My Son Oliver has always loved History and after watching a programme about the Colosseum and later the film Gladiator (skipping the inappropriate parts) he told me that he would love to visit Rome one day. This passing statement went into my mental vault along with all the other casual comments that people make which I can refer to at a later date when I want to treat or surprise them! (My partner Andrew does not have this vault – is it just a woman thing??)
I have written before about Oliver being the unsung hero of our story as a young carer to his twin brother Harry and there are times when he has been inevitably over shadowed by his needs so I knew that I wanted Oliver’s 13th birthday to be a special one. I saved and schemed from when he was 11 and a half and on the boy’s birthday I presented Oliver with clues to solve which would reveal we were travelling to Rome for 3 nights and 4 days the following week.
To say he was excited was an understatement and I was thrilled that all my hard work had paid off but as the day to leave got closer I became more nervous. Oliver struggles with anxiety at times and although it’s much better now that it once was I knew that the crowds of Rome and the maze of streets would test his nerves. Thankfully, he coped amazingly well despite refusing to use the metro and so clocking up an impressive 86,000 steps over 4 days (I swear I am an inch shorter than when I left the country!).
On our last day as we enjoyed a meal before leaving for the airport we sat and compiled a list of things that we would tell another parent – teenager duo who were looking to explore the incredible city of Rome. Of course, much of this will apply to anyone but I think there were a few things that I did differently with Oliver than I did with Andrew when we visited a few years ago. So here is our list. Please do let me know what you think!
Ok, so it goes without saying (although I’m saying it anyway) that there are ‘must see’ sights to visit including the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Colosseum, Spanish Steps and Vatican City! All but the latter are fairly close together and on foot you’ll be walking about 25 minutes to get from the Colosseum to the Trevi which isn’t too bad as there is something to see on every street in Rome!
Don’t rule out popping into churches! I am not remotely religious but the architectural detail astounded me! Keep €2 handy as some churches (basilicas) have short video clips that you can pay to watch so you can really appreciate the historical and cultural story of the building. Oliver really liked this too as it gave a context to our visit. And dont judge the church by its exterior, it will almost always knock your socks off!
The outside of Basilica di S. Prassede
The inside of Basilica di S. Prassede
Look up! This is Oliver’s tip and one which he shared with some American tourists we got chatting with. Wherever you are, whether its on a street corner, in a church, bar, at a historical site…look up and see the detail that the romans added even though they probably didn’t need to. I am a huge fan of appreciating architecture and so this tip from him really pleased me as he noticed things that I hadn’t such as carvings around window frames high up and decorative corners. As long as its safe to do so, take a look up as well as around you!
Be mindful of your footwear. This is my tip and is a sure sign that I’m getting older but I wore flat shoes for comfort with no grip. As such, I did slip more than once on the smooth cobbles that get hot in the heat of the day. There are also odd cobbles sticking up from the ground making the surface uneven in places so just be careful. I’ll go and get my bus pass and knitting now shall I ? #feelingold
Take a bag, preferably across the body style, big enough to hold a water bottle. There is fresh water spilling from fountains all over the city which is cool, refreshing and free! Temperatures reached 36 degrees while we were there (in July) and regular water was really important to our physical and mental health. I bought a dress I’m sure I don’t need and blamed dehydration.
Grow a thick skin for the street sellers. At the start of our break Oliver felt that I was being quite rude in not thanking the street sellers and explaining that I didn’t want to buy anything. By day two he realised why. We said “no, grazi” but it seemed that they often took this as an invitation to engage with us and we sometimes had to shake them off. After Oliver looked briefly at a copy designer wallet, the street seller followed us to prove it was leather, rubbing the flame from his lighter against it and asking Oliver to smell it. Unfortunately, he pressed his lighter against Oliver’s chin as well which burnt him slightly. That guy followed us for quite a while until I firmly told him to go away (I didn’t know the Italian for piss off or I would have said it). This made Oliver really nervous walking down that same street and whereas he had told me off for not using the manners I so strongly enforce, he wouldn’t even make eye contact with them after that. I will say that not all street sellers are so intimidating and I wouldn’t have bothered as much had I been with Andrew but it was very new to Oliver and so I would definitely advise other parents taking children to just be a little cautious.
Pay a little bit extra for a smaller guided tour of the sites you really want to see. We visited Rome for the Colosseum more than anything and we used ‘Explore Italy Tours’ based on their relaxed sales guy and trip advisor reviews. They weren’t the cheapest, I paid €85 euros for us to visit the forum, palatine hill and the colosseum but there were only 7 of us in our group and Oliver understood Sarah our American tour guide clearly which meant he felt comfortable asking extra questions and really got loads out of the 3 hours. As I watched herds of tourists following the leader who spoke into a microphone for them to hear into ear pieces it felt like money really well spent. Oliver is excited to share loads of facts that he learnt during that tour and ultimately, I wanted him to understand the history and not just marvel at the incredible structure.
Eat outside the pantheon! Again, its not the cheapest but the street entertainment and atmosphere at night was incredible. There really is no better backdrop to a lovely meal than the imposing pantheon, for me, my favourite of all the sights in Rome.
Three days is enough with teenagers! On day one we walked to look at the colosseum, visited the Trevi Fountain and ate outside the pantheon which was closed in the evening. Day two was the colosseum, forum and palantine hill. Day three was inside the pantheon, pizza navona and the capuchin crypts and there was a spot of shopping in between. This was enough. The 4th day for us, if I am honest was a long one as we had seen all we wanted to see. However, if Oliver had been happy to use the Metro I would have taken him to visit St Peters square and hear the Popes Sunday address to the people. If that’s not your thing as it wasn’t for Oliver, then 3 days would be enough.
If you are going when its really hot like we did then I recommend an afternoon siesta. We were out of the hotel for 9.30am and back around 2-6pm after which time we went out again for a few hours. That worked really well for us and gave us chance to recharge our batteries and phones!
Visit the Capuchin crypt which are a few underground chapels displaying the bones of over 3,600 Capuchin friars. The sales rep for the Explore Italy tours recommended it (as well as the church of St Peter in Chains which was also brilliant and right by the colosseum) and we never would have known about it otherwise. It’s a little macabre but fascinating too. Be sure to have your shoulders covered or you won’t be allowed in. Entrance was €50 for us both.
Ok so if you have read any of my ‘just Charlie’ blogs you will know that I am a massive lover of cheese and gin, well all food to be honest. I’m a ‘live to eat not eat to live’ kind of girl so when I found a mid-priced place which was rated as the THIRD best place to eat in Rome, we headed straight there. I can honestly say it was just amazing. Brilliant service in a small but comfy café style restaurant with THE most incredible sharing platter. We paid €10 each and it was worth every penny! Please visit (I am not on commission but I just love great food at affordable prices) Check out Pane e Salame on trip advisor to find the location.
What might sound an obvious one but…take loads of photographs. There are so many beautiful things to see that its really easy to get caught up in the moment and forget to capture it. I also recorded a few things like the Trevi fountain as well. Having said that, as soon as you have taken your photos, live in the moment and realise that you are standing somewhere that millions of others have walked and stood over centuries through history. It gives me goosebumps!
Download the trip advisor app! It was a life saver for helping me to find good food and places to visit and the map helped me to navigate our way through the city. If you are going to use the app, do also review the places you visit. It doesn’t take long but it really does help people like me who are reviewaholics and cant make a decision without reading at least 5 other opinions first. Yes, Im a nightmare!
Over budget! Rome is the city of temptation with its high-end shops, boutiques and amazing food with beautiful scenery. Yes, you can see Rome on a budget but do you really want to be stressing about every euro when you could be immersed in the history of the place? I spent on average €100 per day but that did include the tour guides and eating by the pantheon and colosseum which I may never ever do again with Oliver.
Armarni Junior and still more expensive than a shopping trip in Primark!
Eat the ice cream! Everyone who has been to Rome before you will tell you. Its just amazing. The gelatis around the Trevi Fountain in particular are gorgeous and the one to the left as you look at it, called Gelati Pizza serves the BEST chocolate orange ice cream I have ever tasted! Don’t miss it!
Get a very detailed map! There are loads of tiny side streets with very long names and it can get confusing but we managed with the help of a detailed map and I have the navigation skills of a drunk homing pigeon so if I can manage it anyone can!
Learn some key phrases …please, thank you, hello/goodbye, how much and can I have the bill please. Encourage your child to use them and do so yourself. Even if you get it wrong or stumble and fumble with the words while the waiter listens patiently only to reply in better English than you! I don’t want Oliver being a ‘lazy Brit’ who just expects that other people will understand him. Using even the basic language is a sign of manners and respect and Oliver loved having a go as much as the people of Rome appreciated us both trying.
Finally, I would say to pace yourself. Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither was it discovered in 24 hours. Plan the sights you want to visit and go and make some amazing memories in truly one of the most remarkable cities in the world.
Oliver must have thanked me a hundred times during our trip and when I asked if Rome had lived up to his expectations he told me that yes, in fact it had far exceeded what he had imagined. My boy deserves the world. I can’t think of any better place to begin his exploring adventures than in Rome. Check out his video diaries below!
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Having lived in Rome I think you have most things covered but I’d also add, don’t worry about getting lost, it is just an opportunity to see something else that in any other city in the world would be extraordinary and go visit the ancient port of Ostia antica which is well worth the visit even if a little off the beaten track. Glad you enjoyed the city, it is beautiful!
Really great point Paul. How amazing that you actually lived there. Its just stunning isnt it! Cx
Tell me you didn’t buy a shirt from the team AS ROMA?
Haha no. Oliver just bought a vest top as he was hot. No idea if its significant or not
Just found your article, thank you so much to you and Oliver for sharing your finds. I am off with my daughter age 15 (also suffers from anxiety) as a surprise in July and we will certainly be following in many of your footsteps.(Plus all the ice cream, obvs).
I hope you have / had a fabulous time!! C x