Young kids are not interested in 3,000-year culture, art, and architecture. I know. I know. And I’m very sorry, Caesar, Trajan, Spartacus,… The kids spent merely 10 minutes in the Pantheon and look at them. Need I say more?
Fortunately, Rome has plenty of fun and exciting places to keep kids happy (therefore keep us happy). This is our top things to do in Rome, according to the kids.
Eat gelato twice a day every day
You heard me right! Our quest is to find the best gelateria in town by eating ice-cream twice a day, everyday, for 8 days straight. Yes it’s true we had two sugar-high kids running around. But it’s also true that they would be (hopefully) well-behaved in some “boring” places knowing that a stop in an ice-cream shop was coming up next. Needless to say, I also enjoyed these sweet treats a ton. After trying a dozen of gelaterias, we have our three most favorites: Frigidarium (try saffron and pistachio flavor, dipped in dark chocolate), Fatamorgana (try rose pedals, avocado with white wine, and pineapple with ginger), and Giolitti (try champagne, pistachio).
Prices are generally 2.5 euros for a small cup or cone (two flavors), 3.5 euros for a medium cup or cone (three flavors), and 4.5 euros for a large cup.(four flavors).
2. Ride a bicycle in Villa Borghese
The gigantic park has beautiful views, lots of green spaces (duh), and a zoo (tada!). You could rent a single bike, a go-kart, or a family bike, or opt for a ride on the Bioparco Express train. The family bike is a big hit with the kids. It has running motor (!!!) so it’s a big hit with us too 🙂 One of the best museums in Rome is housed here, the Villa Borghese’s museum, if you are interested.
3. Have a blast at Explora – il Museo dei Bambini di Roma
After 5 days walking around the city, the kids seemed bored. They are kids. They need to play. So of course, we headed to Explora, the Children’s Museum in Rome. Although this place is smaller than the ones we were used to (like the one in Baltimore, or in Pittsburgh), the kids still had so much fun. Unlike other children’s museums in the U.S., Explora only opened at some certain hours in the day, and the play time is 1 hour 45 minutes. So do check the schedule before hand here.
4. Take a pizza class
When in Rome, learn how to make pizza like the Roman does! I am reluctant to put this activity as one of our favorites because the place we went is completely a tourist trap: very expensive and we learn nothing. But the kids enjoy the experience a lot. Every now and then, they still ask when they could make pizza again. I would strongly recommend a class, but you may find some better places elsewhere. We went with Fabiolous Cooking Day, 70 euros for an adult and 50 euros for each child.
5. Throw (lots of) coins in Fontana di Trevi
The kids love fountains! And Trevi is absolutely the best. This place is very crowded, but if you wait for five or ten minutes, you will be able to find a comfortable spot right next to the fountain. People often get in, take a selfie, and get out. We must be the outlier because we stayed for half an hour at least. The kids emptied my coin pocket though. And they also had tons of fun in Pinocchietto Shop (hint: toys!). I suggest you visit Trevi fountain late afternoon, then you can watch lots of street performance there, and dine at That’s Amore which has pretty good pizza and pasta. This is also the restaurant that houses Fabiolous cooking class – which I would not recommend.
6. Hang out in any piazza late afternoon
You will find fountains in any piazza (which means “square”) crowded at around 6pm. This is where the locals meet for a drink after work. Every. Day. Life in Rome is pretty cool, isn’t it? The kids can run around, play with the water, while the adults relax with a cold beer. Count us in please! Here we are at Piazza Madonna Dei Monti one afternoon.
7. Watch street performance in Trastevere
Late afternoon/early evening is when street artists start to perform. Our kids loved watching puppet shows, listening to live music, admiring real-life painting, and other beautiful activities. Trastevere is a very nice neighborhood to walk around as well. If you are here, you don’t want to miss the cute Ponte Sisto (which resembles a bit of Pont des Arts in Paris), and our favorite restaurant La Prosciutteria.
8. Try Truth or Dare at Bocca della Verita
Okay, now tell mommy the truth: Did you or did you not eat more than 2 gelatos yesterday?
The kids were very excited about story of the Mouth of Truth. Needless to say, they were super duper proud of themselves when the God didn’t “bite” them. Hah! However, you will need to be mentally prepared to wait in the line for about 15 minutes, pay 2 euros, and have a few seconds to take the photos. But the kids have great story to tell, so that does count! This place is quite close to Trastevere neighborhood, so you could combine the two visits.
9. Walk around the Roman Forum and enjoy the view from Altare della Patria
This is a great place to show the kids some histories of ancient Rome. If they are bored, the place is so large that they can run wild and explore anything they like. Meanwhile, we can just sit down, enjoy the view, and read (yeah, if you can).
10. Pretend to be a gladiator at the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine
Okay fine, we didn’t master the gladiators’ pose, but it was pretty fun. My challenge was to summarize the 2,000-plus-year history to the kids. It went something like this “A long long long time ago, people fought and killed each other here”. 6-year-old was terrified and 4-year-old exclaimed “Cool!!”
To avoid standing in a long queue for hours, I strongly recommend you to book your ticket online, and print your reservation if possible. It is valid for 30 days. There are 3 waiting lines: one for those buying tickets, one for those who book online but need to pick up ticket, and one for those with printed ticket. Guess which one is the shortest?
And no, they don’t accept reservation shown on your phone. Although it’s 21st century, this is Colosseum, okay? Luckily, they didn’t ask you to bring an engraved stone ticket 😉
11. Visit Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican
If you visit Rome, you really can’t miss Saint Peter’s Basilica – one of the largest churches in the world. The kids have enough space to run and explore, and don’t have to be completely quiet like in any other church. So guess what? They won’t complain. That also means you will have your peace of mind to enjoy the architecture and artwork 😉 Plus, there is a large square with beautiful fountain and lots of pigeons outside.
Just keep in mind that you will have to cover your shoulders in order to be allowed in the church.
12. Drop in any church on your way
The chance is any church you see in Rome will have very interesting history and amazing art work. Besides, if you travel in July or August like us, it will be a great place to take a break and cool down. The kids also love to put coins in the contribution box and light the candles.
13. Drink coffee (of course!)
I mean YOU! Not the kids, although they always get excited whenever we had a coffee break because they would get some pastries as well. The coffee quality is consistently awesome, regardless of the shops we went: from a fancy sophisticated one to a simple tiny shop in a touristic area.
Now I know why Italians always have their coffee at the counter. Because it’s cheaper!! Oh well, some sociologists may have better explanation. But from an economist’s point of view, between 1 euro at the counter and 2 euros on the table for the same cup of cappuccino, I would take the counter too.
14. Watch outdoor opera at Terme di Caracalla-Teatro Dell’opera
The kids wouldn’t approve it, but who cares 😉 After a week being slave for them, you totally deserve a night out. Just tie them to a bed and disappear. Or get a babysitter if you want to be on the safe side.
The 3-hour opera starts at 9pm. So, don’t wear high-heels (like I did). What? I’d been on flats the entire week, can I dress up or something?
Okay, I’m not too crazily tired after this long post yet. The link between the opera hours and high-heals is that you may have to walk pretty far afterward. The metro closes at 11pm, the nearby bus has very weird night schedule, and the taxi line is long. So, ditch your fancy shoes, and get ready to walk a bit further away to pick up a taxi.
15. Have fun wherever you go!
Remember, you are on vacation! In Rome!! So, just kick your shoes off and have fun!