With spectacular sights jostling each other for prime position, Rome is a city of superstars. Around every corner is a headline act designed to grab your attention.
We adore Rome and have visited several times, but we recently took the kids for the first time. We had a one day stop during our Disney Mediterranean cruise and the stars aligned for a beautifully memorable day. With about 6 hours on the ground we had to choose the very best things to do in Rome with kids.
Armed with a love of pasta and a smattering of Italian we submitted ourselves to this glorious city. Walking and looking, eating gelato and taking photos, we let Rome wash over us.
Delving deeper will be for another visit, but this time walking hand in hand in the Italian sunshine was enough to tick off.
Before you arrive in Rome
Some at-home preparation before your trip
Make the most of your Rome visit before you leave home –
- If you intend to go inside the Colosseum or the Vatican Museum, where the Sistine Chapel is found, you must buy tickets well ahead of time. Especially on a cruise stop you don’t have time to wait in enormous queues. See Colosseum and Vatican Museum for tickets.
- Try watching a kid-friendly movie set in Rome beforehand so the kids are familiar with the sights. Roman Holiday, The Lizzie McGuire Movie, Quo Vadis and Ben Hur are all good options.
- As internet access can be expensive on cruise ships and in foreign countries, download the Rome map onto your maps.me app in advance so you can easily plot your walking routes without internet and never get lost.
- I found the Yelp app very helpful for finding great places to eat, so have a look at this in advance as well if you won’t have internet in Rome.
Getting to Rome from Civitavecchia, your cruise ship port
Civitavecchia is the Rome cruise port, however it is about 1.5 hours’ drive from the city of Rome.
If your cruise itinerary says you will be in port from 8am until 6pm, then you will have about 6 hours in Rome, allowing extra time for getting off and reboarding the ship, and for traffic.
Most passengers on your cruise are likely to get off at Civitavecchia, so make sure you get up early and allow plenty of time for breakfast and getting to your assembly point ready for disembarkation. We got to breakfast at 6.30am and it was crazy busy!
We chose to pay for the convenience of a bus transfer from Civitavecchia to Rome organised through the cruise line, but you can save money by going by train. Just make sure you catch a high speed one! The station is about a 25 min walk or 10 min taxi ride from the port. Train information here.
The benefits of taking the cruise transfer are –
- The simplicity of walking straight off the ship onto your bus a few steps away
- No wasted time as you are escorted to and collected from a convenient spot, often close to St Peter’s Square
- All the language, culture, taxi, food and getting around tips that you receive during the drive to Rome
- The chance to sleep all the way back to the ship, ready for a fun evening onboard.
Five best things to do in Rome with kids
Most of the top Rome tourist attractions are interesting to kids, as long as you don’t push their patience with especially long visits. The Vatican Museum is the only one that didn’t make my top five due to the amount of time needed, even if you bypass everything else to head straight for the Sistine Chapel.
On a one day cruise stop you need to be selective what to do in Rome with kids, as there are likely to be crowds of tourists and daunting queues at every famous attraction. Consider carefully whether this is really the right trip for seeing the Sistine Chapel, climbing the dome of St Peter’s or investigating the depths of the Colosseum.
You can visit all five of the top kid-friendly sights in one day, as long as you don’t go inside the Colosseum or St Peter’s and are happy to do plenty of walking. Rome is definitely a city for pedestrians.
Transport options in Rome
You could do a hop on hop off bus, but, as the heart of Rome is the historical centre and the bus runs a ring around the outside (and the traffic can be horrendous!), it may not save you much time and you will still have a lot of walking to get to many of the sights.
You could squeeze more in and save time and energy by catching taxis, but try to minimise this. The absolute best way to experience Rome is to get a little bit lost wandering the atmospheric ancient laneways of the old town, admiring a statue or fountain as you pass, and stopping for a gelato or piece of pizza along the way.
By walking you will see so much more than just these 5 sights.
This ancient stadium has provided the blueprint for many a modern sporting ground. Its iconic structure is so unique that it’s a must see, even if it’s just from the window of the hop on hop off bus as you listen to tales of gladiators on the commentary.
This is the only sight I would consider going inside on a one day visit, as the kids are likely to find it the most interesting.
2. Trevi Fountain
This oversized fountain crammed into a tiny square cannot fail to impress, especially since the recent renovation works have been completed. The kids will love throwing a coin in and drinking from the ancient water fountain.
The circular shape and oculus of this former Roman temple will keep the kids’ attention long enough for you to do a circuit to admire the exquisite statues and Raphael’s tomb. Then grab a gelato in the picturesque square to rest and admire its impressive exterior.
4. St Peter’s Basilica
The kids would love climbing up to the top of the dome and gazing at the magnificent view of Rome from the roof. However arriving at 10am from a cruise ship means at least an hour in the queue to get in, so think carefully before choosing to spend your time in this way.
5. Piazza Navona
Make sure you walk through this vast piazza. After wandering the narrow laneways of the old city the kids will enjoy having plenty of space to run around, and the palazzi and fountains are exquisite. Watch movie Angels & Demons for a preview before you go.
Our Rome 1 day itinerary
A cruise stop is such an easy way to see Rome. Despite the distance from the port and time constraints, it removes much of the language and logistical challenges of visiting Rome with kids, since you can get a bus transfer in and only need to find one meal before returning to English-speaking familiarity at the end of the day.
You don’t need much Italian, just enough to –
- Speak to the taxi driver – “Buongiorno, Colosseo per favore” for “Hello, Colosseum please”, “Grazie” for “Thank you”,
- Buying souvenirs – “Quanto costa?” for “How much is it?”, “Questo per favore” for “This please”, and
- Lunch – “Il conto per favore” for “The bill please”.
Make sure you use the toilets when you get a coffee, gelato or meal, as there are very few public toilets in Rome.
Rome in a day map
10am – St Peter’s
With an 8am meet time onboard our cruise ship, we were dropped in front of St Peter’s just before 10am to start our Rome one day itinerary. Luckily we hadn’t planned to go inside this magnificent church, because the queue wound all the way around the square. But churches, such as St Martin in the Fields in Trafalgar Square, London, are often a peaceful respite from the city noise and chaos. Even with the crowds!
After a wander around and a few photos, we took our only taxi trip to the Colosseum (about 20 min).
11am – Colosseum
Oh my goodness it was busy! So much more than last time we were here 12 years ago. But what a building! Even though it is a little way away, I think seeing the Colosseum in Rome is like seeing the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Iconic.
We found a quiet spot to sit and chat about the structure and what went on inside before heading back into the centre of Rome on foot.
It’s about a 25 min walk to the Trevi Fountain if you walk down Via dei Fori Imperiali. It can be a hot walk in amongst the stone and concrete, but you will pass the Roman Forum, a statue of Emperor Augustus and Piazza Venezia.
It is like a history book brought to life.
12pm – Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain was also insane with crowds, but so beautiful. It was absolutely wonderful to be there. Note that you are not allowed to touch the fountain at all. So no sitting on the edge for your photos.
We eventually found a quiet spot on the right hand side to throw coins in and take some photos. The kids also loved having a drink at the traditional water fountain before enjoying a refreshing gelato.
1pm – Pantheon
A 10 min walk took us to the Pantheon. There were plenty of people around, but we barely had to wait at all to go in. What a fabulous spot! The scale of the place is incredible. And a perfect spot to stop for a gelato by the fountain.
Another 5 min of walking brought us to Piazza Navona. This was a place we were very much looking forward to revisiting having spent many an afternoon pre-kids sitting at one of the many restaurants surrounding the piazza. Unfortunately the restaurants now looked disappointingly touristy (with poor online reviews) and two of the fountains were closed for repair.
It’s still an impressive destination with plenty of space for the kids to run around, and the central Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi is stunningly intricate.
2pm – Lunch
Having read the poor reviews of the Piazza Navona restaurants online before we arrived, I selected a different location for our lunch stop.
Cantina e Cucina is only 10 min from Piazza Navona and is satisfyingly buried in amongst winding laneways. Although it doesn’t have outside seating with a view, it does have absolutely magnificent food and that was definitely our priority.
Service was excellent and very friendly with some English spoken. We shared two plates of pasta and a pizza amongst the four of us – carbonara sauce with roasted artichoke, bolognese sauce with meatballs and a margherita pizza. Excellent value at 49 Euro in total, including lollipops for the kids and Amaro shots for us on departure. Awesome.
3pm Castel Sant’Angelo
A 20 min walk took us back to our St Peter’s meeting point via Ponte Sant’Angelo and Castel Sant’Angelo.
This was obviously a lot of places to visit in Rome in 1 day and we were on our feet a lot, but the kids did so well and we had such a wonderfully memorable Rome visit.
And once we had a sleep in the bus on the way back to the ship, we were all ready for dinner, kids club and onboard activities.