Rome, Italy :
Rome, Italy: The Ultimate Guide with Kids
Rome feels more like a complete city than its counterparts Florence and Venice, which means that there are facilities and infrastructure beyond what it takes to sustain tourists in the city. In Rome, you will find parks and playgrounds but the real magic of the city is is rich history, which is evident at every single corner. One of the top things to do in Rome with kids is to walk around the city and take in the atmosphere. Here's some footage of our time in Rome:
Getting to Rome:
Rome's Leonardo Da Vinci/Fiumicino airport (IATA: FCO) is the main international hub with direct flights from the East coast of the US and other major cities of the world. Italy's national airline is Alitalia. From Fiumicino it is easy to connect to the center of the city by taking the train to Rome's Termini station, buses or taxis. You can also rent a car but beware that driving into the city can be tricky as many of the streets in the center are pedestrian zones and parking is a nightmare. Rome's Ciampino airport is smaller and caters to low-cost European carriers such as Ryan Air and Easyjet.
When you are done with all the things to do in Rome, you can get to other parts of Italy and neighboring countries by boat, train or bus.
Getting Around Rome with Kids:
Rome rewards those who explore it by foot as on every cobblestoned street you will find a boutique, or an artist or a little cafe worth popping into. As I said earlier, walking is around is one of the best things to do in Rome. Many of the streets around the historical center are pedestrian-only zones but some are not, so beware of oncoming traffic. Alternatively taxis, buses and the metro are easy to use and readily available. Car seats are not required in taxis but in private cars.
Top Things to do in Rome with Kids:
Certainly when in Rome you must check out all the famous sites: the Fontana di Trevi, Spanish Steps, Pantheon, Villa Borghese, The Vatican, The Colosseum, Piazza Navona and many others. Here are some of the things we enjoyed the most:
- Fontana di Trevi and drinking from Rome's fountains: Did you know that Rome has 5000 fountains, all of which you can drink from? We had a ball counting them as we passed them, and filling our bottles or just spraying ourselves to get a little refreshed in the oppressive heat. The Fontana di Trevi is the most spectacular of these fountains of course and can be a struggle to get to in peak tourist season. But if you can battle the crowds and get to the water, you must throw in 2 coins: one for a return to Rome, and the other for finding true love.
- Piazza Navona: It's cheesy and touristy and if I didn't have kids I would not bother going near this popular square (definitely don't eat there). But it's fun for the kids to watch the many shows and artists that arrive daily and nightly to entertain the throngs of tourists.
- Campo dei Fiori: A smaller version of Piazza Navona, Campo dei Fiori is as touristy but somehow manages to feel more authentic. With a jazz quartet playing in the middle of the square, the kids danced and played while we feasted on wine and cheese.
- The Vatican: It's a top thing to do in Rome, no doubt. See Momaboard's note on visiting the Vatican with kids.
- Villa Borghese: This beautiful park in the center of Rome is the city's answer to Central Park. In addition to housing the world-famous Galleria Borghese, which holds some of the most important works of classical and baroque art, the park is also a refuge for city dwellers with large shady trees and fountains. What we didn't know is that Villa Borghese holds a host of entertainment options for children: rent a bike and check out the view from the Pincio, play in the bouncy castle, ride the train, try your hand at the arcade games, take a turn on the carousel, or when school is in session, catch a movie at the kids' theater, which I thought was the most charming building. You can grab a panini or a gelato at any of the many stalls around the park so hunger is never a fear. Rome can be intense for kids with lots of sightseeing and crowds. Give them a day off in Villa Borghese -they will thank you for it. Definitely one of my favorite things to do in Rome.
Top Things to do in Rome with Kids- Shopping:
- I Pinco Pallino: Upscale Italian style for kids. Gorgeous footwear in the vicinity of 200 euros but hey, it's Italian, so why wouldn't you! The only location in Rome is on Via del Babuino near the Spanish Steps.
- Chiurato: Not particularly fancy, but the only store I found in Rome that has a good selection of infant and toddler Crocs and Havaianas. Much needed in the summer heat. Via due Macelli, 61.
- Pure: Kind of like a Bergdorf for kids, this two-level boutique offers everything you could want in terms of designer wear for your tots. From Moncler ski jackets to Gucci sunglasses, this place lives up to your expectations of Italian haute couture. On the well-heeled Via Frattina (111).
- Rigadritto: A quirky stationer with a largely french influence, this cute little shop has great trinkets and clever gadgets that make excellent gifts and souvenirs. Via Vittoria, 37.
- Zuccastregata: A chain that you can find around Roma, Zuccastregata offers Italian-made kids sleepwear and cottons. Got Karam the cutest fluffy slippers from here.
- Berte di Marrucco: One of the oldest toy shops in Rome, The Piazza Novona location is massive, with all your favorite international brands as well as a few "authentic" italian favorites such as woodcrafted Pinocchios. If you need to buy a crib or a pram even, this is your place. Given its highly touristy location, I wouldn't expect to find too much of a bargain here, but it's a fun place to visit!
- LittleBigTown: Rome's answer to Hamley's, this multi-level store is full of toys, games and entertainment for the little ones. Probably a good thing to do in Rome after a long day of sightseeing to teach them the value of patience!
- L'Albero Divento: This tiny little shop holds many treasures for the little ones and specializes in objects hand-painted by the owner's mother! Opposite Life Restaurant (see: Where to Eat) so easy to make a trip!
In addition, Rome's little shops are a pleasure to browse through. Baby supplies like diapers and baby foods can be found at supermarkets and creams and meds at Farmacias that are located virtually on every street.
Where to Eat in Rome with Kids:
Even in a country like Italy where food is central to the culture and the pride of the nation, tourist trap restaurants just around major sites will disappoint with stale and unimaginative food. As a local friend said to me: "Avoid places with menus in English; definitely avoid places with menus in Japanese!". Point taken. Some of the places we loved:
- 'Gusto: An Osteria, Pizzeria and Wine Bar, 'Gusto is a favorite of locals and tourists alike. The long corridor in which the restaurant stand is conducive to free-running children and the staff didn't mind when Karam and another child struck up a game of "hide and seek". All that's a perk though, the real draw is the food: an extensive wine list and delectable pizzas (bianco and rosso) and antipasti. Before you drink too much, check out their homewares store for a wonderful selection of Italian cooking and serveware. Love love love 'Gusto!
- Ginger Juice Bar: If you are sick of cheese and pasta, hop into Ginger for a taste of contemporary Rome. Fresh, organic salads, sandwiches, and of course, juices served up in a bright, open (albeit crowded) space. You may have to wait a bit if you get there are peak lunch hour but the service is quick and friendly and there is a take-away menu. A great find in Rome! Via Borgognona, 43.
- Life Ristorante: Sure, there are millions of pizzerias in Rome, but I found Life to stand out. Tucked away on a very interesting street just near the Spanish Steps (and one over from the lovely Via Frattina for shoppers), Via della Vite, Life's take on the Tartufo (black truffle) pizza was divine! The restaurant is bright and vibrant and the service warm and friendly. My only regret is not being able to try the Degustazione. On my list of things to do in Rome next time!
- Vecchia Roma: For a beautiful, authentically Italian and understated meal, head to Vecchia Roma. If you are lucky you will be able to sit outside and enjoy the simplest, but most flavourful pasta you can imagine, amongst other wonderful dishes.
- Casa Coppelle: Leave the kids home for this one. An elegantly decorated restaurant and bar, in the heart of Rome, Casa Coppelle dishes us gourmet food and artisan cocktails with unmatched service. A real treat for travel-weary mum and dad!
Tips for Driving in Italy
Italy is not the easiest country to drive in, but it's not the most difficult either. Here are some tips to keep in mind when planning to drive in Italy:
- Driving in Italy is on the right side of the street, which is great if you are coming from the US.
- The country is small and well-connected through autoways. You generally want to pay attention to the name of the cities and exits for direction because sometimes the numbers are incorrect.
- Driving in big Italian cities is another story. There are many things to do in Rome, and driving is not one of them. Small cars and vespas will zip around you like nobody's business so if you are not a confident driver, it's best to leave the city driving to the locals. Similarly, parking in the cities is a nightmare and many of the historical centers are pedestrian-only zones.
- Sites like mappy.com or google maps offer accurate and real-time directions and can come in very handy when you are at a fork and have no way to go.
- On the freeways gas and rest stops are located frequently and are well designated by signs. They also indicated how far the next stop is in case you decide to skip the one you are passing (important when planning bathroom breaks). Autogrills are on major freeways and offer food, coffee and the opportunity to pick up chocolate, wine and souvenirs.
- You need an international driver's licence to rent a car. Most major international brands are represented in Italy.
- Car rentals can provide you with car seats. Car seats are mandatory in private cars in Italy (not taxis). Italian car seat laws mandate that children upto 9lbs must be backward facing while between 10 and 36 lbs they must be forward facing.
Italy - General Travel Tips
Italy is in my opinion, one of the most child-friendly places on the planet. Not necessarily because of the facilities and amenities (you won't find many) but because of the general attitude: children are loved and expected to be around. And because Italians are passionate about all they love, children become the center of many interactions, particularly those that involve food. And what else is there in life?! Some things to know about traveling to Italy with kids:
- All restaurants charge a cover (coperto) for each person dining, which includes toddlers, but not infants.
- Restaurants have high chairs without straps which can be a little dangerous for younger babies. Carry your own portable high chair if you have one.
- Change tables will only be found in larger restaurants. Ask the staff and they will be more than willing to help you find an alternative.
- Baby foods are found in supermarkets and farmacias carry all manner of toiletries and medications.
- In the major cities taxis are readily available and car seats are not mandatory
- Water faucets in public spaces are either foot pedals or sensors. Much more hygienic!
Renting a car in Italy:
In order to rent a car in Italy you will need an international drivers license, and a car seat which most reputed car rental places will provide you with for an extra fee. You can often pick up in one city and drop off in another. Make sure you settle on a fee before hand and have it signed off on when you drop off. Driving is on the right side and relatively easy to do between cities. Driving within them though, is best left to the locals! See our tips for driving in Italy.
Tax refunds in Italy:
As if you needed another reason to shop in Italy! Tourists are entitled to a refund of approximately 12% on anything above 155 euro spent in a store. You need to ask the sales clerk who will put your details into a form and give it to you. You don't need to carry your passport around but you will need to input your passport number before your refund can be processed. You can claim this refund at the last port in the EU so if you are traveling say, to Spain, after Italy, that's where you will get your money back. Be careful though because they also ask that you show your goods at Customs so make sure to check in at GST before you check in your bags, or pack your duty-free goods in your hand luggage.
There are typically three or four companies that process refunds and depending on how much you have shopped, you may have to go to each one of them, so allocate at least an hour. If you take your refund in cash on the spot they will take a commission, so it's better to get it put straight back on your card. It's not an easy process, but it's worth it!
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