The ancient city of Rome has been compared to a gracefully aging old lady Behind the cracks lie traces of a town that was the center of the world for centuries. Rome is full of ancient artifacts and temples from the beginning of the ancient world. Without trying, visitors will quickly stumble across ancient remains unearthed during construction in Rome. Families will enjoy the city, which is rich in history and culture.
The Colosseum- The Colosseum is an ancient amphitheater built between 70-72 AD. During ancient times the Colosseum was the site on many events ranging from gladiators fighting to until the death, mock naval battles, animal fights, and perhaps even as the site of persecution for Christian martyrs, though that is now being debated.
The enormous amphitheater could fit 50,000 spectators, who were most likely seated according to social standing. The Colosseum was a marvel of modern technology at the time. It was equipped with awnings that unfurled from the top to protect spectators from the sun. Archaeologists have also found evidence that the stadium was equipped with latrines and water fountains as well. To visit the Colosseum, I suggest purchasing timed entry tickets in advance. If you show up whenever you like, be prepared for a very long wait or to be turned away. Even with our timed-entry ticket, we waited nearly 30 minutes to gain entry. The long lines are in large part due to the metal detectors and other security measures in place. Touring the inside of the Colosseum is a memorable experience for families and gives a real-world experience to the ancient way of life. Kids can easily see the beginning of the modern stadium in the construction of the Colosseum. Around the inside perimeter, visitors will find artifacts and models of the Colosseum. Additionally, visitors can find weapons, shields, and armor used by gladiators. Information concerning its history and construction of the Colosseum is on display throughout the interior. In my opinion, the Colosseum is a must-see in Rome. It is, after all, one of the seven wonders of the world.
The Roman Forum- The ticket for the Colosseum also included entry into the Roman Forum. Due to security measures, we had to wait another 30 minutes for entry. The Palatine Hill, which is next to the Colosseum, is a marvelous expansive hilltop covered in ancient ruins, it was once the nucleus of Ancient Rome. It sits atop one of the seven hills of Rome. Visitors can find fallen columns, the bases of former temples and other buildings as well as portions of other buildings which remain standing. During ancient Roman times, the Palatine Hill was considered to be the most desirable neighborhood in Rome. It was home to Emperors and aristocrats.
It was also believed to be home to Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome. Archaeologists believe that long before Rome was Rome, it was home to humans as early as the 10th century BC. Enjoy a stroll through the area. It is a peaceful experience to walk through the fallen columns scattered through the green grass. Take a few minutes to explain to your kids about the functions of the remains and how life in ancient Rome compares to modern-day life.
Campo De Fiori - we loved the Campo De Fiori - we probably because it is a food-centric destination. The name translates to field of flowers. Before it was paved during the mid 15th century, that square was an open meadow. Today, the square is home to a bustling market by day and a hot spot for drinks and dinner in the evening. The morning market is full of vendors selling produce, kitchenware, and some souvenirs.
One of our favorite places in the square was Forno Campo de Fiori, which was established in 1819. Forno translates to oven in Italian and indicates rather directly that it is the bakery in the Campo di Fiori. Expect a quick experience here. There is a walk-up counter where visitors can place their orders. The quaint busy bakery is split into two sections, sweet and savory. Our favorite item was the straightforward Roman rectangular pizza, which is seasoned with only olive oil and salt. The pizza is fantastic, though not like anything you'd expect from traditional pizza found in the United States. Though it is very simple, the pizza is full of flavor. In my opinion, the pizza is a must-try.
During darker days, the square was also home to executions. In the center of the piazza, look for the dark hooded figure. He is a philospher named Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake during the 17th century for daring to disagree with the church's teachings.
Piazza Navona is another fun and interesting historical site. Today the piazza is a city square. When we visited, between Christmas and New Years, a Christmas Market was set up. The site was originally an ancient Roman tack for racing chariots. During the 15th century, the track and corresponding former Domitian's Stadium were paved over. The original stadium built by Emperor Domitian in 86 AD was a long oval shape. At the time, it was more significant than the Colosseum. Remnants of Domitian's stadium are still visible in the area.
The Piazza Navona is full of Restaurants and shops today. You can also find artists selling prints and paintings in the sizeable picturesque square. When you visit the square, you will notice three famous fountains.
La Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi ( Fountain of Four Rivers ), which was constructed in 1657 for the pope, who remains an essential figure in Rome today. Bernini designed the fountain. The fountain features a Roman obelisk surrounded by four figures who represent four great rivers: the Danube, and the Rio de la Plata.
Fontana di Nettuno - built-in 1651 by Giacomo Della Porta. The fountain features the god Neptune surrounded by sea nymphs.
Fontana del Moro this the statue was also built by Bernini during the 17th century and featured a Moor fighting a dolphin.
We found that places like the Piazza Navona and other sites all over Rome afforded great opportunities to talk with kids about mythology and the many tales of the Roman gods like Neptune. Ancient civilizations often used mythology to explain the world around them! The stories of Roman gods read like a creation soap opera and can often be fun stories for kids. Our boys enjoyed hearing the stories, and it was a cultural learning experience for them.
Pasta making class- Our cooking class experience was a highlight of the trip for all of us. We booked a cooking class thru Eatwith.com We had a very memorable experience learning how Italians have made pasta for generations. Our host, Sandra from Cook' N' Speak, was energetic, fun, and very informative. She was very thorough and patient with Maddox and Henry as she helped guide and teach them through the pasta making experience. We all started with large wooden cutting boards and rolling pins.
She instructed us on the measurements for the ingredients, and we each began kneading our on dough until it was ready to begin rolling out. The process was labor-intensive, but fun, and she was there to fix our mistakes, thankfully. Sandra told us about the value of good olive oil and the superiority of Italian olive oil. I must confess that since then, we have only bought high-quality olive oil for cooking. She continued to speak generally about how the quality and freshness of every ingredient plays a key role in the quality of the dish.
She also told us to use Italian canned whole tomatoes when making homemade sauce for pasta, which I have also implemented at home when I cook. I love that these experiences can be brought home and implemented in my kitchen. When I cook with my Italian Olive Oil and canned tomatoes, I am reminded of the wonderful time spent in Sandra's Roman Kitchen with my family. Click here to find out more about Sandra!
The Food- I cannot talk about anywhere in Italy without mentioning the food. Italy is home to amazing high-quality food. Visitors will easily pasta, pizza, pastries, gelato, and the best artichokes in Italy. There are a few tips for finding the best places to eat however, because like anywhere else, there are good and bad restaurants.
Don't eat on a main square. If you see a restaurant on a main square with a big printed menu in 4 different languages and large color pictures of menu items, consider that a sign that you have found a low quality high priced tourist trap. If you want to sit somehwere and enjoy the view of the square, consider only using these types of restaurants for a drink. Keep in mind that your glass of wine will cost more than the restaurant down the side street. You are paying for the view.
Eat on the side streets- Enjoy the main square or large attraction and then find a side street with a small restaurant. The smaller locally-owned restaurants on side streets are more likely to cater to locals. One day we were meandering through old medieval streets enjoying the city, and found just such a place. It was so small that we were not sure it was open. There was a small sign outside. The quaint restaurant was full of Iocals. The food was authentic, full of flavor, and inexpensively priced.
A small menu can be a good sign- Restaurants with small menus are usually focused on preparing the best ingredients during peak season. This translates to high-quality ingredients done well. A small menu also means that the kitchen is not trying to do too many things and can focus on executing a few menu items with perfection.
Check Yelp- Yelp is a reliable guide most of the time. We discovered that we could generally rely on Yelp to give us useful information on the quality of a restaurant in Rome and other parts of Europe. However, some very small local restaurants like the one I mentioned above may not be listed in Yelp. Most larger restaurants located on side streets of more popular areas are more likely to be listed and offer solid reviews to help you pick the right spot for dinner.
The brightest gelato isn't the best gelato. Gelato stands are everywhere in Italy. When you are looking for gelato, keep in mind that pistachios are not bright green, and strawberries are not red all the way thru. In other words, if the color of gelato is vibrant, you are looking at a lot of food dye, not a lot of flavor. Gelato that is made well and with high standards is dull in color because that is what naturally happens when it is made. We found our favorite gelato at Gelateria de Teatro, thanks to our withlocals.com food tour. Our guide, Mateo, brought us there. It was rich and full of flavor! Be prepared to wait in line if you go or try to go by in the morning before lunch when business has not picked up yet.
Rome is a beautiful city bursting with history, culture, and remarkable cuisine. It is a city I could revisit over and over again and see differently each time. Adults and children will love the experience and all that the ancient city has to offer. To book your Rome adventure, click here to start planning.