What to do on your First Night in Rome with Kids

“What are we going to do first?” asked my daughter before we departed for Rome.

It was a good question because with so much to see in a city like Rome, it is hard to know where to start. I know what captivated me the most on my first visit was discovering ancient ruins, beautiful fountains and surprising piazzas around what seemed to be every corner. The blend of modern and ancient, pagan and religious, trendy and quaint is what drew me in and made me fall in love.

I wanted to share this with her. I wanted to see her face when we strolled down a narrow cobblestoned street and bam, there was the Pantheon in all its ancient magnificence. I looked forward to her expression when she first laid eyes on the intricate and towering Trevi Fountain. I wanted to relax with her in the joyful atmosphere of Piazza Navona. Because to me, this is Rome.

So if you are wondering what to do in Rome with kids, especially on your first night, consider a walking tour to show them just a few of the fascinating sights Rome has to offer. We were considering the best way to work in all of these stops when I came across Walks of Italy’s Welcome to Rome Tour, featuring everything I wanted to cover on that first introduction to Baroque Rome. I hadn’t really considered doing this stroll as a tour — after all, it was just walking past some famous places, right? Wrong.

What to do in Rome with Kids: Take an Evening Stroll with Walks of Italy

If we hadn’t taken the tour, we would have climbed some steps, thrown a coin in a fountain, ooohhed and aaahhhed at the oculus in the Pantheon, and definitely enjoyed some gelato in Piazza Navona. But — would we know why there are three levels to the Spanish Steps (think Holy Trinity), would I have even noticed the wreath placed by the Pope at the top of the Monument to the Immaculate Conception, would I have discovered the cafe where artists and writers hung out during the era of the “Grand Tour” or learned that Via Frattia was named after the tassel makers who once worked there? Would we have peeked inside a church to see Bernini’s famous Agony and Ecstasy or have stumbled upon the magnificent triumphal column of Marcus Aurelius? Would I have learned that the Pantheon was built by Hadrian even though he never put his name on it? I certainly wouldn’t have learned about its unique construction that can’t even be replicated today. And without a guidebook in hand, I definitely wouldn’t have figured out which sculpture represented which river in Bernini’s Fountain of Four Rivers in Piazza Navona (if I even knew what it was called.)

So yes, taking this stroll as a tour was definitely worth it. Our tour group was nice and small, only nine people total (Walks of Italy’s website promises groups of 12 or smaller) and our tour guide Amy was just fantastic. Australian-born, she is an Italian citizen with a degree in history. Her knowledge of Italian art, architecture and history was impressive and her enthusiasm for certain subjects, especially Marcus Aurelius, was infectious. In fact, I’m fairly sure she inspired my daughter to learn more about this unexpected Emperor. No surprise since she stuck by Amy’s side like glue throughout the length of our tour, peppering her with questions and ¬†soaking it all in.

As we strolled through some busy areas, I was relieved that we were in such an intimate group. The look of massive tour groups wandering along, following a quickly marching tour guide holding an umbrella aloft to identify her was quite off-putting. In our group we were able to ask questions and interact with each other, almost like traveling with friends.

Our tour started at 5pm at the top of the Spanish Steps. Running late, we bolted up the steps and arrived breathless to meet our guide (if only we had thought of the elevator!) After introductions our tour kicked off with a discussion of the steps themselves, including the architecture, the meaning behind some of the symbolism found on the steps, and how they received their name.

What to do in Rome with Kids

The top of the Spanish Steps

Over the next two hours with Amy we explored some of the most famous sights in Rome, including quite a few lesser known like the Monument to the Immaculate Conception, Marcus Aurelius’ triumphal column, and the obelisk in Piazza di Monte Citorio. When we arrived at the Trevi Fountain, we were saddened to see it under scaffolding. Apparently it just went up a couple of weeks before and it will be at least a year before they finish with the refurbishment of this landmark. So while you can still toss in a coin (and approximately 3,000 euros a day are pitched into the fountain), the fountain is dry, but the hope for return is eternal.

What to do in Rome with Kids - Toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain under scaffolding

After discussing the more flattering aspects of Marcus Aurelius’ history, we headed through a narrow canyon between shops and restaurants and as we peered around the corner, we arrived at the Pantheon, Rome’s oldest still functioning structure. Burnt to the ground two times, the current building was rebuilt in 120 AD.

What to do in Rome with Kids - Visit the Pantheon

Our first glimpse of the Pantheon

What immediately drops your jaw when you enter the Pantheon is the contrast of dark with the light streaming through the oculus. The unique construction of the dome, built so that it could house a perfect sphere inside the building, is so mesmerizing it is hard to look down and notice how this ancient building has been converted to a church. What I found so interesting throughout this tour, and really our whole time in Rome, is the blend of the pagan and Catholic symbolism. Whether it was St. Paul on the top of Aurelius’ column or the fact that the Pantheon, once a temple to all the gods, is now the church of St. Mary and all the martyrs.

What to do in Rome with Kids - Visit the Pantheon

The Pantheon’s oculus

Just as the exhaustion from our nearly sleepless night before the on the airplane was kicking in, we got a little sugar rush when our group stopped for the included gelato — our first in Rome — before heading on over to Piazza Navona.

Eating gelato in Rome

First gelato in Rome (first of many)

Upon arrival in Piazza Navona we were treated to a performance by the Italian military marching band — unscripted by Walks of Italy but well timed nonetheless! Most of our time in the Piazza was spent examining the Fountain of Four Rivers, with sculptures to represent the Nile, Ganges, Danube and Rio de la Plata in South America. There we said goodbye to our wonderful tour guide Amy, who was happy to help with directions, transportation arrangements, or restaurant recommendations.

What to do in Rome with Kids - visit Piazza Navona

In Piazza Navona with our guide Amy

We covered a lot of ground in our two hours with Walks of Italy. During that time we saw some famous sights and ticked off four of Rome’s thirteen obelisks from our scavenger hunt. So what should you do on your first night in Rome with kids, I say, take a walk!

Note: Our Evening Stroll with Gelato was compliments of Walks of Italy but the opinions are our own and I would definitely recommend this tour and greatly enjoyed our time with Amy.


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9 Comments on “What to do on your First Night in Rome with Kids

  1. […] tour began at the Colosseum, which sadly was also partially covered with scaffolding (like the Trevi Fountain the night before), but for good reason as the owner of Tod’s (the famous Italian designer shoe brand) has […]

    […] 5-7:30 pm Evening Stroll with Gelato Tour with Walks of Italy covering the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Area Sacra, the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. (Read all about our evening stroll on our first night in Italy) […]

    As you mentioned the fountain is under renovation at the moment but our first night in Rome is always the same. We make a trip to the Trevi Fountain and as per the legend we throw a coin over our left shoulder so we – 1. return to Rome, 2. find our true love, and 3. get one more wish.

    I have done this with Daughter many times over the years and I hope she too will continue to do this with her daughter in the years to come (assuming she has a daughter and, in fact, assuming she gets married because right now “all boys are gross”).

      I think it is a wonderful tradition and a perfect way to start a trip.

    What a wonderful start to your trip! I’ve always not been keen on the large tour group experience and admittedly I sometimes let that image of being hoarded around in large numbers put me off these kinds of activities. But over the past year, I’ve really come to enjoy getting guides and taking walking tours. When they are managed correctly and the group sizes kept low, they can be one of the most wonderful ways to discover a new city. As you said, there are so many things you miss when you don’t know they’re there and there are so many things that the guidebooks just don’t cover. Some of the most fascinating things I have learned on our travels have been through people like Amy who have spent vast amounts of time in a place and have been so kind as to share their passion and enthusiasm for the city with others. Really enjoyed discovery some of Rome with you via this post!

      Thank you Jessica! I have had the same thoughts about tours and like to do it on my own but this trip definitely showed me that if you choose wisely it can be a very enjoyable and enriching experience. Thanks for commenting!

    I love this… the first nights are always tough. This sounds like a perfect way to start off our stay- Thank you!!!

      It can be tiring but usually everyone is revved up to see something and these sights are a nice intro to Rome. Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment! They are always appreciated!

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