Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Surviving Summer with Kids: Rome Edition

The prospect of spending summer in Rome can be ominous enough even without kids in tow. If you don’t have regular access to a country estate with northerly breezes, don’t have the financial wherewithal to spend the duration at seaside/in the Alps, and are generally wondering what to do with your charges all day when the Caput Mundi is at its hottest, the following suggestions just might help you keep your cool and get through the long slog before school starts again in September.

General Recommendations
Go early: If you plan on taking in any outdoor tourist sites, complete your outing before it gets unbearably hot (before 11:30).

Embrace the siesta: Avoid the heat at its wilting worst (between 11:30-16:30) by following your leisurely lunch with a long nap. Then stay up late by taking passegiata through the center.

In case of emergency: Stop frequently at gelaterias for a refreshing treat – the promise of a cono piccolo can get you through most trying moments with your flagging bambini. If the heat becomes overwhelming and you are out of range of frozen incentives, take refuge in one of Rome’s more than 900 churches to cool off. If they still persist in whining, point out the skulls and crossbones inset in the floor and remind them that a vengeful God is always watching. If that fails to impress and you have a long bus ride ahead, promise them they can watch a DVD and eat popsicles in their underwear once you get back home.

Suggestions for maintaining sanity outdoors:
  • Stop frequently at Rome’s many nasoni drinking fountains and apply liberally;
  • Take water pistols (However, be sure to instruct the kids to resist the temptation to refill with holy water at any aforementioned chiesas);
  • Get a 10 euro inflatable pool at a corner store and set up in your cortile to create an after-lunch diversion.
Suggestions for maintaining sanity when trapped indoors (without relying on screens):
  • Stock up on arts and crafts supplies, puzzles, games, and cards; 
  • Establish a regular reading hour together;
  • Make fruit juice popsicles.
Some Sites/Activities Popular with Kids
  • Vittorio Emmanuele Monument – Ride the elevator to the top for a superlative view.
  • Castel Sant’Angelo – Hadrian’s Tomb-cum-Papal fortification replete with historic relics and armaments and offering a restorative café and another stupendous panorama.
  • Catacombs– Naturally air conditioned and spooky, plus literal historical immersion.
  • Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini – More bone-chilling fun for the whole family.
  • Cat sanctuary at Largo Argentina – A perfect pilgrimage for felinophiles. Open every day from 12-18:00 with gift shop proceeds benefitting rescue/adoption efforts.
  • Pantheon– One of the world’s oldest and most awe-inspiring buildings, it rarely fails to impress even the most sullen of teens. A good 10 degrees cooler inside and surrounded by some of the city’s most prized artisanal gelaterias.
  • Hop-On/Hop-Off double-decker busses – Generally depart every 20 minutes along a set route focused on historic landmarks in the center and offer a 24- or 48-hour ticket and headsets for English-language narration. Bring a hat and water if you sit up top.
  • Laboratori dei Musei – Most major museums offer a didactic component aimed at school-aged children (i.e. Chiostro Bramante, Scuderie del Quirinale, MAXXI, Musei di Villa Torlonia). Consult their websites for more information.
  • Subterranean excursions – In addition to exploring Rome’s many catacombs and church crypts to stay cool, the group Sotterranei di Roma offers underground outings to sites normally closed to the public (check their calendar of events for listings).
More Indoor Options
Heat-averse cognoscenti seek the solace of air conditioned museums, book stores, libraries and matinees. My kid-friendly picks include the Explora Kids Museum (with full bar for genitori and a great restaurant on site); Centrale Montemartini for impressive machinery and sculptures; Museo Civico di Zoologia; Musei della Civilta’ Romana and aquarium out by E.U.R.; 3D Rewind Rome (admittedly cheesy, but adequately educational); Teatro Verde and Teatro Vascello for live theatre in Italian; and English language cinemas for a matinee (showtimes available at

Best Outdoor Targets
Parks – After tiring of the local playground, head to one of Rome’s larger urban refuges for fun in the shade, such as Villa Pamphili (with the popular Vivi Bistro serving organic lunches, dinners and softserv), Villa Borghese, Villa Sciarra, Villa Ada, Parco Appia Antica, and Bioparco Zoo. Many offer pony rides and puppet shows on weekends and evening concerts, like the Casa del Jazz.

Swimming pools – Check out local clubs and recreation facilities for open swim hours and hotels with pools for their non-guest day rates (often more reasonable mid-week).

Outside the City*
*I’m theme park-averse, but if you are made of stronger stuff, by all means head for Rainbow MagicLand, ZooMarine or Hydromania.

Summer Camps
Why not cut yourself a break and let someone else take on the responsibility of keeping your kids safe, stimulated, clean, fed, entertained, exercised and cool from 8:30-17:00 while you catch up on a backlog of laundry and email? There are a wide variety of camps emphasizing sports from swimming to horse riding and others focused on theatre and linguistic immersion. Most seem to accept both daily and weekly signups. Enquire at your community sports center or theater, or research options online for listings.

In bocca al lupo!

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