We really didn’t expect the Aqueduct Park to be our favorite stop in Rome. We deliberately rented an Airbnb next to the Colosseum (which made it really easy to photograph). As we explored the city center, we were blown away – every corner had a church or a monument that would have been a main attraction in most cities our family has traveled to! But when we got to the Aqueduct Park, we felt a weight lift off our shoulders.

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True, we had walked, bussed and ridden the metro across town just to take some family photos there, but something was a little different from the rest of the shoots we had done this month. Without the crowds, without the vendors hassling us, without the noisy rhythm of the traffic, the pressure to get our shots and get out seemed to vanish. For the first time in Rome, we just kind of relaxed.

In the late afternoon there were a few other people at the aqueduct park, occasionally someone would pass on a bicycle, or we would step around a young couple who thought they had found a private place behind some tall grass. But for the most part, we just felt free. We were free to talk out loud without worrying if someone was listening to us. We were free to let Lisa down to touch and smell the wildflowers without worrying about whether someone would trip over her, or whether she was going to ruin someones carefully landscaped garden.

And of course, in the background, that enormous aqueduct was the backdrop that tied everything together. It’s true that there are plenty of ruins and artifacts scattered throughout the city. But that old cliche – “it felt like we had traveled back in time” – always rang a little hollow when we were surrounded by a thousand tourists with their selfie sticks, following a tour guide’s flag. More than any other place we traveled to in Rome, the Aqueduct Park felt like it might not have changed that much.

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The ruins no longer carried water to the city (obviously) but it wasn’t hard to imagine a roman standing beneath aqueduct in its glory days, marveling at what an accomplishment it represented. Without such an incredible feat of engineering the rest of the city could hardly have existed!

Actually, our visit to the park almost felt like a great big metaphor. It was a drink of water that our family needed to refresh our sense of wellness. It was a break from the grind that our travel photography sometimes becomes. We got our photos, but at our own pace and with a sense of absolute freedom that we just don’t get when we’re struggling to stay ahead of the tours. We played, we picnicked and we even enjoyed some casual conversation. No one around us was pushing, yelling, or sightseeing, and we couldn’t even see a car.

Here are some tips if you choose to visit the park:

-Take the metro to the Subagusto station. It’s the closest to the part of the park you are probably interested in (the part with the big aqueduct ruins). Here is the Rome metro map.

-Bring supplies: like water, sunblock, food, etc. The park is actually pretty big, and there’s no way to get around it except to walk. If you are right next to the aqueduct you can stand in its shadow, but for the most part there is very little shelter from the sun. Also, if there is a restroom, I didn’t see it.

-Set aside at least a few hours. Even if you don’t explore the whole park, you’ll want to spend some time relaxing there. Have a picnic. Do some yoga. Write in your journal. It might be the most beautiful place in Rome, so take advantage.

While we were there, Dannie couldn’t help but reflect on how much better she felt there. She determined that once we’re ready to settle back down she wants to make sure we live next to a park like this instead of the heart of a city (but not too far from the city of course). As we made our way home, she was fantasizing about playing in the park with Lisa every afternoon, playing hide and seek by the ruins while I went for a jog or did some writing. As I sit here at the computer in our little Airbnb apartment, trying to block out the sounds of an attention hungry toddler, I have to admit, I think she might be on to something.