I first visited Rome when studying abroad over 20 years ago, using Lira to buy my first train ticket there. Years later, some things have changed but most have not.
While you can visit many of many famous sites in the city over a day or two such the Colosseum, Vatican, and Trevi Fountain, I encourage you to slow down and take a little more time to absorb the essence of the city. On this trip, my friend Nicole and I slowed down the pace, met new people, enjoyed casual walks, and began to truly appreciate the essence of the city in a way I hadn’t experienced before.
I love to watch the city waking up in the morning, an old man whistling and singing to himself setting up cafe tables outside my hotel window, sunlight progressively changing the color of the earthy hued tiles as the sun rises, the “clink” sound of espresso cups being sat down on a counter, the smell of diesel fumes and sound of vespas slowly saturating the air as the city begins to rise.
At breakfast our first morning we made friends Michele and Jessica who worked at our hotel, and enjoyed getting to know them throughout our trip. Michele was charming and helpful, teaching my friend Nicole some nuances certain phrases in Italian, laughing at her antics, suggested a day trip to Tivoli, and helped us schedule our Covid testing for our return trip home. Jessica prepared a beautiful and delicious breakfast for us each morning, described her love of the arts with passion, and excitedly shared tips of places to visit. Seeing them each day brought a warmth to our visit that was lovely.
I like to stay in the area near the Spanish Steps because it is a little less overrun with tourists than areas by the Colosseum, and it is still centrally located to the many of the sites and transportation. I recommend where we stayed this trip, at the Poesis Hotel. It was modernly decorated juxtaposed with warm wood ceilings, old marble floors, and lovely architectural detail. The rooms were very large and well laid out, and extremely clean.
Via di Gesù e Maria 20, Rome, 00187, Italy
We hit all the main sites like the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Vatican, Colosseum, Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain this time, and there are a lot of travel articles that tell you all about those things. So instead in this post, I’m going to share a few “bonus” tips that might make your trip there a little more fun.
1. Have lunch, dinner or drinks at the Rocco Forte De Russie hotel right by the Piazza Popolo. We started and ended our trip with meals there in the sophisticated terraced gardens. This is a special oasis in the city, and there is a quiet elegance about it. (Many years ago my mom and I ran into Bruce Springsteen there too!)
2. Look for restaurants where Italians are eating and you don’t see many tourists. I’ve traditionally found that these spots will have the best food and an authentic Italian energy to them. There’s a passion to the food, the conversation, the hand gestures, and you will get lost in the moment.
3. Take an afternoon to stroll the Borghese Gardens, watch the Italian children play in the park, grab a pastry from a small cafe, rent a family style bike, or just lay in the grass for an hour or two and watch and listen to the world around you. Visiting the zoo is always fun, and be sure to head to the Terraza del Pincio for an unforgettable sunset moment.
4. Check out the modern works of art at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna. In contrast to much of the gothic art you will find in museums and churches throughout Europe, this is was an unexpected pleasure to visit, and was an inspiration as well. The children’s book selection at the gift shop was incredible, and we both picked up a few things there.
5. Essere nel momento (live in the moment). Pick spaces to pause, sit, and immerse yourself, without rushing to the next stop. Watch the mother soothing her baby and rocking her to sleep at a cafe. Offer to take a photo for the young and newly in love backpacking couple from Great Britton who hold each other tenderly as they stare at the Trevi fountain in their very sporty touristy outfits, sneaking in kisses, and smiling as they look into each other’s eyes. Watch the two old men arguing with hand motions while sitting on a bench, and wonder if they are debating the weather or outcome of the next football match, and the grandma elegantly walk down the street with her curly haired granddaughter happily telling her stories along the way. Listen to the water rush over a fountain. Eat gelato, savoring every last sugary morsel as you scrape your wooden spoon across the bottom of your cup.
6. See the same sites in a different way. Instead of heading directly to the Colosseum and Foro Romano, start at the Palentine Hill. While the Colosseum is often the postcard shot from Rome, the true heart of this ancient city surrounds that area. Spend a few hours to explore where people lived and worked in ancient Rome. This is one of my favorite tourist areas to visit. I also enjoy seeing some of same these sites transform their beauty entirely in the evening. Brave the crowds and try visiting the Trevi Fountain at night as well.
7. Hop on a train or bus for a day trip to Tivoli to visit the Villa d’ Este, a villa originally constructed in the 1500s and famous for its terraced hillside renaissance garden, and countless fountains. We enjoyed wandering through the narrow hilly streets of this charming little town, and were blown away by the grandeur of the estate. The villa is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The train ride out to Tivoli is part of the experience as well, and easy to access.
8. Explore the haunting crypts of the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuchini on via Veneto. This crypt contains the skeletal remains of 3,700 bodies believed to be Capuchib friars buried by their order. The bones are almost used as decorative mosaic pieces and it is quite haunting, and beautiful at the same time. No photos are permitted in this space.
9. When in doubt, order a traditional Roman dishes. I’ve included a link to some key dishes HERE. This trip I fell in love with Bucatini all’Amatriciana and Pasta alla Gricia. Rome is also very well known for its Carbonara, and artichokes. (I’ll be honest though, this girl will hardly ever pass by anything with prosciutto.)
For anyone who wants to see even more photos, I’ll include them at the end of this blog post below. Ciao for now friends…