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How To Keep Kids Happy In Rome

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Perhaps you've heard that Rome isn't the most hospitable place for children and families, but don't be fooled! Families with children of all ages will find no shortage of interesting family-friendly activities around nearly every corner in the city.

The trick to having a successful family vacation in Rome and keeping your sanity along the way is in the pre-planning. If your children are old enough, get them involved by sharing ideas for places to visit and setting up a loose itinerary for your visit before you go.

If your children are younger, think about the various pieces of "equipment" you'll need to make for a comfortable stay, whether that means a portable crib, an umbrella stroller, or special layering clothing to adapt to the hot and humid summer temperatures or rainy winters. Keep in mind that Rome means a lot of walking, so plan your itinerary accordingly with various stops along the way, and don't forget comfortable shoes for the whole family.

Of course, you won't want to miss some of the 'biggies' like the Colosseum and the Pantheon, but the following tips for visiting Rome with kids are a few crowd-pleasing favorites for children of various ages that you may not have heard about before. Categorized by age groups, you may find you can even mix and match some activities regardless of age, depending on your children's interests, maturity and energy level.

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Rome for young children (ages 3-7)

At the top of the list of things for kids to do in Rome is Explora, the Rome Children's Museum (Via Flaminia 82). As the name indicates, this is a hands-on exploratory experience for kids, and is divided into four sections - Me, Society, Environment, and Communication - to help them discover their world. Kids can stage a mock TV broadcast or wander around a transparent, environmentally-friendly house, and the typical 'do not touch' signs are nowhere to be found.

Villa Borghese is a definite must, with something for everyone. Visit the Cinema dei Piccoli, (Viale della Pineta 15) classified in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's smallest cinema. Take a peek at the San Carlino Puppet Theater on Viale dei Bambini (Children's Way) on the Pincio Hill. There's a trenino or 'little train' that chugs around the park and takes off from Viale Goethe.

Also part of Villa Borghese and a fun stop for families is the Rome Zoo, called the Bioparco, with lots of special areas and exhibits just for children throughout the park.

For the cat lovers in your family, the famous Largo Argentina Cat Shelter is well worth a visit. Here, you'll find friendly volunteers who run this no-kill shelter for abandoned cats on donations alone, in the marvelous setting of the Largo Argentina ruins. Tell your children the story of how Julius Caesar was assassinated here, and take them downstairs to visit the cat shop and see some of the shelter's residents. Volunteers give English-language guided tours for free.

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Rome with older kids (ages 8-12)

A trip back in time might be just the ticket for this age group, and the Time Elevator (Via dei SS. Apostoli 20) provides exactly this: a sort of interactive movie attraction with special effects that make it seem more like a ride, taking you back through 3,000 years of Roman history.

If you have time for an out-of-town excursion, the Monster Park at Bomarzo is about an hour's drive north of Rome and is always a favorite with kids. This Renaissance garden has larger-than-life stone sculptures of various animals and 'monsters' that your children can climb on and, in the case of the leaning house, in!

No visit to Rome would be complete without two 'traditions' that you can teach your children about: the Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth) and the Trevi Fountain. Watch the film Roman Holiday before you leave for your trip, then re-enact the scene at the Mouth of Truth, having each of your children put their hand in the 'mouth,' which is most likely an ancient Roman drain cover. If they still have their hands after this experiment, you can be sure they're telling you the truth - or can you? Then take them over to the Trevi Fountain to throw in some coins, ensuring your return to Rome someday.

Read more about why you should throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain

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Rome with teenagers (ages 13-18)

A perennial favorite with Roman teenagers is LunEUR (Via delle Tre Fontane). This is Rome's only amusement park (known in Italian as a 'luna park') and is one of the largest and oldest in Italy. Built in 1953 as part of an agricultural show, it took on its current form in 1962 and now houses over 130 attractions on more than 750,000 square feet.

What teenager doesn't love shopping? Stroll Rome's own 'Rodeo Drive', Via dei Condotti, then climb the Spanish Steps where Roman teenagers often hang out, mixing with the endless crowds of tourists. For shopping on a more realistic budget, steer your teenagers towards Via del Corso.

For teenagers who aren't easily scared, venture down into the bone crypt and catacombs at the Santa Maria della Concezione Church (Via Veneto 27). Not for the faint of heart, this church has a permanent basement exhibit of bone sculptures made from - you guessed it - bones. Thousands of them, in fact, collected between 1528 and 1870 from nearly 4,000 Cappuchin friars who were buried here. Creepy enough to surprise even the most 'know-it-all' teenagers.

Walking and bike tours are also a great way to burn off some energy and offer your kids a unique way of seeing the sights.

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Family dining in Rome

Most restaurants in Rome are fine for families, but a few places are worth a special mention. Taverna de' Mercanti (Piazza de' Mercanti) is probably the most authentic place to dine in old Rome. Housed in what was probably a stable from the 1400s, you pass through the medieval square and torch-lit entrance to climb a dark staircase that leads to a spacious, wood-filled, bustling dining room filled with old-fashioned atmosphere. Children of all ages can find something on the menu, from pizza to pasta and meat dishes, with a poster-sized paper menu you can take home.

Being a kid and eating ice cream go hand in hand, but only the lucky ones get to experience Roman gelato. Take them to Della Palma, just past the Pantheon at Via della Maddalena 20/23, where you'll find 125 different flavors in the winter and 135 in the summer. Even your pickiest eater will find something to love.

Another option would be to take the family on a food tour of Rome or bring home some Italian cooking skills with a cooking class.

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Kid-sized shopping in Rome

Can't go home without a stop at the toy store? Don't miss Città del Sole (Via della Scrofa 65), an Italian chain that features a range of educational toys disguised as just plain fun.

You'll probably see lots of people carrying shopping bags with a wooden Pinocchio on them--that's because they've discovered Bartolucci (Via dei Pastini 98). Crammed full of hand-crafted pine wood toys and clocks with pendulums swinging every which way, the pure sensory overload of this shop makes it hard to keep your wallet in check--you'll probably end up walking out with a bag of goodies just like everyone else.

Soccer fans in the family? Indulge their adoration of 'La Roma' at the AS Roma Store in Piazza Colonna. For fans of local rival team Lazio, the official team shop, Original Fans, is near the Termini train station on Via Farini 34.

Read about more things to do in Rome

-Shelley Ruelle for Viator

Get your family packed and ready... Italy is waiting! For more ideas see Viator's complete list of things to do in Rome, tours in Venice, what to do in Florence, and tours & attractions in Italy. Or book a private guide in Italy for a customized tour!