Of all the cities in all the world I want to call Rome home, just for a while. We stayed in Rome for a week and that was more than enough time for me to fall in love. I dream of the day that I get the opportunity to go back. We were there with our toddler, she was just a few months shy of 3 at the time and it was just the most incredible time.
Apparently Rome is known as not being kid friendly, had I known this before we went, I would have laughed and after doing it for myself, I still think that this is a ridiculous statement to make. Sure there aren’t any Disney theme parks, there isn’t a long list of kid-centric activities but since when do we travel just for that, since when can’t kids experience the world like everyone else does? This is how you do Rome with kids and still have the most incredible time of your life!
Getting around Rome with Kids
First up, a pram on cobblestone streets is just not practical. Either succumb to letting your kids toddle along, carry them or wear them. Crossing streets, getting on and off public transport, up and down stairs, through security to get inside some sites it is just more of a hindrance than a help. If you have to have a stroller, choose a cheap but sturdy umbrella style that you can easily fold up and don’t feel bad about trashing, between the cobblestones and aeroplanes it will get a thrashing and you want something light and easy to carry. Rome is best explored on foot and it is easily done, even with kids!
We did use a stroller some days, when we knew that we wouldn’t get back to our accommodation for nap time, and we knew that we would be in areas that were easy to get around. Otherwise we let her walk or carried her when she got tired.
If you catch a taxi, strap your kids in or hold on tight to them, my daughter had great fun as the driver careened around corners and zigzagged in the traffic.
Food in Rome with Kids
Most people love Italian food, especially kids. There are plenty of places for you to stock up on snacks and you can a bite to eat pretty much anywhere you go. Italians will happily cater to kids making simple meals, even small portions and they are welcome in restaurants (except the schmancy pants ones), there aren’t high chairs but it really isn’t an issue.
Most mornings we would walk across to Campo dei Fiori and be amongst the first to sample the wares at the market. Our 2 year olds angelic little face scored her free samples of pretty much everything, including treats at the espresso bar. The store holders would chase her down just to give her something in return for a smile, nothing more. They would even give her bags of bread and seeds to feed the birds in the piazza. After a while she was sick of the attention but we encouraged her to say yes just so we could share in the spoils.
An obvious tip, and not kid centric, but don’t eat anywhere near the main tourist attractions. The food is over priced and tasteless. Have some snacks in your bag to keep the kids happy while you walk a little further, get lost in the side streets and you will find the perfect little taverna.
Visiting the Sites in Rome with Kids
It is often a concern of parents about how they will keep their kids quiet in museums, but this is not a huge issue in Rome, as most places are outdoors. The Vatican was probably the only hushed environment and our daughter was in awe anyway so it really wasn’t an issue. If all else fails take some small bribery to get you through a couple of hours for this one because it is a site well worth seeing.
You can easily do the Pantheon and the (real!) horses out the front are always a hit. The Spanish Steps and the surrounding streets which are lined with shops and restaurants are an easy one too.
Be sure to spend some time at Trevi Fountain. We each took turns to throw a coin to be sure we return to Rome one day, my daughter threw more than a few just to be sure. She obviously loves it here as much as we do! Fountains all across the city are a hit with kids, but if your kids are adventurous, keep an eye on them or take a change of clothes with you. Let them throw a few coins in every so often – foreign currency goes to the Red Cross and Euros go to the Catholic Church.
Piazza Navona buzzes with colour and excitement. There are a few fountains, lots of street performers and artists and plenty of room for them to run about with no cars in sight. The Tiber River, while not really well known is very picturesque and you will want to cross the bridges into new neighbourhoods to explore.
Visit the Colosseum and tell (modified for ages) stories of what happened here, give the thumbs up or down and have a bit of fun. The ruins of the Roman Forum were easy to do with kids, you can wander and explore at your leisure, just be sure the kids watch their step on the uneven paths. You might want to play a game – look for carvings of flowers or lions.
Stop and look at the colourful wildflowers that sprawl over the ancient ruins. Throughout the city you will find random ancient ruins and cats seem to love the ruins in Rome and my daughter had a lot of fun spotting different cats and watching them play while we stood marvelling at the architecture and history.
The mouth of truth (la bocca della verita) is a fun one for kids to test their bravery and poke their hand in the mouth just like Audrey Hepburn did – have they lied, will it bite them? We enjoyed some time in Villa Borghese and the Gardens. We also went to the zoo but I wouldn’t recommend it. I know it is one of the oldest in Europe but that is no excuse for how dirty it was, the animals looked utterly depressed, we are pretty sure there was a dead monkey in one enclosure and we watched a massive seagull kill a pigeon to top it all off. Maybe we went on an off day but that was our experience of it.
Whatever you do in Rome with kids just make it interesting for them from their perspective. Get them to spot an artwork they like, play eye spy, tell cool stories about what you are looking at that make it interesting to their age group.
We found a lot of our highlights in Rome from our random wanderings through the cobblestone streets. This city is one giant museum. Everything is beautiful to behold and every stone and wall could tell a million stories. Maybe let the kids guide you and choose which direction to go, which alley to turn up, which cafe to stop at. Maybe they want to follow the sound of the music, because musicians with accordions and violins really do just wander the streets in Rome and it is ‘pinch me’ perfect.
Where to Stay in Rome with Kids
As with most travel I recommend an apartment over a hotel when staying in Rome with kids. First up you have a kitchen to prepare your own meals, which is both a money saver and helps with awkward eating times. Keep in mind that most Italians don’t have dinner until after 8pm, when my kids are usually in bed! And this means you get to shop at the markets which makes for a really authentic stay. You can, just for a little while, feel like a local, like you really do live in Rome!
An apartment gives you more room to spread out. It is nice to come back for a day time nap to somewhere that you aren’t all crammed in the same room. You will also most likely have separate bedrooms which always feels better than a hotel.
My advice is to choose somewhere you have a view or really love because most nights, with kids in bed early, you will probably be at ‘home’. So unlike when you were kid free and booking accommodation just meant somewhere to briefly rest your head, you need to make it somewhere you are happy to be spending the time in. Don’t pick anything too fancy or you will spend your first couple of hours putting everything breakable out of reach and setting the rules on what the kids can do. Be aware that these buildings are old and safety standards were different. Either try and lock any balconies and low windows, or quickly teach your kids that they aren’t safe to be on alone.
Like I have mentioned, Rome is a walkable city so you want to choose somewhere central to everything. We decided to stay in the Jewish Ghetto on the border of Centre Storico, Travestere and Ancient Rome. It was just perfect for us.
Behind a large wooden door on the street, through an iron gate, down the hallway, up the lift if you dare, climb the final stairs, through a final door to our home in Rome. You wouldn’t want to forget your 4 keys to get inside, especially with all the stairs! It was a fortress perched high on a rooftop. But there is no room for complaint because the view, the music drifting up from the piazza below us. the large traditional Roman bathroom, the traditional Roman water system (the drinking water that is pumped to the small potable fountains in the squares is also pumped up to our apartment, with a small tap in the kitchen – it is cold and pure and ever so slightly sweet) – it is incredible to say the least.
There was a long winding staircase up to our apartment, stone and marble steps worn uneven by the hundreds of people who have shuffled up here before us. There is a small open sided elevator that you can squeeze 2 people into and it scraps the walls as it slowly inches upwards before juddering to a stop where you have to shuffle out backwards and still climb the remaining stairs. I believe that most apartment buildings across Rome are like this, just be aware that it can be tricky for kids to get up and down and be prepared for this.
Our apartment was a real little Italian home, heavy bookshelves, comfy lounge chairs, and a small but functional kitchen. We are able to sit in our lounge room of our apartment and stare out the window at a view of Rome; over terracotta rooftops, domes, bell towers and stately clocks – they are all part of our immediate skyline. Out on the terrace surrounded by quaint little pots of flowers we listen to the music float up from the piazza below us along with voices and happy conversation. Of a morning the church bells ring out and send a flurry of birds to wheel across the clear blue skies. You wouldn’t get this sort of experience in a hotel.
Be Prepared for Rome with Kids
Travel with kids is different, not difficult. I think that slow travel is the key to enjoying travel with kids. Don’t expect to see everything, take the time to stop. Balance out your activities and mix what you want to see with some kid friendly activities that will keep them, and ultimately you, happy. Throw in a play in the park, eat gelato’s, have an afternoon siesta or a quiet play at your accommodation. Your kids cannot go go go the entire time and will need some down time. You will not be able to do everything, but that is ok, it gives you an excuse to come back!
Learn some basic Italian before you land. It makes for more friendly interactions with the locals, they will want to interact with your kid a lot. And it is nice to be able to say thanks for the copious amount of freebies, even better if your kids can say a thing or two.
While I mention this last, make sure it is actually one of the first things you do, pre-book tickets when you can so you can avoid the pain of standing in long lines with kids. This was so handy for both the Colosseum and the Vatican where we bypassed hours of waiting. Make sure you are the smug ones walking past everyone else not the other way around. Besides, there are better things to do with your short amount of time in Rome because there is just so much to experience in Rome, even with kids!
We finished our stay in Rome with a bakery crawl, as you do, collecting up delicious treats on our way to the airport. Our next stop after Rome was Chiang Mai, Thailand where we would be setting down roots for a year. These were possibly the last patisserie treats we would get for a while.
I feel relaxed and at home in Rome and can easily picture myself living here. Perhaps one day I will and in the very least I’m sure I will be back to this corner of the world some day, possibly with my kids, because Rome with kids is realistic and fun and not as daunting as people make it out to be.
Have you been to Rome?
Do you travel with your kids?
Any questions? I’m happy to help.