In my opinion, it is always a special time in Rome, Italy.
But particularly right now, it is especially festive. The ancient city is the top Italian destination for Easter week, or Settimana Santa, primarily because of the events led by the Pope in Vatican City. Special masses are said on Palm Sunday and Easter, attracting large crowds.
But many of us can’t make it to Rome on Easter, so here are some things to do in one of Europe’s most fascinating and layered cities, with the kids all year round. Rome offers so much for families, but you have to be prepared – the Italians are warm and inviting to children, and hotels and restaurants are welcoming. But the museums are some of the least prepared for children of those I’ve seen in Europe – especially compared to London or Paris, where some museums have special family programs and activities.
Looking beyond museums, I pulled together a list of things to do in Rome with the family…. some that go beyond the expected sights to see.
Join an audience with the Pope at the Vatican It doesn’t need to be Easter! Bring your kids to see the Pope himself. Papal Audiences are held on Wednesdays (if the Pope is in Rome, of course). Visitors have the chance to see him in St. Peter’s Square and receive the Papal or Apostolic Blessing. The Pope does a greeting in few different languages, including Italian, English, French, and Spanish, and a ceremony consisting of small teachings and readings. They are normally scheduled to start at 10:30, or may start earlier depending on the heat. In summer, the readings are done outside, where there is usually sanding room if you don’t get tickets. Tickets are free, but be sure to arrive early to get good seats! Visit http://www.papalaudience.org/ for more details
Note: It is quite an interesting spectacle, but might not hold the attention of very young children. If you want to see the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica, plan to stay longer and get tickets in advance through Tickitaly.com. The kids will like climbing the Cupola, the dome of St Peter’s – what a spectacular view from top!!
Rome Treasure Hunts Get to know Rome in the most fun way possible! A group of Roman tour guides have created games, trivia, and quizzes for families. There are multiple tours, including an ancient Rome tour, a Vatican treasure hunt, and an Ancient Ostia treasure hunt. Most tours last 3-4 hours, and include line-skipping privileges. Visit www.rometreasurehunts.com/ for pricing and reservation details.
Colosseum Of course, once can’t visit Rome without going to the Colosseum… and kids will love taking stroll through history. Middle school students may be learning about ancient civilizations, so that’s a good age to take the kids.
A tour will shed insight about gladiators and the history. Located in the heart of Piazza del Colosseo, the ancient building is host to thousands of tours a day. Tickets cost €15.50 and operating hours are from 9-4, although there may be changes due to weather. Check out www.rome.info/colosseum/ for more info.
To go beyond the normal Colosseum tour, there is actually an interactive “Gladiator School” for those who like to dig a little deeper. You have to know your kids – do they like participating? It’s a gladiator history lesson mixed with role playing. Here’s the info: http://www.gsr-roma.com/English/
Throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain
Arguably the most famous fountain in the world, the Fontana de Trevi is found in the Trevi district in Rome.
Made of mostly travertine, it is the largest fountain in all of Rome, standing 86 feet high, and 161 feet wide. Children can throw coins into the fountain, but make sure you do it correctly to ensure a trip back to Rome: Coins are purportedly meant to be thrown using the right hand over the left shoulder. Make a wish!
This is more than a quick stop - there are plenty of dining options and gelato in the square itself.
The fountain was refurbished in 1998; the stonework was scrubbed and all cracks and other areas of deterioration were repaired by skilled artisans and the fountain was equipped with recirculating pumps. And thank you Fendi! In January 2013, it was announced that the Italian fashion company would sponsor a 20-month, 2.2-million-euro restoration of the fountain; it will be the most thorough restoration in the fountain’s history.
On a hot day, this is the coolest place to be: underground tunnels that served as burial grounds for Romans. Not many bones, but a lot of interesting things to see – and sort of spooky for the older child.
The 40 or so known catacombs are actually outside the ancient walls of Rome. From the first through the fifth centuries, an estimated 375 miles of tomb-lined tunnels were dug, with networks of galleries as many as five layers deep.
For a quick day trip outside of Rome, nothing is more fascinating than seeing the ruins of Pompeii. Pompeii was mostly destroyed and buried under 4 to 6 m (13 to 20 ft) of ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.
On display are what excavators found…. I didn’t find it gruesome, but there are sensitive remains on display. Be ready to explain to young children what happened. There are casts of human bodies as they were when the volcano struck.
From Rome, take a two hour train ride to Naples, then at that train station, take a local train to Pompeii. Beware of people trying to take advantage of tourists at the train stations.
–Driving in Rome is nuts. Only for the person who wants to be stressed out. I highly recommend against it and take cabs or public transportation.
–When visiting churches, including the Vatican and St Peter’s, remember to wear conservative clothing – shirts with sleeves and no short shorts.