Rome is Rome. One of the first ever-built cities with over two thousand years of history that for centuries was the centre of power. Rome is an open museum with layers of history, a beautiful mixture of Roman, Medieval, Byzantine, Baroque and Modern architecture that will surprises when you least expect it. One can’t compare Rome to any other city in the world, it is a unique cosmopolitan city that lies in between the old ruins.
The very first time I visited Rome in 2006, I was literally blow away by the splendour of this city. I remember my first impression of Rome on a hot sunny day in June; wondering around I suddenly found myself in a large square of Piazza Navona. Arriving to this massive square I saw the three beautiful fountains by Bernini surrounded by colourful Baroque buildings. In the middle of the square was a large display of paintings as artists showcase their art to the tourists. It was a magnificent picture of Rome full of colours and beauty; I fell in love with the city… Few years later after living and trying other cities I returned to the Eternal city, which I now call it home.
Rome is the capital of Italy and with that comes the traffic and the noise but one thing is different here: the relaxed Mediterranean lifestyle of the Romans. The priority of Romans is not to make money, work hard, or getting a prestigious title; their most concerns are to eat well, look well and have fun. Romans love to socialize; they eat their breakfast out in the bars and café’s. Not to mention their 2 hour lunch break and of course Aperetivo followed by dinner.
Rome is probably one of the most attractive cites in Europe but it all depends on how many days you are staying and how far deep you want to discover the city.Rome has so much to offer for any type of traveller; one that is interested in history and architecture or one that just likes to experience the city life, it’s food and people. I recommend a mix of all to really experience Rome.
What you can expect from Rome:
- Ancient city with over two thousand years of history. There is so much to see so it all depends on how much you want to discover and dig into the history.
- If you are an art lover then get ready to see some of the most important master pieces; sculptures and paintings by Michelangelo, canvases by Caravaggio, Raphael frescoes and fountains by Bernini.
- Rome is home to Catholic Church with over 900 churches.
- Rome is famous for it’s fountains with 280 fountains over the city.
- If this is your fist time in Rome, then get ready to walk, and walk and walk more. Basically the best and easiest way to visit Rome is by foot. You can actually visit the whole city centre by foot, which consists of all the main attractions.
- Rome has great weather, mostly sunny with blue skies. The only months you should avoid coming to Rome is July and August which is extremely hot and humid. The coldest month is in mid January where temperature can drop to it’s lowest of 9 degrees. The best seasons are spring and fall with mild Mediterranean temperature.
- If you’re a food lover, you will have a blast. Romans love to eat so at every corner you will find some kind of a food-oriented place such as bar, restaurant, Trattoria, Pizzeria and Gelatoria.
- You have to eat at least one Gelato a day. Gelato is a serious business… trust me you will want some more after tasting the Gelato in Rome.
- Rome is a Romantic city. You definitely want to watch the sunset at one of the highest points (I will mention few below) and I highly recommend visiting the city during the evening when the squares are empty.
What you should Not expect from Rome:
- Rome is not an organized city. I think Romans don’t like rules and schedules.
- During high season don’t expect peace and quiet as the city centre gets packed with tourists. However, you can still enjoy the city by taking the side streets instead of walking on the main streets that are crowded. In fact I suggest visiting the main squares but then taking the small lanes to discover the city, the side streets are very charming.
- Don’t expect great public transportation, the city offers Metro, buses and trams but they are mostly crowded or not well connected so it’s better to walk or take a taxi.
- Don’t need to put a high budget for dinning in Rome. You can have a nice dish of pasta for 15 Euros. If you like Pizza, then try ‘Pizza al taglio’ (a slice of Pizza) that is delicious and cheap. Food is not expensive in Rome and you don’t have to go to a Michelin star restaurant to eat well.
- Don’t expect all the Romans to speak English. In the city centre Romans have learned some basic English.
- Don’t expect fast service. Romans take their time. Nobody is in rush except the taxi drivers.
What to do in Rome:
I have divided Rome’s city centre into three zones so you could visit all the main attractions and the charming streets around the same zone without missing out on restaurants, snacks, Gelato and shopping!
FIRST ZONE (Colosseum, Forum, Piazza Venezia, Monti district and Capitoline hill)
You want to begin at the ancient part of Rome and walk through history. I suggest starting with Colosseum that is well worth the trip inside and following next to it you can visit Roman Forum with the same ticket. Start early morning so you can skip the heat and you can buy your ticket online in advance so you don’t wait in the line. I think it’s worth to invest into a guide for these two main attractions.
After the Roman Forum, walk towards Via dei Fori Imperiali, on the opposite to Roman forum you can see the ruins from Fori di Nerva, Fori di Augustus and Trajan’s market (the first ancient shopping mall). At this point you might be getting hungry so head towards Monti area behind Fori di Nerva and Augustus. For lunchtime in this zone, I suggest La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali for a fantastic traditional Roman dish. After lunch you want to discover the Monti district, one of the old charming neighbourhoods that has become a cool Bohemian district. Stop for an espresso at the main square, the hub of Monti :Piazza della Madonna dei Monti. If you walk around you can find lots of fun Retro shops, bars and craftsmen stores. Try to visit the charming lanes of Monti: Via dei Serpenti, Via Urbana, Via del Boschetto, Via Panisperma.
Shops and snacks in the Monti district:
- Zia Rosetta: If your hungry for a snack, checkout this take away Panini place.
- Boutique: One of my favourite stores in Monti is called LOL on Via Urbana 89.
- Ciuri Ciuri: Hungry for sweets
- Fata Morgana Gelato
- Design store: Norab B on Via Panisperma 220/221
- Boutique: Kokoro on Via Del Boschetto 75
Finally to finish your day with main attractions in this zone you want to visit Piazza Venezia and Capitoline Hill (city hall); the famous staircase and the square was built by Michelangelo. For a sunset view and drink, visit the café at the top of the Capitoline museums. You don’t need to enter the museum; you can directly go the café at the top floor to enjoy the beautiful view of Rome.
SECOND ZONE (Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps & Villa Borghese)
Starting at Piazza Navona, that is the most popular square of Rome with the three fountains by Bernini. Be sure not to miss the side streets: Via Governo Vecchio, Via Banchi di Nuovi and Via Coronari that are very charming. This district is famous for antique store and boutiques.
Shops and snacks/restaurants in the Navona district:
- Delfina:Special Mediterranean jewellery and swimwear.
- Ristorante Santa Lucia: Great outdoor restaurant.
- Retro: Interior design shop.
- Gelato: Frigitarium, one of the best gelato shops in Rome.
Walk your way towards Pantheon, it will strike you as you enter the square from the narrow lane. Pantheon was the Temple of all Gods and it literality takes your breath away as you enter.
This zone is full of Gelato shops so you will be tempted to get a gelato to cool off. I definitely recommend Giolitti, a family business from 1900 famous for their best Gelato in Rome. Of course with this fame comes the crowd but definitely worth the wait!
You can’t go to Rome and not visit Trevi Fountain, the most famous Baroque fountain in the city. It’s a short walk from Pantheon, take via di Pietra so you can also visit Piazza Di Pietra and cross over Via del Corso to arrive to Trevi Fountain. I also suggest coming back during the evening to enjoy the illumination of the fountain.
For lunch I recommend the following restaurant in this zone:
Restaurants in the Pantheon district:
– Restaurant Armando al Pantheon. Food and service are excellent with a great location.
– Restaurant Dal Cavalier Gino on Vicolo Rosini, 4. It’s a cosy and family run with excellent traditional cooking.
Who doesn’t like window-shopping, the zone of Spanish Steps is full of boutiques and high-end Fashion brands. Walk your way to via del corso and Via dei Condotti that will lead you to the famous Spanish Steps the monumental baroque stairway.
The popular shopping streets around this area are: Via Frattina, Via Borgognona, Piazza del Sant Lorenzo di Lucia, Via del Babuino.
You don’t want to miss the Terraza del Pincio. Go up the Spanish Steps and take Passegiata del Pincio that will take you the beautiful terrace overlooking Pizza del Popolo. You have also entered Villa Borghese that is a picturesque park.
One of my favourite streets in this zone is Via Margutta, it’s narrow street right behind Pizza del Popolo with access from Via del Babuino. It’s a famous residence street of composers, artists and writers that they all had a studio here plus a great street for antique lovers.
Shops & snacks in the Spanish Steps district:
- Gente: A clothing store with multi-brands on Via Babuino 77.
- Guja: Shoe store, paradise for shoe lovers on Via capo le case.
- Ginger: Restaurant/Cafe’ great for fresh juices, panini and salads.
- Niki Nika: A clothing store with unique items on Via Borgognona 4
- Pompi Tiramisu: Best Tiramisu in Rome on Via della Croce 8
THIRD ZONE (Campo Dei Fiori, Trastevere, Vatican and Castelo Sant’Angelo)
Start your day at Campo dei Fiori (the filed of flowers), during the day this square is a fruit and vegetable market and by night is a lively gathering spot for young people. Don’t miss the spectacular Pizza Farnese right behind Campo. Farnese Palace is a late Renaissance palace built by Michelangelo and today is the French Embassy. The two large fountains at the centre of the square were created from granite bathtubs taken from the ancient Roman Baths of Caracalla.
Around this zone, there are lots of charming narrow lanes with craftsmen store, antique shops and clothing/accessory boutiques. Some of the attractive streets are: Via Pellegrino (great for shopping), Via Giulia, Via Banchi Vecchi, and Via Monserrato.
Shops and snacks/restaurants in the Campo Dei Fiori district:
- Forno: historical bakery best for it’s Pizza take away.
- Ar Galleto: Great restaurant right on the square of Pizza Farnese where you can enjoy the splendid view.
- Retropose: Young Italian accessory brand, all hand crafted and Made in Italy.
- Chez Dede: A concept store with selected home accessories, clothing, books and furniture!
- Roscioli : Four generation bakery since 1872 and deli-restaurant since 2002. The bakery has great selection of Italian sweets. Book ahead if you don’t want to miss a delicious meal at Roscioli restaurant.
Trastevere is another cherished zones of Rome across the Tiber River that you can’t miss out. After Campo dei fiori walk over Ponte Sisto (stone footbridge) that will reach you to Trastevere. This zone is famous for characterful narrow cobbled stones, restaurants, bars, Roman Trattorias and Pizzarias. During evening Trastevere becomes very lively and Romans and tourists head to this zone for dinner, drinks and chats on the streets. Some of the charming streets and squares to visit in Trastevere are: Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere, Vicolo del Leopardo ,Vicolo Del Cinque ,Via Del Moro and the zone around Pizza di Santa Cecilia in Trastevere.
One of my favourite highlights is the Gianicolo Hill above Via Garibaldi. It’s worth the hike up the staircase on Via di Porta S. Pancrazio that will lead you the stunning fountain Fontana dell’Acqua Paola with an amazing view over the city. If you still want more view then take Passegiata del Gianicolo to the Terraza del Gianicolo.
Snacks/Restaurants in the Trastevere district:
- Restaurant Le Mani in Pasta is perfect place for serious pasta dishes. Reserve your seats upstairs!
- Enoteca Ferrara: Great bar for Aperetivo and restaurant.
- Pimm’s: Great outdoor bar
- Freni e Frizioni : Hip Bar for people watching
Vatican Museum is one of the most popular attractions of Rome and it contains master pieces of painting, sculptures and other art works collected by popes throughout the centuries.You can buy your ticket online and skip the queue and I suggest going in the afternoon since most visitors go early in the morning. At your final stage, you will visit the famous Sistine Chapel and finally you exit into the St. Peter’s Square a breathtaking Renaissance square built by Lorenzo Bernini in the 17th century with the magnificent St. Peter Basilica.
For an excellent rooftop view you can visit Castelo Sant’ Angelo, intended for a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian that later was used as a fortress to protect the Pope with a secret corridor that connects to the Vatican.
Where to Sleep:
Nerva Boutique Hotel is located in the heart of the Rome’s historical center, with charming rooms, excellent customer service and fantastic local fresh breakfast.
My Navona is a great B&B in the city center right off Piazza Navona with contemporary modern rooms.
JK Rome is an ultimate luxury hotel in the city center with excellent customer service and fantastic design.
Where to shop in Rome:
- LOL Boutique great collection of women’s wear and accessories in Monti on Via Urbana 89-92.
- Dana Roma is a concept store with distinctive niche designers for special clothing and accessories pieces.
- Niki Nika: A clothing store with fun and unique items on Via Borgognona 4.
- Gente: A clothing store with multi-brands on Via Babuino 77.
- Guja: Shoe store, a paradise for shoe lovers. You can find the store on Via Capo le case.
- L’autrechose is an Italian brand for women’s wear and accessories on Pizza Campo Marzio 9/11.
- Retropose: Young Italian accessory brand, all hand crafted and Made in Italy.
Where to Eat:
- Monti District: La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali (Excellent Roman restaurant and great hospitality)
- Pantheon District: Dal Cavalier Gino (Cosy family run business with Fantastic food).
- Pantheon District: Armando al Pantheon (A touch of antique and modern atmosphere with great food).
- Spanish Steps District: Nino (typical Italian atmosphere with delicious dishes)
- Campo dei Fiori District: Emma (Ideal place for Pizza)
- Piazza Navona: Santa Lucia (Perfect for a Romantic meal. Book the outdoor table on the terrace during spring/summer).
- Campo dei Fiori: Roscioli (Quality food, worth the try)
- Trastevere: Le Mani in Pasta (Typical trattoria, famous for their seafood. Book your table upstairs).
- Trastevere: Enoteca Ferrara, Ideal place to eat typical Italian food in a nice atmosphere with excellent wine selection.
- Campo dei Fiori District: Pierluigi (fancy dinner or lunch on a beautiful outdoor square. Book a table outside during spring/summer).