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Italians love children . Don't be surprised by how much attention people pay yours here: peeking into buggies and cheek-pinching are quite normal, as is help lugging carriages up steps and giving up a seat for you and your child on public transport.

That said, Rome has a surprisingly limited amount of activities specifically geared towards children. Luckily, touring the sites of Rome is something of an educational experience, and one that children can enjoy - especially Castel Sant'Angelo , the Colosseum , and of course throwing coins into the Trevi Fountain . Pick up the English version of Conosci Roma, available free from any tourist kiosk; it's a children's map of the centre with interesting facts about sights, daily life of ancient Rome and stickers.

Of Rome's parks, the Villa Borghese is convenient, and has a lot to offer kids - pedalboats, a little train, pony rides, bikes, and a zoo . If all else fails, there's always Luna Park , a large amusement park in EUR, or if nothing strikes the right note, you can always head to the closest gelato stand. For more information , Romacè 's English section often has details of what's on for children that week, as does Time Out Roma - albeit in Italian.

Parks and outdoor activities
Gianicolo

This park, high up on Janiculum hill, is a good place to keep kids amused, with pony rides, bumper cars, puppet shows and other games, while adults enjoy a great view of the city below.

Luna Park

Via delle Tre Fontane. Mon-Fri 3-8pm, Sat 3pm-1am, Sun 10am-1pm & 3-10pm; free entrance, rides cost L2000-5000.

An amusement park in the EUR district, this is the only place in Rome that you'll find big-scale amusements, like a rollercoaster, haunted house, Ferris wheel, and the like. It's a bit dated, but is still a popular destination for families.

Villa Ada

Beautiful grounds just north of the city with plenty to keep youngsters amused, including a roller-skating rink, bike paths, two playgrounds, and ponds.

Villa Borghese

A huge park offering plenty of entertainment for young ones. Enter at the Viale delle Belle Arti entrance to find pony rides, a children's train, swings and paddleboats. Kids might also be interested in the Bioparco on Via del Giardino Zooligico, (daily 9am-6pm; tel 06.360.8211), a once poorly kept zoo that has undergone many changes. It now also has a museum next door - and often face-painting at weekends.



Museums
Museo dei Bambini

Via Flaminia 80 tel 06.3600.5488.

Set to open sometime in the year 2000, Rome's long-anticipated children's museum is geared towards children under twelve and has a variety of hands-on activities that teach youngsters about all aspects of the world beyond. There is also supposed to be a laboratory where kids can participate in experiments.

Museo di Zoologia

Via Aldovrandi 18 tel 06.321.6586. Tues-Sun 9am-5pm; L5000, kids under 18 free.

Located next to the zoo, this museum is getting a facelift. A new permanent exhibit, Animals and their Habitats, is on display in a new wing, while a variety of stuffed animals fill the older part of the museum.

Museo della Civiltà Romana

Piazza Agnelli 10 tel 06.592.6041. Tues-Sat 9am-7pm, Sun 9am-1.30pm; L5000, kids under 12 free.

On your way to Luna Park, stop by the Roman Civilization museum, where you can see replicas of Rome's famous statues and buildings, as well as interesting models of Imperial and Ancient Rome


Toys and clothing
Al Sogno

Piazza Navona 53 tel 06.686.4198. Mon 3.30-7.30pm, Tues-Sat 9.30am-1pm & 3.30-7.30pm.

Perfectly located at the north end of Piazza Navona, two floors of stuffed animals, handmade dolls, board games, and replicas of Roman soldiers.

Benetton

Via Cesare Battisti 129 tel 06.6992.4010. Mon 3.30-7.30pm, Tues-Sat 9.30am-1pm & 3.30-7.30pm.

Just one of the several locations of this famous Italian chain store that sells fairly expensive clothes for children and adults. This one conveniently has a children's hairdresser on the second floor.

Bertè

Piazza Navona 108 tel 06.687.5011. Mon 3.30-7.30pm, Tues-Sat 9.30am-1pm & 3.30-7.30pm.

One of Rome's oldest toy stores at the other end of the Piazza from Al Sogno, that has a complete range of toys for children of all ages.

Città del Sole

Via della Scrofa 66 tel 06.6880.3805. Mon 3.30-7.30pm, Tues-Sat 11am-1.30pm.

Toys, games and books for kids in a great central location.

IANA

Via Cola di Rienzo 182 tel 06.6889.2668. Mon 3.30-7.30pm, Tues-Sat 10am-1.30pm & 3.30pm-7.30pm.

Popular Italian chain store selling moderately priced kids' clothes.

La Bottega di Marinella

Via Margutta 34 tel 06.324.4793, fax 06.361.4143. Mon 3.30-7.30pm, Tues-Sat 9.30am-7.30pm.

Adorable children's store on swanky Via Margutta, selling their own designs of infant and young children's clothes, plus fabrics to brighten up any child's bedroom.

Marina Menasci

Via del Lavatore 87 tel 06.678.1981. Mon 3.30-7.30pm, Tues-Sat 9.30am-1pm & 3.30-7.30pm.

Toy store that sells exclusively wooden toys, in a great location a few steps from the Trevi Fountain



Rome's puppet theatres
Puppetry has been delighting Italian children for hundreds of years, and Rome has a few venues for viewing true puppeteers in action. Sometimes you can find a show in English, but the storyline is visually explanatory and kids don't seem to care whether they understand the words or not.

The outdoor theatres on the Janiculum Hill, and in EUR on Largo K. Ataturk, are said to be the only places to view the true puppeteers left in Rome. Both are free, although a small donation is expected. You can also see shows near the Janiculum at Teatro Verde, Circonvallazione Gianicolense 10 (tel 06.588.2034), a children's theatre where they also put on musicals and marionette shows (L12,000). Most puppet shows go on from around 4pm till 7pm on weekdays and 10.30am until 1pm at weekends.



La Bufana
There are many stories about La Bufana in Rome, always depicted as an ugly old woman who flies along on a broom draped in black. The most recognized version is that she was outside sweeping when the three kings walked by, she stopped them and asked where they were going. The kings responded that they were following a star, in search of a newborn baby. They invited her to come along, but she declined, saying she had too much sweeping and cleaning to do. When she found out who it was the kings were off to find, her regret for not having gone with them was so great that she has spent eternity rewarding good children with presents and sweets and bad children with pieces of coal on the day of Epiphany, January 6.

Each year, from early December until January 6, Piazza Navona sets up the Bufana toy fair , where endless stalls tempt children with every sort of sticky, gooey sweets and even chunks of black sugar made to look like coal. There are also toy stands and several manger scenes where children sometimes leave letters for La Bufana, asking her for specific presents and toys.

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