How to Plan the Perfect Family Trip to Rome
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Any list of the most visited cities in the world always includes Rome. There’s no question why. Full of temples, churches and architectural marvels, Rome is a journey through time. With a history spanning 28 centuries, Rome is one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in Europe, with its entire city center listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. But Rome is also a family-friendly destination today, with plenty of hotels ready to roll out the red carpet to those with points, cash, or a mix of both.
Get ready to hit the cobblestone streets, enjoy gelato to your heart’s content and see the marvelous reminders of Rome’s days of glory. Here’s our guide to everything you need to know to plan your family trip to the Eternal City.
How to Get to Rome
Most flights to Rome arrive at Rome–Fiumicino International Airport (FCO), the eighth-busiest in Europe and the main hub for Alitalia.
Ciampino (CIA) is Rome’s second airport, serving mostly inter-European flights and carriers such as Ryanair.
Alitalia offers a number of direct flights to Rome, plus connections via Milan, from several cities in North America. It’s a SkyTeam member, so you can earn and spend Delta SkyMiles on its flights. If you are a member of its MilleMiglia mileage program, you can transfer Amex Membership Rewards and Capital One points to your MilleMiglia account.
American Airlines offers nonstop flights to Rome from Charlotte, Chicago O’Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, New York-JFK and Philadelphia. Put your AAdvantage miles to work and try to find a MileSAAver off-peak economy award for 22,500 AA miles or 57,500 in business one-way (in theory, at least, as business-class saver awards are extremely hard to find at the moment).
United also flies nonstop to Rome from Newark and Washington Dulles. If you’re a member of MileagePlus, search for a saver award, which starts at 30,000 MileagePlus miles in economy or 60,000 in business each direction (at least until dynamic pricing kicks in beginning in November 2019).
Norwegian will also fly you nonstop to FCO from Oakland, Los Angeles and Newark.
Getting Your Family to the City Center from Fiumicino Airport
Rome’s Fiumicino Airport is about 15 miles from the city center. The best, least expensive way for a family to reach the city center is often the Leonardo Express airport train, which runs every 30 minutes between the airport and Termini Station, Rome’s downtown train hub. The first train leaves the airport at 6:38am, and the last of the day at 11:38pm. Tickets cost 14 euros per person each way. You can book your tickets in advance at leonardo-express.com.
Sometimes, however, it’s easier to just hop in a taxi or order an Uber, especially after a long flight with kids in tow. With a fixed taxi rate of 48 euros (about $60) from FCO to the city center, it might also cost about the same as the train, if not less, if you’re traveling with two or more kids.
If you have access to Wi-Fi or international data, check the current traffic situation before opting for a taxi or Uber. While the price can be similar to the train, traffic can be a bear. Remember, tipping your driver isn’t customary in Rome.
Rome’s downtown is fairly small and easily walkable. Some streets are closed to car traffic, and most are cobblestoned.
The Tiber River divides downtown Rome in two, with Vatican City and the Trastevere (literally “Across the Tiber”) neighborhood to the west and the neighborhoods to the east, commonly known as Centro Storico or “historical center,” home to many major sights including Piazza Navona, the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps and the Fontana di Trevi.
To the east of the Tiber, Campo Marzio is a great, central neighborhood for a home base, as it has the highest concentration of historic sites as well as countless restaurants and cafes. To the west, Trastevere is another family-friendly neighborhood, with its winding, walkable streets and charming boutiques, cafes, bakeries and ice cream shops. Families who want to focus on visits to the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica will probably want to stay near the Vatican (which is technically its own country, the State of Vatican City.)
Bear in the mind that Rome’s historic center tends to be busy and congested into the wee hours of the night, so if you’re looking for a more restful, resort-style visit to Rome, stay in a hotel outside of the city center.
Getting Around Rome With Kids
The best way to explore Rome is on foot. If you’re traveling with a baby in a stroller, make sure it’s equipped with all-terrain wheels, as the cobblestone streets can be rough to navigate. Or just use a baby carrier, if your child is young enough to be worn. Also, make sure everyone in the family is wearing sturdy, comfortable shoes, as you’ll inevitably find yourselves walking to most of the major sites.
Public transportation is more of a challenge: Metro stations are limited, but can be a quick way to get from Point A to B. City buses tend to be overcrowded, and you should watch out for pickpockets on them.
Uber is a solid option for travelers who don’t speak any Italian (though do learn a few phrases if you can — here’s how). At the higher levels of car service, such as Uber Black, most drivers speak fluent English, which can be helpful when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Uber and taxis are also an option for traveling to sights outside of the city center, such as Appia Antica and the catacombs.
Most of the major tourist attractions within Rome aren’t terribly far from each other, with shops and restaurants in between. Walking can be a good way to experience the various neighborhoods, with the train or an Uber a good way to get you quickly to a starting point or to rest weary legs at the end of a long day of walking.
How to Avoid Long Lines in Rome
Some of the most popular attractions in Rome, such as the Colosseum and the Vatican, have some of the longest waits. For the most part, waiting in line in Rome means standing outdoors. Don’t let your trip be ruined by a long line in the hot Roman sun.
There are a number of ways to avoid the lines, depending on what else is on your list:
Go Old School: Roaming around the front of the Colosseum and Vatican, you’ll find folks offering guided tours. At the Colosseum, these can be especially helpful in that those tours are generally allowed to cut the line waiting for tickets, though you’ll still need to clear security. These tours can cut a serious amount of time off your wait, but your experience will vary greatly depending on the quality of the tour.
Book Ahead of Time: The Colosseum sells tickets that you can purchase ahead of time to guarantee yourself access. Note that these tickets still require you to book a time slot, as the Colosseum has a restricted daily capacity. The Vatican has a similar advance ticketing option. Searching for Colosseum or Vatican tours online will turn up numerous options.
Buy a Combination Pass: Like many cities, Rome has a variety of combination passes for the various tourist attractions, including other popular options like the Forum, Senate and Palatine Hill. The OMNIA Pass is one that fellow TPGers have positive experiences with. In some cases, such as the Colosseum, you’re still required to book a time slot ahead of time, but after purchasing your pass.
Consider a VIP Tour: VIP Tours are pricier dedicated options that can help cut the lines once you get past the first set of lines. For example, St. Peter’s Basilica has private tours available once you pass through the metal detectors. Some of those tours can cut the sometimes lengthy lines to visit the rooftop of St. Peter’s Basilica. They’re not cheap, but you’ll get a guide who speaks your language and will educate you and answer questions while you avoid the long line for the elevators. To find these tours, when you pass through the metal detectors in St. Peter’s Square, head toward the restrooms near the base of the steps of the Cathedral.
Finding Good Food in Rome
The easiest way to have a bad meal in Rome is to eat close to a tourist attraction, especially on a main thoroughfare. In fact, that’s one of the top mistakes tourists make in Rome, so avoid that pitfall. Now, the food probably won’t be horrible, but the Italian food you find near the Vatican is more likely to evoke thoughts of your Olive Garden back home than the best Italy has to offer.
Force yourself to get off the beaten path. Ask your hotel concierge where they eat when they go out, not where they send hotel guests. The more forward a restaurant is with pulling you in, the less likely it is to be a truly memorable meal. If there’s a large menu board outside and a “host” cajoling you to join, you’d be well-served to consider another stop.
Venturing off the beaten path can also be rewarding in Rome. For example, Piazza Navona was made popular by the book (and movie) “Angels & Demons.” Instead of lingering there with all the other Tom Hanks fans, try wandering a little to the southwest, down the tiny Piazza Pasquino square, which will lead you to a restaurant called Cul de Sac. Hiding in that corner for roughly 40 years, they specialize in cheese, meat and wine, with dozens of varieties of each.
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Best Points Hotels in Rome for Families
There are a variety of points hotels that can work for families, but remember this is a European city where hotel occupancy rules are tough on families. Many hotel rooms simply won’t work for families of four. Below is sampling of our favorites, but you’ll want to also look specifically for points hotels in Rome for families of four.
Marriott Bonvoy members can book a Double Double Family Room for four with two king beds, starting at 50,000 points plus 174 euros per night. Located on Via Veneto, the boulevard made famous in the ’50s as a hangout for the stars and their pursuing paparazzi, this hotel offers rooms that are larger and more comfortable than standard European hotel rooms. The best feature of this hotel is by far its central location: It’s just few minutes’ walk from Villa Borghese gardens, Spanish Steps and the main shopping streets.
Near the Colosseum, the Comfort Hotel Bolivar is a charming boutique hotel housed in a picturesque palazzo. It’s a more budget-friendly hotel for families, with award rates starting at 10,000 points for a room for four in low season and 20,000 points per night for high season (May to September). You can transfer Amex Membership Rewards points to Choice at a 1:1 ratio if you need to increase your account balance.
The hotel is smaller, but there are triple and quadruple rooms available. Another key feature: It’s on a quieter street, so you can plan on uninterrupted sleep despite being in the heart of the city.
Rome Cavalieri, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, is outside the city center, so you need to take advantage of the free shuttle bus (departs every hour from 8:30am to 12:30pm and 3:30pm to 8:30pm) to reach the most iconic sights. This splurge of a hotel, however, trades a city-center location for a relaxing, resort-like setting: It’s on a 15-acre park on a hilltop in the Monte Mario neighborhood and boasts incredible views of Vatican City.
It’s also the only hotel in Rome with a kids club. Family rooms at the Rome Cavalieri consist of two adjoining rooms for a total of 538 square feet, and all essentials for children are available upon request, including child-size bathrobes, small hangers, kettles, cribs, night lights, high chairs, strollers, baby wipes and diapers.
Points required vary per room type and season, but it costs between 65,000 and 80,000 Hilton Honors points per night. The catch is that standard rooms are only rated for three people. Check out our favorite Hilton credit cards for families so you can ramp up your Hilton Honors points balance.
Rent an Apartment With Airbnb or Rental in Rome
If you’re traveling with kids and would like a larger space but don’t have points available, consider renting an apartment with Airbnb or Rental in Rome. Both companies offer apartments that often cost less than a hotel. In addition to having more space to stretch your legs, you’ll also have access to a kitchen, where you can save money and time by prepping a quick breakfast, sandwiches or snacks before you hit the streets.
Best Time of Year to Visit Rome
Late spring and early fall are the best seasons for traveling in Italy with kids, as that’s when you can count on milder temperatures and smaller crowds. However, the week before and after Easter can be busy, especially in and around the Vatican. The tourist season kicks into high gear in mid-June. Throughout the summer, every inch of the city seems to be crawling with visitors.
August is arguably the worst month to visit Rome. Not only do temperatures peak — the average high temperature in August in Rome is 86 degrees Fahrenheit — but many Italians take off the entire month, so some restaurants and shops are simply closed. Additionally, Aug. 15 is a public holiday known as Ferragosto when literally everyone is off.
The best month to visit Rome is October, when the crowds diminish and the weather is usually sunny and warm. Romans love this month, too, which they call “ottobrata romana,” Roman October, and you’ll find many locals taking advantage of the wonderful weather with afternoon picnics and evening strolls.
Rome is absolutely worth a visit, but you need to be strategic. Remember to make online ticket purchases in advance when you can (or contact your hotel concierge), pack for the heat in the summer, get up early to beat the crowds and be prepared to eat your weight in gelato.
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Featured photo by Imgorthand / Getty Images
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