I will never forget the feeling I had the first time I went to Rome. I don't mean the fear I had being in the car with my friend who swore to me that he had driven there before (I should have known better when he asked for an automatic car at the rental counter. Alas, he only got into three car accidents during our time there, but we survived. The car, however, was another story. (TIP: Get rental car insurance if you intend on driving there. EVEN BETTER TIP: Don't drive there!) OK back to that beautiful, wonderful feeling of being in Rome for the first time- it is unexplainable. All I can say is, I felt like I was home.
Since that trip many moons ago, I have been blessed to visit Italy often- both with my husband and with friends. This summer, we decided to take our three kids for the first time. They are great travelers, but we'd never taken them so far away from home. We were terrified that they wouldn't do well on the long flight (the longest they had been on was about 6 hours). We were scared that they wouldn't adjust to the time difference. We feared they'd be eaten alive by mosquitoes, wouldn't want to walk anywhere, would be hot, sweaty, tired, and continuously ask, "when are we going home???" I'm happy to say that our fears did not become reality. Yes, there were difficult moments (like when my husband had to carry two kids through Florence who kept saying to each other, "don't touch me!"), but we have difficult moments at home, too. I was the only one in our family eaten alive by mosquitoes, which is awesome because I'm allergic and welt up with each and every bite. My husband told me to keep using my homemade essential oil spray that I spent so much time researching and making before our trip, since I was the only one using it and the only one getting bitten. He believes I was making myself bait and keeping them away from himself and the kids.
I will be writing about some of our favorite cities and things to do in Italy, but for now, here are my "bests" for Rome with or without kids.
Top 3 Tours: (OK I'm not a tour person. However, when you want to go and see a place that you know is going to be super crowded and the only way to get away from the crowds is to go on a tour, do it!)
Walks of Italy: Colosseo at Night I have been to the Colosseo many many times, but this was just amazing. To be there at night (practically by ourselves) was unreal (and also kind of creepy). Our tour started before the sun went down, so the weather was perfect and the lighting was still great for photos. Our kids were totally engaged (as were our friends' kids) and loved seeing what they had learned about in homeschool come to life. Just being in this enormous structure is enough to take your breath away. I had never before been underground or on the arena floor because those areas are normally closed during the day. If you want to see the Colosseo, this is the way to do it.
Italy Segway Tours This is a tour that I have done before and I will do it again and again and again. Sometimes, your feet are tired of walking (or maybe all of the time if you're a native Californian like me who never walks anywhere) and you just want to... be on a segway! I had actually never been on a segway before first taking this tour a couple of years ago, but they give you a lesson before the tour (don't be like me and start going backwards at full speed and almost run into a bunch of tourists). My friends were so nervous that they'd fall, but nobody did! Truly, if you have only a couple of days in Rome (or even if you have more time but want a lay of the land), this segway tour is the BEST way to see a lot in a little amount of time. Plus, everyone will be super jealous because you're zipping by on a segway and they're walking like slow turtles (TIP: Bring your own vest so you don't have to look like a worker on the side of the highway. I'm wearing my Power Ranger vest 'cuz I'm a nerd).
Children in Rome: Ancient Rome Tour OK I feel kind of ridiculous saying this, but I learned SO much on this tour, even if it was meant for the kids! I wasn't the only one either because lots of other adults nearby kept asked if they could join in on our tour. It was a super hot day, but our guide brought juice and snacks for the kids. They loved seeing everything that we read about in our school books in real life- my six year old now wants to be an archaeologist, so he was particularly engaged. When our guide saw the kids getting tired, she would stop and play a game with them. She taught them how to march like gladiators and play ancient bingo and even gave them ancient Roman coins, which they guard with their lives. Best kids tour in Rome! Children in Rome also has cooking classes and art tours, which we didn't have time for but will definitely check out next summer.
Best Gelato: Gelato is a wonderful bribe for times when kids are about to lose it. Really, it's like magic. We rarely give our kids sugar at home, but hey... when in Rome! Try to avoid touristy gelato places with sub par gelato. Yes, there is a difference, and you will taste it if you go to one of these gelaterias.
Old Bridge This is my go-to gelateria in Rome. There's nothing like flying into Fiumicino, driving into the city at night, grabbing a cone at Old Bridge, and walking around to see the city sparkling in all its glory. If you happen to visit the Vatican Museums, make sure you go here to get some stracciatella gelato or fragola sorbetto. You'll see the long line of people waiting outside because this place is no secret.
Frigidarium This is a new favorite of mine. We happened to stumble across this gelateria when taking a post lunch stroll (aka trying to walk off all the food we ate). Even if we were full, we made a sacrifice to squeeze some gelato into our bellies. And we're so glad we did! It was creamy, cold deliciousness that had us walking out of our way for the next two days to get more.
Best Souvenir to Bring Home:
Carlo de Gori Photographs. Whenever we go on vacation, either my husband or I am missing from the photos and I'm TIRED of it! When we ask random passerby-ers to snap a picture, someone's eyes are always closed or one of my kids is looking the other way or picking his/her nose. This time, I decided enough was enough! We were going to make great memories in Rome, so why not have someone capture those moments so we could bring them home with us? Best idea ever! Carlo is amazing and so is his wife, Nora. They know the city like the backs of their hands. We love them and feel that we didn't just get awesome photographs and insider information on the city, but made amazing friends as well.
Best Eats: It's hard to find good food in Rome because you never know if you're going to end up at tourist trap or not unless you do some research beforehand.
Mimi e Coco Yes, this is a wine bar, but we go for the food. I recommend the lasagna, any pasta, and the prosciutto/mozzarella plate. The atmosphere is super cute and they love kids- they gave them pictures to color, a box of colored pencils, and lollipops (they opted for dessert rather than lollipops). They don't take reservations, but we got free prosecco while we waited and did some people watching and antiquing next door.
Cantina e Cucina Just down the road from Mime e Coco is this little gem. You will see a lot of tourists here, but do not fear. It is not a tourist trap with bad food. It's because they have so many amazing reviews.. All of their pasta is great, but my favorite thing is...the cheesy fries. I know- that sounds bizarre being in Rome eating cheesy fries, but hey, the cheese is Roman cheese so they're Italian fries. I could eat them all day long! This place is also super cute and they love kids (I'm pretty sure every single server came to our table to tell our kids how cute they are- it's a good thing we don't live in Italy because their heads would be HUGE).
Ginger Sapori e Salute If you're near the Spanish steps and need some refreshment, stop in at Ginger. We usually go for their acai bowls and fresh fruit (a nice break from all of the pasta and cheese and gelato). They also have excellent salads (not easy to come by in Rome).
Osteria dar Vignarolo One word: porchetta. This place is outside of Rome in Ariccia (you have to take a train then a bus or a very expensive taxi), but wow... it is WORTH it! Ever since the first time I had porchetta in Ariccia, I make it a point to go there every time I am in Rome. Sit outside at the long wooden picnic looking tables covered in paper tablecloths overlooking the countryside. Eat porchetta and cheese and olives (if you like olives, which I do not) and tomatoes. Drink the local red wine and enjoy one of the best Italian experiences ever. To top it off, we had 3 adults and 3 kids and only paid about 30 euro for our entire meal. Go, go, go!
Best Outdoor markets:
Campo de Fiori Our apartment was actually just down the road from Campo de Fiori. I just love the outdoor markets in Rome. Seeing all of the beautiful flowers just made me happy. Wander through all of the stands to taste the delicious cheeses and truffle oils. And if you can't make it out to Ariccia, grab a porchetta sandwich from the guy who sells them at the Campo.
Trastevere Wandering around Trastevere at night is magical- small windy streets and wide open piazzas. Around every corner is a street performer or a charming Renaissance building. The outdoor market on weekday mornings at Piazza San Cosimato is not as big as the Campo de Fiori market, but has many tasty choices. On Sunday mornings, there is a flea market at Porta Portese. Skip the cheap made in China items and go for the vintage section for unique finds.
Best Break from the City Life:
The city is amazing, but sometimes you just need a break from the hustle and bustle (especially if you are there during the busy summer season).
Villa Borghese Lake Row, row, row your boat. There is a small boathouse next to the lake where you can rent boats. Just tell the cashier how many adults and kids are in your party, pay, and wait for your number to be called. The kids will love it.
Villa Borghese Zoo There's a zoo in Rome? Yes! It's not super huge, but there are elephants, giraffes, and humped camels. Our kids loved being able to call out the names of animals in Italian (because where else would they have to say all of the animal names their tutor taught them?). It was a nice break for them to be able to run freely without getting lost. And while we were there, we saw the poop exhibit. Yeah...
If I didn't address something you're dying to know about Rome, feel free to ask below! Like... did we bring/use a stroller? How did we get around without car seats? What's the best area to stay in with kids?
Next up... Positano!
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