Rome is packed with countless museums and galleries, but for little ones the city can be a little more challenging. Thank goodness there are plenty of gelaterias to keep the little ones distracted! Although there aren’t many specific sites for children, many attractions that have something that will keep kids amused.
The city’s top monuments, the Colosseum and the Vatican can be a little overwhelming even for adults, the most popular times are in the morning, so to avoid lines and queuing up consider going in the afternoon. You can avoid a certain amount of queuing with skip-the line tickets for both monuments. At the Vatican, if the museum is too much then consider climbing the dome of St Peter’s with a stunning view inside of the church from the rafters and all over Rome from the top. You can take the lift/elevator and skip the first 231 steps. Then you have to climb to the very top – another 320 steps, but the fun bit is the staircase gets narrower and narrower to a tiny corkscrew staircase. They will be tired when they get to the top and it will be worth it!
The bocca della Verita is another bizarre attraction in Rome which kids love. Made famous by Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, the legend says that if you put your hand inside the mouth and tell a lie, it will bite your hand off! Unlikely as it is actually an ancient sewer cover, but it is fun to have a go anyway!
Rome has its own Children’s museum Explora which is designed for children under 12 with hands-on games and activities, displays, and interactive exhibits. There is also a playground with a zip-wire and water features. Visits are timed with two-hour slots which must be booked in advance. After hours of sightseeing and walking this is a treat of a museum just for them!
Another museum which is good for families is the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, near Termini station which has an amazing collection of ancient Roman sculpture, paintings and mosaics. The museum is never crowded and has interesting finds that are well labelled in English.
Rome has plenty of green spaces and the most central Villa Borghese, has plenty of things to do for children. Villa Borghese is a gigantic park in the centre of the city stretching over 80 hectares, here you will find the Bioparco, Rome’s zoo, and the Giardino del Lago with a lake, where you can hire rowing boats to paddle around. Throughout the park you can rent bicycles, pedalos or segways to explore. The park also has a reconstruction of Shakespeare’s globe theatre in London and for something a little less strenuous there is the San Carlino (puppet theatre for children) and the Cinema dei Piccoli, the world’s smallest cinema near the park entrance on Piazzale San Paolo del Brasile.
There are a number of underground sites that offer relief to big and small visitors in the heat of the summer. A visit to the catacombs offers a cool environment and dark spooky tunnels which you can explore with a guide, who will tell you how the ancient Romans dug the tunnels to bury their dead.
As well as this there are a number of other underground sites like the Basilica of San Clemente where you can actually go back in time like a time machine, the church has four levels each from an earlier period of time so you can go back from the 12th century all the way to the 1st century the further down you go.
Rome’s historical re-enactment society offers gladiator training lessons to children over 6 and adults. Lessons are for 2 hours and include hire of costume and weapons, training as a gladiator with refreshments included. The experience isn’t cheap, but the lessons are a one of a kind experience and highly sought after so booking in advance I recommended.
Often called Roman Pompeii, Ostia Antica is the original port of Rome and is remarkably well preserved with buildings that rise to three stories and mosaics still on the floor. Ostia Antica is easy to get to and only 25 minutes by train outside of Rome, it offers a great trip out of Rome for half a day or even a whole day (you can have lunch and go to the beach at Ostia Lido). Ostia is a large site that is rarely crowded and is set among trees and grassy fields. Here the kids can run wild and explore an ancient Roman town with an impressive theatre, houses, temples and baths not to mention the best-preserved Roman public toilet in Europe. There is also a fantastic restaurant and book shop in the middle of the site, or you can take a picnic and find a shady spot under a tree!
Many tour companies arrange guided tours of the major museums and attractions that are tailored for children including a number of food experiences like pizza and pasta-making and learning how to make gelato.