A bruised fairy with ancient scars and rusty skin – Rome is the queen of ruins but she has learned to reign supreme. Despite her bullet holes she boasts an ever buzzing metropolis, beautiful art, tall monuments, buzzing piazzas, little cafes fragrant with the aroma of fresh Italian beans, gorgeous pizzerias and an everlasting romance. Once hooked to the devastating beauty of Rome, you can never let go. She is the heart of European history where magic and memories go hand in hand. My first visit to Rome was everything I imagined it to be, just like the movies in the 1950’s.
Walking around Rome is like getting lost in an open-air museum. With every turn on every corner you will find a story that comes to life. It’s a perfect blend of baroque art, history and renaissance. But when in Rome do as the Romans do. The city is all about gorging on history and culture, lazing around charming streets, gazing at the bustling piazzas, indulging in the pizzas, dressing up for the apertivo, admiring the art of Italy’s top masters and soaking up the romance in the air.
Incase you are wondering where to stay, what to do, what to eat, tips and suggestions then here’s a Rome Travel Guide for you.
Where to stay:
Well, a good location is of prime importance for the unfolding of a timeless romance between you and the Italian Capital. I’ve been to Rome twice, the first time I stayed at Boscolo Exedra Roma which is at Piazza Della Repubblica, a close walk from the Termini station and on one of the major squares of the city (Read review here). The second time I chose to stay in an apartment near the Spanish Steps and simply loved it. You can pick any of the busy neighborhoods like Piazza Navona, Pantheon (centre of the historic area), Campo de’ Fiori, Trastevere or the Colosseum. I would highly recommend staying close to the Spanish Steps, it’s one of my favourite spots in Rome. That square is surrounded by tons of restaurants, cafes, shopping areas and the historical sites are also quite close by.
Places to visit:
The best way to explore this ancient city is either on a hop on hop off bus or by foot. The bus is the best bet for sightseeing as you can just get on and off whenever you like, it’s super cheap and convenient. Sit back and let the bus take you through the winding streets, the bustling Piazzas and the main attractions of this majestic city.
1. The Vatican City:
The Vatican city is the world’s smallest sovereign state, the capital of the Roman Catholic Church and home to the Pope. It is an independent state and one of the most visited tourist spots in Rome. The bus drops you right at the entrance of the Castel Sant’Angelo. You can then walk it up and explore the entire area by foot. A few blocks later you will reach the St Peter’s Square which is a huge plaza housing the St Peter’s Basilica, one of the largest and most famous churches in the world. After exploring the basilica you can also climb up the cupola and treat yourself to a magnificent panoramic view of the entire city (6 Euros for taking the stairs and 8 Euros for the lift). After this you can head to the Vatican Museum, Vatican Garden and the Sistine Chapel.
As for us, we landed up visiting the Vatican on a holiday and couldn’t go inside any of these places so we took a quick tour from the outside and left. In some places the lines were way too big, so pick a weekday and odd hours to skip the queue if you wish to go inside. You can also opt for semi private and private tours which provide VIP entry and a private tour guide. If you visit the Vatican City on a Wednesday you might also get to see the Pope if he’s in Rome. (Click here for his schedule)
2. Trevi Fountain:
A visit to Rome is incomplete without tossing the coin in the Trevi Fountain/ Fontana de Trevi. This Baroque masterpiece was featured in so many books and films and is where the dazzling star Anita Ekberg frolicked in a ball gown in the classic La Dolce Vita (1960). They say if you toss one coin with your right hand it promises a visit back to Rome, two coins promise love and three, marriage. I might actually believe in this because I tossed a coin once and landed up visiting Rome again exactly four months later.
The Flavian amphitheater better known as the Colosseum is one of the most incredible sites of Rome. Despite the wreckage caused by fire, earthquake, plundering this 50,000 seater giant donning its travertine charm still stands tall and fearless in all its vintage glory. Do not be unnerved by its magnificence, there are many lost tales waiting to be heard inside it. Once inside, you will notice there is tiered seating around the arena which used to be divided according to the levels of supremacy.
We landed up taking a group tour of this place but I wouldn’t recommend it. Either explore it on your own or take a private tour. You can actually take a combined tour for the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Just make sure to book the tickets in advance to avoid the long queues. You can also opt for fast track or the VIP tickets.
The Pantheon will make you happy by its sheer determination and its unbending will to survive. Former Roman temple and now a church, it is the only monument that survived the millennia and was spared the horrendous medieval pillage. It is not completely unscathed though and still makes the cut for the best-preserved ancient monument of Rome.
5. Roman Forum:
The Roman Forum is a brave display of Rome’s tragic past and the wounds that run deep within her. It’s a plaza housing the ruins of the once glorious temples, basilicas, government buildings and vivid public spaces. It is located between the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia. Opt for a fast track ticket and skip the lines.
6. Palatine Hill:
Towering over the Roman Forum and Circus Maximus, the Palatine Hill is the centermost of the seven hills in Rome. Located in the same archeological area as the Roman Forum, the entrance ticket to Colosseum also allows entry into the Palatine Hill. It’s a great peaceful spot away from the crowds, surrounded by wild flowers, towering pine trees and rustic greens. Apart from playing an important role in the ancient Roman myths, this place is the best to catch an amazing view of the city and also the Roman Forum.
7. Spanish Steps
One of my favourite spots in Rome and it’s best to visit this in the evening at around 4pm. Apart from being the most popular tourist site these steps connect the church on top to the base, Piazza di Spagna. The reason I love this square is because it is buzzing with people, tons of cafes, the shopping area is right opposite the steps and there many quaint restaurants in the by lanes.
8. Visit the famous squares in Rome:
Just like every other European city, the bustling and buzzing squares are my favourite to hang out. The historic centres in Rome, known as the Piazzas, are the most lively, colourful spots where history and culture coincide and are around every corner. But these are the ones I really loved, they are great to walk around, sip on coffee or gaze at people while indulging in your pasta:
Piazza Navona, Trastevere, Campo de’ Fiori, Piazza di Spagna, the Trevi Fountain Square, Piazza Venezia (great for a late night walk), Piazza della Rotonda, Piazza del popolo
Food and Nightlife:
Apart from gorging on history and culture, make sure to indulge in some delicious local meals. Rome is notorious for transforming normal appetites people into giant gluttonous eaters and I was no different. Expect gorgeous alfresco settings in tiny cobbled lanes, rooftop eateries, enotecas buzzing with the sound of laughter, fragrant trattorias, crowded gelato shops and quaint cafes.
Usually for lunch we preferred hitting a pizzeria or small local café in the by lanes of the Spanish steps. Just make sure you’re not dining right near the main attractions. You must try the local pastas especially cacio-e-pepe (pasta with Pecorino Romano cheese and black pepper), rice balls, zucchini flowers. End your meal with a nice cup of Italian coffee and a gelato from Venchi. If you’re interested in a fancy fare then Rome is home to some amazing Michelin star restaurants like La Pergola. My favourite area for dinner was Campo de’ Fiori, it was buzzing with people and had tons of dining options some with sheesha too. We also loved the pasta and eggs at Eately, which was right next to our hotel. If time permits you can also take up an Italian food and wine pairing class.
If you’re looking for a fun night out then you can hit the streets of Trastervere, Campo de’ Fiori. The majority of this animated square is lined with about tons of bars and restaurants as diverse as their international crowd.
Rome is the birthplace of some of the giant fashion labels ruling the world like Valentino, Armani, Dolce & Gabbana etc. Whether you’re the one who goes gaga over high end brands or the one who vouches for affordable chic, Rome has something for everyone.
The area near the Spanish Steps is the main hub for shopping and one of my favourites. Its a haven for all kinds of shoppers with a great variety of stores. Enter the lanes of Via dei Condotti for brands like Gucci, D&G, Louis Vuitton and other luxury goods or walk along Via del Corso for high street brands like H&M and Zara. Also explore the local stores in the by lanes near the Spanish Steps. You’ll get some amazing suits, belts and leather goods. The long street that runs from Piazza del Popolo to Piazza Venezia has all the possible high street affordable brands. The prices of certain Italian luxury brands are quite cheap as compared to India and Dubai. Do check out the huge Furla Flagship Store near the Spanish Steps. For men, I would recommend a visit to Gutteridge for some great formal and casual Italian clothes.
Tips and Suggestions:
– Do not eat at typical tourist restaurants. That means step away from the restaurants right next to the main attractions because you will be served crappy overpriced food. Look for quaint cafes and local trattorias in narrow lanes.
– Be very careful when taking guided tours at the colosseum or any other attraction. People can trick you into paying and then disappear without giving you a tour.
– If travelling in the summer do carry a small paper fan with you to beat the warm sunny days.
– If you want to skip super long queues purchase tickets for the Vatican and Colosseum beforehand and buy the fast track/VIP ones if possible.
– Take a train from the Airport to the city centre. They are so convenient, comfortable and economical.
– I would not recommend you to visit Rome in the summer, it can get extremely crowded and very hot.
– Do not carry anything valuable and be extra vigilant in crowded places. Beware of pickpocketers.
– Avoid the catholic holidays.
– Not all gelato places are great. The commercial ones sell bad ice creams. I tried Venchi and I loved it!
– Walk as much as you can. The best hidden cafes, boutiques are in the narrow cobbled lanes.
Don’t leave without:
– Eating a gelato at Venchi
– Trying local pasta
– Chilling on the Spanish Steps at sunset
– Trying the Italian Coffee and local wine
– A visit to the Colosseum
– Visiting the Vatican City
Best time to visit:
We travelled in the month of February and the place was buzzing, the weather was just perfect, sunny in the day and cool at night. I would highly recommend September, October, November, February, March, April. The peak months of May, June, July, August are usually very warm and packed with tourists so expect bigger queues and overcrowded cafes. December and January will be a little too cold to enjoy the outdoor attractions.
Cards are used all over Rome but do keep cash for smaller items.
Visa: Schengen Visa
Fly: Emirates flies direct from Dubai to Rome (6hrs 15 mins)
It would take a lifetime to discover Rome so if it’s your first time take it easy, make sure to relax and not get overwhelmed, just soak in the Roman vibe. I would recommend a minimum of 3 to 4 nights to cover the main attractions of the Italian capital.
Day 1: Explore Rome and its attractions on a Hop on Hop off Bus. Start with the Vatican City and eat lunch at a local café there. This will take up more than half your day. After that head to the Spanish Steps for a great sunset, some local shopping and dinner.
Day 2: Spend the day exploring the Colosseum, Pantheon, Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. After sunset head to the famous squares like Trastevere and Campo de’ Fiori for dinner and drinks.
Day 3: Start your morning by exploring the city on foot. Explore the famous squares like Piazza Navona, Trastevere, Campo de’ Fiori, Piazza di Spagna, Piazza Venezia (great for a late night walk), Piazza della Rotonda, Piazza del popolo. After lunch head to the Trevi Fountain and walk around the by lanes of that square.
Rome is a big city and there’s so much to do, especially if you are a history buff but once you have explored the above, it’s good enough.
Rome can get a little expensive. While the hotel and flight options are subjective, the food expense varies from place to place. Tickets for major attractions are between 10 to 30 euros per person. Cabs can get a bit expensive so I would recommend the hop on hop off bus for sightseeing or else opt for bike tours/ walking tours or just explore it by foot. Daily costs would vary from 100 to 200 euros per person
I clearly left this ancient land with memories of sipping coffee by the Archeological remains, late night walks along the majestic ruins, dreamy baroque fountains on every piazza and walking hand in hand along the Spanish Steps relishing my gelato. Have you been to Rome? What’s your favourite memory?