When people think of family vacations, Rome is not always the first place that comes to mind. A large, busy metropolis inundated with tourists, it can seem overwhelming as a destination to take the kids. I can understand that, but after having spent a family vacation there last summer, I can say it is way less daunting than I had imagined, and would completely recommend to anyone in thinking of going with their family to do it.
People also wonder about the heat – if going in summer – and while at times the high temps were uncomfortable, we found that many of the things on our “must see” list were either indoors, or had shade for us to cool off in. Our list increased in size, actually, as we discovered new places to go to escape the heat – places we enjoyed immensely and otherwise would maybe not have visited.
There is no place like the eternal city, with its rich history appearing everywhere you go, from Ancient Rome, to the cobble stone streets and grand piazzas, to the sheer number of churches, to the famous fountains and sculptures, to the renaissance palaces – there is something for everyone. Below are our top things to see and do in Rome.
Our Top 8 Things to See and Do in Rome with Kids
It is no wonder Rome’s first arena, commissioned in AD 72 and inaugurated 8 years later, is one of the most popular sites for kids to visit. The Colosseum is a spectacle for the eyes, and one can only imagine the gladiators back in the day putting on their show. Especially from the second floor – accessed by foot or elevator – you can get a birds-eye view of all the subterranean passageways where the gladiators would wait before their turn was up.
It is a fascinating and mysterious building to explore around with the kids, and on a hot day it also provides much needed shade and cover. It is best to purchase tickets ahead, to avoid the very long lines awaiting you. Buy a Roma Pass at romapass.it or go to Coopculture.it. Another way is to book a private tour, but make sure you do your research so as to get a reputable guide.
Known as the world’s best-preserved Roman building, the Pantheon is famous for its perfect architectural proportion and impressive dome – the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome – with the diameter of the dome being exactly equal to its height. The opening of the dome, or the oculus, is almost 30 feet in diameter and used to be the building’s only source of light. It is simply amazing to see, in both sunny and rainy weather. On a sunny day, catch the sun’s rays streaming in, and on a rainy day, watch the rain fall down inside (so if it does rain while you’re in Rome, you know where to go!). This one time pagan temple is now a church and therefore free, and you can just wander in. The kids are sure to love it, like mine, as they have not seen anything else like it before.
Villa Borghese Park
We happened upon Villa Borghese Park, the “Central Park” of Rome, by accident. Well, not necessarily by accident, but as we were walking around Rome it was an excruciatingly hot day, and we realized we needed to get these kids – and ourselves – into some shade immediately. We discovered we were close to the park, and while initially it was not on our “must see” list, there was nothing we wanted more in that moment than to be in a green space covered by some trees.
A nice open space that overlooks Piazza del Popolo, it is Rome’s prime park equipped with bicycle rentals (including kids’ bikes), running and walking paths, go-carts, even a zoo. We, however, were in the mood to check the whole park out, and rented golf carts. At $25 a cart for 1 hour, it was one of the highlights of our trip. There’s really nothing better than cruising around in a golf cart with your kids in Rome; I would have never guessed that that would have been one of our activities. We drove by the Galleria Borghese, but had not made reservations. No matter, we were having such an adventurous time outside it would have been hard to lure these kids in for some art-viewing.
Piazza Navona is one of those piazzas you see in the movies – grand in all its baroque glory, with famous fountains and statues, and cafes and shops all around. Great for people watching, the kids loved to run around and watch the street entertainment, as well as all the big, dramatic sculptures scattered about. Here you will find Bernini’s famous fountain, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, with the Egyptian obelisk in its center, and his Fontana del Moro. My girls have never seen anything quite like this, and it was fun to just walk around and gaze. On a side-note, I would say in general, go to any piazza, and your kids are bound to have a blast running around and playing with the cheap toys the vendors sell. We all know that kids love junk!
Campo de’ Fiori
Not far away from Piazza Navona is Campo de’ Fiori, one of Rome’s most popular markets. It’s become touristy with things like t-shirts and souvenirs for sale, but it is a big, colorful and bustling produce and specialties market, where we found some yummy treats to tide us over. It’s a good place to people-watch as well.
San Clemente Church is another place we wound up at spontaneously due to the heat. Close to the Colosseum, we decided to forego more of Ancient Rome and head somewhere where we could be inside. And little did we know – it was the perfect spot to take the kids!
A church built on top of a church built on top of a pagan temple, not only was this site fascinating to discover and go back in time, but a great representation for the kids on just how old Rome is. When you walk in, the first level is a 12th century church. Head down to the next level underneath and you come to a 4th century church. Go down another flight and you discover a 2nd century pagan temple. One of Rome’s most impressive archaeological sites, I am so glad we decided to do it. And the kids, they definitely cooled off being so far underground.
Food + Gelato
What Must-Do list in Rome doesn’t include food?! We ate our hearts out, and the best thing about taking the kids to Italy is, the food. Rome is known for its pizza and pasta, quintessential kids’ food. Our favorite pizza place was this dive restaurant a friend recommended called Pizzeria Da Baffetto – it may not have ambience but it had incredible pizza. Another favorite was Da Sabatino, a charming restaurant recommended by our hotel. And no day was complete without a visit to a gelateria, often twice a day. It’s just as amazing as everyone says it is, and the perfect way to cool off.
May sound weird, but our kids were obsessed with the water fountains throughout the city. Rome is known for its excellent water, and whenever they could, the girls wanted to stop and grab a drink, partially because they were thirsty and partially because it was so fun. Which was fine with us since it was free! It’s definitely a past time…wherever you went, Romans seemed to be filling up on water.
More of our guides in Italy include:
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