One of the reasons I was so excited about our Disney Cruise itinerary was that it meant the opportunity to show my niece, Harriet, some of my favourite cities in the world: Monte Carlo, Florence, and Rome. I’ll tell you about our visits to the other two soon but first, here are my top tips for visiting Rome with kids, a city I’ve been lucky to visit many, many times. Probably because I keep throwing coins in the Trevi fountain (more on that story later).
The ideal is to spend a few days exploring so you can pace yourselves, but even if you only have a day there it’s possible to see all the major sights and give kids of all ages something to remember. It’s really easy to walk around and fairly difficult to get lost (and if I do, I just ask directions in bad Italian). I’ve been in all seasons – spring/summer is beautiful, winter can be cold, autumn can be wet, but it’s always breathtaking.
A good place to start exploring is of course the Colosseum, and I recommend getting there as early as possible in the morning (it’ll be cooler and slightly less crowded). Unless you have bought a Rome card (and it’s worth it if you’re going to be spending a few days there), the queues for tickets can seem prohibitively long, but the good news is they move really quickly. Take bottles of water, all the same.
Kids up to the age of 17 get in free, and for adults it’s 12 euros. It’s totally worth it, because although it’s awesome from the outside, inside it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before; so well preserved, you can see the tunnels where the gladiators and animals used to wait for their big moments (and in the case of the poor animals, almost certain death), and read all the history, some of it fairly horrible, all of it engrossing.
From the Colosseum it’s about a 20 minute walk, past the Circus Maximus, where they used to have the chariot racing, to the Altare della Patria (Vittorio Emanuele monument), sometimes referred to as ‘the wedding cake’, which doesn’t go down very well with Italians; it’s really a very impressive building, or tacky and overblown, depending on your point of view. Watch out for the traffic here, it’s completely mad. (Notice the sky was starting to cloud over – an early warning of the very heavy rain that was on its way.)
The next street to walk along is the Via del Corso, known for its shops; I’ve heard some people say it’s a bit like our Oxford Street. They’re wrong, because although it has a lot of shops, it’s much more stylish, much less crowded. It’s off here you’ll find the Fontana di Trevi, the Trevi Fountain, and as I explain in this video, the idea is to throw three coins in the fountain, one after the other, with your right hand, over your left shoulder; one, to return to Rome; two, to find love; and three, to stay married. It’s always a bit mad around the Trevi Fountain and you really have to watch your bag, but when the sun’s out it’s absolutely stunning.
OK, presuming you’re in need of a sit down, you can walk from here to one of my favourite shopping malls, the Galleria Alberto Sordi. Inside you’ll find some classy shops, including the great toy store Imagnarium; and there’s also a wonderful café, which does the most fabulous Viennese cappuccino.
Now you should be feeling restored enough to head for the Pantheon, which is set in an exceptionally picturesque square, and is over 2000 years old (if that doesn’t impress your kids, nothing will).
I’ve visited many times (it’s free to enter) and this time rain was coming through the hole in the ceiling, which is there by design, not accident; it was completely magical. Harriet was utterly enchanted.
Also close by is the Piazza Navona, a stunning square with a beautiful fountain and lots of very reasonable pizzerias. It’s a really good place to eat at night with kids, there’s always a lot going on, and some dodgy fortune tellers. (And if you’re looking for really authentic Italian food and you’re staying a few days, go to Trastevere , where the Romans eat. Remember they eat late, so make the most of that siesta).
And from here you can walk to the Spanish Steps, which are fairly steep but easy enough to climb with lots of places for Mum/Dad/Aunty Liz to rest. It’s totally worth it, because once you’re at the top you’ll get a great view of the city.
Afterwards, if you’re with anyone who loves gorgeous designer things *cough*, then head back down and stroll along the Via Condotti; this is where you’ll find Gucci, Armani, Prada, Chanel; it’s also where you’ll find the legendary Caffé Greco – great atmosphere, overpriced food and coffee, terrible service, but worth it for the experience. And Via Condotti really is the epicentre of Roman chic; although it started to pour with rain last week when we were there, we spotted an insanely attractive man wearing an expensive-looking navy suit, carrying a pure white umbrella *swoon*.
When you’ve finished on the Via Condotti, it’s a fairly straightfoward walk to Vatican City (allow 45 mins), and it’s gorgeous on the banks of the River Tiber; or you can take the bus, which is an interesting experience (bumpy, noisy, crowded, very Italian).
If you want to see the Pope, and A LOT of people, then the best day to visit is Sunday, at midday, because that’s when he’ll appear on the balcony and make his speech; it’s a bit like being at a One Direction gig (I’m guessing), there are so many screaming girls and banners. Alternatively, visit in the week and it won’t be nearly as busy. If you want to go inside, though, this can be slightly more complicated (and expensive). I still haven’t managed to see the Sistine Chapel, but I did throw more coins in the Trevi last week, so, next time.