3 Days in Rome with Kids, a complete itinerary! Day 1 – Hotel Madrid, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain

Read Day 2 of 3-Days in Rome with Kids

Read Day 3 of 3-days in Rome with Kids

What you will find in this series of posts:

  • Where to stay – moderately priced hotel in superb location in Rome
  • What to see – kid-friendly tours and excursions with reputable companies
  • What to do – hands-on activities for families to enhance your vacation
  • Tips and travel advice on practical matters to help your trip run smoothly

Planning the Perfect Vacation in Rome

This past summer, we took a 7-day roundtrip-Rome Mediterranean cruise.  We decided to fly into Rome four days before the cruise departed to enjoy what this beautiful ancient city has to offer.  

Tip How long should I stay? If you are flying across any body of water with the word “ocean” in its name, stay at least a week abroad!  Jetlag means you will be in a stupor your first day, and the day you return home doesn’t count. Before you even start, you’ve lost two days.   If you are city-hopping, stay put for at least 3 days before relocating so you can remember where you are when you wake up. Also, it takes at least 3 days to appreciate a major city like Rome.

About six months before our trip, I began panicking about what we were going to do with four kids in Rome. I calmed myself down with this Italian mantra: pizza, pasta, gelato.  If nothing else, we could eat our way through.  Then, we would reach what I considered to be the oasis of the vacation, the cruise ship, which was in fact named the Oasis. 

If all else fails, hand out gelato.

I decided my kids would be up to sightseeing in Rome, but I would NOT be up to the role of tour guide.  I can’t even guide my kids to the kitchen table for dinner.  I consulted travel blogs, Trip Advisor, and articles from a family travel planning company, Ciao Bambino. I read countless reviews of tours for kids.  A single negative review or anything that sounded anti-kid-friendly was a deal breaker.  One company stated on its website that no snacks were allowed in the tour minivan, which was a non-starter (I have a plush goldfish cracker floor in mine).  Not only did I need kid-friendly, I needed private tours because being with my four kids is already like managing a group of 16-20, or as they say, like herding cats.  In addition to finding the right companies, I had to strike a balance between tours for iconic sights and hands-on activities for kids that stayed true to the authentic Roman experience.  I needed the unicorn of travel itineraries.

My months of research and planning paid off. We had an incredible jaunt in Rome herding our little gatti using our no-fail, low adult:cat ratio.  We enjoyed what we did, where we stayed, what we saw and where we ate.   

I now proudly offer you this 3-day itinerary in Rome for families with kids.  Andiamo!! Prego!!

Day 1 at a glance:

Day 1 in detail:

Morning – Arrive at the Hotel Madrid (yes, we flew to the right city). 

Hotel Madrid is a lovely boutique hotel situated on a quiet street in Rome within walking distance to the Spanish Steps (yes, we flew to the right country).  We were able to book a comfortable spacious, two-room air-conditioned suite that accommodated the 6 of us.  I’ll say that again. The 6 of us!!! There aren’t many hotels in Europe that can fit a large family without needing to book two separate rooms. We were so lucky to find this one that checked all our boxes – superb location, clean pretty rooms, concierge, breakfast, indoor koi pond. The staff was excellent with correspondence while booking and even arranged our pick-up from the airport and drop-off at cruise port.  There is a 24-hour concierge and they will help you call a cab, arrange a tour and answer any questions about the city you might have.  Plus, a marvelous and extensive hot breakfast buffet with gluten-free options is included and served on a rooftop terrace with a beautiful view. You can enjoy your cappuccino while gazing at dome of St. Peter’s Basilica! We couldn’t believe our luck finding this accommodation that suited us so well. We highly recommend it for families big and small.

Entrance to Hotel Madrid on Via Mario de’ Fiori
Breakfast on the rooftop terrace at Hotel Madrid

Afternoon Spanish Steps

Rub the jetlag out of your eyes (or just wear sunglasses), let your kids each take a turn guessing the function of a bidet, grab your Mission Rome book, and go! 

Tip – Do I need to book a tour? You will not need a tour for every attraction. It is fun to explore a city a little on your own with your kids. However, it is key to have a kid-friendly guide-book for motivation and information. We found a family travel book series we love called Scavenger Hunt Adventures.  We purchased 3 before our trip to the Mediterranean – Mission Rome, Mission Florence and Mission Barcelona.  Each city mission book is broken down into chapters detailing the most popular sights and museums.  For each location, the books provide clues to decipher, hands-on missions and photo ops to try, pictures, facts and anecdotes.  They are written for kids (my 7, 8 and 10 year old enjoyed reading them before our trip), and if they are so inspired, young ones can even lead the missions.  We learned so many interesting tidbits from these books!

Our 8-year-old leading our mission at the Spanish Steps

Our first mission, which we chose to accept, was to climb and count the Spanish Steps.  However, it was 100 degrees out, so our secondary mission was staying hydrated and not falling.  We did it!  The view from the top was splendid, but we all arrived at a different number of steps, ranging from 12 to 1,340, so you will have to go and count for yourselves.  The marble steps are slippery-smooth, so be sure to hold little hands! The main draw for the kids in this piazza is the fountain in the shape of a boat. It was designed to recall a terrible flood during which actual boats were needed to get around the streets of Rome.  Kids can “walk the plank” and cool down a bit with a few splashes of fountain water.

There are more than 12 but fewer than 1,340 steps
The boat-fountain. Kids must regularly fall in. It’s a miracle mine did not.

Late Lunch Hosteria del Mercato

Stroll for a few minutes beyond the Spanish Steps to this casual yet beautiful, bright and airy restaurant/pizzeria that looks like a lush courtyard garden inside (they will let you in even though you are a literal hot mess).  They offer organic, delicious meals as simple as pizza margherita (how did you guess that’s what we ordered?) and as nuanced as pasta with black truffles and pumpkin flowers.  You can order an excellent vegan gluten-free pizza here, as well!  This was a perfect introduction for my kids to Italian pizza.  It was not, however, the best introduction of a jetlagged bunch to the locals.  We improved our standing among the Italians only after one of the kids fell asleep at the table.

Pizza margherita at Hosteria del Mercato

Evening Trevi Fountain

Hotel Madrid is less than a 10-minute walk to the Trevi Fountain.  This stunning Baroque work by Nicola Salvi is not to be missed, and when you arrive, you’ll see that most of the Earth’s population is there to see it also, unless you arrive at 7am.

Tip How do I keep track of my bambini? Try to avoid “misplacing” your kids.  I’ve “misplaced” mine in Disney World, a national dance competition, Target, an aquarium, on the side of the road.  It happens.  Take a picture of your kids every morning so you know what they’re wearing, write your name, hotel name and cell phone number on your kids’ arms.  Make sure they know that if they don’t see you, you are absolutely looking for them and tell them to find a mom with kids to ask for help.  We do not have GPS kid trackers, but if I ever try one, I will share my experience. Last (I mean first), call the police or museum security, depending on where you are, and you will have all hands on deck helping you to find your bambino in no time.

At the jam-packed Trevi Fountain, we held hands, snaked through the masses, photo-bombed 50 selfies, and tucked ourselves into a spot on the fountain to do the obligatory tossing of a coin over the shoulder.  All the kids’ coins made it into the fountain and this means we will be back in Rome someday.  Bravo

We had our Mission Rome book on hand here, too, as there are a few pages dedicated to this sight.  My kids especially enjoyed learning about Nicola Salvi’s ancillary work of spite art, the Ace of Cups, placed strategically between the Trevi Fountain and the former location of a barber shop whose owner relentlessly pestered Salvi as he was building.  You know how the saying goes – revenge is a large vase-like structure obscuring your enemy’s view.

If they had resolved their differences, I wouldn’t have this lovely photo of my husband

Gelateria Valentino – After all that drama makes you hungry, trek a few blocks from the Trevi Fountain to this well-established and highly-rated gelateria. 

Tip – How do I know which gelato is good gelato? Gelato will be everywhere in Italy, like finding abundant “fresh” donuts at gas stations in the US.  If you want to reserve your calories for the best, seek out the places that say fatto a casa or gelato artigianale (homemade) and in general, avoid displays with mountainous piles of the stuff and suspiciously-colored “fruit” flavors. 

Gelateria Valentino is a wonderful little shop, with a nice variety of flavors, and a little bench outside for enjoying your cup or cone.  This is a perfect spot to be introduced to authentic gelato and the kids will be completely addicted at first bite.

This is worth stating again: If all else fails, hand out gelato.

Tip Where can I find essentials that I forgot and…snacks!? “We need snacks!!” said every kid all the time. Stop at Coop grocery store to stock up. There are no vending machines in the hotel. Consult an Italian translation app if you think the crackers you are buying might actually be playing cards. For over-the-counter medication for cold and flu, etc. you go to any “farmacia.” They are marked with a lighted green cross outside.

Read Day 2 of 3-Days in Rome with Kids

Read Day 3 of 3-Days in Rome with Kids

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