Travel to Rome: what to do, useful info, food, food and food!
This post is also available in: Français (French)
During our week of vacation in Rome in Italy, the first one just us two, without children, in 12 years (bad example of balance… oops!), we enjoyed every moment!
The concept is yours! It is possible to visit this city in 3 days, but staying there for 5 or 6 days allows you to enjoy some chilling time in the parks in the afternoon, to see something other than the purely tourist sites and to bask on the many and very pleasant terraces without sacrificing the must-sees.
What kind of city is Rome?
Rome is a tourist city. With its incredible monuments and the attractive power of the Vatican, there are many travelers and tourism workers. The trip is worth a visit despite the horde of people who flock there: the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, the many magnificient churches, the archaeological sites… it’s just majestic. I like to remember how capable man is of grandiose things.
You can communicate in English in most places and in French with tour guides. At the restaurant, there is always an English-speaking employee to chat with you!
Strengths and weaknesses
Note, however, that Rome is a big city where many people circulate. The cleanliness of the place leaves something to be desired. The monuments are beautiful, the people are very warm, the food is excellent, it feels safe, but outside the hotspots, it is not a beautiful city.
Good to know
Here’s what’s good to know before you leave:
- Drinking water fountains are accessible throughout the city. No need to buy water bottles continuously. Have reusable bottles and you’ll be fine. We have never been sick. These fountains are widely used and water is constantly flowing there.
- In summer, it is very hot in Rome. You often find yourself under a blazing sun. Sensitive skin and eyes, beware!
- You cannot enter the holy places with your shoulders uncovered. Bring a shawl.
- Many restaurants accept credit cards. Even the little Gelato counters. You will still need cash from time to time. People don’t seem to tip much, sometimes not at all, but it you wish to tip, you have to pay cash because the machines don’t allow it.
- Some attractions require reservations, such as the Vatican. We opted for a package that included line-skippers (GREAT), passes and public transit. For 113 euros per person, we had an Omnia Pass 72 hours (attractions and double decker bus) and the Roma Pass 72 hours (other attractions, metro and bus). What is interesting is that the 72 hours starts at the first use. So we walked on the first day, with the Omnia Pass the next 3 days and finished with the Roma Pass. We did everything without having to pay for additional attractions or transportation. On the other hand, if that’s your wish, the passes also offer you discounts on more activities.
- When you arrive, go to the tourist office in St. Peter’s Square, across from the Vatican. You can get the information in French or English and buy your passes. 48-hour passes are also available. You can also book your visiting hours.
What to visit?
Monuments are so numerous in Rome that it can surprisingly become a bit redundant. In our opinion, the following visits are worth it:
- St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum (the visit includes the Sistine Chapel): a must see when visiting Rome.
- Book at the tourist office in St. Peter’s Square.
- The Colosseum:we followed the recommendations of our friends and did not make the inside tour. The observation of the surrounding area is inspiring and we focused on visiting the Forum and Mount Palatin (Palatino) where we wandered among the ruins outside the Colosseum. Many signs allow you to document yourself without a guided tour. Once the tour is over, it’s worth strolling through the surrounding streets. On Piazza del Colosseo, along the coliseum, you can meet various artists, including singers who create a memorable Italian atmosphere.
- The National Museum of The Castle of Saint Angel (Castel San Angelo): a most pleasant visit to this place that is near the Vatican and which served as a refuge and fortress for the popes during threats. It is easy to walk around (nothing to do with the Vatican’s intense queue-leu) and there is a small café at the top where you can enjoy a drink and an affordable snack with an incredible view of the Vatican.
- The park of Villa Borghese. You can visit the Borghese Gallery itself, but we focused on the beautiful park in which it is located. A haven of peace in the turmoil of the city where it is very hot and where parks and islets of greenery are less numerous than in Montreal. You can walk there long enough (it stretches for nearly 60 hectares in the centre of Rome), take a nap, visit a zoo, sit at the edge of a pond, admire Rome on top of the Terrazza del Pinchio. A restaurant is located there if you want to eat with a view, but you will have it just as much on the Terrazza or elsewhere in the city, especially at the Garden of Orangers mentioned below.
- The Trevi Fountain. A walk will take you to the Barberini metro station. But you can walk your way troughout everything with a little motivation! Watch out for pick pockets here.
- Otherwise, we did as everyone else did and took the time to visit all the known piazzas and observe various monuments from the outside without necessarily making an official visit.
Where to drink and eat?
Rome being a tourist city, you will find countless restaurants to satisfy your appetite. Both street food and restaurant meals are tasty. In Italy, freshness is not an option! Even in a tiny shop or a small village market, they will slice deli meats and cheeses in front of you and serve them fresh. Here are our observations:
- In Rome, you will find many small terraces or street-edge tables where you can sip an excellent coffee. To do like the Italians, you can also drink it standing at the counter. Some restaurants will charge you a service fee to sit down. To ask each time, this can double the price of your coffee! When it comes to gelatos,you’ll be spoilt for choice. Small gelato stands are eveywhere, but prefer the gelaterias of tiny streets, the real ones!
- It is bestto venture into the small streets to avoid noisy terraces and more expensive tourist restaurants, charging a service fee and essentially all having the same menu. For our part, we ate every night on a terrace without paying a service fee. Just ask. These fees are sometimes charged as a percentage or a fixed amount to sit in is added to the menu prices.
- If the waiter places bread, olives and other sides on the table, dare to ask if they will be charged, as this is usually the case.
- Several restaurants close between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. However most trattorias are open for those who wish to eat earlier or enjoy Happy Hour at 5pm. Happy hour is very common in the trendy Trastevere district where it is particularly easy to find a table offering good value. We particularly liked our Aperol Spritz and our fresh homemade chips for 3 euros at the Trattoria Cave Canem in the Trastevere district.
Several trattorias, caffeterias and pasterias advertise vegan options. It’s possible to find some! I haven’t had a chance to try it, but Il Margutta is a famous vegetarian and vegan restaurant.
- The central market (Central Market) is worth a visit: Termini station. An internal market where one revels in refined dishes, but in the context of a food fair. Do not go there for peace or comfort. Prices are not necessarily cheaper than in trattorias, but the choice is incredible and the quality amazing. The Romans love it there. Everyone can choose a dish, from pizza to sandwich to ramen soups, sushi, assorted grilled vegetables, pastries and fries of all kinds.
- Although we are fond of terraces when we are on holiday, I have noticed that the trendy restaurants preferred by the Romans are rather indoors. For example, the Barbieri23 or the wine bar Il Goccetto where the bites are as attractive as the wine!
Trattoria? Osteria? Ristorante? What else?
You will see various appellations in the city. They are not really true to the official definitions:
- TRATTORIA should be a family and authentic place where grandma or a family member is in the kitchen.
- RISTORANTE should be a full “service restaurant with an established printed menu, a host and a sommelier service.
- OSTERIA/TAVERNA are old wine bars that have added a few dishes to the menu and traditionally do not have an official menu.
For example, we were at the Ristorante Taverna Agape (clearly not a tavern so let’s point out the ristorante)and it was fancier than a trattoria. You could get up and pick your fish at the counter, the waiters were chic, the menu featured the chefs of the house. Prices were a little higher than in many trattorias, but not excessively and the menu was more varied and sophisticated
What if you want to think outside the box or do something other than sightseeing?
- We enjoyed our brief intrusion into the Torre Argentina Roman Cat Sanctuary set up by volunteers who wanted to eradicate the problem of cat overpopulation in the city. The refuge is located under the ancient ruins of Largo di Torre Argentina. Cats are captured and sterilized and released. Those who are injured, blind or sick are kept indoors. All are fed in abundance. You can make a donation, but the visit is free.
- An afternoon lounging at the Orange Garden (Giardino degli aranci) is also worth it. It is a small park appreciated by lovers in search of a romantic Italian downtime. It offers panoramic views of the city and you can bask on a bench or in the grass under the orange trees. It is not far from the Colosseum. There is a water fountain, as it is everywhere in the city.
- Doing the market at Campo de Fioriis pure happiness. The place is known to tourists, but the visit it’s a must see anyway. Even the Romans go there. Fresh fruits and vegetables, cheeses, cold cuts, nuts, gifts and souvenirs, it’s all there. It’s best to go before 2 p.m., but you’ll get fresh ready-to-eat fruit at a discount if you show up around 4 p.m. at closing time!
- A free end-of-day show, around 4:30 p.m., Piazza Trilussa. Many people settle on the steps of this public square to be lulled by the music of the singer of the day. We had some amazing reggae and some pretty nice walks the next day. Frankly, there were many talented singers all over the city and put incredible magic in the air.
- Why not take a short trip out of the centre, by metro, to visit one of Rome’s beaches? And yes, in a few metro stations and about 30 minutes (it’s part of the subway, but it’s actually an outdoor train), you’ll reach the Lido Centro station. At the exit of the resort, you will reach the Spaggia (beach) of Ostia in a 20 minute walk. Signs will guide you. Ostia is a city on the outskirts of Rome.
- And if you’re a little foodie and a fan of fine groceries, a trip to Eataly is definitely worth a visit! This 4-storey Italian grocery store is within walking feet of the Pyramid Station. You can eat tasty dishes on several floors and you can buy fresh or dry food, books, kitchen items. It’s pretty close to heaven!
Hope you enjoyed our tips and observations and some of our shots! Good trip and above all… Enjoy your meal!