Rome is, without a doubt, one of the most iconic capitals of Europe. The famous Colosseum, standing for thousands of years, the Vatican, once home to the most powerful men in Europe is known for attracting tourists all year round.
I spent four fantastic days in this mesmerizing city and here is a (hopefully) complete guide on how to get there, what to see, where to eat (because let’s face it, Italian food alone is worth the journey!), and how to get about without feeling lost!
How to get there
My travel-companion (aka boyfriend/life partner) and I flew to Rome from our hometown, Lisbon, using Ryanair. Now, this is important: since January 2018, Ryanair has a new cabin luggage policy (Read more about it on their website). Usually, you were allowed to have two bags with you in the cabin: a small, hand-size bag and a larger one. Cabin luggage – the largest one- is only allowed now if you purchase a Priority Ticket, specifically purchase the “Two Cabin Bags” extra, or if you have a Flexi Plus, Plus, or Family Plus. Otherwise, your larger bag will be sent – free of charge – to the hold. Check their website for allowed dimensions!
We chose direct flights to and from Rome, which lasted for about 2h40minutes. Rome has two airports that serve the city: Rome Fiumicino and Rome Ciampino. If you are flying in a low-cost company, your flight will arrive at Rome Ciampino airport, which is about 45 minutes away from the Center.
From the airport to the city centre: If you are flying Ryanair, you’ll have the option of buying the transfer ticket when buying your flight, but you don’t have to! At the airport, there are stands where the tickets are sold for exactly the same price! We purchased tickets for the Bus Shuttle, operated by SIT, which departs from the airport and arrives near the city’s Termini Station, which is the main train and bus station of Rome – and really central. These tickets cost 9€ per person (roundtrip), and are very much worth it! Buses run with 30 minutes interval (Except between 1 pm and 3 pm, where the interval is one hour!) and are an easy, cheap way to get to the centre.
Where to Stay
We stayed at a nice B&B called “Le Suite di Napoleone“, located at Via Napoleone III in the centre of Rome, near the Vittorio Emmanuelle subway station (See the next section for details on the subway and other transportation). We found this place online and were not disappointed at all: Vincenzo, the owner, is very nice and available to you and will give you a map of the city when you arrive, showing you where all the best places are!
The B&B is on the 5th floor of the building (with elevator – don’t worry) and has three available rooms, all with bathroom. Breakfast is served every morning in your own room by Vicenzo. Every day, you fill out a form asking what you want for breakfast the next day and at what time you want it (you choose 15min time slots between 8 and 10 pm)- and that’s exactly what you are going to get!
Le Suite di Napoleone is located in the most multicultural part of the city, where you’ll find people of very different cultures living and working.
How to get around
Okay, when you search online for passes for transportation in Rome, you get a lot of options and some are quite expensive but seem worth it since they often include museums. We did the math before going and the option for us was: the Rome & Vatican 72h pass which includes the subway, buses and the hop-on-hop-off Vatican & Rome tour bus (these stand out – they are yellow!). This does not include museums or landmarks, but when you add it all up, it becomes cheaper than the alternatives that already include museums!
Rome’s Subway network: Rome has two main subway lines: Line A and Line B, which make several stops near the landmarks you’ll want to see (Colosseo, Circo Maximo, Fontana di Trevi…). Our experience was great: we never waited longer than 4 minutes for a train and the trip is smooth. Our B&B was very near the subway, which was very convenient.
What You Must See
Italy, in general, is amazingly rich in art and history, and Rome is no exception! Since the terrorist attacks in Europe, security measures are strict in most landmarks, and you will notice a strong police force on the streets. You will be required to go through security checks at all major landmarks, which can cause some lines and delays. So here’s the scoop on what to visit!
Colosseum (+ Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum)
When you purchase your ticket for the Colosseum, it includes a visit to the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, and it is incredibly worth it! There is a Coloseo Subway station right at the entrance of the Colosseum, which makes it very accessible. Buy your tickets online! This will save you loads of time in lines!
The Colosseum still stands tall and imponent to this day, a testimony to its greatness. If you purchase the standard ticket, you get to walk around the corridors and see the arena from the point of view of the Romans that sat there in the age of the Empires (pretty cool uh?). You can visit the underground floor (where slaves and gladiators were kept prior to the fights) and the arena level only if you buy an extra ticket, which we choose not to do.
And here you have a view from the Colosseo into the Arch of Constantine (which is right next to it)
The Palatine hill and the Roman forum are accessible by foot from the Colosseum, through the Via Sacra (the same one where the Pope walks every Easter to reconstruct the path of Christ to crucifixion). Here you can find amazing Roman-era temples, buildings and a breathtaking view of Rome. Please wear comfortable shoes, the floor is a bit uneven and you will spend a good two hours roaming about!
The Vatican Museums (Metro stop – Ottaviano)
I am a full-on art fan and if you are too: this is the place to go! The Vatican Museums house an impressive art collection, from Renaissance paintings (located in the Pinacoteca), to sculptures, modern art and even stamps and coins. The Museums are very busy so expect a lot of people to be around. When you purchase your ticket (again, buy online!) you have to select an entering time and you need to respect it. The ticket also includes the visit to the Sistine Chapel. A word of warning: the Chapel will be crowded and it will be difficult to admire it with time. There is a cafeteria and a pizzeria inside the museums (yes, really!) if you want to spend your entire day soaking in the beauty of it all.
From top to bottom : a Pietá replica (the original one is inside Saint Peter’s Basilica, and it’s protected with glass since it was vandalized in the 70’s), the Museum stairs (look out – steps are so thin you may fall – I almost did…) and a Swiss Guard inside the Vatican walls.
Saint Peter’s Basilica (Metro Stop – Ottaviano)
The basilica is free to visit but there are usually large lines due to the security checks. The best time to visit is early in the morning (we got in at around 9 and waited only 10minutes to get inside). The Basilica is breathtaking and worth your time! You’ll get to see the original pietá, and appreciate the intricate architecture of it.
Castel Sant’ Angelo (Metro Stop – Ottaviano)
Located near the Vatican, it was used as an escape route from the Vatican, as a fortress and was originally Adrian’s Mausoleum. The view is also fantastic! Also, cross the River using the Sant’Angelo Bridge and admire the lovely angel sculptures.
Fontana di Trevi (Metro Stop – Barberini)
The Fontana stands in a small, crowded square and is, of course, one of Rome’s trademark images. If you can, eat a gelato in the square and admire all its beauty at sunset!
Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore (Metro Stop – Termini)
This Basilica is near the Colosseum and has a fantastic front – it is truly impressive!
Piazzas of Rome
There are several piazzas in Rome which are worth a visit: Piazza Navona (if you are a Dan Brown fan – this is the place where some scenes of Angels and Demons were shot!), Piazza del Popolo (it looks really cool, and it’s a nice place to enjoy a cappuccino), Piazza di Spagna (all the cool stores are around here, as are all the major Italian brands!).
Altare Della Patria (Metro Stop – Colosseo or Cavour)
This monument is Italy’s tribute to Vittorio Emannuelle, the first king of unified Italy.
There is much much more to enjoy in Rome – this is really just a sample! Visit the Cat Temple and enjoy an amazing view from the keyhole of Piazza Cavalieri di Malta – I won’t spoil it for you! This square is located on the Aventine Hill, which is also worthy of your time!
Where to eat
Okay, so being the foodie that I am, a trip to Italy had my taste buds tingling from the first minute! Pasta, Pizzas, Gelatos… This is the place to be! In full honesty (what kind of guide would I be if I was not honest?), I prefer the plates of pasta (which are fresh and homemade) to the pizzas, but decide for yourself!
Warning: The prices in Italy are presented a bit differently! There are two items that sometimes appear on bills – Copperto and Servizio. The copperto is a per person fee for using the restaurant. The Servizio is a percentage of the price of the meal. There are some restaurants that charge Copperto, others Servizio and other just don’t charge anything. Heads up: The percentage charged must be listed on the menu. Otherwise, don’t pay!
This was our favourite restaurant in Rome! (It’s located in Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore). It’s small, cosy and the food is fantastic! We ate pasta here: my rigatoni al Amatriciana was to die for! The staff is friendly and the service is quick. Servizio here is 15% (our bill was about 30€).
Ristorante Porta Castello:
This restaurant has the best pizzas we ever ate in Italy! It is a very traditional restaurant, near Castel Sant’ Angelo, and the food is divine. Plus: they charge no copperto and no Servizio! Our lunch was only 20€ for both of us! a must!
From tourist to tourist: last tips!
Okay, so there are my musts in Rome! Now, here are some last minute tips to help you enjoy the City:
Wear Comfortable Shoes! Odds are you are going to walk a lot around the city (we walked about 10km per day, on average!).
Careful with pickpockets! This is essential: do not keep your wallet in your backpack or back pockets – always keep them close to you (preferably inside your jacket)!
Crossing the road and cars: Italians drive fast and do not like to slow down. So be extra careful when crossing the street, look out especially for motorcycles.