How to Spend a Month in Rome With Your Family

Woodfired pizza at Pizzeria Ai Marmi

Four weeks in the italian capital and countless memories made: one aussie family turns a dream into a reality.

Last time I was in Rome, back in 2009, I was travelling with my girlfriend. On our final day in the city we decided to each do our own thing before meeting up later to have dinner. I stopped for lunch at an inviting restaurant tucked away in a quiet street not far from the Trevi Fountain, had some excellent pasta, a beer and a long think about my future. By the end of the meal I’d made a decision: I would propose on the Spanish Steps that night.

Reader, she said yes. In the blink of an eye, it’s more than 14 years later and we’re heading back to Rome with our two daughters in tow – nicknamed Bug (aged 11) and Squidget (nine). We’ve booked an apartment in Trastevere, a neighbourhood across the river from Rome’s Centro Storico that we both adored on our previous trip, where we’ll stay for a month. If you’ve ever seen those classic photos of a Vespa parked on a cobblestone street lined with ivy-covered apartment buildings and sidewalk restaurants, there’s a good chance the picture was snapped in Trastevere.

Porta Portese markets in the Trastevere district, Rome

On a sunny spring afternoon, we arrive outside our flat on Piazza di San Cosimato to the sight of a fruit and vegetable market in the square, neighbourhood children playing soccer, an Italian ballad drifting from an outdoor bar and – to squeals of delight from our daughters – the realisation that there are two gelaterias on our block. Before we’ve even unpacked, we fall instantly in love.

Piazza De Renzi, Rome

Week 1

In Rome it’s important to have a local bar and we find ours on the first day. Bar San Calisto starts to pump as the sun sinks and revellers spill out onto the terrace but in the morning, like most Italian bars, it's equivalent to a café. A place to start the day with coffee and pastries; just us and the Roman regulars.

Our girls have never been to the Italian capital before so we tick off a lot of the greatest hits in the first week, including the Colosseum, the Forum, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon and the Spanish Steps. On the weekend we venture to the eastern edge of Trastevere to Porta Portese, where the city’s largest market is held every Sunday. We spend hours browsing stalls selling clothes, shoes, jewellery, art, vinyl records, knick-knacks and more. I pick up the best leather jacket I’ve ever owned for five euros. My wife enters some sort of bargain-shopping fugue state. The kids are wide-eyed, sifting through trays of junk jewellery and choosing souvenirs.

“Can we come back next weekend?” asks Bug.

“Yeah, can we?” chimes in Squidget. We can. In fact, we spend each Sunday morning of our time in Rome at the market.

Week 2

Trastevere, Rome

At this point, Fabrizio, the initially stern dude behind the counter at Bar San Calisto, is waving at us as we walk in each morning, announcing our regular coffee order to the barista and smiling at our daughters, calling them “belle ragazze” and “little ladies”. We’re starting to feel like locals.

We take a couple of daytrips by train – one to Florence and one to Pompeii – and although we enjoy both, the crowds can feel oppressive and we’re up very early and get back late. “That was interesting but I’m glad we’re back home,” says Squidget after our visit to Pompeii.

Yes, our apartment in Rome has become home. We regularly cross the river, whether to stroll through the Villa Borghese Gardens, brave the skulls and skeletons at the Capuchin Crypt or climb to the top of the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument. But we always love returning to Trastevere. We spend hours wandering and discovering new things in our neighbourhood: the beautiful Botanical Garden; Villa Farnesina, which holds an incredible collection of Renaissance art; and one afternoon we climb Gianicolo Hill and find a merry-go-round, a puppet show and what I’m going to claim is the most stunning view of Rome.

Trastevere, Rome

It’s remarkable how quickly you can create attachments to places. After a couple of weeks we have our favourite church (the glorious Basilica di Santa Maria), our favourite snack food (crunchy pizza pockets with delicious fillings called trapizzini) and our favourite of all the gelaterie, Fatamorgana, where we eat every single day.

Week 3

Traditional Italian meatballs at Flavio al Velavevodetto, Rome

This week we choose a different area to investigate each day. In Ostiense, about 15 minutes south of Centro Storico, we take in the incredible modern street art, Italian food mecca Eataly and a cat café called Romeow, which my feline-obsessed elder daughter names the highlight of the trip. Testaccio is the go-to neighbourhood for food. We stop by the Mercato Testaccio’s stalls a couple of times, taking in the fresh produce, pizza, pasta, biscotti and incredible sandwiches. On one visit, we splurge at Flavio al Velavevodetto, a noted Roman restaurant set against Monte Testaccio, a man-made hill and park built on the discarded shards of ancient earthenware pots. On the walk home, we come across the 35-metre-tall Pyramid of Cestius. Next door is the beautiful and peaceful Non-Catholic Cemetery, where English poets Keats and Shelley are buried.

I take a solo jaunt to Pigneto, which has become known as the Brooklyn of Rome. Formerly a rough-around-the-edges working-class neighbourhood, Pigneto has now added plenty of hip to the grittiness. A pedestrian-only stretch of Via del Pigneto (christened the isola pedonale) is packed with cafés, bars and restaurants. I browse vinyl at Radiation Records, drink craft beer at Birra + and have cacio e pepe for lunch on the idyllic garden terrace at Necci dal 1924, where maverick writer and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini used to hang out.

Bug and I head off to Garbatella together for a father/daughter day. We walk aimlessly – and happily – on an overcast Wednesday, ducking in and out of the lotti (clusters o f apartments built around internal courtyards), checking out the mural of the neighbourhood’s namesake, Clementina “Garbatella” Eusebi, and stopping for lunch at Bar Foschi, which looks like it’s frozen in 1956, the year it opened. It’s one of my favourite days of the trip as my daughter and I move at a slower pace while soaking up the ambience. The Italians have a word for it – passeggiata – which means to walk for sheer pleasure, without any particular destination or purpose.

Week 4

The Trevi Fountain, Rome

The beauty of our final stretch is that we don’t have that feeling you often get at the end of a trip; no wild panic or regrets. It’s a week where we completely relax. The girls have the time of their lives at the Museum of Illusions, where we interact with displays that make use of amazing optical tricks.

I go to MAXXII, the National Museum of 21st Century Art, intending just to see an exhibition of Bob Dylan’s artwork, as it’s closing in a few days. The rest of the museum is so extraordinary, however, I spend half a day there. As our time comes to an end, we revisit the places we’ve loved most. Bug has befriended a cat in a hidden garden behind the hospital on our square and we stop by every day with our gelato to sit in the sun with the local she’s christened Puss-Puss. We eat and drink at our favourite spots one last time, enjoying another tasty meal at Trapizzino, sipping apéritifs at baroque bar Milea and scoring a table near the woodfired oven at Pizzeria Ai Marmi, where we watch the masters work before tucking into their thin-crust delights.

On our second last day, we go back to the Trevi Fountain for the fourth or fifth time. We’ve thrown so many coins in, we’re bound to be back. After a while it gets so crowded that we duck into the backstreets and it only takes a minute or two of walking before things are quieter and more peaceful.

We turn into a narrow, curved street that looks vaguely familiar. At first I can’t quite believe it but there it is. The same restaurant where I sat almost a decade and a half ago and made that big decision.

So I have lunch there again, this time with the woman who I asked to marry on the Spanish Steps and our belle ragazze. With a beer, a prosecco and two glasses of Fanta, we raise a toast to Roma and a month we’ll never forget.

Find Flights

Start planning now

SEE ALSO: 23 of the Most Magical Towns in Italy

Image credit: Susan Wright

You may also like