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 spent some time exploring this gorgeous city to create a guide to Rome so that I could showcase the best places in the eternal city. Read my Rome city guide full of the best tips on where to eat, drink and stay in Rome.With its mix of ancient ruins, romantic cobbled streets, bustling piazzas and al fresco restaurants, Rome is surely the ultimate city break? Click To Tweet
I also 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?
Nothing is as wonderous as your first visit to Rome. 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 guide to Rome to highlight some of my favourite things about the city and where you should visit. First of all, make sure to check out the best flight deals to Rome on Skyscanner and bag yourself a bargain!
Where to stay in Rome
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 Hostel World site. I would also recommend checking out the Budget Traveller blog to find luxury hostels in Rome for the flashpackers amongst you.
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. Booking.com is a great resource for finding hotels to match your requirements and budget. I recently stayed in the fabulous Marcella Royal Hotel, a 4-star hotel that has an incredible rooftop terrace offering 360° views across Rome! don’t forget, Rome has a city tax and the cost is per person, per night and is dependent on the on the hotels rating.
There are also plenty of family-run guesthouses in Rome. A reasonable guest house I have previously stayed in was Guesthouse Stradivari, which is a very budget friendly little guesthouse that is centrally located within 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 search for a hotel Deal for Rome?
Rome Air BnB
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. If you click this Air BnB link, you can get £25 off your first booking if you are new to Air Bnb and have not signed up before. If you have, why not get a family member, friend or partner to sign up to bag the discount?
What to see in Rome
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, cafes 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 Instagrammers 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.
Not only is Villa Borghese an escape from the urban sprawl of the city but it also offers the perfect balance of Roman art, architecture and nature. There are beautiful buildings, scultures, fountains and cultural attractions such as the Pincio’s Water Clock, the Silvano Toti Globe Theatre and the Borghese Gallery, that contains pieces by Caravaggio and Raphael.
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 overeager 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. You’ll get your best shots at the crack of dawn or if you visit during the off-peak season.
If history is your thing I would recommend booking a tour of the Colosseum that includes priority entrance, this is the quickest way of getting in and will save you a lot of time queuing. Let a licensed and knowledgeable guide take you around the 2 floors of the iconic amphitheatre and let an expert bring history to life for you. Tours range in price and you can pick a tour to suit your needs on Get Your Guide. By booking online you can save money and guarantee entrance to this famous site.
Why not book a Colosseum tour? Click below!
This former Roman temple-turned-church is a popular spot for tourists, Thousands upon thousands 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.
The most intriguing aspect of the Pantheon is its giant dome, with its iconic hole located in the top. It is the largest unsupported dome in the world and the diameter is a whopping 142ft. Lots of walking tours call into the Pantheon and if you have a knowledgeable guide, you should learn more about this historical and magnificent building.
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 with tourists. Be prepared to battle against a sea of selfie sticks and large tour groups if you come during the day.
The best thing to do if you want a ‘fountain selfie’ is to arrive extremely early in the morning or come during the off-peak season. December can be a really quiet time to visit and should provide you with the opportunity to get the gram worth shots!
The iconic fountain dates back to the Roman times and acted as the end point of an aqueduct, that was at the junction of three roads (tre vie), this is what gives the fountain its name Trevi Fountain, [Three Street Fountain]. 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 Piazza di Spagna is wildly popular with visitors and is often very crowded during the day. Get your Instagram worthy shots of the 138 steps that are arranged in a mix of curves, straight flights, vistas & terraces by arriving very early in the morning, or visiting during the winter season. The steps are overlooked by the Trinità dei Monti church and were built in the 18th century to connect both the Spanish Embassy and the Trinita church [hence the name Spanish Steps].
The steps are located in one of the main shopping areas of Rome and there are several restaurants, cafes and bars nearby. It’s always buzzing during the day but gets a bit quieter as the evening approaches. There are several hotels in the area but be warned, it’s an expensive area of Rome to stay in.
For a fantastic view of the steps head to the il Palazzetto Wine Bar. It’s a lovely little rooftop spot to sit with a glass of red or three and watch the world go by as you overlook the iconic steps. It’s quite pricey for their high-end cocktails, beers and wines but the views are fabulous and they will give you some complimentary nibbles.
Castel Sant’Angelo is a gorgeous and historic castle located on the right on the River Tiber and located near the Vatican. Today it functions as a museum that houses beautifully decorated papal apartments and details of the history of the castle and its links to the Vatican. The best part of Castel Sant’Angelo is the stunning panoramic views of Rome, perfect for those Instagram shots! If you want to go inside the castle, it’s quite pricey for what it is but the first Sunday of the month you can enter for free!
What to do in Rome
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 of this fascinating place with a qualified and experienced guide. I went on a Privileged Entrance Vatican Tour with Sistine Chapel with the Roman Guy. Their Privileged Entrance Vatican Tour is a 3.5-hour tour with a professional English-speaking guide, that allows you to enter the Vatican Museums with a guide just after 8 am, a whole hour earlier than the general public are allowed in!
Our small group met the guide at 7:30 am and were in the short security line for around 15 minutes. During our short wait, we were given history and information about the Vatican, as our guide Jad prepared us for the sights we were going to see. We got in just after 8 am and Jad power walked us through empty corridors to the Sistine Chapel.
We were the first to arrive in the Sistine Chapel and it is one of the most magnificent sites I have ever seen. It was so peaceful with only a few people in there and it was definitely worth the early start. The iconic artworks are Michelangelo’s most renowned masterpieces and draw thousands and thousands of visitors every year. The chapel is also a gathering place for the cardinals of the Catholic Church and is where new popes are elected. You can’t take photos inside the chapel and as it’s a place of worship, speaking inside is not allowed. The benefit of banning photos is that you spend more time admiring the artworks, rather than trying to get that perfect Instagram snap.
After the Sistine Chapel, there is time to explore the galleries whilst they are still uncrowded. Jad pointed out various artefacts and artworks and added context and history to the pieces we were seeing.
At this point, you are welcome to take photos in the Vatican, but just be careful not to use your flash to protect the artworks and not to blind your fellow group members! The bonus of being in a small group is that you don’t have to wait for ages for lots to get their perfect shot.
We explored several interesting galleries on the tour including Borgia Apartments, Gallery of the Candelabra, Gallery of the Tapestries and the Gallery of the Maps. Again, it was great to hear the stories behind the pieces.
If you want to experience the Vatican when it is this quiet then I would recommend visiting during the off-peak season. December appears to be quieter with fewer crowds meaning that you can enjoy the Vatican without wall-to-wall tourists.
The last part of the tour is St. Peter’s Basilica, the centrepiece of the Vatican. as we were on a tour with the Roman Guy, we skipped the lines that are outside in St Peter’s Square and we accessed the basilica from the inside, through a special side entrance that only guides can use. It’s another perk of being on a group tour in the Vatican!
St. Peter’s Basilica is the world’s largest church and is full of sheer opulence inside with statues, mosaics and artworks. The church has a 211.5-meter long nave and the dome is one of the world’s largest at 132.5 meters high and measuring 42 meters in diameter.
There are lots to see in the basilica and you could spend hours wandering around admiring all the details. One of Michelangelo’s most famous masterpieces, the Pietà resides here as well. It was carved by Michelangelo when he was just 24 years old and is now protected by bulletproof glass. The Basilica was nowhere near as busy as I expected it to be, with few crowds milling around compared to pictures I have seen of it utterly packed. It pays to visit popular places in the winter guys!
The benefit of doing a group tour was that you spend a lot more time learning about what you are seeing rather than spending hours in queues. The perks of skipping lines mean you can fully immerse yourself in the experience and you also have a guide who is on hand to answer any questions you might have! The Privileged Entrance Vatican Tour is € 89.95 per adult and with the Roman Guy and is highly recommended.
Rome 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 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 whose 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 as it’s a free walking tour, 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.
Rome Cooking Class
Taking a cooking class in Rome is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in local cuisine and culture led by an expert. There is a huge range of cookery class options, from pasta making, wine pairing, private home cooking class and pizza making. We did a Cooking Class in Mamma’s Kitchen with Get Your Guide that we booked in advance online. The class costs £38.92 per person and includes a trip to a local market for cooking supplies, pasta making with a cooking instructor and wine.
The class starts with a trip to Nomentano Market, this covered market in Alessandria square is full of local producers, bakers and butchers selling reasonably priced produce. We walked around the market and learnt more about Italian cuisine and the Italian method of queuing [spolier alert, there isn’t one]. We picked up our ingredients and headed back to the kitchen with our Italian chef for the day Marco.
As this cooking class is at the lower end of what you might expect to pay for a cooking class in Rome, the class was held in a youth hostel. Whilst the kitchen was a fairly decent size, the problem is that our cooking instructor was constantly having to boot out backpackers from the kitchen who wanted to “Just really quickly make a cup of tea”.
Despite the late start, backpackers and general disorganisation, the class got underway and those minor niggles just melted away. Probably several large glasses of red helped with that? Once you start throwing flour around, getting your hands sticky with dough, sipping local wine and discussing Italian politics you find that a cooking class is a fabulous way to unwind and the gain an insight into life in Rome as well as its foodie culture.
Thanks to Marco’s enthusiastic demonstrations we learnt how to make several different types of pasta including Ravioli, Fettuccine and Pappardelle. It turns out that pasta making is quite a skill and we kept dissolving into fits of laughter at Marco’s horrified face when we presented our misshapen efforts, whilst slightly slurring “Is this how it’s supposed to look?”
We finally got round to dishing up our pasta dishes, despite the class having overrun by almost 3 hours. This meant that lunch was eaten at 5 pm and we were frankly ravenous. If you are prepared to overlook the slightly chaotic nature of the class and embrace Roman timekeeping it’s actually a really good value for money cooking class for Rome.
Our instructor was enthusiastic and friendly, there was plenty of wine and the pasta tasted incredible [If I do say so myself]. Of course, there are is a huge variety of cooking classes to suit all tastes and budgets and I would recommend booking online to get the best deal and to secure your spot on the class of your choice.
Why not book a cookery class in Rome?
Cycling in Rome
‘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 to stay alive was to utilise the cycling 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.
Rome Foodie Tour
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.
The Roman Guy is a fabulous Italy-wide brand, offering expertly led tours, awesome experiences and trip planning services across the country. The Roman Guy is made up of a team of travel-loving people from across the globe who have fallen in love with Rome and want to share their adoration for the eternal city with visitors. They have a sister company ‘The Paris Guy’, delivering top-notch tours in the city of lights, Paris.
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?
Foodies should visit Trastevere, a sort of Roman hipster paradise, full of avant-garde cafes, bars and hip restaurants! Click To Tweet
The best thing about doing 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 in Rome
This is an entire article in itself, as eating out in Rome is surely one of life’s great pleasures? 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? Is the menu in 5 different languages? Does the menu outside have pictures of the food? Step away immediately my friend, you are about the enter gastro-hell! A helpful tip is to look for the places that are open later than other restaurants. Romans usually don’t eat dinner until 8 pm or later, so chances are if the restaurant serves dinner late, it’s going to be an authentic one full of locals.
Another 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. Much like Venice, there are tourist traps restaurants everywhere in Rome. The trick is to do your research and hunt down the authentic places.
Pizza in Rome is a popular food choice and comes in two completely different styles. Pizza tonda refers to whole, round pizzas with thin crusts that you sit down to eat. Pizza al taglio is served by the slice and is a cheaper way to get your pizza fix. Check asterisks on menus so that you don’t get served up a frozen pizza, you can do much better than that in Rome. For authentic pizza that the Romans eat try La Renella located in Piazza Trilussa in hip foodie haunt Trastevere.
There is a huge variety of pasta in Italy and there are restaurants, cafes and pasta shops all over the city churning out dishfuls of the stuff every day. For high-end pasta try Flavio al Velavevodetto or Armando al Pantheon. These are authentic Italian joints that serve up remarkable pasta. If you decide to chance it and wander around looking for a pasta place try and avoid places near major tourist sites. Try and wander down side streets instead.
For those on a budget, head to Il Pastaio di Roma. Here you grab a box of homemade, fresh pasta for a mere €4, which can be eaten in for no extra charge or taken away. Choose from a small selection of tasty portions of pasta, including classic offerings such as Fusilli al pesto and Fusilli all’ Amatriciana. If you are feeling indulgent, you can also order a bottle of wine for just €5, it is unbelievable value for fresh pasta and wine.
There is an abundance of gelato shops in Rome, especially near the main tourist sites. The trick is to figure out if you are being served a scoop of genuine gelato or a tourist trap cone of premix goop. Real Gelato will be a lot more understated than the fake stuff. Fake gelato will have unnatural colours and an extraordinary amount of unnecessary decoration. For authentic Gelato, try Neve di Latte on Via Luigi Poletti or Fatamorgana in Campo dei Fiori.
You can find the freshest Roman foods in the many local across the city. Take a trip to Nomentano Market to find vibrant veggies, cheese, meats, pizza slices, bread and cakes where the locals’ shop. You can also pick up a slice of pizza or a cappuccino for just 90 cents!
The market is full of locals buying their daily produce, having a gossip and talking to the producers. There’s a real sense of community here and you can pick up some real foodie bargains. It’s also a fantastic place to practice your Italian.
Mercato Centrale Roma
Rome Central Market is located inside Rome’s main train station Termini. This hip, 6,000-square-foot market has many artisan foodie stands as well as bars and foodie joints serving a selection of classic and modern Italian dishes.
There are plenty of places to sit, enjoy a coffee and a plate of pasta and wait for your train or bus. You could even grab a delicious sandwich to take on your journey. Whilst visiting the market you can sample foods and purchase products such as olive oils, dried pasta and jams to take back home.
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. What do you think of my guide to Rome? What else should be added to the guide? Let me know what you think in the comments below!
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