Roma, Italy

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from Rome given the very mixed reviews I’d received about the city over the years from friends and colleagues that have visited. It was a fairly 50/50 split of those that either loved Rome or those that didn’t like it at all. I kept wondering why this city was so polarizing. I promised myself that I’d enter Rome with zero expectations and fully commit to forming my own opinions about the city. Spoiler alert: I loved every second of my time here!

I found Rome to be extraordinary. I also found the sheer size of the city to be a tad overwhelming at first, but only overwhelming in a way that I wanted to ensure I saw everything that I wanted to see – not actually overwhelming to navigate. There are seemingly endless ancient ruins to see and so many points of interest. We only had three days to explore and were kind of worried that wasn’t going to be enough time, but it ended up being a very good amount of time as a first introduction to the Eternal City. There is something for everyone here. A busy city center, tourist attractions, quiet neighborhoods, lots of green spaces, and don’t even get me started on the food. The food was beyond!

With a city of this size, you really need to come in with a plan though. For us that meant researching what landmarks, museums and neighborhoods we wanted to visit and what restaurants we wanted to make reservations at. Whenever we visit a new city we always plan ahead by grouping our interests by neighborhood. If you fail to do your research ahead of time you’re not setting yourself up for success and you’re likely going to be disappointed.

Where to Stay:

After a ton of research we landed on the Testaccio neighborhood and we can’t recommend it enough. We loved how it felt more peaceful and tucked away from the bustle of the city. We found an amazing AirBnb that was walking distance from the Roma Ostiense train station as well as several bus stops and a metro stop. Just around the corner from our place there was a dog that was always snoozing in the middle of the sidewalk. Everytime we took that route, we saw the snoozing dog. It was adorable and pictured below of course.

Another area that we would have loved to stay in was Trastevere. If we ever return to Rome, we’ll stay there.

Restaurants:

The best rule of thumb when picking restaurants in any major European city is not to pick a spot near the tourist areas, as you’re more likely to pay more and get a sub-par meal. Venture into the side streets, go off the beaten path and visit the neighborhoods – cannot recommend this enough.

My food/beverage recommendations are a bit light because we only had a few days in Rome and for some meals we opted for takeaway sandwiches (think fresh focaccia, local meats and fresh mozzarella). 

  • Morning Cappuccinos: Grab yourself a takeaway cappuccino and pastry while you roam the streets. We always opted for a simple cappuccino and a pastry with either Nutella or pistachio cream (the local favorite).
  • Marigold: An adorable modern-rustic restaurant and micro bakery near the AirBnb we stayed at in Testaccio. The coffee was amazing, and the brunch was delicious.
  • Enoteca Trastevere: We had a leisurely lunch here while people watching in Trastevere and it was so good. The best Amatriciana I’ve had to date.
  • Roma Sparita: This place is legendary as Anthony Bourdain visited here years ago and raved about it. We made reservations ahead of time.
  • L’Antica Enoteca: We had dinner here one night at and it was so fun. We sat outside, split a bottle of wine – as we did with every dinner – and had incredible people watching. We sat right next to Henrikh Mkhitaryan and his family. Not going to lie, I had to google him to see who he was. Him and his family were so nice. (Also, this entire neighborhood is full of restaurants that are equally as good)
  • Tacito: We wanted to check out a different neighborhood, so we had dinner here one night and it felt like a fun and modern take on traditional Italian dishes.

What to Do:

  • Visit the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. There will likely be a very long line to get tickets if you don’t purchase them ahead of time. We got our tickets online weeks before our trip and walked right in with no wait. You can purchase “skip the line” tickets for most, if not all tourist attractions in the city. Here are the tickets we got.
  • Take in the sights of the Colosseum: We walked all around the outside and snapped pictures but didn’t purchase tickets for a tour inside – although I hear it’s amazing – we were just short on time so we skipped it.
  • Explore Piazza Navona and surrounding areas: This square of Rome was so charming with all the picturesque restaurants, shops and a gorgeous fountain. Luke and I proceeded to take one million photos here because we couldn’t get enough of its cuteness.
  • See the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps: I’m not going to lie, the fountain is downright awe-inspiring but the amount of tourists all standing shoulder to shoulder at any given moment feels a bit chaotic and claustrophobic. It’s a definite must-see but just remember to be aware of your surroundings here. Not far away is another must-see, the Spanish Steps. Interesting fact: you cannot sit on the steps. 
  • Check out the Pantheon: Entry is free, the line moves quick and it’s beautiful. Plus, all the marble that was used in construction is just incredible and beautiful. 
  • Walk along the Tiber River: The river runs right through the middle of the city and offers some beautiful views! We walked along the river a few days and it was such a peaceful break from the hustle and bustle of busy Rome.
  • Spend some time strolling around Trastevere: This neighborhood is a vibe. Spend some time getting lost amongst the beautiful cobblestone streets and take in all the beautiful sights. There are many wonderful bars and restaurants here. We had lunch here one day and dinner another.
  • Explore the neighborhood just south of the Piazza del Popolo: Wander the narrow streets that are packed full of shops, restaurants, and bars. It’s the busy side of Rome at its best. 

Getting Around:

We arrived in Rome via train. We purchased one way tickets from Naples to Rome on Trenitalia for 26/person. We arrived in Roma Termini (the main train station) and for 1 extra we hoped on a quick transfer to Roma Ostiense as that train station was across the parking lot from our AirBnb in Testaccio. The entire trip was seamless and effortless to navigate. Gosh I love train travel in Europe. We also purchased our journey to the airport on our last day via Trenitalia.

Metro: As far as getting around Rome, we were excited to try out their metro system but were admittedly very underwhelmed. To be clear we didn’t have a terrible experience, the lines were just rather limited. Since we were staying in a mostly central location, there were only two lines that could be utilized and the metro stops weren’t always located in the most convenient locations for us. If you do choose to take the metro, tickets can be purchased at the train stations prior to boarding.

Bus: We found far more success riding the local bus. For the most efficient bus route, just open Google Maps, type in your starting point and destination, select the transit option and you’ll receive the most efficient route(s) and directions. It really makes navigation sooooo easy. Or if you’re feeling adventurous you can just hop on the first bus you come across and see where it takes you. We did this a few times just for fun 🙂 You can purchase tickets in advance from vending machines at metro stations, major bus stops and most tobacco shops.

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