The Ultimate Travel Guide To Rome, Italy
Rome is a massive city with more history than almost any city on Earth. “All roads lead to Rome” is a medieval saying that reflects the enormous impact the city had on civilization, and after a short walk through the Forum it’s easy to see what they meant. Everywhere you look an ancient building looms, and frequently you will find modern structures abruptly stopped to make room for walls built in ancient times. But it’s not all history and monuments. The food is incredible, the wine is Italian, the nightlife is electric, and the culture is unbeatable. Come for the history, stay for the food.
Where To Stay
If you want a hip vibe and lots to do, I highly recommend the Trastevere neighborhood. It is located across the Tiber River, a short walk from the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and other historical sights. Trastevere is loaded with cute cafes, delicious restaurants, and locally owned boutiques. I absolutely loved the vibe Trastevere had and really enjoyed just wandering the streets and people watching. There are some touristy Italian restaurants so watch out for those, but overall a great place to stay.
The food and nightlife scene are what this neighborhood is known for. I have not stayed in Testachhio but I have heard great things about it. It has a very local feel and is further away from City Center but still close enough to walk to the major sights. I visited Testacchio during the day and watched some neighborhood boys play a pick-up game of soccer...well football. Testacchio is definitely a lot quieter during the day, and has far more locals than tourists.
Monti is a cool neighborhood close to the Colosseum and main train station. The restaurant scene there is incredible, but you have to know where to look, because it can also be touristy (hint: wander along Via Panisperna, and some adjoining streets. Foodie heaven). During our first visit to Rome we stayed in Monti and accidentally stumbled upon Keanu Reeves filming the movie John Wick II. No guarantees you’ll see any celebrities but you will find some great restaurants and shops while wandering the streets of Monti.
What To Do
The most iconic Roman historical sight, pictures just do not do it justice. It is awe-inspiring by day and beautiful by night. I have visited twice and had tours both times (admittedly without the tour you get very little out of the Colosseum). The first time we took a self-guided, free audio tour from Rick Steve’s app and the second time was a night tour hosted by Walks of Italy. The Rick Steve’s audio tour allowed me to see everything at our own pace, but it was difficult to follow at some points and we were not able to ask questions. The Walks of Italy tour guide was fantastic. He was funny, knowledgeable, and put some personality into his tour. The tour began at the Altare della Patria, and took us down past the Forum, ending at the Colosseum. Our guide told us so many interesting stories about every square inch of our walk, it was incredible. The only downside is that the Colosseum is privately owned (who knew?), and recently began requiring tours inside the Colosseum to be guided by their own guides. Their guide that evening was a bit bland, and the tour was a bit too scripted for our taste. However, it was still informative, and the tour altogether is totally worth it.
Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
Although some may say it’s the Vatican, I say this is the must-see attraction in Rome. Palatine Hill is a massive ruin of what was once an enormous palace. It rests about 40 meters above the city, and overlooks the Forum to the North. The extent of the palace is impressive, and includes an orange grove at the very top of the hill. Palatine Hill leads directly down into the Forum, where you can see the first road ever built, and the center of ancient Rome. Ruins of temples, courthouses, government buildings, and more fill the Forum, while today’s Rome bustles on above you. Walking through ruins of buildings that are two thousand years old is an experience you really can’t get anywhere else.
- Tickets for the Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Colosseum come together, and you have 72 hours to use them (there is no re-entry).
- Make sure to eat before you do the Palatine Hill/Forum walk, as it could take a couple of hours (if you want to see the whole thing). Also make sure to bring bottles of water. There are snack machines in the center where the Forum meets Palatine Hill, but it’s best to be prepared.
- Check to see what kind of construction is going on before you buy your tickets. They are constantly restoring the ruins, so something is bound to be closed (especially in the winter time). As long as it isn’t half of Palatine Hill you should be able to see plenty.
Vatican City is a spectacle, and during the summer months a log-jam of tourists. Fortunately during the winter season there are comparatively few tourists, and the museum lines that normally wrap around the wall disappear. The museum is enormous, and full of great art, but it really depends on your personal preference. The Sistine Chapel is at the end of the museum, and is incredible, as are the rooms leading up to it (done by the famous painter Raphael). The rest of the museum is chock full of different kinds of art, and can take anywhere from an hour to eight hours. You can dictate the pace, or get a tour guide to do it for you (these tend to take about four hours, but they also make it more meaningful).
St. Peter’s Basilica is also incredible, with enormous statues inside that make it unlike any other church you’ll find. There is usually a pretty big crowd outside of this one, and the lines tend to queue up outside the metal detectors at the entrance. Once you’re in it won’t be very crowded, and it will be worth the wait.
Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and Pantheon
Rick Steve’s Heart of Rome Walk is my favorite way to visit the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and Pantheon all at once. You can easily hit all three sights in an afternoon as they are relatively close together. The walk begins at the Pantheon, followed by the Trevi Fountain (make sure to throw a coin in over your shoulder), and ends at the Spanish Steps. It’s a fun walk, and you’ll get to see a lot of Rome in between the sights.
Where To Eat
One of my favorite meals in Rome. They offer Italian-inspired tapas dishes. The restaurant has a fun atmosphere and good selection of Italian wines. It was packed with locals the last time we went. I recommend ordering a bunch of small plates and sharing. The daily lasagna was amazing.
My favorite gelato in Rome, within walking distance of the Colosseum. I recommend getting the whipped cream on your gelato. It is what all whipped cream should strive to taste like.
La Prosciutteria was recommended to us by a couple we met in the Central Market in Florence and it was spot on. It is the perfect place to grab a panini after visiting the Trevi Fountain as it is right around the corner. The sandwiches are delicious and cheap - a perfect lunch option to eat on your walk to the Spanish Steps!
Terna dei Quaranta
Terna dei Quaranta is a good place to grab an authentic Italian lunch. They offered quality food including several daily specials. It is very close to the Colosseum.
Toast and Co
Good lunch spot close to the Colosseum to grab a quick panini on the go.
Suppli is a Roman classic. It is a tomato-based risotto ball with cheese that has been fried. The best suppli in Rome is in Trastevere at a small place called I Suppli. Aracini is another type of fried rice ball and also worth trying at L’suppli.
If you are in need of a break from Italian food, Take Sushi is perfect. Quality, affordable sushi and Japanese food and very friendly service. I read several reviews that claim this is the best sushi in Rome. I rarely seek out sushi while traveling in Europe but it was comparable to my favorite sushi restaurants here in the States. I recommend ordering a dish that includes shrimp tempura. It was out of this world.
Another non-Italian recommendation. Amazing Indian food and outstanding service. The portion sizes were large and perfect for sharing. My family split the sampler platter and it was more than enough for five people. Our favorite was the lamb curry.
They offer a free aperitivo plate with drink purchase. The sampler includes a good selection of small sandwiches and skewers of meat and cheese.
Bir and Fud
Bir and Fud has the vide of a beer garden or brewery. They have a large selection of craft and local beer. Their food was mostly pub fare but tasty none the less. I recommend the homemade chips and ketchup.
Coffee Pot serves sushi and tacos. I don’t recommend eating a whole meal here as it is overpriced for the quality and portion size, but it offers a good atmosphere for drinks and light snacks.
La Carbonara is a little more touristy than I normally recommend, but worth the hype. They are famous for their quality Italian food and obviously Pasta Carbonara. I recommend making a reservation a few days in advance. The street La Carbonara is located on (Via Panisperna) has some awesome restaurants. I was not able to try as many as I would have liked but I recommend trying some if La Carbonara is booked.
Rome is an incredible place for anyone to visit. It's got it all - history, food, nightlife, family activities; the list is endless. There's always something new to discover, and it's great any time of the year! If you are planning a trip to Italy or even Europe, Rome is a must-see. Please feel free to contact us for any time for free recommendations, trip planning, and general consultations about itineraries and transportation/accommodations.
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