There's no denying that one has to see Rome when visiting Italy....and that it is one of the most touristy places in all of the boot. But what people may not realize is that it's possible to have a local, off-the-beaten-path experience in the Italian capital city as well. You may need to make more of an effort than you would in other places to find some true Italian culture but once you ditch the tourists, you will learn to love this city.
Getting to Rome is easy from the States and Alitalia offers direct flights from several U.S. cities to Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport (FCO). In just about 8 hours from the East Coast you can be sipping on a Negroni, chowing on some cacio e pepe, and strolling the romantic streets of the Eternal City, the same streets that emperors once ruled. Chè bello!
How you spend your time will greatly influence whether you love or hate this city. After all it's BIG and it's busy. There is so much to see and do, especially if you're a Roman history buff, that you could keep busy for weeks on end. So here is what I think you should prioritize on your upcoming trip to Rome:
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Colosseum & Roman Forum - I mean....pretty self-explanatory. Purchase tickets ahead of time that let you skip the (very long) line. Tickets purchased on the official site are cheapest and include entrance to both but do not include a guide. If traveling in the summer, try and check these sights out in the morning before it gets too hot because there is a lack of shade.
The Vatican & St. Peter's Basilica - Another one that doesn't need an explanation. Consider doing a guided tour with skip the line access because there is a lot to see here and it helps to have a bit of commentary. Also, lines get very long!
Spanish Steps - Located in the area known as Tridente, the steps are a great place to pause and enjoy a gelato followed by some serious designer shopping. Despite all the tourists this is a lovely neighborhood once you get winding through the streets.
Trevi Fountain - The grandest of fountains and a favorite of mine. If you can, wake up super early to see this when there are no crowds because during the day it is absolutely chaotic & filled with tourists all trying to get a selfie.
Pantheon - An ancient Roman temple that now functions as a church. Make sure you go inside and check out the oculus, it's impressive. If possible, try to visit in the morning because the line to get in can get pretty ridiculous. Free & no tickets needed.
Piazza Navona - One of the bigger, more famous, picturesque squares. Great for people watching.
Campo de' Fiori - This large square is an open-air food market by day, and popular spot for bar hopping by night although the crowd skews young.
Piazza del Popolo - A large square located in the upscale Tridente neighborhood perfect for a glass of prosecco and people watching (as the name suggests!)
Trastevere - A charming neighborhood on the other side of the Tiber with lots of small, winding cobblestone streets and ivy-covered trattorias.
where to stay
Being such a large city, there is an overwhelming amount of hotels to choose from. Your best bet to narrow it down is to first decide which neighborhood you want to stay in and then start looking at the hotels in that area. My preference is the lovely neighborhood of Tridente, but Centro Storico is another smart choice.
TRIDENTE - Stay here if you want to be in an upscale, shopping district with a mix of grand streets lined with designer stores and charming little side streets filled with cafes and bars. The Spanish Steps are located here so you can expect many areas to be crowded with tourists and locals alike but all you have to do is tuck down one of the side streets to escape the crowds and experience the charm.
Piazza di Spagna 9 - A small, luxurious, boutique B&B-meets-art gallery with chic and modern decor overlooking the piazza where the Spanish Steps are located. Some rooms have balconies and there is a breakfast room onsite. Artwork changes regularly and guests can purchase some of the art on display! (Piazza di Spagna, 9)
Crossing Condotti - A small, boutique-y townhouse with cozy, traditional decor and an honesty bar & kitchen with drinks & snacks. No restaurant or breakfast but all the more reason to have a cappuccino with the locals and discover a nearby trattoria. (Via Mario de' Fiori, 28)
J.K. Place Roma or Portrait Roma - For more of a splurge, consider staying at one of these stylish, luxurious options. The former offering an onsite restaurant, the latter being only 14 rooms but boasting a fabulous rooftop terrace. (Via di Monte d'Oro, 30 & Via Bocca di Leone, 23)
CENTRO STORICO - This neighborhood is for you if you want to be in the middle of the historic center and a stone’s throw from the famous sights. It will definitely be busy and touristy but it is a good area to stay in as long as you’re not on one of the main roads or piazzas. There are so many old, narrow alleyways and tiny little piazzas jam-packed with restaurants and bars. As long as you know which places to avoid and don’t fall into one of the tourist traps you will enjoy it.
Hotel Raphael - Covered in ivy, this full-service Relais & Chateaux property offers traditional yet luxurious accommodations and a lovely rooftop terrace for cocktails and organic, vegetarian-centric meals. Reserve one of the Richard Meier rooms which offer a bit more contemporary decor. (Largo Febo, 2)
Relais Orso - This rustic-chic yet modern boutique hotel is one of the more affordable options, which makes it possible for you to upgrade to a suite with hot tub on the private terrace. No restaurant, but there is a rooftop bar. (Via dell'Orso, 8)
Hotel Indigo St. George - Despite being part of large American chain IHG and on the outskirts of the neighborhood, this is a fabulous option with some charming Italian flair. Decor is contemporary yet luxurious and the vintage Fiat 500 photography in the rooms is a fun touch. There is a romantic spa with Turkish hammam and a large hot tub onsite too. (Via Giulia, 62)
No question that seeing the sights is important here, especially if you've never been, but it's just as important if not more to balance that with some cultural exploration of your own. Stay tuned for my next post, which will be all about the eating and drinking that should be happening on your next Roman holiday. Ciao for now!