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Playing on History: Kids Imagine Rome As It Was

By J.M. Pasquesi, author of Rome with Kids: An Insider’s Guide, our favorite family guide book for exploring the sights in Rome.

In Rome, kids play on sites made by emperors, artists, and kings. Here are a few tips for playing with your children as you visit the following awe-inspiring sites that are just perfect for recreating history as it was:

Climbing St. Peter's Cupola
Michelangelo’s kid challenge sits atop one of Rome’s top sights. How many can say they’ve climbed inside a Michelangelo masterpiece? After passing the basilica security check, delight kids by cutting to the right courtyard, rather than entering the church. At the cupola ticket booth, choose the elevator to the loggia roof—taking you over half way up. There you can walk around the dome’s interior to view its enormous sparkling mosaics up close, marvel at their scale, and watch all the tiny people wandering the basilica far below. Outside, search for the rooftop saints, grab a drink at the snack bar then hit the stairs. 320 steps wind round the cupola, growing more narrow and slanted as they reach the top (windows provide fresh air and sunlight along the way).  Just when you feel like Alice in Wonderland, too big for the space, you’ll emerge victorious on a refreshing perch above all Rome. No building is higher. Photo ops abound, but spying into the Pope’s gardens is fun, too. The wide exit stairs are a snap, and leave you inside the basilica to enjoy the masterpiece-clad interior.
Cupola open 8am-dusk. Tickets: €7 w/elevator, €5 without (551 steps). Vatican dress code applies.

Storming the Castle

Emperor Hadrian began building his castle-like mausoleum in 135AD. He also built the Pantheon. Centuries later, the tomb was repurposed as a fortress, a papal residence, and even a prison. Kids love scrambling up its ramps and ramparts in search of antique cannon balls, hot oil dispensing trap doors, lookouts, hidden terraces, and frescoed papal apartments-including Pope Clement VII’s impossibly small bathroom.  Keep going, up to the tip-top roof terrace to discover treasured panoramic views and that bronze statue of the Archangel Michael you see from the streets. There’s even a tiny military museum. Refuel at the snack bar, on the charming loggia of Julius II (by Bramante), where you can also enjoy a view of St. Peter’s and the long battlement wall, a secret passageway connecting the castle to the Vatican. The sunken park surrounding the castle offers a crowd-free break with shady trees, grassy lawns, and playground equipment.
Castle open 9am-7:30pm. Closed Mondays; free first Sunday of every month (expect more crowds). Tickets 10.50; EU citizens ages 18-25 7; EU citizens ages 17 and under, free. Castle park is free.

Floating Above Ancient Rome

The colossal, white marble Victor Emmanuel II monument (Vittoriano) to Italy’s first King (1861-1878) and its cool glass elevator to the uppermost Terrace of the Quadrigae (chariots pulled by four horses) provide a fun, active way to tour with outstanding 360° views over Piazza Venezia, the forums, Trajan’s Markets, the Colosseum and beyond. On the top, kids can use free observation viewers to hunt for Rome’s many sights, but getting there is half the fun.

Before ascending, search for the massive allegorical fountains on either side. These reclining giants represent the seas bordering Italy – the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian (left and right). Clamber up the stairs to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where kids can spy two honor guards, an eternal flame, and the towering goddess Roma, with her sparking background of gold tesserae.  Next up is the enormous equestrian statue of King Victor Emanuel. It weighs about 50 tons and 21 workers once had dinner in its belly! Roma was first paired with an equestrian statue (Emperor Marcus Aurelius) on adjoining Capitoline Hill.  This mirroring connected the new unified Italy with it’s ancient past.

Take the right staircase to access the back of the monument, and let kids discover the Willy Wonka-like glass elevators that float you up to the top, where the narrow terrace continues that floating feeling.  Close-up views of the bronze chariots and triumphant winged Victories coupled with panoramic views over Rome make for a pretty exciting finish. Take a break at Caffè Aracoeli (where you first entered the elevators). It has its own terrace with great views.

Monument and its small Risorgimento Museum are located at Piazza Venezia. Open 9:30am-dusk, free. Panoramic Glass elevator is open until 6:30pm weekdays, 7:30pm weekends. Tickets €7; ages 17 and under, €3.50; ages 9 and under, free.

Why Travel Makes Kids Smarter

By Shannon Kenny

Author Shannon Kenny is the Founding Editor of, Director of the Arte al Sole children's arts and cultural programs in Italy, and Founding Partner of Elaia Travel, a boutique travel concierge specializing in custom travel to Italy and Europe.

As a mom in the travel industry with two daughters who have had to pull along their own suitcases from early childhood upon arrival to the chaos of some international destinations, I have often weighed in on the debate among parents over whether or not to postpone more adventurous or extensive travel for a later age when the children will “benefit more.” In fact, the opposite seems to be true, just as with learning a language, children benefit from travel as young as possible, in any capacity possible, and recent statistics show that consistent travel has significant lifelong benefits for children.  My personal family travels and tales from all the families we have crossed paths with over the years further validates current research indicating that experiencing travel in childhood makes children smarter and more successful.

A recent survey of over 2500 adults and 1200 youth by the Travel Effect project revealed that adults who traveled regularly as children had above average grades, higher educational attainment, and 12% higher than average incomes. Survey respondents also indicated that their most vivid memories from age 5 to 10 were from family trips.

In this global age, it is even further encouraging to know that the specific reasons WHY travel makes children smarter encompass some of the hottest buzz words in education in the world today.

Problem Solving, Creativity, and Analytical Thinking

Travel boosts higher level thinking. In effect, travel keeps us on our toes in terms of learning how to think, a fact supported by recent studies in brain science. Cognitively, the brain is constantly filtering and organizing every bit of information we are exposed to. When we are in familiar territory, our analytical capabilities are on cruise control, we filter and process essential information from concrete, relatively simplistic contexts. Yet travel promotes the phenomenon in psychology known as the “distant condition,” which is proven to increase creativity, more complex analysis, and, in turn, advanced problem solving. In a recent study by Indiana University, spatial distance, being in a foreign physical environment, significantly increased participants’ capacity for creative problem solving. When we travel, our brain is cued to interpret the world, both near and at home, from a more open-minded and varied perspective.


Italy with Children: Where to Stay?
Researching and booking a hotel or vacation rental can be a daunting task for every traveller, but the stakes are especially high when travelling abroad with children. We hope these carefully selected suggestions for lodging help you to find the perfect situation for your family holiday in Italy. Meanwhile, I'm dreaming of spending a week with the family in Florence at the Palazzo Belfiore, a 14th-century palazzo recently refurbished into spacious holiday apartments in the characteristic Oltrarno neighborhood, our favorite area to stay in the city.  Family run, Palazzo Belfiore offers the benefits of self-catering lodging plus helpful owner proprietors who can offer assistance with dining, local events, or activities, and is host to the Arte al Sole children's art and cultural program during the Easter holiday.

Family-friendly hotels & holiday rentals in other regions:

Rome and Lazio
   Florence and Tuscany   Milan and Lombardy  Turin and Piedmont
Genoa and Liguria   Perugia and Umbria   Naples and Campania  Venice and Veneto         

Featured Sponsor
Arte al Sole: An Italian Cultural Adventure for International Children
is an English-language day camp with programs offered in Rome; Panicale, Umbria; Lucca, Montepulciano, and Florence, Tuscany; and on the Amalfi Coast  offering children an opportunity to explore the art, science, history and culture of these regions through a fun, engaging curriculum in English.New for this year, the program is now offering Soccer al Sole in Umbria, a multicultural soccer skills, Italian language, and culture day camp.



In Search of Floating Fire Lanterns, Music, and Dancing: Summer Festivals on the Amalfi Coasts 

By Shannon Kenny










While you are bound to find fireworks in Italy during your summer visit somewhere or another, timing your visit to the Amalfi Coast to catch one of several must-see festivals during the summer months will greatly enrich your family’s experience, creating timeless memories for the kids and immersing them even deeper in the area’s history and culture as it comes to life during these annual celebrations commemorating local miracles and legends. Below are a few of our favorites:

Regatta of the Ancient Maritime Republics (Amalfi)

Each year the four most powerful maritime republics of medieval Italy—Amalfi, Pisa, Genoa, and Venice, rotate by city to host a historical regatta in early June. Boats reconstructed exactly as they would have been built around the 12th century are manned by 8 oarsmen dressed in historical dress. In Amalfi, boats race a distance of 2 kilometers, beginning in Capo Grande and ending dramatically in Marina Grande. Read More...


A Few New Family-Friendly Holiday Apartments in our Favorite Rome Neighborhoods
By Shannon Kenny

This summer season we were pleasantly surprised to discover some jewels among Rome’s thousands of holiday apartment rentals. The below options represent unique value in terms of very reasonable rates with high-level amenities, quality, and location for families in the city.

Hotel Apollo Annex Apartments in Monti
Via dei Serpenti 109-110
Rione Monti, Rome

The neighborhood of Rione Monti is a top pick for us when staying in Rome, a locals enclave just a stone’s throw from the Coliseum that offers a haven from the crowds. The streets of Via dei Serpenti and Via del Boschetto have many simple take out dining options, small local markets, a Conad supermarket (on Via del Boschetto), the infamous Fatamorgana gelateria, and poignant piazzas to enjoy it all. We had a pleasant, and very restful, quiet (!) stay at the annex apartments of the Hotel Apollo. The hotel itself is on Via dei Serpenti, were a few blocks away on Via Urbana. Convenient to the Cavour metro stop, the ever useful Bus 117 small electric bus that winds through the historical center, a 10 minute walk to Via Nazionale or the Coliseum, the list goes on. Read more...


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