3 Days in Rome with kids, a complete itinerary! Day 3 – Sistine Chapel tour, fresco-painting workshop

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Day 3 at a glance:

Day 3 in detail:

Morning Sistine Chapel tour for kids with Joy of Rome

By day 3, you are finally on “Italy time” and ready to take on the whole boot!  You slept. You had your complimentary hot breakfast and cappuccino on the beautiful rooftop terrace of Hotel Madrid. You gazed out at the duomo of your next destination, St. Peter’s Basilica.  You said a prayer hoping the Sistine Chapel security guards who yell “silenzio!” would all call in sick for your tour that day. You catch your cab for 6 and head to the smallest sovereign state in the world, Vatican City.

The Duomo of St. Peter’s Basilica

Tip What should I wear to the Vatican? This dress code applies to churches throughout Italy, but is more enforced at the Vatican: Both males and females should have covered shoulders and knees. During summer months, Italy can reach 100+ and you may not want to wear long pants and long sleeves. Wear at least Bermuda shorts or capris or a long dress and/or bring a shawl to throw over you shoulders if you only have on a tank top.

 If you asked me before we left whether I thought there was something my kids wouldn’t be able handle in Rome, I would say the Sistine Chapel – a crowded room with no photos or talking allowed. My kids learned about Michelangelo in art class, so they would recognize and even appreciate parts of the Sistine ceiling,  but unlike the other activities I was planning (gladiator fighting, gelato-making, fresco-painting), the Sistine Chapel seemed too staid and reverent for my unfiltered, restless crew.

Enter Joy of Rome guide extraordinaire, Arianna.  Arianna led our tour at the Colosseum the day before, so this couldn’t be a better situation.  My kids were familiar with her and we could cut right to the content.  Arianna began by sharing a few anecdotes about Michelangelo and showing us a great children’s book about the Sistine Chapel.  We were all disappointed to learn that Michelangelo didn’t paint the ceiling lying down, and we were surprised to find out that he didn’t want to paint it at all because he was primarily a sculptor.  He was summoned (forced) in the 1500’s by the Pope and had to teach himself the art of fresco as he went along.   My kids could totally relate to Michelangelo – reluctant to try new things and winging it.

Learning about another work of spite art, the face of a Michelangelo critic on a figure in hell. These Renaissance artists were committed to getting even.

We made our way through the papal residence learning about the art that fills the halls and the maps on the walls that depict the various regions of Italy.  These maps from the 1500’s are more than 80% accurate!  Take that, Google Maps! When we were close to the Sistine Chapel, Arianna shared as much as she could about the key figures and the various scenes depicted inside, but as per the silenzio rule, she would not be able to talk to us or stay with us inside. 

Learning that all the marble statues were once painted.

I am proud to say the kids behaved very well! They thoroughly enjoyed pointing out all they had learned – the serpent-wrapped Michelangelo critic, the hidden self-portrait, the iconic Creation of Adam.  The amount of nudity didn’t faze anyone!  After just 2 days in Rome, they became fine art aficionados.  And now they even do their own laundry at home and tidy up without my asking.  I’m just kidding about that last part, but after success at the Sistine Chapel, anything is possible. 

Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter’s Square)

Quick lunch on-the-go – Have your Joy of Rome guide call you a cab to your next destination – the fresco lab!  You will have some time to grab a panini or some pizza from one of the cafes along Via dei Coronari, a quick stroll from the art studio. 

Afternoon Michelangelo for a Day fresco-painting workshop, booked through Joy of Rome

If Michelangelo can learn to paint frescoes while he is painting the Sistine Chapel, anyone can give it their best shot in this delightful creative space, aptly named, Michelangelo for a Day.

We booked this experience through Joy of Rome as an extension of the Sistine Chapel tour.  Our guide, Arianna, accompanied us to the fresco lab and introduced us to Patrizio, our fresco-instructor/kid-art zen master for the next 2 hours.

The studio space is a perfect for a family of six.  We took our places at the table and selected our designs.  The studio provided some pre-made designs all having to do with Italy.  Two of my kids rejected the pre-made designs and Patrizio was kind (and talented) enough to free-hand a tiger and turtle, because he didn’t have enough to do.  Patrizio walked us through each step – spreading our “plaster,” transferring our designs, mixing our pigments (aka spilling red paint everywhere) and finally, painting. 

This is a complex process, which I believe added to the success of the workshop for our kids because nothing stayed the same for too long.  Whenever the kids came to a real “oh no” moment with their work, appearing to make a huge irreversible mistake, Patrizio would step in with his can-do attitude and a few brushstrokes and pull them back from the brink of an art-induced meltdown.

When completed, Patrizio individually wrapped our masterpieces and took several group photos of us looking proud of ourselves.  We learned so much as a family from this wonderful day – my kids can appreciate fine art in a museum setting, and none of us will ever be a painter – fresco or otherwise.  The Michelangelo for a day fresco lab was as close as we will come and it was amazing! And Patrizio is as close to a saint as any human outside the walls of the Vatican.

Tip Souvenirs! Leave yourself some time for souvenir shopping.  Your kids will see things that they want almost everywhere, but try to establish a set day and time for that purpose or you will be stopping several times a day to look.  Vendors are everywhere! After being in the city for a couple of days, your kids may form an idea of what they want, which is better than making an impulse buy on the first day. You can bargain if you are buying from a street vendor or in a large market. Store prices are usually set and do not vary much from one store to another, but you may ask if there is a discount – it never hurts to ask!

Evening Dinner at Arancio D’oro

You deserve a relaxing sit-down meal after expending all that creative energy at the fresco lab.  Arancio D’oro (meaning golden orange) has a lovely eclectic ambiance – casual with modern touches and cool art on the wall to go along with the orange fruit theme. 

We were the first ones there as the restaurant opened for dinner and placed an order for more Italian kid staples (pasta with butter and marinara). Then, we let our sillies out after a day of intense focus at the fresco lab and silent art-appreciation at the Sistine Chapel.  This was easily accomplished by a full-on unabashed lemon-eating contest at our table.  Exemplary behavior all day deserves some relaxed table manners in the evening.  Our older son was the clear winner with the best-kept straight face, but it was way more fun to watch the losers.  I know the tables around us felt the same. 

The food here was excellent!  My husband had a delicious artichoke, olive and salame picante pizza, and I enjoyed another wonderful vegan gluten-free pizza and even gluten-free bread prior to my meal (nobody counts carbs in Italy). We highly recommend this restaurant for a casual family dining experience.  Their lemons are the best.     

Read Day 1 of 3-Days in Rome with Kids

Read Day 2 of 3-Days in Rome with Kids

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