To me, Rome is the person who you immediately turn down for not being your type, and yet, throughout the years find yourself slowly warm up to them. You realize that there's more than what initially meets the eye and find that you actually have more in common than you think. Could it be that the problem was you all along? Were you walking away from someone you didn't truly understand?
The first time I went to Rome was on the tail-end of a three-week long trip through France and Italy. I was tired, over-traveled, and ready to go home. It being my first time in Europe, I hadn't quite began to understand the difference between vacationing and traveling, and was hit with the hard realization that traveling is WORK. On top of this, Rome was scorching. With temperatures in the high 90's (Farenhieght), mid-June is not the ideal time to be walking around a city all day going from one tourist attraction to the next. I left that trip seeing Rome as an overcrowded tourist trap, feeling the anxious tension of thinking that I had wasted my time being there. It took me until my next visit to realize that I had just done Rome wrong.
Exactly one year later, I returned. While spending my summer in Sorrento, Italy, I decided to give Rome one more chance to prove itself to me. I cut out the sight-seeing that one feels obligated to do on their first trip to Rome and decided to do what I had felt too guilty to do beforehand in pursuit of a jam-packed itinerary. I went shopping on Via del Corso, I spent hours lounging at street-side cafes eating pasta while I people watched, and walked the streets with no purpose, every so often stopping for a cocktail beside a famous monument or Roman ruin. It became obvious to me that I simply expected too much out of Rome on my first visit. It's not like I assumed an Italian superstar named Pablo would whisk me away on his vespa, but I think apart of me thought I would feel the history run through my veins. It took me until my second trip back to Rome to understand that sometimes the best way to get to know a city is simply by being present, enjoying the hospitality, the people, and their way of life. Sometimes the things you "have to do" are the things you must avoid to fall in love with a place.
Three years since my first arrival, Rome and I have become good friends. I dream about sipping espresso on a fall afternoon on a balcony in Trastevere, eating cheese at the morning market on Campo de' Fiori, and returning to the city that once spit me out. Just like the relationship you have with any person, it often isn't love at first sight. Sometimes you have to work at it, discover their true colors, and build an appreciation for who they are. In Rome's case, it was a friendship worth fighting for.
1) Do Your Restaurant Research
Not researching any restaurants was my biggest mistake on my first trip to Rome. I was so excited for all the great food I had heard about, but ended up in tourist trap restaurants with overpriced, americanized food. I was so disappointed. However, my next time around, after discussing the Rome restaurant scene with a local friend, I was able to have the food experience I was looking for.
Here are my top picks:
Obica - Yes, Obica is a chain. In spite of this, they offer some of the best chocolate croissants I've ever had. This is a great stop for breakfast or lunch.
Gli Angeletti - This has become one of my favorite lunch spots in Rome. Sit on their outdoor terrace to enjoy a glass of their house wine and one of their delicious paninis.
Taverna Trilussa - This restaurant was recommended to me by a Roman local. They serve their pasta dishes right in the pan they're cooked in, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase "hot and ready"
Osteria St. Ana - Between the impeccable service and great seafood, this place is one I always recommend to people traveling to Rome. My favorite is their mixed seafood appetizer - the thinly sliced Octopus in it is to die for.
Zuma - If you're over Italian food, this is great place to enjoy Japanese fine dining. If this is somewhere you're considering, make reservations to sit on their rooftop patio. Wrighter tip: When eating out, ask for the house wine. It's always the cheapest, usually going for less than 10 euro, and will taste better than any mid-range priced Italian wine you've ever had in America. As for tipping, leaving anything over 5% is not customary, and tipping at all is optional and not expected.
2) Choose Your Sight-Seeing Wisely
There is so much to see in Rome. From the Colosseum to the Trevi Fountain, it can get overwhelming. Touring these monuments on a hot day can get old quickly, so make sure to pick two or three of these to do, and don't let them take up your whole day. You don't need to plan four hours at the Trevi Fountain. It's a fountain. You take a picture, throw a coin, and get out of there. Also, make sure to do your research on how long an attraction will take you and consider doing the Hop-on Hop-off bus to choose where you want to go inside of. That gives you the opportunity to see Rome with a guided history lesson, without having to walk across town to stand in line and stare at a building you know nothing about.
Top things to see in Rome:
Villa Borghese Park
Mouth of Truth
Piazza di Spagna and Spanish Steps
Altare della Patria
Wrighter Tip: Along with the main tourist attractions above, do something more unusual and off the beaten path like visiting the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary or the Municipal Rose Garden of Rome.
3) Visit the Vatican at Sunset
I have mixed emotions on visiting the Vatican. On my first visit, I attended a three-hour long private tour through the Vatican Museums and absolutely hated it. It was too long, to dense in information, and left me lacking an appreciation for anything I had just saw. That being said, I think it's very important to see the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica. They're stunning and crucially important to world history, but unless Christianity plays a large role in your life, I don't recommend spending a full day here.
If touring the museums doesn't interest you, I fully recommend going to Vatican city at sunset, enjoying breathtaking views of the St. Angelo Bridge and the sun lowering over St. Peter's Square.
Wrighter tip: If you plan on entering the Vatican Museums, make sure to have your legs and shoulders covered. Italian churches are very strict about dress code. (We were on our way to dinner in the photos above and just stopped by St. Peter's Square to watch sunset. This would not be an appropriate outfit to enter the museums or places of worship.)
4) Spend time shopping
In my opinion, Rome has some of the best shopping in the world (matched only by London's shopping scene). Take advantage of streets such as Via Condotti, Via Borgognona, Via Frattina, and Via del Corso, where there is an array of couture designers along with budget retailers.
Here are some of my favorite shops in Rome:
Pull & Bear
Wrighter Tip: European designers such as Prada, Gucci, Celine, and more sell their products in Europe for hundred of dollars cheaper than they do in the United States. If you're looking to splurge on a new pair of shoes or designer bag, this is the place to do it.
5) Check Out Local Events
Before heading to any city, I always check out what local events will be occurring during my trip. You might be able to catch a fun festival, show, or restaurant opening. I was lucky enough to stumble upon a music festival with one of my favorite bands playing in Rome during my last visit. Having that kind of experience with Italian locals was one of the reasons I discovered a newfound liking for Rome. For an up-to-date monthly event calendar in Rome, visit Romeing.com
If there aren't any events that strike you, try taking an interactive tour or class! There are a variety of cooking classes, vespa tours, and wine tasting experiences. There is even a great kayaking experience offered outside of the city.
Things to know
As the rest of Italy, the Rome uses the Euro. As of August 2019, 1 Euro equals
1.11 USD. Get a time accurate estimate here.
In order to avoid expensive international surcharges and roaming fees, get an international sim card at Vodafone after arriving in Rome. There are multiple stores around the city.
Although some outlets in Italy accept a three-prong type L adapter, your best bet is to stick with a Type C two-prong adapter as it will work in all units.
Rome does have a metro and tram system, however, it does not run through every district. To get around the city most efficiently, go by bus or taxi. To get more in-depth information on Rome transportation, visit Rome's transportation site.
Note: As of August 2019, Rome only accepts Uber Black, which causes a surcharge on Uber rides.
Have advice on how to best tour Rome? Let me know in the comments below!