Rome’s rich history, religious impact, cultural and artistic influence, accessibility, and great food, make the city one of my top five places to visit. There’s so much to see and do that it is impossible to explore all of Rome in one vacation. I have visited Rome 3 times and have yet to conquer the ancient city. I spent 3 days in Rome with my wife and 4 kids and we packed in a week’s worth of activities. If you are short on time in Rome and want to see as much as possible, here’s the rundown of our trip.
Before I take you on a step-by-step tour, I’ll explain how we handle the first day of a European vacation. To quickly adjust to the time zone, we take red-eye flights and jump right into being a tourist when we land. This always means we are grumpy the first day and exhausted, but it helps us adapt.
After checking into our hotel, we took the Line A Metro to the Ottaviano-S.Pietro stop. We chose the Vatican as our first stop because it was a place we all wanted to see and would have to be on our best behavior. Everyone was tired, but we took our time and enjoyed our first morning in Rome.
- While waiting to enter, crowds must wait in a line that wraps around St. Peter’s Square. The only shade available is near the columns, so much of the wait is without protection. Be prepared with sunscreen or an umbrella depending on the weather.
- Strollers are not permitted inside St. Peter’s, but there is a parking area for them. Take a baby carrier with you instead.
- Only small bags are allowed, so take out a diaper and a small wipes container.
- Costs: St. Peter’s is free; Vatican Museum is €16 (Kids under 6 are free, kids 6-18 are €8), St. Peter’s Dome is €7 to use with a lift or €5 by way of stairs.
- Skip the line and purchase ahead of time. It costs an extra €4, but worth it.
- Pictures and video are not allowed in the Sistine Chapel.
- Knees and shoulder must be covered and hats are also prohibited. My wife always takes a scarf with her when visiting churches.
- You will see many people selling tickets or tours outside. Some of them are not legit. Buy tickets online or at the gate and research tours. I have yet to take a tour and have managed just fine with Rick Steeve’s Rome guide.
- There is a rooftop café on St. Peter’s Basilica. It is a little pricey, but a snack and soda helped my kids get over the tired hump and continue on.
Second Stop: Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona has been a favorite stop in each of our trips to Rome. This is where we buy Italian toys, eat at the outdoor restaurants, and relax while watching street artists. Piazza Navona is also our preferred place to eat gelato.
Third stop: The Pantheon
After spending too much time at the Piazza and filling up gelato, we made our way to the Pantheon. The Patheon is one of those great Roman places where you can spend a lot of time staring at the art and architecture, but after about 20 minutes, we were on our way. The whole family was tired with short fuses and we wanted to have an early night.
- The Pantheon is free
Fourth Stop: Trevi Fountain
It seems like every time I visit Rome, Trevi Fountain is overflowing with tourists. Since I want to return, I toss a coin into the fountain. Legend says you will return to Rome if you take a coin in your right hand and toss it over your left shoulder.
Fifth Stop: The Hotel
After an exhausting day, we called it an early night and went to bed.
First Stop: Villa Borghese
The Borgias Villa is one of those perfect places in Rome that offers Art, History, open spaces, and a chance to slow down and relax. The jewel of the Villa is the Borgias Gallery and Museum, a Borgia’s home converted to an art museum. The art in the museum reflects the Renaissance period and offers work by Caravaggio, Raphael, Titan, Rubens, and sculptures by Bernini.
After touring the Gallery, we rented a carriage bike (not sure what they are called) that could fit the whole family. It was one of the more memorable experiences on our family trip. We laughed so hard each time we encountered a hill. If visiting the Villa, I recommend renting a bike to experience the Garden in its entirety. The Garden is free to walk around, but if you are short on time and want to see it all, you must rent a bike.
And if I haven’t sold families on visiting the Villa yet, there is a nice playground near the bike rentals. It was a great opportunity for my toddler to get out energy before moving on to the next spot.
An unfortunate thing happened while riding the bike. My daughter’s purse and camera fell off and when we realized it, it was too late. We searched and rode around the park, but were unsuccessful. Make sure you pay attention to valuables even while riding bikes.
- There is a lot to see in the Villa, so give yourself plenty of time to explore and relax.
- Strollers are not permitted in the Gallery, so take a baby carrier if traveling with an infant. There is a stroller check.
- Book tickets in advance. Only 360 people may visit during selected times.
- Tickets are around €22, but the price changes depending on the exhibitions. Under 18 is free.
Second Stop: Side street
This stop was for a temper tantrum. When traveling with 4 kids, one of them is bound to have a breakdown. When it happens, we give a kid a timeout and wait for it to pass. There isn’t a big reason to have a yelling match with a kid on the street in a foreign city.
Third stop: Crypt of Capuchins
The Capuchin Crypt is beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini and holds remains of over 3,700 bodies. My 11-year-old and 5-year-old were creeped out about the tour, but I found it fascinating. The remains are from Cappucin Friars and many of the Friars asked that their remains be displayed. Besides touring the artistic display of bones, tour guides also share the history of the Catacombs.
- Pictures and videos are not permitted.
- Tickets are €8.50 for adults and €5 for visitors under 18.
- Strollers are not permitted, but there is a place to park the stroller.
- The site is considered “Holy” and knees and shoulders must be covered.
- If you are claustrophobic, do not visit the catacombs.
- You can only visit the catacombs and Bone Chapel as part of a tour.
- It can be chilly inside the catacombs.
Fourth Stop: Coliseum and Forum at night
Even though the Coliseum and Forum are not open at night, they are lit up and worth taking a stroll. Many people are out and about late into the evening and it makes a great place to people watch or see street artists.
Stop One: The Coliseum
The Coliseum is my favorite historical place to visit. We booked the Underground Tour so we could walk in the footsteps of the Gladiators. The older kids were impressed with the Coliseum, but the youngest two were done after about 30 minutes. We took turns making sure the younger ones were entertained while others listened to the tour or took in the surroundings.
- Wear sunscreen.
- Eat beforehand and bring bottled water.
- Buy tickets in advance because the line is long.
- Arrive early.
- Strollers are not permitted.
- Read 5 Tips For Visiting the Coliseum.
Stop Two: Capitoline Museums (Musei Capitolini)
The Musei Capitolini is the oldest museum in the world and holds great pieces of art and historical artifacts. If you are looking for the Colossal head of Constantine’s statue, this is where you will find it.
- Strollers are not permitted, but there is a place to check it.
- Tickets are €13 and kids under 6 are free.
- We visited the museum after baking at the Coliseum and it was a great way to cool off and be indoors for a little while.
Stop 3: A nap at the hotel.
We were exhausted and sunburned, so we returned to the hotel for what was planned to be a short nap, but turned into an extended well-needed rest.
Stop 4: Hop on/Hop off tour
We loved our short trip to Rome, but there was a lot we could not see. We chose to be drive-by tourists for our final night. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to Rome. I try my best not to look like a tourist, but for the sake of my family’s sanity, we rode around on top of the bus.
I could spend an entire month in Rome and still not be able to see everything. I’m looking forward to going back and exploring museums and sites I’ve missed. Our 3 days in Rome were rushed, but by adding naps and lots of gelatos, the kids were on their best behavior.
Beware of scammers:
It is best to not engage in dialogue with someone that walks up to you and tries to sell you souvenirs. Talk to your kids before the trip and prepare them how to act. Unfortunately, we did not have the conversation with our 5-year-old. A man approached us and while I was doing my best to keep my family walking, my 5-year-old was accepting many useless tokens as a “gift.” Be rude and walk away. Let no one place something on you or in your hand. Once you are in possession of it, you must pay for it or risk the chance of a very unpleasant altercation. Refuse and walk away. They play a good game, but when you catch on, they won’t be so nice. If you want to buy souvenirs, buy them at stands or in stores. Rule of thumb, if someone is walking around and selling things, stay away.
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