Historic buildings, amazing galleries, late night dining in romantic settings … things come to mind when you picture a holiday in Rome. The tricky part for families is these things probably won’t appeal to your kids as much as they do to you.
So how can you make that dream trip to Rome exciting for the whole family?
Make the most of film and literature references
Children are always more engaged if they know something about the attraction you are visiting. If your kids are anything like mine, you’ll find they are more excited about visiting an attraction that they have seen a movie or book than if they know a few facts that Mum has told them. I’ve taken mine to a lot of art gallery’s but the most excited they’ve ever been at a gallery was at the Musee d’Orsay … all because Doctor Who went to the Musee d’Orsay to see Van Gogh paintings. Athens was thrilling not for the Acropolis but because it was home of Athena, who they knew something about from reading Percy Jackson!
Many of Rome’s historic sites have featured in movies and books. Gladiator is an obvious one that springs to mind, as well as the old classics, Roman Holiday and Ben Hur. There’s also the Olsen Twin movie “When in Rome” and the Lizzie Maguire movie.
Choose the right accommodation
Rome is a huge city but it has a fantastic subway network so you don't need to stay in the heart of things. Just find yourself a hotel or apartment close to a metro station and you will be able to get everywhere easily. Even with how easy it is to get around the city, with kids it's still a good idea to find a place to stay that is close to some of the places that you want to see. That way if the kids get tired during the day you can head home to rest before going back out again. And if everyone is having a tired day it's not a big adventure to go out sightseeing for just a few hours before returning how.
So do you go for an apartment or a hotel?
Apartments offer the convenience of space and the ability to cook for yourself. Apartments are great if you have young children. There more space to play during down time, a fridge for snacks and a separate bedroom so if the kids fall asleep early you don't find yourself tiptoeing around in a dark hotel room! A hotel has benefits as well that shouldn't be overlooked. Some of the attractions in the older neighbourhoods can be a little tricky to find. If you stay in a hotel you have access to a help desk for directions and advice. And hotels give you an excuse to eat out for every meal. Let's face it - the food in Rome is awesome so you want an excuse to eat out as often as possible!
We all hate standing in lines, especially the kids. Spending half a day waiting in a queue with kids is not fun. My kids have a limited period of time that they can remain engaged before they need to run, eat a snack or start picking a fight with their sibling. By the time we get through that line up they're restless and disinterested.
You can buy tickets online for many attractions. A lot of company’s also offer multi-site passes too. It can be a good way to save money and skip the lines. Entrance to the Colosseum actually gives you a two-day pass to the Colosseum, the Forum and Palatine Hill. Instead of lining up for hours at the Colosseum, buy your ticket at either the Forum or Palatine Hill where the lines are much shorter.
It's a great idea to find out what the quiet days and times are for the most popular attractions that you want to see are. Plan your sightseeing around those times. We usually have a backup plan in case we arrive at an attraction to find the queue is huge. It's well worth knowing what else is nearby so that you can go see that instead, then come back later when hopefully the lines are shorter.
Incorporate parks into your sightseeing
Rome has a lot of fabulous parks with plenty of space for the kids to run around in. Most have gorgeous fountains and statues, or even ruins and historic buildings to check out too.
The ancient moat of Castel Sant’Angelo has been filled in and turned into a wonderful green space with park benches, space to run and a playground suitable for younger children. It’s a great place to let the kids run while you enjoy the view. It's a nice way to split up your visit to the castle. Tour the museum, enjoy the view, explore the tunnels and when the kids get restless let them burn off energy playing and have picnic before exploring more of the castle.
Villa Borghese, near the Spanish Steps, is a fabulous park. It's the largest park in Rome and as well as being filled with fountains and statues, it has a playground, zoo, rides and a mini-train. You can tour the whole park by train or hire bikes. The four people bikes are a lot of fun. Your kids might even remember those as the highlight of their trip to Rome.
Embrace your inner Indian Jones
Rome has it's fair share of attractions where you are required to stay quiet and not touch anything. But there's also a wide range of historic sites that offer the chance to climb through tunnels and visit underground chambers. There are plenty of catacombs to explore, although with all the bones they can be a little scary for younger children. The 12th Century Bascilica San Clemente is built atop several older buildings. When you visit you can actually go down into the older layers to see the several older churches, hear a roaring underground spring, walk through ancient tunnels and see a Roman townhouse.
Rather than just visiting the Colosseum and teaching the kids about Gladiators from an audio-tour or movie, why not send them to Gladiator School. What better way to get them excited about ancient history and visiting attractions like the Colosseum than giving them the chance to get dressed up like gladiators and learn how they fought. They'll learn a lot about life in Ancient Rome while having heaps of fun.