The main part of our summer vacation would be spent in Sicily but if you are going to fly all the way to Italy why not do your best to squeeze a little more time in, right? We couldn’t get a direct flight from Boston to Sicily, there would be a layover no matter what we did, so we played with the flight combinations to find the cheapest way to spend at least a night in Rome.
Ultimately we ended up with about 36 hours and did our best to hit the highlights and show the kids the city before we headed back to the airport for the short hop to Palermo.
Here’s what we did with our 36 hours in Rome with kids.
After flying in, deboarding to a bus to the terminal, and then collecting our bags, we bought express tickets for the train into Rome. We thought this might be faster and cheaper than a cab. Of course, we hit delays on the train which almost doubled the expected trip time so likely a wash versus a cab.
They kept warning us to get our tickets validated before boarding which we really tried to do this (their are kiosks near the train platforms and apparently a big fine if you don’t) but the process was not straightforward. Ultimately, we either did it right through sheer luck or the conductor didn’t care (she checked that we had tickets but little else). Either way, no fine.
The train dropped us off (after some minor delays) at Roma Termini in the city center and just a short cab ride to most of the major attractions. We chose a the Hotel Lancelot, close to the Colosseum, and had the cab drop us off to store our luggage.
It was about noon when we arrived, so, still early, but we got lucky and our room was ready. We resisted the temptation to lay down and just quickly freshened up before heading out.
First stop, gelato, of course. We pretty much stopped at the shop closest to the hotel. It wasn’t great but still better than anything you’d get in the US. The kids certainly didn’t mind.
We’d booked a late day walking tour of the Colosseum and a Vatican tour the following day. Since we’d just had a gelato snack and it was still early for lunch (Italians eat lunch in the early afternoon and dinner typically is later, around 8), we decided to walk a bit to some of the other sites before getting lunch.
First stop, the Forum and the Trevi Fountain.
The girls enjoyed all the old water filling stations throughout the city. Given that both days were close to a hundred degrees, all these water stops came in handy.
Next, we found a place for lunch back near the hotel and the Colosseum, Naumachia Ristorante. TripAdvisor is very big in Europe and provided the best source of crowd-sourced reviews. This place had wonderful pasta and pizzas. The cacio e pepe was just what we needed. And the beer.
After lunch, we went back to the hotel for a quick rest before walking back to the Colosseum to meet up with our tour.
While it was very hot and crowded, the tour was still worth doing to skip a lot of the lines. It went a little long for the girls (there wasn’t a lot of emphasis on keeping any of the kids engaged) but Michelle and I learned a lot of good information.
After, more gelato! This was by far our favorite gelato place that we tried in Rome. We went back for extra cones to try more flavors.
By this point everyone was feeling the travel, so we went back to the hotel and had some light snacks and wine our our little terrazzo.
The biggest change we noticed in the ten years between visits to Rome was the rise of the tour groups. If you want to do a major attraction during high season, the best way is to pay the premium and go with a private tour. The tours get special entrances and while there will still be times you need to wait it does avoid the worst ones.
You could easily spend all day at the Vatican and all its museums but we didn’t want to torture the girls. We mainly wanted to see St Peters and the Sistine chapel. We booked an early morning express (1 hour) walking tour.
When we found the spot (this is usually the hardest part of the private tours) to meet up with our group they immediately offered to upgrade us. We were both skeptical but this turned out to be a nice surprise. It was free (I think it was a way consolidate some of the smaller groups but it worked out for us with some big savings) and the upgrade included breakfast.
Even going early, the Vatican gets crowded. We did get into the Sistine chapel before it was too crowded but often had to wait a few minutes in other places. The tour did go a little long by the end for the girls but the breakfast in the Pinecone Courtyard was worth it.
Note, there is actually a lot of climbing up and down on the tour if you plan on using a stroller or have older members in your party.
The tour ends in St Peters (again helping you avoid lines and waiting in the sun) and we bought tickets to climb up to the top of the cupola. The climb gets a little narrow in spots but the view at the top of the city are amazing and worth the effort.
If the kids ever started to tire there was always a gelato shop within a hundred feet to bribe them forward.
By this point, the kids needed a break and we went back to the hotel for a quick rest. Michelle did venture out and walked over to the Rome rose gardens near the hotel.
For a visitor, you could easily occupy yourself just walking the city and avoiding the big site. There is always some piece of history just around the next corner to explore.
Not wanting to venture too far with the kids we went back to the same restaurant (it was good enough to go back and explore more of the menu) where we ate lunch the previous day.
The pizza with zucchini flowers was great and not something you’d see in the States much.
And then got more gelato before walking around the neighborhood and see the Colosseum lit up at night.
That was it. It was back the airport early the next morning and on to Sicily. A 36 hour whirlwind tour of Rome, the Colosseum, the Vatican, and more than a few gelato shops. Not a bad way to see the city with kids in a short time.