Roma. One of my favorite destinations in the world. It is the kind of place you can just keep going back and it just gets better and better every time. And when it is time to leave, you simply want to stay.
Although this was my third time in Rome, it was undoubtedly the most special time. Why…..? Because I was able to experience this trip to Rome through the eyes of my children ! Yes, it was their very first time in Europe, and sure enough I made certain to bring them to Italy – as it is part of my family roots. My father’s family hails from Calabria, in the small village of Paola. Being the first person to bring them to Italy had a special meaning to me.
If you have ever had any doubts about whether to travel to Rome with kids, put those doubts to rest. They enjoyed every moment of our 4 day trip. They were so enthralled with the beauty, history, culture and architecture of this magnificent ancient city. And the food! I cannot say enough about how delighted they were to try original and traditional Italian food! Prior to traveling, I presented my son with the Mission Rome scavenger hunt book. It turned out to be a perfect purchase. He was mesmerized by all the fun, historical facts and challenges in its pages, and brought the book with him everywhere. We all learned so much with him and had a blast going from site to site to collect points on every “mission” described in the book.
We literally wore our “tourist” hats with pride and visited all of Rome’s most famous historical points. I strongly recommend doing your research prior to traveling with kids to narrow down your favorite places to visit and tours you intend to book. Then, book in advance! I specifically wanted my children to have an in depth tour of the Vatican and of the Colosseum. I booked those tours about 1 month in advance. It is needless to say that if you do not have a pre-reserved tour, you will sit for hours in the long lines to visit both these sites. I strongly suggest NOT doing that with kids!
For the Vatican, I opted for the guided tour of the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. This tour takes about 2 hours with a guide in your language, and it covers the Pio Clementino Museum, the Gallery of the Candelabras, the Gallery of the Geographical Maps, and the Gallery of the Tapestries (Renaissance art), the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel. Our tour guide Giulia was amazing and both my kids were totally enthralled the entire time. After the tour, we went on our own into San Peter’s Basilica and the scavenger’s book was awesome there as well – it provided a lot of great information and offered several clues on identifying important details such as the Pieta and the Holy Door. My son also got extra points for drinking water from one of the fountains!
Our next pre-reserved tour was at the Colosseum. I have to say I was upset with myself for not booking this one with more time in advance. I ended up reserving the regular guided tour (approximately 45 minutes in duration) because the Underground and Belvedere Tours were sold out. Don’t get me wrong: the tour was absolutely great but you can only visit the underground if you have a guide, whereas anyone can just roam around the ground and top floors on their own. There are only a handful of guided underground tours so if you would like to do that, try to book them as soon as possible. For the general admission, kids under 18 are free with an adult. There is also free admission on the first Sunday of the month so keep that in mind!
Immediately after the Colosseum, we headed to the Roman Forum. Your ticket will provide admission to the Forum up to 48 hours after you have used it to enter the Colosseum. My advice is to do the Colosseum in the early part of the morning and then head to the Roman Forum – then pause for a fantastic long lunch!
I believe the Colosseum and Forum were my kids’ favorite sights to visit. Seeing how they were amazed by the ruins and the architecture was truly a treat. We visited Caesar’s tomb and several other “must-see” sights at the Forum, thanks to the scavenger’s book. My son refused to leave the area until we had found each and every sight in this particular “mission”. We located the “Umbilicus Urbis” which marks the center of the city (I doubt you knew this one!) among many other specific locations.
Another highlight during our visit was the Castel Sant’Angelo. We happened to have had lunch at an amazing restaurant – I will write a separate post with all the wonderful restaurants we dined during this trip – and on our way to lunch, we happened to pass the castle. We immediately decided to explore it after lunch. It turned out to be my favorite sight of the trip and such an unexpected surprise! The castle is named in honor of Archangel Saint Michael, to whom my family is very devoted. Castel Sant’Angelo means “Castle of the Holy Angel” – aka Saint Michael. Legend holds that the Archangel Michael appeared atop the mausoleum, sheathing his sword as a sign of the end of the plague of 590, thus lending the castle its present name. Needless to say, I had chills going through the castle as it had a special meaning to me.
The castle was remarkably preserved to the period of its construction with the outer areas almost intact. It felt as if we had literally walked into a time capsule and went back in time. The castle was originally built as a mausolean for Emperor Hadrian and his family around 134 and 139 AD, and was later used as a fortress for the popes. The architecture is absolutely incredible. It baffles me how such enormous structures could have been built over 2000 years ago. Kids under 18 also enter free and tickets can be purchased right there.
We saw many other beautifully famous sights such as Piazza Navona, and its delicious restaurants. We found our way to the fabulous Trevi Fountain at night – as much as it is stunning during the day, I find it truly magnificent at night with the lights reflecting on the water.
We walked to the Pantheon and pondered its glorious architecture, and how it was brilliantly engineered to drain the water that rains through the “Oculus” (skylight and its only source of light) through “drain holes” on the floor. Its columns, 16 of them, were dragged from Egypt on wooden sledges…. say what??? We are not talking about just “any column”. Each one weighs about 60 tons and measures about 40 meters tall!!!
When in Rome…. I wish time would stop. I wish days would have no end, and we could just walk and eat, and walk and eat some more. So much to see and definitely never enough time to cover it all. The only consolation is the certainty that we will be back. Many were the sights we didn’t see, but my children are already excited to explore some more upon our return.
Keep an eye out for my next post, where I will cover in detail the amazing restaurants at which we “feasted”! After all, you only live once and nothing beats traditional Roman food and great wine! Grazie e ci vediamo in mio prossimo post!