Andiamo a Roma - A Guide to Italy's Capital City, Rome
Updated: Jun 22, 2020
I have to be honest, I have always had a wonderful time when visiting Rome but it has never been THE city to leave an impression on me. I have always enjoyed it and think it is beautiful, but next to the other Italian cities I have visited, it has never taken first place. I have, however, across my numerous visits, found some great places to stay, delicious places to eat and of course, exceptional things to do, that have made popping by Rome when in Italy a must, even just for a few days.
Whilst deciding what to do and see can be simpler on your first trip to Rome as you make your way down a list of some of the most famous landmarks in the world, it is sometimes harder to decide what to keep doing in Rome on return visits to diversify your experience in the city and take you away just from the tourist centre to get to experience more of this great city.
I should clarify my earliest statement by saying that I have always had a good time in Rome, don’t get me wrong. This is not a city that has ever left me cold. However, I also know that sometimes when planning a trip to Italy, especially a first trip to Italy, Rome gets the majority of your days in your itinerary build or sometimes I hear people tell me it’s the only Italian city they will visit. The history in Rome is unparalleled and must be experienced at least once in everyone’s life, for sure! But to feel ‘Italy’ and to really get to know the culture and personality of Italians, you must go beyond this major city...that’s what I meant by it’s not THE city for me in Italy (Florence is).
Ok, let’s dive in…
I’m going to begin with what will be a surprisingly small category if you’ve read my other Italian Blogs - Food. Normally I would harp on about the food but I have only had meals in 2 of Rome’s restaurants (that are still open) that I would say are really worth recommending - and
they could not be more different!
Where To Eat
Via della Fontanella, 11, 00187 Roma RM, Italy
This traditional Italian restaurant is my go-to in Rome - I haven’t visited the city since 2012 without going back at least once per trip, sometimes multiple times! The food is classic Italian, served and tasting like it has come straight out of nonna’s kitchen - it’s homely. Downstairs you eat in a wine cellar styled rome or upstairs in a small laneway outside with pedestrians and some traffic passing by. It is fun, the food is always delicious (everything I have tasted there has been very good but the lasagna is seriously excellent) and the waiters make the whole thing feel like family. I love this place, I hope it never changes (well, changes anymore than it already has since 2012...I miss the old logo with the little Jiminy Cricket looking character everywhere and the casualness...and the cheese fridge downstairs with the flags from where the cheeses came from that you could choose to make a cheese plate with...but anyway, nostalgia digression complete). Highly recommend - seriously, I have eaten in many of the nearby restaurants to this one as well and none are a patch on the food of this one!
Via Claudio Monteverdi, 16, 00198 Roma RM, Italy
On the total other end of the spectrum, one of the most amazing dinners I have had was at the Michelin Starred Aroma Restaurant looking over the Colosseum...when you really want to celebrate or have a special night in Rome, it really doesn’t get much better to be honest! The menu changes so to tell you that we had an incredible lamb and a sensational lobster, followed by a white chocolate and a milk chocolate souffle is really just to allow me a moment to remember how insane the food was and to share my pics with you. The menu at the moment is only degustation for dinner - again, keep checking in on the menu as things to change often. There is an extensive wine and cocktail list as well and the desserts are excellent. The service was truly next level and the experience first class from start to finish. It was a night to remember and we absolutely loved it!
Tip: In Rome, probably even more so than the other Italian cities, if you eat in the middle of the tourist spots it is unlikely to be good food and it will be expensive. Italian food in Rome is generally not expensive - you should expect to pay less than 12 euro for a pasta in a lot of nice, casual restaurants. If you choose to eat in the middle of a piazza, this will not be the case and whilst the money may not be of concern to you, the taste may become one. Go a street or two back from a piazza to find the hidden food gems of Rome.
For A Drink
Piazza del Colosseo, 1, 00184 Roma RM, Italy
The Royal Art Cafe also features a full menu but having not yet tried it myself I can only recommend this as a really awesome place to finish off a night with a drink in hand looking right at the Colosseum. Positioned directly across the road from the amazing historical structure, the area is simply stunning at night when, right after a usually spectacular sunset, the whole Colosseum lights up. The Royal has a fantastic balcony/patio that you can book a table for dinner, drinks, dessert - whatever your choice may be - with a serious view!
I must admit, this list is limited because the last few times I have been to Rome I have spent all my time in the hills - which has been stunning and offered a very different experience - but I do intend to completely plump up this list next time I go! Watch this space =).
Where To Stay
Accommodation in Rome is very hit and miss. Unfortunately my favourite Bed and Breakfast just a block back from Piazza del Popolo recently had to shut its doors and as such, I can’t share this fabulous find with you as, what I considered to be, one of the best budget friendly finds in Rome.
Nowadays, I love to stay in the hills, mainly because of the hotel.
Via Alberto Cadlolo, 101, 00136 Roma RM, Italy
This is my pick for Rome. The grounds of this hotel are expansive, lush and exceptionally well kept. The rooms are large and many feature beautiful views that overlook Rome, complete with the most perfect marble balcony from which to enjoy the view.
This hotel falls into the luxury accommodation category which is befitting of my experience there but I feel it should be noted that there are unquestionably much higher end luxury hotels in Rome that you can choose if you are looking for either boutique luxury or ‘ultra-lux’ category hotels. This is a very large hotel and until you hit the mega-suites, the service, whilst excellent for this type of hotel, is not that of a boutique luxury hotel where it is often individualised and immediate. If you have the budget and are looking for the best of the best, you may choose elsewhere.
For me (and my budget), this hotel provides more than what I could want and makes my Rome experience every time.
The beds are so comfortable you actually don’t want to move, which is problematic because they also have one of the best breakfast buffets I have ever had meaning you HAVE to move to go and enjoy the gorgeous morning feast on display. You can choose to dine for breakfast on the large patio overlooking the pool, gardens and Rome, or inside (closer to the food...strategy game here) in the restaurant. If you have a sweet tooth, consider yourself officially warned.
The pools (2 outdoor and 1 indoor) and the real highlights for me in this hotel as I tend to spend the whole day sitting by their side. The very large pool area has comfortable beds, plenty of umbrellas (not enough hotels have plenty of umbrellas!), a good (although $$) poolside menu and a great drinks menu! For me, a perfect day is spent by the large outdoor pool, then moving to the indoor pool, before getting dressed and driving 15/20 minutes into the city to go and enjoy the late afternoon and evening seeing the sights of Rome and enjoying a beautiful dinner and a walk through the piazzas. Oh boy, siri, look up flights to Rome now please!!
The spa in this hotel is also excellent. It books up early though so if you are going to stay here, or if you just want to visit the day spa as it is rated one of the best in Rome, book ahead of your trip on the website (linked above) or by emailing or calling them. Leave time before or after your treatments to enjoy the amenities of the spa as well including the steam room, sauna, spa, pools of varying temperatures and relaxation room.
Though a short drive out of the city centre of Rome, the hotel will always call you a taxi if you want instant or private rides into town, or if you want to go to a specific destination. Otherwise, the hotel also offers a free shuttle between the city centre and the hotel that leaves regularly (frequency depends on time of day/night and day of the week) which they will give you a schedule for when you check in.
Via del Corso, 97, Roma RM, Italy
Last time we were in Rome we ended up needing to extend our stay by a night and the hotel we were in was unavailable. On the morning of, still with no accommodation booked and in peak tourist time (this is totally not my style by the way...I’m usually very planned but this was a fun adventure), our choices were very limited as to what was available for that particular night. Did I mention that it was a Saturday night and that there was some major convention in town? Yep - not so lucky! Anyway...after much searching, I found this place called Grand Master Suites which was in a great area, only a couple blocks walk to my favourite Rome restaurant and was really reasonable considering they were offering last minute booking specials. It only had 2 stars which is, admittedly, not usually what I would choose, but the reviews seemed fine and the photos looked good so we booked in for the night.
When we got to our room all I can say is that we were definitely sad we were only going to be there for a night. Firstly, our particular room had a floor to itself with a staircase jutting off from our landing (our room was elevator accessible) for another room but the rest of the floor just acting as a landing and entrance to our room.
From there, as we opened the door to this suite, we were consistently surprised. We paid approximately $100 Australian Dollars for the 2 of us for the night and this was at a time when the EURO-AUD conversion rate was not good so it was not too many euros at all for the quality we got! I don't know how good the rate is usually but if you're on a mid-range budget, this could be an awesome choice as it offers a great stay in the best area for less than half the price of surrounding hotels. We had a sitting area, a fireplace, a vanity, a large bed, a day bed, a lovely bathroom, a cute little balcony you popped out onto through a large window and modern fixtures like a flat screen tv. It was a surprise to say the least and we would definitely stay there again if we were looking to stay in the city rather than the hills.
The hotel also booked us a taxi for the next morning to the airport, confirmed the fixed rate for us (which is always good to do in Rome) and the hotel included free wifi.
This place looks like an apartment building from the outside and there is no real lobby to speak of - there is a little reception area but it is limited. That said, we didn’t have an opportunity to really explore what else this hotel may offer as we were there for such a short time. More to see next time I guess!
Tips: There are a lot of ‘hidden’ hotels on Via del Corso - some old and a bit gross looking, some boutique and honestly great looking for their price. If you aren’t looking for a major hotel or a big name (like Westin or Hilton, etc) and want to stay near the Spanish Steps but not on them (one of the most popular areas to stay in the city) this is a great area to look in for lots of really good deals.
Be careful with accommodation in Rome - like in all of Italy, old is OLD and that can often refer to more than just the decor. I’ve stayed in those hotels too and they have not made the list accordingly.
What to Do
I’ve intentionally kept this till last for Rome as suggestions on what to do in Rome depend so much on whether or not this is your first trip.
Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours
If this will be your first trip to Rome and you want to see as much as possible, spending a day or two on one of the many hop-on-hop-off tours may be a really good option for you - it’s how I got to see so much of Rome and honestly I have done that bus tour on 4 different trips to Rome. It is a very good way to orientate yourself, get some history of the city whilst you see the sites and cover your transport to all the sites for the day - they literally drop you ‘at the door.’
Personally I always take ‘City Sightseeing’ buses as my company of choice because I have found the service to be reliable around the world and they are one of the companies that generally offers multiple routes in one city all on the one ticket, and, where applicable (city dependent) will cross multiple modes of transport to provide the most holistic tour of the city. If you’re interested, City Sightseeing often offers a free bike or walking tour or a free coupon book with your ticket - ask them about perks or extras when you buy your ticket if you’re interested.
The Vatican Tour
This is definitely worth doing irrespective of your beliefs (provided of course it does not stand in opposition with your religious practices to visit the museum and chapel of another religion). I found the history and significance of the site itself to be very interesting and the Sistine Chapel was really amazing to see. The museums beforehand have some incredible pieces in them but I would suggest choosing a tour carefully as some go into great detail in the museum portion of the tour and depending on your level of interest in sculptures and art, you may or may not find this particularly interesting. I did a very comprehensive tour and though interesting, I found it to be a bit too crowded and too hot so it wasn’t until we started touring the hallways and the chapel that I really got very interested. Pick a tour with small numbers and definitely book ahead on a skip the line tour - it’s a long day without also waiting to get in.
The Colosseum Tour
I know from travelling to Rome with a number of different friends and family that the inside of the Colosseum holds different levels of interest for different people. Personally, I really enjoyed going inside and seeing the old battle grounds - It is of course a really old theatre for, by modern standards, perverse entertainment. We did the tour with an audio guide that we rented from the ticket counter when we bought our entrance tickets. This for me was a good way to do it as I could independently move around and go at my own speed.
For many, the interest of this amazing structure remains on the outside and if I’m being honest, I believe that the outside is a lot more beautiful. I am definitely glad to have been in, I would definitely do it again as, as you can see from this picture I was young last time I went in and toured (actually the photos below were taken on my 19th birthday which I spent with my best friend touring the Colosseum and then segwaying around Rome...getting to that next).
I would definitely not recommend going in for too long in the midst of summer as, having done that as well, it is very hot and does become slightly uncomfortable. Of course, if there is no way around the heat, just be aware of it and pack plenty of water and consider a hat as it is of course, all open. I would plan for your next activity of the day after this to be indoors (lunch break!) and also plan not to be there in the middle of the day when the heat is the worst.
I have done this a few times now in Rome and I cannot recommend it highly enough. These tours have allowed me to see parts of Rome I would have never found in a tourist guide book or from a hop on hop off bus. My only regret is that as it’s been a few years since I last took one of these tours I don’t remember the names of all of the places that we went by Segway to share with you and so, I will just have to do it again next time I am in Rome to share with you so that if you’re not into a Segway tour, you can still go to these beautiful parks and hear this great history. If you do want to Segway, this is one of the companies that I have been with that was very good and this is the itinerary that they offer:
Arch of Costantine
Knights of Malta Square
Orange Trees Garden & panoramic view over Rome, where you will without a doubt, feel the magnificence of the Roman civilization.
Santa Maria in Cosmedin and its Bocca della veritá
As you can see, a totally different itinerary to your regular bus tour and totally worth doing! If you’re travelling as a family too, segways are recommended for riders between 16 and 70 and are something that you could all enjoy doing together.
The Main Sites
Let’s be honest, in all cities, not all sites were created or maintained, equally. Some are more beautiful, or simply more interesting than others. In Rome, my personal favourite is the Trevi Fountain, and I’d say I’m not alone in that. Each year, an estimated 7-10 million tourists make their way to the fountain so yes, there is always a crowd. You’d have to go VERY early in the morning to get less of a crowd there if you’re wanting your perfect ‘insta’ shot. For me though, the crowd kind of makes the experience buzz and I think you want to go when they’re there...which is lucky because they are always there :). Legend has it that if you turn your back to the fountain and throw a coin over your left shoulder you are guaranteeing your return to Rome - I must say, so far it has worked for me everytime!
The sculpture behind the bright blue pool is really the attraction - the enormous Baroque masterpiece is actually the largest Baroque fountain in the world and was completed in 1762 after a number of Popes and designers had each been involved in designing and redesigning, etc. The history is actually very interesting but ultimately Nicola Salvi and Giuseppe Pannini can be considered as having done the most work to bring it to life. And why is it called the Trevi Fountain? Quite simple really, it stands at the junction of three roads which marked the end point of one of the city’s earliest acqueducts. In Latin, Trivium apparently means three streets making this a very literal translation.
Don’t worry, that’s the only history lesson I’ll put into this blog - I just thought my favourite Rome attraction deserved to be marked with something. Anyway, the more you know, right!
Others you’ll want to make sure to see:
St Peter’s Basilica
The Spanish Steps
The Roman Forum
Piazza Navona (prime example of a beautiful piazza that you must explore but that you should not have dinner in...see above!)
Piazza del Popolo (good area to stay around in my opinion)
Altar of the Fatherland
Mouth of Truth (have your Audrey Hepburn moment)
St Angelo Bridge
Via del Corso
Giardino degli Aranci (this is a beautiful spot that is not usually on must see Rome lists but I’m putting it on mine)
Rome is definitely an interesting city and well worth a few days on your Italian itinerary. The summer there gets very hot and so that is something that you will want to be aware of when planning your trip - you may want to continue south to the water from Rome for example? Being a major international airport hub, Rome is a good place to fly in and out of so it may be worth positioning at the beginning or end of your trip though other Italian cities do also have international airports so it is not your only option (Naples and Milan for example).
Overall, if you have a tight schedule, I would say that 3 full days would give you a good taste of Rome, 5 days would give you time to do the museums too and to take the sites a bit slower. If coming outside of the summer time and if you have the time to give Rome, as well as other Italian cities, the more time you can give it, the more you will enjoy it.
My real advice though is that Rome is not representative of all of Italy and Italy does not = Rome. As such, make sure to leave yourself time to explore more of this beautiful country before needing to leave.