In case you missed it, I’m doing a five-part blog series all about the details of our travels to Europe the past 2 years. I started with our week in the Amalfi Coast and today is all about my favorite city in the world – Rome!
Here’s a quick overview of our two trips and the destinations I’ll be covering. In May 2014, we visited Rome, northern Italy (Tuscany, Cinque Terre, Pisa, Florence, Lucca, Maranello & Venice) and Paris over 16 days with my family. In April 2016, my husband and I visited London, then returned to Italy to the Amalfi Coast and back to Rome over 13 days. Follow my blog to make sure you get all future posts delivered directly to your inbox!
Rome – The Eternal City
Getting There: You will likely fly into Leonardo da Vinci – Fiumicino airport, which is only about 30 minutes from central Rome and it’s easy to get to the city from there. Taxis are expensive and often charge extra surprise rates for luggage, so I’d recommend either taking the train into the city or hiring a private car service… ask your hotel or vacation rental host about this option – the flat rate is 50€.
You can also take the train into the city from another destination in Italy or Europe. We took the TrenItalia rail line from the Amalfi Coast and arrived at the station in the center of Rome (Roma Termini). We used Google maps to figure out a quick bus from there to our apartment and it was easy!
Rome is an old city and the streets are small and not always accessible to vehicles. I wouldn’t recommend driving there, but we did rent a car to drive away from the city up to Tuscany and that was simple- just get on the highway immediately and be prepared for lots of round-a-bouts on your drive through Italy!
Where to Stay: Both times we have visited Rome, we have stayed near the Piazza Navona and loved our location. It’s perfectly in the center of town and within walking distance to all the sites and lots of great restaurants. The first time we visited, we stayed in this HomeAway apartment just steps from the Piazza Navona. It was a bit loud at night (Italians like to stay up really late!) but fit 5 of us perfectly, and for a good price. On our visit last month, we stayed in this Airbnb apartment just down the street… away from the noise and perfect for the two of us. We loved the atmosphere of the apartment and our host was very responsive. Plus, you can’t beat that price! Sign up with this link and get get $20 in travel credit for your next vacation.
Sites to See: There are so many incredible historical sites to see in Rome and certainly something for everyone. We are not much for museums and churches, so we limited our time spent in those. Here are my picks for 10 can’t-miss sites in Rome and how much time you might want to allow to see them:
- Colosseum (1 hour) – What’s more iconic Rome than this towering site? Get there when it opens and reserve tickets in advance so you don’t have to wait in line. We took a private tour and it was incredible to learn all about the history of the Gladiator games, how religion was involved and the politics surrounding the build. It also provides a great view of the city, especially many of the sites in the Roman Forum you should visit next.
- Trevi Fountain (15 minutes) – FREE! You’re walking down narrow streets and suddenly happen upon this beauty. The Bernini sculpture is awe-inspiring (if you like this sculpture, visit the boat at the bottom of the Spanish Steps and the fountains at Piazza Navona) Bring a coin to throw in the fountain with your right hand over your left shoulder to ensure you return to Rome…. it’s worked for us so far! Be sure to visit both during the day and when it is lit up at night.
- Roman Forum (2 hours) – Right next to the Colosseum… this is the heart of ancient Rome. It was part of our private tour, but you can also download a Rick Steves’ free audio walking tour and listen while you walk. I recommend visiting in the morning before it gets hot (there is not much shade) and buying tickets in advance so you can walk right in. Start at the Arch of Constantine and walk through to see the ruins of ancient temples and the main forum where Romans would gather for political discussions and commerce.
- Pantheon (30 minutes) – FREE! A unique domed building framed with a portico of Corinthian columns. The rotunda fits a perfect sphere and is topped with its “oculus” as the only source of natural light. It was built originally as a temple to all the gods and is now a Catholic church (they will constantly remind you to be quiet by yelling “silenzio!”). The famous painter Raphael is buried there, as well as the first two kings and a queen of Italy. I recommend downloading Rick Steves’ free audio walking tour and listening to it while you are there. This is also a great site to visit at night when it’s all lit up.
- Borghese Gardens (1 hour) – FREE! A beautiful public park with gardens and some great views of the city. Rent a bike and ride around to enjoy an afternoon!
- Vatican Museums (2 hours) – These museums are some of the best in the world thanks to the very rich Popes and Catholic church. You could spend hours and hours in each gallery, but we took a guided tour to see the highlights. Buy tickets in advance to avoid waiting in the hours-long line to enter. You’ll see the famous statues of Apollo, Laoconte and Hercules, animal statues and mosaics from ancient Roman homes, a gallery of 16th century maps, silk wall tapestries and gilded ceilings (the interior decoration is as lavish as the artifacts themselves).
- Sistine Chapel (20 minutes) – You’ll enter the chapel on your way from the Vatican museums to St. Peter’s Basilica. It is silent inside to appreciate the enchanting ceiling masterpiece painted by Michelangelo, reflecting the story of creation when God gave life to man.
- Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli (20 minutes) – FREE! This church is the home of the chains that held St. Peter in prison and you will see them encased in front of the altar. But the main star to me is Michelangelo’s Moses statue to the right of the altar. A beautiful sculpture you can donate a euro to light up (or wait til someone else puts in a coin). For a church so plain on the outside, it was quite beautiful inside!
- Travestere neighborhood (1 hour) – FREE! Just south of central Rome across the Tiber River via Isola Tiberina (the island). You’ll see beautiful medieval buildings, cute cafes and two stunning churches – St. Cecilia and Santa Maria (apparently the first church to honor the virgin Mary). I recommend downloading Rick Steves’ free audio walking tour and listening to it – it was fascinating and guides you to the main sites.
- Streets of Rome – FREE! Of course you’ll get to walk the streets from one site to another, but take some time to wander aimlessly on the old streets… take the smaller ones that are less crowded. You’ll happen upon some beautiful buildings and lovely cafes perfect for a cappuccino or Aperol Spritz. Simply walking around the city is one of my favorite parts of Rome… especially at night when everything is lit up so romantically. Just be sure to wear good shoes – your feet will thank you!
Where to Eat & Drink:
- Ristorante Maccheroni (near Pantheon) – This authentic Roman restaurant was recommended by our airbnb host and it did not disappoint. The homemade tonnarelli pasta carbonara was delicious!
- Caffe Ciampini (near Spanish Steps) – Outstanding views, romantic patio, great food and service. A bit pricey, but worth it for a special night!
- Piccolo Arancio (near Trevi) – Lovely place away from the Trevi-tourist craze and full of locals. The fried artichoke and orange cream ravioli were superb!
- L’Antica Bierra Peroni (near Trevi) – get there before 7 or plan to wait in line with the locals… this beer and sausage pub has great food and drinks for even better prices!
- La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali (near Colosseum) – adorable family-run place full of locals for lunch… had the best caprese salad there!
- San Crispini – Gelato (near Pantheon) – we’ve been there 4 times now in two trips! The serving size is good and flavors are awesome – our favorites are chocolate hazelnut and straccietella (Italy’s yummy version of chocolate chip!)
- Frigidarium – Gelato (near Piazza Navona) – this place was right around the corner from our apartment and had a line every time we passed it. Totally worth the wait… huge serving of delicious gelato that you can get dipped in dark chocolate for free.
- Ask for the house wine – We always ask for the house wine (specify white or red) whenever we visit a restaurant in Italy. The quality has always been great and it will save you lots of $$. You can order by the glass, 1/2 liter or liter.
- Drink from the water fountains – As you are walking the streets of Rome, you’ll see water fountains all over. Carry your water bottle and fill it up for refreshing, cool water straight from the aqueducts that’s totally safe to drink!
Add this place to your bucket list and enjoy the beautiful city of Rome!
P.S. Looking for more details? I reviewed hotels, restaurants and sites on TripAdvisor here. Or, feel free to email me with questions and for more details at healthyhopefulblog(at)gmail.com.