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August 14, 2011

Kids and Rome, Italy

by Anne Paddock
Before I travel to any destination, I always research what to do and especially where to take kids as there are only so many museums (maybe, one) and ruins that my daughter can see in one day before she turns to her dad and says “why do I have to see all this?”  His response: “Because my father showed me, and I’m showing you….and you will show your own children..” to which she wholeheartedly advises him she isn’t going to carry on the tradition.
We’ve learned through the years to make sure we do museums and places where our daughter is restrained from running, touching, or speaking in a voice louder than a whisper, in the morning and to spend the afternoon seeing or doing something she is interested in.

Rome, Italy is a fascinating place with its archaeological ruins, sites and museums but it’s also a city that is very challenging with a child.  Rome is  the only city in which a major museum (Museo Nazionale del Palazzo di Venezia) provided my daughter with an audio guide that didn’t match the art she was looking at.  When I returned to the service desk to point out the problem, I was told that some pictures were moved (no kidding) and summarily dismissed to continue the self guided tour.

It’s hard enough to interest a child in art with an audio guide, nearly impossible with an inaccurate audio guide. Somehow “close your eyes and pretend” doesn’t cut it with a child in a museum.  I chalked up the experience to the “Field of Dreams” attitude that permeates through Rome: Build it and they will come. The Romans know they have the treasure chest: the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Vatican, Piazza Narona, the Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, the Campidoglio, the Spanish Steps, and more…and that people will seek out the treasures. All they have to do is let them come.

canstockphoto1589855After our first morning touring St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican (pictured above), I decided to take my daughter to the Museo Nazionale delle Pasta Alimentari” (The National Pasta Museum) thinking that seeing one of my daughter’s favorite foods being produced would interest her.  Unfortunately, this museum was a total disappointment.

2078646-Pasta_Museum_Entrance_on_Piazza_Scanderbeg_RomeThe museum is in a building that resembles a 2-story house with small rooms full of vintage machinery used to make pasta.  The self guided tour took my daughter all of 10 minutes to complete and included a museum employee following us to make sure she didn’t touch a thing. Am I the only one that thinks Rome or Italy should have a world-class pasta museum and cost less than $25 (10 Euros for an adult and 7 Euros for a child)?

On our second day, we found the pot of gold:  Explora il Museo dei Bambini de Roma or the Children’s Exploration Museum of Rome, which is also known as simply:  Explora.    Explora is a privately owned non-profit children’s museum dedicated to children 12 years old and younger and is hands down the most fun place for a child in Rome.  Located in the center of the city, the museum is a few minutes walk from Plaza del Popolo and Piazzale Flaminio.  The closest metro stop is Line A, Flaminio stop (but I don’t recommend Rome’s metro system – the only European metro system my husband – a dedicated subway user – tried once and would never use again).

provided-by-explora-museum-1The museum has two floors:  the ground floor and the first floor.  The first floor houses the temporary exhibits and has the “Lil’Explorers” area which is for children 3 years old and younger.  In addition, there is also has the “Let’s Make Paper Workshop” in  the Space Laboratory.

The ground floor resembles a small town with 14 areas including a supermarket, bank, post office, dairy, garden, fire station, recycling plant, energy sources, water plant, weather reporting, etc. .  These areas are designed for kids from 3-12 years old.  My daughter, 10 years old when we first visited was fixated on being a cashier at the supermarket scanning goods, taking “money” and making change.  She also spent time making a “television recording” of a weather report for the news.  There is no shortage of areas to interest a child; they can run, touch, and play to their heart’s content.

explora-11-1The museum is open Tuesday – Sunday and has a timed ticketing system which allows visitors a 1 hour, 45 minute session to avoid overcrowding; this also allows you to plan a re-visit day later in the week after a tour of the Colosseum or a museum.  There are typically four sessions per day at Explora:

Tour 1:  10:00 – 11:45
Tour 2:  12:00 –   1:45
Tour 3:    3:00 –   4.45

Tour 4:    5:00 –   6:45

All tours are self guided based on the philosophy of the museum that children should be allowed to play with whatever piques their curiosity.  The session prices vary but are approximately 7 Euros per session (or two sessions at 5 Euros per session). There is a bookshop and a restaurant/cafe ( located in the museum.

Explora il Museo dei Bambini de Roma
Via Flaminia 80/86 (80 is the museum, 86 is the parking lot)
00196 Roma
39 06 361 3776
Closed Mondays.
Closed December 25, January 1, and August 13-15

In August, there are three sessions daily beginning with the 12:00 pm tour.  Check the website before going.

Take you child to the Colosseum, the Pantheon, or an art museum in the morning and then go to Explora for a play and learning session.  You’re child will forever remember how much fun Rome was.

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