Archive for the ‘Green & Recreation’ Category

Pinoli Foraging in Rome

Between early spring and late fall, one thing you’ll see plenty of on the ground when strolling around Roman public parks – which are, more often than not, dotted with tall Mediterranean Stone pines – are pinoli, or pine nuts.

With freshly harvested “pinoli” all you need is a rock or a mallet, and a little patience. Photo ©EleonoraBaldwin

Encased in a single sticky and dusty scales of the pine cone, sit nearly 50 to 60 pinoli. Some scatter to the ground when the pinecones plummet to the ground, others have to be forced out of their home with great effort. The resin that saps out of the pinecones, and the unique burgundy powder that covers the scales as a natural moisture absorber, can stain clothes and fingers indelibly for days. A good tip is to rub any stains off with a dab of olive oil before scrubbing with soap and warm water.
Another good idea is to shake off the pine cone before prying them open for their hidden treasures. Disgusting black slithery Monsters Inc–type insects like to live among the tasty nuts. A good shake will dislodge any loitering bugs right out.

Save the pinecones in a large Ziploc bag and bring them back home with you. They’ll be excellent burned in the fireplace, with their perfumed burnt wood and resin bringing back fond Roman memories when snuggled before the crackling fire back home.
The nuts on the other hand can be consumed on the premises. The fun of gathering the pinoli snack is not so much in the real eating part (they are very tasty), as in the breaking of their hard wooden shell. Equip yourself with a large and heavy enough stone and snack like the Romans do. Here’s a recipe should you harvest more than you can gobble in one go (bearing in mind that un-shelled pine nuts have a long shelf life if kept dry and refrigerated).

Croccante di Pinoli ~ Recipe for Nonna’s Pine Nut Brittle
Break the pinoli shells open with a stone or a piece of rock the size of your fist, peel off the thin husks too.

Put the pinoli in a pot with 3 1/2 cups of sugar, a tablespoon of butter and call a grown up in the kitchen, tell him/her it’ll only take a few minutes.

Have the grown up light the stove, setting it on medium. Ask him/her to stick around while you stir gently with a wooden spoon until the mixture turns light golden brown in color.

Spread the gluey mixture on a greased cookie sheet about 1/2 inch thick and let it cool before digging your teeth in.

Just remember to brush and floss, after.


Best swimming pools in Rome

Rome can get fiercely hot in summer, and kids really need some respite from the city chaos with some well-deserved splish-splash.

If you’re visiting Rome, and the children need a break between sightseeing monuments; or whether you’re residing in the Eternal City and looking for a swimming day, here are a few among the best swimming pools in Rome.


Acquaniene (Parioli) Via della Moschea, 130 – Tel. 068084059
Gorgeous olympic-size outdoor pool in newly built sports facility, with huge parking lot, and winter swimming classes in the indoor pool. Open daily 10:30Am to 6:30PM. Entrance fee weekdays €15; weekends €20, includes sun beds and umbrellas.

Centro Sportivo Villa Flaminia (Flaminio) Via Donatello 20 – Tel. 063216484. Immense sports facility with indoor and outdoor pools, fitness and swimming classes, day camp activities, courses and club house benefits, plus large guarded parking lot.


Radisson SAS Hotel (Esquilino) Via Filippo Turati 171 – Tel. 06444841. Rooftop outdoor swimming pool with a special section for children. The restaurant also offers elegant poolside dining. Entrance fee: Adults €45 Mon-Fri, €55 Sat-Sun / Children 50% discount. Open daily 9AM to 7PM.

Aldrovandi Palace (Parioli) Via Ulisse Aldrovandi 15 – Tel. 063223993. Smallselect city-center boutique hotel, offers a sophisticated, outdoor swimming pool, shaded by palms and canvas umbrellas. Arrive early since space is limited around this mostly grown-up pool. Pricey entrance fees €40 per child, €80 per adult. Open Mon-Sun 10AM – 6:30PM.

Nuoto Belle Arti (Flaminio) at Circolo Sportivo Ministero Infrastrutture e Trasporti, on Lungotevere G. A. Thaon di Revel, 3 – Tel. 063241710. The sports club offers a very pleasant swimming pool for adults and children alike. Entrance fee: €20. Open Mon-Sun 8AM to 8PM.

Piscina Crawl 2000 (Prati Fiscali) Via del Gran Paradiso, 93 – Tel. 0687193752 – Indoor facility that organizes day camp activities, swimming classes and playtime. Open weekdays and Saturday 7:40AM to 11PM; Sunday 10AM to 1PM

Piscina delle Rose

Piscina delle Rose (EUR) Viale America 18/20 – Tel. 0654220333. Large olympic-size outdoor pool that offers swimming and canoeing lessons, and where loungers and folding beach chairs can be rented for €3 and €5 plus an entrance fee of €16 for the whole day, or €14 from 1PM to closing time. Open weekdays 10AM – 10PM; weekends 9AM – 7PM

Isola Verde (Casalpalocco/Ostia) Via di Casalpalocco 89 – Tel. 3931209894 Facility which offers an outdoor Olympic and two swimming pools for children, lined with palm trees and shady canvas parasols. Offers swimming, aqua-gym and water polo classes, plus beach-volley, ping-pong, and foosball. Open daily 9:30AM to 7PM.

Sport City (Spinaceto/Mostacciano) Via Alvaro del Portillo – Tel. 065061995. Spacious outdoor pool where entrance is free, and you can rent a sun bed for €3 and an umbrella for €2. Fun day camp activities for kids ages 4 to 12. Open weekdays 9:30AM – 7:30PM

Centro Sportivo Nadir (Balduina) Via Francesco Bonfiglio, 62 – Tel. 063013340. Beautiful 25-meter pool surrounded by lush grassy lawns and trees. Entrance fees: Mon-Sat €10; Sun. €12 plus sun bed rental €4; folding beach chairs €2,50. Open Mon-Sat 10Am to 5PM. Sunday 10Am to 6PM. Closes 2 weeks in August.

Mallia Sporting Club (Balduina) Via Pantaleone Rapino, 18 – Tel. 0635346493. Outdoor 25-meter pool, with a surrounding expansive sports club. PADI diving certification classes. Open daily 9Am to 6PM (weekdays) and 9AM to 7PM weekends. Fees: Mon-Fri €14 whole day, €10 half day; weekends €15 whole day, €12 half day; plus sun bed rental €5.

New Green Hill (Bufalotta) Via della Bufallotta, 663 – Tel. 0687133810. Chairs and umbrellas are free, while sun beds can be rented for €4. Entrance fee weekdays €10 for the full day; €7 if you arrive after 1PM; weekends €8 whole day; €6 after 1PM. Open daily 9:30AM – 6:30PM

Circolo Valentini

Circolo Valentini (Bufalotta) Via della Marcigliana 597 – Tel. 0687120207. Fiendly, family-run sports club that boasts a large outdoor swimming pool for children and adults. Entrance fees: weekdays €10 all day; €7 half-day; Sat-Sun €13 all day; €9 half day. Open weekdays 9AM to 7PM.

Monteverde Club (Monteverde) Via Santorre di Santarosa, 68 – Tel. 0655285662
Tennis club and spa that offers all manner of classes and water sports, like hydro-bike, aqua-gym, pre-natal swimming, acqua-Pilates and infant swimming for children between 6mo and 3Y. Beds and umbrellas are free; entrance fee: €10 the full day, €8 from 3:30PM; €5 from 1 to 3PM; Sunday €15. Open daily from 7AM to 11PM – Closed the week of Ferragosto (middle of the month).


Ede Nuoto Club Lanciani (Tiburtino) Via di Pietralata, 135 – Tel. 064181401
Gorgeous pool located in a lush tennis club, which offers lessons, free swimming and children’s summer camp activities. Loungers and umbrellas are free, sun beds for rent. Entrance fee: weekdays €10 for the full day; €8 half day. Weekends €14 all day: €10 half day. Open weekdays 9:30AM – 6:30PM / weekends 9AM – 7PM

H20 Fitness Center Via del Pigneto 108 (Pigneto) Tel. 062753877 A professional swimming pool which offers a great variety of water activities for babies aged 12 to 36 months, children and adults, including free swimming, aqua-gym and hydrobike classes. Free parking and Wi-Fi complete the scene. Open weekdays 8Am to 10:30PM; Sat 9Am to 8PM; Sun 10AM to 2PM.


If the kids get particularly ansty, why not head over to Hydromania? Located on Via Casal Lumbroso 33 in the Aurelio neighborhood; Tel. 0666183183, this is a water park that offers water slides, wave machines, outdoor pools (also one for younger kids), tropical thatched roof bars, shops and a mini-club. Entrance fees: Adults €19, children €14, half-day €14/€12. Open Mon-Sun 9:30AM – 6:30PM.

Another one of Rome’s acqua parks is Zoomarine in Pomezia, where besides dolphin shows, falconry, water slides and roller coasters, there is also a wave pool with sandy shores and floating rafts. Via Zara (Pomezia) – Tel. 06915341 – Admission fees: Adults €27; under 10 and over 65 years €20; kids under 3ft are admitted free. Open daily in summer 10AM to 7PM.

Sightseeing Rome for Kids: the fun stuff

Ciao, Kids!
Are you enjoying the city, with its majestic monuments, shiny cobblestones and great food? Are you having fun discovering ancient Rome?
But do you get to choose, and have your say in where to go and what to see?
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If you’re tired of grown-ups deciding your itinerary, bored of hearing them read dates and facts off guidebooks, maybe you should suggest visiting some places they might not be familiar with; and become the guide yourself for the day.

In addition to the remarkable artistic, historic and architectural wonders your parents will want to share with you–to bring more variety to your Rome experience–here are a few more sites you might like to tell them about.

Big Bambù in Testaccio ©EleonoraBaldwin

Big Bambù | Suspended Bamboo Forest
The iconic symbol for the flourishing Testaccio neighborhood is 33 meters high and is located within the stockyards of the city’s former slaughterhouse. The project designed by brothers Mike and Doug Stern required the efforts of 15 American and 10 Italian rock climbers, who built the elevated space in 2012, and which is integrated within the flexible bamboo framework. Big Bambù, with its double helix staircase and various labyrinth paths that lead the visitors up over two ‘living rooms’, allows 80 to 120 visitors at a time, who are free to wander and relax in the suspended rest areas, terraces and intricate paths. The thousands of bamboo rods are connected and interlocked with a traditional yarn bombing-like weaving method, which generates a wonderfully chaotic network of unpredictable intersections and outlooks.
Access to Big Bambú requires signing a waiver and adequate shoes (no heels, no sandals, and possibly with a non-slip sole). No admittance in case of rain. Open daily from 4 to 9pm.
MACRO Roma – Piazza O. Giustiniani 4 | Tel. +39 06 671070400 | Free admission

Planetario e Museo Astronomico di Roma | Rome Planetarium and Astronomical Museum
The Planetarium is a fascinating place. To get there, you need to travel south, away from the city center. You can do this by taking the subway Line B, and getting off at the Laurentina stop. You’ll find yourself in a perfectly modern and geometric part of the city, this is the Ancient Rome-inspired fascist era district called EUR. The Rome Planetarium observatory sits under a spectacular 46-foot dome and seats 100 people in comfortable reclining padded chairs. These recline so that when the show starts, you can relax and enjoy the projection of 4,500 stars on the dome’s inner screen. It takes five slide projectors to simultaneously beam the planet images, and twelve for the background constellations. Besides visiting the Astronomical Museum, the Planetarium organizes shows for groups and schools and combines visits to the neighboring Museo della Civiltà Romana. Shows last 20 minutes.
Planetarium – Piazza Giovanni Agnelli 10 | Tel. +39 06 0608 | Free admission for children under 6

Cripta della Chiesa dei Cappuccini | Skulls and bones galore
Older kids will love this place, but younger ones may get scared, so tell your parents about this visit before dragging the entire family there.
The Capuchin Crypt is a small space made up of several small chapels located beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini on the Via Veneto, near Piazza Barberini. It is the final resting place for over 4,000 Capuchin friars, who died between the 1500s and the 1800s, as well as several Romans. Curiously, many of the bones are nailed to the walls in intricate patterns, many are piled high among many others, and some hang from the ceiling as functioning light fixtures. The rooms in the crypt feature unique displays of human bones. The thousands of human skulls and bones are arranged in fact in many different and impressive decorating shapes reproducing everyday objects and furnishings, which make this a must on your Rome visit. The crypt is structured in a line of six adjoining room; this makes it easy to visit without running the risk of getting lost. Opening hours: 9 a.m. to 12 noon – 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. | Closed Thursdays | There is no entrance fee, but you can make a small donation. No photography is allowed. Be sure to buy some postcards to bring back home and freak out your friends.
The Church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini sits across the street from the Via Veneto exit of the Line B subway stop “Barberini,” and only a few steps away from the Hard Rock Cafe… jussayin’.

Bocca della Verità | Ultimate “Truth or Dare”
Walk along Via del Teatro di Marcello from the Campidoglio, and before hitting the grand Circus Maximus, on the left you’ll reach the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, which is famous for its special mosaics, Romanesque bell tower and the Bocca della Verità, the Mouth of Truth. This is, plainly, a lie detector. The Mouth is located in the courtyard outside the church, and you will recognize it immediately. It is a large, round stone face with its mouth open. Ready to put your hand in the mouth? If you haven’t told any lies, everything will be fine… otherwise, the Mouth will know it and chomp off your hand! But don’t worry, this mouth was actually – along with Via del Babuino’s, and Piazza Pasquino’s famous armless tenants – one of Rome’s many “talking statues.” Roman tradition prescribes that protestors may place a written complaint referring to religious or governmental officials by lodging an accusatory poem on the base of the statue, or in this case in the Bocca’s open mouth. If you look closely at the Bocca della Verità, you can see there are two claws, similar to a crab’s, hidden in its curly hair. The mask represents the sea-god Neptune and we all know he prefers to eat fish!
Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin – Via della Greca, 4 | Tel. +39 06 6793609 | Open daily until 5pm

Knights of Malta | Peeking through a Keyhole
>High on the Aventine Hill, via di Santa Sabina and Via Porta Lavernale both open onto the quiet Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta. Bordered by a high wall, decorated with obelisks and military trophies, it leads to a famous and fascinating broad and dark wooden door, which is always shut. Known affectionately as the “hole of Rome” the enduring attraction draws visitors to this empty piazza. No key is required: all you have to do is put an open eye to the keyhole, and focus. A vision of St. Peter’s dome perfectly in perspective, framed by trees in the foreground, opens up. The glinting white dome – often wrapped in a thin mysterious mist – looks like it’s standing at the end of the garden path, just beyond the door; when it is instead several miles away. The huge doorway famous for the keyhole is the mighty entrance to the headquarters of the Sovereign Order of the Knights of Malta.
Leaning forward and taking a peek at il Cupolone, simply the dome – as we call it here – through one of Rome’s most prohibited locations, is a definite must on your Rome visit. The show through the keyhole is one hardly forgettable. 
Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta

Pantheon - Rome

Pantheon The Pantheon’s round interior is shaped like a large cylinder, and it is covered by an enormous dome, the largest and widest ever constructed without support! Look up at the center of the dome, see the large open hole? It’s a huge eye, or oculus, that looks up to the sky.
When it rains (or snows) the sloped marble floor and small hidden drains gather the water that falls through the oculus. When the sun shines, the beam of light entering through the oculus hits the walls of the Pantheon in different spots at different times of day. You could actually use it as a huge clock. As you look around the inside of the monument, you can see seven large alternating niches (indented rooms) and one large one at the back. All the niches – semi-circular and rectangular – are chapels decorated with wonderful art. Although this place of worship started out as a temple where Romans could celebrate every deity (the Greek root pan– means ‘all’), today the Pantheon is a Roman Catholic Church. The niches house funeral monuments and tombs. Let’s take a look at some of them. The tomb of Vittorio Emanuele II – Italy’s first King – is in the middle. To the left of it are the tombs of Umberto I and Margherita di Savoia, more royalty. In fact, from 1870, the Pantheon was the burial-place for the Savoy family, the sovereigns that ruled Italy until 1946. On the left, there is another celebrated tomb, but the person buried here is not a king, rather a wonderful Renaissance painter, his name was Raffaello Sanzio, or Raphael. His burial monument portrays a beautiful woman, “la Vergine del Sasso,” the Virgin of the rock. It was Raffaello himself who asked his friend Lorenzetto, to sculpt her for his burial monument. During the Catholic celebration of Pentecost, rose petals are dropped through the oculus… a pretty sight!
Piazza della Rotonda.

La Barcaccia | The Sinking Boat
The fountain in Piazza di Spagna is called the Barcaccia (“ugly old boat”) because it portrays a sinking launch that is taking in water from stern to helm. The sculptor, Pietro Bernini (Gian Lorenzo’s father) created it under the commission of Pope Urban VIII in 1627. Bernini was purportedly inspired after seeing how the boats in the nearby port of Ripetta (one of Rome’s river moorages) had been washed up after a disastrous flood. The Barcaccia fountain has a double basin: one is the drowned boat, while the other is the river it is sinking in. The aqueduct that provides water to the fountain is the Acqua Vergine, an ancient Roman aqueduct still functioning today, bringing water to this part of the city. The pressure is so strong that water springs up naturally, without any mechanical device. The water shoots up high from a middle spout, and also fans out from the mouth of the solar figures on both ends of the boat. It also flows from jets into the bottom part and even spurts from the sides. The natural spring water is always icy cold and refreshing, proof of this are the many overheated tourists and locals drinking (or sometimes even dipping in) the water during summer.
Piazza di Spagna, at the foot of the Spanish Steps.

Palazzo De Cupis | The Ghost Hand
If you are lucky enough to be Piazza Navona on a moonlit night, and if you are a close observer, you could see a mysterious woman’s hand reflected in a dark window. The hand belongs to the beautiful Costanza De Cupis, who was famous during the 17th century for her splendid hands. Her hands were so famous and so beautiful that an artist her contemporary made a plaster cast of one of them, and people would visit the palazzo just to admire it. However, one day while embroidering, Costanza pricked her finger with a rusty needle, which caused an infection and soon after her death. From that moment on, according to legend, when the moon shines on the window of her room, the light that reflects on the glass reveals the shape of a small pale hand. Truth or illusion? Find out by looking closely at the windows of the Palazzo De Cupis…
Piazza Navona.

Corazzieri in Palazzo del Quirinale ©EleonoraBaldwin

Corazzieri in Palazzo del Quirinale ©EleonoraBaldwin

Piazza del Quirinale | The Towering Corazzieri
All the climbing to get here will remind you that you are on one of the seven hills of Rome. This particular one, the Quirinal, takes its name from an ancient Roman temple dedicated to the god Quirinus. Perched on the summit of the Quirinale hill is the Presidential palace. It is huge! The Palazzo was built as a private residence for the Pope; later inhabited by the King of Italy who settled in, and now the President of the Republic lives here. Take a good look at the Presidential guards, the Corazzieri. They wear beautiful uniforms, sport elaborate swords and don strange golden helmets with long horse’s tails streaming down the back. The Corazzieri are a special police unit, who are all very tall and guard the Head of State. They must be over 6 feet tall to qualify! Generations of Corazzieri have been guarding the Palazzo del Quirinale, home to the various dignitary tenants for more than 500 years. If you are lucky, you might get to see the Corazzieri pass by on horseback, that’s when they are at their tallest! Stop in front of the Palazzo’s main entrance on the open piazza, and wait for the changing of the guard everyday around 3:30 p.m. It’s quite a show.
Also, be sure to take a look at the other two famous giants and their horses in the middle of the square, the white marble ones standing above the fountain. They are the mythological twins Castor and Pollux. Piazza del Quirinale.

Giardino Botanico | Rome Botanical Gardens
In this magical garden and its forests, paths and rolling hillsides, you can find a collection of more than 3500 species of rare plants, and discover amazing colors, shapes and perfumes. By walking down the many snaking gravel paths, you’ll encounter extravagant cacti, a bamboo forest, incredibly tall palm trees and tiny little dwarf palms, and some others that creep along like giant snakes. There is even a Soap Tree with leaves that lather up if you wet them and rub them between your hands.
If you want to see the oldest plant in the city, go past the Mediterranean Flora garden and look towards the big staircase. Here you will find a wise and beautiful sycamore (or plane) tree that is 400 years old! There are also two greenhouses that you should not miss. The first houses carnivorous plants, always hungry for insects and bugs; and the second holds flying orchids that are lighter and more delicate than butterflies. Finally, you can head over to the Rocky Garden, or the Japanese Garden to find bonsai trees. These trees are so little and so perfect in every detail, that you will look like a giant standing next to them. And before exiting, be sure to quietly tour the magic Garden of Aromas, where you can close your eyes and try to recognize plants by using only your nose! 
Botanical Gardens Rome – Largo Cristina di Svezia, 24 | Tel. +39 06 49912436

Best public playgrounds in Rome

Rome offers a vast number of outdoor public areas provided for children to play, within parks, or as stand-alone recreation venues. Unfortunately many of the city’s playgrounds have been vandalized or are in close proximity to uninviting areas. Here are some of the city’s best.
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· Villa Ada This vast play area is just down the gravel path as you turn right at the Via Salaria 273 or 275 entrance to the Villa Ada public park. There are plenty of well-maintained swings, slides, climbing ropes, seesaws and bench platforms. There is also plenty space for bicycles and a picnic area that serves as an open-air birthday party venue. Tip: you can avoid the traffic on Via Salaria by taking the hidden entrance to the park from Via Panama 29, which is behind the playground on Via Panama (see below). A path veers left and down a wooden ramp of steps into Villa Ada.

· Via Panama Take the cycle path down Via Panama off of Piazza Ungheria, and you won’t miss this large enclosed play space. The equipment is fairly standard but there is plenty of it and there is also space for riding bicycles, tricycles and scooters. The pavement beneath the swings and jungle-gyms is in soft weatherproof foam rubber, and the gravel path circling the perimeter of the enclosed play area was just recently redone. This particular playground is a non-smoking, non-dog area.

· Villa Balestra This small park sits perched on the elegant Parioli district’s Monte Parioli hill and provides a splendid view of Rome. Enter the park at the end of Via Ammannati and proceed to the large enclosed play area at the other end of the park. The equipment is new and there are rides for kids of all ages. Next to the play area, parents can relax at the Villa Balestra’s café with outdoor seating and enjoy a coffee or spremuta while the little ones play. There is also a paved basketball court which doubles as a space for riding bicycles and scooters.

· Villa Glori At the north end of Via di Villa Glori, between the newly founded café and the pony corral, is a small play structure enclosed in a sandy patch. Very little equipment, but fun pony rides for just €3,50. For a higher price, kids can take a guided horse walk around the park.

· Auditorium Parco della Musica In an elevated section of the recently founded Concert Hall’s 50 acre park, the fully equipped playground enjoys sunlight until very late in the day, allowing good Vitamin D intake and lots of free roaming playtime. The jungle-gyms, slides and other structures are brand new and the flooring is in soft weatherproof foam rubber.

Image © Roma Every Day

· Casina di Raffaello Playground Constructed at the beginning of 2007, this play area in Viale della Casina di Raffaello is adjacent to the Casina di Raffaello, an activity center (ludoteca) for children aged 3+. The equipment is not your typical swings and slides rather much more innovative and environment-friendly. There are several balance beams and even wooden planks that make music when you jump on them. For small children, there are also a wooden tractor to sit on, logs shaped like sheep and cattle, and 3 little wooden houses to play in. Inside the ludoteca, there are a book and toy store, and a quiet reading space with Italian children’s books and chalkboard tables that little ones can draw on. The child-proportioned bathrooms also provide changing stations.

· Bioparco The Rome Zoo within the Villa Borghese perimeter has a fantastic Noah’s Ark-shaped playground with several ramps, rope bridges, slides and tunnels. The only drawback is that to access the playground area, parents and children taller than 1 meter (3 ft) must pay an entrance fee to the zoo.

· Villa Torlonia This is a recently refurbished play area within an enclosed space in Via Siracusa. Just down the road, on Viale di Villa Massimo, there is another green area with some equipment for younger children (age 2 to 3). You can also take the kids to the Limonaia di Villa Torlonia, a café and restaurant on the other side of the park, and treat yourselves to some excellent gelato.

· Via della Cava Aurelia n.100 This is not inside a park, but is still worth the visit. It is a large enclosed play space with swings, slides and climbing ropes, plus benches where you can sit while the kids play. There is also room for kids to ride their bicycle, tricycle or scooter. Watch out though: this space can get extremely crowded in the afternoon when school is out.

· Villa Celimontana This public park is up the hill at the south end of the Colosseum, walk up Via Claudia, which eventually becomes Via della Navicella. To the right, at number 12 is the entrance. Walk down the beautiful gravel path to the large playground, where kids can also enjoy riding bikes and scooters too.

· Villa Sciarra A delightful small park with a well-equipped children’s playground, and the American Fine Arts Academy and the American University in close proximity. The swings, slides and seesaws are not stellar, but well-maintained. The park also has a pond and a peacock in a huge cage that kids are strangely attracted to. Take the Tram n.8 from Largo Argentina, get off at the Ministero dell’Instruzione (A large grey official building on the northwest side of the avenue) and walk up the hill on Via Dandolo, and turn left on Via Calandrelli, at number 35 is the Villa’s entrance.

· Villa Doria Pamphili This space has its entrance in Largo Botanica, off Via Aurelia Antica in Monteverde, at the end of the park furthest from the Porta S. Pancrazio entrance. The equipment is not breathtaking (just swings and slides), but the surroundings are beautiful, the park is huge and there is plenty of space for riding bicycles and scooters. Kids can look for pine nuts on the ground and crack them open with a rock. “Pinoli” provide a tasty snack.

On the other side of the Tiber River, there is a playground in front of the Santa Cecilia in Trastevere church, as well as in the moat-park that surrounds Castel Sant’Angelo. Don’t forego the interior of this grandiose tomb-turned-papal fortress-turned-museum. It’s a treasure trove of armor and curious old weapons, with enough of the castle stuff—guard posts, stacks of cannonballs, passageways and lookouts—to keep even antsy little kids happy while parents admire the opulent frescoes and furnishings.

Top 5 Rome Attractions for Kids

Here is a list of my son’s favorite things to do in Rome. He compiled this list, I’m merely doing the typing.

1. At the top of the list of things for kids to do in Rome is Explora, the Rome Children’s Museum (located at Via Flaminia 82). As the name indicates, this is a hands-on exploratory experience for kids, and is divided into four sections–Me, Society, Environment, and Communication–to help children discover their world. Kids can stage a mock TV broadcast, shop in a miniature supermarket or wander around a transparent environment-friendly house. The typical ‘do not touch’ signs are nowhere in sight! The museum is closed on Mondays. Visits last 1 hour and 45 minutes and have to be booked in advance by calling +39 06 3613776. Entrance fee for children aged 0-3 is free, children aged 4-92 pay a €8 ticket. On Thursday afternoon children and adults pay €6 each.
Nearest underground station: Flaminio (Metro A). Buses n. 490, 495, 628, 92, 88, 6. Plenty of parking in rear.

2. For the cat lovers in your family, the famous Largo Argentina Cat Sanctuary is well worth a visit. Here, you’ll find friendly volunteers who run this no-kill shelter for abandoned cats on donations alone, in the marvelous setting of the Largo di Torre Argentina ruins. Tell your children the story of how Roman emperors strolled here, and take them downstairs to visit the cat shop and see some of the shelter’s residents. Volunteers give English-language guided tours for free.

3. A trip back in ancient Roman times might be just the ticket for the 8-12 age group, and 3D Rewind Rome provides exactly this:  a virtual 3D movie tour through the tunnel of Emperor Commodus to the Colosseum’s floor, where you are front and center to a roaring crowd. The movie then transports you around a detailed model of ancient Rome, with kitsch characters and recognizable major sites of the ancient city.  Rich in detail and history.  Good “Colosseo companion” as its visualizes the amphitheater’s magnificence. Via Capo d’Africa 5 |  Tel. +39 06 677076627 |  Open Monday to Sunday 9.00 a.m. – 7.00 p.m. | Nearest Metro stop: Colosseo | Buses: 87, 85, 850, 81, 117, 630, 75, 175, 60, 271, 571, 810, 186.

4. If you have time for an out-of-town excursion, the Monster Park at Bomarzo is about an hour’s drive north of Rome and is always a favorite with kids. This Renaissance garden has larger-than-life stone sculptures of various animals and ‘monsters’ that your children can climb on and, in the case of ‘the leaning house,’ inside!

5. Can’t go home without a stop at the toy store? Don’t miss Città del Sole (Via della Scrofa 65), an Italian chain that features a range of educational toys disguised as just plain fun. Also, between Piazza di Pietra and the Pantheon, you’ll probably notice throngs of people carrying shopping bags with a wooden Pinocchio on them—that’s because they’ve discovered Bartolucci (Via dei Pastini 98). Overflowing with exquisite hand-crafted pine wood toys and clocks with pendulums swinging every which way, the pure sensory overload of this shop makes it hard to keep your wallet in check—you’ll probably end up walking out with a bag of goodies just like everyone else. On Saturdays the workshop is open ’til midnight.

Rome Parks: The Villa Borghese World

When looking at a map of the city of Rome, you’ll notice a number of large green areas. They are inferior in number to the city’s churches and fountains, but they certainly constitute an impressive number nonetheless.

Rome’s public parks are a wonderful place for taking relaxing walks, playing soccer, picnicking, jogging, and carrying out other common park activities. But Rome’s green lungs, as they’re often referred to, have much more to offer. Many of them are also a place where within their confines you can actually visit several museums; amble around some of Europe’s most singular animal expositions; rent bikes, roller blades and quadri-cycles; go to a movie in the world’s smalles cinema; watch a Shakespearean play acted out in a perfect replica of the Globe Theater; pick out and adopt a dog from one of Rome’s municipal kennels; snack and dine in a number of historic cafés and surf the net in the many wireless hot-spots, just to mention a few.

I’ll be guiding you through a tour of Rome’s public parks and their multiple attractions and services. The first segment of the Parks series brings us in the northern part of the city, where we shall be visiting Villa Borghese.

Image © Roma Every Day

Villa Borghese | My favorite place in the world is a heart-shaped, country club-style public park, which was the baroque playground of an epicurean Cardinal named Scipione Borghese. The rotund and fun-loving Scipione started buying vineyards and annexing them to his property in the late 1500s, creating a “villa of delights,” as he liked to define the property. At the end of a long legal battle with his heirs, the State purchased the entire Villa property in 1901. Two years later the Park was ceded to the Municipality of Rome and opened to the public.

Several generations earlier, Prince Marcantonio Borghese IV (1730–1800) undertook major works to transform the main buildings started by his ancestor, and also the park. The most far-reaching project saw the construction of the Giardino del Lago (the Lake Garden) in an area called the “piano dei licini” (plain of oaks). It’s lovely to calmly stroll the pond’s perimeter and feed bread to the ducks and gulls that live there. But the most fun is renting a small rowboat and navigating under the willows and magnolias.

Image © Roma Every Day

There are a million fun things to do in Villa Borghese besides hugging trees, catching the Park Train, riding the merry-go-round or renting a pair of roller blades. Here’s a list of more fun kid stuff available in Rome’s pulsating green heart.

Casina di Raffaello ~ Ludoteca Recreation Center | “Ludoteca” in Italian means playroom, a place where you can hang out and read in a toy library, play in the rooms and draw, paint or take part in workshops and classes. All activities – both free of charge and not – are open to families, groups of friends and school classes.
The stunning Casina di Raffaello sits perched on a small hill in the splendid Piazza di Siena racetrack setting, and across the street from the Globe Theater and the Lake Garden. Intended for children 3 to 10 years, it comprises two floors wall to wall with creativity-peaking rooms and activities. The first playroom just inside the entrance hosts small circular chalkboard tables with stools where children can color and draw – all encased in floor to ceiling glass. Next to it is a small padded library with books kids can browse through, or just relax while mom and dad read the morning paper.
Just down a small hallway from the reading area, past the gift/book shop, is another room decorated with refined furnishings, including a small gold leaf gilded piano – every item in pristine condition. The chests you see conceal regal costumes replete with crowns and robes worthy of your prince and/or princess–attendants will help dress the children and engage them in group role play. Photos are not permitted except parents photographing exclusively their own children. The Ludoteca shop provides an exceptional choice of Italian books and games.

There are also free 45-minute workshops (laboratori) for kids aged 3 to 6, from Tuesday to Friday at 3.30 pm, 4.30 pm and 5.30 pm, and on Saturday and Sunday at 10.30, noon, 3.30 pm, 4.30 pm and 5.30 pm. You have to book in person on the day that you want your child to attend a workshop. Parents accompany children in the play areas and oversee when the trained personnel is busy with a group or a class upstairs.
Bathrooms come equipped with changing tables, low wash basins and miniature toilets. Shoes get stored in cubby holes, and strollers stay parked out front.

Outside, in the shady side of the Ludoteca playroom, fun wood climbing activities include a small wooden village with walk-in toy houses, a giant multi-level see-saw and a fun musical instrument on which children need to jump to create the sounds of a wind flute. Animal farm sculptures and a large tractor also decorate the wooden village.

On weekends, the Ludoteca also organizes pony rides just down the road, next to the Cinema dei Piccoli (see below).

Image © Roma Every Day

Casina di Raffaello
Address: Viale della Casina di Raffaello (Piazza di Siena)
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 9am to 7pm
Closed on: Monday
Help desk: 9am to 7:30pm Tel. +39 06 82059127
Tickets and reservations: For all workshop activities €3,00
Mandatory reservations: Tel. +39 06 82059127
Services: Educational workshops for children ages 3-12
Interactive group readings, Temporary Exhibitions, Bookshop, Gift shop

Cinema dei Piccoli: a small wonder | There’s a little green house in the heart of Villa Borghese that shows afternoon movie screenings for children. Cinema dei Piccoli, which turned 75 years old in 2009, is the smallest movie house in Rome. As noted in the Guinness Book of Records as the smallest cinema in the world, Cinema dei Piccoli seats 63 and runs morning screenings for schools and large groups. In the afternoon the movie theater plays children’s films; in the evening boring grown up stuff. Fully air-conditioned, the films are however dubbed in Italian, with alas no subtitles.

Trivia: Look up at the decorations up high, just below the roofline and on the façade, can you see Mickey eyes?

Cinema dei Piccoli
Address: Viale della Pineta, 15
Help desk: Tel. +39 06 8553485
Showtime: Wednesday to Friday 5pm and 6:30pm;
Saturday and Sunday 3:30pm, 5pm and 6:30pm
Closed on: Monday and Tuesday.
Services: Wheelchair access
Snacks and beverages sold during intermission

Teatro Marionette San Carlino | Pulcinella is being clubbed over the head by his girlfriend Colombina for having secretly eaten her master’s supper. His Neapolitan accent and his squeaky voice are the sound of my childhood in Villa Borghese, where the puppet show was held behind a raised booth, small green drapes outlined the stage and concealed the single puppeteer who acted out all the characters. We kids would either watch the performance standing, or sitting cross-legged on the gravel, focused on Pulcinella’s constant romantic and gastronomic misfortunes.
Now the San Carlino establishment – diminutive of Napoli’s native San Carlo Opera House – is a permanent local fixture. The show is performed in an actual covered structure with seats, props and painted backdrops. The Theater has a small café and offers the possibility of hosting private birthday parties.

Teatro San Carlino Marionette Theater
Address: Viale dei Bambini, Pincio (by the turn of the century hydraulic clock, which too is worth a visit)
Showtime: Depending on the program. Every Saturday and Sunday, and during the week on reservation. Puppet season runs from September to December and from February to July.
Help desk: +39 06 3335320 – 329 2967328
Mandatory reservations: +39 06 3335320

Bioparco di Roma ~ Rome Conservation Zoo | In 1908 the Zoo di Roma was founded. In 1911 it opened its gates and it was a huge success back then. Also due to the fact that innovative ‘Carl Hagenbeck’ standards were employed. That name probably doesn’t ring a bell if you’re not into zoo’s.
Carl Hagenbeck was a well-reputed animal trainer who had already opened a zoo in Hamburg Stellingen. The Rome park was built in the style of that in Hamburg: ditches and pits instead of bars and cages, generous green spaces, rocks and water and other more visually attractive enclosures. Visitors roared with fear and surprize upon first seeing the lions and the zebras in one paddock, obviously separated by a deep canal.
This first success did not hold. Soon the Rome zoo fell in decline. In 1933, the architect Raffaele De Vico began his work in the new areas, which were to hold two main attractions: the large dome-shaped aviary and the reptile house which opened in 1935.
After World War I the story repeats itself. The zoo began to deteriorate, although many areas were renovated and others fully rebuilt. The situation kept worsening, and in 1970, the reptile house had to be closed due to its ailing condition, its improvements took about nine years and it was finally reopened in 1983. Until a few years ago, in fact the moribund Rome zoo had a terrible reputation. Fortunately in 1999 new money was found and the Rome zoo changed its denomination to Bioparco di Roma and once again started a new life.

My son’s favorite exhibits are the raised Giraffe Terrace, where you can look the long-necked creatures in the eye, especially Esmeralda and Macchia, the 2005 and 2009 puppies. Another is the Lion enclosure, where if you’re lucky you can stand nose to nose with the King of the Jungle or his beloved Queen, separated by a sturdy sheet of shatterproof glass. Or the bear-compound fitted with a half-submerged pool where the teddies bathe and cool off in the Roman summer heat. My place is the Tiger paddock, where two exquisite Bengali specimens stand just a few feet away in an open space. The invisible ravine that prevents us Sapiens from being lunch for the felines creates an impressive (scary) effect. Another fun area is the Japanese Macaque colony. The playful and huge community of squawking primates can restore a smile on even the grumpiest kid’s sullen face.

Image © Fondazione Bioparco di Roma

Bioparco Conservation Zoo
Address: Viale del Giardino Zoologico, 20
Help desk: Tel. +39 06 360 8211
Open every day, tickets on sale until 1 hr before closing time. Kids under  3 feet are allowed free entrance. The Reptile House is an additional cost, and so is the Bioparco Train that departs every 20 minutes across from the Giraffe enclosure.

Tip: Keep an eye out for the free-roaming peacocks and their multicolored bohemian tails. They are not at all shy, to the contrary, quite vain. They love to have their picture taken, posing with flair.

Kiddie Rides & Mini-car Racetrack
Across from Cinema dei Piccoli, open every day from 10:30am to sunset.

Pony Corral
On Viale J.W. Goethe, Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30am to sunset.

A Villa Borghese classic. The miniature diesel train (pity it’s not battery operated) provides Villa newbies a general park overview. Three stops: Casina delle Rose Café, Viale Goethe and Casino Nobile (Galleria Borghese) every day from 10:30am to sunset.
Tip: Bundle up in winter, the open air ride can be freezing, despite the tortoise-like speed.

Bicycles & Quadri-cycles
Bike rental with vast selection of models depending on your needs and number of passengers. Infant/toddler seats, children’s bikes with or without training wheels.
€20 per hour for a quadricycle seating 6
Rental & drop offs:
Piazzale M. Cervantes
Viale dell’Uccelliera
Viale J. W. Goethe
Viale Medici (Pincio)
Viale dell’Orologio (Pincio)

Skates, Roller blades, 4-Wheelers & Golf Carts
1 hour or full day rental, Viale dell’Orologio across the street from the Merry-go-Round and the antique Casina dell’Orologio café (be sure to pop in here at least once and take in all the music paraphernalia on the walls while enjoying their homemade gelato).

Image © Roma Every Day

Villa Borghese Main Entrances:
Via Aldrovandi
Piazzale Cervantes
Via Raimondi (3 entrances)
Via Pinciana (2 entrances)
Piazzale San Paolo del Brasile
Piazzale Flaminio
Pincio Hill access
Viale del Bioparco access
Trinità dei Monti access

Villa Borghese is always open, although some gated areas close at sundown.