Rome is a crazy city. It’s ‘in your face’ at every turn. It’s fast paced. It’s crowded. It’s gritty.
Really. There’s nothing like it. Tourists and locals meld together where you hear a constant melting pot of accents. Locals gesture vividly as they speak, just as you would expect. Scooters zoom through the narrow lanes, fighting for their place amongst the zippy cars in the dense traffic.
All of these things make Rome fabulous.
‘Pinch me, I can’t believe I’m here’ moments abound because you won’t believe you’re actually standing there in the middle of it all. You find yourself gazing at one glorious masterpiece after another. Bernini’s Sculptures. The Trevi Fountain. You’ll get surprising glimpses of the Colosseum as you turn a corner or happen upon an ancient church that is still in use today.
We arrived in Rome around noon on a Monday. We had just come off two long flights from Australia. When we stepped off the train at Termini station, we stepped into a madhouse. The station was busy, but the streets were busier.
Market stalls lined the sidewalks selling everything from leather shoes to underwear. Street vendors rambled amongst the crowds offering tacky bracelets and cheap selfie sticks. We elbowed our way through the chaos with big smiles on our faces.
We were finally in Rome.
We should have been exhausted. Our comfortable Airbnb beds beckoned to us through the jet lag. But that was the last thing on our minds. We were eager to shower and get out and explore. And explore we did.
Here are our recommendations to get the most out of your trip to Rome:
Where to Stay
AirBnb: Al Cinque
AirBnb wasn’t around for my first 2 visits to Rome. This time, I was excited to try it out. At least for the first part of our trip. I chose an AirBnb apartment in the Monti neighbourhood.
It may sound cliché by now, but staying in an Airbnb is the best way to immerse yourself into the Roman way of life. Vivere come un locale.
You have the advantages of privacy, a full kitchen, and in most cases, a clothes washer and dryer. Having these utilities is a godsend, especially if you want to save some money on food and laundry for an extensive stay (or if you are traveling further through Italy or beyond).
The apartment we stayed in was spacious and located in a great area. Our hosts, Daniela and her sister Claudia, were extremely accommodating. Claudia was there to greet us and walk us through everything we needed to know for our stay. Daniella thoughtfully left us a message asking if we needed the heat turned on. Other than that, they left us to enjoy the property. It was a delightful stay. And the beds…oh! They were so comfortable.
Click here for a credit with AirBnb for your first stay.
For a more luxurious stay: Hotel Royal Court
For an alternative accommodation, or if hotels are more your preference, we recommend the Hotel Royal Court. Conveniently located near to the Termini station, it’s the perfect place to position yourself to get around Rome.
This is a little taste of luxury. It’s comfortable, luxurious and for a little extra, worth the stay.
What to Do
The main sites in Rome are within walking distance, but you can take buses and the metro to get around if you prefer. Personally, I like to walk a city so I can see beyond the popular sites. Walking Rome will easily provide your 10,000 steps for the day. To see the bits between the popular sites, your step count will likely double so wear comfortable shoes. Rome needs at least 3 days to be fully explored if you have the time. That saying of “Rome was not built in a day”, transcends to Rome cannot be seen in a day either.
The Colosseum and the Roman Forum.
A guided tour is recommended. We really enjoyed our experience with The Roman Guy. This company offers a wonderful experience to learn about these areas. We booked the Colosseum Dungeons Tour, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill tour. The group sizes are relatively small (12 max) and provide access to some restricted areas that not all tour operators can offer. Be wary of vendors wandering outside the Colosseum trying to lure you in.
St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum (inc. Sistine Chapel)
Whether you are Catholic or not, a trip to Rome is not complete without experiencing the Vatican Museum (including the Sistine Chapel) and St. Peter’s Basilica. I was absolutely blown away the first time I saw the overabundant opulence. Quite honestly, after seeing a few of the priceless artefacts, I thought the Catholic Church would do well so sell off one or two of these relics to end poverty in a third world country—or two.
Prepare to go through security when you enter the Vatican. You can bring in a bottle of water, but no food is allowed. Tripods are restricted also. Be respectful and cover your shoulders. You won’t be allowed in if you are wearing a spaghetti strapped top or singlet/tank top.
The Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona and Spanish Steps (Spanga)
These are all within easy walking distance of each other. Do a little window shopping as you take a lovely stroll through the streets of Rome.
Visit the Trevi Fountain early in the morning and beat the crowds. Be sure to take a coin to toss backwards into the fountain and make your wish. If you come later, elbow your way through the crowds (watching your bags, of course) and find your place for a photo in front of the fountain.
The Pantheon is truly fabulous. Entry is free to marvel at this architectural wonder. After almost 2000 years, the central opening is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. Rain coming into the Pantheon is breathtaking – a must see. (But that also means, that everyone will want to see this too so it will be crowded. Don’t be deterred!)
The Piazza Navona and the Spanish steps make for great people watching venues. Both have been featured in films like Roman Holiday and Angels and Demons. John Keats lived and died in a house (now a museum dedicated to his memory) adjacent to the Spanish Steps. Just don’t expect to sit and eat on the steps.
Beyond the tourist area
As I mentioned, this was my third visit to Rome. On my previous visits, I mostly stuck to the popular, touristy sites. This time, I really experienced the city. I went beyond the city centre and took a food tour through a unique Roman neighbourhood.
To fully experience Rome, we highly recommend Eating Italy Food Tours. Take the Taste of Testaccio tour during the lunchtime hours. You wander the neighbourhood of Testaccio, sampling some of the very best that the neighbourhood has to offer. Everything we had was delicious. I only wish we could take home everything that we tried. (Australia law prohibits it).
Here, we experienced what Rome is all about. We saw how gracious and hospitable the locals are. This tour truly is great value for money. In fact, after four hours of nibbling here and there at various vendors, we were so full from all of the gestational delights, we could not fit in dinner later that night.
Where to Eat
First, the things you must try in Rome.
Pizza Bianca – Focaccia-style pizza bread that is perfect for lunch. It is light, fluffy and salty (just like the Roman’s like all of their food).
Roman-Style Pizza – Roman pizza is significantly different that the chewier, dough style pizza in Napoli. The pizza in Roma is very thin and if it’s crunchy, even a little charred on the bottom, it is perfecto. Keep in mind that pizza restaurants don’t turn their wood-burning ovens on until after 6 in the evening, so for a true Roman pizza, save your fix for after 7pm. (Note: You can get pizza all day around tourist areas, but this isn’t the pizza Rome is known for)
Carbonara – Oh my! I’ve never had carbonara like this and the best I’ve ever had was found at Flavio al Velavevodetto in Testaccio.
Gelato – You can’t go to Italy and not have Gelato. You will find a gelataria on almost every corner and it really doesn’t matter what season it is. If you want the real thing – the best the best that Rome has to offer – head to Giolitti in Testaccio. They have been around since 1914 and every flavour is handmade and unbelievably delicious.
Now, the restaurants we recommend:
Da’Augusto – A favourite amongst the locals in Trastevere. Located in one of the most picturesque squares in Rome with an authentically Roman feel and serving dishes that taste amazing.
Luzzi Tratoria & Pizzeria – A very Roman style trattoria which opened in 1943 (during the second world war and is still going strong!). They are famous for their breaded vegetable appetizers, homemade fettuccini, and their meats. Bellisimo!
Our favourite: La Vacca m’Briaca Hosteria – Not only was this restaurant fairly inexpensive by Rome standards, the food was abundant and delicious. We started with bruschetta, followed it with carbonara and arribiatta, accompanied by a house red wine and finished with tiramisu for each of us. The cost was around 33 euros for the two of us.
Flavio al Velavevodetto – you can get a taste of this amazing gestational experience on the Taste of Testaccio Food Tour with Eating Italy, but it’s worth spending more time to truly experience this amazing restaurant. You can enjoy lunch or dinner where the locals eat, in a place that is truly unique. Try the Carbonara. You’ll never eat anything more amazing in your life.
BONUS: 5 Tips to get the most out of Rome
- Metro – 1,50 euro for 100 mins.
You can hop on and off the metro as much as you like for that 100 mins. If you are just visiting the Vatican and coming from the city centre, it’s best to buy two 100 min tickets rather than an all-day pass. It’s more cost effective. It you want to use the metro to get between sites for a day of site seeing, it’s best to buy an all-day pass.
- Free water fountains are located throughout the city.
Carry your own water bottle and refill throughout the many public fountains throughout the city. The water is tasty, fresh from the alps. Save the planet and your wallet.
- The footpaths are hard on your feet, so it’s best that you wear shoes that are cushioned to absorb the cobblestones. Take breaks when you can. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
- Because of the cobblestones, it’s best to use a bag you can carry rather than wheel. If you take wheeled luggage, expect to have your teeth rattled out of your head.
- Take a bag you can keep close to your body for essentials. Backpacks aren’t recommended because of pickpockets. A zippered tote works well instead. Make sure it’s big enough to carry essentials like water, hat, scarf, camera etc. In the off season, be sure to carry an umbrella and make sure the bag is big enough for layers.
NOTE: Affiliate links were used in this post. Alternatively, we may have been offered sponsorship in exchange for writing a post about our experience. Please note that we do not promote any brand we have not used or experienced for ourselves. All opinions are our own. Please follow our advice at your own risk. By clicking these links helps support the Travel Far Enough website and for that, we thank you.