Rick Steves Rome 2016 - Rick Steves, Gene Openshaw (2015)
ROME WITH CHILDREN
Sorry, but Rome is not a great place for little kids. Parks are rare. Kid-friendly parks are rarer. Most of the museums are low-tech and lack hands-on fun.
But there is some good news. Rome’s many squares are traffic-free, with plenty of space to run and pigeons to feed while Mom and Dad enjoy coffee at an outdoor table. Italians are openly fond of kids, so you’ll probably get lots of friendly attention from locals. Rome’s huge ancient sites (I’m thinking the Colosseum and Pantheon) instill awe in travelers of any age—especially if they can conceive of just how old these structures are. And you won’t get many complaints about the cuisine: pizza and gelato. Buona fortuna!
Rome offers plenty of food options for children. Try these tips to keep your kids content throughout the day.
✵ For a refreshing respite from the midday heat, take a gelato break or go to a casual, air-conditioned place for lunch.
✵ Kid-friendly foods found everywhere include plain noodles, pasta bianca (mac-and-cheese), and fresh bread (pane). Pizza is another popular favorite—kids like margherita (tomato, basil, and cheese) and the Italian version of pepperoni (diavola, salsiccia piccante, or salame piccante). Popular drinks are granitas (slushies), frullati (smoothies), frappés (shakes), Orangina (orange soda), limonata (lemonade), spremuta d’arancia (fresh-squeezed orange juice), and cioccolata (hot chocolate).
✵ Eat dinner early (at about 19:00) to dodge the romantic crowd. Restaurants are less kid-friendly after 21:00. Skip the famous places. Look instead for self-service cafeterias, bars (children are welcome), or fast-food restaurants where kids can move around without bothering others.
✵ Eating al fresco is fun; try places on squares where kids can run free while you dine but avoid historical monuments in the city center. Picnic lunches and dinners work well—stop by the market and bakery at Campo de’ Fiori, get your fixings at the alimentari and frullati shop near the Pantheon, or try the sandwich shops on Via della Croce. Pizza rustica shops sell cheap takeout pizza, and of course gelato provides some of the best high-calorie memories in town. See the Eating in Rome chapter for these and other ideas.
Books and Films for Kids
Get your kids into the spirit of the Eternal City with these books and movies:
Classic Myths to Read Aloud: The Great Stories of Greek and Roman Mythology (William F. Russell, 1988). This thoughtful introduction to the tales of the ancient past is sure to captivate children five and up.
Julius Caesar (1953). Portraying the dramatic story of Julius Caesar’s assassination and its aftermath, this classic film brings history to life.
The Last Legion (2007). In this adventure film, brave 12-year-old Romulus Augustus takes bold action to save the Roman Empire from rebels in A.D. 470.
The Lizzie McGuire Movie (2003). A middle-school class trip to Rome is an adventure filled with comedy, drama, and romance.
The Pink Panther 2 (2009). Bumbling Inspector Jacques Clouseau heads to Rome with detectives from around the globe in a case of stolen world treasures.
Rome: Panorama Pops (Kristyna Litten, 2013). This accordion-style popup book takes you through sites like St. Peter’s Basilica and Villa Borghese.
The Thieves of Ostia (Caroline Lawrence, 2001). In ancient Rome, a young ship captain’s daughter joins three friends to solve a mystery. This is the first book in Lawrence’s The Roman Mysteries series.
This is Rome (Miroslav Sasek, 1960). History comes alive in this charming picture book of Rome through the ages. A 2007 edition includes a section about the modern-day city.
The key to a successful Rome family vacation is to slow down and incorporate your child’s interests into each day’s plans.
✵ Buy your child a trip journal, and encourage him or her to write down observations, thoughts, and favorite sights and memories. This journal could end up being your child’s favorite souvenir.
✵ Let your kids make some decisions, such as choosing lunch spots or deciding which stores or museums to visit. Deputize your child to lead you on my self-guided walks and museum tours.
✵ Ask at Rome’s TIs about kid-friendly activities. TIs sometimes have a helpful “kid’s pack.”
✵ Don’t overdo it. Tackle only one or two key sights a day (Vatican Museums, or Colosseum and Forum), and mix in a healthy dose of fun activities, like exploring Rome’s great public sights (Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, and Villa Borghese Gardens). If you’re visiting art museums with younger children, you could hit the gift shop first so you can buy postcards, then hold a scavenger hunt to find the pictured artwork. Museum audioguides are great for older children.
✵ Italy’s national museums generally offer free admission to children under 18—always ask before buying tickets for your kids.
✵ Follow this book’s crowd-beating tips. Kids don’t want to stand in a long line for a museum (which they might not even want to see). Consider getting a Roma Pass for yourself, as kids get to skip the line with parents who have the pass (see here for details on the pass).
✵ Give your child a money belt and an expanded allowance; you are on vacation, after all. Let your children budget their funds by comparing and contrasting the dollar and euro.
✵ It’s good to have a “what if” procedure in place in case something goes wrong. Give your kids your hotel’s business card, your phone number (if you brought a mobile phone), and emergency taxi fare. Let them know to ask to use the phone at a hotel if they are lost. And if they have mobile phones, show them how to make calls in Italy.
✵ If you allow kids to explore a museum or neighborhood on their own, be sure to establish a clear meeting time and place.
✵ Public WCs are hard to find: Try museums, bars, gelato shops, and fast-food restaurants.
✵ Rome’s hotels often give price breaks for kids. (Air-conditioning can be worth the splurge.)
✵ Any person under 39 inches tall travels free on Rome’s public transit.
✵ If you’re taking the train to another city, check for family discounts; see here for information.
Sights and Activities
ANCIENT SITES, CHURCHES, AND MUSEUMS
While some ancient sites, such as the Colosseum, are naturally captivating for kids, others, like the Roman Forum, may be a snooze. To keep them engaged, consider picking up a copy of Rome: Past and Present, a book with plastic overlays showing how the ruins used to look. It’s available at stalls near the entrance of ancient sites (prices are soft, so negotiate).
Catacombs of Priscilla
These spooky tunnels just outside the walls of the ancient city are goblin-pleasers. Kids will get a thrill out of descending into this underground tomb and seeing some of the 40,000 burial niches carved for Christians from the second to the fifth centuries. Visits are by 30-minute guided English-language tours. See listing on here.
Cost and Hours: €4 for kids 15 and under; €8 for adults, Tue-Sun 8:30-12:00 & 14:30-17:00, closed Mon, closed one random month a year—check website or call first, Via di Priscilla, tel. 06-8620-6272, www.catacombepriscilla.com.
The most macabre place in Rome is decorated with bones; it’s fascinating for children and adults alike. In the basement below the Church of Santa Maria della Immacolata Concezione, bones of about 4,000 friars who died in the 1700s decorate a series of six crypts. Your introduction to the place is the Crypt of the Three Skeletons, where the ceiling is decorated with a scythe-wielding skeleton, a bony chandelier, and floral motifs made of ribs and vertebrae. Other chambers are named for the type of bones that line them: Crypt of the Tibia and Fibia, Crypt of the Hips, and Crypt of the Skulls are a few that’ll keep you awake at night. For more information, see here.
Cost and Hours: €5 kids under 18, €8 adults, daily 9:00-19:00, modest dress required, no photos, Via Veneto 27, Metro: Barberini, tel. 06-8880-3695.
St. Peter’s Basilica Dome
In Vatican City, the climb to the top of St. Peter’s is great for its dizzy railing view into the church from halfway up the dome—plus the hike will tire out young tots. For details, see here.
Cost and Hours: €7 for elevator to roof then take stairs, €5 to climb stairs all the way, cash only, allow an hour to go up and down; daily April-Sept 8:00-18:00, Oct-March 8:00-17:00, last entry one hour before closing if you take the stairs the whole way; no shorts, above-the-knee skirts, or bare shoulders—even for children; tel. 06-6988-1662, www.vaticanstate.va.
The Vatican Museums
These extensive museums feature mummies, sarcophagi, ancient statues and armor, old maps, and the bedrooms of Renaissance popes. There’s an audioguide designed for families. See the Vatican Museums Tour chapter for more detailed information.
Cost and Hours: €8 ages 6-18, free for kids 5 and under, €16 adults, €4 online reservation fee; Mon-Sat 9:00-18:00, last entry at 16:00, closed on religious holidays and Sun except last Sun of the month, check online for current hours before going; audioguide-€7; no shorts, above-the-knee skirts, or bare shoulders—even for children; tel. 06-6988-3860 or 06-6988-1662, http://mv.vatican.va.
This emperor’s tomb-turned-castle has one of the best views of Rome from the rooftop—including striking vistas of the Vatican. The weapon displays will appeal to young knights. See listing on here.
Cost and Hours: €10.50, Tue-Sun 9:00-19:30, closed Mon, last entry one hour before closing, audioguide-€5, near Vatican City, 10-minute walk from St. Peter’s Square, Metro: Lepanto or bus #40 or #64, tel. 06-681-9111, www.castelsantangelo.beniculturali.it.
Church of San Ignazio
This church’s riot of Baroque illusions will intrigue kids. The colorful ceiling fresco fools the eye into thinking you’re looking up at a dome—including false two-dimensional columns that look like extensions of the real columns below. Kids might also get a kick out of the seeing the headquarters of the Carabinieri police force, across the street. San Ignazio is included in the Pantheon Tour chapter; see here.
Cost and Hours: Free, Mon-Sat 7:30-19:00, Sun 9:00-19:00, Via del Caravita 8.
Pyramid of Gaius Cestius
Your children can get a whiff of Egypt by visiting Rome’s funky little pyramid. Also check out the cat hospice in the adjacent park and climb on the chunk of old Roman wall across the street. See here.
Cost and Hours: Free and always viewable, Via Raffaele Persichetti, Metro: Piramide.
Bocca della Verità
The legendary “Mouth of Truth” at the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin is fun for kids and parents with cameras. Little ones can test their truthfulness—and bravery—by sticking their hands in the mouth of the stone face in the church’s porch wall. Liars will have their hands gobbled up.
Cost and Hours: €0.50 suggested donation, daily 9:30-17:50, closes earlier off-season, Piazza Bocca della Verità, near the north end of Circus Maximus, a 10-minute walk south from Piazza Venezia, bus #81, #87, and #170, tel. 06-678-7759.
Its location in an old power plant may be even more interesting to young visitors than the ancient statuary featured in this unusual museum. Kids can inspect the defunct centrifuges, boilers, and steam turbines that mingle with the statues of muses and satyrs. An added plus: no crowds. For more details, see here.
Cost and Hours: €6.50 for ages 6-25, free for kids under 6, €7.50 adults; Tue-Sun 9:00-19:00, closed Mon; look for red banner marking Via Ostiense 106, a short walk from Metro: Garbatella, tel. 06-0608, www.centralemontemartini.org.
This children’s museum is a hands-on wonderland for kids 12 and under. The interactive exhibits will have your little ones doing the shopping, pulling toy carrots in the garden, puttering in the kitchen, creating cartoons, and experimenting with weights and measures, among many other fun activities. Descriptions are in Italian (with some English), but kids probably won’t care.
Cost and Hours: €5 for kids 1-2, €8 for kids 3-99, parent must accompany child; four 2-hour self-guided sessions/day: Tue-Sun at 10:00, 12:00, 15:00, and 17:00; closed Mon, confirm session times in advance by checking website or calling, helpful English-speaking staff; 10-minute walk from Piazza del Popolo at Via Flaminia 82, Metro: Flaminio, tel. 06-361-3776, www.mdbr.it).
Rome feels safe at night, and you can easily take your kids on the walks suggested in this book, such as the “Dolce Vita Stroll” on here. On the Heart of Rome Walk, children like slurping up chocolate gelato at the Tre Scalini gelateria on Piazza Navona and tossing coins in the Trevi Fountain. Consider letting your child act as tour guide for an hour by leading one of the walks.
These other outdoor activities will also amuse your young and active travel companions.
Villa Borghese Gardens
These sprawling gardens are Rome’s version of New York City’s Central Park. The best kids’ zones are near Porta Pinciana, where you’ll find rental bikes, pony rides, and other amusements. Summer weekends at the gardens, sure to be a hit with kids, include classic Roman puppet shows at Teatro dei Burattini. Rome’s zoo, Bioparco, in the northern section of the park, houses about 900 animals including the endangered black lemur, pygmy hippopotamus, and Gila monster.
Cost and Hours: Free for kids “under 1 meter tall,” €12 for kids over 1 meter and under age 12, €15 for adults; daily April-Oct 9:30-18:00, Nov-March 9:30-17:00, last entry one hour before closing; café and picnic areas; Piazzale del Giardino Zoologico 1, Metro: Spagna or Flaminio, then a 20-minute walk through the park, tel. 06-360-8211, www.bioparco.it.
Biking the Appian Way
Older children may want to rent a bike to cruise the Appian Way. The route will take young explorers by the Catacombs of San Sebastiano and San Callisto—great spooky sights for kids—and the huge, ancient chariot racetrack at the Villa of Maxentius. The best day for biking is Sunday, when the Appian Way is closed to cars, though on other days (except Wed) you can use the bike/pedestrian path to avoid the worst of the traffic. See Ancient Appian Way Tour chapter for details.
Cost and Hours: Rental from Appia Antica Caffè: €4/hour, €10/3 hours, 10 percent discount off bikes with this book, daily 9:00-sunset, Via Appia Antica 175, tel. 06-8987-9575, www.appiaanticacaffe.it. Rental from the Via Appia Antica TI: €3/hour, €15/day, daily 9:30-17:30, Nov-March until 16:30, often closed for lunch between 13:00-14:00, Via Appia Antica 58, tel. 06-513-5316, www.parcoappiaantica.it.
Beyond the ruins of Ostia Antica, the sandy beaches of modern Ostia are easily accessible via a combination Metro/train ride. As elsewhere in Italy, most of the shoreline is occupied by private “clubs” (stabilimenti balneare) that charge a fee to use their facilities. Clubs lay out rows of beach chairs and umbrellas, and most have cafés, WCs, changing rooms, lockers, and lifeguards on duty. Some even have full-service restaurants and swimming pools. Bring your own towel and picnic, and expect to be surrounded by a thoroughly local scene.
Any club will work. Belsito (www.belsitoostia.com) and its neighbor to the north, Il Capanno (www.ilcapanno.net) are nice and unpretentious choices. They are a 15-minute walk south from the public pier (or 5-minute walk from the Stella Polare bus stop described below—head straight for the water and turn right). Next to Il Capanno, there’s a small, free public beach that’s usually packed, especially on weekends. Other public beaches are few and far between.
Cost and Hours: Expect to pay around €5 for entry, €10 for each chair, and another €10 for an umbrella. Swimming pools usually cost extra. Beach clubs are open roughly May-Sept. Beach-club areas are free and uncrowded off-season, and public beaches are free year-round.
Getting There: The journey to Ostia is covered by a normal Metro ticket (passes valid) and takes about an hour from central Rome. Take Metro line B to the Piramide stop, which is linked to the Roma Porta San Paolo train station. Follow signs to Lido—go up the escalator, turn left, and go down the steps into the Roma-Lido station. From here, it’s easy since all trains depart in the direction of Lido, leaving every 15 minutes. Look for the information board that reads something like, “Prossima partenza alle ore 13.25, bin 3,” meaning, “Next departure at 13:25 from track 3.” Hop on and ride for about 40 minutes (no need to validate your Metro ticket again).
From the Lido Centro stop, it’s about a 15-minute walk through town (and past stores selling food and beach gear), to the Pontile di Ostia, the public pier, and surrounding clubs (not well marked; don’t hesitate to ask). The subsequent stops, Stella Polare, Castel Fusano, and Cristoforo Colombo, leave you in more residential areas but closer to the beach and a variety of clubs.
Just outside Rome, cool off at this big water park with looping slides, several swimming pools, terraces of chaise lounges with umbrellas, and a snack bar. A great change of pace from museums and churches, this alternative activity is perfect for a hot Italian summer day.
Cost and Hours: €19, cheaper for kids 12 and under and anyone arriving after 14:00; open daily June-Aug 9:30-18:30, Sat-Sun until 19:00, closed Sept-May; Vicolo del Casale Lumbroso 200, exit 33 off ring freeway west of the city, tel. 06-6618-3183, www.hydromania.it.
This monumental water park is a little further afield, near Tivoli. It boasts a maze of three-story slides and Europe’s largest wave pool, along with two children’s pools with smaller slides and a relaxing “lagoon.” An enormous dinosaur watches over all the watery fun. Facilities include inner tube rental, shops, chaise lounges with umbrellas, picnic areas, and snack bars.
Cost and Hours: €10 Mon-Sat, €15 Sun, one child under 10 gets in free with each adult, daily June-mid-Sept 9:00-19:30, closed mid-Sept-May, Via Maremmana Inferiore, in Guidonia, 15-minute drive east of Rome, tel. 0774-326-538, www.aquapiper.it; occasionally a free shuttle bus leaves from the center of Rome (Piazza della Repubblica).