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Rome with Kids - When, Where, How?

Whether it’s the food, history, atmosphere, or architecture, Rome is eternally appealing. I had looked forward to a visit pretty much my whole life, and although we’d read mixed reviews about suitability with kids, we found it utterly awesome. From the hands on da Vinci museum, and gladiator images of the Colosseum, to the cheapest and best pasta, pizza and gelato, we all loved Rome.






We decided to risk the weather at February half-term rather than book our trip for the (often newsworthy) intense heat of the summer and struck very lucky with beautifully warm, 18-degree sunshine most days. Read on to find out what we crammed into our five days, and whether we met our target of £1,500 all in for a family of five over the school holidays…



Getting there:

As with our recent spate of European breaks, it was largely inspired by cheap Ryanair deals. We took a cheeky punt on calling in sick for school for one day (something we’ve only ever done once before) and managed to grab return flights from Stansted to Ciampino for £65 each. Airport parking was more than the flights at £72 for mid-term stay, but we couldn’t find anything cheaper elsewhere. We decided to bring 1x checked bag. Our last few trips have been hand-luggage only but we wanted to bring some dry goods/food with us to minimise all costs (see food/packing below). We took public transport from the airport to our accommodation (a bus and 2x metro trains) for under £5, which was unreal compared to UK prices!


Accommodation:

After baulking at the extreme cost of accommodation in the city, and loving our first ever Eurocamp chalet experience in 2023, we set about trying to find a similar experience. We weren’t massively optimistic at first as it’s a city, not the beach/wilderness BUT we found an amazing deal on Agoda for just £330 for 5 beds and 6 nights at “Hu Roma Camping in Town”.


We were a little nervous about the 30-minute commute there and back every day, but it worked out amazingly well. Train and bus travel in Italy is silly cheap – just £1 each trip (kids are free, see more in “travel around” below). The site is directly opposite a very well stocked supermarket, a bus stop to the metro just outside the gate, and the chalet was just perfect. It was beautifully well appointed, useful hooks and cubbies everywhere, warm water, clean, well-stocked, great heating/AC, nicely decorated, modern, new – I can’t fault a single aspect of it, except for the fact it is a steep hill from the front gate/reception to the accommodation itself. The kids affectionally named it "Rome Home" - and what kids don't love playing in bunk beds! They loved it. Per person, per night, this was £11. ELEVEN QUID. It may even be the best value for money we’ve ever experienced – great work Hu!



Planning tips:


DON’T try to do Rome as a last-minute deal:

Our absolute top tip for Rome is that you MUST book your tickets for attractions asap, at least 2 months before you leave, or you’ll end up paying 10x the price. Thankfully we did this, and were very happy with our itinerary, and only missed out the Domus Aurea. Check websites listed in the individual blogs linked below for when tickets are released as places like the Borghese gallery really do sell out months in advance.


The order of our itinerary was led by availability of cheap tickets, which was frustrating in the run up/planning, but I think magically worked out perfectly in the end. The queues for tickets at the doors (in some cases you must pre-book) are enormous – don’t get anything on the door, plan ahead.


Tickets:

To add drama to the cost and availability battles, a lot of the official sites are difficult to use and sell out very fast. In the planning phase, it felt at times like Rome really didn’t want tourists! We are seasoned backpackers of over 50 countries but really struggled with the difficulty in booking anything direct, and the enormous costs if you couldn’t find availability (thankfully avoided but it was stressful and frankly off-putting in the run-up). The official websites have been listed on the individual blogs for each day.


We looked into a Roma pass (£52.00 each) vs buying the tickets but actually it didn’t make that much difference with only two entries covered, most others being free or not included, and we didn’t need them for the kids either. In total we spent 227.00/£194.07 on entry fees, but again, we didn’t miss anything major out and had an adventurous day trip in there too.


Its worth noting that the first Sunday of every month is free for a number of attractions, including the Vatican Museums, Colosseum, and Pompeii. We read countlessly that this means they’re the busiest times of the month and harder to ensure tickets in advance, so lots of queues.


Toilets:

With an 8, a 5 and a 2 year old we are used to suddenly needing the toilet, despite having just been on departure, when you’re half way through a mission to get from A to B. Rome was kind of unfriendly in this department, with public toilets few, far between and costing a euro per visit. Initially, this again felt adverse to tourists, but once we paid the first time we found them very clean and the kids actually commented on them being “nice” having cute “tiny toilets” for little bums in the adults cubical! We spent 8€/£6.80 on 4 visits for 2 people.


Itinerary:

 


We didn’t want to peak too soon but turns out cheap tickets are very hard to ensure, so 9am on the first day was all we could get for the colosseum. Our eldest was thrilled to show off his knowledge of gladiators and Roman gods - we spent the morning discussing the sorts of things that occurred within the walls of this bloody massive, and hugely beautiful historical landmark.

 

We then trekked up Palatine Hill for glorious views of the ancient city and then headed down the Roman forum. It is absolutely awesome to have all this just plonked in the centre with a modern city in between! After an amazing picnic serenaded by a wicked violin player, we explored some of the more modern monuments on the Capitoline Hill, grabbed some fresh pasta headed back to our flat to heat it up with some ridiculous ragu and mozzarella

 


 

Omg we walked so far and saw so much! Very impressed with the kids stamina! We started the day off with the Borghese gardens and art gallery. Loads of playgrounds, lakes, bikes for hire, little folly structures, a very nice calm and relatively empty corner of Rome. We then explored Piazza Poplolo churches and fountains, the Spanish steps, Trevi fountain, San Luigi dei Francesi, Piazza Navona, the column of Marcus Aurelius and the Pantheon! The highlight however was Pastifico for lunch. A truly authentic, hole-in-the-wall type take away place, it serves 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 only €4.50!! 9€ we got enough for lunch on the go, best pasta of our lives, and a happy birthday for Daddy Mudie. 




Having shoved the big hits into the itinerary for the previous few days, our third day was another marathon walk, but a more relaxed one – no timed entries, lots of gelato, and leaving half the day unplanned to mop up anything we couldn’t cram into the previous two days. The main attraction was the amazing Leonardo Da Vinci museum first thing in the morning. Really interactive, cheap and delightful, would highly recommend and wildly regarded as the kids favourite part of the trip. We discovered another “best food ever” at Suppli wandering the charming neighbourhood of Trastevere and ate ice cream in the park – this was truly one of those special holiday good times. We finished up the late afternoon in Ripa and Aventine Hill, with one of the best views the world has to offer I’m sure.   




Our day trip to Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius was the most eagerly anticipated part of our 5 days in Rome. Put off by tours of around £400-600 for our family of five, we managed it in £261.69 including car hire, 1x car seat, fuel, excess insurance, tolls there and back, food, parking and Vesuvius crater and Pompeii tickets. Not bad. The hike itself is one of the more straight forward we’ve ever done, but for reasons that become clear if you stick with my ranty blog on the subject we had an awful time.


In summary, a soul-destroying family emergency and some unfortunate events collided and crippled us just before we arrived, and the ticketing staff treated us like dirt. We missed our entry to Vesuvius by 10 mins and they made us pay again even though we explained our bereavement. We got scammed trying to pay someone to use their wifi to call home. If we hadn’t had our series of specific, horrid incidents, I’m sure it would have been amazing and pretty straight forward jaunt. Our Pompeii experience, though traumatic for us, was actually amazing in our unique circumstances. At the end of the day, when the place completely emptied and we realised we were standing all alone, at sunset, in this peaceful, spellbinding place I found it a fitting location to be standing in shock and grief. Go late afternoon and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.




Aside from our troubles the day before, we loved our day at the Vatican and Castel Sant’Angelo, both beautiful and steeped in history. We had reservations after reading several family travel blogs about young kids, the Vatican, rules and being bored. But, armed with research and preparation, it was easy to bypass the bustling crowds, the mile-long queues and keep the kids happy with stories of the art and history. Castel Sant’Angelo was quiet and peaceful, what we think is a possibly underrated way to spend an afternoon with kids in Rome.



Safety/security:


Again, considering how much travelling we’ve done, we’ve had our fair share of scams and we’re generally prepared for anything. Advice for Rome is generally to keep your things locked up and be aware of pick pockets, sensible precautions apply like not having mobiles in back pockets and not flashing cash about on metro trains. However, we encountered something we’ve never experienced before in Rome; my bank card was cloned and bank account drained. Thankfully, as we’re sensible cautious people, we tend to transfer what we need for the day into our Monzo travel accounts the night before. Therefore, thankfully they only got away with £20ish and I got it all back later that day through reporting the fraud via our banking app. The 4 random, small transactions were from elsewhere in Italy, clearly not the end of the world, but who knows where it would have stopped should we not have noticed, and had more cash in the account. It really upset us, especially as this was less than 24 hours after our nightmare trip to Vesuvius where we also felt scammed through being forced to by tacky crap in order to use wifi to deal with a family emergency at home. We’re unsure where this might have happened, but the only time our card was out of our site was when handing it over at a toll booth on the road so that’s where our suspicions lie. This left a nasty taste in our mouths and has led us to consider not visiting Italy again. Throughout the deepest darkest parts of China, Vietnam, central America and east Africa, we’ve never had anything stolen from us.


Travel around:


The city is beautiful and very walkable. The success of the itinerary does hinge on whether your kids will cope with the walking – we did 19,800 steps on Day 4! Ours loved it and handled it well, but are used to being herded about, inanely spotting colours, things, animals and letters etc.


Train and bus travel is silly cheap, around £1a trip! We got a 3-day train pass for each adult (kids free) which worked out for us because of our trip in and out on metro and bus, everyday from our accommodation of the eastern edge of the city. We topped it up with a single day pass after our Pompeii/Vesuvius day trip - a total of €50/£42.73.


I will say that driving is appalling in Rome. We wouldn’t have contemplated it if it weren’t for the mad day trip. Totally worth it to save on the organised tour just for the one day out, but it’s one for confidence and bravery for sure!


Food:


OMG the food. We spent a lot of time researching the best, cheapest and most authentic eats and were very happy with everything we chose. As detailed in the links, Suppli in Trastevere and Pastifico in the heart on ancient Rome were pretty much the cheapest and the best meals on the go we’ve had in Europe at just £3-4 each for a beautiful hot lunch! Much like our other under £1,500 European breaks, Rome was heavy on the self-catered, focusing on local ingredients and destination delicacies! We planned to only eat out, cheaply, a handful of times - with the out-of-town prices at the supermarket so close to quite decent facilities making this a great option! Even though we fit all our clothing in our hand luggage, we decided to check a bag to supplement our budget with dry goods/staples from home as detailed in the “home” filter here:


Rome Self-catered 1-week food list
.xlsx
Download XLSX • 11KB


Bear in mind that the above is for 5 days of 3x meals, but in reality we stayed 6 nights, arriving late the day before the meal plan, taking a packed lunch from home for the plane and planned to buy whatever we could get hold of at the airport (McDonald's, why not after a days travel!). We also had another breakfast and packed lunch the day after the meal plan for our return journey.



Local bits for this trip consisted of amazing sticks of smoked cheese, olives, slices of local cured meats/salami for snacks and packed lunches, a LOT of focaccia and ciabatta, local tortellini and fresh sauces from the supermarket! We spent a total of £113 (€132) in the supermarket. Costs for the meals out are provided in each of the blogs/links to the day trips.


Budget:


Below we’ve been through every line on our bank statement  to detail the entire cost of our trip, aiming for under £1,500 for a family of five, for 6-nights, 5 full days and over the school holidays:

Activity

Euros

Pounds

Getting there:

 €     560.32

£478.89

Flights

 €     476.08

£406.89

Airport parking

 €       84.24

£72.00

 

 

 

Travel in and around:

 €       50.00

£42.73

3 days train tickets (€18 each)

 €       36.00

£30.78

final day travel ticket (inc. return to airport)

 €       14.00

£11.95

 

 

 

Accommodation

 €     431.12

£368.46

Hu Roma camping in town

 €     386.12

£330.00

taxes on arrival

 €       45.00

£38.46

 

 

 

Vesuvius and Pompeii day trip

 €     306.33

£261.69

Car hire (inc. 1x toddler car seat)

 €     112.49

£96.18

Excess insurance (purchased online in advance through a 3rd party)

 €       11.70

£10.00

Rome tolls to Vesuvius

 €       17.20

£14.70

Tolls Vesuvius to Pompeii

 €       16.10

£13.79

Pompeii parking

 €       9.00

£7.69

Fuel

 €       60.93

£51.86

Vesuvius crater ticket

 €       32.91

£28.14

Pompeii ticket

 €       46.00

£39.33

 

 

 

Toilets

 €         8.00

£6.84

McDonald’s

 €         2.00

£1.71

p stop

 €         2.00

£1.71

p stop

 €         2.00

£1.71

p stop

 €         2.00

£1.71

 

 

 

Tickets

 €     227.00

£194.06

Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine ticket (Arena and SUPER sites)

 €       48.00

£41.04

Borghese gallery

 €       36.00

£30.77

Pantheon

 €       10.00

£8.55

Mostra di Vinci museum

 €       24.00

£20.52

Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel

 €       63.00

£53.85

Castel Sant’Angelo 

 €       46.00

£39.33




Food

 €     273.61

£236.65

PAM supermarket

 €       66.59

£56.91

PAM supermarket

 €       17.77

£15.19

PAM supermarket

 €       18.90

£16.16

PAM supermarket

 €       13.82

£11.82

PAM supermarket

 €       15.26

£13.03

Mcdonalds (at airport on evening arrival)

 €       37.54

£32.09

Pastifico - Spanish Steps

 €         9.00

£10.53

BlB Srl (suppli)

 €       16.80

£14.36

Fata Morgana gelato

 €       15.00

£12.83

Pizzarium - Vatican/Castel

 €       62.93

£53.73

 

 

 

Total

 €  1,856.38

£1,589.32

So the final verdict - we went £89.32 over our budget. At just 5.95% over, I would absolutely call that a win.  We’d read some horror story such as this one in advance, and we were particularly worried about hidden costs with food for this trip. However, as you can see, we managed just fine with our daily picnic lunches/teas and a few hot meals out and about to sample to local food. We certainly didn’t feel we missed out, with plenty of snacks and amazing gelatos - nor were we slaving away over a kitchen cooking and cleaning during our vacation. All in all, very successful food scores for this trip!


In Summary:


Rome, with its timeless allure, exceeded our expectations as a family destination. Despite initial concerns about visiting with kids, the initial cost estimates and difficulties with booking/planning we discovered a city that embraced us with its rich history, delicious cuisine, and vibrant atmosphere. From exploring ancient landmarks like the Colosseum and Palatine Hill to indulging in authentic pasta and gelato, every day was full of learning, food, fun and wonder. Our strategic planning, including early ticket bookings and budget-conscious choices (including fab accommodation!), ensured a memorable but affordable trip. On the flipside, this particular trip did also present us some unforeseen challenges with scams and theft and a family tragedy, but for the kids at least, it didn’t overshadow the magic of Rome. With a meticulously planned itinerary and a budget that came remarkably close to target, our Roman adventure proved to be a resounding success, leaving us with cherished memories of this remarkable city.

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