With its mix of ancient ruins, romantic cobbled streets, bustling piazzas, al fresco restaurants and world-class coffee, Rome is surely the ultimate city break? I visited the city with beloved Husband Luke and hosted a Travelex Instagram takeover to showcase some of the best spots in the city. This ultimately meant Luke had to assume the role of ‘Instagram Husband’ and exercise extreme patience as I continuously yelled ‘darling, your shadow is in shot, could you move… no, a little left… no there is still a shadow, shadow darling, SHADOW!!!’. Perhaps being married to me isn’t quite the treat I think it is?
This was my fist visit to the eternal city and I had a smashing time exploring this magnificent and historic part of the world. To me Rome is a city with a little something for everyone, whether you love history, architecture, art, or you fancy yourself as a bit of a foodie, there is a huge range of things to do in the vibrant capital of Italy. Lucky for you, i’ve put together a handy little guide to some of my favourite things about the city and where you should visit.
Where to stay
There is a range of affordable and boutique hostels in Rome for those looking to ‘bunk up’ and make some buddies in a sociable atmosphere. Many can be found in the bohemian Monti, one of Rome’s oldest neighbourhoods and also near the busy Termini station. You can find hostels in these areas and in other parts of Rome on the brilliant Hostelbookers site. I would also recommend checking out the Budget Traveller blog to find luxury hostels in Rome for the flashpackers amongst you.
Hotels and guesthouses
There is a hotel to suit any budget in Rome, ranging from small guesthouses right through to luxury rooms for those looking to spoil themselves. I find that Booking.com is a great resource for finding hotels to match your requirements and budget. We stayed in Guesthouse Stradivari, which is a very budget friendly little guesthouse that is centrally located withing walking distance of many of the main attractions. It also featured a very charming old fashioned lift, that would groan and creak into life every time we cautiously used it. Rome is full of these types of family-run guest houses, situated in beautiful historic buildings. They are often very basic, but for the budget traveller, it offers the opportunity to stay in a more traditional home, rather than a swanky hotel.
Why not rent a room from a Roman with Air BnB? There are a plethora of quirky rooms, studios and whole apartments to choose from on Air BnB. By booking an Air BnB you can take your pick of accommodation located in trendy Rome neighbourhoods and streets. Choose from places such as the Beautiful Campo de’ Fiori, historical Plaza Bologna and trendy Trastevere to name a few. The beauty of Air BnB is that you can refine your search to include things like property type, price, room size etc to find your ideal stay.
What to see
Villa Borghese park
Villa Borghese is one of the largest public parks in Rome and is a great spot to escape the city for a bit of relaxation. There’s a range of eateries including restaurants, cafe’s and ice cream sellers. There is a pretty boating lake, where you can hire a boat to paddle around with and also bike hire stations. Or for the instagramers amongst you, why not pose for a perfect ‘cityscape selfie’ on the popular viewing platform in the park, that offers panoramic views of Piazza del Popolo.
Rome’s iconic amphitheatre is one of the most famous sites from Antiquity, located in the centre of Rome, it’s a whacking great bit of history located in the middle of busy traffic, selfie stick touts and over eager tour guides. If you wish to reflect quietly on this magnificent site I would advise arriving at dawn to avoid the crowds, relentless cacophony of car horns and throngs of persistent street traders.
Former Roman temple, turned church is a popular spot for tourists who come to marvel at its architectural brilliance and learn more about this history of this building that was once an earlier temple commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus. It is the most complete ancient building in Rome and is beautifully decorated inside with a variety of artworks and alter arrangements.
No visit to Rome is complete without stopping off at the world’s most beautiful fountain. The Trevi fountain is at the end of an ancient aqueduct constructed to bring water into Rome and is hugely popular amongst tourists. Be prepared to battle against a sea of selfie sticks and large tour groups if you come during the day. Make sure you do the Roman tradition of tossing a coin into the water over your shoulder, the money collected helps to subsidise Rome’s less fortunate inhabitants.
The city within a city, and headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican is surely one of the most famous tourist attractions in the world? The Museums are a colossal complex featuring numerous distinct collections, priceless works of art and the celebrated Sistine Chapel. I would advise you book a tour, or at least one of the many ‘skip the queue’ tickets you can book online to ensure you don’t spend the majority of your visit sweltering in a never-ending queue.
What to do
Free walking tour
‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ is a statement that can only be fully comprehended when you set foot in the city. With its sheer breadth of history, architecture and culture, you really need an expert to guide you around to paint a picture of Rome through the ages. I’m a big fan of free walking tours as a way of covering a lot of ground and history in a short amount of time. Rome’s Ultimate Free Walks promised a casual walking tour with a maximum of 15 participants meaning that you can have a more intimate tour, rather than having to be in a huge group and instructed to ‘follow the umbrella’ whilst wearing a headset and frankly feeling like a bit of a bellend. We were shown around the city by the funny and knowledgeable Jobe, a man who’s enthusiasm for Rome’s history was infectious. It’s not often I find myself thinking ‘I simply MUST know more about the Augustus dynasty’.
What was interesting about this tour was that we were not taken to all the usual landmark tourist spots. Instead, Jobe explained the multiple layers of history and culture whilst we walked the lesser known streets, pointing to various statues, building inscriptions and the hidden architecture, as he managed to effortlessly link up Rome’s varying historical eras into an easily understandable timeline. Through hidden streets and cobbled lanes, he entertained us with funny stories,[I particularly enjoyed the one about the prostitute that had a square named after her], recommendations for places to eat, bars to go to and advice on activities. The Tour lasts about 2.5 to 3 hours, covers about 3k and you can pay what you think the tour is worth at the end. Darling husband was so enthused by the end of the tour that he had to be reined in from giving Jobe the entirety of our holiday budget.
‘Cycling is a brilliant way of seeing a city’ I confidently announced to Luke, he looked somewhat apprehensive as a nearby car mounted a pavement. Undeterred we went and rented some city bikes from the very reasonable Mr Bike with a day’s hire costing us a mere 12 euros each. We had discussed booking a bike tour of the city, but as a seasoned traveller, I was sure we could navigate the city on two wheels. It became apparent rather quickly that my optimism was entirely misplaced and that drivers in Rome have exactly zero patience for cyclists. After a few horrifying near misses with irate drivers, we shakily regrouped with a large wine to plan our biking course of action.
After studying a map we decided our best bet was to somehow make it alive to the cycle pathway that runs alongside the River Tiber, right through the centre of Rome and then have a leisurely cycle around Villa Borghese park. The cycle path descends a few meters below street level and as you cycle next to the water you can look up and marvel at Rome’s architectural wonders, just remember to glance forward every now and then so you don’t cycle straight into the river. Our new route allowed us to explore the city safely and see some lovely green spaces at the same time. Biking really is a wonderful way to see a city and I would definitely look into doing an organised bike tour for our next visit.
As I fancy myself as a bit of a burgeoning foodie, I was very keen to sample some of the finest Italian foods during my visit to Rome. But how do you know the difference between an authentic Italian food experience and a tourist trap? Luckily The Roman Guy Tours are here to guide you through Rome’s gastronomic delights with their Local Rome Food Tour in Trastevere. We were part of a small group led by the lovely Fiona, through Rome’s foodie neighbourhoods to taste some traditional Italian foods and learn more about Rome’s culture along the way. We began by being led into the back of an Italian deli, to taste some Italian cheeses including pecorino romano, mozzarella and parmigiano-reggiano, which were sampled with a lovely glass of fizz as Fiona explained the various cheese making processes. I think I have waited almost my entire adult life to be backstage at an Italian deli discussing cheese and drinking prosecco, I have finally arrived darlings!
We walked on through quaint cobbled streets to the tiny little restaurant of Filetti di Baccala, to sample their famed Roman baccalà. I’ve only ever had baccalà, [which is salted cod], in Portugal before, Roman baccalà is fried in the most deliciously light batter imaginable, we ate it the local way, straight from the wrapped paper, this was a true foodie find.
We then made our way around trendy Trastevere, a sort of Roman hipster paradise, full of avant-garde cafes, bars and hip restaurants, populated by the uber cool. We sampled delicious deli meats, classic and crispy Margherita pizza, before making our way to a gorgeous alfresco restaurant. Here we got to feast on a typical Roman dinner, we sampled some antipasti, delicious pasta dishes and Roman-style artichokes. Italian wine was generously poured as Fiona discussed the finer points of Italian cuisine. After an entire evening of food and merriment, we were fast slipping into a food coma when it was announced we would be finishing up with Gelato. We somehow managed to heave ourselves to a cute little gelato stop and despite proclaiming myself ‘completely full’, I came around when offered ‘cioccolato fondente’, I’m only human right?
The best thing about dong a foodie tour is that it provides context to the foods you are enjoying, it’s great to not only be guided to the best gastro spots in the city but to also learn about the cooking processes, the produce and how history plays a part in changing tastes and culinary offerings. This was one of the most comprehensive and fun foodie tours I have ever been on and I would highly recommend you let the experts lead you to foodie heaven.
What to eat
This is an entire blog post in itself, as eating out in Rome is surely one of life’s great pleasures? I will be posting a foodie guide to Rome soon, so watch this space! There is such a diverse range of eating places in the Italian capital, from fine dining to five euro pasta shops, gelato shops, cafes, bars and more. The choice is dizzying and you could spend weeks trying to eat your way around the city. The trick with Rome is seeking out authentic Italian cuisine, rather than accidentally ending up in an overpriced tourist trap chowing down on a frozen pizza.
To find the best places to eat in the city try and get away from the tourist areas if possible, wander down hidden side streets and look for restaurants full of locals. Look at the menu, is it phone book sized crammed with every Italian dish conceivable? Does the menu outside have pictures of the food? Step away my friend, you are about the enter gastro-hell! A little insider tip we picked up on our foodie tour is to watch out for and asterisks on menus, as this means the food is frozen. Failing that, check Trip Advisor reviews, read quality travel and food blogs or book a foodie tour as a fail-safe against crappy food.
The more we saw of Rome, the more we grew to love it. It is a magnificent and vibrant urban space, full of history, striking architecture and populated with some of the world’s most well-known and iconic structures. Add to that hidden culinary delights, superb wine and the almost intoxicating vibe of Italian living, it is a truly wonderful place for a city break.