I have to be honest. Though I fear what I am about to tell you might be blasphemous. Promise not to disclose me? Ok. Here goes.
Rome is full of old stuff. I assure you it is just as charming as it appears in Roman Holiday—with just a tad more tourists and a touch of newer technology. Actually, it’s even better because instead of the viewing the scenery in black and white, Rome comes to life in arrays of color before your very eyes. <Here’s the real incriminating bit.> After visiting all the BIG sites (in popularity and stature), walking around looking at old buildings and old monuments and old statutes and old ruins and old cathedrals and old fountains gets, well, a bit old. (Didn’t you get a bit tired just reading that sentence?) There it is. I said it.
Here me out. Much of Rome’s history is fascinating! It’s just, well, I have my limits. If architecture and/or history captivates you for days and miles on end than you will adore this ancient, enthralling city. If you admit, like me, that your attention span is about that of an eight year old, than worry not. Just about the time your feet start aching and your stomach starts growling there is a striking shop or delectable café to grip your attention—and wallet. . . and stomach.
There. You understand me now, right? You’re either on the same page as me, or you’ve resolved we have differences. Either way, it’s okay. We can agree to disagree at times if need be.
We can ALL agree that Rome must be in your future—on the bucket list if nothing else. In your near future? Perfect. I’ve typed out a few tips and helpful hints. Not quite ready for your own Roman holiday? No worries. Bookmark this page for later.
In no way will I pretend that this is a complete guide to Rome. I’m not even sure I could provide that even if I lived there a whole year. This will, however, get you started and give you some awesome tips and hints. Be sure to share your experiences with me and let me know if I left something fabulous off the list! Oh, and don’t forget to use the cliché, “When in Rome,” while shopping, eating, and let’s face it, splurging! It will get old but makes you feel, slightly, better while having gelato for the 4th or 5th day in a row (speaking from experience).
This list IS in order of my favorites. If we were sitting down to coffee to talk about your upcoming European vacation, I would give you my favorites and highlights from my own experiences. That way, you know what I found most appealing (and most delicious), and you can fill in any holes with your own interests. <which is what I did below>
So grab a coffee and read some thoughts from the mind of a shopaholic, foodie, adventurer, fun-seeker, fashionista, fun-fact lover. . .you get the idea.
Confession. I have never seen Gladiator. (Go ahead and judge. But know that it is on the top of my must watch list!) The bad? Little information on gladiators. The good? My HUGE imagination had free reign to concoct whatever ancient, Hunger Games-esque drama I so pleased. The crazy part? The drama is real, factual. I stood on bloodshed ground for the purpose of sheer entertainment.
Tip: Purchase your tickets online to avoid lines when you get there. Skip the tour but, definitely, get an audio guide. If you’re a parent, an aunt/uncle, big sis/bro—really if you have kids in your life—pick up Fun Facts about Rome and/or Fun Facts about Gladiators books in the gift shop. They are extremely interesting—for adults and children!
Fun Dark fact: Munera, gladiator shows, and venatio, animal hunts, were both held at the coliseum. Animals like rhinos, hippos, tigers, bears, ostriches, elephants, (and more!) were imported from Africa and the Middle East. During intermissions, for the above shows, those condemned to death were thrown into the arena—naked and unarmed—to be torn to shreds by the animals. (Maybe Hunger Games was more a depiction of history then some of us realized.)
I advise going through the Vatican Museum. If time is of the essence, skip ahead to the Sistine Chapel. Make sure to where sleeves, and nothing too short on bottom. Also, try to snag a seat along the sides to give your neck a break from looking at the ceiling.
Tip: Skip the tour. Instead, get an audio guide. No matter your age or who is with you, get a kid’s audio guide too. It’s worth it for the bit on the Sistine Chapel. It is way too cute, and informative, as well!
Fun fact: The Vatican Museum is located in Vatican City. This might seem like a DUH! moment, but it actually has its own post office. So, you can send a post card from Vatican City. (Apologies. I’m a huge dork and think that’s cool.)
This site is breathtaking. Though you can’t swim in the fountain like in Roman Holiday, you can capture its majesty wonderfully. It literally glistens. Make sure you bring a coin, hold it in your right hand, and throw it over your left shoulder. (Note: throw 3 coins—the first so you’ll return to Rome, the second so you’ll find love, and the third so you’ll get married. I just threw one! Wink.) It’s tradition. Make a wish!
Tip: Go to the fountain during the day AND at night. I promise you won’t regret it!
Fun fact: Around 3,000 Euros are thrown into the fountain each day. The money has been used to subsidize a supermarket for those in need in Rome.
These famous 135 steps were under construction during my stay. We were still able to climb then (along the side). It did, however, make recreating the famous steps scene from Roman Holiday—where Audrey and Gregory are perched in the center of the steps discussing how to spend their day—quite impossible.
Fun fact: Did you know that the above shot from the movie was what made the Spanish Steps famous to an American audience?
Need a break? Perfect timing. At the Spanish Steps, you are footsteps away from the best of the best. From Louis to Gucci to Prada to Valentino to Yves Saint Laurent to . . . The list is endless, but I assure you if luxury designers are what you seek then you have found your sweet spot.
Speaking of sweet spot, about time we mention gelato? You must try this treasure. (We went there 4 days in a row). Do I even need to say anything else? Ok, I will. It was established in 1947. It is the creamiest. To top it off (literally), they have multiple flavors of homemade whipped cream. No cherries for on top, but be sure to get chocolate in the bottom of your cone!
According to Catholic tradition, this is the burial site for (Saint) Peter. It is the most breathtaking cathedral I have ever seen. Try to hit this spot after the Vatican Museum.
Tip: Catch beautiful sunlight inside the cathedral during sunsets for the best photo backdrops!
For centuries, this was the center of Roman public life. Today, it is a sprawling ruin of architectural fragments. It is full of history, but I’ll let you experience that for yourself.
Tip: Buy a package ticket with the Coliseum. Do the Forum last.
Alright, it’s time to divert our attention again to all things shiny and leather and tailored. This time, let’s talk more affordable options. Head to Via del Corso for shopping, shopping, and more shopping. This hectic street has Zara and H&M if you need your fix for fabulous basics. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for independent boutiques if you want to take home something a little more special!
We loved this spot so much we went twice on our trip! They have an extensive menu, and you can’t go wrong with anything. Sometimes I worry about a place that has a huge menu. I wonder if they offer too much and only do a mediocre job. This is not the case with this place! Everything we had was delectable. Their pizza is one of my favorites!
This tiny family-run joint is exactly what you want for a taste of Italy. The owner—the cutest little, Italian grandpa you ever did see—made his rounds multiple times and tried his best to communicate with us. Their minestrone was absolutely delicious, along with EVERY pasta dish we ordered.
zDownload Trip Advisor: Trip Advisor is more often used in Italy than Yelp. It is a perfect tool to help find restaurants and/or hotels.
zDownload the Ulmon Rome app: This app was amazing!! It offers so much including pictures of the top sites and detailed descriptions. It gave me easy access to continuously employ my “tour guide Barbie” skills. It also gives you tips about cafes, hotels, and so much more!
zDownload Google translate: Most proprietors in Rome are used to mass amounts of tourists and speak decent English. You still might, at times, find yourself at a loss. This app makes communicating, or reading menus, a breeze.
zDon’t worry about a tour: I say this above multiple times, but I usually prefer to opt out of the tours. With the audio guides and app options you can create your own tours—and probably make them more entertaining AND affordable.
zOpt for a crossbody and/or chic backpack: Your shoulders will thank you.
zPack a protein bar: The traditional Italian breakfast consists of an espresso shot and a pastry. While delicious, it can leave you with the threat of hanger approaching by the 2nd or 3rd site. Be prepared. Your stomach and family will thank me.
zBe ready to walk: Whatever this means to you. Most of you know I rarely sacrifice fashion for comfort. In Italy, this can be dangerous. Not only do your feet ache after miles of walking, but you are often at risk while strolling down cobblestone streets. This didn’t stop me from wearing my booties. But, YOU have been warned.
zWear a Fitbit: Which leads me to the last tip. We walked an average of 10 miles a day. My sister wore a fitbit so we tracked our steps and miles each day. This isn’t necessary but makes you feel a little less guilty about eating pasta and pizza each night.
As Audrey so sweetly put it, “By all means—Rome! I will cherish my visit here in memory for as long as I live.” m