The challenge was to combine 1) a whirlwind tour of Rome 2) in early summer 3) with three children with 4) a four-day visit with a dear cousin and her daughter, whom we haven’t seen in a while. And we were successful!
Rome has plenty to see and do with children, but it does take some clever managing. We found that granitas and gelato help a lot. One adult stands in line for tickets while the other adult sets the children down somewhere nearby in the shade and then goes to get gelatos for everyone. Lines go quickly with this method.
A few standard sites that were a hit with children ages 8-13:
- St. Peter’s Square and Dome (not so much the Basilica and definitely not the Museums)
- Capuchin Crypt under the Santa Maria della Concenzione church at the bottom of Via Veneto near Piazza Barberini. Five small rooms with all furnishings made from real human bones. No photos allowed, but plenty of postcards for sale. Modest dress required.
- Pyramid of Cestius
- Bocca della Verita — Santa Maria in Cosmedin Church behind the Mouth of Truth (which is in the portico) is old, small, understated, and very elegant, very beautiful.
- Castel Sant’Angelo — the paintings in the museum won’t interest children, but just getting inside the awesome structure and wandering around the rooms is worth the admission price. No lines, either.
A note about the Forum. If you enter from Via San Gregorio, keep in mind that the “famous” (lower) part of the Forum is at the far end. Pace yourself accordingly, especially if you have children along. The upper half of the Forum is a former villa and a nice, calm park — an oasis from the busy streets — but we were all tired, dusty, and hungry by the time we made it to the better-known lower level, where the big, impressive temples are located, and had to skip most of that part. I suggest entering along Via del Fori Imperiali (Via in Miranda / Via Salara Vecchia) and walking through the lower level first.
If you must see the Vatican Museums, order tickets online in order to skip the initial line. (There will still be crowds inside the museum.) It’s worth the extra 4 euros per ticket during high tourist season and when traveling with children. Better yet, go in the winter. But think hard whether your children will really appreciate the experience. It’s an awful lot of art and an awful lot of people — even for adults. The Sistine Chapel is, of course, beautiful, but the crowds debase it.
Many guide books suggest going to the Vatican/St. Peter’s early in the day. But in our experience the line to get into the basilica was very long at 9-10 a.m., whereas later in the afternoon there was hardly a line at all. By 5 p.m. the basilica was relatively empty and soothing and actually felt like a church. By 7 p.m. St. Peter’s Square had cooled down and was surprisingly pleasant.
Ilzīte taught me to ask for a plate of grilled vegetables at Italian restaurants. They’re refreshing, light, healthy, and usually very tasty. Pizza and spaghetti for the kids, of course.