Rome is one of the most spectacular capital cities in the world. It’s steeped in culture and history and no matter where you turn there’s something interesting to look at. Its ancient ruins are amazingly well preserved and the beauty of its churches is unsurpassed.
We recently visited Rome for 5 days with our young family. This post should give you an idea of what you can expect to do with 5 days in Rome, especially if you’re a first time visitor like I was. You can get a really good feel of the city if you have this long, and explore most of the major landmarks as well as one or two less famous sights.
Unlike our trip to Paris when we avoided the main sights, this time we kept pretty firmly on the tourist trail. However, in Rome this is no bad thing! Read on to see which sights are best to see with small children. There’s a lot to cover in this post so get comfy!
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Explore Ancient Rome with kids: what to see
Take a family-friendly Colosseum tour
I don’t know about you, but the first thing I wanted to see in Rome was the Colosseum, so I’ll recommend beginning your first day in Rome here. There are lots of tours and ticket options for visiting the Colosseum and you can choose the one that suits you and your family best. However a skip the line ticket of some sort is definitely worth buying.
TIP: If you haven’t bought your ticket in advance then the queues are often shorter at the entrance to the Forum or the Palatine Hill, so buy your tickets here rather than at the Colosseum itself.
We took a family friendly guided tour of the Colosseum and the Forum. This was really informative and our guide was great with the kids.
The Colosseum doesn’t disappoint. It’s an incredible structure and your eyes (and camera) can’t help but be drawn to it. I’m not sure how many photos I ended up taking of it but it was a hell of a lot! Even the kids were impressed, at least at first. Some tours will take you down into the basement or right up to the top level.
The Forum and the Palatine Hill
Your ticket to the Colosseum will also include entry to the Forum and Palatine Hill. Here you’ll find the spectacular ruins of ancient temples, palaces and baths. It can be a bit much to go straight into the Forum from the Colosseum so try to get lunch beforehand.
Once inside it can be a bit tricky trying to make sense of the Forum as the signage isn’t very good. The temples and buildings are all jumbled up and wouldn’t all have existed at the same time so it can be hard to imagine what it would have looked like. Having said that, it’s still an amazing sight!
I thought the best way to enjoy the Forum was from one of the viewpoints which you can reach from the Palatine Hill. You can get a fantastic panoramic of the Forum and the Colosseum from here and it’s worth the walk up the hill to get there!
The Palatine Hill is much better signposted and there’s lots of information on its boards to show you what you’re looking at. Here you can walk through the remains of an incredible ancient palace, the Palace of Septimus Severus, which overlooks the Circus Maximus. Those Romans knew how to live the good life! Other sights include the House of Livia which still has ancient paintings on the walls – although when we visited the House of Livia was not open and I couldn’t see an employee to ask about its times.
You can get a great look at Trajan’s Markets just walking along the large street between the Colosseum and the unmissable white marble eyesore that is the Victor Emmanuel monument (not worth looking in, it’s full of flags and not much else).
The markets were built by Emperor Trajan in about AD 100 and were a complex of about 150 shops and offices. The markets were once considered as one of the wonders of the classical world. It’s thought that pretty much everything and anything was sold here, and it must have been a real hub.
The Circus Maximus is the site of ancient chariot races. Its track and the sloping walls where the seating would have been are still very obvious today. Standing in the middle of the track you can easily imagine the horse-drawn chariots racing around you, watched over by the people in the Palace of Septimus Severus.
Today it’s a nice open grassy space for the children to run around in.
Baths of Caracalla
The huge ruins of the Terme di Caracalla lie about a 15 minute walk from the Circus Maximus. The baths were built by Emperor Caracalla in AD 217 and were used for hundreds of years. Today you can walk through the separate areas of the baths, the gymnasium and the swimming pool.
The best thing about the Baths of Caracalla is its brand new virtual reality technology. You can take an audio/visual tour which lets you see how the baths used to look in their heyday. This really helped us to understand what we were seeing, and was a novelty for the children too.
Explore Christian Rome with kids: what to see
Vatican City and St Peter’s Basilica
Vatican City is the world’s smallest state and is the centre of Catholicism. Visiting the Vatican means crossing an international border, but you don’t need your passport. Getting skip-the-line tickets is recommended.
The Vatican Museums themselves are stuffed to the gills with treasures collected over hundreds of years. The wealth on display is quite staggering. The Sistine Chapel is one of the most famous things to see here and you shouldn’t miss it. We were at the Vatican for several hours and barely scratched the surface. It would take you days to explore the whole place.
St Peter’s Basilica is also incredible. Linked to the Vatican by a doorway from the Sistine Chapel, this was our last stop on our Vatican visit. It’s definitely the most impressive church I’ve been in (not surprising, really!). Make sure you look out for the Swiss Guards in their colourful uniforms. A great thing to do is the climb the steps to the top of the dome to get a fantastic view over Rome. Unfortunately by the end of the day the kids (and us) were totally wiped out and nobody could face it!
Remember that you need to cover your shoulders and knees or you won’t be allowed in.
This amazing looking castle sits on the riverside and has a statue lined bridge to reach it. It’s a former papal fortress and a secret tunnel connects the Castel to the Vatican. The Castel has a long and bloody history which you can learn about in its large museum. The views from the terrace are also fabulous.
Tickets from €10.50 per adult.
Although it’s an ancient Roman building, the Pantheon has been a Christian church for centuries.
The Pantheon was designed by the Emperor Hadrian around 120 AD. It’s one of ancient Rome’s best preserved buildings and gives you an idea of what some of those ruins at the Forum must have looked like long ago. Outside the pillared entrance is imposing but the interior is a real surprise – there is a huge domed ceiling. Covered in decorated cloisters, the ceiling has a hole, or oculus, in the middle, letting the sunshine (or the rain) in. The artist Raphael is buried here so make sure you find his tomb.
Visit some of Rome’s churches
Well, where do you even start with Rome’s churches? There’s one around every corner and our kids’ patience is limited in places like these. Some of the more famous churches that we didn’t visit include Santa Maria in Trastavere and Santa Maria del Popolo.
We managed to pop into a few smaller ones and one or two larger churches for very brief visits. These churches are all relatively near where we were staying at Cavour.
Chiesa SS Nome di Maria and Santa Maria de Loreto
These two churches are just off Piazza Venezia, near the Forum and Trajan’s Markets. They’re very small and quite pretty, especially the Chiesa (on the right in the above photo). Unfortunately pictures of the interiors aren’t allowed, but they’re the perfect size to poke your head into very quickly if you’re with small children.
Santa Maria Maggiore
Up near the Termini train station, this was one of the biggest churches we visited. It has a real blend of architectural styles which add to its interest. The mosaic art inside is absolutely beautiful, and its coffered, gilded ceiling is utterly gorgeous.
San Pietro in Vincoli
The basilica of St Peter in Chains is near to the Colosseum and most famous for Michelangelo’s Moses, a statue for the tomb of Pope Julius II. The statue remains unfinished as Michelangelo was then contracted to work on the Sistine Chapel instead.
St Peter’s Chains, which were used to shackle him while he was imprisoned, are also on display here. As it was Christmas when we visited, there was a lovely nativity scene below them.
Santa Maria in Cosmedin
This little church is most famous for the Bocca della Verità, or Mouth of Truth. Much older than the church, this large face was originally part of a drain cover, but a legend has grown up around it. It’s said that if anyone who tells lies puts their hand in the mouth, the mouth will clamp down on it. Traditionally it was used to try to catch cheating spouses! Kids will enjoy the story and putting their hands in the mouth.
Inside the church itself you can see the relic of St Valentine. The church is on the Piazza de Bocca della Verita, which is near to the Circus Maximus, and opposite the entrance you’ll see more ancient Roman ruins.
The Crypt of the Capuchin Monks
I took the chance to explore Rome by myself one afternoon and this was one of the places I visited. The crypt of the Capuchin Monks has to be one of the weirdest places I’ve ever seen. The tour starts off innocuously enough, with a visit to a museum about the lives and beliefs of the Capuchin monks. Fun fact: cappuccino is so called after the colour of the monks’ robes.
The crypt is famous for its ossuary where the bones of hundreds of monks have been artistically arranged in six rooms. Photos aren’t allowed but imagine patterns made of rib bones, jaws and vertebrae covering the ceilings, and skulls carefully piled into archways with robed skeletons in each arch. Even the light fixtures are made of bones. Some of the monks appear to be mummified. It sounds grotesque but it’s eerily artistic rather than creepy. It’s certainly fascinating! One of the signs poignantly reads something to the effect of: “What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you will be.”
You’ll have to make the decision as to whether you want to take your kids here. I don’t think I’d have taken the Cub as she wasn’t keen on some of the relics or pictures of skeletons we saw in some of the other churches.
A ticket costs €8.50.
You can look at some images on google here.
Gardens, piazzas, and other things to see in Rome with kids
Villa Borghese and its gardens
You’ll find the Borghese Gardens just up the hill from the Spanish Steps. If you turn left at the Spanish Steps you can get a great view over Rome before you explore the gardens. Even in winter the gardens were green and pretty, and the kids found a carousel to ride on which kept them happy.
There’s loads to explore in the gardens – you can ride a boat on the lake or try to catch a show at the replica of Shakespeare’s Globe. There is a Biopark (zoo) but I don’t like to recommend animal attractions if we haven’t personally visited them. Hiring bikes is the best way to get around the park.
The Villa Borghese itself is now an art gallery with words by Raphael, Caravaggio and Titian and is highly recommended. Neither the husband or I are art aficionados and we wouldn’t trust our kids inside a gallery so we’ll save this one for a future visit. Perhaps!
Tickets for Villa Borghese gallery must be reserved in advance. Cost is from €22 per adult.
A great square for children, Piazza Navona is a short walk from the Pantheon. Kids will love the three fountains in this piazza. When we visited there was a rather small Christmas market, and a carousel (which was of more interest to the kids).
Piazza Navona is famously a place to sit and people watch although we bought gelato from a counter in a restaurant and were then not allowed to sit and eat it outside under their heaters. So be careful where you get your gelato from!
Palazzo Doria Pamphilj
This little-known palace has been in the same family for generations and is still used by the current Prince Pamphilj and his family. I visited this palace by myself and would say it’s only really suitable for older children.
As you walk in there’s a lovely courtyard with a fountain surrounded by orange trees. The inside is exquisite; it’s full of beautifully painted corridors lined with artworks and a hall of mirrors similar to Versailles on a smaller scale. You can also take a tour of the private state apartments which are still used by the family.
The palace was practically deserted when I visited – it was lovely to have the place almost to myself.
Tickets cost €12 per adult; €8 for children aged 6-26.
I was fully prepared to be disappointed by the Trevi fountain. I had this preconception that it wasn’t that big or interesting. All I knew about it was that it was famous, and busy, and that everyone goes to see it.
So, dutifully, off we went. The Trevi fountain has recently been renovated and every inch of it was sparkling white, the blue sky reflected in the water. It was much better than I expected. The kids enjoyed throwing the obligatory coin(s) into the water. Looks like we’ll be coming back to Rome!
The Spanish Steps is a famous meeting place for Romans. There’s a pretty fountain at the base, but otherwise, it’s a flight of steps… Not really worth a detour, but if you’re going to the Borghese gardens then you’ll be going right past it.
The Cub had fun practising outlandish poses for photos (a future star of Instagram in the making) and both kids loved the brass Christmas tree that was halfway up. Nearby the streets are filled with designer shops, so if shopping is your thing, this is the place to come!
After seeing all the above wonders, what was our kids’ favourite place in Rome?
The Lego shop, of course!
More things to do in Rome with kids
Day trips from Rome
If you want to take a day trip from Rome you could easily squeeze the above sights into 4 days (you can see what we managed each day below). I found that the centre of Rome is actually very compact; something that didn’t really come across from the bus tour we took. You can include the Pantheon and Piazza Navona in the same day as Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps, and skip an attraction or two. This will leave you with a spare day to take a day trip.
We were going to take a day trip to Ostia Antica, Rome’s ancient port, but it just didn’t work out for us. See why below!
Other possible day trips include the ruined city of Pompeii or the Amalfi Coast. If you’re feeling really brave and you’re up for a long day, you could even try visiting Florence.
You can try to get to these destinations by yourself or you can take a guided tour.
Rome tours and experiences for kids
When planning our itinerary I kept finding fantastic tours and experiences for children. The reason that we didn’t book any of these was just down to the age (and temperament) of our kids. In another couple of years they’ll be perfect!
A perfect add-on to your Colosseum tour would be to spend a couple of hours learning how to be a Roman Gladiator. This is going to appeal to kids young and old alike. Get more information and book your tickets here.
Make your own pizza or pasta
Getting kids involved in making their own food is a great idea. Find me a kid who doesn’t love pizza and pasta! By taking a foodie tour the kids will be able to learn about their favourite foods and enjoy them afterwards. Take a look at a suggested tour here.
Kid-friendly Vatican tour
We were very tempted to take a family friendly Vatican tour. At the last minute we changed our minds as we didn’t think either of our kids had the concentration needed. But these tours come highly recommended for kids aged about 4 and above. While we were quite happy to wander around just looking, we didn’t come away with any real understanding of the place. A tour is probably the best way to get the most out of your visit, and if we take the kids back when they’re a bit older we’ll definitely take a Vatican tour. Take a look at some of the available tours here.
Cycle the Appian Way
For energetic and slightly older children you could take a day to see the Appian Way. This is an ancient original (in parts) Roman Road which stretches through the Italian countryside for several miles close to Rome. As well as the bike ride, the Appian Way also has ancient catacombs to explore and some tours also take in the Baths of Caracalla. You can take a tour or you can hire bikes independently.
Keeping kids interested in Rome
The sights in Rome can be a little overwhelming for children. To get smaller kids interested in Rome you could take family friendly tours of the most famous monuments and places. The tour guides are usually very good with children and will keep them engaged.
You could look at books about Rome just before your trip. We have a lift-the-flap book of ancient Rome which went down well (click the link below to buy it). Our nearest town in the UK was originally built by the Romans so we talked to the Cub about how they got to Britain and a little about what they did when they arrived.
You can also get kids to play I-Spy while walking around; there are plenty of things that pop up all over the city that your kids can look out for. Here are a couple of ideas: can they spot statues of Romulus and Remus (said to have founded Rome)? See how many times they can find the letters S.P.Q.R. (on statues, drain covers, lamp posts etc). Count things like the fountains, churches or pictures of Mary and Jesus on street corners. Otherwise, make sure you take frequent breaks and don’t overload on museums and too many churches!
If all else fails, just bribe them with gelato.
5 days in Rome itinerary
This is what we covered in Rome, and how we did it.
Family trips never normally go as planned with small children and we find that our schedule often changes at the last minute. Often after a planned activity our kids are quite tired, or we get a meltdown and we have to change our plans.
Our schedule may not be the most efficient way to see all the sights but it’s a realistic one!
Day 1 in Rome
On Day 1 we stuck to the Colosseum, Forum, and the Palatine Hill. We also meandered about the streets close to where we were staying in Cavour, visited Piazza Venezia, and had a leisurely lunch.
Day 2 in Rome
Today we took the Big Bus tour and stopped for the Trevi fountain, Spanish Steps, shopping, and the Borghese Gardens. We had a late start and could also have included the Pantheon and Piazza Navona as they are easily walkable from the Trevi Fountain stop.
Day 3 in Rome
We were planning to use our second day of our Bus Tour ticket to get to the Vatican City but opening times were different, so we changed our plans and decided to do the Vatican on Day 5. Instead we walked to the Caracalla Baths, saw the Circus Maximus and the mouth of truth before taking the Big Bus to the Pantheon and Piazza Navona.
Day 4 in Rome
In keeping with our Kids and Compass tradition, one of our kids got sick. Bee had a temperature overnight. He is not a sickly boy – at home he is literally never ill. But put him on a plane and you can guarantee he’ll be mildly ill within a couple of days. See our previous, cancelled trip to Rome and our trip to Paris.
Bee was feeling better by morning but as he’d had a bad night’s sleep we took it easy with the kids on day 4. We went for a gentle walk in the morning and then the husband took them back to the hotel to chill out in the afternoon, leaving me to explore by myself. So I took myself on a bit of a route march and walked in a loop from Cavour to Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, the Crypt of the Capuchin Monks, and finally Santa Maria Maggiore.
If we had been more organised or the boy hadn’t been feeling poorly we had planned to go to Ostia Antica today. But when travelling with small children you’ve got to be prepared to be flexible!
And actually, I quite enjoyed having some time to myself!
Day 5 in Rome
Day 5 was our Vatican day. We ended up getting in at opening time completely by accident, as it didn’t open until 1.30pm (somehow I’d missed this, despite checking the website!).
This was really lucky as we got to see the Sistine Chapel and the Gallery of Maps with nobody else in them. We then doubled back to see some more of the museum and when we went back through the Sistine Chapel to get to St Peter’s Basilica it was rammed, and had a totally different atmosphere.
We thought the Vatican was incredible, and one museum worth dragging your kids around.
What should you see if you have fewer than 5 days in Rome?
If you don’t have as much time as we did then pick and choose from the above list according to your interests and your kids’ stamina. Our favourite places were the Colosseum and Vatican City (and the Lego shop). Take a look at this suggested 3 day itinerary for Rome.
Day 1: Colosseum and surrounds in the morning; see some of the central Rome attractions like Piazza Navona, Pantheon, and Trevi Fountain in the afternoon.
Day 2: Early morning start at the Vatican. You could try seeing the Castel Sant’Angelo in the afternoon as it’s nearby, or if you’ve had your fill of museums choose an experience for the kids, or chill out in the Borghese gardens.
Day 3: Day trip, or more sights/experiences from the above list.
The choice is yours!
Where to stay in Rome with kids
Staying as near as you can to the centre of Rome is best. This way you’ll be able to walk to many of the attractions or be near enough to a bus tour or a metro station.
We stayed in a hotel just next to Cavour metro. The location was perfect; 5 minutes from the Colosseum and Forum. Older kids and adults will be able to walk into the centre from here – it really wasn’t as far as I thought.
While hotels are OK for families with small kids, I think overall we prefer AirBnB or serviced apartments. There’s usually more room for kids to run around in and there’s more options to prepare your own food which helps to save money and the fuss of eating out with small kids twice a day.
Some of the best serviced apartments in Rome are:
Roma Resort Colosseum – free WIFI and breakfast. Located near to the Colosseum, right by a Metro station.
Due Mondi Pantheon – free WIFI, kitchen and balcony. Fantastic location right in the city centre.
You can find more options on booking.com
What to eat in Rome with kids
It goes without saying that the best food to eat in Rome is pizza, pasta and gelato. So very kid-friendly! My favourite pasta dish was Cacio e Pepe (cheese and pepper). It’s very simple but totally delicious, and is a Roman specialty.
We ate most of our meals around the Colosseum area as that’s where we were staying. The restaurants close to major attractions will be more expensive but if you walk just another block or two away then you’ll find cheaper and more authentic places. A margherita pizza was usually about €6 in a cheaper place and €10-12 right on the main tourist thoroughfare.
Our two favourite places close to the Colosseum were La Taverna dei Quaranta on Via Claudia and Luzzi on Via dei Normanni.
How to get around Rome with kids
Rome is very walkable and in the centre the attractions you’re likely to want to see are fairly close. If you have older kids then you should do just fine walking. Little ones might find it tougher going though. Rome is OK for pushchairs but it’s difficult to use them on public transport and some of the cobbled streets. We took a toddler carrier for Bee and the Cub had to go on daddy’s shoulders when she was too tired. Be prepared to take lots of rest stops!
There are several different companies running bus tours around Rome and they all have a slightly different itinerary. You can also buy tickets to some of Rome’s attractions along with your bus ticket. We got a 2 day bus ticket and entrance to the Vatican which saved us money and queuing time.
We didn’t end up using the bus as much as we thought, and you may have to walk a fair way to get to your nearest stop, depending on where you’re staying. However it is a good way to get a feel of the city and was great for the kids when they got too tired to walk far.
We took our tour with City Sightseeing which provides an audioguide and a hop on hop off service.
If you’re going to Vatican City then you’ll probably want to take the Metro to get there. Rome’s subway isn’t anywhere near as extensive as the London underground or the Paris Metro so you won’t be using it much. However, we found it easy to navigate and to buy tickets from the machines. It was a very convenient way of getting to the Vatican.
Rome’s metro system isn’t very pushchair friendly so be warned. I couldn’t see any large gates to get a buggy through nor could I see many lifts so you’ll need to carry the chair up steps.
You can consider using a Roma Pass which is valid for either 48 or 72 hours. You get free use of public transport and entry to 1 or 2 museums. More details and how to buy the tickets can be found here.
When is the best time to visit Rome with kids?
We visited Rome in mid-December, as soon as UK schools broke up for Christmas. We didn’t find Rome particularly busy although the closer you get to Christmas the busier it gets. The skies were clear for our entire visit and the Roman pines and olive trees kept the city from feeling as bleak and barren as the UK.
There were lots of Christmas trees and nativity scenes for the kids to look at. Don’t underestimate how cold Rome gets in winter – the wind chill was icy.
The best times to visit Rome weather wise are spring and early autumn (November is very wet). Be aware that the busiest time to visit Rome is in the Easter holidays and around any other major Christian celebrations. In the summer the heat can be oppressive.
One thing we didn’t like about Rome
In Rome we got constant hassle; from people wanting to sell us tours, tickets, jewellery, souvenirs, or wanting us to pose for pictures with them. It was literally non-stop at times. Be prepared and don’t engage with anyone especially if they try to give your kids something. Tell your kids to say no to any “gifts.” At first we felt bad and tried to be polite but after a few days we were pretty sick of it and just ignored everyone. You should also watch out for pick-pockets.
On the afternoon that I had out by myself, I packed my camera away in its bag, put on my best “I-know-where-I’m-going-don’t-talk-to-me” face, walked fairly quickly and I didn’t get hassled once. So the more you can act like a local, the less hassle you’ll get. And perhaps it helps if you have a Resting Bitch Face like I do!
Hopefully you’ve now got a good idea of what to do in Rome with your family.
There’s much more to see in addition to the things I’ve mentioned, especially museum-wise. I think museums will keep until the kids are a bit older though.
Have you taken your kids to Rome? What was your favourite thing to do? Let me know in the comments!