CONTRIBUTED BY KARI MARTINDALE
My seven-year-old daughter Sequoia and I visited Rome alone in August. We enjoyed a wonderful (if not sweaty) visit, pounding the pavement to see the sights. It was great just to have the time together, but more than that I hope that my daughter internalizes a feeling of independence, and recognizes that women (and 7-year-olds) can travel safely in a world that isn’t as scary and inhospitable as the news would lead one to believe.
So. Here’s the scoop on what I would and wouldn’t do again…
WOULD DO AGAIN:
Walk past the Colosseum every single day
Walking past the Colossal ruins never gets old. You spend the time, as you circle it staring up, thinking about not only its size, but how the thing is still standing after so many years…it’s amazing.
Walk through Foro Traiano
This is the best free ruin, in my opinion–particularly if you have only a day in Rome and would like to maximize ruins, minimize wait times. You can walk along the ruins for free; no tickets, no hassle.
Book a hotel with a pool
This was particularly appreciated in August, when it was hotter than a human can take. In our case, we had a rooftop pool at the Boscolo Excedra Roma. It wasn’t a bargain hotel, but it was lovely!
Pay to skip a line
There are tons of salesmen crawling the streets of Rome and the Vatican, trying to sell you tickets not only for a tour, but to skip the line. Originally, I thought it would be a waste of money. Then I saw the line at the Vatican, which stretched practically to Portugal. Not only did I not want to stand in that line, but I did not want to stand in that line with my seven-year-old. In August.
One thing to know: you will not just breeze into the attraction. You still have to wait for your particular group to start. Also, you might have to walk to one of the skip-the-line offices to actually make your purchase if you’re doing it on the street. Since salesmen are crawling the city, they aren’t necessarily standing five feet from the entrance to one. So: you might be walking, and you’ll still have a (shorter) wait time to get in. The line to the Vatican really did stretch around a corner. Over 20,000 people a day visit the Vatican! The Sistene Chapel is a known area where pickpocketers take advantage of all the people cramped together, so be on guard with your personal belongings!
Half days, if traveling with a kid
I arrived in Rome with ambitious plans to see a lot of the city in the nearly four days we would be staying. The plan didn’t happen. Instead of pounding the pavement all day, we stopped in early afternoon, headed back to the hotel, and hit the pool. My daughter looked forward to it, then spent several hours further wearing herself out while I relaxed and rehydrated.
Visit San Pietro in Vincoli
Another way to see something wonderful without paying a dime: visit this chapel that houses Michaelangelo’s Moses statue. It’s up just a few stairs from the large street Via Cavour. No lines. No tickets. Just you and a statue from Michaelangelo himself.
Carry a backpack
Bottles of water, snacks and leftovers from lunch, napkins, somewhere to put the layers of clothing that get peeled off over the course of the day, brochures, souvenirs, maps, and a scarf for the Vatican if you’re not wearing sleeves…the uses are endless. And definitely carry snacks, particularly if you’re going to be waiting in lines and dragging the kids through tours.
See the Vatican
The Vatican? There are no words. That said: See the pointers at the bottom for more information about the experience.
Take as many pictures of my child with her favorite toy as she wants
She wanted to take pictures of her stuffed dog “Woof-Woof” in Rome. Memories for both of us and it didn’t throw a wrench in the works to take a few extra pictures.
Point out the things I knew would interest her
Like creepy stuff!
WOULDN’T DO AGAIN:
Would not go in August
Have I mentioned HOT?
Would not have gone out of my way to walk through Villa Borghese Park
If you are crunched for time or even just looking for a path to get you from Point A to Point B, I wouldn’t go out of my way to walk through the park. There were some interesting sculptures, there was a tiny children’s area (the rides were not running when we were there), and the views of the city were really nice, but it wasn’t spectacular. I wasn’t interested in taking Sequoia to see the art collection in Villa Medici, so it wasn’t a necessary detour. THAT SAID: It was pretty damn shady. That can be a valuable perk in August in Rome!
Would not head to a restaurant across town without calling to make sure they were open
This was a total cluster. I don’t think I need to tell you the reaction from my child after walking 4 miles to a restaurant that was closed. And you’ve still got to feed the child, so now you’re heading to the first place you see regardless of whether it looks any good.
Would not take a taxi
Wow. I wish I were exaggerating, but our taxi driver almost hit a man pushing a stroller. Probably a foot from the poor guy and his apoplectic wife when the taxi screeched to a halt. I’d rather walk. On the flip side: if you’re crossing a street in Rome, be alert. Follow the pedestrian crossing lights so you don’t end up having a taix driver try to blame you when he runs over you.
I WISH I’D:
Purchased tickets ahead of time
We paid the street price to skip the line at the Vatican; there is a better way to do it online. There are also tickets for the Colosseum, bus tours, etc. online. It’s worth doing the research. That said, I still do not regret paying full price to skip the line.
Brought a Camelbak for water
So easy–you don’t have to reach in a backpack or keep a bottle in your hand. No matter how much bottled water I drank (I don’t know how much I must have spent on the water being hawked by street vendors every five feet), I still couldn’t stay hydrated.
Asked the taxi driver 7 more times if he was taking us to San Pietro in Vincoli and not Basilica San Pietro (St. Peter’s Basilica)
Because I wanted San Pietro in Vincoli! Most people, however, are trying to get to St. Peter’s Basilica. San Pietro in Vincoli is not as popular!
GLAD I DIDN’T:
Do the full Colosseum tour
Aside from the fact that my child could not have handled two insanely long tours, the Colosseum guides take forever. A friend we met at the hotel took her daughter, age 8, and it was not pleasant for her. Even with skipping the line, you’re waiting to start the tour, to listen to the guide, etc. She actually skipped the Roman Forum tour that came with her combination ticket. She just couldn’t drag her daughter through that.
ADDITIONAL THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
- Women do need to cover shoulders and knees at the Vatican. Fortunately, my concierge had brought this to my attention. If you forget a scarf, you will have the opportunity to buy one on the street from any one of the thousand wandering salesmen before you enter. Don’t worry: you won’t have a problem finding a scarf guy. They’ll find you.
- After the Sistene Chapel, if you take a wrong turn, you’re eventually going to end up back at the front door and not out at the square. Be alert.
- Regarding skipping the line, if you purchase this service off the street, please know that you have two options: pay for a guided tour, or pay less to just skip the line and then part ways with the tour guide.
- There is a café about halfway through the Vatican museum, inside the museum. It wasn’t any more expensive than anywhere else. There was additional seating in a downstairs area. You order at the cashier and then move over to the counter. Expect a crowd. If you’re traveling with a kid, it’s worth the break.
- You can send a postcard directly from the Vatican, inside near the entrance. This official post office window sells Vatican stamps with the Pope on them. You can buy stamps for mailing, or in a set to take home.
- The Vatican is a cattle chute. The entire time is spent either being pushed through rooms, or being stopped because the wall of people in front of you has stopped. Just entering and getting through the museum and Sistine Chapel is a several-hour deal. Eventually, a seven-year-old loses her mind–and you really can’t blame her.
- The streets of Rome do not necessarily have the same name from one block to the next. The street goes straight, and yet you’ve seen the name of it change over and over again. Be alert.
- Street vendors sell water, but sometimes it’s almost frozen solid. This is great if you’re going to carry it for a while and want it to stay cold; not so great if you’re trying to immediately guzzle water.
- Stay on the lookout for fountains and faucets of potable water. It’s a great way to refill for free and stay hydrated.
- Think twice about taking the subway more than necessary. If you’re only going a stop or two, you might get there faster on foot, and with no more walking than getting to the metro, buying tickets, walking downstairs, waiting for a train, walking upstairs and out…the amount of walking done in a metro station is significant!
- Speaking of the subway: it was the bumpiest metro I’ve ever ridden. A man actually fell back onto a group of women because he wasn’t holding on when the train herked and jerked.
- You can do a lot of walking in Rome! We walked Day 1- (5) miles; Day 2- (3) miles, most of which was the cramped Vatican; Day 3- (4.3) miles; Day 4- (4.6) miles, most of which was to a restaurant that was closed. Total walked: 17 miles. I’m surprised the kid still talks to me.
- If you’re looking to visit San Pietro in Vincoli, confirm with a taxi driver or anyone giving you directions, that you will be headed to San Pietro in Vincoli and not St. Peter’s Basilica.
- Breakfast at cafés and restaurants is served later than Americans are used to. Choices: Opt for hotel breakfast; eat later; get something the day before that you can eat in the morning to tide you over until restaurants open; find things that are open. We found a bar and café, for example, that was not yet open for breakfast but had some pastries in their case.
- Always be aware of public holidays. If you are visiting during a holiday, look into any closures or late openings before you visit.
- Take breaks! There is no shortage of beautiful and interesting places to take a load off your feet in Rome. There are an estimated 6 trillion fountains, there are cafés and bakeries, the parks have benches…I wish we had taken more breaks so that Sequoia didn’t get so exhausted.
- We did not have time to visit, but there is a children’s museum. In our case, I opted to take Sequoia back to the hotel pool. After all, it didn’t cost extra and I already knew she was happy there. It was no loss or regret, but it would have been nice to take her to the children’s museum and it was good to know that it was there. You should schedule your visit on their website.
Do your best and your kid will look like this!
Is Rome on your European travel bucket list? Here are some other places not to miss while you are in Europe!