Rome with Kids: A Perfect Family Day
First, consider traveling during the off-season, especially if your children are too young for school. There are numerous advantages: fewer tourists, shorter lines, cooler weather, and cheaper room rates. You may read in travel guides that the cobble streets of Rome aren't stroller-friendly, but don't leave your umbrella stroller at home; it will prove useful. Also bring front carriers or slings for infants since some attractions will require you to check your stroller at the door.
Once you and your kids arrive in Rome, buy your Roma passes for discounted entry into a number of attractions, and plan your days with some structure and some time to just wander so everyone is at their best.
Begin your day in Rome with the kids by taking a tour of the Borghese Gallery located in the Villa Borghese Gardens (Piazzale del Museo Borghese 5; 39 06 32810 for tickets). This small museum is perfect for families with small children for a variety of reasons. First, reservations are required – this is ideal because you know exactly when you will get in and you won't have to stand in a long line to do it. Second, you can choose which start time you would like and tailor it to your family – if your children are at their best in the morning, as most are – choose the 9AM am entry time which is not as popular as other time slots. Finally, it has a small cafe with a variety of sweet breakfast pastries (I loved the palmiers), fresh fruit, decent coffee, tea, milk and juice -- a simple breakfast for the whole family allowing you to get to the museum early, pick up your tickets, check your bags and extra items and then sit and enjoy breakfast until entry is allowed.
Insider tip: Note that you will have to check everything -- diaper bags, strollers, purses, etc. -- so if you need diapers and wipes, you will want to keep some out to carry in your pocket and you may want to bring a sling or other cloth carrier for infants.
Once you are allowed into the museum, the adventure starts with a climb up the winding stairs to the first floor; have your children practice counting them as you ascend. While you are enjoying the works of Bernini, Caravaggio, and Raphael, your children will have fun too. My 9-month-old daughter loved gazing up at the frescoes, while my 3-year-old son was in charge of spotting as many animals as he could find. He also couldn't wait to get to the next room to get the laminated room maps for us. We were all entranced by the Bernini sculpture of Apollo and Daphne, with its story also depicted in the fresco above. There are benches to rest tired little feet, and the two-hour time limit keeps the visit doable for young children. In addition, the park around the museum is home to an electric train, carnival rides, horse rides and a pond with resident swans that can be used as a carrot for good behavior during the visit.
After the museum, take the short walk to the top of Via Vittorio Veneto and take the escalator next to Harry's Bar down to the supermarket to purchase picnic provisions. Head back to the park to allow the kids some time to blow off steam and enjoy their picnic lunch. Then ride the train (with stops at Casina delle Rose Cafe, Viale Goethe and Casino Nobile, in front of the Borghese Gallery), which runs from 10:30AM to sunset. The train may lull the little ones into a peaceful slumber; so after the ride, find a shady spot to relax and people-watch.
Once your family is sufficiently rested and ready to move on for the day, it is time to head southwest from the park to the Spanish Steps to take part in an Italian evening ritual -- albeit a little early: the evening stroll. I highly recommend the Night Walk Across Rome as outlined in Rick Steves' 'Rome 2009 and 2010' (follow the link for a Google Books preview). Reverse the order of this one-mile walking tour to start at the Spanish Steps, and then head to the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Colonna and to the Pantheon to finish at Piazza Navona. This is a great way to discover Rome, especially with young kids because you can start when you want to and go at your own pace; each attraction is free, unless you throw coins in the fountains; and you can pause the tour at any time so the kids can have dinner when they need it.
Insider tip: The Rick Steves' tour includes Campo di Fiori, but it should be visited when the market is in full swing, not in the late afternoon/evening, unless you still need dinner.
My kids were still too drowsy to do much more than admire the fountain at the base of the Spanish Steps while my husband and I took turns climbing to the top; but once we reached the Trevi Fountain, they sprang back to life. The roar of the falling waters piqued their interest before we could even see the fountain itself, and they both enjoyed throwing their coins. As you complete the tour, take time to stop and splash in the puddles, chase the pigeons and shop for souvenirs in the myriad of piazzas along the route.
We stopped for dinner at Luce (Piazza della Maddalena) and had spicy vegetable soup, which was so good that we only reluctantly shared it with my daughter, while my son enjoyed his Pizza Margherita. As we wandered back toward the Pantheon to complete our tour, we stopped at Nice Ice for gelato (on the corner of Via dei Pastini and Piazza della Rotunda). They had a good selection with many types of chocolate and even kiwi. We took our cones and enjoyed them as the sun set in Piazza Navona, while the kids admired the many different animals in the Fountain of the Four Rivers.
As you head back to your hotel for the night, take some form of public transportation (it's free with the Roma Pass) and mix with the locals. Italians love children and will welcome these mini-travelers with big smiles and a warm "Ciao!". With the right mindset and a good plan, touring Rome can be an experience that both parents and their young kids enjoy!
- Overview:Rome Travel Guide