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Roman Holiday

When taking a trip to Rome with your kids, you’ll discover layers of history, the ancient and modern Roman way of life and, of course, delectable Italian food. The eternal city ticks the boxes for a family-friendly destination.

My son and I are weaving our way through the tourists, up to Piazza Barberini. This is where we’re meeting our friends with their two sons to start our Treasure Hunt Tour with our guide, Marco. 

As the three boys (aged eightnine and ninepointfive!) run around the wonderfully empty piazza with Roman traffic blaring around them, Marco arrives. 

In impeccable English, Marco quickly gets the boys attention (no mean feat), and explains that we’ll be looking for architectural treasure on our two-hour tour: royal crests, miniature madonnelle paintings, painted fake windows and obelisks. We’re divided into teams, adults vs kids (of course). The kids are excited… and off we go!  

As we wind our way to the top of the Spanish Steps, then down to the Trevi Fountain, all along the way Marco explains that Rome is like a lasagne – layer upon layer of history measuring a couple of thousand years.

In between, he keeps the adults informed with historical tidbits and manages to keep tally of our team scores. I turn out to be a really good madonnelle-spotter, but in the end, the kids win 53-41.  

Our tour finishes after sunset and, as we reach the Piazza Navona, the kids enjoy running around the impressive Neptune fountain and are mesmerised by a fire juggler.

What’s even more impressive is that for the next three days in Rome, they all still spot the architectural details that Marco taught them to look out for. 

Rome

Castles and gladiators 

This morning we’re dividing our time: my son and I are going to Castel Sant’Angelo, while our friends are heading slightly out of the city to a gladiator training session.

Originally built by the Emperor Hadrian as his mausoleum, around 135 AD, the castle was later used as a fortress during the papal era. Today, it is a fascinating place to explore, and my son loves the hidden nooks, cannon balls, catapults, trapdoors and drawbridges.

At the time of our visit, there was an exhibition of Bulgari jewellery – so I get some bling inspiration.  

In the afternoon we meet our friends outside the Colosseum. They had great fun dressing up and learning gladiator moves all morning.

We meet our guide, Francesca, from Joy of Rome, who will give us a kid-friendly tour of the Colosseum. We breeze past the long queues and go through a quick security check.

Then she grabs our tickets from the ticket desk and we’re inside, ready to see the wonders of this great edifice.  

Francesca enthralls the boys with tales of fights and gladiators, how spectators were protected from the sun, and how the rich got the best front-row seats. The boys are given different gladiator roles and stage a mock fight, much to the amusement of passersby.

Francesca is a delightful source of information and shares her clear passion for Ancient Rome with all of us. After the tour, we go for a quick pizza dinner, heads still spinning with gory tales. 

Sight-seeing-in-Rome

Peace and the great outdoors 

The following day I’m indulging my inner Classics nerd and taking my offspring to visit the Museum of the Ara Pacis. 

This grand marble altar was consecrated in 9 BC by Emperor Augustus and dedicated to the goddess of peace.

We rent an interactive iPad guide and my son immediately scans QR codes like a pro to learn more about the altar, its symbolism and decorations.  

Because the autumn sunshine is simply lovely, we head to Villa Borghese gardens afterwards for some nature time.

After climbing the hill to reach the top, we’re rewarded by stunning views of the city. You can rent double or quad canopied bicycles to explore the 80of park, or jump on a little electric train that takes you to various points of interest.

We opt for the train ride and afterwards, stop to see a street performing bubble blower cast his magic.  

For our last stop in Rome, we head to Via del Corso. This shopping street has all the big brands, but we’re looking for something different.

Spray-paint artists hawk their wares from the pavement here, and we find one whose work we love. My son is intrigued as the artist, with a mind-boggling array of techniques, creates a colourful solar system with spray paints.

We buy two pieces, which will adorn my son’s bedroom back home. An unusual souvenir of a remarkable trip. 

Gelato

All the gelato, all of the time 

Italy is a wonderful destination for foodie families. Child-loving locals love feeding our kids, whether it’s custard-filled crema croissants for breakfast, porchetta in a fresh roll for lunch (Angrypig near the Vatican is a local spot) or pizza for dinner.

Why not try a kid-friendly cooking class? We made our own pasta from scratch, before feasting on the results.  

There are icecream parlours around just about every corner in Rome. One of the best is Old Bridge Gelateria, on the north-east corner of the Vatican. Fatamorgana (there are shops in Trastevere and Prati) creates deliciously different icecreams with seasonal ingredients.   

Trevi-Fountain

The Essentials 

Getting around 

Rome has three metro lines, and many bus routes. www.rometoolkit.com has excellent tips for public transport. A standard trip ticket costs 1.50 while a 24-hour ticket costs from 7. Validate it at the machine before you start your journey. 

Good to know 

  • Safety: Always be on your guard for pickpockets.
  • Tourist information: www.turismoroma.it 
  • Visas: Non-EU citizens require a Schengen visa.  

Get in touch 

Angrypig: Via Tunisi, 38Gelateria Fata Morgana: Via Roma Libera, Via Leone IV, 11; gelateriafatamorgana.com; Gladiator School: romegladiatorschool.com/gladiator-school; Joy of Rome: joyofrome.com, info@joyofrome.com, +39 327 914 7926; Old Bridge Gelateria: Viale dei Bastioni di Michelangelo, 5; Treasure Hunt Tour: Marco’s Tours marcotours.comwww.airbnb.com/experiences/906559; Museum of the Ara Pacis: arapacis.it/en 

Getting There

SAA flies daily to Frankfurt and Munich from Johannesburg. From there, take a connecting flight to Milan or Rome with SAA codeshare partner and fellow Star Alliance member, Lufthansa. Book your tickets with SAA today!

Words By Lisa van Aswegen 

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