Context Travel founder, mother and former Rome-dweller Lani Bevacqua shares her top 10 attractions when visiting Rome with kids. Lani was the impetus behind Context’s much-lauded Family Program of walks in Europe and the USA.
It always sounds glamorous when I tell people that my husband and I lived in Rome and Paris for many years. But that glamour haze fades quickly when I mention that we have three kids and a dog and spent far less time sipping aperitivi at sidewalk cafés than we did stacking the kids on top of each other in order to fit ourselves on the public transport during a rush-hour dash to school.
Rome is deeply child-friendly. Italians adore children, from cherubic two-year-olds to snotty five-year-olds and even gangly pre-pubescent 10-year-olds. In Italy, you'll find that people are far more patient with children than most anywhere else. And though it shouldn’t be so, it’s a luxury to be somewhere you never have to apologize for your child behaving like, well, a child!
That said, the city is not the best-equipped for children: playgrounds are scarce and often broken, green spaces tend toward the brown (especially in summer), and public parks can be gritty and urban. The one children's museum is a fine diversion but doesn't compare to those of Paris or New York. So enjoying the city with kids takes a bit of ingenuity. The list that follows includes sites designed and intended for kids, but also, more importantly, places that you'd want to see and that also just happen to be interesting for your kids.
The green space, the rides, the tandem bikes, the zoo, the seasonal teepees with activities and readings, endless space, fun and diversions for kids all year round… And after all that, the Galleria Borghese (a museum) sitting right in the middle. If your kids like art but can't stand more than an hour in a museum, this small but world-class collection provides a nice fulcrum to shape a day around. Bring a picnic.
Explora — Children's Museum
This small but well-kept kids' play space with its grocery-store mock-up, play post office, outdoor swing and rotating exhibits is a good way to spend a couple of hours. It’s in the Flaminia area of the city north of the Piazza del Popolo and near the Villa Borghese.
Biblioteca Centrale Ragazzi
This tiny and adorable children's library just behind the Campo di Fiori and Piazza Farnese offers readings, comfy kid-sized chairs and foreign-language books (English). We come to immerse the kids in Italian language and culture; you don't see a lot of non-Italians here.
This beautiful museum in the Michelangelo-designed Campidoglio Square is one of the better ones for kids – the outdoor courtyard filled with the head, hands, and feet of the colossal statue of Constantine is real child-magnet, and the excavated temple of Zeus inside is extremely cool.
Chiostro del Bramante
Just a block west of Piazza Navona, this early Renaissance courtyard attached to the church of Santa Maria della Pace is a good place to cool off and get a refreshment. There's always a funky exhibit, and the café on the upper walkway is moderately kid-friendly.
In addition to the obvious attractions of the medieval armoury, this castle is spooky in itself – and also surrounded by a moat-turned-playground and grassy(ish) field. In summer a series of outdoor festivals and camps take root here.
Rome's botanical gardens are always filled with kids from the Trastevere neighborhood. Set halfway between the Vatican and Piazza Trilussa in Trastevere, it has no play equipment but does boast several water areas, hills and plenty of shade. Admission is steep, however..
Crowded, check. Enforced quiet, check. Yet despite all that, even the youngest children sense the sublime importance of this building, so bring them them ogle the oculus and peer at the statues in the crannies, then take them outside for a gelato (Giolitti is an obvious nearby choice).
Descending down through 2,000 years of history in this medieval church that sits on an older church, which itself sits on Roman ruins, is a treat for kids. It's dark and vaguely creepy, and down in the ruins they can lose themselves in labyrinthine passages. Check out the Mithraic temple where Roman soldiers used to sacrifice to the bull-headed god Mithras.
Pizza is amazing in Rome – The best anywhere. And, taking our kids to La Montecarlo or any of the well-known pizzerias is always a treat. Our favorite is San Calisto, in Piazza San Calisto in Trastevere. (The downside is that after eating pizza in Rome, our kids turn their noses up at the dish anywhere else.)
Find out more about visiting Rome with kids, including our hand-picked family-friendly places to stay.