Ahhhh….The pastel sunsets, the ancient history, the exquisite flavors of fine Italian cuisine, and the warmth of sparkling prosecco—Rome is renown for all this and more! Congratulations, you’ve found this post which means you’ve officially taken your first steps towards your own Roman holiday.
You’re not the first person to have interest in Rome…millions of people visit this city every year to experience its charm, its longstanding history, and its magic inside-and-out. With this city having endless experiences to offer, it can be difficult to narrow down your itinerary. They say that a lifetime isn’t enough to experience Rome, therefore spending only a couple days here can be a lot to take in. In this post I share with you my experience in Rome, my favorite places to visit that might not be well known to regular tourists, some secrets in the city, and how to make the most of your visit whether it be a few days or full month in length.
I spent three weeks in Rome working with a tour operator and private guide to create web marketing content for their brand. The goal was to sell the dream and share with the world why Rome should be the next place you travel. I was sold the moment I arrived, and it certainly wasn’t difficult to capture the special places and picturesque scenes from the city. Three weeks was definitely a fulfilling experience, yet I could easily have spent another month exploring new places and trying new restaurants. During my time there, I gathered a great feel for the city, the sites, and the appeal that I will reflect on in this post. I slowly figured out the best ways to travel and get the most out of my time there. So without further ado, here are some things I recommend you be aware of when traveling to Rome.
IN SHORT, THE BEST WAY TO SEE ROME
Before I get into all the Rome details, I want to make known the most simple and BEST way to see Rome. As I mentioned earlier, I was working there for three weeks with a tour operator and a private guide named Mitra Talarman. I met her several years ago when I was on a high school trip visiting Paris. My French teacher was pregnant and couldn’t join us on the tour, so she replaced herself with her friend Mitra. Since that trip, I’ve stayed connected with her as a friend and eventually we collaborated professionally.
Mitra and her husband Fabio are the ultimate Italian power couple who know this city better than anyone. The two of them are absolutely brilliant about the world! Although Mitra has travelled to 70+ countries, her true love for a home is in Rome. The fact she chooses to live there says a lot considering all of the amazing places she’s experienced (she even picked to live in Rome over Paris!) Her passion for the city and learning history are just two of the many reasons why she moved there. Her world class knowledge of history is put to best use as she is a certified tour guide for groups in all shapes and sizes. I’ve seen her massive bookshelf that is stuffed with scholarly books containing every detail of Rome’s longstanding history, and all this knowledge is stored in her head! Her husband Fabio is an extraordinary Italian chef who occasionally puts on cooking lessons for tour groups. Together, they own a luxury suite in the historical center of Rome which is where they set me up during my stay. I’ll get into the details about this suite later, but in short, the apartment is amazing! Mitra does tours anywhere and everywhere in the city and oftentimes throughout Italy as well. I can’t express enough how much she will improve your experience, therefore I recommend you connect with her.
She knows the ins and outs of the city like the back of her hand. Had I not known her, I wouldn’t have experienced all of the best kept secrets and learned so much about this place! She does tours everywhere in the city, her most popular tours being the Colosseum, The Vatican Museum, and the Historical City Walk. If there is any other place you want to see that isn’t as popular for tours, she’ll design one just for you or your private group! I highly recommend connecting with her if you want to maximize your experience. Even if you can’t manage to line something up with her busy bookings, she is widely connected to several other knowledgable, friendly, and incredible guides. You can find her on all social media platforms as @tourguidemitra and find her contact information on Instagram, Facebook, and her website (http://www.litiberisuites.com). If you use my name (‘jeffhyer’) in your email inquiries, you will receive a 20% discount on any of her tours. This is a great deal considering the experience is priceless. Join in on one of her tours and you won’t be disappointed. She will show you the magic, she will share with you why Rome is one of the best places in the world, she will share with you the Italian dream like she shared it with me.
HOW TO FIT IT ALL IN
Rome is huge. It’s the largest city in Italy and there are so many places to go that the entire city is deemed a world heritage site. So, where do you go first if you only have a weekend? How can you see it all? How do you manage your way around the sprawling city? All these questions have different answers depending on how much time you spend here. I consider my self a fast-pace traveller but I truly would suggest being in Rome for at least three full days. This is a considerably greater amount of time I usually suggest for most European cities as far as ‘seeing it’ goes; however, experiencing Rome truly takes much longer. As you will understand during your visit, there is a surreal ‘Rome effect’ that visitors experience. Every street corner and hidden alley-way has yet another spectacular monument or century-old church. Fountains, art, sculptures, government buildings, archeological sites, temples, gardens—it’s everywhere!
If you’re going for a short period of time, the obvious and fastest way to see as much as possible would be the touristy hop-on-hop-off bus tour. I understand that not everyone has a lifetime to spend in Rome, although I wouldn’t suggest this as being remotely the best way to experience Rome. Yes, you see lots of the piazzas, sites, and monuments, but the amount of information you retain from the tour is hardly any. You’ll probably forget most of what you crammed into a drive-by look and not really get to admire all of the beauty. Instead, I would suggest taking a city walking tour. As I mentioned before, Tour Guide Mitra is just one of the guides who leads this tour. I was able to follow her around this tour and I really enjoyed it. It starts outside the Colosseum, goes through the Roman Forum, passes through Capital Hill Square, goes inside the Pantheon, meanders to the Trevi Fountain, and ends at the famous Spanish Steps. The guided tour is full of informative facts about all the sites along the way and takes about three hours to complete. It’s a great way to get a first feel of the city and scope out restaurants, shops, and gelaterias that you might want to return to. It offers great information that you wouldn’t otherwise have if you just walked to these places on your own. Along the way there are a few breaks to allot time for photos in front of the monuments, grab a gelato, and walk around the Pantheon. I highly recommend this tour as being one of the first things you do when you arrive in Rome.
Another tour you must do is the Vatican Museum Tour. Many people do this in the afternoon following the City Walk if you’re willing to add more miles to your distance tracker! As I mentioned before, all of these tours can be booked through Tour Guide Mitra (she will make these bookings effortless for you!). Once you request interest in going on this tour with Mitra, she does the museum ticketing and arrangements on your behalf, all you have to do is meet up with her at a prearranged meeting spot. I also suggest visiting this tour on Friday night. Starting April and through the summer, the museum is open late for Friday night visitors. Mitra loves promoting ‘Night at the Museum tours’ starting at about 8:00 p.m. because there is a significantly less amount of people in the museum crowding around exhibits. It’s also much cooler compared to the mid-day heat. In my opinion, this is the best way to see the Vatican Museum because during the daytime it can be impossible to even see the floor due to crowds. Let this photo speak for itself—the entire Gallery of Maps to ourselves!
The Vatican Museum is the largest museum in the world, therefore you should not just show up and start walking around and read as many signs as possible. You must do this with a tour guide in order to take it all in. The sights and spectacles alone can be information overload, so trying to run around reading signs and keeping track of almost 3000 years of history in your head will exhaust you. You need someone that can repeat, inform, answer questions, and keep all the information exciting for you. The museum takes at least two hours to walk all the way through. Reasons people go to the museum as opposed to just walking around the Vatican is to witness the Sistine Chapel, get the best view of St. Peter’s Basilica as it was built to be seen (the dome’s visibility is cut in half in St. Peter’s Square), and see the most renown collection of art and sculpture in all of Italy. On display are pieces by all the famous Michaelanegos, Ralphaels, and Bontecellis you can think of. Plus, you can say you’ve been to the smallest country in the world!
It’s probably not a surprise to you that I suggest going on a Colosseum Tour. It is the most iconic spot in Rome and perhaps all of Italy, and it definitely lives up to its hype. Being one of the seven wonders of the world, it is a must-see destination for almost all travel gurus. Walking into the stadium, exploring its many levels, and then walking through the Roman Forum thereafter is about a three hour tour. Once you book with Tour Guide Mitra, your entrance booking will be set and included with the tour. Being a UNESCO world heritage site, there is a limit on how many people can be inside the site at a given time. With millions upon millions of people wanting to go here every year, it can be packed! Book your tour in advanced with Tour Guide Mitra, or any other tour operator you decide to go with. Otherwise, you risk standing in a two hour queue in Italy’s baking sun while waiting for people to exit and make room for your entry. Do not waste your time standing outside in the crowds of people, book in advanced and book with Mitra.
Ultimately, after seeing the essential sites, I recommend that you dedicate at least a full day to wandering around the city with no plan at all! You won’t believe what you’ll find just walking around the various neighborhoods and streets. Churches, gardens, ruins, and monuments galore—you just can’t make an exact itinerary for all these places. Following the streets you’ll find the Piazza Navona, the Pastel Sant’Angelo, the beautiful pathways along the Tiber River, the Capitoline Hill, the Campo e’Fiori produce market, the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, and the gorgeous view from Pincian Hill.
THE SECRET PLACES IN ROME
I spent three weeks in this city with someone who is an expert on Rome. She shared with me some of the coolest and most overlooked places that I want to share with you. Once you’ve gotten the essential Rome destinations covered like the Vatican Museum and Colosseum, I highly suggest checking out some of the places if you have time. It will enhance your appreciation for the city and make the experience even more magical.
The Rome Rose Garden– This isn’t just a typical rose garden, if that isn’t pretty enough, this is the Rome Rose Garden. We visited this garden in the morning to shoot content, and I found it so magical and peaceful to explore. It’s located directly across from the Circus Maximus and is a twenty minute walk from the Colosseum. The park benches offer amazing views overlooking the rose gardens and the Roman ruins. I think one of the reasons I enjoyed this place is there weren’t a lot of people overcrowding the park at any given time. It’s also a great place to unwind after the busyness of Rome.
Hotel Ralphael– My favorite memories from Rome were on all of the amazing rooftop lounges that overlook the city! They’re not easy to find, and most people don’t realize they exist just by looking upwards from the streets. Each and every one of them offers a new and exciting perspective of the city. One of my personal favorites was the cocktail lounge at the top of Hotel Ralphael. It’s a spectacular place to have a drink toast over the sunset views of Rome.
Trevi Fountain at 6 a.m.– I love the Trevi Fountain just as much as everyone else, but it sure looks even more beautiful when there aren’t tourists sitting shoulder-to-shoulder along its rim. Struggling with jet lag for the first few days in Rome, I loved having morning walks to the Trevi Fountain and witnessing a very rare event: emptiness in Rome! We definitely took advantage of this tight emptiness window for shooting purposes. Once we were finished shooting, we would just sit next to the fountain and admire it in its entirety. People began to trickle in at about 7a.m, and by 8a.m, it was packed. It would remain this busy until very late at night. If you’re a morning person like me and want to admire it at its fullest, then rise and shine! Journey to the Trevi Fountain before 7a.m!
Villa Borghese-Most people don’t realize that Rome is a very green city. Tour Guide Mitra showed me several amazing parks that were full of botanical life! One of the largest is the Villa Borghese Gardens. The park is located right next to the historical center of Rome. Not only does the park offer amazing views overlooking Rome but there is an endless labyrinth of ancient fountains, century-old ruins, beautiful sculptures, and topiary displays. There are several ponds and lakes where you can rent paddle boats or feed the wading birds. The Borghese Gallery and Museum is the center piece of this park and is worth checking out as well. Strolling through this green and peaceful area is a great way to spend an afternoon and seek shade away from the blazing sun. We even came across a complimentary museum full of modern art! I loved the vibe here, people relaxing in the sun, everyone happy, the traffic noise faded and making a calm environment to enjoy yourself…fantastic.
The Roman Aqueducts– The Romans were famous throughout history for having some of the most complex plumbing systems that were beyond their time. The Roman Aqueducts run for miles and stem from the city, but the best place to see the least-destroyed ones is at the Aqueducts Park. This destination isn’t near the historical center and definitely not walking distance from popular places, so it’s best to take the metro tram to get here. I recommend this park because its a short journey to escape the noise and chaos from the city and picnic in front of some ancient ruins! It is quite surreal to witness the size of these aqueducts in real life. This is also a great place to take some incredible photos.
GETTING AROUND ROME
First and foremost, I recommend downloading the app Maps.me. It’s a fantastic app I use whenever I’m traveling somewhere new. The app tracks your location and tells you where you are in the city without internet connection. This is especially useful for travelers who don’t have fancy worldwide cellular coverage. Rome can be a confusing city to navigate and is also huge, so this app came in handy a lot. It makes it easy to find the nearest metro stop and ensures you never get lost. Download the map for Rome and you’ll be covered everywhere within the city limits of Rome! Don’t worry about it taking up a ton of space on your phone either, because it only uses a few megabytes.
Rome was not built for the amount of people it takes in every year. It was a pedestrian city for hundreds of years so once roadway traffic was introduced, the city’s traffic flow became extremely congested. The cobble stone roadways are not the best way to get around the city at all. Taking a taxi might be the easiest but could be the longest way to get from point A to point B. The bus is just as slow, plus many places worth visiting are not accessible directly by bus. Chances are you won’t have a motorcycle to zip through the city on so the best way to get around is the metro. The metro is very easy to navigate and understand. It was the primary way I got around the city. Unlike Paris that has a complex and wide-spread metro system, Rome has three lines. Expanding the metro has proven to be a problem in this 2000+ year-old city as the tunnels keep running into archaeological sites and new ancient discoveries! This means that there isn’t much room to expand the tram at the moment and although it’s not huge, it’s easy because there are so few lines. Inside each metro station there are several machines that dispense tickets. Make sure you have coins and cash as most do not have ATMs nearby or ticket booths where you can get change. It is convenient because the tickets you buy for the metro also work for the bus transportation in case needed. Here are the ticket prices.
- B.I.T. standard ticket, valid for one Metro ride or 100 minutes on all buses allowing transfers. €1.50
- 24 hour ticket – valid for unlimited metro, bus, and train travel within Rome for 24 hours from validation. €7.00
- 48 hour ticket – valid for unlimited metro, bus, and train travel within Rome for 48 hours from validation. €12.50
- 72 hour ticket – valid for unlimited metro, bus, and train travel within Rome for 72 hours from validation. €18.00
- C.I.S. €24.00. Weekly ticket – valid for 7 calendar days
Here is a map of the current metro system (2018). It reaches to most the popular touristy sites. The A line goes everywhere I’ve mentioned in this post except for the Colosseum. Although it’s a twenty minute walk from the A line to get to this site, the Colosseum is the only reason I’d understand tourists using the B line at all. The only reason you would use the C line is to get to the airport (FCO). Here is a list of popular destinations and the their corresponding metro stop.
The Spanish Steps -Spagna
Rome’s main shopping area- Spagna
Villa Borghese Gardens- Spagna
Trevi Fountain- Barberini
Vatican Museum Entrance- Cipro
Vatican City and St. Peter’s Square- Ottaviano
Piazza del Popolo- Flaminio
Central Train Station- Termini
The Colosseum- Colosseo
Circus Maximus- Circo Massimo
Central Train Station-Termini
Airport (FCO)-Get on this line at Termini
Central Train Station-Termini
The following sites do not have a metro stop directly outside of them, but are very easy to walk to from other metro stops in the city and are accessible by bus:
Pantheon-10 minute walk from Spagna
Piazza Navona-20 minute walk from Spagna
Castel Sant’Angelo-10 minutes walk from Ottaviano or Lepanto
Piazza Venezia-15 minute walk from Colosseo or 20 minute walk from Spagna
Altare della Patria-15 minute walk from Colosseo or 20 minute walk from Spagna
Riverside Walk-10 minute walk from Lepanto
MY FAVORITE RESTAURANTS
Rome has so. much. food. It would be impossible to try all the restaurants in a lifetime and I’m sure there are hundreds of amazing places worth eating at (a lifetime isn’t enough to try them all!). There are restaurants on every street and oftentimes endless streets of nothing but. It’s difficult to even scratch the surface of options when visiting, so maybe a few of my suggestions will at least help you get started. If you want all the locations, details, and reviews of these places, follow me on Yelp as I did my best to keep track of the places and post photos of the cuisine.
Bucci at Castel Gandolfo– This is by far the best restaurant I ate at in Rome. Well, it’s not technically in Rome but about 45 minutes outside the city center. If you’re a foodie than you might want to consider visiting this restaurant as part of a day trip to Castle Gandolfo. This small town mainly attracts visitors because it has a castle that was once the pope’s summer home. It also offers amazing views of Lago Albano, a giant lake inside a volcanic crater! Bucci’s venue is simply spectacular as it overlooks the lake. Such a surreal and full Italian experience! The only way to get here, unfortunately, is by taxi or car; however, I highly recommend. If you book a food tour with Mitra she can arrange for drivers to take you there. Here are some snapshots from the restaurant with some appetizers, meals, and desserts we tried!
Sottobanco Roma-Another incredible restaurant. It’s not exactly in the city center, but located nearby the Roman Aqueducts I mentioned earlier in this post. It has an incredible vibe and atmosphere, but most importantly, the food is delicious. Very unique flavors and unconventional combinations of Italian ingredients. The staff was incredibly kind here and their menu is so expansive!
Panella– I love Penella! I went there several times because it was so close to the where I was staying. It’s an incredible bakery that also serves most Italian foods and drinks. A little pricey but totally worth checking out. It’s located on a very floral street and the outdoor seating areas is a beautiful place to eat. Great lunch place.
Royal Art Cafe– You must try this place! I ended up dining here three times during my trip to Rome because I simply couldn’t have enough. Why is this place so great? Well, the rooftop view overlooking the Colosseum is what makes this restaurant one-of-a-kind. There are few other competing restaurants in the area but this one is the best especially when it comes to value. Amazing drinks and Italian dishes. A great place to eat lunch after exploring the Colosseum in the morning. This is the kind of restaurant you can only experience in Rome.
Thank you so much for reading my first post about Rome. I hope you found this post helpful in preparation for your travels to this incredible destination! There is superstition that tossing your first coin into the Trevi Fountain means you will return to Rome…I did just that and can’t wait to go back!
Stay tuned as I post more travel content on this site and add more to my Rome blog. Until next time, Ciao!
I greatly appreciate you exploring my site and travel gallery. Follow lifeofhy.com to stay tuned with my latest posts and follow me on social media:
YouTube: Jeff Hyer
Facebook: Life of Hy
Written by Jeff Hyer