – and at all times, sensational views of the city.
As for the food issue: hand up if you’ve ever been frustrated by the constraints of travelling with picky eaters, when you want to fully immerse yourself in – and learn about – the food culture of your destination? Hands up if you’ve ever ended up paying a hefty bill for a ho-hum meal? Okay, so sometimes circumstances, flagging blood sugar levels and location are going to make this unavoidable. But if you want even just one experience that combines learning with stuffing your face, The Roman Food Tour is the answer. With them, we enjoyed an on-foot exploration of an ‘authentic’ Roman neighbourhood with our enviably sparkly guide, Jess, who is exactly the sort of person whom both kids and adults love. Enthusiastic and endlessly informative, she took us to Rome’s best pizzeria and pasticceria; elsewhere, we tried gorgeous cheeses, salumi and condiments. Fantastically low key in its approach, it’s a genius way of combining the foodie needs of both adults and kids, stomachs and brains.
Another, rather less low-key way of ‘doing’ Rome with kids is to head to Rome Cavalieri. While not every family’s budget will stretch to a stay at this magnificently plush hotel, which sits on one of the hills above the Eternal City, non-residents are able to buy a day pass for the enjoyment of its pools, including a sun lounger and towel. It’s still a fairly pricey day out – €45 for adults and €22.50 for children (note that children are classed as those between the ages of 6 and 11) with prices nearly doubling on weekends and bank holidays – although booking (and paying a little more) for the hotel’s famed Sunday Brunch means that you get as much fantastically good, fresh food as you can manage, plus music, entertainment for the children and use of the pool.
Whichever option you choose, it’s well worth it when you consider that you also get airy views of all the landmarks in which others are jostling, and a chance to see artworks from one of the largest private art collections in the world (treasures range from Beauvais tapestries to Nureyev’s ballet costumes) as well as some of the best people-watching imaginable. If you’re not brunching, don’t forget to factor in extra dosh for poolside drinks, snacks and ice cream – all brought to you by obliging pool staff dressed in sparkling white. This is how to enjoy La Dolce Vita at its very best.
Written by, Sarah Rodrigues. Originally from Australia, Sarah is now settled in London with her English husband Dave and three children Phoenix, Cassian & Leon (plus Zeus, the Greek rescue dog!) She travels as often as possible and writes between drop-offs and pick-ups. You can follow her on Instagram at @justtwenteen
*Sarah was invited by Rome Cavalieri to stay as a guest at their hotel, however all opinions are honest and Sarah’s own.