Think back on previous family vacations. What are the things that you remember most? Marching behind a tour guide? Eating at a tourist restaurant? Fighting the crowds for a glimpse of a masterpiece? Probably not. What makes lasting memories are the unique experiences and moments that turn an average vacation into a trip of a lifetime.
At Ciao Bambino, we make it a point to seek out the special experiences that allow families to bond and create lifetime memories. Jam-pack your trip with over-the-top experiences and you might all become a bit numb, but select one or two unique experiences and it will be a trip you don’t forget. Our team of Family Vacation Advisors have gotten together to create a list of our top 10 unique activities to do with kids in Rome.
10 Off-the-Beaten-Path Family Activities in Rome
Vatican After Hours
The Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel are the second-most visited attraction in Rome, which means that even private tours are competing with hordes of visitors. The best way to avoid this and have an unforgettable experience is to go either before or after standard opening hours. After-hours tours are available only on Friday evenings, and pre-opening tours are possible every day except Sundays and Wednesdays. These experiences are pricey but worth it, especially with younger kids.
TIP: Our Family Vacation Advisors can help you book a Vatican tour — or any of the classes and tours mentioned here — that works for your needs. Click here to request help.
Do you have a budding artist? After being inspired by the great artists in the Vatican Museums or Borghese Gallery, get hands-on and create works of your own. Many talented artists in Rome offer family-friendly ceramics, mosaics and watercolor workshops. Not only will the whole family have a fun time together, but everyone will also have a one-of-a-kind souvenir to take home.
TIP: Those looking for a more immersive arts experience can head into the countryside for one of Arte al Sole’s Italian art and cultural day camps. Locations in Umbria, Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast are a manageable distance away and easy to pair with a stay in Rome beforehand or afterward.
Explore the Appian Way
The Via Appia Antica, or Ancient Appian Way, is one of Rome’s earliest and most history-rich thoroughfares, and on Sundays, it’s car-free. There is something special about walking or biking over stones that are 2,000 years old — you can literally feel the history in the chariot grooves in the stone and see the moonstones that guided the path of gladiators. Rent bikes nearby and organize a picnic lunch for the 16-km ride along the road (don’t worry, only a small portion is still cobblestones and there is a dirt path alongside).
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Catacombs and Crypts
If you have jaded teens who just aren’t impressed by crumbling ruins and art masterpieces, try something a little creepier. The Capuchin Crypt is a set of six chapels made out of bones and skulls. The crypt is below the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini, off Piazza Barberini on the Via Veneto. You can also venture outside central Rome to the early Christian catacombs off the Appian Way, where you can walk down dark tunnels and secret passageways to learn about the Christians persecuted in ancient Rome.
Everyone loves cooking with Nonna! What could be a more authentic Italian experience than digging your hands into dough to make homemade pasta or pizza with a grandmotherly instructor, then munching on the delicious results? There are many family cooking classes in Rome that are good even for little ones, but be sure to inquire about minimum ages.
Gelato-Making Class and Tasting
A visit to Rome isn’t complete without gelato, and few kids can resist this frozen Italian treat. Sampling gelato around the city is easy enough, but what better way to learn how it’s made, and why it’s different from ice cream, than an interactive class and taste testing? It’s a fun and tasty way to take a break from sightseeing.
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A food-focused walking tour is an all-time favorite for families, especially those with tweens and teens. Not only does it offer the chance to try specialty foods from vendors that you may not discover on your own, but participants get to explore some of Rome’s quaint, lesser-traveled neighborhoods. Tour themes vary — some are focused on a particular part of the city, while others center around a certain type of dish or a selection of locally made products.
Segway Tour to Aventine Hill or Janiculum Hill
There is so much to see that is outside of walking distance from central Rome. Venture outside of the city center to see some of the most amazing sites and views, like the famous Knights of Malta keyhole and the Orange Grove on Aventine Hill, or the Garibaldi overlook on Janiculum Hill. Instead of renting a car (because that is just crazy in Rome), families with older teens can take a Segway tour of these sites, while families with younger kids can explore with a guided golf cart tour.
Picnic and Boat Rental in Borghese Gardens
The Villa Borghese Gardens surrounding the Borghese Gallery are a welcome retreat from the busy attractions of the city. Here, kids can connect with locals in a pickup football (soccer) game, climb on the playground and just run around. Families can bring a picnic and spend the afternoon biking through the gardens, paddling a rented boat or visiting the Bioparco di Roma zoo.
Popular with kids, especially those under 12, Gladiator School teaches the ancient art of gladiator sword fighting. What a way to get hands-on with history! Kids (and parents too) get an introduction to the life of a gladiator before suiting up for some fun swordplay instruction. Although it’s located a bit outside of town, this can be a rewarding add-on for families who have extra time to spend in Rome.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Tamara Gruber except where noted.