Rome is a magical place for any traveller, but if you have tots or older children, a little forward planning can avoid tears and tempers.
When to go
Rome is hot and crowded in the summer months, but can still be warm at autumn half-term. Easter is busy because of the religious holiday, but out-of-season is cooler and cheaper – and the weather can still be pleasant.
Rome is built on seven hills and even walking up the Via Vittorio Veneto without a pushchair can be a challenge. To avoid fraught trips back to the hotel or expensive taxi fares, make sure the hotel you choose is on the flat – there are plenty of hotels and guest houses which are easily accessible round the Vatican and on the other side of the river around the Via del Corso, where the main town centre and tourist sites are.
Rome is easy to walk around but has some busy main routes and piazzas, as well as cobbled streets – which can be hard on gladiatorial feet, let alone tiny tootsies. Staying near the main tourist attractions such as the Trevi Fountain and Forum means you will not have to walk far – and can take a taxi across the river to the Vatican and Castel Sant’Angelo to see both in one afternoon, without exhausting the troops. Wear comfortable shoes – and preferably not new ones. That old pair you keep meaning to chuck out but which are really comfortable would be perfect. There are plenty of lanes to wander round in central Rome off the Via del Corso, but hours of pounding the cobbles will challenge even the toughest toes.
Sightseeing with children needs to be in short bursts. The Forum is perfect for a morning or afternoon – but do not plan to see everything in one day, or in one short stay. For your first trip to Rome, choose a few of the main sites to visit and take plenty of rest stops along the way. The Forum and Trevi Fountain are reasonably near to each other, with plenty of cafes along the way – or see the Forum and the Colosseum. Ditto the Pantheon and Piazza Navona, or Piazza Navona and Campo dei Fiori. The streets of Rome have lots to entertain little ones – from Roman soldiers awaiting a photo opportunity, to opera promoters in period dress, street performers, horses and carriages waiting for customers – and lots and lots of toy sellers along the way!
At weekends, or if you need to escape the hustle and bustle of Rome, the Borghese Gardens are perfect for rest and relaxation, with cafes for lunch, plus roundabouts and horse riding for little ones and roller blading for older children – and acres of wild and cultivated greenery to run around in. Sunday mornings are perfect for visitng the gardens, situated at the top of the Spanish Steps, then turn left – or at the top of the Via Vittorio Veneto, where you can also see the old city wall on route.
Off the Via del Corso, on either side, is a myriad of tiny cobbled streets full of interesting sights, shops and street sellers, offering artwork, posters, jewellery, toys, scarves and shawls. It is almost impossible to turn into a street in Rome and not find something of interest. Rome also has a lot of pocket-money toys on offer for €1-2 euros – and Pinocchio is a recurrent theme for little ones. The shops stay open till around 8pm at night, after which it is time to settle down to some much needed dinner.
Needless to say there are plenty of souvenirs of the historic sites to bring home – but Rome also offers cheap leather goods and jackets, silk and polyester scarves at bargain prices (which are usually made in Italy), Merino glass, artwork at the Piazza Navona and, of course, pasta, cheese, sweets and wine. The news stands also have souvenirs, mini calendars and larger calendars and posters for sale at reasonable prices.
Little fusspots will have a hard job complaining at mealtimes in Italy – pizza and pasta are everywhere, including fast food stalls selling a slice of pizza for a few euros. Rome is also full of excellent bars, cafes, trattoria and restaurants – and Italy is totally geared up for accommodating children. Prices will be higher round the Trevi Fountain, Piazza di Spagna and other tourist sites. An ice cream from a gelateria should cost around €2-€3 normally, but is likely to cost €5 round the Trevi area or Piazza di Spagna. Coffees will also be one or two euros more expensive. Coffee is between €2-€5. If you are thinking of venturing into Babingtons tea shop by the Spanish Steps, a pot of tea costs €10. For eating on the go, the roadside vans can offer value – a huge panini that would stop the largest appetite and a soft drink will cost €6-€7 and will keep you going while crossing the Tiber and beyond.
There are also food stalls selling fruit, so there is ample opportunity to get your five-a-day. There are bakeries and bars everywhere, where you can buy drinks, pasta, pizza slices and cakes – and branches of the supermarket chain Coop sells rolls and sandwiches (there is one at the junction of the via Buffalo and via Poli between Piazza Spagna and the Trevi Fountain). There are also branches of McDonalds (including one on the Via del Corso) and Burger King dotted around, if the kids want a taste of home.
If you want an afternoon pit stop and need gluten- or egg-free, Angelina Trattoria at via Poli 27 has cakes which cater for those with special dietary needs. It is within walking distance of the Trevi Fountain and Piazza Spagna. The gluten-free lemon drizzle cake is delicious! Angelina’s is also a lovely place for a romantic meal or couples only evening if you have a babysitter to hand!
Rome at Night
The shops close at 8pm and then even the main streets around the Via del Corso fall fairly quiet off season. There is not the same drinking culture as in the UK and other countries, so parents need not feel they are missing out by retiring early with the children. Finding a quiet trattoria for supper or visiting the Forum by night are nice ways to end the day as a family, as the sights are illuminated. It is possible to walk around Trajan’s Forum at night. The Trevi Fountain is usually busy at night – there is a gelateria nearby, so you can sit on the Trevi’s steps and enjoy the atmosphere, or have a coffee at a nearby café.
There are public lavatories around Rome – including Piazza di Spagna, where there are baby changing facilities – as well as in restaurants and bars. If desperate, head to a McDonalds, where you will find a long queue of like-minded people. There are lavatories at the Vatican City, too, which are presided over by nuns, where there is a small charge for a handtowel. If you need to change your baby or your little one needs a comfort break, it is unlikely you will be denied the use of a lavatory in a cafe or hotel if you ask nicely.
Rome has an efficient Metro system, bus service and plenty of taxi ranks, with licensed metered cabs which are white. It is okay to enquire about the fare before you get in a cab and also make sure it is licensed and metred – black cabs are unlicensed. A taxi from Piazza di Spagna to the top of Via Vittorio Veneto, for example, will cost around €5-10 – depending on the route taken! Ask for a rough estimate of the price beforehand. A metered taxi from Fiumicino Airport to the centre of Rome is around €40. Again, ask before you get in. Tipping is not obligatory in Rome, but is appreciated. Horse and carriage rides are generally expensive, but stroking a horse’s velvety muzzle is free. Make sure little ones don’t get their fingers nipped or are trodden on by a hoof, though. There are also plenty of coach tours round Rome – and beyond to Pompeii and Sorrento, which takes a day. One of the main excursion operators is Viator.com, which offers a Rome Tour with Kids for parents and children.
Rome is quite a conservative city and is generally peaceful and orderly. It is well policed and you will also come across heavily armed military on the streets at public buildings. At certain locations, such as the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument (a government building), there is a strict behaviour code and the police enforce this rigorously, so read the notices before you ascend the steps – which may be too steep for small children, anyway. Similarly, inside St Peter’s, respectful behaviour is key unless you want a conversation with security. Because of the security around the city, out of season there is little or no evidence of spirited behaviour outside bars and pubs – and the city has a friendly, relaxed atmosphere, despite the obvious signs of law enforcement. General safety awareness is advised, though – watch your purse and handbag, check your change in shops, and keep children close to you, especially on busy roads. There are crossings, but buses and other vehicles tend to swing round corners at speed.
Pharmacies and supermarkets
There are pharmacies everywhere in Rome – several in the Piazza di Spagna, along the Via del Corso and on the Via Del Conciliazione leading to the Vatican. There is a supermarket on the Via del Bufalo (between the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain at the junction of the Via Poli) and another on the Vittorio Corso Emanuele (between the Campo dei Fiori and Area Sacra).
Some cab and private hire car drivers do not speak English, but it is widely spoken.
- Take lots of wet wipes – especially in hot weather or windy weather, as a strong breeze through the Forum can blow dust everywhere.
- Carry a lightweight change of shoes with you – it is likely you will get a blister as a badge of honour, so take plasters, too.
- Take water, or make sure you stock up along the way. A bottle of water costs around €1-2.
- Don’t start out without a good breakfast – just as an army marches on its stomach, so will you and the kids in Rome.
Rome has a nice energy and is a lively, relaxed city to visit – whether on your own, with a partner, or with family and friends. Enjoy!