07May2014

10 Things You Should Do in Rome (With Kids or Without)

Last Judgement by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, Rome.

Headed to La Bella Italia? Here’s a few things you should do in Rome.

Get a Seat in the Sistine Chapel

As befits the headquarters of a wealthy and ancient global institution, the Vatican museum is full of good stuff, from Ancient Egyptian sculpture through to contemporary art. And the Sistine Chapel is one of the things everyone should do in Rome. How to enjoy it? Grab a seat on one of the marble benches along the wall, so you can contemplate in comfort as group tours shuffle through. During high season, go late in the day, when most group tours are finishing up: outside high season, first thing in the morning is also a great bet.

Eat Amazing Gelato

My pick for the best artisan gelato in Rome (and the pick of a bunch of Italian journos, who know rather more than I)? FataMorgana. Organic, contemporary gelatos come in a welter of intense, creative flavours – including specific chocolate varietals, paired with ingredients as unlikely as tobacco. If eating ice cream on the Spanish Steps is on your wishlist, head for their Via Laurina location, just off Via del Corso. My son loved it.

Historic postcard of the Capuchin Crypt in Rome.

Explore the Capuchin Crypt

Not one for the more sensitive child, or adult, for that matter, the crypt of the Capuchins on Via Veneto is a macabre artwork, crafted from the skeletons of Capuchin monks who lived and died here, as a reflection on mortality. One of a few bone chapels in Europe, it feels half outsider art, half horror movie set-up – and yet, it does also make you contemplate your own mortality. As the cheery slogan reminds you, “What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be…”



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Eat a Proper, Four Course Roman Meal

Another thing you should do in Rome? Eat like a Roman. We absolutely loved Osteria dell’Angelo, a traditional trattoria run and staffed (bizarrely) by former rugby players. Why? The prezzso fisso menu, at 25 euros for four courses – antipasti, primi, secondi (with contorni) and biccies, including house wine and dessert wine – is absolutely classic, unfussy, earthy Roman cuisine, packed with big flavours. Or try homefood.it, where you pay to dine at home with an Italian family, often in considerable style.

The Coliseum by night.

Check off the Coliseum

You can’t NOT see the Coliseum, where gladiators fought and died, and Christians were martyred. Although the martyrdom thing has led to a series of vandalistic rebuilds by various different Popes, it’s splendid, enormous and iconic. Depending on your level of ruin fatigue, eschew queuing up to explore the inside – the ruins of the Forum, round the corner, are more worth a look, if you are not entertained (sorry).

Talk to a Nun

As a former convent schoolgirl (insert your own joke here), nuns are quite intimidating figures for me. But if you’re jumping on a bus headed Vaticanwards, especially with a child in tow, you’ll likely meet a nun or two. One of the highlights of Rome, for me, was a long chat with a bubbly and politically engaged Filipina nun about how pleased she was with her new pope.

Vintage cinquecento (Fiat 500) in Italy.

Play Spot the Cinquecento

The Cinquecento (Fiat 500) is an Italian design classic – born in Turin, of course, not Rome – and its myriad iterations make the Mini look, frankly, unimaginative. Italians often keep their cars going for decades, so it’s not uncommon to see models from the 50s and even earlier on the streets.



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Catch an Open Air Movie

Open air cinema is popular all over Italy during the summer, and it’s a fab way to enjoy a warm, dark Roman night. Isola del Cinema has screenings on an island in the Tiber over high summer.

Fresh artichokes for sale at a Roman market.

Binge on Artichokes

I’m a sucker for artichokes, especially served alla Romana. I’m also a sucker for a cheap lunch buffet. So La Fontanella Sistina, a fairly touristy spot whose 10-euro-plus-cover lunch buffet featured mountains of artichokes, as well as some other stuff, did me perfectly. For budget picnics, Coop supermarkets have a mean deli offer; for more upscale shopping experience, try Eataly or Volpetti; or try Testaccio Market or the touristy Campo dei Fiori.

Wander the Centro Storico

Central Rome is surprisingly compact, which means you don’t need to duck in and out of the metro all of the time. Exploring on foot, taking the time to duck down side-streets, is a great way to get a feel for normal, contemporary Roman life in all its diversity. Want a mission to structure it? Head out to buy something normal, not souveniry – flip-flops, underwear or a notebook.

Looking for places to stay in Rome? Check Agoda for late deals.


Image credits: Capuchin Crypt 1897 by Robert Benner Sr., Time Stands Still by Jon Rawlinson, Artichokes at the Market by Tim Sackton and Cinquecento by neekoh.fi all Creative Commons on Flickr.

10 Comments

  1. While there might not be any oppos to “high five” the Papal dude, I imagine I’d be looking for some tiny corner for some neighbourhood food that’s been cooking for hours, by some grand ol’ Dame of the `Hood, who knows her s**t, and won’t put up with any …. well … s**t. ;-) Thanks for the “don’t-miss-list” in Rome, Theo!

  2. Excellent tips and especially timely as my husband & I will be heading to Rome at the beginning of June and will be spending just 4 or 5 days so we want to make the moments count. I visited the Sistine Chapel way back in 2005 and remember being very discomfited by all the the gawking tourists who kept wandering around and slamming into one another as everyone was so busy gaping at the ceiling. They had a very firm no sitting policy then, but perhaps things have changed?

    Also, any recommendations on budget lodging in Rome? I think we’re going to go with Air BnB because all the hotels I’ve found are stupidly expensive given our backpacker tastes on a South East Asia budget…

    • Theodora says:

      Yes, for Rome what you need are these guys – http://ow.ly/wEsG2 – they’re campsites where you can book a tent with beds (and electricity, and bedding, and flooring, and wifi in communal areas) for ridiculously little. They also have bungalows, if you’re feeling flush. They’re a bit far out of the way in Rome, but they do have a pool, so I’d very seriously consider it. I wrote about their Venice version here: http://www.escapeartistes.com/2014/01/13/cheapest-place-stay-italy-ways-venice-budget/

      And, I suspect the Sistine Chapel has changed its policy. There were a whole row of us sitting, and we were there cricking our necks for a good 45 minutes without anyone objecting…

  3. Roger kk says:

    Coliseum sounds the most interesting to me, did not know they existed until i read you post. Now that’s something not to miss at while in Rome. What do you mean by vandalistic rebuilds, are they not in their original form

    • Theodora says:

      The Coliseum/Colosseum was built by Roman emperors. Over time, bits of the exterior got salvaged for use in other buildings, reducing it to ruins. Various popes have rebuilt it, at different times, using different building materials — so it has a fairly patchwork appearance to it.

  4. […] From bingeing on artichokes and playing “spot the Cinquecento” to chatting up a nun, here are ten must-dos in Italy’s capital city with kids in tow…or […]

  5. Nonplussed says:

    No flirting with boys on Vespers?

  6. Will says:

    Italians sure know how to life life right … want to check out Italy so bad!

  7. Great tips! One more thing could be added to the list – to visit a church. There are so many stunning churches in Rome. You can’t leave the city without visiting at least one of them. :)

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  1. […] From bingeing on artichokes and playing “spot the Cinquecento” to chatting up a nun, here are ten must-dos in Italy’s capital city with kids in tow…or […]

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