Once the world’s artistic and cultural center and one of the major centers of the Italian Renaissance and as well as the birthplace of the Baroque style, Rome continues to be a city filled with enchantment and romance with its ancient Roman sites, medieval and Renaissance buildings and fountains, amazing museums and bustling beautiful squares. While Rome is indeed a large city, its historic center is concentrated, making it easy to walk and explore.
Best time to visit…
Rome has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and cool, humid winters with the coldest months being December, January and February. The best time to visit is from October to April where you won’t be lost in the crowds of tourists but can most likely score good deals on hotel rates. Avoid the peak season of June to August if at all possible with the crazy crowds and hot and humid weather with averages in the upper 80s (hotel reservations are recommended 6 months in advance during this time). May and September are respectively the calm before the storm and the aftermath of the storm, with temperate climate and more manageable crowds. While you probably won’t find killer deals during this time, you’ll at least find availability. We visited Rome in early September and the weather was perfect and the city was busy but not overwhelmingly full.
Alitalia now has seasonal non-stop flights from Los Angeles to Rome from May through mid-November so we definitely took advantage of that. Step on the plane at LAX and 12 wine, movie and Italian olive oil cracker biscuit filled hours later you step off the plane in the Eternal City. We took the early evening Alitalia flight and landed in Rome a little after 1pm. We grabbed a shared shuttle for the 15 minute ride to our hotel which is probably the most cost effective option without having to take public transportation for the 25 mile ride to the city center. If you have the time and energy for public transportation, you can purchase a €14 ticket for the Leonardo Express train and take the 30 minute ride to Roma Termini, the main railway station of the city. A taxi will run you around €48.
Where to stay…
We were one of the first people off the shuttle so we didn’t have to go too far out of our way. We got the driver’s business card so we could arrange a pick up for our ride back to the airport and he dropped us off right in the Piazza Navona, steps from our hotel. We stayed in one of the annex rooms at Antica Dimora Della Cinque Lune and the rooms were small (in true European fashion) yet comfortable with baroque décor and tapestry. Besides the excellent location, the highlight is the complimentary rooftop view breakfast that they serve in the main building in the mornings. I adored waking up with my cappuccino and Nutella toast while overlooking the waking city.
In general, the best areas to stay while visiting Rome as a tourist are the Piazza Navona, Campo de’ Fiori, Pantheon areas that are lively and the center of old Rome. You can’t go wrong staying in the half-mile stretch between Piazza Navona and Piazza Barberini. If you enjoy walking, look into staying the Trastevere area across the Tiber River (via pedestrian bridge from Campo de’ Fiori) that has more of a neighborhood feel with great restaurants, piazzas, churches, museums and shops. The Vatican area is quieter in the evenings if you prefer a slower pace neighborhood. Hotels near Stazione Termini and the train station may be cheaper and near public transportation to see all of the sights (15-20 minutes to the Forum/Colosseum).
Antica Dimora Della Cinque Lune (3-star, Piazza Navona)
Via Giuseppe Zanardelli, 23, 00186 Roma, Italy
+39 064 542 9400
Hotel Santa Maria (3-star, Trastevere)
Vicolo del Piede, 2, 00153, Roma, Italy
+39 06 589 4626
A weekend in….Rome
After settling into your hotel, put on your walking shoes and get ready to be immersed into Roman culture. Begin your tour at the Spanish Steps off the Spagna metro stop, the longest and widest staircase in all of Europe. Admire the Barcaccia fountain that bubbles at the foot of the steps with the Trinità dei Monti church stands tall at the top of the steps. Take a seat on one of the middle steps and take in the hustle and bustle of the city with its elaborate Roman homes and people hurrying in and out of the shops and cafes. You’ll find designer shopping just west of the Piazza di Spagna at Via dei Condotti.
Head to the Trevi Fountain, the famous Baroque masterpiece displaying the god Neptune riding in a shell-shaped chariot led by seahorses. Legend has it that throwing one, two or three coins into the fountain (with your right hand over your left shoulder) ensures that 1) you’ll return to Rome 2) you’ll fall in love with a Roman and 3) you’ll marry that Roman. Not to worry, the money collected from the fountain is used for a good cause to support food programs for the city’s poor. The Trevi Fountain is off the Barberini and Spagna metro stop, located in Corso and Spagna. The fountain was under construction when we made our wishes but we got the basic idea! After you marvel at the fountain, try the best gelato in Rome at Il Gelato di San Crispino a few blocks from the Trevi Fountain.
Il Gelato di San Crispino (Centro Storico)
Via Panetteria, 42, 00187 Roma, Italy
+39 06 679 3924
As you walk through the streets of Rome, you’ll be pleased when you arrive at the bustling cafes and gelato shops of the Piazza della Rotunda and suddenly look up and see the breathtaking Pantheon, one of my favorite buildings in Rome. Originally Rome’s temple to the gods with its marvelous oculus, a 27-foot hole in the center of the rotunda, the Pantheon was eventually also a designated tomb for the city’s artists and elite including Raphael the painter and former kings of Italy. First constructed in 27 B.C. and later rebuilt in the early 2nd century, the Pantheon is an architectural marvel and, of course, a definite selfie spot! The Pantheon is open daily with abbreviated hours on Sunday and located in the Navona and Campo corner of Rome off the Barberini metro stop.
Make your way to Campo de’ Fiori market and take in all of the fruit and vegetable stands, butchers and bakers. Pizza by the slice at one of the many bakeries or “fornos” that line the periphery, along with the cafés and gelaterias, always makes for the perfect snack! The best time to visit the market is in the morning from 7am to 1pm. The tourist stands take over on Sunday, so any other day of the week is ideal. Boasting fresh vegetables and fruits during the day, Campo de’ Fiori harbors quite the nightlife and hopping bar scene at night.
From the market, stroll to Piazza Navona for a drink to listen to the street performers, people watch and marvel at its 3 fountains, the largest and most well-known being Bernini’s beautiful Four Rivers Fountain, with 4 statues representing the world’s major rivers of the known continents in the 17th century. Once the site of sporting events at Domitian’s stadium in A.D.89, it’s no surprise that this is Rome’s loveliest public square.
If you are an art buff or Caravaggio fan, you will want to visit the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, a French church with three Caravaggio paintings each depicting a scene from the life of St. Mattthew. Closed for lunch each day and all day Wednesday, you’ll find this church in the Navona neighborhood and a 15-minute walk from the Barberini metro stop.
As the sun begins to set, you’ll be able to see the fortress on the Tiber River, the Castel Saint Angelo, by walking just a few minutes past the Piazza Navona. What began as Emperor Hadrian’s design for his tomb now houses dungeons, tombs, papal chambers, canons, armor, and an angel. There are often concerts on the terraces in the summer and an ice skating rink outside in the winter. Take a walk along the river and you’ll be able to enjoy a view of the Vatican from the bridge which is quite spectacular. BYOSS (bring your own selfie stick) if you don’t want to be hassled by the vendors renting theirs!
Relax and prepare to head to dinner in Trastevere, a bohemian neighborhood located south of Vatican City with the name literally meaning “across the Tiber” that portrays a much more authentic look at life as a Roman. You’ll find a plethora of neighborhood restaurants, affordable shops, dance clubs, sidewalk vendors, and pubs. Wander into Santa Maria church, one of the oldest churches in Rome, and one of the most majestic! You will not be disappointed dining at Da Enzo, the most genuine Roman trattoria that has the highest quality ingredients with all of their meat, eggs, cheese and wine being 100% organic, all produce coming from nearby farms, and serving lovely olive oil from north Lazario. The trattoria is located in the most peaceful part of eastern Trastevere and is cherished by locals. Revel in the Burrata d’Andria (fresh from Puglia) and their legendary carbonara then enjoy a post-dinner stroll around the neighborhood!
Da Enzo (Trastevere).
Via dei Vascellari, 29, 00153 Roma, Italy
+39 06 581 2260
Begin your day of sightseeing at the Colosseum, one of the great engineering wonders of the ancient world. Imagine yourself as one of the 50,000 or more spectators watching one of the bloody gladiator fights that first began in A.D. 82. Make sure your purchase your entrance tickets online or at either the Palatine or Forum ahead of time or you’ll be waiting in line for quite some time. Your ticket is good for 2 consecutive days and includes admission to Palatine Hill and the Forum. The Colosseum is open daily from morning until about an hour before sunset and is off the Colosseo metro stop.
After exiting the Colosseum, walk past the Via Sacra and Arch of Constantine, built in 315 to commemorate the victory of Constantine over Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maxentius. Climb to the top of Palatine Hill for sweeping views of the city. Palatine Hill was the legendary home of Romulus. Here you’ll see grand ruins and enjoy views over the Circus Maximus, the Aventine Hall and the Forum. You’ll walk past remains of the senate, courts, triumphal arches, and temples to the gods.
Finally make your way to the Roman Forum, the center of city life in ancient Rome, and center for festivals, celebrations, funerals and rituals. The once grassy area fell to waste around the 8th century then provided grounds for excavations in the early 20th century. Although much of the complex is now in ruins, you can see the remains and imagine the glory of the former temples and arches. The Forum is open daily from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm and is free.
Take a taxi to the Galleria Borghese and stop at a local market or pizzeria on the way for a relaxing picnic in the beautiful and sprawling gardens at Villa Borghese. The museum only admits 360 visitors every 2 hours so make sure you make your reservations in advance. Once inside the museum, you’ll find the Apollo and Daphne sculptures by Bernini as well as his take on young David preparing to take on Goliath. You’ll also find works by master artists Correggio, Raphael, Rubens and Caravaggio.
On your way back towards the center of town, stop in at the Capuchin Crypt located under Our Lady of the Conception of the Capuchins. It is absolutely fascinating to see the displays of bones and skulls of the deceased that the friars arranged into displays and frames for Christian artwork throughout the crypt. These masterpieces tell the story of life, death and resurrection and demonstrate a unique interpretation of the church’s teachings of good, evil and eternity. Alternatively, purchase a €6 ticket and stop at the Catacombs of San Callisto, the official cemetery for the Christians of Rome and burial place of third-century popes. One of the 40 or so known catacombs scattered outside Rome’s ancient walls, the tomb-lined tunnels are rich in early Christian symbolism which functioned as a secret language. In ancient Roman times, no one was allowed to be buried within the walls of the city and Christians buried deep to get more mileage out of the land donated by a few wealthy Christians and to be near martyrs and saints already buried there.
You deserve a nice meal at this point and you will not be disappointed dining at either Armando al Pantheon (closed Saturday night and Sunday) or Ristorante Roof Garden Hotel Forum. Armando al Pantheon is an exquisite family owned restaurant less than half a block from the Pantheon but don’t let its proximity to the Pantheon make you skeptical that this is a tourist trap…this restaurant is the real deal. The Gargioli family serves the most genuine seasonal Roman specialties using the highest quality ingredients. Chef Claudio Gargioli is known for dishes ranging from simple spaghetti aglio, olio, e pepperoncino (pasta with garlic, oil and chili) and gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce to the more complex spaghetti alla gricia (pasta with cured pork jowl, black pepper and pecorino romano cheese). This restaurant is rather small and books up far in advance so make your reservations early! You can also enjoy divine Italian and international food over sweeping panorama views over the Forum and the Colosseum at the Ristorante Roof Garden Hotel Forum for dinner (or lunch). The menu changes every day with specialties including risotto with langoustine sauce and tartar of Carloforte tuna, from an island off Sardina, served with a delicate avocado sauce. The food here is absolutely incredible and the views are breathtaking!
Armando al Pantheon (Centro Storico)
Salita dei Crescenzi, 31, 00186 Roma, Italy
+39 06 6880 3034
Ristorante Roof Garden Hotel Forum (Monti)
Via Tor de’Conti, 25, 00184 Roma, Italy
+39 06 679 2446
There is nothing quite like seeing Rome at night. If you can still walk, stroll off your dinner starting at the far side of the hill on Via dei Fiori Imperiali and marvel at the glow of the Colosseum and the haunting yet enchanting ruins of the Forum. Walk down Michelangelo’s steps and see the mini-Colosseum of the Theater of Marcellus across the street and the ruins of the Octavian Gate to the right. Beyond the ruins on Via del Portico d’Ottavia, the Jewish Ghetto still thrives with their shops buzzing at night. Nearby is the Piazza Mattei with its statue of four bronze boys playing in the Fountain of Turtles and Largo Argentina where the columns of the Republican Vicotry Temples, more than 2,000 years old, stand tall. It was here, and not at the Forum as commonly perceived, where Julius Caesar was killed on March 15, 44 B.C. Have a cappuccino or drink as you watch the crowds of Italians stroll and shop at Piazza del Popo, Piazza Campo dei Fiori and the famous steps of Piazza di Spagna that are packed with people day and night.
Although located in Rome, Vatican City has been an independent state since 1929 with its own flag, coin, stamps and even its own militia, the Swiss Guard. Vatican City is the seat of the Catholic religion and has been the home of the Pope since 1937. Spend your Sunday in this magically beautiful and holy micro-nation. The best way to walk to Vatican City is over the Ponte St. Angelo bridge, past Castel St. Angelo. You can find the museums off the Cipro-Musei Vaticani metro stop.
You’ll enter Vatican City through breathtaking St. Peter’s Square. You can receive a blessing from the Pope but you’ll need to arrive in the square well before his noon appearance on Sunday. Free tickets are also available for papal addresses on Wednesdays at 11 am September through June at www.vatican.va. Fax the form to +39 (0)6 6988 5863 and pick up your tickets under Bernini’s colonnade to the right of St. Peter’s.
Visit the Vatican Museums, the largest museum complex in the world with over 1400 rooms and 1.2 miles of classical art treasures from ancient Greece to the Renaissance. The Vatican Museums include the museum, galleries with 3,000 years of art, the Sistine Chapel, and part of the papal palace. Tickets cost €16 for adults and €8 for children ages 6 to 18 and can be purchased at http://mv.vatican.va/. Make sure you bring a printout of advance reservations ahead of time or you will be waiting in the entrance line all day. They are closed Sundays and holidays except the last Sunday of the month when they are free.
One of the world’s greatest masterpieces and built from 1473-1481, the Sistine Chapel is a must-see with its Michelangelo’s Seven Days of Creation ceiling fresco and Universal Judgment entrance wall. You’ll find beautiful biblical scenes on the walls that were created by several famous artists including Perugino and Botticelli. Guided tours are highly recommended with audio-guides being the most affordable option.
St. Peter’s Basilica is a major destination for religious pilgrims and is one of the world’s largest and most important of the Roman Catholic churches. Don’t miss Michelangelo’s stunning and tragic Pietà, his unfinished sculpture of the grieving Madonna cradling her lost son. Advanced reservations to see the Tomb of St. Peter can also be arranged for visitors age 15+ (€10 each) by e-mailing the Excavations Office at firstname.lastname@example.org. Entrance to the church is free but make sure you are dressed appropriately with no bare shoulders or shorts/skirts above the knee! St. Peter’s Basilica is open daily from 7 am to 7 pm (until 6 pm in October – March) and closed on Wednesday mornings for pope appearances. Masses are held in Italian all day on Sundays.
Begin the summit to the top of St. Peter’s dome via a side door to the right of the Basilica. You can climb all 551 steps or take the elevator then climb the remaining 320 steps. The climb takes approximately 1 hour but the panorama views of Rome’s hills awash in rose-gold light is more than worth it!
Have lunch and the best panini in town (and possibly in all of Europe) at Panino Divino after your long morning tour. Panino Divino is approximately a 5 minute walk from Vatican city and is adored for its taste, location, value and friendly service by the owners. For 5 euros, you can get a soda and a panini…try one with chili jam!
Panino Divino (Prati)
Via dei Gracchi, 11, 00192 Roma, Italy
+39 06 3973 7803
Panda’s Tips for Rome:
- The Metro runs frequently but doesn’t serve much of this historic center so you’re better off exploring this area on foot. Wear comfortable walking shoes!
- The Roma Pass is valid for 48 or 72 hours and allows unlimited transportation in the city, plus discounts at various sights, shops and restaurants.
- Visit the Vatican Museums and the Musei Capitolini for free if you plan your trip over the last Sunday of the month.
- The tip is generally included in the price of the meal (especially if you see a cover charge) but some people choose to round the bill up and leave extra.
- A bar or café usually has a lower price for items consumed standing at the bar versus seated at a table.
- The house wine in Italy is amazing! Simply ask for red or white wine.
- Apparently it is safe to drink from any fountain in the city…proceed with caution.
- Significant discounts are often available if you purchase your train tickets in advance online here.