We’re a very active family who spends significant time outdoors when we travel. In Rome, we noticed the lack of green spaces right away. Luckily, our apartment rental was located directly across the Tiber from Piazzo Popolo with an entrance to Villa Borghese. This sprawling green space and garden is Rome’s version of Central Park, and if you have active kids and teens who need to burn off energy, this is your place.
We visited Villa Borghese several times during our five days in Rome, using it as our backyard after mornings in museums and historical sites. Originally a private vineyard and most elegant villa in the city for the Borghese family, the park is technically a historical site in its own right, but we admit we didn’t take advantage of its Galleria Borghese or other museums. We were simply there to play.
From the Piazza Popolo entrance, you’ll head up a series of steep steps to enter the park at a beautiful overlook. This is, in our opinion, the place to watch the sunset over St. Peter’s dome. You’ll find a number of vendors in this wide space at the top, as well as fountains and paths that lead you further into the park. Younger kids will appreciate the free puppet shows at the little theater in this section, and this is also where you can rent bikes and pedal-powered go-karts.
Garden features like this one are featured amid all the touristy offerings. You’ll see a wide pedestrian bridge adjacent to the bike rental stands, which will lead you across a round-about (with some traffic) to the center of the park. Explore this area on wheels, or your feet will get tired! It’s huge. You’ll find another theater, this one with movies, touted as ‘the smallest cinema in the world’. I don’t know whether this is true, but it’s pretty tiny. It runs kids’ movies in the day and intellectual stuff like documentaries and foreign language films in the evenings. There’s a playground, several cafes, and many more gardens and fountains. In a second section, you’ll find a lake with boat rentals; we visited in winter, so this wasn’t a main draw for us.
Rent bikes, surreys, and go-karts:
The first thing we did was rent bikes so we could explore. Rental stands are plentiful, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding one, no matter where you enter the park. At the time of our visit, rentals were approximately €7 per hour. We found one hour to be enough to ride around and get the lay of the land. On subsequent visits, we walked where we wanted to go. Go-kart and surrey rentals were similarly priced, with the exception of the four-person surreys, which were more. You leave your ID with the attendant when you rent (I gave my driver’s license, as my passport doesn’t leave my sight when possible) and pay when you return on time. The teens had a blast with the petal-powered go-karts…mostly, they played ’tag’ with them on the wide dirt paths around the park.
In Piazzo Popolo, you can rent Segways by the half hour or longer. You don’t need to go with a guide, and very little to no instruction is given. To the teens, this was awesome. Rentals were €10 for 30 minutes. We rented three (one for each kid). If you rent for longer, you can actually take them from the piazza up to the park, which we saw many families doing, but our budget only allowed for half an hour. The kids loved riding these around the piazza…while undoubtedly a touristy thing to spend money on, we considered it money well-spent. For a total of €30, three kids were in heaven. Like with the bike rentals, we were asked to leave an ID, and the kids were told ‘not to zig-zag and not to run into each other’. If seen doing either, they’d be given one warning, then taken off the Segway. Even though the kids hadn’t used Segways before, they’re easy to learn, and we had no problems until the moment we returned them, during which our 11-year-old ran into the back of our 16-year-old while distracted by the guy’s instructions for parking. He was sternly admonished. We were glad it hadn’t happened earlier.
Watch street performers with serious skills:
All over the park, street performers with various talents show off their skills. We enjoyed a pretty good roller blade demonstration and some great juggling. We heard some good music and some very bad music, then returned to watch the roller bladers in time to see some wince-inducing crashes by some amateurs. Either way, it was entertaining.
Buy a soccer ball or play at a playground:
For about €5 (though they’ll ask for ten, initially), many street vendors have cheap soccer balls for sale. We bought one at the beginning of our stay in Rome, and the boys used it in the park several times before giving it away to another child before we departed. You’ll find plenty of grass areas in which to start a game, and we found other kids joined in almost every time. In fact, when Calvin dribbled it around the city, about every other restaurant waiter standing outside their dining establishments jumped in to pass it around and start conversations with us. Money well spent!
What to eat:
There’s a sit-down cafe by the playground, plus many other carts and stands throughout the park. My favorite was by the round-about and pedestrian bridge. It had outdoor seating (heated in winter) and a crepe station. The espresso and chocolat caldo (hot chocolate) were excellent.
How to get there:
As noted above, we always entered from Piazza Popolo, but you can also enter above the Spanish Steps (we departed the park here once). There’s a metro station in both locations.