All three of our daughters were born in Rome starting with our oldest, Giulia, in 2000. Some things have come a long way – for example, smoking is no longer allowed in public spaces such as restaurants or coffee bars – a huge coup for those of us who thought our precious babies were going to be suffering from black lung disease before their first birthdays. The law went into effect in 2005 so the jury is still out with my older two, Giulia and Paloma, who spent many a smokey night in restaurants in their younger years.
Despite small victories, traveling with children around Rome can wear out the best of us – residents and visitors alike. There are many other bloggers who have posted great suggestions on things to do and practical issues with kids including Ciao Bambino and Maria Dolcini at L’Avventura Romana but here are a handful of suggestions to keep in mind based on my own experience in order to ease the pain and stress of visiting Rome with babies and little children.
1. Wear your baby!
If you have a baby, leave the stroller at home and start practicing how to use that wrap or carrier. Trying to get a stroller on and off of buses, carrying one up and down the metro stairs (no elevators) and just trying to cross streets with cars parked on cross-walks and up against each other so tightly that you can barely squeeze yourself through – you’ll encounter all of these and then some and you’ll be very happy that you aren’t dealing with a cumbersome stroller. Personally, I found Bjorn carriers very limiting and uncomfortable for myself and my kids and used the Didymos wrap which was very versatile and comfy, but it takes some practice. They are a slew of carrier styles out there now though and I’m sure you can find one to meet your needs.
If you have an older child and need that stroller to save your back and shoulders, make it an inexpensive umbrella style stroller so it’s not a huge financial loss if it gets lost or mangled on the airplane. These kind of strollers can also be easily folded up when traveling on public transit or by train. The excellent mother and baby shop created by expat New Yorker, Kiersten Miller, The Milk Bar currently has stroller rental in Milan and hopefully soon in Rome, but in the meantime, there are baby equipment rental companies in Rome like Travel Baby and Babyriders that will bring the equipment to your accommodation and then pick it up afterward.
2. Bring a changing mat with you everywhere
Diapers in Italian are called pannolini. If your child is still in diapers, please note that you will be more comfortable changing your child on a bench or on a ledge than you will in the public bathrooms. Bathrooms do not have diaper changing facilities and most of them are in dubious states of cleanliness. Bring wipes and hand sanitizer with you as well to clean your own hands after the change. Don’t worry about finding diapers here – there are plenty of different brands, and personally, I highly recommend a biodegradable brand such as Moltex or Naturaè which you can find at various organic shops throughout Rome. You can find other disposable diaper brands at pharmacies and supermarkets.
3. Learn the magic words “pasta bianca” for your picky eaters
Despite having children who were born and raised in Italy and who in theory should be able to eat truffles or eggplant with the best of them, I do have two picky eaters. Thankfully, any restaurant in Rome will be happy to make pasta bianca for your children and even in half portions (mezza porzione). This is just plain pasta that is mixed with either olive oil (olio) or butter (burro) and topped with generous heaps of parmigiano cheese – a kid-pleaser to be sure. If you have a child with gluten or wheat intolerance, many more restaurants have rice pasta now (pasta di riso) – just ask as it is not often on the menu. For something with a little more substance, you can also ask for pasta al pomodoro (with tomato sauce) and a pasta corta, short pasta, such as penne which makes it a lot easier for little hands and mouths.
4. Consider renting an apartment
Okay, this may sound like a conflict of interest since The Beehive is a hostel/hotel and we do have many families stay with us. However, the great thing about renting an apartment as a family, especially if you have babies or young children and especially if your children are used to early dinner hours, is that many apartments have kitchens or kitchenettes where you can prepare meals. In addition, there is usually a common area space, living room or small sitting room, so your kids can have a nap and the whole family can take a break in the middle of the day without being cooped up in one room. Being able to prepare your own meals is also a money saver when traveling with families and especially if you have picky eaters. You should definitely eat out while you are in Rome and enjoy a great pizza and some excellent pasta, but being able to eat some meals in is a great option to have. If you use that time to also shop at some of the local food markets (not supermarkets), you’ll get a truly authentic and unique experience. Here’s a video featuring our daughters which shows how easy and fun it can be to do the food-shopping. Our other business cross-pollinate has many excellent and affordable private apartment rental options. Many of these properties have short minimum stays so you don’t have to commit to a weekly rental and there are no security deposits or cleaning fees.
5. Accept the fact that you won’t be able to do it all and take time to fit in some kid-friendly activities
Rome celebrates its 2,766th birthday on 21 April 2013. This city is dense with things to see and do and even in your best childless years, you would not have been able to take it all in – even less so now that you have little ones. Make sure to schedule in child-friendly entertainment – there are several parks in Rome (Villa Borghese, Villa Torlonia, Villa Celimontana, Villa Ada and Villa Doria Pamphili to name a few), a zoo, a little boating lake, a children’s museum and even a gladiator school. Our friends at Context Travel have excellent family walks that make learning about Rome interesting, informative and engaging for the entire family.
With children it’s all about “slow travel”, and the beauty of doing things with them is that you are forced to slow down and take time to enjoy the quiet moments. An ice cream in a piazza or in the park, kicking back and watching them play with local kids, exchanging a smile and a few words with shopkeepers or other parents. Take the opportunity to be able to connect with the people and culture in ways you would never have been able to do in your backpacking days. Children are great ice-breakers and connectors – enjoy!