This article may contain compensated links. See our full disclosure here
Rome has many secrets but how can you share your passion for them with your kids?
Enlist some help of course! Can you imagine trying to read about these sites or keep up with an audioguide while herding your crew? No, me either.
For our adventures around some of Rome’s most ancient and lesser known sites we joined a Tikidoo family tour.
Hidden Rome tour highlights
We met our guides Marianna and Martina outside the church of Saint Mary in Cosmedin and joined the line for the Bocca della Verità (the Mouth of Truth).
This short wait was the perfect opportunity for us to get to know each other and learn a little about this unusual Roman site.
The Mouth of Truth – Bocca della Verità
The Bocca della Verità is a mask thought to be of one of the pagan gods worshipped by the Romans, though which one is a matter of dispute.
Many historians believe it was a drain cover though there are several other theories. This all adds to the mystery of the site.
Legend has it that if you place your hand inside the mouth of the mask and tell a lie then your hand will be cut off. Many people line up daily to test out this Roman story and most leave with their limbs intact.
Ok they all do.
These days there is no axeman standing behind the monument ready to chop off your hand if you somehow offended the powers that be, as was the case in the Middle Ages.
In any case, it’s a fun story guaranteed to capture the imagination of children, not to mention a great photo opportunity and the perfect starting point for our tour.
Saint Mary in Cosmedin – Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin
Many people who visit the Bocca della Verità quickly move on after their photo but we ventured inside the church of Saint Mary in Cosmedin. Here we learned all about this fascinating part of Rome and the church itself.
Built on the site of the Forum Boarium, the central cattle market in Rome, the church of Saint Mary dates to the 8th century.
The interior is very beautiful and is covered in ancient mosaics and frescoes that reminded me of Byzantine churches in Eastern Europe and Greece.
We learnt this is because the church was donated to Greek monks who fled to Rome escaping persecution. There is even a “Greek Street” nearby. Read more about the church here
While Mass was carried out in the baptistry our guides pulled out pencils and paper for the children while we talked about the history of the church.
Our daughter has a passion for drawing and loves patterns and colours. She loved looking at the mosaics and trying to recreate them herself.
Circus Maximus – Circo Massimo
After all that culture it was time for a quick snack. Organic and delicious, the snack boosted our energy levels for the short walk to Circus Maximus – Ancient Rome’s famous chariot racecourse.
Now a somewhat nondescript grassland that is sometimes used for outdoor events, Circus Maximus once hosted as many as 150,000 spectators cheering on their favourites in a rough ride around the famous track.
As you can see from the photo, it’s hard to believe this site was so important but our guides had images and stories to tell that made it come alive.
We learnt about Scorpus, the most famous chariot driver who won over 2,000 race victories, and how popes throughout the centuries have plundered the site for monuments in their honour.
Temple of Hercules Victor – Temple of Ercole Vincitore
The only remaining temple in Rome made of Greek marble, the Temple of Hercules Victor is found in the Piazza della Bocca della Veritá opposite Saint Mary in Cosmedin.
Important in the daily rituals of the cattle market found on this site in ancient times, the temple is also unique for its circular shape and 20 beautiful Corinthian columns. Erected in the 2nd century BC it became a church in the 12th century before falling into disrepair.
We couldn’t go inside the temple as visitors are strictly limited due to the decay of the structure and ongoing restoration efforts.
Theatre of Marcellus – Teatro di Marcello
Our last stop was outside the remarkable Theatre of Marcellus. On the edge of the Jewish Quarter, the theatre was inaugurated in 12BC by Emperor Augustus although the design was inspired by Julius Caesar. That’s over 80 years before the Colosseum!
The theatre could hold up to 20,000 spectators and shows put on at Teatro di Marcello were much more refined than those at the Colosseum. Originally the building was covered in travertine marble so it must have looked incredible in its heyday.
Most astounding of all is that the top floor of this Ancient Roman ruin was converted into apartments for some of Rome’s noble families in the 16th century. They are now private homes now worth millions of Euros. With views over the Tiber and across the city they must be incredible places to live.
We were happy to wander around the ruins at its base for a while though I have to admit I do covet one of those apartments!
About Tikidoo tours
When I was researching our trip to Rome, I stumbled upon Tikidoo and was immediately impressed by their innovative approach to cultural travel with kids. Their guides have a wealth of experience including having worked at some of the best museums in the city.
Even better, Tikidoo is Italian owned and run meaning your tourist dollar stays in Rome.
As is the case throughout Italy, children are definitely to be seen and heard so I was not surprised that the content and delivery of the tour was engaging. Our Tikidoo guides were professionals and adapted the activities for the children’s ages and interests.
Drawing and colouring in the sites and doing counting exercises was a great hit with my pre-schoolers. Stops for snacks was appreciated and the route was the just right length for those little legs
Older children might like to try their virtual reality tour of the Colosseum. I thought this looked amazing but decided that our kids were a little young to make the most of it.
The hidden secrets of Rome tour costs €86 per adult and €67 for kids aged 5-13 years.
More tours and information on the Tikidoo website
Are you planning a trip to Rome? Click here to discover my favourite resources for planning and booking trips in Italy
Disclosure: We were guests of Tikidoo on the hidden secrets of Rome tour for purposes of review. All opinions are our own