What comes to mind when you think of Rome? Even if you have never been to this fantastic city, there are specific images that come to mind: the Colosseum, The Trevi Fountain, gelato, St. Peter’s Basilica… The Lizzie McGuire Movie (yup, I went there lol)… the list goes on! Rome is not only a city for history buffs, but a city of culture, food, architecture, and romance. How amazing is it to walk down a city street, turn a corner, and be confronted with monuments that are thousands of years old?!
We were so excited to spend nearly a week in Rome. My younger brother, Sean, and his wife Katya, just welcomed their first baby into the world. This super exciting occasion led us to plan a trip to visit them! Our sweet little niece, Sofia, couldn’t be more perfect. Auntie Sarah and Uncle Zach loved getting to spend as much time as possible with her. Zach is SO good with her! We would be out to eat and she would start crying. Knowing that Sean and Katya were exhausted, Zach took every opportunity to walk her around the block in the stroller or bounce her in his arms in the restaurant. It was so adorable!
In the time that we weren’t visiting with family, we took it upon ourselves to enjoy Rome’s most famous and historically important sites. I had the chance to visit Rome when I was younger, but didn’t have super clear memories of our time there. Zach had never been to Europe before this trip so we found it the perfect excuse to get out and explore. To get around, we learned some simple phrases in Italian. No matter where you go, locals appreciate tourists taking the time and making the effort to learn basic words or sentences in their own language. This might be my most important travel tip for you!! You will find people to be much more responsive if you show respect for their own language and culture.
From Switzerland, we used the convenient train system to get down to Rome. From Milan, one of our connection sites, we were able to take the high speed train. These trains are much nicer and have many more amenities than the smaller, regional trains. As mentioned in my Switzerland post, you can book your tickets at one time from your starting location. The ticket agents will be able to help you find the best route and times based on your travel schedule.
Traveling to Rome from Lauterbrunnen was a full day! We arrived in the late afternoon, almost dinner time. We stayed with my parents and my little brother in an AirBnb near the Vatican. While this particular place to stay was chosen based on proximity to my brother and his family, this location was incredibly convenient for all of our sightseeing. There was a grocery store nearby and we were within walking distance to many delicious restaurants. When choosing a place to stay in Rome, opt for a location nearby public transportation. We were close to bus stops, the metro, and a train station. Though we walked most of the time, we used the bus and the train a couple times. If you happen to find a place you love (just make sure it’s near the center of the city!) not near public transportation, do not fret! Rome is very walkable city.
Since our days in Rome were often busy and full of activities, I’m going to structure this blog post a little differently so details don’t get lost in large paragraphs. Enjoy!
Rome Day 1
- We joined my family for mass at a beautifully ornate church (every Italian Catholic church has a jaw dropping interior) near our AirBnb.
- Following mass we enjoyed some cornettos on Borgo San Pio. Cornettos are the Italian version of croissants filled with some sort of delicious jam, creme, or nutella. Since pistachios are a local Italian treat, I opted for the pistachio creme filled cornetto and was not disappointed!
- After a mid morning snack, we made our way to St. Peter’s Square for the Sunday Pope audience. He appears from his residence window and offers a welcome, blessings, and a few hearty waves to the crowd below. You have to go through the Vatican security before entering the square, so give yourself extra time. I recommend standing in an area to the right of the basilica (when looking at the church head on) to get a good view of the Pope.
- Since we were so close, we decided to do a quick tour of St. Peter’s Basilica. While there are exceptional tours offered of the inside of the church, we decided to do a self guided tour in the interest of time. Normally there are long lines to get into the church, so going after the Sunday audience is a good bet. Seeing the inside of the basilica for the first time is a breathtaking experience. Though you may be tempted to go to the right upon entering to see the Pieta (a famous Michelangelo sculpture), go in clockwise fashion. There is often a line to see the Pieta that can be avoided if you plan to visit it last. Each small chapel on the perimeter of the basilica is unique and beautiful in its own way. St. Peter’s can be overwhelming. If it’s your first time visiting, I do highly recommend getting a tour guide. Check out this company for great tour options: https://www.walksofitaly.com/
- We met up with Sean, Katya, Sofia, and Katya’s family for a late lunch. We ate at Il Giubileo, known for its delicious seafood, and it surpassed all of our expectations. We had such exquisite seafood appetizers and entrees. And, like many meal experiences in Italy, this one lasted for a few hours! Meals in Italy encompass more than just eating food. It’s about family and time spent together. You will never be ushered out of a restaurant before you’re ready. We loved getting to meet Katya’s family and share a meal with them.
Rome Day 2
- Zach and I got an early start on the day and headed out to the Colosseum. We first stopped at one of the local sidewalk tobacco shops (with the green roof). Here you can purchase a Roma pass, a pass that allows you access to public transportation and sites around Rome for the allotted number of days you choose to purchase. We then hopped on the bus (it was raining) and headed to the Colosseum. Once you arrive at the Colosseum, you will walk right into hoards of people. Continue past the Colosseum and walk south, down Via di San Gregorio. On your right you will pass the ticket counter for Palatine Hill and the Forum. BUY YOUR TICKETS (for the Colosseum and Palatine Hill/Forum) HERE. If you buy your tickets at the Colosseum, you will wait in a very long line and will be heckled by people trying to sell you ridiculously priced tours. You will get a time to enter the Colosseum on the ticket. During the time that you wait (luckily we had immediate access), you can explore Palatine Hill/the Forum. Your Roma Pass should cover entrance fees if you so choose to buy it. When you go to enter the Colosseum, you may have to ask where the entrance is. Someone will be able to point you to the correct location. The lines are very difficult to find there is very little organization! Once inside, I recommend getting an audio walking tour. It’s very informative!
- While you can choose to purchase an audio tour for Palatine Hill/Forum, we opted out of it. Many of the landmarks have descriptions posted below that provide plenty of information. We didn’t spend a lot of time here (we were hungry haha) but I definitely think this amazing testament to history is worth a visit.
- Have you ever been to an Eataly? This amazingly wonderful boutique Italian market is a favorite in major US cities. However, visiting an Eataly in Italy is quite an experience. This multi-level collection of grocery, deli, wine/beer selections, and restaurants is overwhelmingly fun. After exploring the Roma store (only a short ride away on the train to Ostiense), we indulged in an early dinner at one of the pasta restaurants. Eating in Eataly is just as exciting as exploring it. Using goods from inside the market, each of the restaurants curates a menu that is unique from the others. From traditional pastas to seafood and meats, you can’t go wrong!
Rome Day 3
- Castel Sant’Angelo is a visible monument throughout Rome. You can see it anytime you cross the Tiber on one of the many bridges. Zach and I spent the morning with my mom, exploring this well preserved castle. Throughout the building there are placards describing the things you see. There is an admission cost, but can be covered with the Roma Pass. The walk to Castel Sant’Angelo from the Vatican is extremely easy!
- From Castel Sant’Angelo, we walked to Piazza Navona. Piazza Navona is a lively plaza, decorated with three fountains, one at either end and one in the middle. Surrounded by restaurants and gelato shops, the piazza is the perfect place to take a midday break. The musicians throughout the plaza create joyful ambiance. Although it was still before lunchtime by the time we made it to the plaza, we enjoyed a delectable gelato in the warm sunshine.
- We met up with my dad and youngest brother for Il Forno pizza in Campo di Fiori. Sold by the slice, this pizza is the bomb diggity, and that’s saying a lot for Italian pizza! We each got a couple slices (their flavor options are crazy good) and enjoyed them in the adjoined plaza.
- After lunch, we made our way back to the Vatican for the Scavi Tour. If you must do one Vatican tour while in Rome, I highly recommend this one! You do have to reserve tickets in advance, and because of its popularity, it is a lottery. They only allow a certain amount of people into this tour each day. The Scavi Tour goes beneath St. Peter’s Basilica. It explores ancient Roman burial grounds and religious excavation sites. You see into tombs, learn about the history of the development of the church, and see St. Peter’s relics (or bones). The tour is extremely interesting! If you don’t enjoy closed spaces, this may not be the best tour for you. The tour is underground, dark, and winds through narrow passages. No photos allowed so no photos to share!
- The end of the Scavi tour brings you to the entrance of St. Peter’s Basilica Dome. Pay an entrance fee at the window and begin your ascent to the top. You will climb 551 stairs to the top! The walkways are extremely narrow, so use caution. Once you get to the top, take in the splendor of Rome! The breeze feels so refreshing after climbing up all the stairs!
- We enjoyed aperitivos with Sean and Katya in the early evening at Pappagallo. Spending time with them and little Sofia was the perfect way to wrap up the day.
Rome Day 4
- We set out in the morning to explore the Pantheon. Like any major attraction in Rome, it’s best to go early in the morning before the majority of tourists make it out of their hotels. The Pantheon is remarkable. It’s incredibly well preserved for such an old building. Meaning “of all the gods”, this now Christian monument was at one time a pagan temple. The giant hole in the center of the ceiling provides light for the entire building. The ceiling itself is an architectural wonder. It served as inspiration for many of the most prominent domed buildings in our world today.
- Down the street from the Pantheon, look for the small coffee shop, Sant Eustachio. Its famous caffe is prepared in secret behind the counter. Order at the cashier and take your receipt to the counter. Within moments you will have a steaming hot, creamy, sweet caffe in front of you. Either enjoy your caffe inside or enjoy it at a table outdoors. Don’t miss out on a delicious pastry to enjoy with your drink!
- Though it is easily the most crowded attractions in Rome, the Trevi Fountain is worth a visit! Either go early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid the crowds. This famous Italian site is worth your time, just not in the middle of the day! Unfortunately, we happened to be passing by exactly at this time. If you happen to go during this time, guard your bag! The more crowded areas of Rome are notorious for stealthy pickpocketers.
- Speaking of heavily crowded areas, the Spanish Steps swarm with tourists during the day! This graceful stairs, less crowded in the early and later hours of the day, look down upon a beautiful piazza and fountain. Once again, watch your belongings. There are many pickpockets here too! Climb the stairs, and as you go, turn and admire the view as you get higher. At the very top, once you admire the vast view of Rome, continue on to the Borghese Gardens, just above.
- We made the simple trek to the Borghese Gardens, just above the steps. You could spend an entire day wandering around these lush, beautiful gardens. If you are looking for a fun way to explore, rent a bike! As you make your way through the gardens, look for a large clearing with a balcony that overlooks the city. The view from this point is breathtaking! Take time to admire the Piazza del Popolo below.
- That night, my mom and I gave my brother and his wife a break. We babysat sweet little Sofia so her parents could go out for a date night.
Rome Day 5
- Our final day in Rome, we crossed off our final major monument: the Vatican Museum. Though it would be ideal to purchase tickets ahead of time, getting to the entrance early in the morning will guarantee a short wait. We were approached many times by people claiming to help us “skip the line”. Don’t fall for this trap! Though it seems enticing to skip ahead in the line, you will also have to pay twice as much. No thanks! We were able to get through the line in about an hour. Upon entering, you must go through security. Once through security, follow the signs for the entrance to the museum. Right before you enter the museum, stop at the booth offering audio tours. With so many things to see in the museum, it is helpful to have in depth explanations of it all. Especially in the Sistine Chapel, you will find an audio tour to be extremely helpful!
- That afternoon, we explored Trastevere, a quintessential Roman neighborhood. This neighborhood is everything you’d expect! Vines cascade down the buildings, cobblestone streets wind throughout the neighborhood, and charming restaurants are scattered down the alleys. This neighborhood is worth exploring on a pleasant afternoon. Stop for an espresso or a bite to eat. I recommend leaving your map in your bag as you explore.
- On our final evening in Rome, we shared dinner with Sean, Katya, and Sofia. It was a wonderful conclusion to a fantastic week!
10 Takeaway Rome Tips
- Check museum hours before you get to Rome. Many museums are closed at least one day per week, often on weekdays. Some museums require you to have tickets ahead of time, unless you prefer to wait in very long lines!
- While it’s not necessary to carry Euros with you, it’s not a bad idea to carry 25-30 euros in case of emergency. Most restaurants, shops, museums, taxis, etc accept major credit cards.
- Avoid the people selling tours or “discounts” at all costs! Many of them work for tourist schemes and will try to rip you off. If you want a really good tour option, do your research ahead of time. Don’t be bamboozled by the salespeople at every major monument!
- Eat when and where the locals eat. Italians eat late, often starting their meals between 7:30 and 8 PM. Before they settle in for dinner, they might enjoy an “aperitivo”, or appetizers and drinks. Eating at this time allows you to fully immerse yourself in Roman culture. Look for restaurants that do not display or even offer an English menu; this means they cater heavily to the locals. You will not only find better food, but a better overall experience.
- Go early! Beat the crowds and the lines by checking stuff off your list early in the morning. This rule also applies to the time of year that you choose to visit Rome. Go early-mid spring or mid-late fall. The summertime is booming with tourists from all over the world, since school is out for the summer. Not to mention, Rome gets hot and sticky in the summer. It’s not fun to constantly feel crowded and hot all at the same time in a city that rarely offers air conditioning. Yikes! Spring is the perfect time to visit Rome. The weather is pleasant and there are far fewer crowds.
- Use Uber. Feeling weary about using public transportation? Pull out your phone, open your Uber app, and request a ride! Using Uber in Italy is very easy and very classy. Uber drivers are well-dressed, well-mannered, and most speak English.
- Eat pizza, pasta, and/or gelato every single day. Indulge in the culture. Diets don’t count here, folks. I can honestly say that you will never regret that double scoop of creamy Italian gelato, that rich seafood pasta, or freshly baked bubbling pizza. You won’t regret the extra glass of wine or the extra cornetto. Italian food is grounded in love and connection. Don’t miss out on a wonderful experience because you’re counting calories.
- Learn a few helpful phrases. When traveling to foreign countries, be courteous. Do not expect that everyone speaks English. Though many do, learning some simple Italian can get you further than expected!
- Travel lightly. The roads of made of cobblestone and the buildings are old, many of which do not have elevators. Utilizing public transportation can be crowded and having a large suitcase can be cumbersome. Use packing cubes and roll your clothing to fit it into a carryon sized suitcase. Seems impossible, I know! But just trust me on this one. Save room, however, for comfy walking shoes. Your feet will thank you after walking down cobblestone streets for multiple days!
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Italians are incredibly friendly! A simple, “scusi” (excuse me) and “grazie mille” (thank you very much) go a long way!
This post was a long time coming, so thank you for all your patience! We got extremely busy towards the middle/end of summer and I started my new job in Seattle. We have been settling in and enjoying everything the PNW has to offer!
Recommendations? Suggestions for the next blog post? Let me know!
Happy Thursday! Enjoy your weekend!