Rome is one of the top holiday destinations every year (#7 in 2015’s Travelers’ Choice destinations), it is the object of many travel guides and millions of Instagrams, and one of the essential stops for everyone who is traveling, either on honeymoon or backpacking, in Europe.
Keeping that in mind, what can I possibly say that hasn’t been said about this beautiful city? Well… that it reminded me a little bit of Mexico City’s historical center? Yes, I kid you not. Not everything, just a little street here and there.
Anyway, imagination aside, here goes my take on Rome full of tips and tricks for enjoying this gorgeous city without falling into terrible tourist traps.
Disclaimer: I was inspired and followed Lonely Planet’s Guide to Rome 2015, research I did online, and touristy intuition.
Day 1 – Colosseum, Roman Forum and Il Vittoriano
We arrived in Rome at 9 am via Fumiccino Airport. I found a great flight in Air France, 120 euros round trip. Instead of booking a hotel, I booked on AirBnB near via Cavour: perfectly located near the Colosseum and a walking distance from famous landmarks such as the Pantheon. After meeting our host and leaving our luggage, we decided to go straight to the Colosseum and the Forum Romano.
Pro tip: Do not go to the Colisseum first ! There is a huge line to buy tickets and then to enter. Go straight past the Colisseum and buy it in the Forum Romano (ticket counts for both Colosseum and Forum). Start your tour there and end it in the Colosseum.
When entering the Roman forum, I was in awe. Such antiquity feels overwhelming, and one cannot stop imagining how it looked like in the height of the Roman empire. Although it is impressive, it is easy to feel lost because there are no signs or a lot of explanations for each monument. We used Lonely Planet’s Rome guide to understand what we were seeing a little bit more.
After walking around the Forum, we went up the little mountain to take a look at the Palatine, where the emperor and the rich roman society lived. It is not in great shape but you can wander around the gardens and enjoy the view of the city and the Colosseum from the top. On the other side, you can see what’s left of the Circus Maximus.
Afterwards, we walked down the hill and tried to find the exit to the Colosseum. We couldn’t find it easily since we thought there was a way out on the left side of the Forum. Once you find the exit (we asked several people where it was), walk towards the Colosseum. There will be two lines, one for buying a ticket and another one for people who already have a ticket. Guess you know which one will be faster 😉 Once inside, the only thing I can say is just to enjoy the magnificence of this ancient marvel.
Since we were really hungry, we decided to go outside and find a pizzeria. There are a lot of them that look like tourist traps, so my suggestion is to go with your instinct. We chose one in a little street, not in the main street.
After a good dose of pizza, we walked from the Colosseum to Il Vittoriano, also known as “Altare de la Patria”. It is a huge monument made of white marble, you are able to see it from all the high points in the city. It was built in 1885 to celebrate the unification of Italy. You can go up the stairs for free, but if you want to go inside there is a museum and a 360 view of Rome in the roof.
Day 2 – The Vatican and historical center
Since the Vatican was far away from the apartment, we took the metro. Beware of people helping you buy or go through the metro doors, he/she will act like a good samaritan but will ultimately ask you for money.
Pro tip: buy the Vatican tickets online. If you buy them directly in the ticket office, you will queue for at least 3 hours. When buying tickets online, you select the hour of arrival and go straight through without waiting in line.
Since we arrived a little bit early, we decided to drink coffee just in front of the Vatican entrance. It was the most expensive coffee of my life ! 8 euros for a capuccino ! Once inside, you have the option of going through all the buildings and museums until you reach the Sixtine Chapel or you can go through the short route. We chose the latter one. The Vatican museums are quite impressive. However, nothing beats seeing the Sixtine Chapel and being surrounded by Michael-Angelo’s extraordinary paintings. Remember, photos are not allowed in the Chapel.
We then went to Saint Peter’s cathedral. This is not included in the ticket and you don’t pay to enter.
Pro tip: do not pay a tour guide outside the Cathedral. They will try to lure you by saying that there is at least a 4 hour queue to go inside and that with them, you will wait 20 minutes or so. The line is impressive and you might believe them at first. However, it is just a 45 minute line. No need for a tour guide unless you really want to understand everything. If not, stay in line and enjoy the view.
We took some pictures and wandered inside the Cathedral. It feels more like a museum than a church, but it does not mean that you will not be in awe.
Afterwards, we walked towards the historical center. We took the Via della Conciliazione straight outside St Peter’s. In order to reach the center of Rome you need to cross the Tibre river. Since it was time for lunch, we found a little trattoria hidden in a square park. We ate some pasta and wine, and continued our trek into Rome.
Our first stop was the Pantheon. Built 2000 years ago by the emperor Hadrien, it is an architectural feat. A great dome stands out from other ancient buildings, in the middle a hole in which the sky lights comes through and gives even more grandour to the Pantheon. Then, we continued to walk until we found a cute restaurant to drink coffee and eat tiramisu in the tables outside. Walking through Rome’s streets is like going back in time to another place. Really old buildings and churches stand out against modern restaurants and shops, there is a lot of latin charm and color not found in other European cities.
Finally, we reached the Piazza Navona, a great plaza just to watch people come and go. There are a lot of bars and restaurants surrounding it, there are two fountains in both sides of the plaza (Fontana del Neptune and del Moro), and some tourist animations such as gladiators (?!).
Day 3 : Trevi fountain, the Spanish Steps, and the Villa Borghese
Time to visit the famous Trevi fountain ! We walked again from the apartment to the center of Rome. You know you are arriving at the city center because of all the tourists ! We were very disappointed to see that the Trevi fountain is under renovation. However, we were able to take a couple of pictures and to imagine what it would be like to throw a little coin so we can come back to Rome 😉
We decided to keep walking until we arrived at the Spanish Steps (otherwise known as the Scalinita di Trinità dei Monti). This is a great place to stop, take a break, and enjoy watching people come and go. I didn’t take a picture of all the stairs because there is a huge Michael Kors ad at the top, which was a little bit upsetting.
Since we were hungry, we found this great trattoria in a little street in front of the Spanish Steps: Otello alla concordia (Via Della Croce 81). Highly recommend it!
To end our day, we decided to walk to the Villa Borghese , which is not far from where we were. We went up a little hill and arrived at the gardens.
We did not go inside the Villa, we just wandered around the gardens (and got lost, we did a complete tour until we found our way back). The great thing is that the Piazza di Popolo is in front of the Villa Borghese , you just have to go down the hill ! Again, there are a lot of restaurants and cafés surrounding the Piazza. There’s no better way to end the day !
Day 4: Trastevere
We ended our trip to Rome with a highlight: a visit to the Trastevere neighborhood. We started out early, walked through the Colosseum and went via the Circus Maximus in order to cross the Tiber river. It was a long walk but definitely worth it ! You know you are arriving in Trastevere because the buildings, the streets… everything changes. It is a little bit more colorful and charming ! There are charming shops, restaurants and gelato stores in the Via Fenella, Via Benedetta, and Via del Moro. We had the BEST PIZZA of our lives in the Pizzeria Ivo (Via di San Francesco a Ripa 158). After this great meal, it was time to head back to the apartment since we had a plane to catch.
This is the final photo of our trip to Rome: crossing the Tiber with Saint Peter’s cathedral in the background.
I had a wonderful time in Rome, and the thing is that 4 days are not enough to see everything. Our trip really encompassed what I consider are the most important things to see and do in Rome : eat gelato, check; eat pizza, check; eat pasta; check… and of course going to the Vatican, the Colosseum. Plus, wandering around the streets of Rome is an amazing attraction by itself. Be ready to walk A LOT , to eat and just to enjoy the wonders of this city.
Would love to hear your thoughts on Rome and any other tips for fellow travelers !