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Josh and I visited Rome back in 2008 and it fast became one of our favourite cities in the world. When Marta, from Learning Escapes, asked to write an article about the top things to do in Rome for kids, I was excited as I can’t wait to visit this city with kids myself. Below you will find Marta’s best tips for her home city of Rome.
A city famous for centuries old art and churches might not be your first choice for family friendly holidays. Rome, though, is surprisingly easy to enjoy with children: the world’s best pizza, fabulous weather, parks full of kids playing football, peculiar buildings with intriguing stories from long ago and gelato: what is there not to love?
Romans say that a lifetime is not sufficient to know the city and, indeed, if there is one problem when visiting the Eternal city it is deciding what activities and sites to see first!
In this article, you will find my picks for what to do in Rome with kids, where to stay in Rome with kids, where to eat with a family and how to best get around Rome.
The Forum and the Colosseum are unique to the city of Rome and a fantastic sight to visit even with very young kids. They lie along the wide road named Via dei Fori Imperiali, nowadays closed to traffic, and are a wealth of treasures for children.
The forum dates back to the VI century B. C. and it is perfect for little explorers. Its dusty paths and narrow passages make for an excellent maze, while older kids will be intrigued by the many stories of fire, treachery and slavery that happened here.
The best way to visit the Roman Forum is with a guided tour. The forum is not equipped with information panels or visitors maps and without a guide it almost impossible to know what you are looking at. A good selection of tours can be found at the tourist office on Via dei Fori Imperiali: look for the family friendly ones to minimise queuing time.
If you choose a tour, make sure you get one that includes a trip to the Palatine Hill, just above the Forum: the view over Rome from here is stunning! You can get more tips how to visit the forum with kids here.
The Colosseum lies just beside the forum and its mere size works as a magnet for children. It was built between 72 and 80 A.D by the Emperors of the Flavian Dynasty and it’s the largest building of its kind, with a height of over 45 metres!
The Colosseum was used as a theatre and a space for public entertainment events such as gladiator fights, wild animal hunts and public executions. Children tend to love this gory past and many family friendly tours offer participation in gladiator school, a play activity that includes dressing up and a taste of gladiator fighting techniques
St Peter’s Square and Basilica are one of those places you cannot miss when visiting Rome with kids. As well as being stunning, they have two characteristics that are guaranteed to intrigue your kids.
First is that St Peters’ is the biggest church in the world (and kids adore anything record- breaking!). Second is that they are part of an independent state, so entering the wide square means crossing an international border!
One of the most striking features of the church is its huge dome. If you have older kids, and are not afraid of heights, climbing to the top is worth it – the view over the elaborate Vatican gardens is incredible and the winding staircases will give your kids a great sense of adventure.
If you prefer to stay on the ground, make sure you get your kids to have a good look at the columns surrounding the squares from more than one standing point. They are built to create a special visual effect and if you stand on specific spots (marked on the ground) you will have the illusion of many of them disappearing!
Kids love a good castle and another of the top things to do with kids in Rome is to visit Castle Sant’Angelo – it will not disappoint. Perched above the river Tiber, it was built as resting place for Emperor Hadrian but was later used by the Popes as a fortress and castle.
It has a lot to offer to children: a pile of massive cannon balls, the view over the river and the hidden underground passage that connects it to St Peter’s basilica are sure to pique their interest!
Rome has many gorgeous parks that, especially in the summer, offer relief from the scorching Italian sun. One that is close to the city centre and offers many kids’ attractions is Villa Borghese.
Originally the private park of the Borghese family, this villa is now open to the public and spans over an area of 148 acres. It hosts, among other things, the zoo, well equipped playgrounds, la casina di raffaello (a small indoor play area) and a small lake.
A relaxing kids’ activities in Rome is to take out rowing boats, feed the ducks or go turtle watching. The lake is inhabited by many small turtles that kids love to spot! The lovely café nearby is a great resting place for parents too.
One of Rome’s most distinctive traits are its small fountains. They are everywhere in the city and offer free, fresh drinking water.
You can use them to fill up your water bottle or you can do like the Romans: lean on them, block the main nose of the fountain with your hand and see the water spilling out in a neat arch. Our kids spend hours doing this and laughter is guaranteed: just make sure you have a change of clothes with you!
La bocca della verita’, the mouth of truth, is a peculiar sculpture made famous by the movie “a Roman holiday” and one kids always find incredibly funny and somehow scary (in a good way). It’s a round stone carved in the shape of a face, with a narrow hole as a mouth.
One of the fun things to do in Rome with kids is to visit here and do what the legend tell you – it says that if you put your hand in the mouth and tell or think a lie, it will bite you!
This city is famous for its winding cobbled streets and getting lost in their maze is the best way of getting a feel for Rome for kids.
To keep the kids entertained, we usually play with them I-spy games: who can spot an old fiat 500? One of Rome’s numerous stray cats? A gelateria?
On top of the Aventine hill, just in front of the Palatine, lies a non-descript door with a weather torn keyhole.
Its round shape invites you to take a peek inside and if you do you will see the most incredible view: the dome of St. Peters, perfectly framed by elegant trees!
No guide to things for kids to do in Rome would be complete without mentioning pizza and gelato. My kids adore both and they work like a charm whenever you need to motivate them to walk just a little bit longer.
Pizza comes in two forms:
Gelato is sold almost everywhere is Rome, but if you want a taste of the real thing, make sure you select places that sell ‘gelato artigianale’ – these are the ones with the best quality ingredient, the most delicious taste and the lowest amount of sugar.
Located in Rome city centre, not far from Piazza del Popolo, Explora is a museum entirely dedicated to children, full of educational and entertaining artefacts and games. It is a winning choice when looking for things to do for kids in Rome.
There is nothing in it that is specific about Rome but it is a fun place for kids and a great resource on rainy days. Children under 3 have a dedicated soft play area, while a mini supermarket, a large play kitchen and petrol station keep older children busy with role play.
The museum puts a strong emphasis on education and, with interactive installations, stimulates children to learn about hydraulic principles and recycling.
There is so much in Explora that it is hard to say what children love the most about it but looking at my kids during our last visit, I’d say the simulator that lets you drive a high-speed train and the zipline in the outside play area are strong contenders!
If your budget allows, the city’s historical centre is the best location when you visit Rome with kids so that you don’t have to negotiate the city’s confusing bus system. Choose the area near the Pantheon for easy access to Rome’s main cultural attractions, or stay near Via Veneto if you want easy access to Villa Borghese and its wide loans.
Slightly farther away from the city centre, the area around St Peter’s often offers reasonably priced Airbnbs and Trastevere, the neighbourhood on the other side of the river, is also a good option for self-catering accommodation.
A type of accommodation that is peculiar to Rome is monasteries. Usually run by nuns, monasteries offer clean, inexpensive rooms in beautiful buildings in the centre of town. They usually do not offer self-catering facilities but are a quiet, budget friendly, pleasant options especially for families.
You can also read our list of the best family hotels in Rome.
They say it is impossible to find a bad meal in Rome and indeed the quality of food on offer is very high.
For a light lunch, choose ‘bars’ (cafes). As well as coffee, they sell sandwiches, salads and stuffed pizza. For a more substantial meal, check ‘enoteche’. These are technically wine bars, but are open to families during the day. They are small bistros which are popular lunch places and serve pasta and simple meat dishes. The menu is usually limited in choice, but the quality is high and child friendly.
For dinner, pizzerie are informal and welcoming. They usually offer good quality pasta and meat meals too.
The areas better known for quality food are:
This last area is famous for one of Rome’s most distinctive culinary traits: its delicious Jewish cuisine. Typical Roman dishes are: pizza, carbonara (pasta with egg, bacon and cheese sauce) and ‘straccetti’, small bites of lean beef served with balsamic.
Rome is a big city and, like many urban areas, suffers from very busy car traffic. Public transport is available in the form of buses, trams and metro, but the service is unreliable and crowded. It’s hard, if not impossible, to negotiate with a stroller.
Visit what you can on foot, limiting the use of the bus as much as possible. If you do rely on public transport, make sure you get tickets before you board. They are sold at newsagent stands and cost 1.50 euro for 100 minutes, unlimited rides, or 24 euro per week per person. Kids under 10 go free when accompanied by an adult.
What are your best things to do in Rome with kids?
You can read more about travelling in Italy with kids in our Italy travel guides.