Family Travel

Don't Tell Your Kids They're on a Tour of Rome

by Jeff Sulman
Historic Rome meets his approval. Photos by Jeff Sulman.

Worried that your darling children will be bored when you try to get them excited about the many attractions in Rome? Send them on this scavenger hunt, and they'll be begging for more culture, art, and history.

Rhys: "Dad, are you gonna make me look at OLD things when we go to Rome?"

Me: "Rhys, we're in an ancient city filled with wonders. Like the Colosseum — you saw it in the movie Gladiator, remember?"

Rhys: "Yeah. Those lions were cool. But can't we just eat cacio e pepe spaghetti all day? And get me an AS Roma soccer jersey?"

During my recent trip to Italy with my wife and eight-year-old son, we connected with Maria Claudia at Mariaclaudia Tours for a family-oriented walking tour through the historic center of Rome. We found her on the Mama Loves Rome website, which, if you haven't visited, is a surprisingly rich online resource for visitors to the Eternal City. Maria Claudia, who has a background in art history and cultural anthropology and is herself a mother of two small children, understands that nothing could be more boring for the average kid than listening to a guide spout out facts and figures for two hours while being schlepped around from site to site.

Her scavenger hunt format pits parents against kids (very Gladiator!) and had our son and the four other kids on the tour, all aged 5 to 12, literally racing from location to location across the Centro Storico. Starting at the Trevi Fountain, we learned about Marcus Aurelius while admiring his statue atop the obelisk at Piazza Colonna, were wowed by the trompe l’oeil dome at the church of Sant’ Ignazio di Loyola in the piazza of the same name, drank from the nasone in front of the Pantheon, and wove our way through a maze of narrow alleyways until we reached Piazza Navona. A short distance, but one very rich in history and details.

Points are awarded by Maria Claudia (tracked conspicuously on her iPad) for asking and answering "smart" questions — "Why do all of the churches have crossed keys over their doors?" — and for spotting Roman sites and symbols — SPQR written on manhole covers, Madonella shrines on street corners, and images of the papal shield on churches and monuments. The kids were so engrossed in the “game” they forgot that they were on a “tour” of Rome, actually learning things their parents wanted them to learn.

Instead, they were amateur archaeologists, art critics, and historians exploring the city. Our tour ended with the kids racing through Piazza Navona to try to find the dolphin, crocodile, horse, and other creatures represented in Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, collecting their prizes for having the most points. (Somehow I suspect the kids always beat the parents.) Instead of hearing “I’m sooo bored, when can we go back to the hotel?” we were delighted to hear Rhys express his disappointment that the tour hadn’t lasted longer.

And, then, no surprise, ask us if it was too soon for another gelato.

To book a tour, email Maria Claudia at

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