Planning a family trip to Rome? Five insider’s tips on how to beat the crowds at popular attractions

Rome is an incredible holiday destination packed full of historical sites, breathtaking architecture, works of art, and great eateries.

And if you are traveling with a young family the news is good: you will be wholeheartedly welcomed at the top attractions and into restaurants and bars at any time of day. The people of Rome love children, so expect your little ones to be fussed over and taken care of.

Sadly, the secret has very much been out about Rome as a destination, so the crowds flocking around the famous monuments in peak season can make visiting a little overwhelming.

Busy streets, poor parking, and terrible sidewalks are not great for even the best of buggies, so you may be better off opting for a sling or back carrier for young children.

Five tips to help you beat the crowds in Rome

Despite these concerns, planning your trip well will help you make the most of your holiday and avoid disappointments and frustrations. Here five tips to help you beat the crowds at popular attractions in Rome from a travel insider.

1) Book your tickets in advance

Forward planning before your Rome visit will mean that you’re easily able to visit the attractions you want to without waiting in vast lines with grumpy children for hours in the sweltering heat.

Buying ‘skip the lines’ tickets will save you precious hours, and for some of the attractions advance booking is mandatory anyway. When you book ahead you will often be given a specific time slot to enter. Don’t be late. 

2) Look beyond the attractions’ official websites

When looking to book tickets your first port of call is often the official website: makes sense right? Alas in Rome these often do not provide the best options, and you could quickly come to the conclusion that you’re not going to be able to visit the sites you had your heart set on. 

A perfect example of this is the Colosseum. When buying your tickets you are required to select a specific time slot, but in high season the availability of tickets on a specific date is either severely limited or impossible.

Even booking months in advance doesn’t help as tickets are released on a single day every three months, and get snapped up within hours of going live.

In this case, the only way to guarantee being able to visit this iconic building – the ticket for which also gets you into the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill – is usually to buy a slightly more expensive ticket from a reseller (such as Rome Vacation Tips).

3) For the major sites go very early (or very late)

For attractions that don’t give you a ticketed time slot, getting an early start can really help you beat the crowds and make your visit much more pleasant.

The Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel within the museums, and nearby St. Peter’s Basilica can get seriously overcrowded, especially during peak season. The Vatican does not restrict visitor numbers, which can lead to museum corridors becoming logjammed with people. This could potentially ruin your visit and is seriously concerning with a young family.

A “pre-entry” ticket gets you into the Vatican at 7:30am, which is a full hour and a half before the crowds. This ticket is somewhat more expensive but includes an audio guide. St. Peter’s dome is also fun to climb with older children as a break from the more static atmosphere of the museums.

If you’ve been unable to buy your Colosseum tickets in advance and don’t want to miss out, an insider’s trick is to turn up at 8am when the line for tickets should only be around 10-20 minutes.

When buying a ticket in person you will be allocated an immediate entry time and will be one of the first people allowed in. We recommend visiting the Colosseum early anyway as during the hot months the rocks heat up and turn it into a pizza oven even after dark. 

By the way, most attractions offer discounts for children under 17, and free entry for EU citizens under 17 and for very young children (under 3) of any nationality. However even if your kid is visibly a toddler you still have to prove it, so when seeking discounts don’t forget to pack your passports (but whatever you do, don’t lose them!).

4) Choose less typical attractions

If you have a family, it’s also worth choosing your attractions wisely to avoid boredom in older kids and tantrums from younger ones. Rome is full of fantastic activities that don’t suffer from the unpleasant effects of mass tourism.

For example, there are plenty of activities for children such as the Rome tour for children (6-12 years), where a specially trained guide takes you and your children around the Colosseum, Forum and Palatine with lots of child-focused activities.

The Gladiator Training and Gladiator School Museum (7 years and up), is a great way to prepare your children for the Colosseum. They get dressed up in tunics and are given training swords while expert instructors teach them basic combat technique – what’s not to love?

Kids of a macabre disposition will love the bone sculptures in the Capuchin Crypt, while budding Indiana Joneses will marvel at the layers of history deep within the ground at the Basilica of San Clemente. None of these attractions are oversubscribed.

There are also lots of parks in Rome that have children’s areas, such as Villa Ada which has a comprehensive playground near the lake, and Villa Borghese which boasts Rome’s zoo, a boating lake full of turtles, go-karts, bouncy castles, and more.

5) Use Google Maps’ ‘popular times’ feature

This feature within Google Maps can really help you decide when to visit a popular attraction, be it monument or restaurant, by showing you how busy the place is at different times of day, and how long people typically spend there.

To get this useful information for pretty much anywhere select the place you’re interested in after searching in Google Maps, scroll down past the contact details and questions & answers to the “popular times” graph.

With just a bit of forward planning you and your family will be able to wring every drop of enjoyment out of your visit to one of the most spectacular cities in the world.

The article was produced by Jim Whittle, founder of Rome Vacation Tips, one of the first independent travel advice web sites about Rome and C-Rome art tours. 

Photo by Carlos Ibáñez