Seeing the sites of Ancient Rome is one of the must-do items for any trip to Italy. You and your children can walk on the actual stones where Julius Caesar walked or through the gate at the Colosseum where gladiators ran into life-or-death battles. It is truly an amazing feeling to be standing in the same spot where over 2000 years of history happened.
Entrance to the three connected Ancient Rome sites, the Colosseum, the Forum, and Palatine Hill, are combined into one entrance fee. However there are several different entrances to utilize for these sites so it can be quite confusing, especially with kids. You definitely need to plan ahead to make the most of your time at the sites.
These sites are extremely popular and crowded. The lines for entry into the Colosseum can stretch for blocks in the midst of the summer. Here are some tips for avoiding the lines:
- Buy your tickets in advance! There are several ways to do this to ensure that you can almost waltz right in, past all of the people waiting in line to purchase tickets.
- My favorite way to bypass this line (along with fast and discounted entry to many other sites in the city) is through the ROMA pass. This pass allows you free access to your first two museums/sites and then reduced fees for the other sites. This pass also allows you to go directly to the front of the line at these crowded sites and includes unlimited use of public transportation. Note that even with the pass, you now have to make an online reservation for entry into the Colosseum (see this link for more info).
- Purchase the ticket in advance, directly from the site. There are many options listed.
- If you cannot purchase in advance, your best bet is to buy tickets at the less-crowded Palatine/Forum entrance on Via Di San Gregorio.
- A private guided tour is a great way to access the site. A guide can use the “guided tour only” entrance to take you right into the Colosseum. Plus a guide can help bring to life the sites for your children, telling them stories that a guidebook cannot tell. The guide is also very useful for this tour because many of the sites in the Forum and Palatine Hill are in ruins, which makes it difficult to know what you are seeing. Plus you can make special requests for your tour, such as focusing on child-friendly stories and sites. Our tour guide was booked through Absolute Italy and Rick Steves lists many options in his guidebook. You can also join the public guided tours offered by the Colosseum near the ticket window or pre-booked online.
- Note that children and youth do not need to purchase a ticket. However to gain entry to the site for free, you need to go to the ticket windows. It may be worth your time to just purchase a ticket for your children rather than having to deal with the ticket line.
The distance between the three sites is not far, however it is a lot of walking. Many of the paths or walkways are not stroller-friendly so if you have little ones who aren’t ready to walk a long way, it may be best to choose a few of the easily accessible sites and skip the rest. Since the sites stay open until after 7 pm in the summer, try to go later in the day, after 4 pm, when the crowds have died down and the midday heat has waned.
Most guides recommend starting your tour with the Colosseum since it is the star of the site. You can see several different levels, from the ground floor arches to the actual seats in the stadium where you can still see the seat numbers etched into the stone! My favorite view was from the upper level, where you can look down upon the floor of the arena.
The floor is only partially rebuilt so you can see the labyrinth of passageways underneath the floor. This is where the animals were held and where the gladiators prepared for battle. You can easily imagine the lions and other animals roaring through the passageways onto the arena floor. The only way to actually visit the passageways is to book the underground tour in advance here.
If you don’t have a guide, download Rick Steves’ audio tour here to help you make sense of all that you are seeing.
If you plan to get a family photo in front of the Colosseum, one of the best places to do so is before you enter, on the stairs leading down from Via Nicola Salvi.
After you finish your tour of the Colosseum, head out the exit and walk under the beautiful Arch of Constantine on your way to Palatine Hill. The entrance will be just to the left, up the Via Di San Gregorio. There will be several food trucks that you pass so be sure to stock up on cold water before entering. You can refill your water bottles at several ancient Roman fountains within the site! Be sure to visit the bathrooms here in the entrance facility as there are limited bathrooms elsewhere. After entering, turn left to head up the hill. Palatine Hill is where Rome began and where the Ancient Roman emperors had their palaces. Children can run and get out some excess energy here – just be sure to stay on the path for safety. Make your way to the top of the hill to look down upon the Circus Maximus, where chariot races were held in Ancient Rome. This is also a great vantage point for amazing views of Rome and a great picture spot.
Follow the path back down the hill and head towards the Forum, which can be accessed directly from the site. The Forum is one of the most important sites in all of history, and I could have spent hours here! The site is a bit difficult for kids since most of the buildings are ruins. Having a private guide makes all of the difference here, helping you separate what was a temple from a palace. Some of the highlights for our kids were the Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina, which is still so massive that it helps you understand the magnitude of the buildings back in the Forum’s heyday, and the small, dark Temple of Julius Caesar, which is where Caesar was cremated and buried. If you don’t have a private guide, download Rick Steves’ tour of the Forum here to gather more info on the site.
As you leave the Forum, head up Capitoline Hill to the Capitoline Museum. After a long day of touring in the hot sun, take your family to the second floor cafe for a snack with amazing views.
The cafe also has easily accessible bathrooms and is a welcome break from the rigors of sight-seeing. We thoroughly enjoyed our snacks here while looking over the Forum. If you have the ROMA pass, the museum is free and is worth a brief visit. My kids loved seeing some of the statues we had just learned about in our tour. If you don’t have the pass, you can still access the cafe through the public entrance. Note that the cafe closes at 7 pm.
After leaving the museum, exit onto the Piazza del Campidoglio and turn right to head down a set of stairs. To your left will be the Mamertine Prison, where Peter and Paul were held in Biblical times. This structure was closed for renovations when I visited but could be open for tours during your visit. Just seeing it from the outside was impactful and special.
To end your tour of Ancient Rome, take a left after the prison and head up to the main road, Via Dei Fori Imperiali. On this street, there are several ruins that are free to look upon from street level. As you leave the Capitoline Hill area, you will pass Caesar’s Forum on your right so be sure to look down at the ruins. Trajan’s Forum will be just across the street and has some of the best views of Ancient Rome from the street. On either side of the street are statues of famous Romans that your children might be interested in seeing, including Julius Caesar.
If you have younger children, a shortened version of the tour may be best. Start at the Colosseum and head straight upstairs to the viewing point. Then head to the Palatine Hill/Forum entrance and take a right to head directly to the Forum. After walking the main street of the Forum to the Temple of Julius Caesar, turn back around and take the exit onto Via Dei Fori Imperiali. You can walk on the sidewalk at street level and see the rest of the Forum from above. You can end your tour at the cafe at the Capitoline Museum. This tour can usually be done in 1-1.5 hours, compared to the 3-4 hours for the regular tour.
You and your family will love stepping into the shoes of Ancient Romans and imagining the sites as they were back in the Roman Empire. While these sites can be challenging with small children, they are important historical sites that everyone needs to see!
- Recommended: ages 6 and up (most sites are not stroller-friendly)
- Full tour takes 3-4 hours; shortened tour takes 1-1.5 hours
- Gift shops located at the Colosseum and the Capitoline Museum
- No food services available in sites. Water available at several fountains. Very limited bathroom accessibility.
- Transportation: Nearest Metro stop is the Colosseo.
- Dining options nearby: Cafe at the Capitoline Museum.
- Nearby attractions: Victor Emmanuel Monument, Trajan’s Market/Museum of Imperial Forums, and the sound and light shows at the Imperial Forums.
Books to Read:
- 14 and up:
- 10 and up:
- 6 and up:
Have you taken your kids to visit Ancient Rome? What was their favorite place? Comment below!