We decided to spend our first Christmas as a family of five in Italy. The trip was divided into two parts. We started in Rome where we explored the city with kids and baptized our new little one. We then moved the whole group to Tuscany, enjoying more space and adventure. We were treated to (mostly) fabulous weather, delicious food and incredible sights. I would highly recommend this for a winter break.
I felt almost instantly at home in Rome, a feeling I don’t often get in a city.
Day 1: Arrival & Spanish Steps
We arrived into the Rome Airport (FCO) around 2pm. It was pouring rain when we landed. (I know I just said we had great weather!) We got off the plane on the tarmac and were taken by bus directly to baggage claim.
The Rome baggage claim area has a little playground. The kids played while Jeff collected our bags. (The luggage trolleys are free, so grab one to make your life easy!)
There are also family restrooms available, which were clean and even have a little potty next to the big one!
We booked a transfer by car given our large amount of stuff. We were met by our driver at arrivals and driven to the hotel. My parents took the “Leonardo Express” to Rome Central and then the Metro to our hotel, which they said was quite easy.
We stayed at Hotel Farnese. We initially had some administrative issues. We had called a few times about room size with our kids and had verbal confirmation we were in an appropriate room given we travel with our own cots. Of course, when we arrived it was an issue. (The lesson here is to get an email confirmation of any phone conversations you have!) Jeff addressed it with them and it was eventually resolved.
The room was spacious, as European rooms go. Our towel warmer didn’t work, which was only an issue when we needed to dry shoes after the rain. The bathroom had a tub and shower. There was also a little bed for Henry.
Breakfast was included in our room rate and is held on the roof terrace. It is enclosed and heated, but is only reachable by the one elevator. There are plenty of food options and each morning the hostess made real hot chocolate for the boys and a cappuccino, or two, for me.
Despite the rain we all wanted to walk through Rome. So donning our umbrellas we headed out to the Spanish Steps.
They had a lovely Christmas tree made of lights halfway up the stairs. I dare say the rain made everything a bit more magical.
We had dinner just around the corner at AL 34. It was delicious! The waiters doted on our three kids. The waiters even brought little treats throughout the meal.
The big boys split a risotto, which they gobbled up. The new little one got the most attention, and was even sung to by one of the waiters! All the plates were cleaned and our glasses of wine drained.
Day 2: The Vatican
Day two was our first full day in Rome. After finishing breakfast at the hotel we walked to St. Peter’s Square. Early in the morning it is hardly occupied. The kids loved running around in the open space.
There was a large nativity set up in the center of the square, with the star perched high on the obelisk.
After enjoying the view we walked a few blocks to the Vatican Museum entrance. We had to wait a bit in the rain till the museum opened, but were put in a fast entrance line due to having our kids with us. We spent two full hours in the museum. (You can read about taking toddlers to the Vatican here.) when we left everyone was exhausted. But really, you could spend days in the Vatican Museum.
We grabbed some amazing pizza by the kilo at Bonci Pizza. We snagged the bench out front as a place to eat and enjoy some time off our feet. On the walk over we passed a free water filling station that served up bubbly water, so we filled up all our bottles. (You can find a map of all of Rome’s water fountains here.) Bonci also serves glasses of wine to pair with your pizza.
Then it was time to metro back to the hotel to rest and regroup. Back at the hotel the middle little quickly fell asleep and the little little was soon in dreamland as well. Jeff took our big little out to meet some friends to explore Saint Peter’s Basilica.
Meanwhile the rest of the group (5 adults) headed on the Scavi tour. These tickets have to be booked in advance. The tour lasts two hours and children are not allowed. The tour heads under Saint Peter’s Basilica to see the grave of St. Peter (9 bones in a sealed box under an altar).
That evening we split up for dinner. I took the little little with an otherwise adults-only group for dinner at Al Moro. There is a reason Al Moro is in all the guide books. It is authentic Italian and it is delicious. The menu here is only in Italian but the food is divine.
Just around the corner is the Trevi Fountain. We walked over and took in the fountain in all its nighttime glory! The square is packed with people selling stuff, including a man that thrust roses into one of the members of our group’s hands insisting they were free only to then demand my dad pay for them. We kindly and calmly handed the flowers back, said no thank you and walked away.
Jeff took the boys with our friends’ children to a local place where there is a Nona in the kitchen cooking!
Day 3: Archbasilica of St. John Lateran
The next morning was our little one’s baptism at St. John Lateran. (You can read all the details about that here.)
St. John Lateran is gorgeous! This should be on your Rome itinerary. It’s stunning and not as crowded as other places in Rome. It is the Cathedral of Rome, of which the Pope is the head, making it the highest church in Rome.
Just across the street are the Holy Stairs (Scala Sancta.) According to tradition these are the same stairs that Jesus went up when he went to see Pontius Pilate. They were brought to Rome by Constantine’s mother, Saint Helena. If you wish to pray on the stairs, you go up on your knees saying a prayer on each step (free).
The Pope’s Chapel (at the top) can also be visited with an admission ticket that includes an audio guide (fee).
Once our visit was concluded we headed to lunch at Ristorante Orazio. This lovely restaurant is an easy walk from Saint John Lateran, although we did put the slower members of our group into a cab. The food was delicious and they were able to accommodate our large group. (There were also plenty of small tables if you’re in the area looking for lunch.)
We took a bit of a long leisurely walk to a metro station to get back to the hotel. Some of our group took Uber instead, which is super easy and dependable in Rome. The metro in Rome is easy to use. I often get really overwhelmed by metro systems. The Rome system was easy to understand and I felt incredibly at ease after my first ride.
After naps we headed back out to one of Rome’s many squares for an evening walk and dinner. We happened upon some decorated windows that the kids just loved.
There was even a carousel in the square for the holidays. We, of course, had to try it out. We popped into a little pizza by the kilo place on the square for a quick dinner. Our kids had a total meltdown while in there so it was a long walk home
Day 4: Colosseum, Roman Forum, Rick Steves Old Town Walking Tour
We headed directly to the Colosseum after finishing breakfast. We had purchased our tickets in advance as well as tickets to the Underground & 3rd Ring Tour. Purchasing the tickets online is confusing, but doing it through the Colosseum will save you some money. Jeff even called the booking phone line twice and still ended up thinking he had the wrong tickets booked. The kids need tour tickets even though they are free. There is a €2 processing fee for these tickets. All I can say is, “Good Luck.”
Arriving at the Colosseum was the first time I was overwhelmed by Rome. There are tons of people on the street trying to sell things, help you get tours and tickets. We asked a few of them where we needed to go and got different answers from everyone. Approaching the security guards at the Colosseum or at the entrance to a line is a better plan.
Pre-purchased tickets to the Colosseum also get you admittance into the Roman Forum next door. You could easily spend a full day at either of these locations. The ticket is single entry but can be used the day after your timed Colosseum ticket as well.
We opted to spend an hour before our tour letting the kids run around the Roman Forum to get some energy out. The Roman Forum consists of ruins of the ancient Roman government buildings. The kids loved seeing the ruins and being able to be our “tour guides” while exploring the ruins.
You could easily spend a full day exploring here. We opted for just over an hour of exploration which was plenty for the kids. Rick Steves has an entire free audio tour just for the Roman Forum.
We headed into the Colosseum about an hour before our tour. This is necessary as lines get long, you must process through security and there is a separate meet-up point for the tour.
The Colosseum tour was fantastic. We were able to bring the stroller with us on parts of it and were told where to park it the other times.
We put two of the three kids in carriers and the other one walked when the stroller wasn’t available. Both the littles in the carriers ended up taking naps while we were on the tour, which was basically perfect.
An official tour is the only way you will get to go underneath the Colosseum floor. It’s amazing to see the winches and tunnels used to move gladiators and animals into the theater. Shows would sometimes go all day and thousands of slaves worked to make everything run smoothly.
The tour also takes you to the highest point you can reach in the Colosseum. You get an amazing view of the entire structure and can really appreciate its size.
You also get a stunning view of the Roman Forum, so don’t forget to look outside the building as well.
After the tour we had a bit of time to explore on our own before heading to lunch to Trattoria Luzzi. This place has excellent pizza and pasta, had outdoor seating and the staff were so kind to the children.
The two little kids had already taken naps in the carriers during the Colosseum tour so we did not return to the hotel but instead headed into the historic center (by bus) to pick up the Rick Steves “Heart of Rome” Walking Tour.
The tour takes you past so many incredible Roman buildings. A few times we were not even sure what we were walking past.
We took it slowly and just enjoyed the shops as we passed by.
We deviated from his route to explore some less busy streets and popped into a few of the churches noted on the map, but not included in the tour. Saint Ignazio was a stunning diversion that ended up captivating us all.
They have a mirror set up so you can see the stunning ceiling without having to look up!
The kids loved the light-up Nativity that included running water (for a small donation it lights up).
We passed quite a few gelato stores on our walk. When we found just the right one we stopped to get everyone a treat.
We ended our walk at the Pantheon. It is a former Roman temple, turned church. When you’re inside you are standing under the world’s largest un-reinforced concrete dome. It’s incredible to think it was built nearly two thousand years ago! The kids loved the oculus in the center of the dome.
That night we again split up for dinner. Jeff took the kids with our friends to dinner at their Air B&B, while I went out with our other friends to Trattoria Palazzaccio. This little place has some great fixed price meal options. The three of us opted for two of the fixed price menus and one of us just ordered an entree. We ended up splitting everything. We were stuffed.
Day 5: Park & Train to Florence
We had the morning to do some exploring before we caught our train to Florence. I asked the kids what they wanted to do and the resounding answer was “go to a park.” So off to the gardens of Villa Borghese we headed.
The park had everything we needed. We passed through the Piazza de Popolo on the way and got an amazing overlook from the park itself. The spot also afforded an incredible view of Rome.
There were surrey bikes to rent inside the park, which we passed up in favor of playing on playgrounds, watching horses and playing explorer. There was so much more park to see, but we had to head back. The park was the perfect way to burn off some steam though before our long travel afternoon.
We wound our way back down the Spanish Steps and finally back to our hotel. We grabbed our stuff and headed by Metro to Rome’s central station.
Boarding the high speed train could not have been easier. They don’t announce the platform till just moments before the train arrives. The train was easy to board, but a bit chaotic as we found our seats and stowed our luggage. We had 11 people in our group all getting on the train together.
Before we knew it we were underway for a quick trip to Florence (1.5 hrs). Our train was over lunch so we mainly entertained the kids with a movie and food. My parents hit up a market before getting on the train. Our family grabbed something at a little sandwich stand in the train station. The other family (pictured above) grabbed some things on the train in the dining car. Everyone ended up with an excellent lunch, so no matter what you do you’re sure to have a decent meal.
We were sad to be leaving Rome. It quickly became an easily navigable city. We could not have had better weather for a holiday visit. We all threw coins in the Trevi fountain, so I know we will be back!
Head over to Our Globe Trotters for more tips and tricks for traveling with a baby in Rome, and Wanderlust Crew for 10 Things To Do In Rome With Kids.