Georgia Macmillan’s Guide To Rome With Kids
Cobblestones. I used to love them for their charm and raw beauty, and marvel at their endurance throughout centuries of wear, from the early Romans with their carts and chariots, to modern day cars and scooters. But after pushing a pram around beautiful Roma for four days my opinion changed. I would curse and swear as the Bugaboo Bees spindly little wheels got stuck in these ancient basalt cubes Olivia violently catapulting forward each time. If I took my eyes off the footpath or road for a second to admire an historic building/stature/café/fountain/shop then sure enough, wedged again, and over she went. I love the Bee it is stylish, petite, nifty, and light to manoeuver (well, on smooth surfaces i.e. polished marble), and doesnt cause eyes to roll when pushed into busy restaurants. But, tractor tyres are preferable on the cobblestone capital of the world.
So my first piece of advice for parents travelling with pram-aged children forget the travel-light collapsible stroller and take something sturdy. Because, when in Rome, do as the Romans do and walk everywhere. Thicker wheels are best. The Bee was perfect in museums and cafes, thanks to its small size, just treacherous outside. A catch-22. Also be prepared for beauty and history overload. The citys architecture varies from medieval to Renaissance and Baroque, incredible sculptures adorn street corners the sheer romance will swell hearts. Italians love children so youll be welcomed in restaurants and noise levels are no problem. However, Rome itself isnt easy with children. I mostly changed Olivias nappy in quiet street alcoves, as restaurant and public bathrooms proved difficult, with a stairwell to the loo (often old school with a hole in the ground). Most museums and historical sights lack modern interactive videos and displays. But this is all part of this citys charm. And remember, Romes fountains flow with fresh drinking water, so dont hesitate to fill up your water bottles. Children enjoy the many water features and fountains. The vast piazzas provide lots of old stone slabs, the perfect setting for a picnic from the amazing delis.
Where to stay:
Crossing Condotti is a beautiful little pied-à-terre in the heart of Romes famous shopping district, 50 metres from Piazza di Spagna, and a great alternative to a hotel. My husband and I stayed here pre-child, but its a perfect base for families too. The six different rooms are beautifully presented with antique furnishings and impressive large artworks from the owners private collection. It is homely and glamorous and offers a very personal experience (the staff will book everything restaurants, private tours, museum tickets plus arrange babysitting). You could book a few rooms to accommodate a larger family and request a cot.
Last visit we stayed at the century-old boutique hotel Villa Spaletti Trivelli with Olivia aged 17 months (who slept in a cot with the softest, perfectly starched monogrammed linen). The Villa belongs to an aristocratic family and features their magnificent furniture, fascinating family portraits, silver, porcelain, rugs etc. It was an incredible, faultless hotel experience, and a privilege to stay in such a grand historic home. It proved surprisingly child friendly. The jasmine laden private garden was an ideal playground for a very active Olivia, and her seriously messy breakfasts werent a problem in the outdoor courtyard (I took one look at the formal dining room with its white cloths and hushed tones and made a hasty retreat!). The hotel provides a fabulous breakfast. Lunch or dinner on request. Next to the Quirinale Palace, walking distance to the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum.
Hotel Locarno on Via della Penna is a boutique hotel (which also happens to boast one of Rome's most fun bars) and ideally located near Piazza Popolo. It is also how you might imagine the perfect Rome hotel to be historic, full of beautiful antiques, with rooftop terrace and courtyard garden. Children under two years old stay free.
For a more relaxed destination the Hotel Santa Maria in Trastevere, housed in an ivy-covered, 16th century cloister, is a friendly and quiet. It is just a few blocks from the Tiber, plus one of the more prominent churches in Rome, the Santa Maria Basilica. The simple guest rooms are located on the same floor and surround a courtyard lined with orange trees the perfect breakfast spot. Plus the rooftop terrace has some of the best views of Rome.
Of course there are the super glam hotels such as chic J.K. Place, and uber-cool Hotel De Russie (which is conveniently located near Piazza Del Popplo, has a beautiful garden and offers a special family program. It is a must see if only for the lobby flowers more below).
Where to eat:
Roscioli (21 Via dei Giubbonari) The gorgeous girls from An Affair with Italy recommended Roscioli and we loved it so much we lunched one day and enjoyed dinner there the next. My favourite dining experience in Rome. It is teeny tiny and almost impossible with a pram (we managed with it folded and crammed in a corner, but the staff werent overjoyed). My husband and I loved our dinner (sans child) the next night. This is authentic Roman cuisine, where the staff is old school and passionate, food is heavenly and the setting so wonderfully Italian. Best with grown up children. Also a great place to stock up on deli goods from the front counter groaning with the best Italian produce.
Ginger (43/44 Via Borgognona) is the antithesis of the classic looking Roma eatery the all-white modern space complete with an abundance of green indoor-plants, stacks of pineapples and cool staff make for a fun dining experience. It wouldnt be out of place in Sydney. Most importantly the food is delicious (salads, pastas, cheese and meats, wine, plus fruit smoothies and juices) and theres a guaranteed lineup of locals wanting to lunch there. Spacious, buzzy and great for children too. Conveniently located around the corner from the Piazza di Spagna.
Ristorante da Francesco in Piazza del Fico is noisy, hectic and fun plus it serves incredible thin-crust pizzas, steaks and a flawless panna cotta with acacia honey.
Drinks and lunch or cocktails and light snacks at the Stravinskij Bar Hotel de Russie (9 Via del Babuino) are a must. The outdoor courtyard oasis is charming and glamorous and perfect for people watching. Ive been with and without Olivia and both occasions were equally enjoyable children and the cool crowd somehow manage to mix in Rome.
Da Enzo is located in the peaceful part of eastern Trastevere and is a genuine Roman trattoria, which focuses on using 100% organic produce from nearby farms (eggs, meat, wine, cheese). It is a simple space, with childrens artwork hanging on its sunny yellow walls, and the food is incredible.
Gusto Pizzeria (9 Piazza Augusto Imperatore, near Ara Pacis) is a great space offering beautiful pizzas and dishes the whole family will enjoy. Theres indoor and outdoor seating but the dining room is where all the action takes place. There are a few Gusto outlets, this one is best suited with littlies and the more glamorous Gusto Restaurant for diners less inclined to smear/spill/throw/spit/and play-with-food.
Ristorante Nino (via Borgognona) is an enduring dark paneled restaurant serving delicious Tuscan dishes with wines and oils from the owners estate. Ideal for early family dinners you wont be disappointed.
Angelina A Trevi (27 Via Poli) is down a quiet side street near the Trevi Fountain and perfect for lunch if youre showing the children the famous sight. I loved this sweet little restaurant the fit-out is super stylish and coffee excellent. Have your fountain coins ready.
At the close the day relax outside the very cool bougainvillea clad coffee shop/cocktail bar Salotto 42 (42 Piazza di Pietra). Its an attractive spot for sophisticated Romans by day and transforms into a wine and cocktail hot spot by night (and is reported to belong to a Swedish model). Located in the Piazza di Pietra with the ancient Templo Adriano (handy to the Pantheon).
What to do and see:
Campo deFiori (Piazza Capo deFiori). Early morning at this central square with its daily market and hustle and bustle of locals shopping for food is a fun experience for young and old. Children will love seeing all of the different produce and colorful flowers on display.
Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheons dome is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. It is spectacular in size and grandeur and an incredibly well preserved monument of Ancient Rome. The Pantheon is open all day and free to enter, making it easy to visit swiftly (if need be) with children not so enthralled by its majesty and scale. While there stop for gelato at neighborhood institution Giolitti. An easy walk to the Trevi Fountain.
Making a wish at the Trevi Fountain is a rite of passage when in Rome. The tradition consists of standing back against the fountain and throwing two coins over your shoulder one coin ensures a return visit to Rome, and the other for the wish. A fun exercise with children. We would walk past the fountain several times to and from our hotel and agree early is best. The crowds heave by 10am and this somehow manages to intensify as the day progresses. The fountain is turned on at 9am so grab some Cornetti (Italian croissants) from Forno Campo deFiorio, sit front row, enjoy the splash and magnificence of this rococo beauty.
Piazza Navona for its beautiful fountains, and the enormous Piazza del Popolo with its twin churches of Santa Maria. These vast spaces are perfect for children to run around and let off steam.
At Piazza Navona
Villa Borghese (Piazzale Napoleone) is a dream park for families looking to escape the maddening crowds. Pack a picnic and enjoy a few hours of quiet. Spread over near 200 acres, you can hire a boat, bike or go-cart, see the puppet theatre and visit the zoo (and ensure little ones take a ride on the Bioparco Express train which circumnavigates the zoo). Villa Borgheses museum the Galleria Borghese is a must. The paintings, sculptures and antiquities date back to Cardinal Scipiones 17th-century collection. But its best to take children with a decent art attention span (at least 2 hours) to fully appreciate the exhibitions. Book tickets online.
Where to shop:
Rome knows how to make women with a penchant for shopping happy high-end Italian fashion houses Armani, Prada, Tods, Ferragamo, Brunello Cucinelli, Loro Piana and every other leading international brand are condensed within a few streets and manageable on foot. Beginning at the base of the Spanish Steps focus on Via dei Condotti, Via del Babuino, Via Borgognona (and some adjoining side streets) and you wont go wrong. If your family doesnt share your shopping love then leave them to enjoy their very own A Roman Holiday moment on the Spanish Steps. Or the attractive vine covered narrow street Via Margutta, which is easily missed behind Via del Babuino.
Society is the home of fabric and interiors powerhouse Limonta. Again, encourage the family to perhaps enjoy a gelato at Piazza Navona around the corner so you can discover what linen heaven looks like. The all natural washed linens (for bed, table top, the home, plus mens and womens fashion) are woven from the finest cotton, silk, wool, linen and ramie, and come in a myriad of neutral colours, solids and pastels. You might need an extra suitcase LV or Prada arent far away.
Dont overlook the classic Italian fragrance Acqua Di Parma at 27 Piazza di Spagna, and gorgeous Santa Maria Novella products (begun in 1221) available from top pharmacies. Look out for the wonderful old Farmacia shop-fronts in Rome.
Enjoy the Eternal City it is well named. The light and the beautiful patinas of Rome are timeless (and Olivia loved her first visit too).