The Sight Seeing and Other Forms of Entertainment Part
Let’s face it, the sites that draw visitors to Italy—the churches, museums, fountains, and ruins—aren’t as interesting for little ones. We tried to focus on one site each morning, followed by lunch out and naptime. There’s only a two-hour time difference between where we live (Dubai) and Rome, so we got our daughter on an Italian schedule before vacation. This worked out well because she slept during the midday siesta hours when many things are closed, and was able to stay up for a later dinner out.
In museums and churches we held our daughter up (horizontally in the Sistine Chapel) and talked to her about the paintings or sculpture. This helped keep her interest longer and gave me a new way to experience art. It was exciting to share this with her.
In and Around Rome
Porta Portese This outdoor market in Trastevere was our first stop. It’s hot, crowded and not really worthwhile, except for the cheap toys. We picked up a baby stroller and doll for my daughter that kept her occupied for much of the vacation.
The Forum This is free, with no line, and lots of open space and places to climb.
The Coloseum We missed this one because the huge line didn’t seem to budge. You can pay extra for a tour at the green kiosk across the street, and you don’t have to wait in line. Tours leave at 10:30, 11:30, and 12:30. Buy your ticket early because they sell a limited number.
Pantheon This is free and walking distance from Piazza Navona.
Trevi Fountain Also free and a big tourist spot.
Vatican City Museum/Sistine Chapel The line can be two blocks long on weekends, especially Sundays. We went around 9:00 am on a Monday and had no wait. The museum is hot and crowded. They move everyone through small corridors with areas roped off, so it takes a long time to get through. The Sistine Chapel—everyone’s destination—is at the very end.
Piazza San Pietro We didn’t make it to the Basilica because we went on a Wednesday morning when the Pope has his outdoor address and the Basilica is closed.
Castel Sant’Angelo This is right on the river with a great playground/grassy area in the moat. It’s well-maintained and popular with Italians. Good for a soccer game. There’s a museum in the castle and a lovely bridge over the river. They had a literature festival with stalls selling books, food, drinks and trinkets. Summer is a popular time for outdoor festivals—often free—but many start later in the evenings.
Tuscany The towns in Tuscany were wonderful, but they all started to look alike after a while. Most had a few piazzas, one or two museums, lots of shops (especially ceramics), places to eat, and narrow cobblestone streets, often on a hill. We visited Siena (very hilly, but worthwhile), Cortona (great views), Arezzo (great shopping), Castelnuovo Berardenga (nice playground), and San Gusme (best restaurant, La Porta del Chianti).
Florence The Uffizi Like most sites in Florence, there were really long lines to get in. You can avoid this by going the day before and buying a reserved ticket for a bit more. It’s not a particularly child-friendly museum with much of the art inaccessible—too high or grouped too closely. My daughter set off the alarm in one gallery by trying to walk behind one of the metal barriers. I ended up leaving with Annie after thirty minutes when she had a toddler meltdown, but my husband stayed since it was his first visit.
Piazzale Michelangelo This is a long hike up hundreds of stairs if you start at the bottom by the river. Our apartment was about one-third of the way up and still we had to stop to catch our breath. You get a beautiful view of Florence and there are a couple of cafes to rest in before the trek down.
The Duomo This was another site seen only from the outside because of long lines.
Santa Maria Novella This was the loveliest church I saw in Italy. It’s cool and peaceful, with no line.
Traveling with small children for a month can be difficult; this is true whether you visit a different city or a different country. It’s not Disneyland, but with a bit of effort, Italy can be as enjoyable for children as for adults. It’s the chance to experience life, not prefabricated kiddie fun.
We used this vacation as a preview to life in Italy. We’d decided to move to Rome in a couple of years, and our month in Italy reaffirmed this desire. The reasons Italy attracts so many visitors—the food, wine, culture—are among the things that draw us as well. The main attraction, however, is the people and their approach to life. Each day is like a vacation, to be enjoyed and savored.
Excerpted from "Overseas with a Toddler: Traveling in Italy" in Escape From America Magazine, Issue 30.