In late October my husband and I spent a week in Italy with some friends, who were celebrating their 10 year wedding anniversary. They chose the perfect place to celebrate a decade of marriage and we are thrilled that they asked us to join them. Congrats Adam & Susie!
While in Italy we were fortunate to visit two remarkable cities: Rome and Florence. Check out Falling for Florence for a synopsis of how the Renaissance city stole my heart…..from Rome.
Rome stole my heart first. A modern city mixed with history dating back 2,000 years ago, the best wine, gelato, and pasta I’ve ever experienced, and surprises at every street corner making you actually WANT to get lost; if you said you didn’t love Rome I would wonder what is wrong with you.
As I recap our time in Rome, a.k.a The Eternal City, I will offer 10 important tips that we benefitted from as first timers in Rome.
First and foremost, tip #1: The best time to visit Rome is in the fall! The weather isn’t blistering hot anymore, and the summer vacationers have returned home, making October the perfect month to visit.
After some research, the four of us scored an excellent package deal from Expedia which included flights and hotel. An additional bonus was that our hotel, Mecenate Palace Hotel, was located in a convenient area right across the street from a metro station, which leads me to tip #2: location of your hotel is important. Definitely find a hotel near a metro stop. It’s the cheapest and most convenient mode of transportation. The native name for the metro is “Metropolitana di Roma”, and a pass can be bought at any station with paper or plastic.
The metro can be really busy during rush hour, and it isn’t uncommon to be a little closer than comfort to your neighbor. Especially if they are out to steal your belongings! Tip #3: Ladies, purchase a cross body bag, and men, don’t keep your wallet in your back pocket. Rome is notorious for thieves, and many of them strategically ride the metro through the tourist areas during rush hour looking for vulnerable suspects. Rome is home to some of the best pickpocketers. Don’t be naïve.
For our first night in Italy, we bought metro passes valid for the next few days and took the metro to Barberini, the stop closest to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps looking for some excitement. Unfortunately to our luck, both sites were closed for restoration, but we stood with our backs to Trevi and tossed a coin up high with our right hand over our left shoulder into the fountain anyways. And our coins landed in the dried up fountain, so it looks like we are destined to come back to Rome!
We also attempted to eat gelato on the Spanish Steps like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, but had to settle for a small space of uncovered area on the right side instead. I later found out that a recent law passed in Rome prohibits people from eating anything on the monuments in the historic centre of Rome. For this offense you can be fined up to 500 Euros!
The Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain are among many tourist locations the street salesmen frequent, and we were stopped by many tonight. Tip #4: watch out for the persistent street salesmen. They can be quite annoying, especially the ones selling roses. Give them a firm “No” and don’t make eye contact. We were told about one salesman placing a rose in a mans pocket and then attempting to force him to pay for it.
Later in the night, we stopped in at a wine bar called, Enoteca Barberini, for some bread, wine, and live jazz! Tip #5: Feel free to order the house wine, it never disappoints, and its cheap (5ish euros per bottle)! House wines are locally grown and since Italy produces a wide variety of grapes and is home to acres and acres of vineyards, Italians have become experts over the years in producing wine. I am no wine connoisseur, but I can tell you the house wine here is better than most back home in the states.
Sunday provided us with perfect weather and no rain for a day at the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum. Tip #6: Buy tickets ahead of time at the Palatine Hill or hire a tour guide outside the Colosseum. Entrance tickets includes all three. We opted for a tour guide which was 35 Euros per person, included all three sites, and allowed us to completely skip the massive lines. Paulo and Jill were our guides and provided us with heaps of information about these historic sites.
The Colosseum took 9 years to build, and 9,000 animals were killed in the first 100 inauguration. Around 5,000 people were killed in the Colosseum in total. The games were considered family entertainment and were free of charge. Seeing the Colosseum for the first time gave me chills thinking of the roaring crowd cheering on whatever was fighting in the arena; criminals versus animals, gladiators, prisoners of war, etc.
Dinner tonight was amazing! I HIGHLY recommend this place: Ristorante Le Tavernelli dal 1870; We asked the waiter to bring out his 4 favorite dishes and we all split them. The ravioli and the cheese noodles with black pepper were our favorite items. We stayed here sipping on wine for a bit and browsing all the photos on the walls of various celebrities that have dined here, then ventured off up the street.
An art gallery/bar, Sacripante Art Gallery, caught our interest, and we went in for a drink. The art was interesting and made for great topics of conversation. We each chose a piece of art that was most disturbing to us, and then we chose a piece of art we would be most likely to hang in our homes. The drinks were creative, and the place was very trendy. Overall tonight was great!
For Monday, we pre ordered a Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, and Saint Peter’s Basilica Tour online with Dark Rome Tours. The tour began at 10 am and was targeted to last 3 hours. Having this tour lined up allowed us to skip the massive lines, however, pre ordering a tour online wasn’t the cheapest option. Tip #7: Don’t buy Vatican City tour tickets beforehand online. There are plenty of tour guides selling same day tours outside The Vatican for much cheaper. Buy a tour, go have lunch, then come back at your start time. You will save yourself 4+ hour wait to get in without a tour, and half the cost of booking online.
Tip #8: Climb Saint Peter’s Basilica Dome. Visitors have the option of climbing to the top of the dome in Saint Peter’s Basilica, so when our tour finished, we hopped in the line to visit the top. The tickets were 8 Euro and the line was only about a 20 minute wait. You can take an elevator to the top of the interior of the cupola and then climb steps to the top/exterior. It was well worth it for some spectacular views of the church and the city.
Later in the evening we also paid a visit to another popular site, and the best preserved building in all of Ancient Rome, The Pantheon. Built by Hadrian in 118 A.D. this building was dedicated to worship pagan gods. There is an approximately 9 meter “oculus” in the center of the building’s dome, which provides sunlight to the building. In the 8th century the building was converted into a Christian Church and still functions as a church today.
Tip #9: See the popular sites, but don’t stop there. Rome has plenty of places just as remarkable with a quarter of the crowd. Across the street from our hotel was a church called Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, so we walked over one day and the church was amazing! And there were no lines and no fees.
Our hotel has a rooftop breakfast area which offered perfect views of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.
And last but not least, tip #10: Eat Gelato. Buy gelato at every chance you get. There are so many flavors to choose from. We failed to find one we didn’t like.
But be extra careful with three scoops in a cone. It gets a little top heavy.
What an incredible country to visit! I am still in awe at all the history we witnessed.
What was your favorite part about Rome? Do you have any tips to add to the list?