Admittedly, we were a little apprehensive about going to Rome with kids in tow.
I’ve known a couple of people who have been victim to pick pockets there, I’m not great with crowds – especially the combination of heat and crowds and I’d heard that there were many beggars and scams. The day had the potential to be expensive and stressful!
We need not have worried. In our experience Rome with kids, in August was fantastic. It was not as busy as we expected. It was hot but an epic thunderstorm cooled us down. We could walk everywhere which saved a lot of money and the kids?
They loved it! I believe the success of our trip to Rome with the kids was due to the research I did before we went and I therefore wanted to share that information to help others have a fantastic day out without breaking the bank or breaking into a sweat.
Rome in a day
Knowing that we only had one day meant we had to choose just a few attractions to visit rather than try and see everything. I asked friends and family who had visited before what they found the most interesting and why and also posted on a couple of facebook travel groups.
Resources I found particularly useful were: https://www.thespringbreakfamily.com/rome-with-kids-itinerary-recap/ and the You Tube channel Travel with Kids which had an episode on Rome. It was from 2012 but still had relevant information and got the kids excited about the trip.
I then looked at queue times, the distances between each attraction and how interesting the kids would find each area. I quickly eliminated the Vatican area. As much as Lee and I would have loved to visit this area and in particular the Sistine Chapel you can’t easily visit the Sistine chapel without having to go through the Vatican museum for a couple of hours first. Definitely not something the kids would have enjoyed so we’ve saved that for a future adult only trip!
Getting the kids on board
The next step was to get the kids interested in the areas we were visiting. This started several days before we went. We watched youtube videos on Rome and the Romans and I discovered the wonderful book called Mission Rome by Catherine Aragon.
This book was fantastic at getting the kids excited about the trip, however I could see it was going to be a little too much for our one day trip. It took me about an hour to go through the book and pick out bits relevant to the areas we’d be visiting (i learned loads about Rome myself in the process). I also simplified some of the questions for Zachary who is only five. I think the book is aimed at slightly older kids. We looked at some of the questions before we went and on the train journey there so that they were excited once we arrived.
Another great resource I found was Rome in a Weekend with two kids. This was packed with lots of useful and detailed knowledge but was easy to read in an hour as I downloaded the kindle version I could refer to it on my phone once we were in Rome.
We arrived in Rome by train (from Civitavecchia, Rome’s port and a popular cruise ship stop) which cost €15 each way for the 4 of us. In hindsight I should have purchased a return ticket in the morning which would have been slightly cheaper and saved some time at the station on the way back.
If you arrive in Rome by train you’ll find yourself around 20 minutes walk from the main attractions of the city. Depending on which way you walk you can reach the Spanish steps in about 15 minutes, the Trevi fountain in 20 and the Colosseum in 30. Our tickets for the Colosseum were for the afternoon so we headed to the Trevi fountain. There are buses, trams, taxi’s and an underground service that will all take you where you want to go quicker but we wanted to walk. There is also a hop on and off open top bus tour that you’ll find many people trying to sell you. Top tip – if you wait until 3pm you can get this tour for half price! I find you only get to really experience somewhere when you walk it. We grabbed a map for €3.50 and set off on foot.
We were really surprised at how close everything was. We had in fact seen the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon by around 11am which gave us time to head up to the Spanish Steps and the Villa Borghese – two areas I hadn’t initially planned to include.
We then walked the length of Via del Corso which took us to the Vittoria Emanuele and then the Colosseum. From there we walked up through the Roman Forum and across to Piazza Navona before heading back to the train station.
We guesstimated that we walked at least 12 miles in total. The kids did brilliantly but they’ve always been good walkers so if your kids aren’t good at walking you’ll want to factor in using alternative methods of transport. I also heard a lot of good things about a golf buggy tour you can do too.
We arrived at the Trevi fountain at around 9am. Unfortunately it wasn’t running as they were emptying the money. Around €3000 in coins are thrown into the fountain every day, all of which goes to charity. Traditionally you should throw a coin over your shoulder and make a wish. Top Tip – our route took us past the Trevi Fountain again on our way back to the train station. We found it even more impressive at night not only was it running this time but it was also lit up and looked stunning.
As you round the corner to enter the square just in front of the Pantheon it’s sheer size will stop you in your tracks. I loved this building, it is so unique and so beautifully kept.
The Spanish Steps
I hadn’t initially planned this to be part of our itinerary because a couple of the sources I’d used in my ‘Rome with kids’ research had referred to it as ‘just a bunch of steps’. I actually really liked this area.
We approached it from the top via Via Sistina and the view is beautiful. The Fontana della Barcacciaa aka ‘the fountain of the ugly boat’ at the bottom is fun for the kids to cool off in and fill their water bottles. All over Rome there are fountains you can drink from to keep you cool and hydrated.
The area is nice to wander around in but be aware this is the very expensive part with designer shops and expensive restaurants. We’d intended to have an ice cream break here but trying to find a normal gelaterie here was tricky, we eventually found one by walking to the far left corner of Piazza de Spagna and down a side street.
Retracing our steps we headed back past the foot of the Spanish steps and took the next street on the right which took us up behind the steps where you can get back up to the top but with less of a climb and in the shade. From there you could walk along into the Villa Borghese park.
This was my only regret of the day. I wish I’d planned to include this park on our itinerary. When visiting Rome with kids a little time out in Villa Borghese is essential to recharge, believe me you’ll thank me for it.
It’s a wonderful shady spot with great views of the city below and loads of activities for the kids. Had we planned to spend time here we could had our picnic and made use of the bikes and rowing boats. Unfortunately we had run out of food at this point and had no ID on us to hire the bikes and rowing boats which is mandatory. Therefore we just wandered around a little lost and wasted time walking back and forth looking for the toilets! Incidentally the toilets should you need them are in the far corner which leads down to the Piazza del Popolo.
However it was good to discover the Piazza del Popolo with it’s giant square, statues and fountains and from there start our walk along Via del Corso straight to the Vittoria Emanuele and the Colosseum. This was a great walk. Most of the walk was pedestrianised and there were lots of street entertainers along the way.
Do be aware of pick pockets though. Lee had his Garmin Virb 360 camera strapped around his arm and felt someone try to take this while we were distracted by a street act. He turned to find his arm in the bag of a passing girl! Apparently this is a known tactic – a group of young girls walk past you – the first takes the item (she tried to take Lee’s camera) and drops it into the bag of the girl behind. Because Lee’s camera was strapped to his arm he found his arm along with the camera in the bag! The girls disappeared rather quickly!
I had booked the ‘skip the line’ tickets that allowed us to visit any time after 2pm. BUT if you visit any time after 2pm there is still going to be a line, in fact there were 3 lines. We queued in a very unorganised area to exchange our voucher for tickets, then we queued again for security and again once we were inside.’Skip the line’ is advertised everywhere and is very misleading. Also please note that some websites insist on you printing your tickets which was not possible for us as we were already travelling without access to a printer.
Ok so this may be controversial but I don’t understand the popularity and cost of the Colosseum. There I said it! I definitely don’t understand why people pay to do tours that take 2 hours inside the Colosseum! It is circular inside so once you’ve seen it from one angle you’ve seen all there is to see. There are no information plaques or artefacts to look at and it is very crowded at all times.
The Colosseum ticket also gives you access to the Roman Forum. Now this we found much more interesting and if I had a time machine I would have visited the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill first and then gone to the Colosseum if we had the time. This would have saved a massive amount of time lost queuing and we would have seen and learned a lot more. The Roman Forman has information plaques all over and is a real treasure trove of exploration. There is also Palentine Hill but unfortunately we didn’t get time to go there – due to queueing at the Colosseum, have I made my point yet?
We were also in the Roman Forum in the middle of a thunderstorm. While Lee and i found this really atmospheric and were grateful for a break from the heat, Anabelle was more than a little scared of the lightening which hampered our experience somewhat!
As Belle couldn’t cope any longer we left the Roman Forum and headed for dinner in Piazza Navona. Now I knew dinner was going to be pretty pricey but this was incredibly expensive. Top tip – don’t aim for a tourist trap to eat when you are hungry! Although the atmosphere was fantastic and the food was pretty good €112 for a cheese burger and chips, a pasta dish, two pizzas, two waters, a beer (yes it was a big beer) and a glass of wine is still eye watering and not something I’d repeat!
Would I recommend Rome with kids? Absolutely.
Don’t be put off by the tales of August being either ‘closed’ or really busy. We found it to be neither.
Do watch your valuables, keep your kids close and be aware of scams as you wander around taking in the sites
Try to experience a lot of it by foot if you can, or perhaps taxi/ hop on/off tours. It makes for a lot more authentic experience and you’ll find gems at every turn.
Do your research before you go. Work out which bits appeal to your family and just visit those. For kids including a lunch break to the Villa Borghese is a must, walking the route (Via del Corsa) from there to the Colosseum is a lot of fun and using a guide like Mission Rome is fantastic for exploring areas like the Roman Forum and The Pantheon.
Plan out where you want to eat before you get hungry.
Oh and have lots of small change available for throwing in fountain and giving to street entertainers.
Most importantly ‘When in Rome (with kids) do….”