Why do you need a guide about how to visit Rome with kids, you may ask? City breaks with kids can be hard, especially in a city like Rome: big, crowded and so beautiful you might feel you can never stop without missing out on something.
The choice of things to do is wide and the transport and accommodation options so varied it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the planning of such a visit. So, I decided to share my experience of the city and put together this small guide that I hope will make it easier for you to decide what attractions in Rome to see, where to stay to minimise transport time and how to plan a visit enjoyable for both you and your children.
I hope you find it useful and if you have questions, please leave them in the comments: I will be very happy to help!
Rome, the Eternal city, the city of Illusions, the capital of the world. Rome the city of marbles, the city of visible history, the city of yearning. Or, as I usually call it: home.
I was born in Rome from Roman parents and even if I now live in Ireland and write in English, I am very much a Roman. The city is to me like a relative, a close family member: I love her, I get incredibly irritated by her, I am hyper aware of her shortcomings, but will defend her with my life against attackers and will always call her home. I go back to Rome often and since I’ve had the kids I have made an extra effort to bring them there regularly: they immediately fell for the city and every time we go we seem to find more reasons for the kids to love her.
Writing a mini guide for families planning to visit Rome with children is, for me, a daunting task. Rome is packed full of amazing things to do for kids and such a guide will inevitably leave out many.
Despite this, there are so many wonderful things I’ve done with my kids there that I feel it would be a shame not to share them: I will start with a first guide and then I’ll update every time I go home. They say one lifetime is not long enough to know the whole or Rome, so this is a project that might accompany me for a while!
How to visit Rome with kids: planning tips
In this article you will find:
- What to see: the best museum and attractions in Rome for kids
- Where to stay in Rome with children: best areas for families and accommodation suggestions
- Where to eat: best areas for a family friendly meal and suggested addresses
- Shortcomings: annoyances, what to expect on a family vacation in Rome
- Go in the spring or autumn and avoid the months of July and August: the heat in the summer is unbearable and the city shuts down as this is when most of the locals take their annual leave. This is particularly important if you are going to Rome with a baby: do not assume rooms have air conditioning unless clearly specified. If you travelling to Italy with a baby in summer, you can find my advice on how to deal with the heat here
- December is also a good month as the winter is usually mild and dry
- Stay in the city centre and walk wherever you can
- If your children are the right age, bring a baby carrier: strollers and cobbled streets are not a good match!
- Learn a few words of Italian: they’ll go a long way
- Consider buying ‘skip the line’ tickets for majour attractions
- Read my posts about what to wear and where to have the best gelato to experience the city at her best!
Best places to see in Rome with kids
From world famous landmarks to small, hidden corners, Rome has a lot to offer to families travelling with young children: odd monuments, long history and funky cars make it a city where it is not necessary to choose between sightseeing and children entertainment!
1. Rome city centre and its beautiful piazzas
Rome is so full of history and culture that in the city centre you literally cannot throw a stone without hitting something amazing. The best way to familiarise with Rome is by far taking a walking tour of the city centre. My favourite itinerary can be found here (if travelling with kids, divide it up in two or even three days), but if you are the kind of person who enjoys getting lost and discover the city that way, you will find Rome is the perfect place to do so!
However you decide to do it, make sure you include in your itinerary the Pantheon and Piazza Navona – they are stunning, quintessentially Roman and so imposing the kids will love them.
If you only have a limited time in Rome, you might consider joining an organised tour of the city centre. One that comes highly recommended is a family friendly tour organised by Select Italy: you can find details here (affiliate link)
Top tip for families visiting Rome with kids. Little children are likely to fall in love with the big toy shop on one of the short sides of piazza Navona. Its specialty are life-sized cuddly toy: elephants, giraffes, polar bears – they are a sight to behold!
Visiting Rome’s city centre will require a lot of walking. I find a good way to break up the itinerary for children is to have frequent stops: the best excuses in Rome are a break for gelato and one for drinks at the local small fountains.
Top tip for families visiting Rome with kids: instead of buying water in the shops, refill your bottle at one of the many fountains or do like the locals: sip the beautiful , fresh, clean water freely flowing from the tap: it’s delicious and incredibly refreshing. Adults will easily master the art of fountain drinking, but kids are likely to get very wet very soon: unless it is the middle of the summer, have a change of clothes ready!
2. The Roman Forum and the Colosseum
A visit to Rome must include a visit to the forum and the colosseum: they are adjacent to each other and a sight to behold. The forum is my favourite part and it’s surprisingly pleasant to visit even with young children, but the Colosseum is so imposing it usually steals the show. Tickets for both are available at the main tourist office on Via Dei Fori Imperiali and you can choose between a guided or self-guided tour.
With kids, I highly recommend choosing a guided skip-the-queue tour: our partner Select Italy has good options – you can check latest prices and availability here. If you have time, make sure you go up the Palatine hill also, for a stunning look over the Circo Massimo, the river Tiber and the city beyond. The city from the Palatine hill over the Circo Massimo and beyond is incredible.
3. Circo Massimo and Aventino
At the bottom of the Palatine hill sits the Circo Massimo, the ancient Roman chariot racing stadium. Nowadays the ‘circus’ is just a large, poorly kept space, but it’s worth a visit for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a car free, enclosed, safe area for kids to run around and, therefore, an excellent stop if you want to let them loose and break up the sightseeing (avoid this in the middle of the summer as there is no shade in the circus). Secondly, the view of the palaces of Emperors from there is breathtaking and something you don’t want to miss when visiting Rome.
The hill on the other side of Circo Massimo is called Aventino and is a wealthy and beautiful residential part of Rome. It is a stunning area for a visit (it makes for a very romantic Roman walk) and hosts one of the most surprising of Rome’s attractions: a keyhole through which you can peek at St Peter’s dome!
Top tips for families with kids: at the top of the Aventino Hill lies a small park with a stunning view over Rome. There are no cafes or shops here, but it makes a great stop for a pic-nic: make sure you stock up with sandwiches, pizza and gelato before starting the climb. Good shops are beside the Circo Massimo, near the big FAO building
4. La bocca Della verita’ (the mouth of truth)
Do you know the movie ‘Roman holidays’, the scene when Gregory Peck pretends to have his hand eaten but a whole in the wall representing a mouth? That whole in the wall exists and the kids find it equally scary and hilarious! If you go there, make sure you also look at the round temple just behind you and take a stroll in the Jewish ghetto (actually, get lunch there if you can: Jewish roman cuisine is amazing!)
5. The Vatican and St Peter’s square and basilica
I find the Vatican museums impossible to visit with children. As much of an effort as I can put into making museums interesting for them, I find the Vatican’s too big, crowded and plain boring for anyone without a well-developed sense of art or at least curiosity for it. That said, I do think a visit to the Vatican is in order when visiting Rome and St Peter’s basilica and square is easily enjoyed at all ages: older kids will love climbing to the top of the dome (warning, it’s hard!) and kids of all ages love the idea that the entering the square means crossing an international border!
Top tips for families visiting St Peters’ with kids: when in the main square, make sure you tell your children to have a good look at the colonnade from many standpoints. How many rows of columns can they see? Get them to take a note of that and then ask them to stand on one of the spots marked on the ground: magically, they’ll see most of the columns disappear!
6. Best museums for kids in Rome: Palazzo Valentini and Chiostro del Bramante
A more family friendly museum is Palazzo Valentini, near piazza Venezia, right in the city centre. Part of this museum is devoted to the ancient history of the city and hold reconstructions, drawings and miniature of what the city would have looked liked. Older kids might also enjoy the cinematic reconstruction of Rome in the nearby Time Elevator.
Another great museum is Chiostro del Bramante, close to Piazza Navona. This cloister is a beautiful architectural space and hosts temporary exhibitions: while you will need to check for the specific programme for the days of your visit, I do feel to recommend it as usually there are spaced dedicated to children, which make for relaxing tour.
7. A museum just for kids: Explora children museum
The one museum that truly is for kids and for kids only is the children museum: there is nothing in it that is specific about Rome, but it’s close to Piazza del Popolo and a real treat for little ones with options for role play, water-play and many interactive installations to stimulate learning through play. If you need to something that is just for them, or if you are caught in the rain, this is the pace to go. The museum is suitable for babies up to teenagers if you speak/understand Italian: if you don’t, I believe children over 8 or 9 might not find it as engaging (they run many workshops but they are all in Italian)
Top tips for families visiting explora children museum: the museum can get crowded and operate on a strict shift schedule. Make sure you ask for the schedule and if you happen to arrive very late after the start of a shift, wait for the next one: you can do so in the small cafe of the museum or, if the time of day is right, treating yourself to a meal in their nice restaurant.
8. Rome cat sanctuary in Piazza Argentina
If your kids are cat lovers, a fabulous to place for them to visit is the cat sanctuary in Piazza Argentina: this square hosts an important archaeological site that over the years have become a sanctuary to Rome’s cats. Stray cats are common in Rome, I would go as far as saying that cats are one of the main features of the city, and here they find a safe haven: a group of volunteers cares for them and visitors are welcome to drop in for a cuddle.
Rome’s best parks and villas
Rome is a big city and traffic can get crazy, but it’s also a city with many parks. A break in one of these green oasis can make the difference between an overwhelming day and a pleasant one, so it’s worth knowing what parks are available. In the city centre, you are likely to encounter Villa Borghese: a massive park, it has a lovely terrace overlooking piazza del Popolo, a lake with a cafe and a small shop lending rowing boats, a small playground and the zoo. A lovely park can also be found in front of the colosseum (Colle Oppio) and, near the Vatican, you have the stunning Gianicolo. One of the seven hills of Rome, Gianicolo has a lovely green area and a terrace overlooking the city: it’s best visited in the afternoon so that you can the enjoy aperitivo in Trastevere, the area just at its bottom.
Top tips for families visiting Villa Borghese with children. Villa Borghese is very big and you can spend a whole day visiting its different sections. The ones to give priority to, with children, are the area hosting the zoo and the one immediately adjacent to that. Here you will find them small lake in the photo above where you can take out rowing boats.
Best places to stay in Rome with children: areas and options
Booking.com tells me that Rome has over 7000 hotels (and this is just one search engine!) so rather than compete with that I will share with you an overview of the best areas of Rome for families with children and some addresses recommended by friends I trust
1. City centre
If your budget allows, choose accommodation in the historical city centre, ideally near the Pantheon. From here you can walk pretty much anywhere and can negotiate the vast majority of the city without having to use its confusing public transport system (more on this further down in this post). The only drawback about this area is the lack of green spaces: if you want proximity to a park, choose the area around Via Veneto, still very central but close to Villa Borghese.
2. St Peter’s and surrounding area
The area around St Peter’s and nearby Gianicolo hill is beautiful and full of reasonably priced AirBnB option. It’s a residential, safe area and it’s perfect if you are planning a slightly longer stay in Rome and want to have easy access to shops and facilities. While not far from the city centre, this area will require you to use the bus to reach most part of the city.
3. Porta Pia and Prati
The area around Porta Pia is outside of the city centre but is perfect for families. Safe, beautiful and full of beautiful green areas, it is about 20 minutes by bus from the historical centre of town and offers well priced Airbnb options. It is a good choice for families who want to live Rome at a more relaxed pace and it is well served by shops and restaurant (there are excellent local dining options). Prati is another great area for families: not far from the Vatican, it has excellent shopping facilities and great restaurants.
On the other side of the river, Trastevere is an area often referred to as ‘the real Rome’ and indeed it retains the charm of medieval Rome. It is a great area for families with older kids because of its many restaurants and pleasant cafes.
Suggested address: casa di Santa Francesca Romana
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Where to eat in Rome with kids
They say it’s impossible to get a bad meal in Rome but I am afraid this is not true. If you go to touristy places with ‘tourist menus’ you will get exactly that: a washed down, lower quality version of the amazing roman cuisine. Thankfully there are many other options to choose from: for a real Roman experience, I suggest you look for places marked ‘enoteca‘. Technically a wine bar, enoteche are usually small establishments presenting a limited but fresh menu to choose from (salads, pasta dishes or meat). In the good season they often have seating outside and consumption of alcohol, despite their name, is not compulsory. Try
Technically a wine bar, enoteche are usually small establishments presenting a limited but fresh menu to choose from (salads, pasta dishes or meat). In the good season they often have tables outside and consumption of alcohol, despite their name, is not compulsory. Try Cavour 313 (near the Forum), Trimani (near termini station) or Antica Enoteca via della Croce. To be clear: these are not specifically child-friendly places (no toys or entertainment) but the staff is lovely, professional and families feel welcome. They are a great option if you want some tasty, home-made-style food but do not feel like a full restaurant meal.
Pizza is amazing in Rome and you will notice it’s available in two forms: Pizza al taglio (cuts of pizza) is a take out option, perfect for lunch, while in pizzerie you will sit down and are served round pizza (pizza tonda), usually in the evening. You might notice pizza, in Italy, does never come in slices. The best places for pizza in Rome are the areas of Trastevere and Testaccio: here it is really impossible to find a bad address and you guaranteed a meal to remember.
For a truly Italian experience, nothing is better than partake in the Italian tradition of the aperitivo. A typical address for it is Gusto in piazza Augusto imperatore, in the city centre which is delicious, stylish but also family friendly: if you are unsure what aperitivo is, here is my guide on how to do aperitivo like a pro!
Rome with children: shortcomings
As I mentioned at the start, Rome is far from perfect and can be infuriating, especially if you have mobility issues such as a buggy or a wheelchair. Here are her worst traits.
- Rome is confusing. As much as I love getting lost in Rome’s cobbled streets, I find it infuriating that the city is unable to have a clear sign system. Road signs are absent, impossible to read or simply pointing the wrong way: to find anything is a treasure hunt. Make sure you have a paper map with you at all times and ask for directions: even if people do not speak English, they will try to help
- No wifi: talking of paper maps, make sure you do not rely on wifi to go around. Officially there are two free city wifi systems you can join but they do not work. No reason, they just don’t!
- Rubbish. Rome lately had a lot of management problems and this included waste disposal. Parts of the city, at times, resemble a city from much less wealthy parts of the world: it’s a shame, Romans are themselves disgusted, but it’s a problem that goes to the heart of Italy’s troubled political history. As much as you can, try to ignore it: it’s not always like this and no one is proud of it.
- Public transport: Rome has some metro lines and buses but they are not a good system. The buses do not follow a schedule (will a bus shop up, will it not? It’s a guessing game) and the metro is dirty and often only accessible through steps. If you can: walk, especially in the city centre.
- Finally, accessibility: Rome can be hazardous to navigate with a buggy or a wheelchair – cars are parked everywhere including pavements, potholes are ubiquitous and steps are everywhere. When you go, always take your time as never wear heels! In the centre, some efforts have been made to provide ramps, but they are not enough, so I am afraid some patience is very much needed.
Finishing this post will Romes shortcomings was probably a bad idea as it might leave you with a bad taste in your mouth about the city, but I felt as a Roman I could not simply ignore at least some of this problems. I believe Rome is a fantastic city, by far the most beautiful I have personally ever seen in the world and I hate to think you might not love it because of her problems: I hope that letting you know about them will make you more aware and prepared for her and maybe more ready to forgive her for what doesn’t work.
If you do visit Rome with children, I am sure my wonderful hometown will surprise you and them with her never ending beauty, a sky like no other and a compelling desire to know her more.
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