I’m not sure I can offer anything new about Rome that hasn’t already been written countless times. It’s a large, magical city that, in my travel experience (as limited as that is), compares to no other. There are few places on earth that allow you to hop on the metro steps away from structures that are thousands of years old.
Despite our love for Rome, we had a more practical need to visit this year; as we planned to spend an extended amount of time in Italy, it was a suitable base for catching flights and trains, and for storing our winter clothes that we won’t need for another month. Because we had been to Rome so many previous times (I believe this was our fourth visit), we thought this would be a good opportunity to bring my mother across the pond to join us for her first trip to Italy. In addition to spending time with my mom in one of our favorite places, it was a great excuse to revisit some of the top tourist attractions that we hadn’t seen in years.
My mother was only in town for 5 full days, so we had to cover a lot of ground very quickly. Although the main sites in Rome are not excruciatingly far apart (Dave and I can easily cover 10 miles a day on foot), my mother is in her 70s so we wanted to be cautious about pushing too much on her in a given day (she did great, by the way). For the purpose of this entry, I’ll lay out a good three day itinerary for those who are short on time and aren’t sure what they can fit in. Once you’ve decided on your itinerary be sure to purchase your tickets online in advance. If you plan to visit the Vatican museum, you will need a reservation for a specific day and time.
First, some logistics:
As always, deciding where to stay is a personal decision that is dictated by your budget and accommodation preference. Because the three of us were in Rome for a week, we rented a large apartment close to the Piazza Navona. This is my area of preference because it’s a relatively easy walk to the main sights, and is positively flush with charming alleys, piazzas and cafes. Normally we prefer to be an easy walk to a tram or metro stop, but as previously mentioned, Rome is easily covered on foot, and their bus system will get you just about anywhere in the city.
Speaking of transportation, the trams and Metro in Rome are fairly limited, but the bus network is extensive. Unless you plan to use public transportation extensively, I would recommend paying per trip. We bought an expensive Roma Pass that included unlimited public transport (does not include heavy rail or the Leonardo Express) and used it all of one time. And, no one even asked for a ticket. From Fiumicino airport, you can take the Leonardo Express which costs €14 per person each way, or you can take a taxi from the taxi queue, which is €35 to €50 to the city center depending on time of day and traffic. At the airport you will likely be approached by “taxi” drivers. If you plan to take a taxi, line up at the queue outside to ensure you’re using a valid, registered cab. It’s important to note that Uber is illegal in Rome; there is an app called MyTaxi that works almost exactly like Uber and we used it often. You will need to have internet service at the end of your ride if you plan to pay by credit card.
Now, on to Rome!
I suggest using the first day in Rome to get acquainted with the layout of the city and hitting some of the most popular sites that are in close proximity to each other. You can visit Campo dei Fiori, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain in one afternoon. There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of restaurants and cafes along the way; be sure to stop and have a prosecco or spritz and do some people watching. Whatever you do, do NOT order cappuccino after colazione (breakfast). Only a tourist would do such a thing! Try to take a stroll along the Via del Governo Vecchio when you’re by Piazza Navona. This little enchanting street is loaded with shops and good dining options. If high-end shopping is your thing, the Via della Fontanella di Borghese leading to the Spanish Steps should more than satisfy!
Campo dei Fiori: Osteria da Fortunata has amazing food, fresh pasta and friendly service.
Piazza Navona: For pizza, our favorite is Da Baffetto. Service is brusque but you’re there for the pizza. Next door is one of the best gelaterias in town: Frigidarium. Other great restaurants close by are Da Francesco and Saltimbocca.
Vatican Museum & Trastevere. Book your tickets to the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel in advance (online). You will probably need 2-4 hours in the museum depending on the crowds (if you reserve later in the day the crowds will be more manageable). Split your day between the Vatican and Trastevere. If you start in Trastevere, cross the river at the Ponte Sisto bridge and take your time exploring this lovely, quaint Roman neighborhood. If your route permits, try to walk along the Via Giulia before crossing the river, which is one of the prettiest streets in Rome.
If you start your day in Vatican City, cross the river at Ponte Sant’Angelo for a stunning view of the Castel Sant’Angelo before making your way to Vatican City. After Vatican City, walk (or bus/taxi) to Trastevere.
In Vatican City: Bianco’s Vespette e Forchette: good, traditional homemade food and friendly service.
Trastevere: Grazia & Graziella: One of the best places for pasta in Trastevere. If you want pizza, head over to Ai Marmi. You might have to stand in line to place your order, but you will be rewarded with an amazing meal.
Find your way to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum where you’ll spend an entire day. Purchase your tickets in advance online so you can skip the line upon entry. It doesn’t matter which order you visit these sites, just plan adequate time for both (as well as Palentine Hill). There is a lot to see in these sites. I suggest downloading a walking tour on your phone, or perhaps consider hiring a private guide to make the most of your time (I don’t personally care for group tours but if you are inclined, this is another way to get the most from your time in these ancient sites).
My favorite restaurant in this area is La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali. Their pastas and sauces are delicious, but their veal gnocchi is absolutely divine. I crave it frequently!
If you’re in town for more than three days, you could split Trastevere and Vatican City in to a two-day visit, and you can split the Forum and Palentine Hill in to two days. Regardless of how long you will be in Rome, be sure to slow down and take a moment to look around you – more than likely you’ll be standing next to something that is thousands of years old!
Next Stop: Cinque Terre!