Bella Roma. I hadn’t been back for 10 years and I missed it, studying Classics at uni means I have a certain attachment to cities of antiquity and Rome has to be the pinnacle. My husband had never been before so I knew exactly what to book as a post birthday getaway…
Disappointingly, the weather wasn’t great for our short stay, and actually rained for 2 of our 3 days – so most of these pictures are from our final day (luckily I packed enough options, including an umbrella – see my previous packing post here). But regardless of the weather, we had a fantastic time and loved the sights, the streets, the culture and probably most of all, the food.
So we jotted down a few of our favourite things to do, see and eat.
WHERE TO STAY
In terms of hotels, to be honest, Rome is a bit ‘fancy’. Most hotels we looked at had columns, tons of marble with a side of gold. The best bet is to look for Pensiones or apartments, ours was roughly €90 a night through Air BnB (but our host was also on Sweet Inn). We stayed near The Vatican but in hindsight we should’ve stayed East of the river Tiber as it was a long walk to the major sights. The metro is fine but only a small network compared to other major cities – expect to walk A LOT, so the closer you can get to the places you want to visit is essential. If we could do it again, we’d probably stay near the Camp de’ Fiori area – close to major sights and tons of good restaurants.
WHAT TO DO
I suppose Rome is totally subjective. There is too much to do and too little time to do it in one weekend. I’d definitely say don’t try and do everything, make a shortlist of the top 3 sights and work your way around that – and remember not all sights are near each other. Be prepared to walk.
We were far more interested in the ancient sites (but I have been to The Vatican before and it’s worth doing if you haven’t, and don’t mind queues) so prioritised these…this was our hit list:
FORUM and COLOSSEUM
We queued for about 45 minutes to get tickets for both the Colosseum and the Forum (they’re sold together but last for 48 hours). The hoards at the Colosseum were a bit overbearing, even first thing, but it was still incredible to see. We decided to go back to the Forum first thing the following morning and it was incredible seeing it first thing with hardly any crowds. It was so humbling walking around amongst thousands of years of history…and even more so that we had it to ourselves.
This is free and my favourite building in Rome. The dome is almost incomprehensible for the era and if you go on a sunny day, the stream of light shining through is incredible.
The cool, hip part of Rome – I’d recommending spending an afternoon roaming the beautiful streets and eating al fresco in one of the many leafy terraces with twinkling fairy lights.
BASILICA SAN CLEMENTE
I studied the ancient Roman cult of Mithraism for my dissertation so, for me, this church holds amazing interest. Not only is this church beautiful in its own right, you can also go underneath to see its excavations, the ancient frescoes and the 3rd century church underneath this one. And then go down another layer to see the remains of a Roman Mithraeum – where the mystery religion founded by the Romans was practised, and was an early rival of Christianity.
Again, this is free and a wonderful way to spend a few hours. Set amongst the hills in an orange grove, you get some of the most beautiful views of Rome and if the weather is good, it’s the perfect place to take a book and a picnic.
One of Rome’s most iconic monuments – but it’s also on everyone else’s to-do list. During the day, the tour groups and the cruise ships all stop by for their iPad photos, selfie sticks and gelato shots. Try and go at dusk or first thing in the morning to really take in its beauty. Because it really is worth the hype.
CAMPO DE’ FIORI
This is an easy one to add to your list, as you can spend as little or as long as you like here. And chances are, you’ll probably pass through at some point as it is near so many sights and great restaurants. I especially loved browsing all the crockery and food stalls as live performers payed music and everyone sat outside basking in the sunshine – a real feast for the senses.
WHERE TO EAT
I would never order a pasta dish in a restaurant, as always feel it’s something you can just knock up at home. But in Rome, we had some of the best pasta we’ve ever eaten. And so simple – Cacio e pepe is the traditional Roman dish: spaghetti, pepper and pecorini – and it’s always reasonably priced. We only visited recommended restaurants (via instagram and friends) and all of them exceeded our expectations:
Rosciolo this was one of those perfect meals for us. We couldn’t get a reservation, so turned up early instead at 7pm and got the last two seats at the bar. The staff were friendly, recommended us complimentary dishes and all the ingredients so fresh (you can see it being carved and served in front of you). The starters are big enough to share and the burrata was incredible, and the La Gricia is a dish my husband and I still talk about….
Osteria Da Fortunata recommended to us by an Italian reader (thanks Francesca!), and one of those hidden gems that was larger than life. We went for lunch on a Sunday and it was full of long tables of locals having big family meals, and there were two amazing women hand rolling the pasta at the front. Great prices, fantastic food and even better atmosphere.
Armando Al Pantheon tucked away on a side street by the Pantheon, try and reserve a table as it gets busy. Intimate, friendly and super food – this was my first taste of Cacio e Pepe and it didn’t let me down.
Dar Poeta one of the many great, relaxed establishments in Trastevere – pizzas here are delicious and €8.50. There are probably too many tables crammed into this already cramped space but that’s part of the charm.
This post was in collaboration with Next, which made this city guide possible.