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Borghese and Tridente Areas With Kids

We built today’s morning itinerary to be a bit more kid focused after day 1 in the ancient heart of the city, even though it was Daddy Mudie's birthday today! There was no less walking (significantly more actually!) but a little less heavy on the history, and a bit more running around! We started in the Borghese area and followed the Tridente down to Piazza Navona, stopping at all the famous landmarks before ending at the Pantheon.

 


Borghese Area

 

We started the day bright and early in the Borghese Gardens/park. This beautiful green space, featuring ride along trains, rental bikes, horse carriage rides, a zoo, kids playgrounds and manicured gardens, is also the home of reputably the best art gallery in the world, the Borghese villa gallery. Inside resides the work of at least half of the ninja turtles, as well as some Caravaggios and some ancient artefacts too. 


My best advice is to get tickets in advance. Again, we found it next to impossible to cut through the various third party websites charging €30-50 a ticket, but found the direct booking here for €13 (under 18s “free” but every ticket has a €2 booking free, so adults €15 and kids €2!). Tickets sell out really fast, and are only released a month at a time - and it’s next to impossible to get them on the doorstep unless you’re there at opening. Your best bet for the cheapest option is to check every day, at least 2 months in advance. We also struggled a bit with the lack of metro stations - be prepared for a 30 min walk or a bus from any “nearby” station! Thankfully it’s a nice, peaceful one through the park. 

 


Before heading into the gallery, stop at the gift shop to pick up the “I Am the Artist” book. It features 15-20 works of art as colouring pages, with a brief description aimed at preschoolers/primary age kids. This is the museum from which the kids learned and remembered the most from our time in Rome (this book was a big reason why, and was largely responsible for why the museum topped our Rome itinerary!). Having a set number of pieces to look out for really helps focus our time and help avoid feeling overwhelmed. 

 

If you can’t get in, I would still recommend spending time in the park, with so much space to run around it’s a great stop with kids. We looped around to the large pond/small lake in the park, spotting some antelope looking animals at the back of the zoo, and stopped in some of the playgrounds and small structures/temples before heading out to Piazza Popolo on the western edge of the gardens. The temple of Diana in particular captured the kids with its beautiful animals carved on the ceiling. 

 

Piazza Poplolo

 

Apparently, when we say “all roads lead to Rome” we actually mean Piazza del Poplolo. Since antiquity this was the entrance and one of the most important roads leading to the city – there are three running from here, collectively known as the Tridente. The large piazza features a 3,000-year-old, 23m Egyptian obelisk, twin 17th century churches and several fountains. The seemingly bland from the outside Church of Santa Maria Del Popolo houses a chapel designed by Raphael, two famous Caravaggio paintings and Rome’s oldest stained-glass windows, as well being supposedly built over the tomb of emperor Nero who is said to haunt the structure! We spent about half an hour here - the kids mostly enjoyed chasing pigeons! 



Pastifico

 

Lunch today deserves its own subheading! Walking a tight balance between a self-catering budget and the immense diversity of fantastic food on offer, most of our research was focused on cheap, authentic eats! We read about the legendary Pastifico and made it first port of call for lunch out. The establishment has been running since 1918 selling dried pasta made on site. But at 1pm it opens (to queues of patrons lining up down the street!) to serve just two hot pasta meals; one veg and one meat. The exact variety changes every day so you’re never sure what you’re going to get but whatever it is, it’s €4.50, and often includes a glass of wine too!! There are no tables or chairs, it’s strictly to go, so we took our cardboard boxes heaped with a cheesy courgette pasta tubes (Mezze Maniche Rigate) and a tomato, black pepper and bacon linguine over to the Spanish Steps just around the corner. Best pasta of our lives! 



 

The 135 steps linking the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti above are a good place to mingle (or eat lunch). You only really need a few minutes, but the picturesque ascent is worth a quick stop on the way to the Trevi Fountain. 



A few streets away lies the giant Trevi Fountain, much bigger than we imagined. We actually paid for our Pastifico lunch in cash to ensure we had a few coins to toss in for a wish (to be done with your right hand over your left shoulder). Try (but possibly fail) to keep your kids out of the fountain, but do let them drink out of the many ancient drinking fountains in the area. If you push the right spot, it will shoot up like a modern drinking fountain, we did this all over the city with our massive family canteen! Even though it’s touristy (read absolutely rammed with selfie sticks!) it’s still one of those really beautiful sites to see in Rome.


 

Next on our trek was a quick stop at the massive 39.7 metre tall Marcus Aurelius Column. Much like yesterdays Column of Trajan, it has a long winding depiction of ancient roman life. The Imperial Monument is dedicated to the former emperor of Rome and his war effort in the Barbarian wars of his reign as Caesar of Rome from 161-180 AD. Originally the top platform had a statue of Marcus Aurelius, but it was removed and switched with St.Paul after Christianity took hold as the dominant religion. From here it was a short walk to Piazza Navona. 


Piazza Navona 

 

Between the column and Piazza Navona, we stopped briefly at the church of San Luigi dei Francesi to spot a few more Caravaggio paintings. I thought it was rather cheeky that the church charge to turn on the light to illuminate the huge masterpieces. I’m not big fan of Great Britain but I am immensely proud that the majority of arts and historical museums are free! Thankfully someone put some money in and the lights switched on while we were there! This church might not be top of mind when considering things to do in Rome with kids, but the nice thing is that it’s not a full museum – it’s just a few pieces of baroque art and worth a quick 5 mins stop off for free.


 

After a quick 5 mins in the church we popped into Piazza Navona, a beautiful famous historical square. It has a cute toy shop (Al Songo) at one end and the church of Santa Agnese in Agone, as well as a Gladiator Museum, but we just came to have an afternoon snack on some benches at the fountain for free!

 

Pantheon

 

Our last stop for the day was the Pantheon. Ordered by the emperor Hadrian around AD 126, it was constructed on top of a former Augustine temple built 100 years previously. It is one of the best-preserved of all Ancient Roman buildings, in large part because it has been in continuous use throughout its history. It features a central opening (oculus) to the sky. Amazingly, almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon's dome is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome, pretty impressive.

 

Again (do you notice a theme here?) it was really tricky to buy tickets. We’d read that tickets ordered online (supposedly from here, but apparently the website doesn’t work outside Italy?!), need to be redeemed for a physical pass almost twenty minutes walk there and back, so we chanced it at the door. The queues were enormous! Again! There were two separate queues, one for cash and one for card and irritatingly the cash queue was much faster, no idea how that’s even possible when it requires change and the card queue should have been a simple tap in, but that was how it went down. It took about 30 mins to get in and cost just €5 for over 18s. Thankfully our kids enjoyed running around the square, chasing pigeons again, so there was little complaint from them. Once we got in, we only spent around 20 minutes, but it is a glorious structure and also the home of the tomb of Raphael himself so that was a good one to tick off the list! NB: no actual shouting occurred within the Pantheon...!



With the last major stop of the day complete, we bundled into a bus back to our flat.

 

In Summary:

 

We actually had more pencilled in for today, just because we weren’t sure how long we would need at each stop, but deliberately kept the following day half empty for flexibility. We felt we’d had enough by the end of the pantheon anyway, but it was all quite well timed with not too much walking between stops. We arrived at the Park at 9am and finished up at the Pantheon at 5pm. We took our bus back to our flat for our pre-prepared bits for tea, leaving fresh-faced rather than run down, in the hope the next day would be just as pleasant (spoiler alert, it was!).


  

I’d say, as uncultured as it sounds that Pastifico was actually the highlight! Not that we didn’t enjoy all our stops today, it was just THAT good! Top recommendation is to get there just before 1pm as we did, and you can’t go wrong. Unbelievable. 

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