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Visiting Rome with Children

GinaD

These notes originally appeared on our forums.

In your quest for more resources on traveling to Rome with a small child, I've offered some suggestions, as well as a few tips culled from my personal experience traveling with young children in Italy and the Eternal City. Hopefully you and other undaunted parents of small children will find this helpful.

Begin Your Trip by Scaling Back Your Expectations (slightly)

As you no doubt have already realized, babies and toddlers slow you down considerably. It's a good idea to limit your travel to just a few locations. For a two week trip, one or two destinations is ideal, one being a city and the other in the country. If you're just planning to hang in Rome, that will be a nice, easy pace. When traveling with youngsters from infant to about four years, you can reasonably expect to see only one or at maximum two major sights a day without taxing the patience of a child, and be sure to work in plenty of play time to the daily mix.

You'll also have to slightly re-adjust your expectations for traveling in Italy with a baby. Much of Italian public life isn't well adapted to servicing the needs of young children, as it is in, say, the U.K. or U.S. For example, it is rare to find baby changing stations in restrooms, so expect to do a lot of changing on your lap on a park bench. You won't likely find high chairs or booster seats at restaurants either. And though it might feel wrong, your child can legally sit on your lap in the back of a taxi without a car seat (my toddlers love this feeling of freedom!).

Hotel Versus Apartment

For an extended stay in Rome, I usually recommend a self-catered apartment. In fact, I try to stay in apartments or homes almost exclusively now. Staying in a tiny hotel room with a small child can be miserable, in my experience. There is so little space in a typical Roman hotel room. And a sleepless, jet-lagged child awake and crying loudly at 3am can be heard quite easily through the paper-thin walls of a hotel. Not to mention that since you are all sleeping in the same room, when the baby goes down to sleep ... so do you. Great if your kid is a night-owl, but not so great if your jet-lagged bambino sacks out at 7pm.

Also, in a rental, a baby on toddler has more entertainment options, like rolling a ball or a toy car around, exploring the different rooms, playing with kitchen utensils. Having separate rooms so that your young children can sleep in one room while you stay awake and read or talk in another room is a big advantage. And for a small child, an apartment helps maintain some semblance of your routine back home.

To me the choice between apartment and hotel is clear: an apartment offers the best in terms of flexibility and comfort. Besides the enormous benefit of a kitchen when traveling with kids - be they tots, "tweens" or teens, you'll be happy for the extra space, and the cost can be less than that of a similar standard hotel. But maybe the biggest advantage over a hotel? A washing machine. Be sure to rent an apartment that has one.

You can find plenty of advice on the Slow Travel Talk forums for renting an apartment in Italy or Rome, as well as viewing the Vacation Rental Reviews and Vacation Rental Listings on this site.

There are some shortcomings though to renting an apartment, particularly with small children. First, you have to be vigilant about whether it is baby-proof - most won't be. Be sure to ask if there are any balconies, stairs in the apartment, curtain cords, or low windows (they won't have screens or bars), and anything else you might be concerned about (in a rural apartment, an unfenced swimming pool is the norm). If you are in the city center, you will need sound-proofed windows if you, or your baby, plan to get any sleep.

Also, keep in mind there likely won't be a lift/elevator. It is more than likely there will be no air conditioning. And hauling groceries, a baby, and possibly a stroller up several flights of stairs a few times a day can get tiresome.

But even with those drawbacks, an apartment is often a great option. If you notify the apartment rental service in advance, most can supply you with a baby cot/crib or a pack 'n play. In Rome, you can also rent strollers, car seats, cribs, and most baby accessories from a company called Babyriders.

To Take the Stroller or Not? That is the Question

Lugging your stroller from home might not seem to make sense, given Rome's cobblestone streets. Another of its disadvantages is that the stroller may not fit easily in the trunk of a car or taxi, especially if you have other luggage (in which case, your best bet is to reserve a car service in advance to meet you at the airport and avoid the taxi line and additional for oversized baggage.)

But the stroller has some hidden advantages: it can be a third hand when trying to get through the airport managing luggage, carry-ons and diaper bag. It offers shade and sun protection in the summer. It allows you to more easily tote around additional (and oft-needed) kid-friendly entertainment like balls, books, plus a change of diapers and clothes. It can double as a high chair in a restaurant for really small kids. And, if it reclines, it offers the possibility of a nap during the day, which means more time for you to eat, sightsee, or relax. If you are lucky, your bambino might even nod off during dinner, giving you time to order that digestivo.

Whether to take it on the plane from home is the real question. Renting a stroller can make good sense. For Rome's cobblestones, you really need a sturdy one (although not all roads are cobblestone - sidewalks, though narrow, are mostly paved and smooth.) Another option is to buy a cheap stroller, bring it with you, then donate it to the hotel or to the apartment rental agency so you don't have to take it home.

Baby Supplies

When you settle into your hotel or apartment, take note of several of the closest Farmacia. The farmacia (and not necessarily the grocery store - unless it is a large one) is where you will find diapers, diaper cream, pacifiers, baby bottles, baby food, baby biscotti, sippy cups, baby spoons, and most of your baby supplies. Each pharmacy carries a slightly different mix of baby supplies, so check in on a few of them if you cannot find what you are looking for. There are Italian brands as well as familiar US brands. You can buy Pampers, for example, and Pull Ups, as well as swim diapers (again, not all products and brands carried by all farmacie). Note that diapers and items purchased at the pharmacies will be expensive. However when you do stumble upon a grocery store or small supermarket in the city center, you will do better to pick up your baby supplies there.

Another thing to have handy is a list of the nearest medical facility and English-speaking pediatrician. The Italian Embassy website offers a list, as does the blog Rome City Guide for Kids, Childcare Services.

Kid-Friendly Recreation and Things to Do

Rome is described in turns as either woefully inappropriate for young children, or as a great destination for little ones. I suppose it depends on your point of view and sense of adventure. That said, my experience is that there is plenty to do with a child in this great city. Here is just a sampling of some places young toddlers (and even adults) will get a kick out of.

Playgrounds

Though few and far between, you will find a few playgrounds near some major monuments. Specifically, the playground in the park surrounding Castel Sant'Angelo is a nice one. As is the playground on Oppian Hill (Colle Oppio), in the green park directly across from the Coliseum (via Saviotti). Another playground close to the Coliseum is Celimontana Park, (via della Navicella, 12). These two sites offer great guides to the best playgrounds in Rome: Rome City Guide for Kids, Rome's 12 Best Public Playgrounds and Italiakids.com, Rome Public Parks and Playgrounds.

The Villa Borghese

There is no shortage of kid- and baby-friendly activities in this sprawling park, including:

  • Bioparco (the zoo) where you'll also find a Noah's Arc-like playground
  • Cinema dei Piccoli -- the Children's Cinema - a little cinema with just 63 seats showing children's movies daily (in Italian only)
  • Casina di Rafaello - a soft play space and activity center for children, mainly geared for ages three and older (reservations required for certain events/exhibits)
  • Bike rentals
  • Row boats
  • Pony rides (weekends only from 10:30am to sunset at Viale Goethe)
  • Mini race track (every day in front of Cinema dei Piccoli from 10:30am to sunset)
  • A playground near the Giardino del Lago
  • A puppet theatre at Pincio Teatro San Carlino.

Janiculum (Gianicolo) Hill

Combine a visit here with a stroll through atmospheric Trastevere. There's no playground up here per se, but it makes for a lovely stroll, and you can take in the entertaining Neopolitan puppet show (Weekdays 4pm-7pm, except Wednesdays; Saturdays and Sundays 10:30am-1pm and 4pm-7pm,) (in Italian only) Plus the view of the city below is spectacular.

The Explora Children's Museum

A relatively new museum in Rome dedicated to children aged 0-12. It is a miniature town kids learn through touch (exhibits are mainly in Italian, though it does not matter much to really small kids). A "Li'l Explorers" program offers children aged 0-3 a complete sensorial experience. Check the website (in English) for schedules and reservations (via Flaminia near Piazza del Popolo).

Toy Stores

Try to make a visit to the excellent children's toy store Citta' del Sole. One is located on via della Scrofa 65 near Piazza Navona and another in Piazza di San Cosimato in Trastevere (there is a playground here, too). Cheap toys, coloring books, and stickers from a Tabacchi (tobacco shop) also make for easy entertainment.

Guidebooks

If you're spending any length of time in Rome with children, I highly recommend the great guide book, Rome with Kids, by J.M. Pasquesi. You will find great tips on traveling with young children, but beyond that, it is just a great guide book that adults will appreciate as well. It has great suggestions for dining, planned walks, and lots of interesting facts that, if you cannot dedicate time to reading a guide book, will provide you with a few precious historical facts that will enhance your visit to the city.

A Few Kid-Friendly Words in Italian that Might be Helpful

Playground - parco gioco
Slide - sciovolo
Swings - altalene
Bubbles - bollicine di sapone
Diapers - pannolini
Diaper cream - crema pannolino or crema protettiva
Baby bottle - biberon
Pacifier - gommotto
High chair - seggiolone
Car seat - seggiolino or seggiolino auto
Stroller - passegino
Crib or baby cot - culla
Booster seat - alzasedia

This list is just to get you started. I am sure you wll make your own discoveries, as well. Buon viaggio!


GinaD is a member of the Slow Travel Talk forums.

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