Italy Travel Notes presents Cath Andrews
Rome is a great city. It’s vibrant, buzzy, full of life and absolutely heaving with history. There are activities in Rome for everyone. Adults love it. Couples love it. Students love it.
But what about kids?
You’ll find some guide books which tell you that Rome is no place for children. It can be overwhelmingly hot, the historical treasures that adults love can be tedious for young ones, walking round ruins and churches is tiring for little legs and the cobbled streets can be hard on small feet.
It’s always good to have some activities in Rome up your sleeve for when the kids have just had enough and can’t stand another moment of sightseeing. We’re often asked what the best things to do in Rome for kids are, and the fact is that they’re not just enjoyable for youngsters – adults sometimes need to take time out from the sights too, and will love these things just as much.
So – here is the first in our series of great pieces of Italian entertainment for adults and children alike that the city of Rome has to offer.
It’s not a large zoo, and it’s not very well known. Until quite recently it was not one of the activities in Rome we would have recommended anyone to take part in. Old and dilapidated, the conditions the animals were kept in were not good – tiny concrete enclosures, small cages, animals with obvious physical and psychological problems.
But that’s all changed recently and the zoo is re-styling itself as a ‘Biopark’. It plays an active part in ecological development and animal conservation, viewing itself as an educational facility as well as a place for families to have a good day out.
It has all the usual animals you’d expect to see in a zoo : lions, tigers, hippos, a pack of wolves, and a great bear enclosure where, through an underwater window, you can see exactly what good swimmers brown bears are. It also caters for younger children with a ‘pets’ corner’ where smaller, domesticated animals can be watched and stroked. It has a restaurant overlooking the giraffe enclosure and a smaller cafe; there are also shady picnic areas and a children’s playground.
Rome’s Zoo is to be found at the northern end of the Borghese Park.
Let them eat … chocolate ice cream!
Food for kids in Italy is a dream, and of all favourite Italian foods ice cream has to be high on the list. In the heat of Rome’s climate in summer there’s nothing nicer than sitting in a cafe slurping on a ‘gelato’ and watching the world go by.
The ‘Tre Scalini’ restaurant in Rome’s Piazza Navona has arguably the most delicious chocolate ice cream in the whole of Italy. Its dark chocolate truffle ‘gelato’ is known locally as “death by chocolate” and to make it an even more stunning experience you can sit and eat it within sight and sound of one of Bernini’s most impressive fountains – the ‘Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi’, or ‘Fountain of the Four Rivers’. If you really want to make it an educational visit, get your kids to try to name the four rivers carved into each side of the fountain.
Go there. Order that chocolate ‘gelato’. You’ll be glad you did – and so will your kids!
Rome’s best toyshop.
True Italian toys are exquisite: often hand-made, imaginatively designed and tasteful. The ‘Al Sogno’ toyshop is just what a toyshop should be: a cross between Aladdin’s Cave and Alice in Wonderland. Step through the front door (with a life-sized wooden statue of Pinocchio to greet you) and you’ll think you’re in another world. Brightly coloured birds fly from the ceiling, puppets lean over the stairwell and elves, trolls and fairies peer out from the back room even in the height of summer.
Al Sogno is a family run business and the staff take pride in being very knowledgeable about the toys they sell, some of which are highly collectible. There are toys for all ages, from teddy bears and dolls to chess sets and models, and for all pockets, from a few euros for a pencil or a keyring to several thousands for a collectible doll (watch out for toddlers’ hands – you’ll be expected to pay for any breakages!).
Find it at the top of the Piazza Navona.
And watch this space for more examples of the best things to do in Rome for kids of all ages.
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