Our driver asked us if it was our first visit to Rome. Technically, no it wasn’t but in the previous two and a bit weeks we’d passed through its airport twice. Finally, we were making our way into the city centre, with no further holiday distractions to be had.
It was the city in which we landed in Europe (flying Etihad Airways from Brisbane via Abu Dhabi) and from where we were departing. Saving the “city” part of our trip until last proved to be a good thing.
We were VERY chilled after our time beaching it on Vis. Rome certainly helped us to pick up the pace again and prepare for re-entry to the real world back home in Brisbane.
It’s an iconic city, steeped in history – from ancient to modern – and it’s a city that quickly gets under your skin, plus we love about the Italian way of life, having first dipped our travel toes in here and here.
Read on for 10 things to do and see on a short stay in Rome (we were there for three nights and two days so made sure we made the most of that short time), plus details of the fabulous Airbnb apartment we found that put us right in the thick of the city from the minute we arrived.
10 things to do and see on a short stay in Rome
Wander the streets
When you’ve never been to a particular city before, the best way to get your bearings is to get lost in its streets. I know this makes absolutely no sense but it will with the help of a map to find your way home. On our first evening we did just that: wandering 500m and stumbling across the Piazza Navona; wandering 500m more and, would you look at that, there’s the Pantheon. Mind blown. Remember to always look up. Those rooflines, the windows, and the adornments: so much charm and character. These are the things that are etched in your mind long after you’ve returned home.
Visit the Colosseum
Ok, so there are some obvious, big-ticket items to add to your must-see list when in Rome. The Colosseum is nothing short of monumental – from the outside looking in and the inside looking down. We made a number of rookie errors: we didn’t buy our tickets online in advance, we didn’t book a group tour in advance and we didn’t get to the Colosseum for opening. Much like for the Vatican (see below), in peak tourist season this will leave you queuing up for a very long time – for hours in the sun. All around each of these attractions are tour operators, spruiking “skip the line” tours for an inflated price. Facing our errors front on and facing facts that we had limited time, we paid the asking price, skipped the line and were inside the Colosseum in minutes. Do not ask me how this “system” works but it does. Money paid, line skipped.
Visit the Forum
We didn’t do a tour of the Forum but took it all in on our walk to the Colosseum. There are great vantage points for doing this from the main road. Watch out for stray Romans though – they’ll hit you up for a photo and 5 Euros. Rookies, we were.
Visit the Vatican City
Ok, so we had wised up a bit for day two, got up earlier and got to St Peter’s Square by 8.30am to find a small queue but one that was moving quickly. By the time we got in at opening time – 9am – that queue extended right around the square. The smug feeling lasted all the way up to the top of St Peter’s Basilica (304 winding steps, worth it for the view) but was quickly replaced with a feeling of dread when we realised that we’d now have to queue for the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. You can guess what comes next, can’t you? Yep, paid the money, skipped the queue. It was worth it for the Sistine Chapel alone – no photography allowed, just hundreds of people, silent looking upwards to the magnificent, famed work of Michelangelo.
Dine out with purpose
We love our food experiences in new cities – but you knew that already, didn’t you? On the first night we stuffed up – not big time but enough to have all three of us scratching our heads and wondering how we ended up at a mediocre trattoria when we were in ROME. Simple really: we let the day’s travel from Croatia and our hangry-ness take over during our initial street wander, settling on one of the first offerings (in a high-tourist area) that we came to. Lesson learned. I spent the rest of the night researching options for the next two days. My advice: do your research BEFORE you arrive in Rome and book ahead for those restaurants that take bookings – especially during peak seasons. As a gluten-intolerant person, you will have to do more research to find restaurants that offer GF pasta and pizza. It’s still not a common thing but I was able to order lots of other dishes from any of the restaurants we went to. You do die a little inside when the amazing bread comes out at the start of the meal.
Life Ristorante: When the foodie and Champagne lover Danielle Crismani recommends a place to eat, I obediently book said recommendation, which is what I did in this case. We didn’t score an outside seat but were actually thankful for the cool relief inside. This was exquisite Italian food with incredible service but with a price point lower than the equivalent in Australia. Located not far from the Spanish Steps.
Osteria Dell’antiquario: Say what you will about the Eat Pray Love book and movie but I very much loved the Eat part. We looked out to this restaurant from our apartment window and it was one in which Elizabeth Gilbert (Julia Roberts in the movie) ate a bowl of spaghetti by herself. So, OF COURSE, I had to drag us there for lunch on our last day. Just fabulous food and service. The waiter even cooled down my wine glass by swishing it for ice in preparation for my ordered Pinot Grigio. Located in San Simeone Piazzetta on Via dei Coronari.
Ivo a Trastevere: The Trastevere neighbourhood of Rome is just over the Tiber River and is home to more cobbled pathways, bars and trattorias that locals dine at. The Google gods helped me find this one (it was one of the few where you could book ahead) and we weren’t disappointed. The place was pumping. We were lucky to score an outside spot and our table neighbours were Rome locals, at their favourite for Friday night beers and pizza. We ordered way too much food but gave it a good go. The house wine (carafe) was the best red we’d drunk in Italy. And my pizza lovers gave their pizzas a resounding thumbs up.
OF COURSE you will eat gelato. There is a gelataria at every turn. We sniffed out two that people travel to in Rome, specifically to sample the goods. The first was Gelataria Della Palma, home to more than 150 flavours, including lots of choices for dairy-intolerant and vegans. Located not far from the Pantheon.
The second was right under our noses in our street – Gelateria del Teatro. There is a “brag” board at the front with numerous writes ups and recommendations from travel and food writers. The philosophy here is to create gelato using the fruits that are fresh and available at the time. I loved the different flavour combinations and gelato with herbal infusions (think raspberry with sage; rosemary, honey and lemon). There were even gluten-free cones available – and a great selection for lactose and egg intolerant.
Drink from a fountain
Summer in Rome is hot – mid-30 degree temperatures are norm – so thank goodness for the thousands of fountains (big and small) dotted throughout the city. Simply drink from them while out and about or fill up your water bottle – the water is chilled and fresh. Unless there is a sign saying “non potabile” you can drink out of any of the fountains. The most famous is, of course, the Trevi Fountain. We fell for the charm of the fountain in our piazzetta.
Drink an Aperol Spritz
When in Rome. HAH. This drink is now ubiquitous across the globe. I had my first one in Italy two years ago, came back to Australia and they were everywhere. Not tried one? Do yourself a favour. It’s combination of Aperol, prosecco and soda water. Practically health-giving, really.
Go shopping – or not
We were all geared up for a bit of shop on our final afternoon but were left feeling a little ho-hum about it all. Via del Corso and surrounding streets are home to all the global chain stores – it was very busy but pretty much the same on offer here at home. Via Condotti and the area surrounding the Spanish Steps is for global, designer brands shopping. If you are in the market for a designer bag or shoes etc, there is the advantage of getting some of the sales tax back when leaving Italy. If you have more time to browse in Rome, look for local flea and antique markets and check out some of the independent boutiques in Trastevere.
Book a photoshoot
We did this on a trip to Paris two years ago with renowned Australian photographer Carla Coulson. I loved the experience because you saw parts of the city through the eyes of a local and then had some amazing family photos as permanent keepsakes of your time in that city.
Not knowing a “Carla” in Rome and seeing fellow blogger, Brooke from Blonde Ambition, book a photoshoot with Travelshoot when in the US last year, I did the same for Rome. This is one of several companies that have photographers in dozens of cities around the world. You choose your package, including preferred locations and Travelshoot Co matches you with a photographer. Our photographer Sebastian David was great to work with. I love the results.
Wearing: White Label Noba promenade dress (gifted, last season but available now on sale, I’m size 14 and in size 1); FRANKiE4 Footwear ALYCE wedges (gifted, coming Spring 2017); Christie Nicholaides earrings; Prada sunglasses (Hair and makeup: Janita Helova)
Where to stay
I cannot remember how my intensive Airbnb research landed me here. It could have been the Eat Pray Love Googling. It could have been searching for Piazza Navona. In any case, I hit the jackpot. The location could not have been any better. We didn’t need to use public transport at all (good job as there was a strike for one of our two days in Rome). Walking to the Vatican took about 20 minutes; Piazza Navona was five minutes away.
The street itself – Via dei Coronari – is beyond charming. The only cars allowed on the street are local ones. Our apartment looked out over San Simeone Piazzetta, with its fountain and restaurant mentioned above, Osteria Dell’antiquario. We also had good coffee, breakfast, lunch, granita, gelato, drinks and dinner options all in this one street too.
The apartment is on the first floor of a building, which dates back to the Middle Ages, so the ceiling is low with exposed beams. It’s small, modern (it was renovated in 2015) and extremely functional for three or four people. The only downside was that we didn’t have access to a washing machine. We were at the end of our trip, though, so it wasn’t a big deal.
We were met by our host’s friend, Giulia, who showed us through the apartment and also provided lots of recommendations for what to do in the area.
You can read more about it HERE.
So tell me, have you been to Rome. What were you highlights? Where did you stay? Did you find any decent shopping?
What to pack
Travelling to this area in the warmer months? Check out this post and get my tips on how pack for any destination from my e-book, Confessions of a Reformed Packer.
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