Saturday, July 6, 2019

Rome, Italy

Rome is a place my kids were excited to visit, not for any particular sites like the Colosseum, but for the food. Both my kids love Italian food, to the point where they could eat pasta or pizza every day for a week (possibly longer, but that’s gone untested). And the food did turn out to be amazing, but it turned out we enjoyed the sights as well, despite the summer temps and crowds. The trick is in knowing how to make Rome’s history interesting for kids.

Where to Stay

I picked Hotel Genova because it was located near the Roma Termini train station. Our itinerary included several train rides and visits to the Colosseum and Trevi Fountain (both within walking distance). Hotel Genova was great – our room was spacious and clean, twin beds were set up for the kids, and a nice breakfast was included. We had no complaints about our stay.

What to Do

Of course, the thing to see in Rome is the Colosseum, but the experience of seeing the Colosseum with the kids can be quite torturous for everyone involved. There’s the crazy long lines to buy tickets and go through security, all under the hot sun. There’s the building itself, which is, in my opinion, kind of underwhelming at first glance. It’s only the shell of the amphitheater, with obtrusive scaffolding all around and within. Given all the modern day constraints, it’s hard to conjure up the grandeur that you’re probably imagining.

But – there is a way to enjoy it with kids. First of all, you need to purchase skip-the-line tickets – trust me! It doesn’t matter how early you arrive at the Colosseum, there will still be an unshaded queue to get in, and it will wrap around the building. So the skip-the-line tickets are totally worth it.

Secondly, you can hire a tour guide that’s geared toward families. We booked our bubbly guides Francesca and Rosa through Kids Tour of Rome, and they made the Colosseum interesting for my 10-year-old and 8-year-old (plus my cousin’s three children, who were traveling with us), with scavenger hunts and kid-friendly narration. Our tour also included the skip-the-line tickets.

Another way to make the Colosseum come alive is by taking your kids to Gladiator School. The historical recreation experience is located along the Appian Way, 15 minutes from the Colosseum by taxi, and it starts with a one-hour, hands-on lesson about gladiators – who they were, what they wore, what they fought with. You get to try on their outfits and touch their weapons. It was all really interesting, not just for the kids, but for the adults in our group as well.

After this history lesson came the really fun part – training to be a gladiator. The members of our particular group ranged from elementary-aged children to teenagers to adults like my husband who can’t resist the idea of play fighting. First, all the participants were given red tunics to wear (the outfits of the slaves who fought in the Colosseum). Then they were put through an obstacle course that involved dodging swinging sandbags and ducking under ropes. My husband and two kids participated; I observed from the stands.

Next, they learned how to put together weapons and fight with them. Each participant got a turn to battle the instructor, as well as with anyone they wanted to fight in the group, while everyone else cheered and jeered from the stands. It was all a lot of fun, and I highly recommend the experience! In fact, I recommend doing the school before visiting the Colosseum, as the school gives you so much interesting information that you can apply to your visit.

The one other Rome sight that my kids liked was the Trevi Fountain. Because what kid can resist such a grand, sprawling fountain that you can toss coins into? It’s the ultimate make-a-wish experience.

We didn’t get a chance to visit the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, or St. Peter’s Square because of the timing of our trip and the hours they were open, but if we had the time, I would’ve booked a kid-friendly tour and maybe climbed to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica for the view.

Where to Eat

Living in the suburbs of New York City, we have access to so much great Italian food. But the pasta in Rome was somehow even better than anything I’ve ever had in New York. There’s something about texture of the noodles – it transcends regular well prepared, al dente pasta. We found this to be true in all the trattorias we visited. The pizza, however, we thought was comparable to (or even not as good as) the pizza we get at home. It was good, but the pasta in Italy was outstanding. A great restaurant on a cute little street is the Taverna dei Fori Imperiali, but you can get good pasta just about anywhere.

And the gelato … I’ve never been a big gelato fan, preferring the creamy texture of custard-style ice cream instead. But in Rome we all discovered our inner love for gelato, eating a cone every night. It didn’t help that there’s a gelato shop on every block, with each cone costs only a couple of euro. And you can pick at least two flavor choices each time. How can anyone resist?

What’s Nearby

From Rome we hopped on a seven-day Royal Caribbean cruise through Greece, which I’ve written about here. When we returned to the port near Rome, we took a scenic, four-hour train ride north, to explore Venice for a couple of days. As much as we enjoyed Rome, we somehow loved Venice even more. Despite having seen photos of this iconic city, I felt that actually being there was like visiting another planet. It was foreign and ancient and beautiful. Here’s my itinerary for that leg of the trip.

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