When in Rome, do as the Romans do - it’s easier said than done.
The last thing you want on a holiday is to end up standing in a subway in front of a ticket machine that you don’t understand with a map that you cannot read. Unfortunately, visiting a new place isn’t entirely an adventure. Yes, I love wandering around and getting lost on the winding streets, but at some point I am going to need to know the best way to get to my next destination. You cannot wander aimlessly forever.
This is where a quick city guide telling you exactly where to go and how to get around is sometimes exactly what you need before you set off on a trip. So here is my round up of the best places to eat, shop and sightsee in Rome as well as how to get around and all of the details you need to make your trip run smoothly.
Food and Drink
Best Pizzeria: Emma
Via del Monte della Farina, 28, 00186 Roma
Open 7 days a week, 12:30-3:00pm and 7-11:30pm
Located right in the heart of old Rome, this gem is the perfect combination between tradition and modernity. The pizzas are relatively simple but lovingly made with the freshest ingredients. And believe me, you can certainly taste the difference. The dough is handmade and cooked to perfection. They also have other main and pasta dishes available as well as vegetarian and vegan options. The atmosphere is modern and chic with a nice outdoor terrace as well as a bright air-conditioned interior.
Best Gelato: Fatamorgana
Piazza degli Zingari, 5, 00184 Roma
Open 7 days a week, 1:30-Midnight Wednesday through Saturday and 1:30-11:00pm Sunday through Tuesday
Not only do they have the creamiest gelato, they also have the best selection of flavours I have ever seen. There are a couple scattered around Rome but the best is Fatamorgana Monti in the Piazza degli Zingari. It is bound to have some of your favourite flavours plus a few surprises thrown in. Think creamy avocado and fairytale combinations like their Snow White gelato which truly tastes like a dream. The only downside is that there is no seating.
Best Outdoor Dining: Summer Tiber River Festival
Located along the Tiber between Ponte Sisto and Ponte Sublicio
Open evenings from June to September
Imagine sipping a glass of wine beneath fairy lights along the Tiber with live music playing in the background. The Tiber festival has been a huge success since it launched over a decade ago. Every summer the paths along the Tiber are crowded with pop up stores, bars, outdoor restaurants and live music – everything you need for the perfect summer evening. I suggest avoiding some of the restaurants like the Tex-Mex eatery that was there last year, but you can’t go wrong with traditional Italian.
Mainstream Shopping: Via del Corso
If you’re looking for all of your favourite brands from Zara to Nike with a few Italian staple stores thrown in, this is the place to go. Be prepared to battle crowds of Italian shoppers and tourists alike.
Vintage and Boutique Shopping: Via del Governo Vecchio
If you are more interested in discovering small boutiques and alcoves full of vintage Italian clothing, head to the Via del Governo Vecchio. The street is sprinkled with little treasures ready for you to snap up and there are also a few wine bars, pizzerias and gelaterias to stop at along the way. After all, who shops on an empty stomach?
Shopping in Style: Galleria Alberto Sordi, Piazza Colonna
I would visit this just to see the galleria itself. The beautiful galleria was built in the early 1900s in the art nouveau style. The arcade isn’t the size of a modern shopping mall so the number of shops is limited, but the glass-covered arcade is the perfect spot to escape the afternoon heat and enjoy an espresso.
Top Tourist Things to See and Do
The Colosseum and the Roman Forum
Piazza del Colosseo, 1, 00184 Roma (Closest Metro - Colosseo)
Obviously, this was going to be at the top of the list. You cannot visit Rome and not at least see the Colosseum. It’s a prerequisite. The arena is nearing 2000 years old, though it certainly doesn’t look it. Recently, the exterior was cleaned up and at night it really gleams. Tickets to go inside cost €12 and are well worth it. A ticket to the Colosseum will also get you into the Forum and the Palatine. I suggest not trying to see everything in one day; luckily tickets are valid for two days. You can purchase tickets at the Colosseum, but I would suggest purchasing tickets instead at the entrance to the Forum for a much shorter line.
St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums
Cost: The Basilica is free but the museums cost €17 (plus €4 online booking fee)
Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City (Closest Metro - Cipro or Ottaviano)
This is unmissable. At the very least one should visit the Basilica. Built in the sixteenth century, this Baroque masterpiece created by artistic geniuses including Michelangelo and Bernini, is the largest basilica in the world. Interestingly, neither the Basilica nor the rest of the Vatican are technically Rome, but instead part of Vatican City. This is one state border you don’t need a passport to cross, but the Vatican has long been a mystery to people. The Vatican Museums are full of spectacular treasures. Highlights include the Sistine Chapel, the Gallery of Maps, and the Raphael Rooms. However, you absolutely should book your tickets in advance. In summer, the line for tickets on the day can easily take up to three hours, even if you arrive before the museums open!
Added Note: Most of the churches in Rome ask that you have your shoulders and knees covered when you enter. Generally, smaller churches do not enforce this, but expect larger churches including St Peter’s Basilica to require this on entry.
Piazza della Rotonda, 00186 Roma (Closest Metro - Barberini)
Once a Roman temple and now a Catholic Church, the Pantheon has stood for almost 2000 years and remains the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. Inside, you will find tombs of notable Italians including Raphael. Within walking distance of the Pantheon are also the Piazza Navona, the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain.
The Mouth of Truth
Piazza della Bocca della Verità, 18, 00186 Roma (Closest Metro - Circo Massimo)
The spot of one of my favourite scenes from Audrey Hepburn’s Roman Holiday, the Mouth of Truth has tested human honesty for centuries. The face is thought to have been that of one of the ancient Roman gods, but the original use of the carving is unknown. Somewhere along its long history legend gave it a new purpose. Tradition holds that it bites off the fingers of those who are dishonest. Its current home is in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin and it only costs €2 to get in!
The Catacombs of St Callixtus
Via Appia Antica, 110/126, 00179 Roma (Closest Bus stop - Appia Antica)
What could be more fun than visiting the underground tombs of persecuted Christians dating back to the second century? Today, Romans stick to more traditional forms of burial but almost two thousand years ago when Christians were being persecuted throughout the Roman Empire, they had to come up with cheaper and cleverer ways of burying their dead. The catacombs even served as a final resting spot for a few popes. Visitors today will no longer see skeletons as they have mostly been removed to catacombs deeper underground for preservation, but the underground tombs are still eerily exciting to visit. Located off of the ancient Appian Way, Tickets cost €8 and include a 40 minute guided tour.
Getting To and From the Airport
Rome has a few nearby airports but the main airport is the Leonardo Da Vinci. If you are flying into the Leonardo Da Vinci Airport, the quickest and easiest way to get in and out of the city is via the Leonardo Express which runs every fifteen minutes to Rome Termini Station and is only a half an hour journey. Alternatively, there are regional trains and buses to take you into the city as well. Taxis are available at the airport but they will set you back about €48 if you are going all the way into the city centre.
Getting Around the City
I cannot state this enough, do not drive in Rome. Renting a car should be out of the question. The Italians are famous for being some of the wildest drivers in Europe and for good reason. To an outsider, it seems that there are in fact very few rules of the road at all.
The best way to get around the city centre is on foot. Rome is one of those cities with surprises and little known treasures around every corner. You might see the big sights, but if you spend most of your time on a bus or in a cab, you will miss everything the city has to offer.
However, Rome is very large and if you do need to travel further, Roman buses and trains are useful to get you around the wider city. The metro is limited with only three lines, all of which go through the main Termini station. If you’re near a stop it can be really useful for getting into the city centre. Rome’s buses like most things Italian, do not always run on time so if you need to be somewhere at a specific time make sure to give yourself plenty of cushion to get there.
Tickets cannot be purchased on the buses but are instead bought at tabacchi, Italian tobacconists and newsstands, or in metro stations. The buses might run late into the night but the tabacchi won’t necessarily be open so if you need to take a bus after dark, make sure to buy your tickets during the day. Tickets are valid for either one metro trip or 100 minutes from when you get on your first bus. You can also buy tickets which last 24 hours, 48 hours or 72 hours if you expect to use public transport often during your visit.
Photography by Savannah Hayes
Middle: The Vatican Museums