Travelogue: Rome With A Toddler

When we were planning our Europe trip for the year, I asked Peter if he had any requests and he just wanted to go to Italy. We toyed with various cities/regions – Venice, the Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre, but ultimately chose Rome because it’s such a bucket list location. I had already been on a college trip with my family, but this would be Peter and Julia’s first time, so it was important to us to see some of the main touristy sights.

Where We Stayed

I had originally reserved the Repubblica Suite in Rome with, but the owner contacted me and offered a discount to reserve directly through the apartment’s website (which I hadn’t been able to find when I did an internet search beforehand). At our option, we pre-paid some of the apartment fee through PayPal to avoid having to use up all the cash we pulled out of the airport ATM. We loved the studio apartment. Our host, Gianluca, went so far as to purchase a completely new pack and play so that our toddler would have somewhere to sleep while we were there. Talk about service! The bed was comfortable, and the studio was large by European standards. The location was also great – it was a little under a 10 minute walk to the main train station, Roma Termini, which meant that we saved a bunch of money by taking the train to/from the airport, and it made our day trip to Tivoli quite easy.

What We Did And Where We Ate

Day 1
We arrived in Rome after an overnight flight when Julia only slept for 4 hours, so we were exhausted, but still managed to get ourselves and our luggage on the Leonardo Express train from the airport to Roma Termini. If you’re planning to take the train, it’s 14 EUR/adult (free for kids under 12, although each kid from 4-12 has to have one paying adult), and it’s a long hike through lots of pedestrian walkways to get from baggage claim to the platform. Don’t forget to validate your ticket at one of the small green machines. Our apartment host’s friend met us and luckily was watching out for us since the address wasn’t marked on the building.

We made our way to Ristorante Alessio after doing some quick Yelp/TripAdvisor research for places nearby and waited about 20-30 minutes for a table on the covered and heated patio. Julia was quite happy to run around in the alley behind the restaurant and climb up and down the stairs while we waited. Our dinner was good, although not amazing (Julia loved the gnochetti with baby shrimp and zucchini blossoms, although the actual shrimp and blossoms were basically invisible), but there was wine, and everyone was very friendly to Julia. They also had a high chair, which was a welcome surprise.

Day 2
When I initially planned for the trip, I assumed that jet lag would result in all of us waking up and getting a really early start. However, Julia chose to be awake from midnight to 3 a.m. (she was at least happily singing to herself and bouncing in our bed), so we didn’t wake up until close to 8, meaning we didn’t leave the apartment until 9ish, which was much closer to an Italian start to the day anyway. We didn’t want to commit to anything too vigorous, so we walked: we stopped at the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps (neither of which was too crowded yet, although there were definitely lots of people), having a little coffee and cornetto pause at a place called Angelina along the way.

Climbing the Spanish Steps with Daddy
Enjoying a cornetto with apricot jam – delizioso!

Then, we made our way to the Villa Borghese gardens, stopping at a beautiful viewpoint over the city. We rented a bicycle surrey from a little stand in the park that had a mini steering wheel for Julia (at the time of writing, it was 12 EUR/hr in cash and we had to leave a piece of ID, but they luckily accepted the copy of our passports that I had in the diaper bag rather than an original). When I had researched weather for our trip before leaving, there was supposed to be rain and/or thunderstorms for the entire time, but we got extremely fortunate with weather and there were sunny skies and a light breeze almost every day. The warm sun and wind in our hair felt amazing to our jet-lagged selves and Julia loved being able to drive. She didn’t even want to get out at the little playground because she was having so much fun.

So excited to “drive” that surrey!

We stopped at another viewpoint before making our way down to the Plaza del Popolo and peeking down alleyways to find a restaurant for lunch.

Admiring the city from our viewpoint in the Villa Borghese gardens

We found a little place called Edy down an alley and it was so good that we ended up coming back for dinner later in our trip. We shared a bresaola salad and Julia gobbled up more than half of my carbonara (so good, so cheesy, and so peppery!) and had a helping of Peter’s Greek-style pasta (olives, tomato, eggplant, etc). After a hearty lunch, we made our way back to the apartment for a long and much-needed nap.

It’s apparently very common for Romans to have gelato for a late afternoon snack, and we were only too happy to follow their lead. Come Il Latte was only a quarter of a mile or so from our apartment and it was so delicious! They had a variety of dairy free options in addition to the traditional flavors. I shared almond and dark chocolate (the former being dairy-free) with Julia, and Peter got a coconut flavor (also dairy-free) and we perched ourselves on a stoop outside since there was a crowd in the limited seating outside. The almond flavor was fantastic and I would recommend it to anyone, even if you don’t have a dairy dietary restriction (which I don’t). We slowly made our way towards La Campana, a restaurant I’d read about in Eating Rome. I hadn’t been able to get ahold of them on the phone to reserve, but after traipsing past the Pantheon and Piazza Navona, we were able to pop our heads in a half hour before opening to reserve a table. We used the extra time to walk along the Tiber river before returning at 7:30. They also had a high chair for Julia, and our server’s daughter had the Italian version of her name, so they were fast friends. She gobbled up fried zucchini blossoms and I had roasted lamb, while Peter enjoyed an eggplant parmesan. Julia and I shared a Monte Bianco for dessert because I just can’t get enough of chestnut cream, which is rarely available in the US.

Day 3
Night 2 was the worst from a jet lag perspective. Julia refused to lie down for more than 2 seconds, taking her pajamas off, climbing out of her pack and play (she couldn’t even repeat this the next morning, so I’m pretty convinced that she mutates at night), and yelling. After 3 hours, I managed to get her to sleep by letting her scream till she was worn out and then rocking her in the baby carrier. However, I still couldn’t get to sleep for anther hour or two, so I probably got about 3-4 hours of sleep tops. Needless to say, we were all grumpy the next morning. We had pre-booked tickets for the Colosseum, and when we arrived (skipping coffee in our rush to get there early – what were we thinking?!), we were so grateful for them because the lines were bonkers. On the advice of forum posts and other blogs that I had read, we took Julia in the baby carrier rather than the stroller, and that was great because there were steep stairs and long lines for the elevator. Literally every step was a struggle for the adults, but Julia loved climbing stairs and rocks and jumping off of things. I bought the tickets the week or so before our trip, so the tours were no longer available. That was a shame because there are some parts (like a special view of the underground area, or the 3rd floor) that you can’t get to without a tour. There also isn’t a lot of signage, so you don’t learn much about the building without some kind of guide. That said, I’m not sure that our mental states would have let us process much anyway, so it’s probably for the best.

If you don’t sleep tonight, we’ll feed you to the lions down there, okay?
Where’d you get all that energy?!
The look of defiance

Tickets to the Colosseum also include entrance to the Roman Forum. We stopped by after our Colosseum visit with the intent to go, but the line to get in was so long, and we just didn’t have it in us. We walked through a park near the Colosseum and let Julia play in more rocks while we just sat there and tried to gear up for the walk home. Then, we took a break at some super touristy spot because we just had to get food into Julia in the easiest way possible. It wasn’t great, but even mediocre food in Rome is pretty good. We napped for over 2 hours and it was the best 2 hours of the whole day. Deciding we could still salvage the remaining hours of daylight, we hightailed it back to the Forum (Peter was also hoping to see the Pantheon, but it closes at 6 and it was almost 5:30 at that point). They close at 7, and the last entry is an hour beforehand, so we skated in at 5:50 and there was no line, nor were there huge crowds. The sun was also starting to set, so it was the most perfect time to be able to wander through the ancient ruins. I mostly played with Julia (more pebbles, more jumping off thousand year old stones, and watching birds) so Peter could quickly move about. We also had to check out Basilica Giulia (the Italian spelling of Julia)!

Dancing under the wisteria – a light breeze made it smell so delightful!
More rocks please!
Sitting on a ring of rocks that she called her “house,” and into which she invited all the birds to come and play.

This visit honestly made us feel so much better after the most difficult travel day of the trip. Feeling re-engergized, we walked past the Bocca della Verita (it closed early due to construction, so we didn’t have to see whether Julia was lying when she promised she would sleep better by making her slip her hand into its mouth) and into the Jewish Ghetto. It’s incredibly sad to think that people were (and still are, in some places) forcibly segregated from the rest of the population, but it’s now a beautiful pedestrian area lined with restaurants and running, happy children (including ours). We settled in for dinner at Ba’Ghetto Milky, sharing arancini, fried artichoke, and more fried zucchini blossoms, followed by eggplant parm and sea bream with sage and tomatoes. Our waiter was a little grumpy, but the setting was lovely and the people watching was excellent.

Showing Mommy how much arancini she ate

Since the Pantheon line had been crazy the day before when we’d walked by on the way to dinner, we stopped by again to see it at night. The interior was closed, but we could step up and check out the columns, and there were lots of people gathering about and enjoying a warm evening. We bought a funny little light-up flying toy from a street vendor and spent some time playing with it while Julia ran and jumped, wearing herself out for a good night’s sleep ahead.


Day 4
While I hadn’t originally factored it into our trip, remembering long lines from my visit with my parents in college, Peter decided he wanted to brave the entry to the Vatican museums (Julia hogged all the coins to toss into the Trevi fountain, so who knows when we’ll be back?). I did some reading and while I couldn’t get advance tickets that late in the game, many sources suggested that going in the late afternoon (the museums close at 6 p.m., and you have to purchase your ticket by 4 p.m. to get in) would help avoid the morning rush, contrary to what I would have assumed. So, Peter went off the see the Pantheon in the morning while Julia and I took our time getting ready, stopping for a cornetto and cappucino at the counter of Exquisitaly (shockingly delicious considering the cheesy name) and winding our way down the streets. I rely on Peter a lot to navigate when we’re out exploring, so it was nice to manage on my own and have some extra quiet time with J. Peter had already had his fill of the Pantheon, so we were able to take a quick look with Julia before walking leisurely to the Castel Sant’Angelo. This amazing fortress hadn’t really popped up in my pre-trip research, but a fellow Instagram mom posted about it a week or two before our trip. It looked like such an amazing place to catch views over Rome and did not disappoint! This was probably one of Julia’s favorite stops on the trip – she loved climbing all the stairs (they were nowhere near as high as at the Colosseum, and there were also a lot of ramps to race up and down) and terrifying me by crawling towards the open windows on the top floor (technically too narrow for her to fall through, but only barely).

So many things to climb!
Just below this one was a smaller window with a downhill slant – terrifying.
Checking out St. Peter’s from the top of the fortress

After a delicious lunch of pizza and caprese salad at Da Vito e Dina, we made our way to the Vatican and prepared ourselves to power through the line. The line was very long, but much shorter than when I’d come in college. A tout-looking person waved us into the “skip the line” section saying “Babies don’t wait in line.” We were a little skeptical at first, but then noticed he had a badge on and figured he might be legit and that we didn’t have much to lose. People kept waving us forward, echoing the first guy, and we felt like we had pulled an Obi Wan Kenobi on them and snuck into the Vatican. We didn’t take many pictures because it was still painfully crowded inside, but we managed to see the key highlights in about 2 hours, mainly by being slowly crushed through by the huge number of bodies. This probably would have been a good place to have a baby carrier in lieu of the stroller because of the available floor space, but my body was just too tired after the previous day to handle carrying 27 lbs of cuteness on my back, so we muscled our way through. The most surprising thing was how well Julia behaved – as we made our way through Modern Art towards the Sistine Chapel, we had a little chat about how we were going somewhere very special and how we needed to be extra quiet like the mommies on the bus (think, the Wheels On The Bus song). She was quiet as a little mouse and kept saying “Mommy very quiet. Shhhhhh” throughout our whole visit. One note on Vatican facilities: there are limited restroom stalls and long lines for them. Also, the changing tables are oddly locked and you have to get a caretaker to bring them down for you. That all renders the bathrooms unfriendly to kids in general, but the caretakers are loving Italian ladies who want to help, so don’t be afraid to ask. If you have a 2 year old, it might be a good time to train them to do diapers standing up (thanks, daycare, for doing this for me). It was too busy for her to nap as we’d hoped, so she promptly fell asleep when we emerged. We peeked at St. Peter’s Basilica, but the line wrapped around all of the columns outside and babies wait in line for St. Peter, so we took the scenic route towards the Trastevere neighborhood. We had hoped to visit Janiculum Park, but we couldn’t seem to find an entrance (we missed one at the top by taking the long way around, and couldn’t find a bottom entrance except for a botanical garden), so we abandoned that plan. We made our way towards gelato, and then stumbled upon a man from Argentina who was traveling the world to do bubble shows (I know – dream life, right?). Julia had been pretty shy around other kids up until this point (like the sweet Italian kids who wanted to play with her on night  2), but this show brought her out of her bubble (#momjoke) and she was chasing them around with everyone else within 5 minutes.

Trying to scare me away from her gelato – fat chance, kid
Who cares about Mom? These are bubbles!

We ate at Grazie e Graziella right up the street after enjoying a quick pop into the Basilicia di Santa Maria and some more street performers. They were very friendly with Julia and she loved the penne pasta with guanciale that we shared. It was a long walk home, but a beautiful evening after what had been a long, but lovely, day.

Day 5
Our last day in Rome! We took a train to Tivoli to see the Villa d’Este. The train itself was pretty easy – we caught an 8 a.m. train that we made with just a couple of minutes to spare (because I really did need coffee) and the ride was an easy hour since Julia had snacks and a few toys.

I had read there was a shuttle from the station to the Villa, but there were crickets chirping when we arrived, so we tried to walk. The entrance is poorly marked (there was literally a sign pointing down one street, but you actually needed to make a right at the square and basically u-turn to get to it), so we wasted a good 40 minutes walking there and trying to find the entrance. Also, someone had mentioned that it’s closed on Mondays, which is great because the website only says they’re closed Monday mornings (I’m sure it’s a translation error on the English version), so I had originally planned for us to go on a Monday. Once in, however, it was a toddler paradise, full of stairs and fountains and rocks. It’s almost impossible to believe it was built in the late 1500s – it is so ornate and beautiful, and the layout makes you feel like you’re constantly discovering a new hidden gem.

Swirling dead leaves in ancient fountains
Seized her for a picture
Be still my heart

We skipped the actual house completely since there were several school groups on tour and spent about 2 hours walking through the gardens. The water organ shows were at 10:30 and 12:30 the day we visited – we missed the 10:30 by a couple of minutes because of the signage issues, but made the 12:30 before heading to lunch. All the places downtown are tourist-y, but we sat down an alleyway and enjoyed our pasta and wine as if we had the whole restaurant to ourselves. The waiters all flirted with Julia and everyone was happy.

Using a knife properly at 2 years old… What?!

We missed the more direct train back to the city, so took one to Rome Tiburtina and walked. This was exhausting because it’s much further and in a less beautiful neighborhood (should have taken the Metro), but we made a stop for gelato before heading back to the Villa Borghese. It sprinkled on us a bit and my feet were dying, so we stopped and let Julia play in little log-cabin-style playhouses for a bit.

(Play)House Hunters International – Rome Edition

We eventually made our way back to Edy for dinner, where I had my last carbonara of the trip.

Rome With A Toddler
Jet lag on this trip was real, and it definitely threw a little bit of a wrench in some of our plans. That being said, we also had much better weather than expected and the Italian people (especially the men, interestingly enough) are so kind and indulgent of children that it was a really kid-friendly destination to kick off our trip. Having already seen most of the big monuments on a previous visit, I also felt okay hanging back with Julia to see things through her eyes while Peter took time to explore the sights a bit more in depth. To me, the “can’t miss” sights with a toddler were the Villa Borghese Gardens and the day trip to the Villa d’Este. Strolling through the little neighborhoods, like the Jewish Ghetto and the Trastevere, made us feel more like locals and provided a respite from the crush of crowds at places like the Colosseum and the Vatican. I also really liked the area we stayed (near the Roma Termini train station) – it was very convenient to get around (and would have been easy to take the Metro if the weather had been worse) and felt incredibly safe.

Have you been to Rome with kids? What did they enjoy the most about the trip?