While traveling as a family in Rome for the first time, it can be tempting to stop on the go and feed your hungry, jet-lagged brood from the nearest touristy establishment as a pit stop between taking in so many sites. Unfortunately, many of the snack bars and tourist-oriented restaurants seem in my opinion to be churning out increasingly more expensive and lesser quality food.
Don’t miss out on the chance that a more delicious or charming option might be just around the corner. With a small amount of preparation, you can have it all – delicious and atmospheric Roman dining and your heart’s desire of sightseeing. In fact, I might argue that a stop at some of my favorite cafes constitute sightseeing!
Best Rome coffee and breakfast, follow your nose
Arriving in Rome on our last visit, my youngest daughter woke up in our holiday apartment like clockwork — at 4:00 a.m., bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Making lemons out of lemonade, we took advantage of the early hour to get a head start on our day, watching the sunrise over the city, and heading out to catch the action at the Il Fornaio Bakery in Campo de’ Fiori. The smell as we approached the piazza was, well, impossible to describe in words. Needless to stay, a huge smile passed across my daughters’ faces when we discovered the source of the scent, and were welcomed in enthusiastically by the bakers as the first customers of the day!
Equally as entrancing as the scent of fresh pastries in the dawn hours is, for mom and dad at least, the compelling aroma of finely roasted and prepared coffee at Caffé Sant’Eustachio, in Piazza di Sant’Eustachio around the corner from the Pantheon as you’re heading toward Piazza Navona. Reputed to serve the best espresso in Rome, this iconic café never disappoints, and it sits in a very charming, quiet piazza with peaceful, characteristic seating.
Lunch in Rome, on-the-go, but takin’ it slow!
Chances are, when visiting Rome with kids, I’ll find myself eating lunch on a bench in a park or piazza. When spending the day at Borghese Gardens, if I haven’t planned ahead enough to pack a picnic, the cafeteria at the children’s movie theater in the gardens is very nice, with a large green lawn in front of the outdoor seating area. My kids find the Italian cafeteria-style (tavola calda) lunch very fun, and love to choose from among the simple yet tasty selections. Who knew grilled “toast” and Macedonia fruit could be so exciting?
Every time I visit Rome, I round the corner from Campo de’ Fiori onto a small street with anticipation, hoping that my favorite pizza taglio (“by the slice”) will still be there. Perched discreetly on the corner of Via dei Pellegrini and Piazza della Cancelleria, this “Pizza al Taglio” take-out counter has an absolutely delicious selection of pizza by the slice sold by weight, along with piadine (a type of Italian wrap), and other lunch items such as arancini, crispy fried rice balls that are also sometimes stuffed with cheese or meat.
The pizza selection includes basics the kids will love, along with interesting favorites such as arugula with fresh caprese and pizza Bianca with potato, rosemary, and fontina. On the adjacent corner of the piazza, heading down Via dei Baullari away from the piazza, is a sandwich counter next to the Il Baccanale bar on the corner that makes fresh, delicious, and quite large panini perfect for a picnic. A nice healthy meal for around 4 euros a piece!
Rome cafes and snack time, a taste of home, or an inspiring tea
Romans eat dinner fairly late, especially in the summer, so chances are the kids will need an afternoon snack. If you find yourself in the Largo di Torre Argentino area with hot, hungry kids who are dragging their feet, a nice sanctuary for a refreshing snack is the Noio Juice smoothy bar at Via Nazionale 108. Nothing like an American-style, ice-cold fruit smoothy to put a spring back in everyone’s step and perhaps also remedy homesickness with a nice taste of home?
In the Spanish Steps area, consider a more dignified afternoon tea and coffee with typical snack to accompany it at the Museo Atelier Canova Tandolini on Via del Babuino 150 (this street can be found from Piazza di Spagna, going toward Piazza del Popolo). The café itself is the modern-day gallery of the 19th-century sculptural atelier of the Canova family that now serves light refreshments amid the inspiring statuary inside, or on a charming outdoor terrace.
Dinner in Rome, tables in ancient alleys and tiny piazzas
Seeking out your favorite family trattoria among the ancient, snaking alleys heading from the Pantheon to Piazza Navona and over to Campo de’Fiori (Via del Governo Vecchio comes to mind…), or across the river in Trastevere, offers many rewards as you might just discover the jewel of a restaurant that suits your family perfectly.
If we are setting out with a specific restaurant in mind, some of our favorites include Maccheroni at Piazza delle Coppelle 44 tel. 06 68307895, where you can book a table on the terrace in the tiny alleyway where the restaurant’s doors open out to the terrace and diners can peer in at the open kitchen where a range of local specialties and also simple kid-friendly roast meats and pastas are prepared.
For dinner out at a pizzeria we head across the river to Trastevere, perhaps on the earlier side so as to avoid potential crowds, and stroll through the streets heading out from Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere to explore reasonably-priced dining options more characteristic of the local atmosphere and often less touristy.
Trattoria Da Augusto atPiazza de’ Renzi tel. 06 5803798 is a nice, reasonable choice with a range of typical Roman favorites popular with the kids, such as pasta carbonara, a classic rustic dish that is so simple, yet so delicious!
Shannon Venable, the Editor of Italiakids.com. An Italophile through and through, Shannon also runs a wonderful summer camp in Italy called Art Al Sole. Families that want to combine a visit with structured activities tailored just for kids (Italian-style), look no further!
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