Our trip to Italy was just an epic, epic vacation. I spent the entirety of the week marveling at our surroundings, exhausted by the amount of walking we did, amazed at the amount of pasta and gelato we consumed, and grateful that I was taking this trip with my favorite people. This was one for the books.
We spent the first few nights in Rome in what ended up being my favorite accommodations of the trip: an amazing loft apartment in a cool building in Trastevere, a neighborhood in Rome consisting of narrow winding cobblestone roads, ivy- and wisteria-covered buildings, and seriously cool shops and restaurants. I loved Trastevere; I could move there tomorrow and be perfectly happy.
We were picked up from the airport when we arrived by a car service which took us straight to the apartment; it’s slightly more expensive, but it’s infinitely easier than trying to find a cab that fits six people plus luggage, plus the driver already knew our destination. This particular car trip was insane; the tiny streets of Trastevere were PACKED with people out on a Friday night, so as we drove to the apartment, people were pressed up against the van windows, backing up against the walls of the buildings on either side of the road–it was like we were famous movie stars and the paparazzi surrounded the car trying to get a photo. People literally knocked on the windows, tried peering in through the tinted glass, and at one point a group sitting at a bistro table outside a bar had to get up and move their chairs in to make enough space for the van to pass through. It. Was. Insane.
When we made it to the apartment, it was after midnight, so we crashed and got up early the next morning to start a full day of tours.
We packed a lot into our first day in Rome, but there was nothing I would have changed. We booked tours of both the Colosseum and the Vatican Museums with a company called Angel Tours and they were absolutely wonderful to work with. They helped us plan our tour times, were communicative and made sure we knew exactly where to go and who to look for, and our tour guides were extremely knowledgeable and friendly. I would HIGHLY recommend using them if you’re planning to go to any of the sites where they operate — we also used them for a tour of Pompeii later in the week and it was great, too.
Although we’d never really done organized tours on any trips before, with places like the Colosseum and the Vatican, Matt and I really felt like we wanted to understand what we were seeing, why it was significant, and be able to come away feeling like we really understood and appreciated the places we were visiting. And we did — the kids were constantly engaged, we learned a ton but the tours were never boring, and the pace was perfect. I am so glad we did it–we got SO much more out of it than if we had done a self-guided excursion of either location.
Our tour guide at the Colosseum was Barbara, and she was so informative and wonderful with the kids. Our children were the only ones on the tour — the rest of our group was made up of adults, but the other tour members were really great about letting the kids up front, making sure they could see and hear, and even helped Matt and I keep an eye on them if someone got overexcited and ran ahead or lagged behind.
Our guide told the kids about the Roman water fountains — spread throughout the city, these fountains are free and provide clean and cold drinking water. The kids loved it; we looked for them all day and always stopped to get a drink!
Gabriel had studied Ancient Rome in school this year and he was really proud that he was able to answer lots of the questions the guide asked. The tour lasted about 3 hours and included the Colosseum, the Forum, and Palatine Hill. When it ended, Barbara recommended some great lunch places nearby and also gave us directions for how to get to our next destination at the Vatican. Overall it was a really incredible morning and a great start to the trip.
We had AMAZING pizza for lunch, then headed to the Vatican for a tour that afternoon. Knowing the kids might be toured-out after three hours of walking in the morning, we booked a slightly more expensive (but worth it) private tour so that if they completely ran out of energy, we could cut the tour short and head for gelato.
Our guide at the Vatican was Marina and she knew simply EVERYTHING about what we were seeing and just how to keep the kids engaged. We learned all about Michelangelo and how he painted some pretty funny images into the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel as a way of thumbing his nose at a few people he wasn’t very fond of — including the Pope at the time. The kids were able to find the parts of the painting we talked about as we looked at the ceiling of the chapel. They remember so much of what we learned — we had a conversation about it last night, in fact, and they were listing all kinds of details about the painting and Michelangelo. It made me so grateful that we have this opportunity to travel here and so excited to see them learning so much (and actually retaining it!).
There was also a really cool modern art installation that the kids were able to interact with — something I just did not expect to see at the Vatican. They all worked together to push it and it began rotating; it was really amazing and I loved that it showed them a different type of art, something they could touch and move. It was a great contrast to the paintings and sculptures that surrounded us in the rest of the Vatican museum.
We ended the tour with St. Peter’s Basilica, which was immense and gorgeous and ornate and awe-inspiring. Once again Marina was able to point out things that interested both the children and the adults, including the mummified remains of a Pope, which the boys thought was so cool and creepy. Unfortunately, none of us had the energy to walk the hundreds of stairs up to the dome to see the view of the city — next time!
After our Vatican tour, we had nothing else really “planned” for the rest of the day other than dinner. In Italy, most places don’t even start serving dinner until 7PM, which is late by our standards, but when in Rome (literally), do as the Romans do. We made a 7PM reservation, then spent the time between our Vatican Tour and then getting our first gelato (SO YUMMY) and relaxing in the Piazza del Popolo, where a street performer blowing giant bubbles kept the kids entertained.
We had dinner that night in a restaurant recommended by a friend of mine called La Buca di Ripetta. The food was amazing — I had pear ravioli, which sounds strange but tastes delicious. I highly recommend it! My the time we finished eating it was past 9PM and I was honestly amazed the kids were still standing. When I checked my phone later, I saw that we walked a total of almost 9 miles that day!
Although we did walk A LOT, we also took cabs to get from one place to another. Most of the drivers were okay with putting all six of us in one car, and it was actually cheaper to take a cab than to pay the subway fare for six people. The cab drivers were ALL extremely friendly, helpful, and talkative and they pointed out sites as we drove and told us stories. The kids loved it and by the end of the nine day trip they were taxi pros.
We also tried to use as many Italian phrases as we could — we all learned please (per favore), thank you (grazie), hello (buongiorno) and good-bye (ciao or arrivederci) before the trip and used them all day long — even the children. It makes a huge difference to at least make an effort to use some native phrases, and people were always happy to help us out with pronunciations. Plus a lot of people spoke at least a little English, so we never had trouble communicating.
Takeaways from our first day in Rome:
- Book a tour of the most important/expansive sites to get the most out of your visit (I wholeheartedly recommend Angel Tours).
- Eat gelato at least once a day!
- Make dinner reservations in advance and plan to eat later than normal if you’re usually on an American timetable.
- Try to speak Italian whenever you can — people are always happy to hear you make an effort!
- Look for the water fountains and use them to get a drink or fill your water bottles — the kids loved that! They stayed super hydrated that day.
Our first day in Rome was amazing and really set the tone for the trip. We packed a lot in, but the kids were absolute champions and really loved everything we did — although it was tiring, it was amazing.
Also, here’s how we packed for the Italy trip, and my thoughts on trying new things and seeing new places.