We spent two blissful weeks with our campervan in Rome, two small children (and a dog!) Found an idyllic free park up with free water, public toilets and shady trees, a 15 minute walk from the Spanish Steps (visit our patreon page for detailed write up).
Our ethos for this part of our travels was just to enjoy Rome. Soak up the atmosphere, hang out, have fun, meet the locals and if we are lucky, see a few of the sites.
Its all about priorities. On the drive down to Rome we agreed on one site that we most wanted to see and considered everything else a bonus. We did not want to be battling the crowds and dragging a bored toddler and child around countless museums and galleries. It was more important to enjoy our time there as a family.
As it happened we fell in love with the sheer beauty and buzzy vibrancy of the whole place and know for sure we will be returning one day soon to explore more of what Rome has to offer.
The 10 Best things to do in Rome with Young Children and a Small Budget:
- Villa Borghese – Free entry to 197 acres of beautiful landscaped 18thC gardens, the third largest park in Rome. There are a number of galleries, museums and attractions to explore including a boating lake, ancient temple, water fountains, a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, carousel, land train, gelato stands, tuneful buskers, children’s play park, cafes, dog park, equestrian arena and even a zoo. Plenty of space to sit under ancient shady trees munching picnics, explore hidden corners and laze about on lawns. This park soon became our little oasis of calm to escape the sun and the crowds, we visited nearly every day during our stay in Rome.
- Explora Children’s Museum – Interactive games, puzzles and educational exhibits, especially designed for small ones to enjoy. Check out the water play features, run around the wendy houses and role play big world scenarios like playing shop. Weekends offer additional activities and workshops such as pasta and pizza making. All exhibits are in Italian but English speaking staff are on hand. Great fun for little ones that are tired of trekking around the sites. Tickets cost €8.00 for 1hr 45minutes, (€5.00 for 1-3yrs and free for under 1yr).
- Hire Pedal Power – Golf Carts with pedal power. Save little legs from all that walking whilst having a giggle with the children. A two seater cart costs €15.00 to hire for 1hr (leave an ID document as deposit). Toddler seats are available to clip on the front, complete with mini steering wheels. 4 Seater carts are available from €25.00 an hour. Golf carts have an electric motor to make getting up the hills easier. Available from the gates of Villa Borghese, for exploring the grounds of the park.
- Go out For Lunch – You will be spoilt for choice with all the different venues, dishes and budgets. On a tiny travel budget dinner out can be tricky, however lunch is possible. Buffalo mozzarella, spaghetti carbonara or a wood fired pizza, just too much delicious food to choose from. If you are going to treat yourself to eating out anywhere on your travels, it has to be Rome.
- Pantheon – The best preserved and most influential building of ancient Rome. Originally a temple, built around 120AD it is now a church housing some interesting exhibitions. Famous for its incredible architecture, the huge concrete dome is a masterpiece. Free entry, open Mon-Sat 8.30am to 7.30pm.
- Gelato – Hands down the highlight of the whole city for our children! Sampling the many different flavours of incredible gelato on offer. You have to taste it to understand why Italian ice cream is famous for being so good. Gelato uses less sugar and more fruit and ice than regular ice cream making it a healthier alternative as well as more delicious. The children were in disbelief that for once we were actually encouraging them to go out and buy ice cream every day!
- Hop on Hop off Bus Tour – at €32.00 for each adult ticket with ‘Big Bus’ (under 5’s are free) it is a pricey way to travel (compared to the excellent €1.50 a ride metro). However for us we felt it was worth it as it enabled us to see parts of the city we never would have made it round on foot with young children. The bus audio guide pointed out the sites and gave us a bit more information about the history of Rome. Allowing us to choose which places to hop off and do some more exploring with the flexibility to jump on the next bus, without worrying about finding stops and timetables. The children were super excited to be going for a ride on a big red open top bus, so it was a winning combination for us. The whole tour takes approximately 1hr 45mins, worth taking a good supply of water and children’s sun hats as there are a few bits of slow moving traffic with no shade.
- Colloseum – Because you just have to visit the Colosseum if you visit Rome. This was our top pick of sites we most wanted to visit during our stay. The most basic on the door tickets cost €12.00 per adult, under 18’s are free (this includes entry to the nearby Roman Forum and Palatine Hill). Free entry is open to all on the first Sunday of every month. It is possible to purchase fast track tickets that cost up to €30.00 per adult from various tour companies and even last minute touts in the line if you are concerned about wait times and your budget can stretch. Our visit was on a weekday in June, arrived at 11.00am and queued for 45 mins at the ticket office to get in, which didn’t actually seem that bad. The Colloseum opens at 8.30am, so arrive as early as you can for the best chance of avoiding the crowds. I would pre-download a free guided audio tour of the Colosseum for your phone to get the best out of your visit.
- Spanish Steps – Dating back to 1725 these stunning steps make up part of the Piazza da Spagna in the heart of the City. A beautiful spot to sit, soak up the buzz of the city and enjoy people watching. Designer shops and delicious smells wafting from nearby eateries spilling out onto the bustling streets. Originally these steps attracted artists who were inspired to paint here, this attracted beautiful young women in hope of becoming their models, which in turn attracted the wealthy men of the city! It has been the perfect place for people watching ever since.
- Free Art Gallery – Discover the many free galleries on offer, showcasing exhibitions of artists, oil paintings, contemporary colourful canvases and sculptures. Our favourite free gallery we discovered was in the grounds of Villa Borghese. The children loved looking at the huge colourful perspex pieces of modern art alongside the more traditional oil paintings. There was even a colourful Warhol piece. Our thinking was that the free galleries are usually smaller and if the children get bored (or tired, or hungry!) you can just cut your losses and move on without stressing about the huge queue or ticket price you just endured for entry. As it happened the children loved it. Plus the art galleries have great air conditioning, so a good time to visit is midday for a bit of respite from the heat of the sun.
Be sure to visit this jaw droppingly beautiful, whirlwind of a city and let us know if you find any good hang out spots.