Our second city break of the year took us to Rome. This is a place that both my husband and I have already visited, so we had the advantage of having prior knowledge of the city. Previously I have climbed to the top of St. Peter’s cathedral, toured the Vatican (twice), done an audio tour of the Coliseum and walked the streets of the Trastevere. We knew, therefore, where to take our children and where to avoid.
Where to stay
I had the usual difficulty finding accommodation large enough for the five of us. I may be fussy, but it doesn’t make for a fun holiday if we have to squeeze in to a tiny room. When your kids are still little you spend as much time at your accommodation as you do out and about. My kids love to chill out in their ‘holiday home’, as they call it, so for us it is an important part of our trip and not just a base for us to crash.
We stayed at Caesar House hotel, in the two bedroomed apartment Colosseo. The hotel is housed in a large early 19th Century building on the second floor and has just thirteen rooms, two of which are apartments with kitchenettes. Breakfast was brought to our room every morning and Rosanna and Sumi looked after our youngest when it came to providing a feast of dairy and wheat free goodies. He was over the moon.
Situated on Via Cavour, near to the Coliseum, Caesar House is a great base as a starting point for seeing the sights of Rome.
What to see
Coliseum and Roman Forum
The Coloseum is such an awesome sight that children of all ages cannot fail to be inspired by it. We walked the children round and tried to help them imagine a time when it was packed to the rafters with Romans eager to see their favourite Gladiators become champions of the arena.
Moving on from there, wander through the Roman Forum and feel as though you have stepped back in time. Walk the time worn cobbled paths as the Roman citizens once did passing temples and other ruins, towards the market which was once a bustling centre for trade.
Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps
This popular monument pulls in a lot of tourists and is crowded pretty much all day. But it is an amazing sight and one not to be missed. It’s tradition to stand with your back to the fountain and throw a coin in backwards if you want to make a wish to return to Rome. Make sure you look behind you first though!
Young children are unlikely to want to walk the steps of the Piazza Spagnola, especially if it’s a hot day (as is likely in Rome). But if you do manage to persuade them, you will be rewarded with a great view of the city. Beware of the street sellers up there though, they seem to be more persistent than in other areas.
Explora Museum for Children
This is a great, hands on museum which is aimed at helping children learn and explore via interactivity. Children can pretend to be a fireman, a shop keeper, bank teller or mechanic. Learn about how things grow, recycling, energy sources and even plumbing! There is an outdoor play area there too, plus a restaurant and cafe.
Little Big Town is a toy store on three levels, so you’ll find everything here you could possible want or need to suit all budgets.
Al Sogno is an unusual toy and gift shop situated in Piazza Navona. The square itself is beautiful and well worth a visit, although you’ll find the prices reflect the popularity with the tourist crowds. We now have a collection of rag dolls from Al Sogno. They’re known as My Doll’s and we think they are rather lovely.
Taking it easy
Wander up Via Cavour from Caesar House hotel and on to Via Serpenti and you come across a maze of tiny cobbled streets which provide welcome shade from the hot sun. The beautiful Piazza della Madonna dei Monti is a popular hangout for locals and students and you’ll find an array of restaurants to choose from and shops to browse in.
It’s on exploring these side streets that you come across little gems like this coffee shop:
Rome is easy to get around on foot and although there is a Metro, it doesn’t serve all of the main tourist areas. Another way to get around is by tram. As with all forms of public transport in Italy, you have to get tickets prior to boarding and you need to validate them before use.
Where to eat
Royal Art Cafe For breakfast or lunch, along with a lovely view of the Coliseum which is directly opposite.
La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali for dinner, with great service and food (must book in advance).
You can buy a Roma pass from most newsagents. This is a ticket which gives you entry in to a large number of museums and sights (free entry to the first two and discounted to others) and allows you to skip the queues (really worth the money when you have children in tow). You can also use the Roma pass on the Metro and other public transport. Children under ten go free in to most museums and attractions and also the Metro, so you don’t need to buy a Roma pass for them, but you are required to get them an entry ticket (free of charge) in order for them to gain access. The Roma pass is valid for three days from the day it is first used.
Dotted around the city are numerous water fountains known as il Nasoni. These provide ice cold water that is completely free and safe to drink. So don’t go spending loads of money on bottled water, you can buy one and then refill it whenever you need to. These are an attraction in themselves and were particularly popular with the children.
My tip of where to avoid would be the Vatican City. It is beautiful and obviously the Cistine Chapel is the big pull. But it is incredibly busy in there and let’s face it, children aren’t that interested in art. They may prefer a visit to St Peter’s Cathedral and the square, but don’t attempt to take younger children to the top. It is hard going and you have to squeeze your way along some of the rafters.
Everyone had a brilliant time. We were there for three full days and although we didn’t see everything, it was enough for the children. It is tough, even for adults, to pound the streets sight seeing when the temperatures are in the twenties. But we all threw a coin in the Trevi Fountain, so hopefully we’ll get our wish to go back and see some more.