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Rome brings out the wonder in everyone, kids and adults alike. It’s easy to get lost among the cobblestoned streets, trickling fountains, historic churches and ancient monuments.

I fell in love with Rome more than 20 years ago when I attended a college study abroad program in the Eternal City. Indeed, I fell so much in love that I ended up staying for seven years! Fast forward to today: I live in Chicago with my two Italian-speaking kids. Every other year we pay a visit to Rome to see family and enjoy our favorite destination of all.

From learning to make authentic Roman pizza to cheering on your favorite gladiator, there are so many interesting, educational and fun things to see and do when in Rome with kids.

After you plan your Roman holiday and book your flights and hotel (Here’s a guide for using your miles for an Italian vacation), it’s time to map out your Roman adventures. Here are 10 family-friendly things you’ll want to experience when in Rome.

Related: Best Airline Credit Card for Families

1. Introduce Amazing Gelato to Your Kids

Step inside Della Palma (Via della Maddalena, 19-23) and prepare to be boggled by an overwhelming number of gelato choices. With a whopping 150+ flavors prepared daily, there truly is a flavor for everyone in the family. In addition to all the Italian classics — chocolate, vanilla, stracciatella (chocolate chip), strawberry, lemon, pistachio and tiramisu — this ice cream shop serves up the most interesting flavors in the city, including sesame seed and honey, fig and hazelnut, and meringue and nougat mousse. Thankfully, the indecisive can pack a mega-cone with up to six different scoops. Located steps from the Pantheon, its central location and reputation for serving up the best gelato in the neighborhood means it’s always buzzing with locals and tourists alike.

Image by Christine Wehrmeier / Getty Images
Image by Christine Wehrmeier / Getty Images

2. See the Sistine Chapel (and Skip the Lines)

The Sistine Chapel is a joy to behold. Even little ones will appreciate the rich colors and stories that unfold on the ceiling of the Apostolic Palace, painted between 1508 and 1512 by Michelangelo. No one, however, will appreciate the long lines to enter the chapel. Waits can last hours and crowds can block out the beauty enough to make even grown-ups have a tantrum. The best (and, in my opinion, the only) way to see the iconic Sistine Chapel is to book an early bird guided tour. Large tour operators pay a hefty fee for the privilege of early entry at 7:30am. Get Your Guide and Rome Tickets International both offer early bird tours online. Prices start at $60 per person. If you don’t book an early bird tour, make sure you are waiting in line by 8:30am at the latest: the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel open at 9am.

Tip: Before your trip to Rome, check out Michelangelo for Kids: His Life and Ideas, with 21 Activities by Simonetta Carr from your local library to give your kids a primer on Michelangelo and the Italian Renaissance.

The Sistine Chapel. (Photo by Riccardo Cuppini via Flickr)
The Sistine Chapel. (Photo by Riccardo Cuppini via Flickr)

3. Travel Back in Time to Ancient Rome on the Rome Time Elevator

If you’ve ever dreamed of popping into a time machine and heading back to see what life was like in Rome during the golden age of Emperor Augustus, a lesser-known attraction has you covered: Travel back in time to Ancient Rome aboard the Rome Time Elevator (Via dei SS. Apostoli, 20; phone 39-06-97746243), a multisensory, panoramic movie experience that explores the history of Rome with kids in mind. Kids will enjoy the many sensory surprises — rumbling seats! steam! blasts of cool air! — while learning more about the people who helped carry Rome to greatness as well as the history behind — and vivid reconstructions of — the sights they’re seeing. The movie lasts just under 45 minutes and makes for a nice break from sightseeing. Tickets cost 12 euros for adults age 18 and over and 9 euros for kids.

4. Shop Roman-style at Campo dei Fiori Market

During the Middle Ages, this rectangular piazza in Rome’s city center was a meadow. Every morning, Campo dei Fiori — Italian for “field of flowers” — fills back up again with flowers as sellers showcase their buds in lovely bouquets ripe for bargaining. You can find everything you need for an impromptu picnic, from freshly baked breads to cheeses to fresh fruits and vegetables among the vendor stalls at the daily market. A few vendors sell small toys and trinkets, so give your kids a couple of euros to enjoy shopping “as the Romans do.”

5. Become a Gladiator at Rome’s Gladiator School for Kids

Rome’s Gladiator School Experience is a two-hour training session that will teach your kids the history of the famed fighters while also instructing them on the skills to survive even the most dastardly arena battles.

Located in a quiet setting in Rome’s Appia Antica neighborhood, the school, which is run by the Roman Historical Society, begins with an introduction to Roman history and a visit to the on-site Gladiator Museum, where artifacts show the tools of the gladiator trade.

Gladiators-in-training then put on their fighting tunics and take part in a hands-on training session, learning essential sword-fighting and hand-to-hand combat techniques.

Prices start at $200 for two people (kids and parents can all participate), but cost less per person if there are more in the group. There are typically 6 classes a day on most days starting at 9am. The site can be reached by bus from central Rome, or via taxi or Uber (about 20 euros each way).

6. Tour the Colosseum by Moonlight

Now that you’re a gladiator (see the tip above), you’re ready to hit the Colosseum. Instead of battling the usual Colosseum crowds, however, book a nighttime tour of the iconic stadium. There is nothing quite like seeing the Colosseum by the light of the moon minus the crowds. Roma Experience offers a Colosseum under the Moon tour that will take you right into the ring. You’ll skip the lines, too. The 2.5-hour guided tour is priced at 79 euros for adults, 69 euros for students ages 15–25, 64 euros for children ages 4–14 and 29 euros for children ages 3 and under.

The ancient Roman Colosseum is illuminated to mark World AIDS Day, 01 December 2007 in Rome. The World Health Organization who started World AIDS Day promotes awareness and focus on the global AIDS epidemic. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)
The Colosseum (Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)

7. Spend a Perfect Afternoon in Villa Borghese

The Parco della Villa Borghese is an enormous, beautifully landscaped park in Rome’s city center. Pack a picnic or pick up snacks and enjoy a break outdoors under the shade of a tree. Several stands offer snacks and cold drinks. Playgrounds dot the park, and there’s even a tiny tot-sized cinema. Bring a ball for an impromptu game of calcio or rent a bike or a surrey from one of the many pop-up rental stands. The best route to this park is via the Spanish Steps, which lead up to the park, connecting to the Pincio (the Pincian Hill of Ancient Rome), a viewing point located at the southern edge of the park that offers one of the most spectacular vistas of the Eternal City.

8. Stroll Piazza Navona at Night

Built upon the former Stadium of Domitian (circa 86 AD), Piazza Navona is one of the largest and most beautiful piazzas in Rome. Three fountains, designed during the papacy of Gregory XIII, dominate the piazza, which is closed to automobile traffic. During the evening hours, from about 7pm until midnight, Piazza Navona becomes a hub of free, family-friendly entertainment as street musicians, clowns, contortionists and other entertainers of all kinds showcase their talent. A number of artists set up shop here, too, offering on-the-spot portraits and speedy caricatures, which make outstanding souvenirs. Bring a few coins for your kids to toss into the hats of the entertainers.

9. Test Your Truth-telling Ability at the Bocca della Verità

Legend has it that the Bocca della Verità, or Mouth of Truth, will bite the hands off of anyone who lies. Test your truth-telling ability at this large carving of a pagan Roman face, which more than likely served as a sewer cover during ancient times. Stick your hand in its monster of a mouth for a photo op and see who wins at honesty in your family.

Tip: After you test your truth-telling at the Bocca della Verità, head to the adjacent church, Santa Maria in Cosmedin, where the skull of St. Valentine lies encased in a golden box at the altar.

10. Throw a Coin in the Trevi Fountain

Finally, no trip to Rome is complete until you’ve thrown a coin into the Fontana di Trevi, or Trevi Fountain. This masterpiece of a fountain dates back to the construction of the Aqua Virgo Aqueduct in 19 B.C. and is considered one of the grandest fountains in the world. Toss a coin using your right hand over your left shoulder and you’ll ensure a future visit to Rome. The fountain is open 24/7, so take advantage of jet-lagged kids staying up later than usual and head to the fountain at sunset, when the number of tourists have lessened. (Or sunrise, when you’ll really have the place to yourself, something very rare in Rome.)

Photo by RilindH / Getty Images
Photo by RilindH / Getty Images

Bottom Line

As the largest city in Italy, Rome is filled with some great experiences. To no surprise there are a ton of activities to keep kids of every age happy.

Just make sure when purchasing tickets for most tours or activities, you’ll want to use a credit card that rewards you for spend in the “entertainment” category.

Related: The Best Credit Cards for Entertainment Spending

Some cards to consider: Citi Premier Card offers a 2x points on entertainment spend, while the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card offers 4% cash back.

Planning a trip to Rome? Here are some more ideas:

Featured image by DEA / G. COZZI / Getty Images

Know before you go.

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