St. Peter's & Museums
Castel Sant'Angelo - Castel Sant'Angelo started out as a fancy tomb for the Emperor Hadrian. In the Middle Ages, it became a fortress, a stronghold of the popes. During the Renaissance, beautifully decorated apartments for the popes were added. It was also a prison, with creepy dungeons where people were kept for years and years. Kids will get a kick out this castle, right in the heart of Rome.
When you enter the castle, you're in the oldest part, Hadrian's mausoleum. Before you start up the spiral ramp, there's a cool model of the mausoleum, the exterior bristles with tons of statues, greenery, and a bronze statue of the emperor in a chariot. (Alternatively, you could go up explore the four bastions and Marcia Ronda wall walk before going into the castle).
The spiral ramp goes round and round inside, by a reconstruced guardroom, over a bridge, up to the Angel Courtyard, which has a marble >angel. In the Alexander VI Courtyard is a big wooden catapault and lots of cannon balls. Also, the Arms Museum has a super collection of elegant 16th - 19th century century rifles, pistols, swords, crossbows, shields, chain mail, and armor.
Keep on going up and you'll pass through the papal apartments, including the pope's bathtub, beautifully decorated with frescoes (the bathtub looks very short), and look for unicorns. Go up to the treasury room, where treasures were kept in all the wooden cupboards and chests (metal chest in the middle is quite big).
At the top of the castle, the Terrace of the Angel is a wide open space, with panoramic views of Rome in all directions (this is our favorite view of Rome). Rome looks like a city in miniature, thousands of red roofs, hundreds of domed churches, the milky green Tiber River winding through the city. And the crowning glory, a spectacular bronze angel (namesake of the castle) that represents the Archangel Michael.
Back on the ground, around the Castel Sant'Angelo is an open area with trees, park benches and a nice modern playground (on the northwest corner). If you have little ones in tow, this is a great place to relax.
St. Peter's Basilica - It's immense, and to get a good idea of just how big it is, first walk down the Piazza San Pietro to get the full effect of a grand entrance (take a detour to run around all those columns in the Bernini colonnade.) On the south side of piazza is the Vatican post office - send off postcards with stamps from the Vatican City. And, you'll see the Swiss Guards in their brightly colored red, orange and blue striped uniforms.
The interior of the basilica is a tapestry of amazing textures and colors. On the floor, the marble patterns in shades of cream, brown and green are dazzling. Check out all the columns decorated with chubby cherubs. Not to be missed, Michelangelo's exquisite Pieta. In the center of the cathedral is the awe-inspiring Bernini Baldacchino, the big Baroque black and gold canopy that marks a special spot - underneath is the tomb of St. Peter. Kitty corner to the Baldacchino is the 13th century bronze statue of St. Peter. Kids can feel free to touch and rub St. Peter's foot.
For the top-down view of St. Peter's, take the elevator up to the cupola, and then climb to the top of the dome.
Tip: A dress code for St. Peter's is enforced. No bare shoulders, no shorts above the knees (this includes guys). Kids may be allowed in wearing shorts, but not bare shoulders (bring a T-shirt along to cover them up).
Vatican Museums (Musei Vaticani) -
The jewel in the crown of the Vatican Museums is the Sistine Chapel, but there's great stuff to see as you wend your way through the passages and galleries to the chapel. Even in summer season, the Vatican Museums are well organized and you can go through the museums at your own pace. Audio tours are available where you buy your tickets.
Poke your head into the Egyptian museum to see mummies, sarcophagi, canopic jars and statues. The Museo Pio Clementino is chock full of fabulous Greek (copies) and Roman sculptures.
To get to and from the Sistine Chapel, you'll pass through long galleries and private apartments. Stop at the Gallery of Maps, very cool Renaissance wall maps of different regions of Italy (those pointy mountains and blue ocean are reminiscent of relief maps at school.)
The highlight of the Stanza di Raffaello (Raphael Rooms) is the painting, The School of Athens, with portraits of Michelangelo (dark haired guy, looks like he's thinking hard, in the foreground) and Leonardo da Vinci (silver haired guy pointing his finger straight up).
Sistine Chapel - The Sistine Chapel is amazing, and it's just not Michelangelo's glowing frescoes - every inch of the chapel is incredibly decorated, the floors, walls, ceiling. Try to find a space on the marble benches, then you can sit down and look up easily. The ceiling is high up, so bring your binoculars so you can see the details of Michelangelo's incredible frescoes, recently restored in bright living colors. The Biblical stories painted in the Sistine Chapel are familiar ones - the Creation, the Garden of Eden, Noah and the flood.
After the Sistine Chapel, you'll pass through the Library Gallery, lined with beautifully painted cabinets for books in the Vatican library. The bookcases have different designs with animals, heraldic shields, landscapes.
Museo Gregorian-Etrusco This museum has all the good stuff taken from the Etruscan Regolini-Glassi Tomb in Ceveteri. Highlights of the museum are all the gold jewelry, and Etruscan specialties such as a bronze statue the Mars of Todi, or terra cotta portrait heads. The collection also includes exquisite Greek vases.
Once you've seen at the goodies in the museums, mail a postcard from the Vatican post office, something special for your friends and relatives back home. In the museums area, there's an air-conditioned cafeteria for snacks, pizza and pasta, and a place to relax.
Giancolo (Janiculum Hill) - After you've visited the Vatican, kids may want to get out and run around. This park has plenty of green trees and shade, ice cream vendors, small amusement rides for toddlers at the Monument to G. Garibaldi, and spectacular views of Rome. This is also a great spot for a carriage ride. If you have teens, take a walk all the way from the Vatican through the park along the Passeggiata del Giancolo and then down Via Garibaldi to the Tiber.

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