Rome can seem overwhelming to even the most seasoned traveler. Imagine how it appears to a mom of three trying to find hotel rooms that will actually hold a family of five! That was my task last spring break when we decided to travel to Italy for two weeks with the kids. After seven years of traveling with a family of five, the lesson I have learned is that once the plane tickets are booked, the next thing to do is to reserve your hotel rooms. I will often scour the internet and guide books for days on end looking for the perfect places to rest our weary heads. After that, I make a list of the sights my husband and I want to see, then cut that list in half. We’ll never see them with kids in tow. Oh, and I throw in some parks and fun kids’ activities to boot. Just to keep them happy. And gelato, lots of gelato. Good for bribing kids.
Our trip to Italy started and ended in Rome, but it offered us a different experience each time. Upon arrival, we were greeted with warmth and endless sun, manageable crowds, and reasonable room rates. Our return trip, however, was met with incessant rain, crowds in every direction, and exorbitant room rates thanks to the Easter holiday and a disgruntled Mother Nature.
Here are some basic tips about Rome transportation, recommended places to stay, sights to see, and restaurants you may enjoy:
Transportation Tips for Rome
Transportation from the airport to the city
Do not plan on arriving at the airport, taking a shuttle to the train station (Termini), and then a taxi to your destination. You will be jet lagged and you will have dead tired children and luggage in tow. Arrange for a driver. The cost is comparable to the shuttle/train/taxi formula. Your hotel can arrange this for you ahead of time. Go with this. You will not regret it.
Transportation from Termini train station to your hotel
Pure and simple, Termini is not a place you want to hang out for a long time, nor is it a place where you want to stick out like a sore thumb. With three kids in tow and luggage to boot, it’s hard to hide the fact that you are tourists, so before we arrived we made sure we had a quick get-away plan. One hears so many horror stories about Termini (pick pockets, gypsies, you name it) and unscrupulous taxi drivers in Rome, we were quite nervous about our arrival when we returned to Rome from Tuscany. We wanted to be sure we weren’t going to be cheated by any taxi swindlers or worse, leave Rome with one less child than we started.
Here is what you need to know: There is only ONE official taxi stand outside the main entrance on Piazza dei Cinquecento. Licensed, official taxis are white, with a TAXI sign on top, and a Rome crest on the door, with the letters SPQR. Do not try to flag down a taxi on your own at the station or you risk being taken for a ride. Literally! If your group is larger than 3 people, look for a van that can fit everyone in your party. Vans are not as common, but they save you the option of taking two separate taxis and paying double the fare. Lucky for us, we found a van with a female driver (which for some reason made me feel safer) who took us straight to our destination near Piazza Navona for 12€. This was very close to the price everyone had told us to expect, so hooray, crisis at Termini averted.
Using the Metro vs. Walking
Truth be told, we did not use the Metro system while we were in Rome. I have used it the last two times I was there, and it is very efficient and easy to use. We walked everywhere this trip. Were there complaints about all the walking? Yep? Did we care? Not really. We always tell them; it’s exercise and it’s good for them. We feed them something and then they stop complaining.
Places to Stay
Gli Scipioni Bed and Breakfast www.gliscipionibb.it
This place had everything I was looking for in an accommodation. Great reviews, great location and great rates. Once I secured the reservation, I knew I had found a winner. The owner, David, was a great communicator. He secured transportation for us from the airport to the B & B and answered any questions I had about Rome in general. Upon arrival, I was not disappointed. David ushered us in, got the kids settled in the room, and proceeded to show us a map and every highlight you could possibly want to see in Rome. He also explained that the fully stocked kitchen was available to us 24/7. We couldn’t believe our eyes (and our grumbling stomachs)! The location is great, right around the corner from the Sistine Chapel and a metro stop and less than 10 minutes walking to the Vatican. Although the room was snug for a family of five, David’s hospitality, the cleanliness, location, and abundance of food more than made up for it.
Navona Gallery & Garden Suites http://www.navonagallerysuites.com
We arrived on Easter Monday, a holiday in Rome, so prices everywhere were sky high and rooms were scarce. I feel fortunate to have found a room at the Navona Gallery and Garden Suites. We stayed in the Michaelangelo Suite which is perfect for families. There is a bedroom with a king bed and en-suite bathroom, a separate area with twin beds, a sleeper couch, and a second bathroom. There is also a fully equipped kitchen, with a stocked fridge with everything you need for a continental breakfast (included in the room price) and a private terrace, for enjoying afternoon coffee (or vino). It was a quiet oasis right in the heart of Rome. If this wasn’t enough, it is located just steps from the Piazza Navona, restaurants, and shops. The kids never wanted to leave the room. Partially because there was satellite TV, but also because it so spacious we could all just sit back and relax.
Favorite Sights to See
Sistine Chapel/Vatican City
If you can help it, never visit Rome after they have just appointed a new Pope. Also, try not to go during Easter or any other major holiday. We must have missed the message. The crowds are crazy and things close for no rhyme or reason. You can purchase tickets for the Sistine Chapel at http://biglietteria.musei.vatican.va. They will send you a voucher that confirms your tour time. Upon arrival, you can skip the queue and start your tour. Very useful with kids in tow. The kids were amazed by the artwork in the Sistine Chapel and the enormity of St. Peter’s Basilica. They were fascinated by the crypt at St. Peter’s as well. *Note: You will still have to wait in line for security at both the Sistine Chapel and Vatican. Sometimes lines can be very long, so I would recommend going first thing in the morning or early afternoon.
Let me save you some heartache (and money) on this matter. You do not have to wait in the long line at the Colosseum. Go over to the Forum (or Palatine Hill) and buy your ticket there. It will cover entrance to each of the sites and is valid for two days. Better yet, buy your tickets online at http://www.coopculture.it. We independently toured the Forum and Palatine Hill on a different day and were equally impressed by the ruins there. There are so many nooks and crannies. The kids loved the fact that gladiators fought animals in the arena (that’s boys for you). The kids loved every minute of it and never complained about the four hours we spent there.
What’s not to like about an enormous fountain with a giant statue of the Roman god Neptune standing atop a shell shaped chariot pulled by sea stallions? Children and adults of all ages flock to the Trevi Fountain for people watching, coin flipping, and of course, gelato eating. I think there are no fewer than five gelato shops surrounding the fountain, so take your pick and find a flavor that suits you. While you enjoy some relaxation, take some photos and watch locals and tourists alike enjoy “la dolce vita”. Before you leave, be sure to turn your back to the fountain and throw a coin over your left shoulder. Legend has it that this will guarantee a return trip to Rome in your future.
Piazza Navona is one of my favorite places to take the kids in Rome. The piazza is pedestrian friendly so children can run around like crazy and parents don’t worry about them getting hit by cars or the ever present Vespa scooters. The place is lively, filled with tourists and locals alike admiring the beautiful fountains or lounging at one of the multiple cafés that ring the piazza. There are plenty of little shops along the perimeter where mom and dad can grab a cappuccino and just hang out while the kids burn off some energy. Now that’s what I call a time out!
Castel Sant’ Angelo
The one disappointment of our trip was not being able to take our kids to see the castle. We showed up on a Tuesday with many other people, only to be told they were closed. The reason: they were open on Easter Monday instead. What? Go figure. A great way to introduce our kids to the workings of the Italian government. Some days they just don’t want to work. If you have a chance, take your kids. They would enjoy the history of the fortress and exploring the passages. It also has a great view of the city from the top. Keep your fingers crossed that they aren’t closed on the day you want to visit.
On our first visit to the Pantheon, the boys were unimpressed. Old building, columns, enormous hole in the roof. Big deal. Then, we returned during a torrential down pour. The water came through the ceiling like a raging river, drenching those of us that went close enough. The part the kids will never forget is the sonic boom of the thunder as it resonated through the dome and the screams of terror shouted by hundreds of people at the same time. Yes, the gods were angry that day, but it was something we will remember the rest of our lives.
Definitely my favorite place for a “Where’s Waldo?” moment. The kids didn’t get it at first. Then one of us left and walked to the bottom of the stairs and we had to find them in the middle of all the people sitting on the steps. It was quite difficult given the crowds we were dealing with after the holiday. It is also fun to check out the McDonald’s next to the Spanish Steps, supposedly one of the largest in Europe. The crowds will be big, but it’s one of those things you should do since you’re there. Trust me on this one, especially if your kids can’t take one more meal of pizza and pasta.
Yes, gelato recommendations always come before food. We tried four different gelato shops and some we tried more than once (yes, I will admit to occasionally eating gelato more than once a day). Here were our two favorites:
Giolitti, Via Uffici del Vicario, 40- Old school gelato that everyone seems to know about. Go in the front door, pay for your gelato at the register up front, get a ticket, then get in line to order your gelato. Eat outside like everyone else because they charge you a supplement to sit and eat inside.
La Gelateria Frigidarium, Via del Governo Vecchio, 112-One of the newer gelato places. Good selection of flavors, including their own flavor, Frigidarium. You also have the option of dipping your gelato in chocolate. Yum!
We ate pizza and pasta at many restaurants that were not worth mentioning, so here are the ones we would recommend.
Cantina e Cucina, Via del Governo Vecchio, 87– On a cute, mostly pedestrian street off of Piazza Navona (and right out the door from our hotel) was this great little restaurant. We sat at a table tucked away in a side alley, which was a perfect setting. The focaccia bread they serve was delicious. Hubby had ravioli, my risotto was great, and the kids enjoyed the pizza. The waiter was very personable, my son even gave him a hug when we left. It was beginning to drizzle when we got up to leave so they let us borrow their umbrellas and told us to bring them back the next day! Now that is what I call customer service.
Ciccia Bomba, Via del Governo Vecchio, 76– Right across the street from the above restaurant,
is Ciccia Bomba which we found in a Rick Steves’ guide book. The place seemed to be equal parts locals and
tourists, which in my book is always a good sign. There were a lot of families, another good sign. The kids raved about the wood fired pizza and my husband and I really enjoyed the pasta. On our way out we realized they offer a pizza making class. Guess we will have to try that on our next trip.
Trattoria Antonio al Pantheon, Via dei Pastini, 12– Found this place after we made a mad dash in the rain from the Pantheon to the nearest restaurant that was recommended on Trip Advisor. This place fit the bill. Our waiter was outgoing, food was good (pizza and pasta as always), and the atmosphere was warm and cozy. A convenient location and friendly service always makes a winner in my book.