There’s a real “Jekyll and Hyde” quality to exploring Rome with kids. On the one hand, it’s a capital city, big, busy, and hot, and with public transportation that doesn’t always work too well. On the other, the very best parts of the city for kids—Roman ruins, subterranean worlds, and gelato—are aspects you’d want to explore anyway. Seeing Rome with kids doesn’t demand an itinerary redesign—at least, if you’re willing to skip some of the marquee museums. And despite what you have heard about its famous seven hills, much of the center is mercifully flat and pedestrian.
Food is pretty easy too: Roman pizzas are some of the best in the world—see “Where to Eat” for our favorites. Ditto the ice cream, or gelato. Restaurants in pretty much any price category will be happy to serve up a simple pasta al pomodoro (pasta with tomato sauce) to a fussy eater.
The city is shorter on green spaces than European cities like London, but the landscaped gardens of the Villa Borghese have plenty of space for them to let off steam. Pack a picnic or rent some bikes. The Parco Appia Antica is another family favorite, especially on a Sunday or national holiday when the old cobbled road is closed to traffic. The park’s Catacombs are eerie enough to satisfy grisly young minds, but also fascinating Christian and historical sites in their own right.
Museums, of course, are trickier. You can probably get kids fired up more easily for the really ancient stuff. The bookshop at the Colosseum has a good selection of guides to the city aimed at under-12s, themed on gladiators and featuring funny or cartoonish material. Make that an early stop. We have taken a 6-year-old to the Musei Capitolini, and she loved hunting down the collection’s treasures highlighted on the free museum guide leaflet. It was like a themed treasure hunt, and bought us a couple of hours to admire the exhibits—and the chance to see them from a new and unexpected angle, too. The multiple ground levels below San Clemente and the Case Romane del Celio are another obvious draw for small visitors.
There are a couple of city museums designed with a specifically child-friendly angle. The best is the Museo della Civiltà Romana, which is popular with local schoolchildren for a good reason: Its models of Ancient Rome help bring the old stones to life. Your kids will be able to see Rome as it was at its peak. Watch out for the odd opening hours, though, because it is a half-hour Metro journey and walk from the center.
If kids get really into the gladiator angle, enroll them in the Scuola Gladiatori Roma (Rome Gladiator School), where they can spend 2 hours preparing for a duel in a reasonably authentic way. The easiest way to book is through Viator.com, but you can find out more about the program at www.gsr-roma.com.
Away from the museums, kids will also likely enjoy some of the cheesier city sights—at the very least, these will make some good family photos to share on Facebook or Instagram. Place your hands in the Bocca della Verità at Santa Maria in Cosmedin, throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain, and enjoy watching the feral cats relaxing amid the ruins of Largo di Torre Argentina, where a cat sanctuary gives basic healthcare to Rome’s many strays.
If you want to delve deeper into the city as a family, check out the tours on Context Travel’s family program. Bookable walks and workshops cover mythology, underground Rome, “How Rome Works” (which covers some of the Romans’ fiendishly clever engineering), and more. Each tour lasts between 2 and 3 hours and costs 255€ to 355€ per family. They are not cheap, but Context’s walks and programs are first rate, you will have the docent to yourselves, and it is money well spent if it gets everyone engaged with the city.