Rome With Kids – The Best Tours and Things To Do

Updated: March 8, 2018

Best tours and classes for families in Rome – Gladiator School

My boys at Gladiator School in Rome.

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Best Tours for Kids & Families in Rome

Best Things To Do With Kids In Rome

1. Explore the Colosseum

Tales of gladiators and ferocious lions will put your kids in the mood for a trip to the Colosseum. Rome’s iconic amphitheatre has been thrilling visitors for almost two thousand years and still today it draws vast crowds. That means queues. The busiest time is from mid-morning to around 2pm, so try to visit first thing or mid-afternoon. You’ll also cut waiting time if you reserve a skip-the-line tour. Alternatively, get your ticket at the Palatino, a short walk from the Colosseum on Via San Gregorio Magno. The ticket office there is generally a lot less crowded and as tickets cover admission to the Palatino, Colosseum and Roman Forum, it’ll save you time.

2. Climb St Peter’s Dome

With its priceless art treasures and hushed museums, the Vatican can be a challenge for parents with children in tow. But all is not lost. One way to keep your nippers’ happy is to climb St Peter’s dome. This landmark cupola, considered Michelangelo’s greatest architectural achievement, commands sweeping views from its height of 120m above the Basilica. To get to the top, you can either walk the 551 stairs or get a lift halfway and continue on foot. Whichever way you go, it’s a steep climb and not ideal for young toddlers or vertigo-sufferers. Tickets cost €7 including the lift, or €5 without. Once back on the ground, you can have fun taking selfies with the Swiss Guards on duty near the basilica. Also, see if you can to line up the columns on the piazza – to do this you’ll need to stand on one of the two floor discs near the central obelisk.

3. Throw Money into the Trevi Fountain

Kids, like adults, love the Trevi Fountain. It’s virtually a rite of passage for visitors to stop off at Rome’s largest and most spectacular fountain and toss a coin into the water. The custom is based on an urban legend according to which anyone who does so will one day return to Rome. Each day large crowds gather to put the myth to the test, throwing in around €3000 on an average day. For years this money was hoovered up by a local homeless man but the authorities eventually put a stop to that and the coins are now collected and given to a local Catholic charity.

4. Enjoy Rome’s Best Views

To impress your children, head to the Vittoriano on Piazza Venezia. This colossal white structure, actually a monument to Italy’s first king Vittorio Emanuele II, contains a number of museums and galleries. More spectacularly, it also provides the best views in Rome. To enjoy these, take the panoramic lift to the top from where you can look down on the entire city sprawled out beneath you. Tickets for the lift cost €7 for adults and €3.50 for 10 to 18 year-olds; under-10s go free.

5. Run Wild in the Park

Let your little ones off the leash in Villa Borghese, Rome’s central park. Formerly the estate of a powerful 17th-century cardinal, this 80-hectare oasis of green boasts a number of kid-friendly attractions. These include the Bioparco, Rome’s zoo, and the Giardino del Lago where you can hire rowing boats to paddle around a small lake. Bikes are also available to rent at various points in the park. For something less strenuous, you could catch a film at the Cinema dei Piccoli, the world’s smallest cinema situated near the park entrance on Piazzale San Paolo del Brasile.

6. Investigate the Catacombs

Dark, creepy and full of skeletons, Rome’s catacombs are wonderfully spooky. The subterranean tunnels were used by the early Christians to bury their dead and many thousands of people were interred in them, including popes, saints and martyrs. In all it’s reckoned there are up to 300km of catacombs in Rome. The most famous lie beneath Via Appia Antica, including the 2nd-century Catacombe di San Callisto, the official cemetery of the early Roman Church, and the Catacombe di San Sebastiano, a lengthy network beneath the basilica of the same name. Visits to the catacombs, which are not suitable for children under about seven, are by guided tour only … as you wouldn’t want to get lost down there.

7. Hit the Road on the Appian Way

For a family bike ride, strike south to Via Appia Antica, aka the Appian Way. This legendary road, the most famous of ancient Rome’s consular highways, is flanked by lofty pine trees and lush green fields peppered with woods and crumbling ruins. Sections such as the stretch near the Basilica di San Sebastiano are traffic-free and ideal for relaxed, albeit bumpy, cycle rides. You can hire bikes at the Appia Antica Regional Park Information Point at Via Appia Antica 58-60. Bank on €3 per hour or €15 per day. To get to Appia Antica take bus 660 from Colli Albani metro station (line A) or bus 118 from Circo Massimo station (line B).

8. Take a Day Trip to Rome’s Pompeii

To show your kids what an ancient Roman city would have looked like, take the train out to Ostia Antica. Rome’s main sea port, Ostia was abandoned after the fall of the Roman Empire and it eventually came to be buried in river silt. As a result, it has survived in remarkably good shape. Its headline features include a wonderfully preserved theatre and a baths complex, the Terme di Nettuno, adorned with mosaics. There are also plenty of amusing details such as an ancient café with a menu frescoed on the wall and a public toilet with open latrines set in a stone bench. To get to the site from Rome, take the Ostia Lido train from Stazione Porta San Paolo next to Piramide metro station. Get off at Ostia Scavi.

9. Train to be a Gladiator

An excellent way to prep your kids for a trip to the Colosseum is to sign them up for a session at Rome’s Gladiator School. Here expert instructors from the Gruppo Storico Romano (Historic Group of Rome) will kit your budding gladiators with tunics and training swords, and teach them a series of basic combat techniques. Make it through the two-hour lesson and they’ll be rewarded with a certificate of participation. The school, located just off Via Appia Antica, also has a small museum with a cache of replica uniforms, armour and lethal-looking weapons. Courses, which can be booked through the school’s website, are best for kids over about 8.

10. Tour an Underground House

When exploring Rome’s ancient ruins it’s often difficult to know what you’re looking at. That’s not a problem at the Domus Romane, a series of excavated houses beneath Palazzo Valentini. The dwellings are brought back to life by video projections and sound effects which illustrate what they would once have been like. Visits should be booked in advance, either online or by phoning ahead. Best for older kids and teens.

11. Feast on Fast Food

Fast food Roman-style that is, so instead of burger and chips, think pizza and gelato. Sliced pizza, known in Rome as pizza al taglio, is a much-loved local speciality and there are hundreds of takeaways serving it across town. One of the best is Pizzarium (Via della Meloria 43), a short walk from the Vatican Museums. Another favourite Roman bite is the supplì, a fried croquette stuffed with rice and mozzarella. For something sweet, get stuck into the local gelato. Romans take their ice cream very seriously and the city is awash with excellent gelaterie such as Venchi (Via degli Orfani 87), renowned for its decadent chocolate creations, and Fatamorgana (Via Laurina 10), which serves unusual innovative flavours alongside more classical offerings.

12. Take a Lie Detector Test

Telling a fib can be a costly business in Rome. According to a popular Roman legend if you put your hand in the Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth) and tell a lie the mouth will slam shut and bite it off. The mouth in question belongs to an old man whose image is etched into a round marble disc. This was probably part of an ancient fountain but now sits in the portico of the Chiesa di Santa Maria in Cosmedin. To prep for your visit check out the famous scene of Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn at the Bocca in Roman Holiday. Apparently, her reaction when Gregory Peck pretends to lose his hand was entirely genuine as the scene was unscripted and she had no idea what he was going to do.

13. Look out for Cats

You don’t have to go to the zoo to see animals in Rome. Head to Largo di Torre Argentina and you’ll come across some of Rome’s favourite four-legged friends. The Largo, a sunken area of ancient temple ruins where Julius Caesar was murdered, is out of bounds to humans but home to a thriving community of stray cats. These feline residents are looked after by volunteers from the cat sanctuary in the Largo’s north-eastern corner.
As well as cats, Rome’s streets are full of animals. Most are carved in stone, though. Look carefully and you’ll find lions, horses, bees, wolves, even an elephant near the Chiesa di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.

14. Go Toy Shopping

If you’re looking to win your kids over after a day’s sightseeing, make a beeline for Bartolucci (via dei Pastini 96-99) near the Pantheon. An old-fashioned toy shop, this magical store doesn’t have an electronic gizmo in sight. Rather its brightly-lit interior is packed with colourful wooden toys ranging from ticking cuckoo clocks to long-nosed Pinocchios, planes and rocking horses. For more toys, push on to Piazza Navona where Al Sogno (Piazza Navona 53) is a historic emporium known for its extravagant window displays and comprehensive stock of cuddly animals.

15. Explore a Museum

There are few child-specific attractions in Rome but one is Explora, a dedicated kids’ museum a short walk from Flaminio metro station. Aimed at under-12s, it has hands-on displays, water features, and interactive exhibits. A particularly popular feature is its life-sized model of a train-driver’s cabin. There are also workshops where your kids can make stuff. Visits are in two-hour time slots so try to book ahead and fix an entrance time.

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12 Questions and Comments

  1. Rome Tours for Families

    Hi, great tips! But unfortunetely the skip the line link at Colloseum you gave is only for kids from 7 years and up. Maybe good to know.
    (Yes, shorter is better for younger kids. There’s a Skip-the-Line Colosseum Express Guided Tour that is only 1.5 hours long but still has a professional guide.)

  2. Rome with Kids Around Christmas

    Awesome – Thanks for the great tips! Any suggestions for a late November/early December visit to Rome with a seven year old? Any special early Christmastime celebrations or ideas?

    1. Santorini DaveSantorini Dave The Hotel Expert

      Rome’s Christmas season kicks off on 8 December, the day of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The main religious celebrations are led by the Pope in Piazza di Spagna while the mayor marks the occasion by switching on the Christmas lights in Piazza Venezia. In the build up to Christmas, many churches and piazzas display nativity scenes, known in Italy as presepi. One of the largest is on show in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican. Nearby, Castel Sant’Angelo usually stages an outdoor ice rink over the Christmas period. The exact dates vary from year to year, but in 2016 it opened on 13 December. For a typical Christmas snack, you’ll find vendors selling roasted chestnuts all over town. Alternatively, shops are full of panettone and pandoro, traditional Italian Christmas cakes.

  3. Rome with 5 Year Old

    These are great tips! We are planning a trip with our five year old daughter for her spring break (last week of March 2018). Any recommendations on things we should do/ not do, given the time of year and weather? Also, she is a great traveler, but we are wondering if we should consider bringing a stroller for the evenings when we may want to take longer walks. Any tips? Amy

    1. DavidDavid The Hotel Expert

      Rome is fairly short on specific kid-friendly sights but there’s a zoo (the Bioparco) in Villa Borghese, Rome’s central park, and a kid’s museum called Explora near Piazza del Popolo. Your daughter might also enjoy throwing coins into the Trevi Fountain and putting her hand into the Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth). A visit to the Colosseum might also impress her. The Vatican, home of St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums, is hard work with children, but you can always admire the Basilica from outside and look out for colourfully-dressed Swiss Guards. Food-wise, you’ll have no problems. The local gelato (ice cream) is fabulous and pizza al taglio (sliced pizza) is a sure-fire kid-pleaser. As to whether to bring a stroller, consider that many streets are cobbled, meaning bumpy uneven surfaces. Also, sidewalks are often blocked by double parked cars or scooters. In short, Rome is not ideal for strollers, especially if you’re staying in the historic center. On the plus side, children under 10 travel free on Rome’s public transport network.

  4. Kid-Friendly Tour of Colosseum

    Hi – would you recommend one of the ‘kid-friendly’ tours of the Colosseum for a 5-year old girl? 3 hours seems like a long time to hold her attention span so I’m not sure if we should just consider doing this on our own?
    Vicki

  5. Rome with 2 Young Kids

    Excellent!! Thanks for all the tips we are in Roma now with a 5 year old and a 9 year old… they really enjoyed the Bioparco… thanks again.
    Nadia Aliaga

    1. DavidDavid The Hotel Expert

      Great. Kids love Rome.

  6. Roman Gladiators

    Wow! Fantastic advice! I am travelling to Italy this Easter with my 8 yo son – and he really, really wants to see Roman gladiators ripped apart by lions at the Colosseum. The advice to download Rick Steve’s guides is just perfect! Grazie mille!

    Marianne Kelly

    1. DavidDavid The Hotel Expert

      There is also a Gladiator School where they (and you) can learn how to be a gladiator.

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