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Rome, Italy, is a stunningly beautiful city – particularly the juxtaposition between the ancient roman sites and the modern day city. It is also chaotic, frenetic, crowded and very hot in Summer – but all these things are forgivable because it is a magical place. I have visited Rome a couple of times now (my first was a brief stop on my way home from Naples, my second in Sept 2015 for a long weekend), so thought it would be useful to put together a first-timers guide. So, here’s my guide for visiting Rome for the first time!
Where to stay:
In my opinion, there is nowhere better than Trastevere – it reminds me very much of the Left Bank of Paris – lots of little winding streets, great restaurants and wee boutiques. Campo de’ Fiori is just over the river and is also great – in the middle of some great sites (east of the Vatican, south of Piazza Navona, south-west of Fontana di Trevi and the Spanish Steps, and west of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum). Plus, the bridge between Trastevere and Campo de’ Fiori is the beautiful Ponte Sisto – which has a glorious view up the river to St Peter’s Basilica. If you visit Rome during the summer months, make sure you book a hotel with air conditioning!
Things to do:
There is so much to see and do in Rome, that you really need a week to even make a dent. During summer, I would recommend twice that, as the heat slows you down! It is possible to see a lot and not spend any money, as many ruins and monuments are in the city amongst newer buildings.
Vatican City – The Vatican is incredible, but there are many pitfalls, so it is the one place I recommend investing in a tour. We used City Light Tours (85 Borgo Vittorio), which was easy to find and the guide was very passionate and educated (you can book direct or through TripAdvisor). This tour allowed us to skip the queues (which were 5 blocks long by 10:30am), and get some tips which you might miss if you tried to do it yourself. The various galleries of the Vatican Museums can close at any time (for cleaning or maintenance), so you never know what’s going to be available to view until the day. The best view of the dome of St Peter’s is actually from the courtyard, so don’t miss that. If it’s a hot day, I would recommend taking an early morning tour of just the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s, as the crowds in the Vatican Museums can be overwhelming and claustrophobic. The Sistine Chapel is tiny, so the later you go, the busier it gets and the less pleasant it becomes.
Whilst the Sistine Chapel is very culturally and historically important, I found it underwhelming and flat, and was a little disappointed. However, the story told and the feat of painting it is amazing – so it is worth seeing (remember, photography is not allowed in the chapel itself). St Peter’s Basilica is incredible and worth seeing purely for the sheer scale of the building.
I recommend spending at least a day at the Roman Forum and Colosseum. If you are staying in Campo de’ Fiori or Trastevere, you can walk east and go via Chiese St Angelo In Pescheria (an open archeological dig), Teatro Marcello (a restored and renovated circus), Piazza di Campidoglio, and the Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II on your way there. There are so many places to stop, you may not reach the Colosseum until the afternoon!
The Colosseum is so aesthetically pleasing, that you could stare at it for hours – if you are interested in architecture, I would recommend paying for an architectural guide. Otherwise just circling this incredible edifice many times will have to do! Spend time at the Roman Forum and the Arco di Costantino too. If you go to the gate at the top of the Roman Forum (Via di San Pietro in Carcere), there are no queues, but you get a ticket that allows you into the Colosseum too. If you go to the Colosseum entrance gate, the queues can be miles long.
Don’t forgot to also see: Piazza Navona, and the little streets in Campo de’ Fiori to its west; the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain (although it was closed for cleaning/ restoration during our visit), and Piazza del Popolo. If you want a romantic sunset, head to Pincio, near to Popolo.
Where to eat:
We found that it was hard to find a truly bad meal in Rome, but here are some places that we visited and enjoyed. Don’t forget to have REAL carbonara, try the Saltimbocca and the Cacio e Pepe… oh, and the Tiramisu!
Osteria Cacio e Pepe (Vicolo de’ Cinque, Trastevere) – This friendly osteria in the winding streets of Trastevere is welcoming and cheap (a 2 course meal with wine only cost us €25 each) – the bread was particularly memorable.
Osteria Barberini (Via della Purificazione, near Barberini & Spagna metro stations) – We had booked this osteria for a more formal birthday dinner with friends. They specialise in truffle dishes (there is even a separate truffle menu!), and again it was well-priced (2 courses + antipasti and wine for €30 each). The calamari was a little rubbery, but the steak with Barolo wine sauce was divine.
Ristorante Sottosopra (Via Di Ponte Sisto) – The covered terrace of this restaurant is quite magical – with a view over the Piazza Trilussa in Trastevere, the food is equally good. The caesar salad and tiramisu were excellent – so fresh and flavourful! The waiter was great value and the meal was well priced too. Over all, probably our best meal of the trip.
Angelino ai Fori (Largo Corrado Ricci, 40-43a) – This eatery in opposite the Roman Forum, so fills up quick. It has a large outside patio covered in ivy, so is lovely for respite on a hot day (their iced cappuccinos are lovely). We didn’t try their food, but drinks were reasonable, and their carbonara looked delicious from a distance 😉
La Biga (Via Nicola Salvi) – Just go here for the view – it overlooks the Colosseum, next to the Metro Station. It is a perfect spot to take in the magnificence of it all!
Due Colonne (Via del Seminario, near the Pantheon) – This wee hole in the wall is run by an exuberant fellow who has a lot of fun with his patrons. We stopped for drinks and the Aperol Spritzers were VERY strong and worth the cash 😉
ReRo (Via dell’Arco Del Monte) – This wee bar does great wood-fired pizzas. It also allows you to do takeaways, if you wanted to take your meal back to the hotel! Their lovely waitress, Chiara, had a drink with us as we waited – very jovial and helpful.
All photos © Hannah Henderson and may not be used without permission (sharing this blog post is fine, though!). Images shot with a Canon DSLR T3i Rebel + Canon EF 35-80mm f/4-5.6 III; and an iPhone6s.