You may be forgiven for thinking that once you’ve thrown a coin in the Trevi Fountain, chased the pigeons in Piazza San Pietro, run a race up the Spanish Steps and eaten a pizza that you’ve exhausted all the activities for children in Rome. Perhaps it’s Rome’s reputation as a highbrow cultural destination that doesn’t make it the obvious choice for a family holiday but look beyond the Renaissance Art and the Vatican and the city is brimming with exciting activities for children, especially those who are interested in wrestling lions!
What to see
Give children a Roman history lesson at Gladiator School. Run by the Gruppo Storico Romano (Roman History Group), it gives a fun insight in to the life of a gladiator. After dressing in your Roman tunic, Hermes, the fierce gladiator trainer, teaches you the battle techniques of Roman fighters. There are helmets to try on and swords to brandish and kids who start as school children leave as fierce gladiators, proudly clutching their graduation certificates.
More information: Prices start from £40, viator.com
Capuchin crypt, Church of Santa Maria della Concezione
For a real Scooby Doo adventure visit the wonderfully creepy Capuchin Crypt, near Piazza Barberini, which is especially spooky after dark. Young eyes will widen as you wander through the five crypts and they realise that everything, from the picture frames to the lampshades, is made of the bones of 3,700 monks.
More information: Open Friday to Wednesday. Adults £4.25, children free.
Basilica san Clemente
Unbelievably this 12th century church is built on top of a 4th century church, which sits on top of a 2nd century pagan temple and a 1st century Roman house. Kids will love descending through the layers of this architectural lasagna to the Roman sewer at the bottom.
More information: Adults £7, children are free. basilicasanclemente.com
An affinity to life as a gladiator will certainly make a visit to the Colosseum more meaningful. Book a tour that only lasts ninety minutes, to stop young minds wandering, and it’s worth paying extra to visit the areas that are normally not accessible. You’ll be taken to the damp depths of the atmospheric hypogeum, where the wild animals were caged and scenery for elaborate performances were hoisted up by a series of complex lifts and pulleys. You’ll also see the top tier with its magnificent views over the Arena and the Forum.
More information: Adults £11.74, children aged 18 and under, £4.40. rome.info/colosseum
Time Elevator Experience Roma
Another big hit with families is the new Time Elevator Experience Roma on Via dei Santi Apostoli. This simulated ride and 4D film whizzes tourists through the last 3,000 years of Roman history to meet Romulus and Remus, Caesar, Michelangelo and the Pope, as well as covering the victories, defeats and eventual decline of the Roman empire – all in just 45 minutes. It’s an original and interesting way to present all the most significant historical moments of the city – just be prepared to get a bit wet when it rains!
More information: Adults £8.50, children £6.40. time-elevator.itAdults £20, 12 to 17 years £11.70, 11 years and under £4.25. tickitaly.com
Where to sleep
The family-run Hotel Golden is a grand 19th century residence with large stylish family rooms and a selection of family suites with one or two bedrooms, a living room and bathroom. It’s very central and an easy stroll to both Park Villa Borghese in one direction and the Spanish Steps in the other and the lovely staff couldn’t be more helpful if they tried.
More information: Family rooms, based on two adults and two children sharing, start from £85 per room, including breakfast. hotelgoldenrome.com
Mypootle is a hand-picked collection of boutique places to stay. Casa Montani is close to the Spanish Steps and is a five-bedroom guesthouse with one fabulous family apartment.
More information: Apartment from £893 for five nights (two adults and two children). mypootle.com/
A sumptuous five-star hotel, a short drive from the centre. The big draws are the indoor and outdoor pools, ice-cream bar and famous Sunday brunch party with kids’ entertainment.
More information: Rooms for two adults and one child start at £140, including breakfast. Learn more.
Where to eat
The promise of an ice cream and the quest for a new flavour is a good way to keep kids on the move. The newest artisan gelato parlour (with three in Rome) is Flor, which has innovative flavours such as pomegranate, ginseng and lip-smacking sour green apple – which was a firm favourite.
More information: A single scoop costs £1.80. gelatiflor.com/
Armado al Pantheon
A family-run restaurant that’s happy to cater to fussy foreign kids and serves hearty portions of Italian favourites with a few unusual dishes like guinea fowl with boletus mushrooms in black beer. Don’t miss its delicious chocolate mousse.
More information: Three-course meals from around £21 per person, armandoalpantheon.it/en
What child would turn down the chance of eating a pizza? But it’s even more fun if you make it yourself in a real pizzeria. Rome Private Guides organise a fun three-hour class where you’ll learn how to make the dough, then throw, catch, top and cook it in a pizza oven.
More information: Adults £41, children £25 (includes transfer, tuition, pizza, dessert and drinks). romeprivateguides.com
Shop and play
Via Condotti, which crosses the busy Via del Corso, is the city’s most prestigious shopping street, where Italian luxury brands such as Gucci rub shoulders with Armani and Ferragamo. The kids will love the nearby Ferrari Store on Via Tomacelli, an absolute must for all little (and big) racing car drivers. Packed with Ferrari’s iconic red merchandise they don’t mind if you also just pop in to pose for photos next to the Formula 1 cars. Or head to Italy’s largest toyshop, LittleBigTown, on Via Cesare Battisti, where you’ll find cool souvenirs, such as gladiator figures and centurion costumes.
For a chance to run free head to Park Borghese – 226 acres of gardens, speckled with statues and fountains. Stick with the gladiator theme by hiring a chariot-like Segway or a bike to explore. There’s a small bio-park zoo, artificial lakes to picnic by and it’s a great escape from Rome’s hectic streets. Cycle to the 19th century Pincio Gardens for the views, then wander down the steps to charming Piazza del Poppolo or visit Galleria Borghese, a small museum packed with art by Caravaggio and Raphael.
Bike hire costs from £2.80 for one hour or £7 for the whole day. Find out more: ascolbike.com