Rome Tours with Kids

Rome Tours with Kids

We are a traveling family, but we do not travel extravagantly. We don’t do fancy resorts, will spend an hour studying local transport options from the airport to our budget hostel, rather than hopping a more expensive taxi or private shuttle, and definitely don’t do guided tours. This last habit is directed as much by our frugality as it is by our failure to ever find a guide that added much value to the historical sight we were seeing.

But after a decade of my wife and I dragging our 14-year old daughter and 12-year old son to various parts of the globe and trying to instill in them the same appreciation for differences in time and place that we have, we’ve come to know what they like – ice cream – and what they don’t – anything having to do with learning, especially learning directed by mom and dad about architecture, art, or history. So when we decided we were going to take them to Rome, we knew we had to do something different.

Rome Tours with Kids turned out to be a great solution. Our kid-oriented Colosseum tour satisfied my wife and me because it was a tour with a knowledgeable guide who spoke good English and introduced our kids to the wonder of ancient Rome in a fun and educational way. It satisfied our kids because the guide was engaging and conveyed the right amount of information to pique their interest without boring them with details and the tour lasted just long enough to keep them entertained without tiring them out. And because Rome Tours with Kids employs only guides who have passed a rigorous certification test administered by the Tourism Department of the Italian government, our guide was able to draw from a deep-based knowledge of many areas that added to what my wife and I had already learned from our own research.

Rome Tours with Kids also offers kid-friendly tours of the Vatican museum and St. Peter’s Basilica, and although we arranged to be reimbursed for the cost of our tour in exchange for publishing this review, we are not biased in whole-heartedly recommending any of the tours offered by this company based on our experience with the Colosseum tour. We would have taken advantage of their expertise for another tour if we were in Rome for a longer period of time. Fortunately, we threw coins in the Trevi Fountain, so it is guaranteed we will be returning.

Colosseum tour for kids

THE COLOSSEUM TOUR

We were scheduled to meet our guide, Francesco, at nine a.m. in front of the Colosseo metro entrance, but we showed up 30 minutes late. We were certain he would already have left since we had pre-paid the tour cost, but Francesco was there, waiting and ready to go. After friendly introductions, he led us past the lines of those “unguided souls” who were waiting to purchase tickets and through the “vomiturium:” the portals that allowed 50,000+ free Romans, foreigners, and slaves to enter the arena and find their seats in less than 15 minutes. ”They didn’t have to go through security,” Francesco quipped in explaining how quickly folks could be seated. It was just one of the ways he easily contrasted ancient Rome with real-life experiences that are familiar to our kids.

Our first stop was the upper level of the arena and a view from the balcony over the streets leading to and the piazza in front of the Colosseum. Francesco explained the significance of the nearby Constantine Arch and pointed out buildings from ancient Rome, the Renaissance and Reformation, and contemporary construction – in explaining Rome’s nickname of the Eternal City. The kids remembered that point as we strolled the streets several days later and found the ancient ruins where Julius Ceasar was stabbed to death in 44 B.C. parked next to a taxi stand.

After viewing history outside the Colosseum, we wound our way back down to the lower bowl of the ampitheater. We stood for a moment gazing with wonder at the magnitude, in both size and legend, of the structure, Francesco said, “I come here just about every day and still feel the same awe. This place does that to everyone on sight, I only add the words.” He then entertained us with stories that combined myth and fact and compared them to modern realities. For example, he pointed out the similarity of the design and capacity of the nearly 2,000 year old Colosseum to most current football stadiums and noted how the seats closest to the action tended to be occupied by the more wealthy.

The original floor of the arena was constructed of wood and is long gone but a reconstructed section gives us an idea of how it may have looked in gladiator times. Most of what is visible now is the underground labrynth of passages where animals and slaves were kept before it was their turn to take part in the games being played above their heads. The basement looks bright and somewhat inviting as a refuge now, with moss growing on the brick walls, but Francesco drew a vivid picture of the damp, dark, and desperate conditions that existed in 80 A.D. He explained how slaves worked the trap door system to bring animals and gladiators to the arena floor to surprise the audience and combatants, or as a complement to one of Rome’s foreign conquests that was being reenacted as entertainment.

In a more philosophical moment, Francesco asked us to imagine what it would be like to have your homeland conquered by the Roman army, then be marched in chains to the magnificent and opulent Rome – which you had likely never seen anything like before. You would be thrown into the dark cells under the Colosseum floor for days or weeks, and then have to listen to the roar of the bloodthirsty crowd as you waited your turn to be forced into a life or death battle. He asked us to think how many thousands of souls had left a piece of themselves behind.

The kids actually responded to this with due solemnity. But the highlight of the tour, especially for a family as competitive as ours, was a trivia contest proxied by Francesco that pitted parents against kids and required us to tally the points we scored for correct answers in Roman numerals. Hint – know your Greek and Roman gods!

We spent most of our time with Francesco in the Colosseum but also visited a few sites within the adjacent sprawl of ruins that is the Roman Forum. It was in the Forum, in front of the Curia, the seat of the Roman Senate, that the kids were awarded their prize for prevailing in the contest: a mini-replica Colosseum and gladiator helmet keychain. It was here that we parted ways with Francesco as my kids, glowing with the exhilaration of victory, placed their gladiator helmet keychains over their pinkies and drew smiling faces as if they had just prevailed in a battle to the death.

Kids Tour of Roman Forum

DETAILS

Our Colosseum tour lasted two and one-half hours and cost €200. This did not include the cost of the entry ticket that allows access to the Colosseum and to the nearby Roman Forum and Palatine Hill complex.

We really enjoyed this tour and feel it is worth the cost. It was a high-quality tour with an engaging and knowledgeable guide. It was probably the highlight of our time in Rome. This is an introductory level tour, however. I consider myself an armchair historian and at several points during our tour we passed by informational signs or sights where I ordinarily would have stopped. I realize this was the trade-off I made for a fun and enjoyable experience for our family. The company does suggest the content of the tour is tailored to the level of the tour participants, which suggests that the tour can be as deep or shallow as your family wants. Our own guide, Francesco, was always willing to answer any questions I had about sites or things that were not part of our tour specifically, which is evidence that the engagement level of your family will dictate how the tour proceeds. As a bonus, the Colosseum/Forum/Palatine Hill entry ticket can be used on consecutive days (but not for the same attraction), which allowed me to go back the next day to Palatine Hill and linger over this amazing time in history.

Rome Tours with Kids

Hosted

The writer of this piece was hosted by the destination, which means that they did not pay for their experience. They also were not paid by the destination, which means that they are free to express their honest opinion of the experience, which they do here. We just thought you should know.

Stay in a Castle Hotel in Ireland

Stay in a Castle Hotel in Ireland

Castle Hotel Stays – Ireland

Did you ever dream of being a princess? Or a king? I would have been happy to be Lady So-and-so of Thus-and-such, but I’m generally pretty happy with the life I have. But if you want to pretend you’re royalty and have a staff at your beck and call, there are plenty of places you can stay in a castle hotel, and few places do it better than Ireland. Many many castles in Ireland have been converted to hotels and resorts, and each offers something special.

On my recent trip to Ireland, there were lots of travel bloggers in Killarney for the TBEX blogging conference, and before and after the conference a few of them managed to stay in some sweet castle hotels. I asked them for their thoughts about the castles they stayed in, and they share their experiences (and photos) below.

 

KILKEA CASTLE

–Bret Love & Mary Gabbett, Green Global Travel

We visited numerous castles during our 10 days in the Emerald Isle, but Kilkea Castle (located in County Kildare between Athy and Tullow) was easily our favorite. The oldest continuously inhabited castle in Ireland, Kilkea was built by Sir Walter de Riddlesford in 1180. After his granddaughter married Maurice Fitzgerald, the 3rd baron of Offaly, Kilkea Castle remained in the Fitzgerald family for over 700 years.
Kilkea Castle - Castle Hotels in Ireland

Kilkea Castle (Photo Credit: Green Global Travel)

The castle has been operated as a hotel since the 1960s, but was put on the market in 2010. It was purchased by American builder Jay Cashman, who spent four years renovating it into a 5-star resort that includes multiple immaculate gardens, a golf course, three restaurants, and facilities for fishing and archery.
Owl experience at Kilkea Castle Hotel

Mary holds an owl! (Photo Credit: Green Global Travel)

We were honored to stay in their Ernest Shackleton Suite (named after Kildare’s famous explorer) several weeks before the resort opened to the public, and it was as posh and luxurious as any medieval castle could possibly hope to be. We’ve traveled all over the world, and Kilkea Castle ranks among our favorite places we’ve ever stayed!

 

KNAPPOGUE CASTLE

-Jody Halsted, Ireland Family Vacations
Knappogue Castle Hotel in Ireland

Knappogue Castle (Photo Credit: Jody Halsted, Ireland Family Vacations)

While any castle stay will make you feel like royalty, staying in your own private castle instantly turns you into the queen (or king) of your domain. At Knappogue Castle in County Clare your family members (or group) are the only overnight guests in the castle apartments. Rooms are furnished with a mix of antique and contemporary comforts, and the modern kitchen has everything you will need to create meals to feed your crew. Don’t wish to cook? Each morning your fairy godmothers arrive to fix an Irish breakfast to power you through a day of exploring. And each evening (from April thru October) the dining room downstairs hosts a medieval banquet featuring delicious dinner and entertainment. As the only guests, the castle is yours to explore – no tours are offered here – to treat as your home… if only for a few days.
The Drawing Room at Knappogue Castle Hotel in Ireland

The Drawing Room at Knappogue Castle (Photo Credit: Jody Halsted, Ireland Family Vacations)

CASTLE LESLIE

-Julie and Charles McCool, McCool Travel

Castle Leslie in Glaslough Ireland

Castle Leslie in Glaslough Ireland (Photo Credit: Julie McCool, McCoolTravel.com)

Castle Leslie welcomes guests to a perfect balance of relaxed and historic luxury, on a family estate that dates from the 1660s. Rooms in the castle are spacious and comfortable, with quirky Victorian bathrooms and a strict no TV policy. The Lodge offers more modern rooms (with TVs) overlooking stables that draw equestrians from all over the world. Novice riders (like us) can take a “gentle hack” through the estate’s beautiful grounds, followed by dinner in the award-winning restaurant, and time to kick back and savor castle life.

The Blue Room at Castle Leslie

The Blue Room at Castle Leslie (Photo Credit: Julie McCool, McCoolTravel.com)

ASHFORD CASTLE

-Jody Halsted, Ireland Family Vacations
Ashford Castle - Castle Hotels in Ireland

Ashford Castle (Photo Credit: Jody Halsted: Ireland Family Vacations)

Consistently voted one of the top hotels in the world, Ashford Castle in County Mayo is a fairytale. From the moment you are allowed through the gated entrance by a dapper man in top hat and livery, to the moment you depart the marbled lobby, every bit of your stay is magical. Rooms are lavishly furnished and special treats await younger guests. The grounds at Ashford Castle are extensive and on-site activities include falconry, boating, shooting, golf, and a zip line. Rooms in the castle are expensive, and both the clientele and the spectacular service reflect this. If you wish to visit when the castle is truly kid-focused, plan a Halloween stay when the castle becomes a Wizarding School! Send your little witches and wizards with their capable instructors and enjoy 6 hours of couple time. It’s magical for everyone!
Ashford Castle Junior Suite by Jody Halsted - Castle Hotels in Ireland

A Junior Suite at Ashford Castle (Photo Credit: Jody Halsted, Ireland Family Vacations)

GREGANS  CASTLE

 -Sher, travel photographer blogging at Sher She Goes
Gregans Castle - Castle Hotels in Ireland

Gregans Castle (Photo Credit: Sher from SherSheGoes.com)

Gregans Castle Hotel is the ultimate Irish country house for food and luxury. Although no longer a castle in the traditional sense (only the 15th century round tower remains from the original structure), the Georgian-style manor house has stunning views of Galway Bay and the unique Burren landscape. The hotel has won numerous awards for its innovative cooking and the bedrooms are stunningly decorated with antiques, cozy fireplaces and eclectic art. Make sure to stay here if you’re interested in visiting the Cliffs of Moher or love food – Gregans is located on the Wild Atlantic Way and the Burren Food Trail.

LOUGH ESKE CASTLE

-Jody Halsted, Ireland Family Vacations
Lough Eske by Day - Castle Hotels in Ireland

Lough Eske by Day (Photo Credit: Jody Halsted, Ireland Family Vacations)

Few know that Lough Eske Castle in County Donegal was a mere shell before it was lovingly restored just 10 years ago. Now ranking as one of the top hotels in the world, guest can expect a warm cead mile failte from the staff, the majority of whom are local to the area. Rooms at Lough Eske Castle are luxurious and spacious, with connecting rooms for families well thought-out. As castle stays go, this is one of the most affordable in Ireland and you’ll meet a wide variety of people. Located on the shores of Lough Eske, the grounds are a wonderful maze of walking paths; a perfect spot to relax and enjoy the luxury of an Irish castle vacation.

Lough Eske by Day - Castle Hotels in Ireland

Lough Eske by Night (Photo Credit: Jody Halsted of Ireland Family Vacations)

BARBERSTOWN CASTLE HOTEL

–Sonja Holverson, Outbounding
Barberstown Castle Hotel lounge lobby by Sonja Holverson - Castle Hotels in Ireland

Barberstown Castle Hotel lounge lobby (Photo Credit: Sonja Holverson, Outbounding)

When one imagines staying in a 12th century Irish Castle thoughts of cold rugged stones, towers crowned by turrets, ghosts and dungeons most often come to mind. However, when one arrives at the entrance to the Barberstown Castle Hotel Kildare, a warm welcome is waiting inside a pristine white Victorian and Elizabethan blended luxury town house including conservatory windows along with two lion statues on each side of the entry step. A spacious uniquely decorated lobby lounge area opens out onto a lovely terrace which leads to 20 acres of gardens. The reception is discreetly placed on the left as you enter.

Barberstown Castle Hotel and Country House - Castle Hotels in Ireland

Barberstown Castle Hotel and Country House (Photo Credit: Sonja Holverson, Outbounding)

If you find yourself lost in the corridors and nooks and crannies looking for the dining room you will encounter elegant antiques and décor of days long past. You may even run face to face into a full body suit of armor around the next corner.

Despite the formality of the long French-influenced multi-course evening dinner in the opulent Barton Rooms Restaurant with pedagogical descriptions for each delicious course, the waiters are also appropriately down-to-earth Irish: friendly and loads of fun. Other dining choices are the Elizabethan Room and the Medieval Banqueting Hall.
This privately-owned Castle Hotel and Country House is the only one in Ireland that has earned 4 stars. Furthermore, it is unique in its harmonious historical blending with the Elizabethan era and Victorian era country house and the Medieval castle with its own historical epoch décor. All in all, a delightful and eclectic elegant and comfortable accommodation.
The Barberstown Castle Hotel easily handles conferences and large parties, weddings and the perfect weekend Irish castle stay for those with little time as it’s only 30 minutes from the centre of Dublin in the heart of Ireland’s Ancient East.
Barberstown Castle Hotel and Country House entrance by night - Castle Hotels in Ireland

Barberstown Castle Hotel and Country House (Photo Credit: Sonja Holverson, Outbounding)

DROMOLAND CASTLE HOTEL

by Paige Conner Totaro
I was very fortunate to spend a few nights hosted by Dromoland Castle.The staff at Dromoland Castle Hotel is deferential and service-focused. Rooms are spacious, meals are scrumptious, formal rooms are warm and welcoming despite their grand proportions. The sprawling property offers not only the obvious golf and spa, but also archery, clay pigeon shooting, pony and trap (horse and carriage) rides, fishing, hiking the grounds, and my favorite: falconry.
Dromoland Castle by WHAT BOUNDARIES TRAVEL- Castle Hotels in Ireland

Dromoland Castle (Photo Credit: Cheryl and Lisa of What Boundaries Travel (whatboundariestravel.com))

There has been a castle on the site since the 11th Century, but the present building, in all its ivy-covered limestone and turreted glory, was completed in 1835. In 1962, the property was renovated and opened as the luxury Dromoland Castle Hotel.

Dromoland Castle facade covered by red ivy with a cloudy blue sky above - Castle Hotels in Ireland

Dromoland Castle (Photo Credit: Cheryl and Lisa of What Boundaries Travel (whatboundariestravel.com))

Cheryl and Lisa of What Boundaries Travel were entranced by Dromoland Castle. “We held our breath as the wooded driveway turned and the castle came into view. It was a fairytale setting of falcons, livery and ivy shrouded towers. Inside was even more spectacular. The drawing room beckoned us to step inside and let time retrace her steps. A magical experience!”

Freelance travel writer Victoria Hart witnessed a VIP arrival during her visit. “Dromoland Castle is an example of living history,” she said. “So often we experience history through a museum or by visiting ruins. It is refreshing to see a place with over 1000 years of history still being used and enjoyed by people who admire the majestic landscape that first attracted its creators and respect the historical events that transformed it into the place it is today. The level of service is still fit for royalty, and an experience I will always cherish.”

Dromoland Castle Arrival - Castle Hotels in Ireland

A VIP arrival at Dromoland Castle features a staff lineup and bagpipes. (Photo Credit: Victoria Hart)

The castle’s location, about 15 minutes drive from Shannon Airport, makes it a great first or last (or entire!) stay for your Ireland trip.

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Please note: most of the bloggers featured in this article were hosted by the castle hotels they have written about. They all offer their honest opinions of their stays. But how could you not love staying in a castle?
A family trip to Greece

A family trip to Greece

Our guest post today comes from Bernard Sury of GuruWalk, who writes about his family trip to Greece.

A Family Trip to Greece

Planning to have a family trip to Greece soon? What a brilliant idea! I honestly had one of my best family trips in Greece.

Expecting the Belgian summer to be as rainy as it is in winter, my parents, my sister and I were looking for a sunny destination combining culture and leisure. After considering Croatia, my mother’s love of Greek food tipped the balance in favor of Greece.

But where to go in Greece? Getting lost on small island, in busy Athens, or in the countryside? Well, there were as many options as there are sunny days in Greece.

Passionate about Greek mythology and history since I studied it in high school, going to Greece without seeing the Acropolis would have been unimaginable. Flights were also cheap to Athens, so we decided to spend some time in the city. However, as any capital city in the world can prejudice your view of what the rest of the country actually is, we were looking for adding another destination on our travel in Greece. My sister had heard friends’ amazing stories about Crete, like hiking in the Samaria Gorge which is Europe’s longest, and swimming in some of the most crystalline water of the Mediterranean Sea. The choice was made.

Day 1

We left Brussels late on a July afternoon. After leaving the luggage at the hotel, our first goal was to have the best dinner the Greek capital could offer us. After doing some internet research we found Lithos not so far from the hotel, and had a delicious moussaka.

Day 2

The next day, our first trip was to see the Acropolis early in the morning to avoid the heat and the crowd. This visit was wonderful. We remembered all the stories we had learned at school, seeing the most beautiful ancient Greek ruins, including the Parthenon and the famous Caryatids. We learned that the Parthenon survived for a long time in a good shape until Greek people decided to store gunpowder there, which caused an explosion in 1687. The view of Athens from the top is stunning.

The Perthenon

The Parthenon and its tourists (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)

After a quick lunch, the weather was becoming very heavy and warm. We decided to spend the afternoon at the Acropolis Museum, one of the most important archeological museums in Greece. The museum was modern, contrasting with the ancient pieces within. It is a great complement to a visit of the Acropolis itself.

Caryatids at the Acropolis Museum - Family Trip to Greece

Caryatids in the Acropolis Museum (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)

 

Day 3

On our third day, we decided to spend some hours doing a Free Walking Tour of Athens to get to know more about the history of Greece, but also to learn about its current situation. It was very interesting and entertaining and we had the opportunity to ask many questions to the local guide. We also had the chance to see the changing of the guards at the Greek parliament (only on Sunday at 11am!).

Changing of the guards in front of the parliament.

Changing of the guards in front of the parliament building. (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)

In the afternoon, we had to pack again and take off for Heraklion, Crete. We took a plane and in less than one hour we landed on the Greek island. Upon arriving at the airport, we found our rental car and drove to our rental apartment in Panormos. To get there, you will take the local highway, which is basically one main road crossing all Crete. Arriving at Panormos, the contrast with Athens was striking. Panormos is small village – touristy but still authentic, and even if tourists filled the streets, it was not as crowded as Athens. There is not much to see but it is a good spot to see the surroundings of the city.

The author and his sister at the small harbour of Panormos

The author and his sister at the small harbour of Panormos (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)

 

Day 4

The next day, we headed to Rethymnon and visited the ruins of the Venetian Fortezza. This was the fortress or citadel of the city and was built by the Venetians in the 16th century. Well restored few decades ago, the site is worth a visit for its beautiful vistas of the sea and some ancient buildings such as the Mosque of Sultan Ibrahim (the site was indeed also occupied by the Ottomans).The site is huge and you can easily spend hours strolling through it. My sister and I loved playing in these well-preserved ruins.

The author's family at the top of Venetian Fortezza

The author’s family at the top of Venetian Fortezza (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)

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Lost in a maze of ruins

Lost in a maze of ruins (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)

We went back to Rethymnon city and had an amazing lunch with a view of the marina and some traditional live music. Both in Athens and Crete, it is very easy to find a good restaurant mainly because there are so many! In Crete, you usually pay 10 euros for lunch or dinner, so we tried a lot of local restaurants. Most of the time, you will even receive some fresh fruit for dessert, perfect with the hot weather. As a sign of Cretan hospitality, you will always receive a typical and strong digestive alcoholic shot after eating dinner. However my mom always politely refused it as she was driving.

 

Live music by the marina

Live music by the Marina (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)

 

Day 5

The next two days were for “chilling” at two of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen in my life. If I did not know I was in Crete, I’d have thought I was in the Caribbean, as the water was of an unreal perfect turquoise.

The first beach stop was Elafonissi. There are no words to describe how heavenly this place is. However, it was very, very, very crowded. It would be awesome to enjoy it in September or October when there are fewer tourists.

Day 6

The second beach was Balos. It takes hours to go by car and once you arrive, you are in the mountains, so you still need to walk about 40 minutes down to the beach. You can also go on a day trip by ferry and if I were to return, that is exactly what I would do. Nevertheless, the view from the mountain is beautiful.

 

Look at that gorgeous blue water!

Look at that gorgeous blue water! The beach at Balos (Photo Credit: Bernard Sury)

Overall, it was an amazing trip. Everything was perfect: the weather, the natural and cultural activities, the delicious food, the local people… It was a trip to paradise and I would love to go back.

What was your most memorable experience?

I love to travel back in time and learn more about the ancient Greek lifestyle. I was studying ancient Greek language at school for 5 years and experiencing all these places and imagining the history there was very strong. But also, the Caribbean-style beaches of Crete were breathtaking.

What do you wish you had known before you left?

I knew that water was not drinkable and that we always had to drink bottled water. Once in Crete, we were at the restaurant and received an open bottle of water. We thought that the waiter just opened it before serving it to us, but it was in reality tap water. The day after, I was quite sick. But thankfully it did not last long. But now, I would never accept a bottle of water I did not open myself at the restaurant. Even better, drink wine!

Details and budget:

For the budget, the most expensive purchases are the plane tickets (300 euros from Belgium), the rental car with gasoline (250 euros) and hotels (350 – 500 euros), But activities (6 – 15 euros) and restaurants (10 – 15 euros) are quite cheap.

About the author:

Bernard Sury of GuruWalk

Bernard Sury of GuruWalk

An avid traveler, Bernard is always organizing his next trip, with friends, family or alone. Addicted to sunny weather, he has mostly traveled in the warm destination such as Southern Europe, South America or South-East Asia. Fluent in Spanish, English and French he has lived in 4 different places in the 4 last years. Back from South America, he learned more about his own city, Brussels, and even became a Greeter and a Free Tour Guide for some months. His passion for traveling brought him to be expat in Spain working for the international community platform for Free Tours Guruwalk.