Rome the Eternal City for Kids-MainPhoto
Rome the Eternal City for Kids-MainPhoto

Villa Borghese Park

I live in Italy, and I’ve spent a lot of time in Rome. Now that I’m a mother, I tend to look at things differently than I did pre-parenthood, and that includes how I look at travel. Rome is one of the most historic, fascinating cities in the world, but it’s not necessarily the most kid-friendly. Still, it’s Rome, which means there are fantastic things to see and fabulous experiences to be had for every member of the family. Here are my tips for how you and your kids can get the best out of your trip to the Eternal City. Note that I am skipping things like children’s museums and amusement parks. Though Rome has both, they’re not the reason to bring your family to the Caput mundi (or “capital of the world,” as Rome was known in ancient times).

Read Related: Are We There Yet? 10 Tips for Smart Traveling with Kids

For young children

  • Campo dei Fiori: This colorful, bustling outdoor produce (and a little bit of everything else) market should keep little ones wide-eyed. Friendly vendors may hand out a piece of fruit or candy as well, especially if Mom and Dad are making a purchase. Hit Campo in the morning, when the market is in full swing, and shop for a picnic lunch. This is a good stop for souvenir shopping, too. Free.

  • Piazza Navona: One of Rome’s most famous and picturesque piazzas, or public squares, is actually a huge oval, and follows the shape of the ancient stadium of Emperor Domitian—in fact, it’s built on the ruins of the stadium. Kids can run wild in the pedestrian-only piazza, take in one of its many fanciful fountains, and maybe get mesmerized by a mime. (Be forewarned that if you photograph a mime, he or she will expect a few coins.) Free.

  • Villa Borghese Park: Once a playground of decadent popes, the gardens of the Borghese family are now a vast playground and picnicking area for Romans and visitors of all walks of life. You’ll find playgrounds, a merry-go-round, a mini-train, and bicycle and boat rentals, all set amidst Renaissance era statues and fountains. No entrance fee for park.

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For older kids:

  • Coliseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill: A combined ticket buys you entrance to the most iconic sites in Rome. Kids old enough to appreciate a little history will be awed by the Coliseum and the Forum. The Palatine Hill, the former upscale neighborhood of Rome’s emperors, is a large, grassy, ruin-filled park and a great place for kids to run off some steam. Plan ahead and read up together on the history of Rome, so the kids (and you) will have a better idea of what they’re looking at. Entrance fee.

  • The Capuchin Crypt and Museum: Though not for the squeamish or the easily spooked (and not for young children), the Capuchin Crypt is an utterly unique, if macabre site that will entrance tweens and older (I had to drag my 12 year-old nephew out). The big attraction? The skulls and bones of nearly 4,000 Capuchin monks, artfully arranged in a series of burial chambers. It has to be seen to be believed. Entrance fee.

  • The Christian Catacombs: Older kids will marvel at the vast honeycomb of underground tunnels that make up the tombs of thousands of early Christians, interred when their religion was still outlawed by the Roman emperors. The catacombs require either a taxi or bus ride to reach, so be sure to plan ahead and check opening times, which can change often. Entrance fee.

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Essential Eating!
You’ll find that even the most elegant restaurants in Rome (and all of Italy) are kid friendly, and happy to prepare a simple plate of pasta al pomodoro (pasta with tomato sauce) or a mini-pizza for your young diners. If you choose a touristy, outdoor restaurant on a popular piazza, you might not get the best food, but you’ll be able to sip a glass of wine and take in a lovely Roman evening while the kids run and play nearby. For pizza and gelato, here are my picks:

  • Pizza by the slice: At lunch or dinnertime, or for a mid-afternoon snack, wander into a hole-in-the-wall pizzeria for a slice of the real deal. My favorite hole in the wall? Pizza a Taglio da Fortunata, located on Via del Pellegrino, just around the corner from Campo dei Fiori, where the pizza is sliced in a rectangle, folded in half, wrapped in a napkin and handed to you over the counter. These cheap eats will please your crowd. If you want pizza as a sit-down dinner, look for the sign “forno al legno”—which means it’s cooked in a wood oven. Be aware that while kids might get by sharing a pizza, adults are each expected to order their own.

  • Gelato: Gelato, the Italian ice cream that puts all others to shame, is a must-have at least once a day during your Roman vacation. The “best gelato in Rome” is a topic of much debate, but for kids, my pick is Giolitti, located near the Pantheon, because it’s large and picturesque and displays a dazzling array of flavors, all beautifully arranged. Kids will like Della Palma, also near the Pantheon, because it’s also a candy store selling just about every kind of candy in bulk, but I don’t think the gelato is as good as Giolitti’s.

There’s so much more to see and experience in Rome than can be contained in a short article—or even a small book! Fortunately the sights I’ve listed here are interesting to adults as well as the kids. Take lots of photos, pace yourselves and don’t try to see everything, and by all means, stop for that second gelato even though you just had one an hour ago! Have the time of your life with your family in this ancient, enchanting city!