La dolce vita in Rome
Back in April, I spent four days in Rome. It was my second time there, so I already knew the city and I had already visited a few sites. Rome is my favorite city, besides my own. There is so much history in every corner, the atmosphere and vibes are outstanding, the food is amazing and it’s so pretty that it is hard not to fall in love with this city!
Today I’m listing all the must-dos for a first timer in the Eternal City!
The Instagram Spots
Toss a coin into the fountain but make sure you do it the right way!
The Trevi Fountain, the largest fountain in Rome, is probably most well-known for the unique superstition and traditions surrounding it. Supposedly, if you toss a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder, you’ll be destined to return to Rome someday. If you want to take it a step further, you can throw three coins over your shoulder. The first one ensures your inevitable return to Rome. The second one promises you’ll find love. And the third one, that your love will lead to marriage.
If you’re thinking that that sounds like a lot of coins being tossed, you’re right. Around €3,000 is collected from the fountain every evening and donated to a non-profit association, providing food to the homeless in Rome.
The area surrounding the Trevi Fountain remains super busy pretty much all day long. But if you visit at early morning or after dark, you’ll be able to toss your coin(s) in the fountain without fear of being flicked in the head by literally anyone else’s coins.
Walking down the bridge towards Castel Sant’ Angelo, 10 angels holding instruments from the Passion will greet you. The castle overlooks the Tiber River and Vatican City, and it holds amazing views from the top of the fortress. Along with its beautiful views of the city, it’s conveniently located close to St. Peter’s (a nice two for one deal, if you will) and is full of its own history as well.
The Spanish steps
One of the best places in Rome to rest your legs for a bit and soak up all the Italian atmosphere is the Spanish Steps. Located in the heart of the city, these 135 steps connect the Piazza di Spagna below with the Piazza Trinità dei Monti and its church above. This place has been attracting artists, filmmakers (Audrey Hepburn’s film Roman Holiday is the most famous example), and visitors to Rome for almost 300 years now.
Because of the more modern buildings around it, the Pantheon, one of Rome’s most famous former temples, almost looks out of place. It’s sitting in the center of the square surrounded by gelato shops and fast food joints. But once you step inside and gaze upward at the Pantheon’s grand concrete dome, it’s easy to feel like you went back in time.
Located in the Piazza della Rotonda, the Pantheon is in surprisingly good condition in comparison to its equally ancient counterparts. No longer a temple, the Pantheon has served as a church since the 7th century. Entrance is free, but the Pantheon is closed to tourists during weekly mass. I recommend visiting on a sunny day if you want pictures with the sunlight streaming in through the circular opening in the dome!
The Roman Forum
Your ticket for the Colosseum also gets you into a few additional sights including the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Tickets are valid for two consecutive days, so you don’t have to try to pack all three sights into the same day.
Tip: If you didn’t purchase your tickets online, queues for tickets are far shorter at the ticket booth at Palatine Hill than at the Colosseum, so buy your tickets there!
The Roman Forum is a large plaza beneath the hill which was once the center of daily life in Rome and housed some of the city’s most important buildings and structures. What’s left today are only bits and pieces of what was once a gleaming white, prosperous city, but it’s still a fascinating glimpse into early Roman life. For your visit, I suggest either hiring a guide or at the very least printing a written one from the internet so you’ll have an idea of what you’re looking at. Otherwise, you’ll just be walking through lots of famous ruins, which is still cool, but doesn’t provide a lot of context.
It’s not a trip to Rome if you don’t stand in the center of the Colosseum and shout ‘Are you not entertained?’, right?
Just kidding. Seeing as you can’t actually stand in the middle of the Colosseum anymore, you’ll probably have to reenact your favorite Gladiator scenes somewhere else. But definitely don’t miss seeing the Colosseum! Used for entertainment, the Colosseum is the largest and most well-preserved amphitheater from the Roman Empire. Seeing this epic piece of history with your own eyes is an absolute must-do in Rome.
The cheapest way to visit is to purchase a standard ticket that will gain you entrance into the Colosseum and the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill nearby.
The Vittorio Emanuele II Monument in Rome is known by few nicknames, and most of them aren’t flattering. Alternately known locally as “The Vittoriano” (the only non-derisive nickname I know of), “The Typewriter,” “The False Teeth,” or “The Wedding Cake,” the enormous monument was built in the early 20th century to honor the first king of unified Italy. Later, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was placed inside, along with a museum to Italian Reunification.
The monument’s position in the historic center, right next to the Roman Forum, makes it a monument that tourists can visit easily. The coolest attraction at the Vittoriano is the glass elevator to the top: “Rome from the Sky.” From the top of the monument, you get one of the best views of Rome. It overlooks the Forum, so you’ll get a great bird’s-eye view of that. You can also see much of the surrounding area.
The city of Rome is built around its piazzas, aka public squares that aren’t necessarily shaped like squares. These beautiful gathering places are found around nearly every corner in the city center. They also often feature famous landmarks and monuments, but remain perfect spots for doing a bit of people watching. Most of the larger piazzas have benches, but edges of fountains work just as well.
My favorite is the elegant Piazza Navona (picture above). But don’t miss out the chance to watch a beautiful sunset over the city of Rome from above the Piazza del Popolo.
Other places you must visit
The beautiful Villa and grounds were built in the 16th century as a “party villa” for Cardinal Scipione Borghese. It now houses the impressive Galleria Borghese and the villa’s gardens.
Vatican: St Peters Basilica and the museums
The Vatican is closely tied with Rome’s heritage, and there is a wealth of art and history to explore in its Vatican Museums. Start early to beat the crowds.
The famous spiral staircase, the papal throne, the Gallery of Maps, the Sistine Chapel are absolute must-sees. If the opportunity to take in the beauty of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, possibly the most famous work of art ever, doesn’t convince you to visit the Vatican Museums, nothing will.
Like the Vatican Museums, you’ll find St Peter’s Basilica within the religious city-state of Vatican City.
St Peter’s Basilica is the largest church in the world, and also the burial site of Saint Peter, one of Jesus’ apostles and whom those of the Catholic faith consider to be the first pope. Religious faith aside, St Peter’s is the most impressive churches I’ve ever visited. And I can say I’ve been in a fair few! Entrance into St Peter’s Basilica is free. But if you want to climb the stairs to the top of the basilica’s dome, there is a small fee. You can’t also take a lift that will take you halfway up there. But don’t miss the chance to visit the dome. It’s a great way to see the city of Rome from above, you won’t regret it. I promise!
Churches in Rome
There are beautiful churches EVERYWHERE in Rome. We visited quite a few and I was in awe every time. My personal favorite is the Basilica Saint Paul Outside the Wall. You need to take the metro to get there as it’s far from the center. But believe me, you won’t regret it! check out the pictures below to see the different churches we’ve been.
The Capitoline Museums can be considered the world’s oldest museum. Located on top of the beautiful Campidoglio Hill, they date back to 1471. The origin of this collection was a donation of a group of statues from Pope Sixtus IV which held an important symbolic value to the city of Rome. In fact, the museums have always been linked to the Eternal City, as most items on display come from Rome.
If you’re interested in ancient Roman art and history, you can’t miss the Musei Capitolini, a vital part of any trip to Rome to better understand how the streets of the city were once adorned.
This where you’ll see the Capitoline She-wolf, a bronze masterpiece said to be dating back to the beginning of the V century B.C. This work was given to the Roman people in the 15th century by Pope Sixtus IV. Once it got to the Capitoline Hill, the She-wolf was taken up as the symbol of Rome, following the legend that the city was founded by the mythical twins Romulus and Remus nursed by a she-wolf.
Around the time of donation, the two boys were added to the she-wolf sculpture, to make the work more faithful to the legendary tale. The she-wolf was at first placed on the facade of the Palazzo dei Conservatori, and later moved inside the building.
WHERE TO EAT IN ROME
Since you can find delicious food everywhere in Rome, even in tiny pizza on-the-go shops, I probably don’t even need to bother with recommendations. But for those of you who prefer to have a few personal recommendations, these were my favorites.
- For a delicious and huge brunch, go to Coromandel. It’s near Piazza Navona. Don’t forget to book a table or to arrive early
- Pizza on the go : Pizza e Mozzarella. The name says it all! There are different types of pizzas and they are all very good!
- My favorite gelateria is Giolitti, because they do apple and cinnamon flavors. Try Frigidarium and Sweet Life as well!
- Our first dinner was at Mimi e Coco. It’s a charming small restaurant with a great selection of wine and delicious food. My favorite place is Mr 100 Tiramisu. It’s a wine bar with an incredible selection of Italian ham and cheese (and wine). And they literally have 100 different types of tiramisu. Try the number 46. It’s the staff’s favorite and the most yummy tiramisu I ever had!
WHEN TO VISIT ROME
Summers can get blistering hot… So walking from place to place and standing outside in full sun might be unbearable. This is also when the city is at its busiest. So besides higher prices you’ll also be battling crowds and queues everywhere you go.
Winter is when Rome is the less crowded. But in my opinion, the appeal of an Italian vacation is to enjoy being outside. I recommend visiting during spring. Crowds are still considerably lighter than they’ll be in the summer, and the weather is pleasant enough to stay out all day long.
HOW LONG TO STAY IN ROME
For your first trip to Rome, you really should stay long enough to see all of the city’s most famous sights. You also need some free time to explore on your own and relax. Rome is not a city to barrel through, frantically seeing and doing everything before moving on to the next destination. Nowhere is meant to be visited in that way, but it’s especially true in Rome (and all of Italy, really)! The pace is slower, the meals are longer, and public transportation isn’t always that reliable.
For a first-time trip well-balanced between sightseeing and taking time to savor la dolce vita, you’ll need at least four full days. The first time, I stayed a week. This time we were in Rome for four nights, and I wasn’t the least bit ready to leave. Maybe it was the glorious architecture, or maybe it was the history, or maybe it was all the food (I ate so often I forgot what it was like to feel hungry), but I think it was just the simple fact of being in Rome, enjoying life like Italians do!
HOW TO GET AROUND IN ROME
The best way to get from place to place in Rome is on your own feet. Choose a centrally-located hotel, and you’ll only be about a 20-minute walk from the sights in either direction.
If you’re not up for walking, the local bus system in Rome is easy to use and cheap. You can also use the tramway. Buses and tramways are frequent, but not necessarily always on time. Rome has a metro, but I personally never needed to use it. You can buy one-way bus tickets or all-day passes at most newspaper kiosks and convenience shops in Rome.
I hope you liked this travel guide. This is clearly not all you can do in Rome. You would need weeks there! But for a first timer, this will do!