Rome with Kids (blog & photos)

Old Oct 30th, 2011, 12:48 PM
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Rome with Kids (blog & photos)

We’ve just returned from a wonderful week in Rome. I’ve updated my blog to include photos and the day-by-day description. It’s mainly for us to catalog our trip and to share our experience with our family and friends. If you like the traditional blow-by-blow trip report and/or photos then have a look:

For those that don’t have the time or interest to slog through the blog I’ve put together a few logistical tips and recommendations below.

First some background: we are a family of 4 (DW, DD12, DS9) who are American ex-pats in the UK. This was our autumn half-term (i.e. fall) break. I was in Milan for a few days on business a few years ago but the rest have never been to Italy. I did spend some time researching and planning though not overly so. It went well if I do say so myself.

As this is our first trip I can’t tell you “the best” or what it’s like in July, etc. These are just are experiences – take them for what they are worth (hopefully something).

General Schedule : this worked well for us – every family is different. Light breakfast and coffee in the apartment, out between 8-9. Morning activity. Picnic lunch. Afternoon activity. Gelato. Home to rest around 4-5. Dinner around 7. With a week, we were able to fit in most of what we wanted to see without being too rushed.

Apartment/Area: we decided to stay in the central area near Piazza Navona. I prefer to go through a service and I liked the website of Sleep In Italy so that’s what I used. We were in the Governo Vecchio apartment (#345).

The apartment was great. 2BR/2Bath. Great location – grocery and restaurants nearby. Most sites walkable though we also used public transport (see below). It gave us the space we needed and the kitchen was sufficient for the prep work needed (we didn’t cook any meals – we were on vacation after all). It was 1173€ for the week.

Note: some helpful things to bring are a lunch size cooler bag, small freezer packs and a trusty corkscrew. An extra roll of TP and some dishwasher tabs would have saved a few euros as well, though we didn’t remember to bring them.

Restaurants: we stuck to the Piazza Navona (and occasionally the Pantheon) area. We used the “Rome with Kids” book (below) for suggestions (and a map). I’m not sure any are worth trekking to as I’m sure there are many fine restaurants around. Dinners were very reasonable – in the 50-80€ range (total for 4). We generally targeted 7 pm. Only Maccherioni wasn’t open until 7:30. It was also the only one that asked if we had a reservation (we didn’t but they fit us in). If you find yourself in the area . . .

Excellent (ate there twice): Da Francesco, Piazza del Fico 29.

Very Good:
Ciccia Bomba, Via del Governo Vecchio 76
Ponte E Parione, Via S. Maria dell’Anima 62
Maccherioni, Piazza delle Coppelle 44

Trattoria da Gino E Pietro, Via del Governo Vecchio 106

Best recommendation (thanks to madamtrashheap): Pizza al Tonglio (pizza by the slice) on via della Grazie, street leads off the road that runs between the columns of St Peter's and the entrance to the Vatican Museums. Excellent.

Flights: one benefit of being in the UK is not having the transatlantic flight. I normally would pay some premium for a direct flight with convenient times. There’s actually a RyanAir flight direct to Rome from our small, local East Midlands airport. However, the price never came down. So, I took the inconvenient flights to save a bundle ($700-800 total). The downside was a long layover and 8 pm arrival and a god-awful 6:45 am departure (Saturday-Saturday).

We arrived 2 hours before our outbound flight left (from Terminal 3 on Brussels Airlines) and there was already a line and one attendant. It took close to 45-50 minutes to get through. When another agent arrived, we did experience the local line forming policy (or lack thereof). Enough people squawked that it didn't get too out of hand. Security was a breeze (5-10 minutes) so 2 hours was about right in the end (for worry warts like me).

Side note: we connected through Brussels both ways and that is one expensive airport. Take food if you can.

Airport Transfer: given those less than ideal times I wanted to book a service. We used Could not have been better. Waiting for us on arrival and more importantly on departure at 4:15 am! Price was comparable to a taxi (85€ round trip). Note, they originally quoted 10€ more each way because of the luggage. I found out that that was because they assumed we needed a van. I convinced them that we were traveling light (21” rollerboards each) and that a sedan was fine – that’s how we got to the airport after all.

Also note that the return was pre-pay given the early time (and perhaps policy). That’s a little unnerving (cash) but worked out fine. Highly recommended.

Toolkit: We used Rick Steve’s Rome and J. M. Pasquesi’s Rome with Kids as well as the excellent site (and this forum) for pre-planning and touring.

Best Investment: Streetwise Rome laminated map. 4” by 8.5” accordion fold, front/back. $8.95 list on Excellent, easy to use, map. You’ll need it. I feared the navigating because there isn't a perpendicular intersection in the city; however, the map was a huge help and most streets have signs on the building (better than in the UK).

Note: it was a little nerve-wracking walking with kids in the narrow streets. Many did not have sidewalks and the ones that did required single file (no hand holding). We had a near miss (or actually a minor hit) upon arrival where DW's foot was actually partially run over and pinned -- could have been a disaster.

We found that the cars would stop for the cross walk (without signals) but to them perfect timing would be to graze your heel as you are taking your last step (i.e. move along). You need to make eye contact and walk confidently (and en masse). If you wait for them, you'll be there until 3 a.m. (this only applies to the non-signaled walks). Wait for the signal if there is one.

Best Site (you may not have heard of): Without a doubt it was Le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini (and only 7.50€ pp). These recently discovered (2005) ruins under Palazzo Valentini have been excavated and are shown under glass floors. A multi-media disply highlights what you are seeing and also projects what it might have looked like. Very well done and a big hit for young and not-so-young. I can’t recommend this enough. Each group is limited to 16-20 people and there is only 1 English tour per day. Book ahead.

This was too new to be in either of my guide books and I don't recall seeing it much on Fodor's.

Best Site (you likely have heard of): In addition to the typical sites, we did like the Capuchin Crypt (Bone Church) near Palazzo Barberini. Unique to say the least. Stop in if you are in the area.

The usuals were good too. Our other favorites included the Capitoline Museum, Colosseum and the Borghese Gallery. Climbing St. Peter's and running around Ostia Antica were good physical activities as well.

Best plan to avoid crowds: I must say, my Vatican plan worked like a charm. We got up earlier than normal and left at 8 and arrived at St. Peter's by 8:30. No line to get up the elevator. We did the basilica after that. After chilling for an hour or so (pizza, etc.) we strolled to the Vatican Museums at 12; again no line. This was on a Thursday which is generally lighter (as are Tuesdays and then Fridays).

After the Sistine Chapel, we still snuck out the group exit to avoid the walk back. The line to get up the dome was huge. Perfect plan.

Guide: we opted for a guide, Alessia Aletta (<first>.<last> to help us through Ancient Rome. It’s not inexpensive but is comparable to one of the fancy tours for a family of 4. We appreciated the knowledge that Alessia had and admired her passion. It initially started out as a 3-hour tour of the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Forums. I signed up for the lower/top level extra tour and that bumped it to a suggested four hours. With a break for lunch it ended up a 5-hour (pay for 4) deal which made for a long day – lots of standing. Glad we did it, but I think the adults got more out of it than the kids.

We also took the English tour at Galleria Borghese. The rest (Vatican, Capitoline, Ostica Antica, St. Peter's, etc.) were self guided without audio. The adults liked the info the guides provided. The kids preferred me as a guide. It's a balance.

I will say that it was nice to mix in the freedom of Ostia Antica and generally walking around the piazzas etc.

Public Transportation: Don’t fear the buses! I find public transportation, particularly in an unfamiliar area (and foreign country no less) to be very intimidating. Which bus? Where do you get off? Etc. Well, don’t be afraid, it’s easy. If you are like me and like to have a game plan ahead of time, there’s ways to help too.

A couple of sites to help:

Map: (print A3 or 11x17 if you can)

Route planner: (can be a little cumbersome but still good). You can also type in your bus number in the “find your bus” section and it will show you the stops.

Good explanation: and

Use the route planner to determine which bus and where you need to get off. Go to the bus stop, check the route and see that you are on the right side of the street (your stop should be under the name of the current stop) and away you go. I found it better to be on the right side of the bus (if possible) so that you can see the names of the stop as you pull up. It was helpful to know the stop before for preparing the troops.

The only minor issue I had was buying tickets. I know that the big “T” tabacchi shops are numerous but they aren’t right at the stop. And, when I needed tickets in a hurry the nearby ones were always closed. We ended up busing on our Roma Pass days, but there was one time when I wish the tickets were easier to find. So, if you think you are going to ride the bus and you see a T shop – buy the tickets!

As noted in the blog, we took the 87 bus from Piazza Navona (Rinascimento) to the Colosseum (and would have used it to San Clemente if it wasn’t raining) and we took the 30 bus to CAVE ARDEATINE to catch the Roma/Lido train at Porta S. Paolo. We would have used the 116 to the Galleria Borghese if not a little pressed for time (and it was our first day).

Roma Pass: we got one but it’s not a big saver either way. If you stack the expensive sites first and use the public transportation option then you’ll come out a little ahead. We mainly got it to bypass the Colosseum line which helped. I guess if you compare to some of the extra pre-pay fees, then you’ll say a little more. Either way, I wouldn’t sweat it.

Discounts: are few and far between for non-EU citizens. In Rome (Italy that is), the kids had to pay full boat. In fact, when we bought our Roma Passes at the Tourist Info stand, we were told that our 9 y.o. didn’t need one (despite what I’d read). However, when we got to Galleria Borghese, we were told that he needed one (like I thought). To top it off, they didn’t have any so I had to buy him a ticket. Grrrr.

The Vatican, however, does give child discounts. We got the kids up the elevator for 7€ combined and paid 8€ instead of 15€ for the museum.

Don’t major on the minors : favorite phrase from a co-worker. You’re spending thousands on this trip (of a lifetime). Yes, the sodas are expensive but don’t stress over it. We compromised and the kids got one each per dinner. Yes, a taxi may set you back 8-10€, but if folks are tired, hop in (or in some cases save your energy and start the day that way). Buy gelato every time you want.

Bathrooms: not obvious, but plenty around. We would dive into any bar/restaurant if nature called (often for the 9 y.o.). McDonalds are always nice for that too. Note that many, particularly men’s, did not have toilet seats. If you find one, um, you might want to take advantage of it.

Language: we should have learned more Italian beyond please, thank you, check please, etc. but it really wasn't necessary. Everyone was friendly and helpful.

Gelato: Every day, sometimes twice. Tried 4 different places. Our local (Frigidarium) was very good. Our favorite was Flor (2 places). Della Palma and Blue Ice didn't measure up. I had a few others listed to try but we didn't go out of our way to find them. The kids didn't want to mess with success either.

Summary: great trip. Surprisingly relaxing. Too many other places to see to return soon, but somewhere else in Italy is in the cards.

Hope that helps as I have spent some time on this and the blog. I noticed that even my "short" report is fairly long.
indy_dad is offline  
Old Oct 30th, 2011, 01:09 PM
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indy_dad: This is a wonderful summary and priceless for future travelers to Rome!

You're generously sharing your experiences, so that other travelers may save time and money on their trips but making use of your planning and your experience!


Now on to read your blog!
easytraveler is offline  
Old Oct 30th, 2011, 01:39 PM
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Ack, that should be Pizza by the square (al taglio) at the Vatican (not tonglio -- I hope that isn't a curse word or something).
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Old Oct 31st, 2011, 11:55 PM
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Very useful, and the trip report is also quite wonderful and informative.

Don't be disheartened by the lack of response. The trip reports that get the most reactions are generally the ones that are posted in multiple parts. I also think many more people read trip reports than comment on them; I rarely post a comment myself.
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Old Nov 1st, 2011, 02:42 AM
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Enjoyed your summary as well as browsing your blog. Besides Rome I see that you enjoyed one of our favorite places we went to with kids - North Wales. What a wonderful experience for all of you!

And for others thinking of taking their kids to Europe you really hit on some important things: getting out early (for some important sights), "don't major the minors", and - especially in Italy - gelato every day, twice a day! Thanks for reporting.
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Old Nov 1st, 2011, 05:12 AM
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Wonderful blog reporting and Fodor's summary - thanks for taking the time.
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Old Nov 1st, 2011, 12:41 PM
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Great info-marking to go to the blog next.
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Old Nov 1st, 2011, 07:15 PM
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Yes Indy dad - I tried writing up our trip report from our 2009 trip and found that noone was interested so gave it up after a couple of days.
Thanks for reposting the information. We walked everywhere in Rome (Oct 2011) and really only used the bus to and from Termini to our apartment close to the Vatican. We had wanted to the bus no 15 route that someone had recommended as the most beautiful trip - but had to walk a long way to the source and waited 1 hour without any bus turning up - a big disappointment and sore point . We did take the tram then back to Argentina and visited the cats there.
Yes you do have to watch the cars in the narrow streets. I was always watching my toes when one came around the corner.
Thanks for posting - liked your photos and write up with them.
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Old Nov 1st, 2011, 07:53 PM
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Excellent, beautiful photos. Sounds like your family shared a wonderful adventure!
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Old Nov 1st, 2011, 10:08 PM
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Thanks for the comments. It's nice to know that the effort was worthwhile.
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Old Nov 2nd, 2011, 03:36 AM
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ttt 4 later!
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Old Nov 2nd, 2011, 06:56 AM
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Thanks for the report. I agree with your advice about taking taxis when everyone is tired, or even better, taking them to get your family somewhere and then walk back and not waste the whole day getting to your destination. Also that you shouldn't sweat the small stuff like spending a few extra dollars to make your kids happy. Glad you enjoyed your trip so much!
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Old Nov 3rd, 2011, 07:05 AM
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Thanks indy dad. That was a great report, especially for families going to Rome (like us this summer).

I am bookmarking it and will use your knowledge!

In a slowtrav review of your apartment, someone mentioned that there were electrical issues with the apartment, ie., that you couldn't use 2 appliances at once without causing a short. Did you have a similar problem? I have been looking at apartments for our 4 night stay, instead of a hotel, and want to be in the Pantheon/Piazza Novona area if we do a rental.

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Old Nov 3rd, 2011, 10:08 AM
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Loved the area. We didn't have any issues with shorts/trips but we didn't exactly tax it. We used the coffee maker and dishwasher but not at the same time. A/C wasn't needed.

There was a slight odor in the master bath (sewage vent smell). We used the other bathroom primarily but still used master too. Noticeable but not enough for us to call it in while there.

The 2nd BR has 2 beds and is a loft. Not completely closed in but sufficient for our kids. Lots of room in the dining/family area. Plenty of dishes, etc.

We'd return.

Good luck.
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Old Nov 3rd, 2011, 10:22 AM
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Really useful report. Thanks.
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Old Nov 17th, 2011, 08:07 AM
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Thanks for the report....
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Old Feb 21st, 2012, 12:11 PM
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Hi again indy - I just got a few more tips from reading this, so grazie! Thanks for directing me to it in my Governo Vecchio post. We may be going back to Italy this summer with one day layover in Rome so I now know what I want to see on that day if we do go.

We had you beat in the gelato area - we were up to 3 gelato stops on some days! It became a contest to find the best one! Kept the kids going on those hot July days!
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Old Feb 22nd, 2012, 12:16 AM
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Jamierin- we experienced problems with tripping the circuit box too. There are 3 A/C units, but only 2 can be used at one time or it will trip. When we used a small appliance with the two running, it also tripped. Luckily, the circuit box is in the hall and easy to access. That being said, it wasn't really a problem. We set up a rotation of using the A/C and were able to keep the place cool quite easily. We were very comfortable, and that was in the heat of July. We recommend this apartment.
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Old Feb 25th, 2012, 08:22 AM
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Hi indy - based on your recommendation, we're going to go to the Domus Romane in June. We were in Rome last summer, but didn't hear of of this place, and we are unexpectedly going to be in Rome for 2 1/2 days in June so would like to give it a try. I just posted a topic asking for help in booking it online if you'd like to search for it and have some good tips for us. If it's easier to post here, I'll check back. It sounds like a great trip!

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Old Feb 26th, 2012, 12:35 AM
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Thanks for the report and great photos! Enjoyed all.
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