TIPS:

If you're planning on getting a cab, only use the Roma Capitale approved city cabs with meters. Opportunistic hawkers wait for confused tourists getting off the Leonardo express at Termini and they will charge you literally triple the standard fare. I speak as someone who has been burned, trust.

Book ahead. Book ahead, book ahead, book ahead. Book your Colosseum tickets, book your Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museum tickets, book everything you can. I wouldn't say having a guide is super necessary in every case, but if you'd like to do the hypogeum tour and 3rd tier of the Colosseum, make sure you book the guided tour waaaay in advance. We couldn't get our tickets in time and it's my ONE regret!

Wake up early. We were up every day by 8am and the hours of 8-11 were SO amazing for walking around town. The cruise ships and tourist shuttles haven't arrived yet, and you get free run of the piazzas without 500 people trying to sell something to you. It was through doing this that we rounded a corner and 'stumbled on' the Pantheon for the first time - it made me cry! I wasn't expecting it and it was just so magical.

Never buy water. Rome has so many free, fresh drinking water fountains, so take a reusable bottle and fill up as you walk around. There's even freshwater fountains at tourist attractions! If you ever need a hand finding one, there's this super fantastic app to point out your nearest one.

Learn some basic Italian. Rome is full of a lot of tourists, so being able to say a polite 'per favore', 'grazie mille' or 'prego' makes a lot of difference. Before we left I read so much about how 'rude' Romans were, and I never once encountered that. They were patient with my beginner's Italian, very encouraging, gracious and familial. It reminded me so much of Arabic culture, I felt so at home.

Visit midweek. Our days Wednesday through Friday were so much more enjoyable (read: less insanely crowded) than the weekend days. Just our POV obviously, but for us when we next visit it'll be during the weekdays.


PACK:

Trainers and/or blister plasters. Rome is really walkable, and should be walked. The city basically cries out for footfall. Getting lost in the backstreets, meandering around of an afternoon - that's what will make up some of your most memorable moments in the Eternal City. And if you're about to walk around in anything other than your comfiest shoes (we averaged 30,000 steps a day!), you're gonna need Compeed!

Your camera. Outside of New York, this is one of the most photogenic cities I've ever visited, no matter the time of day. Any light makes Rome look good, and if you're a bit of a photography buff, there's so much you're going to want to capture here.

No make up. I barely wore a stitch while I was there - I think the most 'made up' I went out was a black cat eye, some mascara, concealer and a red lip. Italian women (and men!) are effortlessly glam and going out in a fully bronzed, contoured and baked face of slap is going to look totally bizarre here.

A suitcase. One of my real regrets is having stupid hand luggage restrictions because I so desperately wanted to carry back some wine, some of the delicious spek we ate whilst there, maybe some cheese. You're basically going to want to transport Italy home with you, so consider it if you can.

Headwear. If you're travelling in summer right through to late September, you're going to need a hat or head scarf for the days you're exposed to a lot of sun (I'm looking at you, Colosseum and Palatine Hill).


STAY:


Prepare for a little freakout over our amazing AirBNB hostess Margherita, because this lady was just the sweetest, kindest, loveliest host. Our flight was delayed and we were quite some time getting into the city, then we had a little freakout over the doors in the apartment building, but she was calm, glamorous (of course) and so accommodating to our every need. She bought a bottle of red to help us celebrate James' 30th, breakfast and coffee and tea for the morning, and water and OJ. Everything had been considered, down to circling our nearest supermarkets (and pizza spots!) on a map.

The flat was gorgeous - right in the middle of everything - if I had one recommendation of where to stay in Rome it'd be this - stay as close to the Piazza Navona as you can. The Vatican and Colosseum were barely 20 minute walks from us, and everywhere else was between 5 and 10 minutes. It was the handiest for getting around, and as we had an apartment of our own it meant we could come back for a quick afternoon nap and perk-up before heading out for aperitivo and dinner!

Unlike other European cities, Rome doesn't really have a 'lull' after like 11.30 AM - it gets busy and stays that busy. So yes, restaurants will fill up from around 8 - 8.30 PM, and you'll probably be crowd-fighting to get wherever your going. That'd be why I'd recommend putting yourself somewhere as central as possible - it gives you the very early morning and later evening to really enjoy the city without the chaos!


SEE:


Obviously, the Colosseum. Go early, ideally as close to its 8.30 opening time as possible. Watching the sun rise as we walked around this incredible ancient ruin was something that I'll remember always. Included in your entry ticket for 48 hours you can also get into Palatine Hill, where the Forum is. If possible, I'd book a guide for this part, or just try and subtly follow around an English speaking tour group. You'll get a lot more out of your visit if you know what you're looking at.

I'm biased, but I do think the Piazza Navona is one of the most beautiful piazzas in Rome. The back streets around here have the BEST restaurants and cafes too, and it's just a beautiful area in general to wander around. They used to flood this place and have war games with ships in the square. It's unreal. And one of the most beautiful examples of Italian sculpture and architecture in the fountains and buildings surrounding. 

It goes without saying that the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and Pantheon are all musts, but one place I really regret not getting to (we had a pretty bad storm on our last day) were the Borghese Gardens. Next time! A friend recommended that we visit GiNa's and get a picnic hamper on our way up to the gardens, and that does sound like a pretty dreamy way to spend an afternoon the next time we visit. 

The Vatican, St. Peter's and the Sistine Chapel are another absolute must-do, but a word to the wise - obviously pre-book your Vatican Museum tickets, but don't go in for the full guided tour option. So many touts will try and talk you into this on your walk up - we didn't take a guide, and we didn't spend two and a half hours queuing for the Basilica either. It's a little cheeky, but once you finish your Vatican Museums tour in the Sistine Chapel, head for the back right corner of the room. If it's a busy enough day, the door that tour groups take straight through to the Basilica will be so crowded that no one will be checking who is with who. Follow the masses and head straight through to St. Peter's unburdened by queues! Just act like you belong. We got straight in with no trouble at all, but I hear this is pot luck as to whether guards are being particularly vigilant that day. Use your best judgement!

SHOP:

This is the only category I genuinely don't feel qualified to advise you on! We were really disappointed in how tourist-y the selection of souvenir shopping on offer in Rome was. We usually like to visit an independent shop or two from the area we've stayed in, and we couldn't find anywhere that looked vaguely authentic or like we would've been supporting a small business. I'm guessing because city rents are so high and the souvenir stalls and shops are sort of like a mafia, that kind of thing just doesn't exist in the Centro Storico (historical centre) of Roma. But please, if any of you know of any good places to pick up artisanal craft bits in Rome, leave a comment! We were really hoping to get a sketch drawing or maybe even a bit of soft furniture for the house from our amazing trip, but no luck! We brought home a cute fridge magnet instead.

That being said, if you're looking to *shop*, the roads around Piazza di Spagna are where you want to be. I peeped at least one COS, & Other Stories, a Sephora and several Zaras around there, so if I had a bigger case, I would've gone hard. 



EAT:


La Montecarlo: To the waiters that worked here and entertained my efforts in Italian - vi amo tutti. This was the best pizza we had and the house red here made me start looking into emmigration. I'm serious - it was our first meal, and arguably one of our best (we revisited). It was an authentic experience - loud, family-run, chaotic and totally running on the charm/flirtatious energy of the guys that worked there, but I felt so welcome and happy every time we ate here. The food was amazing - get the suppli to start, and then go crazy - for pizza, the fiori de zucca comes highly recommended, as does the prosciutto. 

Beer and Salt: I do not have words to tell you how good the paninis are here. This place was a haven to us after a lot, hot morning exploring the Colosseum and Palatine Hill - we arrived starving and thirsty, and two ice cold beers along with perfect sandwiches on fresh ciabatta and focaccia was the stuff of little angel dreams. If I could give you one recommendation, it'd be get the pear, blue cheese, gorgonzola and spek on ciabatta. One of the best things I have put into my mouth in my entire life. RUN, DON'T WALK.

Il Gelato Di San Crispino: I present to you the best gelato in Rome, ladies and gents. And after 7 trips to gelaterias in the space of 4 and a half days, I should know. I kept coming back to this place because the texture was so smooth and perfect, the flavours were incredible and every time I went I could try something different and love it as much as I did the first time. A lady who served me in Waterstones insisted I go here, to the point where she wrote it down on a Post It for me and made sure I put it in my wallet - and now, I get it. Thank you, lady in Waterstones. You did me a solid that I will never be able to repay you fully for.

Get cacio e pepe because it will redefine what you think you know about 'good' pasta. Literally cheese and black pepper, but this tastes like a festival of yes in your mouth. And get Carbonara because when in Rome, right? (Be prepared to say 'when in Rome' a hell of a lot when it comes to your eating habits)



Don't eat at the squares or piazzas. Controversial, but hear me out. If you sit on a square, you're going to get charged at least 10-20% extra 'a tavolo' (table charge), and for the scenic view. You're also going to get hawked by buskers who will sing to you at your table (nice for about 30 seconds, and then awkward) and then demand payment, and harass you if they don't get it/don't get a fee they like. You also probably won't get the best food at these places. It's a gross generalisation but I found following the 'no tourist traps' and 'no pictures of food on the menu' rule to be quite helpful in Rome.

Gratuity is often included so don't tip unless service was really outstanding, and even then, one or two euros/whatever is coin change is considered recognition enough. 

Eat and walk, walk and eat. One of the best ways to 'see' rome is to eat your way around it - one of my favourite meals was a cannoli picked up at Pasticceria La Deliziosa (oh man, what I wouldn't do for that cannoli right now) for 2 euro. Also, Italian 'supermarket sandwiches' (i.e. ones you pick up at Co Op) are nicer than ones you'd get at most restaurants in London. If you're ever fancying a 'cheap' meal go for aperitivo in Trastavere at somewhere like Freniefrizoni and pay for your drinks, but get a whole buffet of deliciousness included. IKR, where is this part of English culture?

There'll be a vlog coming very soon documenting everything we got up to, but I hope this guide was helpful for now! There really is no place like Rome in the entire world, and we're already dreaming about when we get to go back there - I can't recommend it highly enough. It was the perfect way to surprise J for his 30th birthday!

2 comments

  1. I love this post! I haven't been to Rome, but I'm going in April so I will definitely check out some of these places Xx

    www.flolavita.blogspot.com

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    Replies
    1. Aaah you will absolutely love it! I'm so jealous! T x

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