What can one say about a city that has existed for thousands of years?
Rome fits our criteria for an outstanding, educational family travel adventure that combines art, history, architecture, food and culture. You can spend a few days or an entire month exploring the glory of Rome, as it exists today and as it was in ancient times, and leave amazed and enlightened about this wonderful, mad city.
When in Rome, do as the travelling mom has done! Here is our family’s ‘Top 10 List’ – our ‘must see’s’ and things to do in Rome, in order of our own favorites.
1. The Colosseum
Gladiators! Christians! Wild beasts! My children’s imagination ran wild as we walked through the ancient viewing galleries of the most iconic ruin in Rome, the Colosseum. Peering down onto the subterranean caverns where animals and prisoners would have been kept and led up (using an ingenious pulley system) to their (violent) deaths was an incredible experience. The scale of this stadium is impressive, even more so when we consider that it still stands today – a testament to the Roman Empire’s engineering and architectural prowess. [Tip: Take the kids’ photos with the modern Romans in ancient costume vying for your tourist dollars outside the Colosseum. Sure, it’s kitschy, but priceless.]
The area around the Colosseum includes the Arch of Constantine, the Palatine Hill and the Imperial Forum. I highly recommend a good half-day visit to appreciate the magnificence of the Roman Empire. The scale of the ruins is incredible, and the kids will have some freedom to explore and stretch their legs. It’s one of our favorite places in the Eternal City.
2. The Pantheon
Saved from destruction through its consecration as a Christian church in the 7th century, the ancient Pantheon temple built first by Agrippa and then by Hadrian is an architectural and historical jewel. The dome and oculus, the bronze doors and royal tombs, and the original portico are marvels of the ancient world. A visit to this structure is an excellent beginning to anyone’s architectural education, whether young or old! [ttm tips: Visit the Pantheon when it’s raining to watch the rain fall through the oculus into the middle of the building. Also, try to avoid the hawkers in the square outside the Pantheon.]
3. Campo de’ Fiori
This lively market square is bustling with vendors of fresh produce and flowers (hence its name fiori), but also with stalls of clothing, jewelry, toys and trinkets. You can spend a wonderful few hours exploring the kiosks for gifts for home; and give the kids some Euros to spend on their own treasures. The price for an Italia or Roma soccer jersey may be cheaper here than on more high-brow streets in other neighbourhoods. And who can resist the temptation to haggle?
4. Ostia Antica
Ostia Antica is the site of Rome’s ancient sea port, and is situated 40 minutes outside the city by commuter train. The ancient town-site makes for an outstanding day trip if you wish to see the well-preserved ruins of a Roman town. Ostia Antica was rediscovered and dug out from centuries of sand burial, and the ruins showcase an amazing, sophisticated society, complete with baths, bakeries, gyms, temples and latrines. (The kids will love learning about the ‘sponge sticks’ in the communal toilets.) However, keep in mind that the site is large and requires a lot of walking. The ancient stone road isn’t that stroller-friendly, so we’d recommend a visit here if your children are 8 years and older.
5. Trevi Fountain
You’ll have to battle the crowds to get a photo at the Trevi Fountain, but it’s the most magnificent fountain in Rome, and very much a must-see. Don’t forget to turn your back and throw your pennies in to ensure a return to the city (as the story goes).
6. St. Peter’s Basilica & Dome
We’ve documented in great detail a visit to the Vatican Museums, which makes our Rome list. As part of your itinerary at the Vatican (reserve an entire day), your family should visit St. Peter’s Basilica to feel the immensity of the space and admire the many great works of art, particularly Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the Pieta. If you feel up to it, climb the 350 steps into the Dome. The view will be worth it, even if the slope and height freaks you (and the kids) out! [ttm tip: Your kids may get a big kick out of seeing the Swiss Guards in their fancy 16th century uniforms. Posing with them was one of my children’s Rome trip highlights.]
7. San Clemente Church
The San Clemente Church is within walking distance of the Coliseum, and is worth the visit to descend 60 feet underground and view the many layers and 2,000 years of Roman history on this one site. The stunning tile works, paintings and ongoing archaeological work underground are fascinating, and also a little bit spooky and claustrophobic.
8. Trastevere Neighbourhood
Our favorite Roman neighborhood is the city’s authentic Trastevere area. It’s a real, non-touristy hood with great, affordable restaurants, cool & quirky shops (with less mark-ups than other more touristy areas), the beautiful Santa Maria church, and a short but uphill walk to the Gianicolo for more fabulous views of the city and the Seven Hills of Rome. [ttm tip: Architectural (and LEGO-building) fans will want to find the Tempietto, a perfectly proportioned, small 16th-century temple, found on the Gianicolo hill.]
9. Pincio & Borghese Gardens
Rome is not a lush, green city. The predominant colours are brown and beige, and trees (and shade) can be very hard to come by in the heat of summer. The best place to be for a leisurely stroll in landscaped, green gardens is the Pincio and Borghese Gardens. The Gardens overlook the large Piazza del Popolo and are also home to the Villa Borghese. You can bring a picnic to enjoy on the grounds, rent bicycles, and visit the Gardens’ small funfair (great for small children). The views of Rome are also superb from this higher vantage point.
10. Spanish Steps
Conveniently located near one of the best high fashion shopping streets in Rome (Via Condotti), the Spanish Steps and Piazza di Spagna are magnificent in spring and early summer when the flowers are in full bloom. The sinking boat fountain (La Barcaccia) sits at the foot of the steps and was designed in this amusing way due to the area’s low water pressure. A lovely spot to stop for a break and enjoy a snack or gelato.
We’ve only scratched the surface here! There is so much more to write about visiting Rome with your family. We’ll follow up this article with more ideas about great day trips from the City and other sweet spots to discover. And speaking of food, we’ll be sure to share our best finds of gelato, coffee and other Roman goodies.
Rome Travel Tip
Buy a Roma Pass Card for each family member at the Airport or at a tabacchi upon arrival in the city. It will allow you entrance into the Coliseum and Forum areas (as well as other Museums and sites) without having to line up. The Pass also includes free Metro transportation for three days. However, if your children are under six or ten years of age, we’d advise checking out the site entrance rules ahead of time. There may be free entrance or reduced fees for younger children.
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Photo Credit: S. Laroye
Have you visited Rome? What were your favorite sites? Share your comments below.