The Eternal City is a great destination for a Spring break with the family. April doesn't guarantee good weather but it does ensure that you don't swelter too badly as you tour the sights of the Centro Storico. A good starting point is to buy a Roma Pass (widely available at stations and tabacchi) for 25 euros. This is valid for 3 days and entitles adults to free admission to the principal historic attractions such as the Colosseum, Forum and Capitoline Museum and soon repays the investment. It also entitles you to by-pass some hefty queues (invaluable with kids in tow) and includes free underground, bus and tram travel. Entry for children under 12 is usually free - a rare concession in the tourist driven city centre.
The Colosseum is a sure-fire hit with blood-thirsty youngsters and the giant body parts from the colossal staute of Constantine in the Palazzo dei Conservatori are similarly jaw-dropping and provide an unparalleled photo opportunity.
Tourists in Rome need to be thick-skinned and cautious as there are numerous touts and hawkers vying for your custom selling sunglasses, tripods, chestnuts, guide-books, plastic swords and silk scarves. The crowds also attract pickpockets and bag snatchers so personal belongings need to be kept securely about your person.
Three days of fairly incessant sight-seeing is enough for anyone and so on our fourth day we headed for the green open space of the Villa Borghese where we hired bikes for a pleasant morning's cycling with pit stops for capuccini and gelatti.
That afternoon we headed out of the city centre to the Villa Torlonia a charming park, albeit that it once housed Mussolini's Ducal Palace, that is now home to Techno Town - a science-based interactive museum for 11-17 year-olds. Although intended for native Italian speakers the enthusiastic student staff gamely improvised an English tour for Alfred (10) and William (8) who declared this the highlight of our trip. Souvenirs don't come much better than a life-size 3-D image of your face cut into polystyrene by a robotic drilling arm. Amazingly these were included in the bargain 4 euro admission price.
One of the great joys of visiting Italy is, of course, the food and our M.O. was to avoid the tourist traps in the middle of town and visit the less obvious but welcoming eateries a little further out. Delicious tramezzini (crust-less sandwiches) and cut to order pizza in myriad flavours cost about 2 euros for a generous portion, so eating out needn't break the bank. A pasta dish in a local restaurant costs about 10 euros and this does all mount up over a family holiday. When in Rome one should certainly do as the Romans do and drink, coffees, beers and soft drinks standing at the bar as this is at least 30% cheaper than table service. n.b. Public lavatories are few and far between in Rome (although conversely excellent drinking water is universally available from ever-flowing drinking fountains) so one needs to opportunist in bars, cafes and museums.
Another recommended excursion is a trip out to Tivoli, which takes just under an hour by train, to visit the Villa d'Este and the Villa Adriana. The former is by far the easier to access and consists of a fresco crammed Renaissance villa set in fountain rich water gardens. This is more child-friendly than one might imagine as there is plenty of space to play hide and seek amongst the hedgerows. The Villa Adriana is a short bus ride and a long walk out of Tivoli and (considering it is a UNESCO heritage site) is terribly sign-posted and hard to locate. It is well worth the effort though as here one can see the substantial remains of Hadrian's personal palaces giving incredible insight into his power and wealth and the might of the Roman Empire. This is a great place to wander casually making new discoveries and is ideal for picnicing so one should really allocate at least half a day for a visit.
A pensione is probably the best bet for family accommodation, although we stayed with our friends Maura and Elena, whose generosity was tested to the limit when our return flight was cancelled due to the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud.
As we were forced to extend our trip we caught a train 70 miles south of Rome to the attractive Mediterranean resort of Sperlonga. Shallow clear water and empty sandy beaches were an ideal tonic after the stress of cancelled flights, and al fresco meals of local seafood soon restored our spirits. Perhaps the optimum week-long break would be to spend 3 days in Rome another 3 in Sperlonga and then have 1 day for a final fling in the Eternal City before departure.
Oh yes. The wine wasn't bad either. We drank some particularly good organic Nebbiolos from Sicily that Maura and Elena had carefully sourced but that is another story...