From April 27th to May 1st I traveled to Rome with my wife. She had been wanting to go to Rome all her life, so there was a great deal of anticipation in this trip. It did not let us down a bit and we enjoyed every minute we spent in the city. We’re eager to go back some day and spend a bit more time slowly tasting a few things we didn’t manage to visit and revisiting our favorite places.
How’s the city?
Rome is a busy city with raving traffic and packed with tourists every day of the year. If you want to go to Rome and want to get a general introduction about the city, I cannot stop recommending Wikitravel’s entry on the city. It has a lot of useful information. I don’t recommend going during summer because it will probably be hot as hell. Spring or autumn are better.
Rome’s downtown is not that big and can be traversed on foot without much trouble provided you’re not in a very bad shape. I’m still relatively thin despite not exercising in years and didn’t suffer too much walking everywhere.
Food is as cheap or as expensive as you want. There are countless fast food and pizza kiosks everywhere in the city that make it possible to have lunch for around 5 euros. Or, for a bit more money, special menus in restaurants adjacent to Fontana Di Trevi on the west are available normally consisting of two main courses plus a dessert. With a water bottle, you could end up paying around 15 euros per person. For a similar price you could also order a full pizza and a drink. Or if price is not the problem you can enter any nice restaurant and order whatever you wish a la carte.
Two hints about eating in Rome: sometimes the service is included in the price (normally around 10%) and sometimes it’s not. Check your receipt to see if you have to tip or not. Also, you may see a special menu offer outside the restaurant and no signs of it inside or mentioned by the waiters. Do not hesitate and order the menu with the name you read outside. It’s not a problem at all. Also, do not order anything without knowing its price in advance, specially around the Vatican City area. It’s a recipe to get cheated.
Where to stay?
The Tiber river crosses the city from north to south and leaves most interesting things to the east, while Vatican City and the Trastevere district remain on the west bank.
Almost always, you want your hotel to be on the east bank. In the east end you’ll find the Termini train station. Close to it you can find the best price/quality ratio without being too far. Prices normally increase as you move to the center of the city, but there are a few luxury hotels in noncentric areas. Ideally, you could get your hotel with a special discount on the Internet and close to the Pantheon. If not, move east up to the Termini station until you find a price you can agree with.
For this trip we were hosted at the Nuovo Hotel Quattro Fontane, a nice 3 stars hotel not too far away. I can totally recommend it. It’s small, affordable, and has a wonderful staff and a decent breakfast buffet. We were very close to catching a special offer to stay at the Hotel Della Torre Argentina for less than 150 euros a night, which would have been almost the ideal location. But I can’t comment on it since we didn’t stay there.
What I would visit again
If I were to visit Rome again for 3 or 4 days, I would repeat my visit to the Pantheon without a doubt. It’s an impressive building from ancient Rome converted to a Catholic church in the heart of the city. Pros: Raffael’s grave, free entrance, no queues. Cons: none I can think of.
I would also visit the Colosseum again. Cons: if you go as-is, you’ll most likely face a 2-hour long queue to enter the building. Pros: you can get a Roma Pass card in one of the Tourist Information points and go in directly, or you can sign up and pay for a guided tour as you approach the building. Guided tours have the advantage of visiting a few areas which are not accessible otherwise. We went in with Roma Pass cards, but would sign up for a guided visit the next time.
By the way, a Roma Pass card is a card that costs 30 euros per person and gives you unlimited access to the public transport system for 3 days, plus free entrance to the first two museums, plus preferential access to a few places. It almost paid for itself when we could get in the Colosseum without waiting. :-)
The Vatican Museums are worth a second visit too. We signed up for a guided tour prior to our trip, but we didn’t like it. The next time, we would read about their most interesting things in advance (including the always-crowded Sistine Chapel) and would try to get a ticket from their official website to avoid waiting in line. After that visit, you can go directly to the St. Peter’s Basilica, which probably has the most impressive and massive dome in the world. If you have time and energy, you could climb to the top of the dome (paid apart and needing to wait in line, for sure). I did this time but do not attempt the climb if you’re afraid of heights or in very poor shape. 500 steps ahead. You can take an elevator that would save you 200.
It’s worth noting the Roma Pass card does not work in Vatican City. Different government and different country.
A few other things are worth revisiting if I have time, but those are the essentials.
What I would skip
I would skip the Castel Sant’Angelo and a lot of churches. They’re all very beautiful but there are hundreds of them and we visited a few dozen. I’d only go to the basic interesting ones with unskippable art in them.
I also had the classic Tartufo in Piazza Navona. Neither me nor my wife liked it very much. It typically costs 5 euros if you order it to take away and 10 euros if you sit outside. Only worth it if you like chocolate a bit bitter and with a slight touch of liquor.
While we’re at it, every whipped cream we got served in Rome has a distinct lack of sugar compared to how we prepare it in Spain, so I found it a bit tasteless everywhere.
What I missed that would like to visit
A walk and dinner in Trastevere. The lack of time and excess of distance prevented us from going there.
The Catacombs. Their main entrance is located in an area a few kilometers south of Rome. You can take a planned tour bus. I don’t know if it’s currently possible/sensible to go there by yourself easily.
And that’s it for now. Arrivederci, Roma.
PS: In the video, they’re sitting in Piazza Navona.