How to do Rome with Kids on a budget:
- Stay in an apartment rather than a hotel (or outside the City Centre at Camping Fabulous with Eurocamp). It is half the price and gives them far more scope to run around and be noisy.
- None of the major tourist sites we visited had interpretive material geared up for children. Read up about the attraction beforehand and think of ways to make it come alive for them e.g. In the Forum they were fascinated by the story of the Vestal Virgins and Romulus and Remus. You could have a treasure hunt round Rome finding all the wolf imagery. Even the metal rubbish bins have crests of R and R fed by the wolf. ‘SPQR’ works too, as this is on all the drain covers!
- Book Children friendly tours like Tapsy Tours or Vatican with Kids with Rome4Kids
- Take an ipad and let the children make their own videos eg acting out the death of Julius Caesar in the Forum with wooden daggers!
- Get to the major attractions very early. Even in February the queues for everything were very long. St Peter’s opens at 7am and the Colosseum and Forum at 8.30.
- All the street drinking fountains have drinkable water to refill bottles – saves a fortune in cafes.
- Public toilets are almost non-existent except in the major attractions. We found that asking in cafes if the children could use the loo (without us all having to go in) worked successfully.
- Most of the major attractions are free for children under 12, as are the trains and the metro (and probably the buses and trams, though we did not use those). For example, the metro lines A and B run between the Colosseum and the Vatican – saves a lot of complaints about sore feet.
Things the Children most enjoyed about Rome
- The ice cream
- The Pizzas
- The cheap gift shops and street stalls. Give them a sum, say 15 Euros, which they can spend how they want. If you return home without 12 mock Roman coins, 6 one euro plaster models of the Colosseum / St Peter’s/ Romulus and Remus etc, a fridge magnet of the Pope and a nodding Roman soldier model then you will be doing better than us.
- Hearing all about the gladiator fights in the Colosseum and re-enacting them with wooden swords and daggers purchased in the gift shop. Having their photo taken with a ‘Roman soldier’. Hearing that so many wild animals were killed here that many species became extinct in the Roman Empire eg the Middle Eastern mountain lions.
5. Making a video in the Forum and collecting tiny pieces of marble from the ground as souvenirs, then going up the Palatine Hill to play in all the water rills and fountains and the Farnese knot garden (which they thought was a maze)
6. St Peter’s Basilica. They said, “not a boring old church” and then were amazed at the size and grandeur of it all, plus the acres of marble. Both boys made their own videos / took their own photos in here. They were also able to spot the ‘fake’ marble in other churches after seeing St Peter’s.
7. Posing as characters from the numerous statues or posing in niches where statues would have been
8. The Pantheon. Highlights here were the hole in the Dome and finding the drainage holes underneath; seeing all the porphyry and hearing that is was more valuable than gold, as the Romans mined it virtually into extinction in North Africa.
Take a look at the video they made!
One thing the boys found unnerving and creepy but older children might enjoy in a goulish way was the underground crypt in the ‘Cemetery of the Capuchins, beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione, next to Metro station Barbarini. This consisted of several tableaux of monks all made of the bones of the deceased monks, their skulls, thigh bones, pelvises etc.
We have also heard that a trip to the old Port of Rome, Ostia Antica, is very suitable for children with ruins on a manageable scale and fewer people about.
We did not go to the Vatican Museum – queues too long and we thought they would appreciate it more when they were older. The Trevi Fountain had also been drained and was covered in scaffolding, so yet another reason to return.