Retro. Romantic. Regal. ROME. Whatever phases your children are in — reading Percy Jackson’s adventures, studying Julius Caesar in high school English or Michelangelo in art class — there’s something in Rome that will resonate. Italy’s capital city offers educational adventures and family fun kids (and their parents) will never forget. Here’s how to savor la dolce vita (the sweet life) in The Eternal City.
Where to eat (and drink)
Seriously, is there anywhere in the world that offers more food that kids crave? But how does one navigate the Mothership of pizza, pasta, gelato…not to mention parent pleasers like cannoli, cappuccino, calamari, tiramisu and wine? Food tours are a quick start to finding the best local cuisine.
The Roman Food Tour begins at the Pizzarium, touted by Anthony Bourdain and other foodies as the best pizza joint in town. There, Gabriele Bonci, “Michelangelo of Pizza,” creates more than 80 pie choices daily, like his signature fig with prosciutto. Next, participants meet family-run Trionfale market stalls, eat the best fresh produce, and learn how to buy Italian wines, cheeses, and balsamic vinegars. You’ll also gain the skill of recognizing real gelato from imposters.
One place to lick lusciousness is Il Gelato di San Crispino which left Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love smitten. Cremeria Aurelia is a delicious vegan alternative; try their pistachio and coconut concoctions. For hands-on cultural immersion, parents and older children can make pasta and tiramisu in the In Rome Cooking class, while younger ones can spin pies in the Kids’ Pizza Making Class offered by Rome Tours with Kids.
Finding a hip restaurant rather than a tourist trap in the heart of sight-seeing attractions can be a challenge, but at NUMBS, located in Piazza di Spagna, you will save time and money while getting a great meal. Pop in, but if there’s a wait, browse the bohemian-chic 1960s style at Antica Sartoria directly across the alley. Here, as well as in shops in Positano, Capri, and Amalfi, are beach cover-ups, dresses, and children’s clothing for seaside excursions (see below). Also, across from the Pantheon, you can have a relaxing lunch — grilled fish and wine — at Hostaria Pantheon, located at Piazza del Rotundo. And at the end of the day, Mom can feel like a film star from La Dolce Vita by grabbing a drink at the iconic Harry’s Bar.
Where to explore
Must-sees of Rome include the Roman Forum, Colosseum (watch Ben Hur or Gladiator with your teens before the trip), the Pantheon (the best preserved building of ancient Rome), and the Spanish Steps. Be sure to throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain so your first trip to Rome won’t be your last.
Families can go it alone or take the Rome4Kids Combo Tour that includes all of these sites plus Janiculum Hill and Piazza Navona via an Amazing Race Scavenger hunt designed for children 3-6 or 6-12.
The company also offers a Heroes of Olympus Tour and a Vatican Highlights Tour, which we recommend if you want a family-friendly guide throughout the museums. Otherwise, you can tour on your own, being sure not to miss a teachable moment in The Sistine Chapel where Michelangelo’s talent and tenacity is immortalized. The ceiling fresco, his first, took him four years to paint. He considered himself a sculptor and was not happy with the commission.
St. Peter’s Basilica, also located in Vatican City, is the largest church in the world. Teens will enjoy private tours of Rome’s catacombs, such as those offered by Dark Rome. (These crypts in subterranean labyrinths were burial grounds outside the city for Christians and Jews who did not agree with the pagan custom of burning the bodies of the dead.)
Piazza di Spagna, on the other hand, is full of life — a vibrant literary landscape. Walk the streets off Via Condotti where writers like Charles Baudelaire, Wolfgang Goethe, and Ricard Wagner gathered around wine at restaurants and coffee at Antico Caffè Greco. In the area around The Spanish Steps known in the 19th century as the “English Quarter” lived not only the Big Four of Romanticism — the Shelleys, Byron and Keats — but also Sir Walter Scott, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, William Thackeray, Henry James, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Literature lovers must see the Keats Shelley House — located at the bottom of The Spanish Steps — where John Keats died at age twenty-five after moving there three months earlier to improve his health. Housed here are first-edition manuscripts and other memorabilia of Keats, Shelley (who was living in Tuscany when he drowned off the coast of Italy at age twenty-nine), Byron (who died from exhaustion fighting in Greece at age thirty-six), and others,
To relax from history overload, turn to hiking, biking, and boating at Villa Borghese. Enter Borghese Gardens at Porta Pincio and take the electric train or a surrey bike for four to the arcade, a children’s theater, Raphael’s House puppet theater, a bookshop with play areas outside, or the cafe. Also check out Bioparco, Rome’s zoo.
Where to stay (and shop)
Just around the corner from the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, and Via Condotti, Rome’s fashion district, is Hotel Modigliani. Living up to its namesake — impressionistic painter with a Romantic past, Amedeo Modigliani — the hotel is a work of art and old world charm. Superior rooms have sofas, garden terraces or balconies overlooking the hub of Rome. Another option for those taking excursions from Rome who want to be near the train station is Guest House Casa Vicenza.
Excursions to Pompeii, Positano, and Capri
When in Rome…go south. Pompeii is a place like no other. There in 79 AD volcano Vesuvius erupted, burying the city in ash. Since excavated, you can walk the streets of a preserved city — buildings, mosaics, frescoes, the Forum, temples, baths, brothel, and amphitheater — as it was over 2,000 years ago. Most moving are the plaster casts of those overtaken by the lava. Opt for a one-day guided tour from Rome by Dark Rome or Viator which includes a stop in Positano. Should you have more time to explore the Amalfi Coast or hike the Path of the Gods, stay in Positano at affordable Villa Rosa to enjoy world-famous views of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Next door is the iconic Le Sirenuse where movies have been filmed and muses found. Here John Steinbeck praised Positano, named for God of the Sea. Below are three islets of Li Galli, or the ”Sirenuse,” named for Sirens who seduced sailors with songs.
While the city is built on stairs and thus not stroller-friendly, all the climbing pays off when you reach Spiaggia Grande beach where boats of fresh catch bob in the breeze and Chic boutiques and beach bars abound. For a more private swim, walk beyond to Fornillo beach or take a sea taxi to enchanted bays nearby — Remmese, Clavel, and Cavone. For amazing meals, take a boat to Restaurant Maria Grazia and order local wine with peaches or try Da Adolfo which provides customers free, private boat transport. Also not to be missed in an excursion to Capri to explore the Blue Grotto and buy sandals where celebrities shop.
Rent a car in Rome to drive the Amalfi Coast or enjoy the breathtaking scenery by taking a bus or train. Busses run from June through September to Positano from the bus depot at Rome’s Tiburtina train station — departing at 7 AM and arriving at 11:30 AM. You can also take a train to Pompeii or Sorrento. The Marozzi Bus Journeys also stops in Positano, but it takes longer due to other stops such as Pompeii and Sorrento.
Another option is to take the fast train from Roma Termini, arriving in Napoli Central in just over an hour. From there take a bus to Naples Metropark (25 minutes) and arrive at Pompei Piazza Falcone e Borsellino. From Pompei, take a one-hour bus to Positano (30 minutes by taxi).
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