Rome is a wonderful city to explore with teens. History is everywhere you go, and presents itself in cool and interesting ways, such as aqueducts with public drinking fountains and Roman ruins with feral cat populations. The food is exceptionally kid-friendly, and the city is very walkable … provided it’s not too hot! When all that history they’ve learned thus far in school comes to life on busy city streets and sidewalks, you’ll be glad you’re visiting Rome with teens.
Start with what you came to see: the Roman ruins, the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Of course, this is everyone else’s top pick too, so book a guided tour early in order to navigate the security lines with a pro. We opted to spend a full morning with Overome and had a great guide, who met us right at the metro and took us through all the sites of ancient Rome. It’s important to schedule the Colosseum for early in the day, before the lines snake all the way around. This way, you’re also touring the Forum before the crowds crush in.
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By the time you’ve seen both sites, everyone will be worn out and ready for food. Eat lunch across the way from the Colosseum at a little hole-in-the-wall place aptly named Pizza Forum. Revived, spend the afternoon right outside the city along the Appian Way. Here, teens can actually see the ruts left in the cobblestones by ancient Roman chariots, and can glimpse the massive aqueducts that carried fresh water into Rome (and still do). It’s certainly possible to take a bus to Appian Way and tour solo (be sure to stop at at least one catacomb), but we preferred going with a Walks of Italy tour, which took us further than we’d care to walk or ride … in an air-conditioned van, no less. Our guide talked easily with teens, answering questions and giving them an opportunity to taste aqueduct water and peek into ancient fortress towers.
Now that the teens have a solid background in ancient Rome, it’s time to educate them on the Roman Catholic influence. This is your day for a Vatican tour, which we highly recommend booking ahead of time for the benefit of skipping the massive line and the insight of a qualified guide. I would not have been able to teach my teens about the many Vatican museum treasures or give them a true appreciation for the marvel of the Sistine Chapel without our Viator guide. Plan to spend at least four hours in Vatican City, making a stop in St. Peter’s Cathedral afterward (be sure to wear long pants or shorts/skirts that cover the knee).
Afterward, walk Via Crescenzio toward Castel Sant’Angelo. Do yourselves a favor, however, and learn from our mistake: Skip the terrible cafeteria-style restaurants right outside St. Peter’s Square and opt for one of the trattorias closer to the Tiber instead. Once at Castel Sant’Angelo, pay for entry (there’s rarely a line) and check out this fortress that guarded years of popes. We loved that the castle is self-guided — our teens ran along the ramparts and tucked into various turrets without anyone stopping them or caring. It was nice to have some free time without guides, at least for an hour or so! The views from the top of the castle are amazing, and there’s a little cafe inside as well.
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Next, cross the Tiber on foot and poke around the shops fanning out from Piazza Navona. Do some souvenir shopping, then stop into the Pantheon for more self-guided history (and excellent gelato right across the street). Eat dinner at a trattoria near Piazza Navona … it’s hard to go wrong, but our favorites included Armando al Pantheon and Cuccagna 14. We ate streetside under twinkling lights while the waiters talked soccer with our teens. If you have the energy, end the day at the Trevi Fountain under the lights, maybe with another ice cream treat in hand.
Time for a day of play! In the morning, before the sun gets too hot, explore the posh shops and dining options along the Spanish Steps and vias Sistina and Tritone. Teens may enjoy keeping an eye out for celebrities in this upscale neighborhood before climbing the steps to nearby Villa Borghese. You can tour this Roman villa-turned-art museum, but we like visiting its adjacent gardens, a lush, green oasis of outdoor fun. Rent bikes, go-karts and even rollerblades at one of the many parkside stands, or simply relax in the shade by the pond. This is a good place to let teens run a bit loose, setting a meeting place and a time.
Check out the view of the Vatican from the top of the park, then head down the opposite stairs from which you arrived toward Piazza del Popolo. This piazza had some of our favorite restaurants, plus Segway rentals for just a few euros. We let the kids zip around the square for a while, then settled in at Ad Hoc, a very small but delicious wine bar and trattoria that welcomes teens. You can easily take the metro back to your accommodations from the station just outside Popolo.
If you’ve got more time during your family’s trip to Rome, consider incorporating day trips into your itinerary. A full day excursion to Pompeii, for example, is a hit with history buffs. For something a bit closer, explore the archaeological sites of Ostia Antica, just a few miles outside of the city.
Visiting Rome is at the top of many parents’ wish lists as a place for their children to see before they’re grown. Luckily, a trip Italy with teenagers need not turn into a whine fest, as there is so much to see that appeals to children of all ages, even the fussiest of teens.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Amy Whitley.
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