Ahh, Rome. The eternal city full of historic sites, unbelievable food and plenty of culture. We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel to the enchanting cities of Rome, Tuscany, Florence and Cinque Terre (more articles on these beautiful destinations later) for two weeks last year. It was a whirlwind vacation, and our first as a couple together in Europe. We walked and ate a LOT, gained tons of knowledge (and probably a few extra pounds) and had the best time of our lives. We’re thrilled to share our Rome favorites with you so you know where to eat, where to stay, what to see and plenty of insider tips. And, if you’re lucky, you might run even into some celebrities, like Vanilla Ice perhaps (see pictures below). Check it out and tell us your top favorites in the comments!
Where to Stay:
- Our Incredible Airbnb Overlooking Rome: After weeks of looking at place after place on Airbnb and Homeaway, we finally landed on this gem, just steps away from the Piazza del Popolo and a short walk to all the best spots. At the very top of the building, this cozy, penthouse apartment is perfect for two and boasts a full kitchen, comfy bed, dining and living areas, a nice bathroom and best of all, a massive balcony with spectacular views overlooking all of Rome. An interesting addition was this beautiful, old elevator, which I truly enjoyed using. The host was kind and accommodating, and even organized a car to pick us up from the airport for an extra fee. HIGHLY recommended!
Where to Eat:
- Ad Hoc: An incredible dining experience from start to finish, we showed up without a reservation and the host was extremely accommodating, seating us in a waiting area with two complimentary glasses of sparkling wine. After about 5-10 minutes, we were seated at a lovely table, where we met our friendly waiter, who kindly showed us around the menu and recommended a few dishes. After much consideration, we ordered the cheese plate as an appetizer and the Cubed Carbonara (3 ways: classic, with crispy bacon, honey mushrooms and black truffle) and Bucatini with Lobster. First we were served an adorable, bite-size appetizer, which was on the house and then our cheese plate arrived. Oh my goodness, the cheese! It was so delicious that we ate it all before getting a picture – whoops. Our main dishes arrived next and to say they were perfection would be an understatement. Divine flavors and just the right serving size to savor each bite without getting stuffed, ideal for us as we were saving room for a very special dessert, Tiramisu. We ordered our dessert and out came these tiny, brownie-like squares with white frosting and a red berry on top. We were a bit confused at first until we realized that this was a complimentary pre-dessert. We love free things! Our Tiramisu came out and as anyone would expect, it too was spectacular. When we paid our bill, we were give a free small bottle of their homemade olive oil to take home. Did we mention we love free things? Go here – seriously, you won’t be disappointed! Check out the full menu here!
- Il Porto di Ripetta: Another amazing find, this restaurant had a great atmosphere and wonderful waitstaff. We ordered the Pappardelle with prawns, zucchini and saffron and Filet of Beef with Bernese sauce. Both dishes were spectacular and worth every penny. We sadly didn’t have room for dessert, but by the look of the happy faces around us of those who did, they must be wonderful. Make a reservation, put on a nice outfit and take a stroll to this great restaurant. View the menu here!
- Bio Snack: A killer sandwich shop we found completely on accident, Bio Snack is a tiny shop with friendly faces and simple but delicious sandwiches. They also have a salad that must be the best in the world because it’s named “Alyssa.” We ordered two sandwiches to enjoy on the train to Florence, but Kyle of course ate his immediately. I however was patient and savored it in all its beauty on the train. I’m not sure if it was because I was so hungry, or if it was the refreshing blood orange juice I was served on the train to complement it, but that sandwich was one of the best I’ve had in a long time and I still dream about it. Check out the full menu here!
What to See:
- Colosseum, Roman Forum & Palatine Hill: A site you have to see, the Colosseum is a magnificent structure full of fascinating history. Prepare to wait in lines, even if you bought tickets ahead of time (which we HIGHLY suggest), because there is a limit to the amount of people that can be inside the Colosseum at one time. We didn’t get a chance to do the underground tour, which we hear is really cool, because it was sold out, so again, be sure to buy tickets early, and if you have the opportunity to do the underground tour, DO IT! The Colosseum itself is very majestic and it was a beautiful day, so we walked around reading all the interesting facts on the signs. Unfortunately, it’s pretty crowded everywhere you turn and its hard to get a lot of space, even for a picture. Once you’ve done a lap or so around the Colosseum, you’ve pretty much seen all that you can see (if you have a regular ticket). We suggest heading over to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill for even more history and spectacular views – plus, your ticket covers your entrance to both attractions, so why not?
- Vatican & St. Peter’s Basilica: Full of history and fascinating facts, this is another must-see spot in Rome for obvious reasons. Get tickets early to avoid waiting in ridiculously long lines and be sure to follow the dress code. If you want to see the Pope, that’s a possibility – just look up on the website to see the times he comes out. We did not see him because honestly, we did not want to deal with the crowds. We entered the museum and were surprised to find a large Egyptian exhibit at the beginning, which was seriously one of the coolest things we’ve seen in a while. Who knew? Plan on spending a lot of time in the museum because there is a never-ending amount of things to look at from ancient to modern times, but beware of the closing time. The Sistine Chapel is the last stop in the museum, so make sure you save enough time to see this in all its majesty before it closes. You will probably be in awe most of the time you’re in here. Be sure to pick your jaw up from the floor. Also, wear good walking shoes and prepare to stand for a long time. Unless you’re Kyle – he found a way to take a break, as you can see in the pictures below. After the Sistine Chapel, stop in St. Peter’s Basilica to see the stunning architecture, say a prayer and snag a little bit of holy water. Don’t forget to take in the views of entire square once you leave the chapel. It’s breathtaking, especially as the sun is setting.
- Trevi Fountain: Grab a coin and head over to the Trevi to be the ultimate tourist – when in Rome right? We visited at night and it was simply magical. All lit up and less crowded than expected, we were able to snap several great photos, throw our coins into the fountain and relax on the bench, taking in the scenery. Beware of people trying to charge you to take your pictures. Just find another tourist and ask them to snap a picture in exchange for taking one of them. Works like a charm!
- Spanish Steps: Honestly, there’s not a whole lot to see here, unless we missed something. Just a lot of steps, as you would expect. It’s worth a visit, just to see it and climb to the top for a nice view but really nothing much more. We went at night and found a group of Italians singing songs from our favorite band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, while playing guitar, so that was pretty neat. It’s really close to the Trevi Fountain, so be sure to stop by both in the same day if you want to save some time.
- Pantheon: Yet another must-see when in Rome, this historic site is free and lines typically aren’t that long depending on the time of day. Yay! This former Roman temple is now a church, so make sure you keep your voice to a whisper when you enter. It’s a full of incredible art and unique statues, plus it’s a large dome, so don’t forget to look up and enjoy the view. Plenty to learn about here, so be sure to read the signs and really get a good look at the architecture – it’s truly unbelievable.
- Villa Borghese Gardens: A beautiful, sprawling park just steps away from where we stayed, we truly enjoyed walking around the Villa Borghese Gardens, exploring all of the statues and getting to know a more natural side of Rome. This site is great for a relaxing picnic under a shady tree or just to get away from the chaos of the city. Little shops are scattered throughout as well as different, unique ways of transportation, highly-rated museums, a water clock and even a zoo full of exotic animals. Sadly, we only had time to explore a tiny bit of this expansive park, but if you have an open schedule, this is a fantastic place to unwind, perhaps with a delicious sandwich from Bio Snack and a bottle of wine? Don’t mind if we do!
- Trastevere: The young, hip “party” place of Rome, this vibrant neighborhood boasts great restaurants for appetizers and drinks, lively bars and lots of people, especially at night. On our first night out, we met a wonderful newlywed couple from the UK – who were quite possibly the sweetest people ever – while waiting in line for the bathroom at the bar. We spent the rest of the night drinking and having great conversations with these two. They even insisted on buying us drinks all night because it was our anniversary, even though they were on their honeymoon! We spent the night as if long lost friends and it was wonderful learning more about their lifestyle and culture. Either way, this neighborhood is the “go-to” place on a Saturday night if you’re looking for a fun night.
What to Avoid:
- Lines: I cannot stress this enough – BUY YOUR TICKETS EARLY!!! Excluding the Pantheon, purchasing your tickets ahead of time to attractions like the Colosseum and Vatican will save you time, money and headaches. You’ll most likely still stand in lines, but they will be significantly shorter than those who didn’t buy tickets early. Keep in mind, on the first Sunday of every month, most museums, galleries, archaeological sites, monumental parks and gardens are open with free admission.
- Peoples Selling Things: Locals will try to get you to buy ANYTHING by simply “giving” it to you then chasing you down and asking for money. Your best bet is to avoid them like the plague, even if that means you have to walk the long way around them. They sell things such as selfie sticks, bracelets, roses, photographs that they take of you, etc. We sadly fell for their tricks when we first arrived in Rome while walking through the Piazza del Popolo. A man asked me a few questions about where I was from before putting a pink rose in my hands, “as a gift,” he said. Even though I protested, he insisted, so we walked off with it. Of course, he comes running after Kyle asking for money. Some gift!
- Cabs: Nothing against them, you just don’t really need them in Rome. Depending on where you stay in the city, you’re only about a 10-30 minute walk to all the main destinations, and trust me, you’ll need to walk after all the carbs you’ll be eating.
- Coperto/Service Charge: This one caught us a little off-guard. It’s a cover charge added to your final bill that varies between 1-5 euros per person, depending on the restaurant. Some restaurants don’t have this, but as we discovered, most do. On the plus side, you’re not expected to tip, but we always left a little bit for great service.
- Water: As is usually expected in Europe, water is not free, so be prepared to buy each bottle you drink. Also, be sure to ask for “no gas” unless you want them to automatically bring you carbonated water. It’s a good idea to buy several large water bottles and carry them with you as you explore the city. Plus, there are plenty of places around Rome where you can fill up your bottles for free (see picture below). Also keep in mind when you’re drinking all that water, most bathrooms are not free. Have extra change on you at all times for this very reason.
- Bread: Sometimes it’s free, sometimes it’s not. There’s really no rhyme or reason as to why. Ask if you’re unsure.