When in Rome…
Ditch the diet and deny yourself nothing. Food is my greatest pleasure in Rome and so it should be for everyone else!
My favourite restaurant on this trip was Volpetti in the residential area of Testaccio, a short bus ride or taxi from the centre. We discovered it by accident, a little off the beaten track. It’s a renowned, fine dining favourite among Romans (tourists like it too). It’s a little more expensive than the cheap and cheerful eateries around, say, Via Governo Vecchio or Trastevere – but it’s SO much better. Their ravioli was the best I’ve had in about 20 years (no exaggeration) and our dessert was a white chocolate Tartufo with a pistachio base, a cherry sauce in the centre, and a thin crust of meringue. Make this your ‘special’ meal in Rome. They also have a famous gourmet food store which is a must for foodies.
Pizza – obviously. You’re not going to get a bad pizza in Rome so some would say it doesn’t really matter where you get your pizza. HOWEVER, I really, really loved the pizzas at Dar Poeta in Trastevere, Vicolo del Bologna, 45. I couldn’t find their little, tiny street so it really helped that I had a local take me there – yay! Ai Marmi and Da Enzo are also a huge hit with locals and based in Trastevere. http://darpoeta.com/
Pizza at Dar Poeta, Trastevere
If you’re around Piazza Navona, eat anywhere on Via Governo Vecchio; all cheap and cheerful, touristy, buzzy places with simple Italian fare. Try roasted artichoke – did you know that it’s a Roman dish which the locals adapted from Jewish immigrants in years gone by?
Roasted Artichoke at Cantina e Cucina, Via Governo Vecchio
Bring very comfortable walking shoes. If you are staying right in the centre you may actually use very little public transport as you won’t see buses and trains hurtling through ancient ruins so you’ll have to walk, walk and walk again. I bought a 48-hour transport ticket at Termini but we ended up grabbing quite a few taxis to save time so I’m not sure if we really needed it.
Take plenty of little breaks to rest yourself along the way as the impact of so much beauty can fade a little if you’re exhausted, thirsty and getting a little bit grumpy or ‘hangry’.
Ancient Romans taking a well-earned break.
Don’t try to see everything unless you are there for an extended break. Even then, I’m not sure about the value of ‘everything’. Just being in Rome, sitting by fountains, eating ice cream, soaking up atmosphere and beauty, is a delightful experience in itself. Why miss that as you jump up and gallop around, ticking off boxes on a list? Leave something out so that you have a good reason to come back. Allow at least half a day for meandering around, stopping at Fontana di Trevi, Pza di Spagna, Pza Navona, Pantheon, Castel and Ponte Sant’ Angelo, labyrinthine back streets etc.
For every major sight, book skip-the-line tickets online. EVEN with skip-the-line tickets there is still a lot of time spent approaching sights, getting through airport-style security, moving along with throngs of tourists and selfie sticks. As you’re herded along through the Vatican Museum, you’ll see how mass tourism in Rome has gone beyond saturation point and this is why some visitors opt for January/February when it’s a little quieter. However, I must say there’s nothing quite like seeing the eternal city in sunshine; not sweltering heat but sunny, breezy May or September. I’ve been to Rome for rainy spring and winter breaks and it’s just not as special as summer.
Salome and head of John the Baptist, Vatican Museum
What to see, what to miss
Technically, all the major sights are unmissable so if you must miss something, it’s really a question of personal taste. I’ve never skipped the Colosseum on a trip but I have taken St Peter’s over the Sistine and vice versa. On this trip I skipped the Forum but did the Vatican and Sistine Chapel. If you don’t fancy queuing for St Peter’s or paying to skip the line, remember its exterior and piazza are spectacular, so slow down and take it all in, even if you don’t go inside.
While the Colosseum, the Forum and the Vatican are the obvious attractions on everyone’s hit list, there are so many lovely things you can see which can won’t be quite as thronged as any of the above. The itinerary below is a strolling one which starts with the Colosseum and ends with amazing food.
My favourite stroll
After the Colosseum, walk past Arco Constantino towards Circo Massimo. Walk along Via del Circo Massimo and then up the Aventino Hill. Stop and visit the rose garden. Then go further up-hill to the orange tree garden (Giardini degli Arancini) for panoramic views of the city. Due to an optical illusion, the dome of St Peter’s will appear to be further away the closer you get to it. This sounds like nothing but it’s actually quite cool.
Then take time to visit Santa Sabina church next door. It’s constantly overlooked by tourists but it’s one of the most important early Christian churches in Rome. (My landlady told me this and I too would have walked right past if she hadn’t told me about it.) Outside, you will see a sculpture in a tree stump by street artist, Andrea Gandini. You will then see his work on tree stumps all over Testaccio (and other neighbourhoods too, I think).
Move further up a little square owned by the Knights of Malta (Cavallieri de Malta). Here you will find an iconic little wooden door with a key-hole. Peep through the key-hole and you will see how it perfectly frames the dome of St Peter’s. It’s one of my favourite ‘little things’ about Rome.
Swing left and ramble down the very quiet, scenic Via di Porta Lavernale which will take you to Via Marmorata in Testaccio. This would be a good time to have a meal in Volpetti on Via Alessandro Volta. From there, you can get a bus back in to the city or stop near Castel Sant’ Angelo if you still haven’t seen it. (We didn’t have time to visit the church for Bocca della Verita, made famous in the film, Roman Holiday, but it is something you could do en route.)
What are your favourite attractions in Rome? Feel free to comment below.