With two vacation days there is only so much a family can do in Rome, but having been to the city once before, we chose modestly, only stopping at attractions that we could absorb in a short visit.
A Centrally Located Hotel is Key to the City of Rome
Landing at Fiumicino, we took a car service to our charming, small pension, the seven-room Maison Giulia (Via Giulia 189/A, 00186 Roma, Italia; +39 06.68.80.83.25) on a quiet cobblestone street just off the Tiber. The stone family house — recommended by our best Roman friend, Raffaello — was surrounded by restored palazzi, important government offices, and art galleries in a perfectly convenient location.
Maison Giulia has a very personal style: dark contemporary paintings hang on the white walls of a traditional building with sloped wooden floors and exposed timber ceilings. The staff was gracious and very helpful; happy to recommend restaurants and attractions.
Families will appreciate that there are three and four-bedded rooms in the inn, and even two to three-bedroom furnished apartments nearby for those larger groups who have a minimum of three or more nights in the city. Modern amenities like free WiFi and a complete breakfast buffet are included in rates, which at our visit hovered around the Euro 150 mark for two.
Our Maison Giulia proved ideal for those who want to walk everywhere, yet have a quiet place to lay their heads come bedtime. In any case, taxistas and locals knew exactly where it was because the neighborhood is so desirable.
Seeing Roman Sights for the Second Time
The second visit can be liberating for families, because all the must-sees have been seen before.
A serendipitous spring in Rome allowed us to admire the cherry blossoms and blooming wisteria, stroll through the markets and window shop, bypass the hordes on the Spanish Steps and smile at the hundreds of teens traveling in teacher-led tours like our own son had done.
Rome by Segway (toll free 800/25.00.77) offers multi-lingual guided tours, or a pre-loaded audio/video iPod for your self-guided tour of cobblestone neighborhoods in the ancient or Baroque parts of the city, a great way to get around if your time is limited.
Similarly, Bici & Baci rents bicycles from a few locations, street level gives cyclists and strollers a six-kilometer stretch to explore. (Traffic in Rome is generally terrible and between the wild Italian drivers and mobs of Vespas, a mere bike rider would be lost.)
A Roman Holiday of Small Museums & Galleries
The Scuderie del Quirinale, part of the Palazzo delle Esposizioni located off the Via Nazionale, is on a hill above central Rome. It is a contemporary venue for rotating art shows, like the Tintoretto exhibit we saw. In addition to a comprehensive retrospective of the Venetian artists’ work, the scuderie has a good museum restaurant with wondeful views overlooking the city.
Museo Napoleonico is a small, beautifully preserved palace which once belonged to the son of Count Pietro Primoli and Princess Carlotta Bonaparte. The young Primoli wanted to commemorate the historic ties between Napoleon and Italy which united his parents. Because the admission is only 5.5 euros and the home itself is quite beautiful, this is an ideal introduction to the arts of the 18th century for children with short attention spans.
Just off Via Giulia at Piazza Capo di Ferro, 13, the Galleria Spada (+39 06.68.32.409) houses hundreds of paintings belonging to Cardinal Bernardino Spada and his heirs. The Palazzo itself, bought from the Borghese family in 1632 and shared with the Roman Council of State, is well worth a visit. The interior decor will thrill any visitor who wonders what is behind so many of the city’s tall walls. Just outside — as if towering above the small orange trees — is a trompe l’oeil garden installation by Francesco Borromini that is a must-see, especially for children.
Eating Our Way through Rome
Eating is a part of all things Roman and our excursion to the Salumeria Roscioli was typical. Roscioli was a 10-minute walk from the hotel through the bustle of the mid-day green market at Campo di Fiori (this video may serve as an introduction to the market and the city’s delights).
Within the Piazza Campo di Fiori were Pakistanis and Arab immigrants selling black and white truffles, virgin olive oil, carciofi (the small artichokes of spring), several types of tomatoes, fruit, melons and more.
Being the Easter week for many Italians, the streets were crowded with passersby and shoppers and seemingly millions of foreign tourists who, like us, paused regularly to photograph the colorful environs.
At Salumeria Roscioli, the world stopped. Inside its dark wood-panelled and expensive walls was a several-meter-long glass display counter of salami, bologna, prosciutto, guanciale, mortadella and several other pork products, in long dry sausages or sliced on platters. Fresh bufala mozzarella with sun-dried tomatoes and breads were brought around with the salumi, as their popular sampler platter was called. We came, we ate, it conquered us. About 100 euros later, we asked to take home about 75% of the food to picnic on the next leg of our trip — a train to Venice.
Our last supper was at Trattoria da Giggeto (+39 06 68.61.105) , a famous place for Jewish cuisine next to the Gate of Octavian at the edge of Trastevere, the Jewish ghetto. We were told their signature dish was carciofi alla Giudia, a whole artichoke deep fried till its leaves opened like crispy, brown petals. This dish, served with a garlic sauce, was a delicious first course preceding several pork and fish dishes cooked in the traditional Roman style.
When in Rome, Snack Often & Well
No visit to Rome would be complete without frequent snacking (our cure for jet lag).
Day one we paused for a system-jolting hot chocolate at Caffee Grecco. Near to the Spanish Steps, it had been founded and run since A.D. 1760 (they felt compelled to put the A.D. in their logo lest we think Caesar himself had taken a morning capuccino there.) Nonetheless, we marveled at the portrait of Buffalo Bill Cody and two Native Americans dining at the very same cafe. A plate of crisp vanilla and anise biscotti accompanied bowls of dark chocolate syrup that could only be modulated by the hot milk served with them.
Day two we paused near the Piazza Navona where the main fountain-view cafes were starting to fill up. We walked into Caffe Tazza d’Oro where, like a true Roman beauty, the worn gilded mirror behind the espresso machine never revealed the date of the caffee’s founding.
But as it was our last day in Rome, unlike the Romans, we did ask her age. And never found out.
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