Rome’s bursting with history and no city anywhere has more UNESCO World Heritage sites.
It’s also the ‘Eternal City’ and home to the Vatican, so crowds of pilgrims are added to hordes of tourists – especially at Easter and Christmas. During summer, heat and humidity can feel suffocating. And it’s almost guaranteed, whatever you want to see, will mean waiting in line. All that aside, Rome’s still one of the world’s greatest cities and works for family holidays, with some forward planning.
If you’re travelling with younger kids in June, July and August, think about staying in west coast seaside resorts and visiting the city for days out: beachy Santa Marinella, Anzio and Sperlonga are a short train journey away. Older children and teenagers will cope better with an urban base, just don’t overload on sights, and always remember to book everything in advance and dress appropriately. Sounds strange? You will be refused entry to sacred sites like St. Peter’s if you’re wearing shorts and sandals.
Direct flights from the UK to Rome all year round take just over two hours.
Vatican City and the entire historic centre of Rome are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Explore the city spaces
As well as its seven famous hills, Rome has dozens of huge parks, garden like ancient monuments and grand piazza – so even in high summer, it’s possible to find some quiet space.
One of the most visited cities on earth, Rome is still as warm and kid-friendly as the rest of Italy and children are welcome almost everywhere.
Choice of accommodation
Rome’s hotels can be outrageously expensive but it’s an excellent city for family pensiones, self-catering apartments, aparthotels and larger Airbnb.
Steer clear of the obvious tourist areas and eating fantastically well on a family budget balances the higher costs of accommodation in Rome.
No other city on the planet does guided tours with such talent, most are fun for kids and themes cover everything from pizza making and gelateria scouting to ancient Roman scandals.
Where to go
The rioni for the Spanish Steps, Piazza del Popolo and Via Condotti, Campo Marzio is where to stay if money is no object. The hotels here are almost exclusively five-star and reliably the most opulent, historic and expensive in the city. It’s also the busiest rioni with a cross-section of tourists and well-heeled shoppers.
Walk up the Spanish Steps from Piazza di Spagna to romantic Chiesa Trinita dei Monti – it’s a Roman Holiday movie moment not to be missed (don’t sit on the stairs, it’s against the law now).
Enormous Piazza del Popolo is one of the city’s loveliest squares and right next to Villa Medici.
Campo Marzio is also the best entrance to Villa Borghese for bike hire and getting your bearings in the park.
Just about everyone’s a tourist in Rome, so go and enjoy Trevi with open-mouthed abandon. The newly restored fountain is gloriously extravagant and well worth a bit of jostling to get a glimpse. Visit Piazza Berberini for Bernini’s charming ‘Fountain of the Bees’. And climb to the top of Quirinale Hill for the view and impressive Palazzo Quirinale.
Wander away from the crowds round the Trevi Fountain and this is a surprisingly affordable and authentic district for lunch and dinner. Restaurants are open on Sundays and keep later hours during the week.
Weirdest attraction in Trevi is found in Santi Vincenzi e Anatasio where every Pope’s heart since the 15th century is an enshrined relic.
Hotels here range from 18th century grandeur to basic family pensiones, but it’s a noisy district to stay in with kids.
Named after the dramatic Colonna di Marco Aurelio in the centre of Piazza Colonna, this glamorous city centre district is thronged by shoppers on Via del Corso and less crowded with tourists.
Excellent for non-tourist restaurants where chic Roman shoppers lunch.
The rioni for lesser known but no less lovely sights like: Chiesa Santa Maria Maddalena (AKA La Madalenna); intricately carved Colonna di Marco Aurelio; Pont d’Angelo’s missing Bernini angel in the side chapel of San Lorenzo in Lucina; the gorgeous, shady and peaceful hidden courtyard of San Silvestre in Capite.
Rome’s urban village, Monti was originally built as a firewall to protect The Forum and for centuries it was the city’s red light district. That’s a distant memory. Now, if you’re looking for colour-washed skinny buildings, atmospheric alleys, charmingly local piazza and everything from artisan bakeries to designer gelateria, Monti’s the rioni. A fabulously expensive area to live in, it’s a delight to wander round any time and good for interesting and unusual restaurants and upscale indie shopping.
You’ll find wonderful Airbnb apartments in Monti.
Between the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia, tourists here tend to be looking for atmosphere rather than antiquities.
Don’t miss San Pietro in Vincoli for Michelangelo’s statue of Moses and the tomb of Pope Julius II: the companion pieces to this unfinished work are the ‘Slaves’ in La Louvre.
Edgier than Monti, Trastevere is hugely popular with American tourists thanks to its appearance in about a million and one movies and US blogs. Very photogenic and pretty, it’s also surprisingly ‘real’ and packed with local character and characters. One of the best rioni in the city for pizzeria in the evening.
Boutique hotels and rising star restaurants and shops are a Trastevere signature.
Visit to wander around the ancient streets during the day and for pizza or aperitivo in the evening – teenagers love this lively district.
The huge Sunday flea market on Porto Portese is one of the biggest in Europe.
Climb to the top of Janiculum Hill for the enchanting city view – great for a picnic and Rome’s Botanical Gardens are here too.
If you only visit one rioni, it has to be Campitelli. This is where to see The Forum and the Capitoline Museums, Trajan’s Column and the Palatine Hill and monuments – considered to be the birthplace of Rome.
Most Romans hate the Vittorio Emanuele II monument, nicknamed ‘the wedding cake’. But the Terrace of the Chariots on top gives you a view over all of Campitelli and helps kids make sense of the immense complex.
If you’re in the mood for heights, climb the steep stairs of Santa Maria d’Aracoeli and read up on its many strange and gory legends.
The Pantheon is the world’s most copied church but the original in Pigna is still the most astonishing of all. The concrete dome’s larger than any other on earth and rays of light coming through its open oculus are almost as awe-inspiring as the building itself. Apart from legendary architecture, Pigna’s a fantastic restaurant district and known for having the first season pick of all fresh produce. Kitsch centurions and trinket sellers loom large here, but locals manage to ignore them completely and still throng the squares and side streets at lunchtime. Island of contrasts, places to stay on Sardinia range from exclusive spa retreats with kids’ clubs to beach houses and holiday villages.
Ludovisi is the best area in centro storico for international brand hotels. Not the most interesting rioni in its own right, but bordered by beautiful Villa Borghese and Trevi. Don’t look for character in local restaurants either, the American embassy is just one of many here and sets the tone for high end chains rather than cute trattoria.
What to do
The world’s largest amphitheatre dates back to 72AD and, even in monument-packed Rome, it’s the most visited of all. Book guided tours in advance, only with registered city guides and make sure the amazing underground tunnels are included.
The Forum, Campitelli
Caesar’s Rome is one of the most evocative archaeological sites in the city. Before you take a tour with kids, climb up to the Terrace of the Chariots on top of the Vittorio Emanuele II monument: the fantastic view of the Forum puts it into context for younger kids.
Capitoline Museums, Campitelli
The oldest museums in the world were started with a few bronzes in 1471. Today’s collection is vast and includes the iconic statue of Romulus and Remus suckled by a she-wolf AKA: the Capitoline Wolf.
Villa Borghese, Campo Marzio
This 80ha park in the centre of Rome is where to find Villa Medici and several major museums including the Galleria Borghese. Rome Zoo is also here and you can hire bikes to explore the gorgeous 18th century grounds.
Sistine Chapel, Vatican City
The most famous frescos and ceiling on earth are spectacular but, between the queues and history, might be a little dry for younger kids. Take a specially designed children’s tour or try one of the evening tours in summer.
MAXXI National Museum of the 21st Century
Called Zaha Hadid’s finest work, MAXXI’s a breath of fresh air in antiquity stuffed Rome. The permanent art, architecture and design collection is bold and exciting enough to excite even the most museum-fatigued kids.
Gladiator School, Via Appia Antiqua
Rome’s oldest road is fun to cycle and home to the training ground for modern-day young gladiators. Adults can skill build ancient Roman style too.
Mostra di Leonardo, Campo de Fiori
An incredible museum for kids. Over 50 of da Vinci’s ‘machines’ have been constructed using his codes and getting hands on and inventive is part of the fun.
Summer in Rome gets very hot and sticky, cooling off at the coast is a family tradition. Zoomarine is part giant waterpark and part marine park an hour’s drive from the city centre – there are shuttle buses from Roma Termini too.
Bioparco di Roma, Villa Borghese
One of Italy’s largest zoos, Bioparco is home to more than 1000 animals from over 200 species. Set in beautiful Villa Borghese park.
Educational value for kids
Hire bikes on the Via Appia Antica. It’s the oldest road in Rome and lined with fascinating monuments and archaeological sites – take a picnic, it’s 17km long.
Throw coins in the newly restored Trevi Fountain and climb the Spanish Steps, they’re iconic ‘only in Rome’ experiences, even for kids.
Take a free city walking tour, they’re a great way to get your bearings and the guides are good fun.
Kids are never too young to learn the ways of eating in Italy: Gelataria dei Gracchi gelato and after dinner passegiatta; no pizza for lunch (woodfires aren’t lit until dinner); aperitivo isn’t just for adults – and the list goes on.
Don’t miss Rome’s private collections: the Doria Pamphilj Gallery is one of the loveliest art museums in Europe.
Most major monuments and museums have children’s tours or activity programmes to bring the ancient to life for kids.
Get off the beaten tourist track, Rome’s full of sights without queues like: St. Peter’s Through the Keyhole on the Aventine Hill; the missing Bernini angels from Pont d’Angelo (deemed ‘too beautiful’ to be outside so they’re hidden in Sant’ Andrea delle Fratte); Fontane delle Tartarughe on Piazza Mattei.
Getting about with kids in Rome
Most of what you want to see in Rome is in the centro storico (historic district). Metro lines A and B are informally known as the ‘touristico’ to simplify the city’s Byzantine transport system. Enormous Roma Termini station is the main hub of the metro and bus network and good for taxis in the evening. Don’t even think about driving in the centre of Rome, the reputation for rule-free chaos is well deserved.
If in doubt, the city centre divides neatly into different quarters (rioni). Get a map, travel from area to area by bus or metro and walk around – there’s never any shortage of gelataria or cafés for pit stops and grand piazza to catch your breath.