A very important lesson we learned flying into Rome is to let your first travel day be flexible. Our flight was 6 hours delayed and thankfully we hadn’t planned much but roaming. People around us had booked train tickets that couldn’t be changed. We were grateful to not have a ton of pressure on us surrounding arrival.
Our plan included three days in Rome, a train to Florence and two day trips out of Florence, then two days in Florence before heading back to Rome for a night with an early flight home to Dallas. Rome and Milan are the main airports in Italy and your best bet for a direct flight. We also flew standby, so we planned this entire trip and booked it a week before we left. If you have an upcoming trip and you’re feeling anxious you haven’t booked anything yet, let that make you feel better.
Some important tips we received througout our trip that we wish we’d known upon arrival:
Most of the good restaurants are located in Trastevere. It’s almost worth it to just bring snacks for the day so you can make it over there for your meals because otherwise it’s low quality tourist food.
If you want to eat pizza (who doesn’t?), there are three keys. First, you want a wood fire oven. If they have one, it’s probably visible to customers, if they don’t, you don’t want the pizza. Second, if a restaurant wants to serve you frozen food, they have to disclose it. Make sure you look for symbols on the menu for things like this, such as an asterisk. We ate at a place that we didn’t see the oven and weren’t provided a menu and it was nasty. More to come on that… because this guide isn’t just to highlight the good places. Lastly, the margherita pizza is your index- it should be priced around €7-9 and if it’s any more, it’s a trap (same for carbonara).
This reminds me that you should pack PROBIOTICS. A friend had reminded me and I still forgot. I’m not a huge gluten/dairy/wine person normally, so my body was feelin’ it… but babe IS a gluten/dairy/wine person usually and he still felt it. We were both very bloated by the end of the trip. Worth every bite though.
I also bought cute little white keds for our trip, I thought they’d look good with different outfits- even dresses- and they’d be good for walking. They were NOT good for walking. They had zero arch support and I had TERRIBLE lower back pain for the last half of our trip. Make sure you have good support, friends!
The water that comes from the public fountains is perfectly safe to drink. If you want to go to a grocery store to purchase a bottle, look for a real grocery store with produce, not a convenience store. We paid as much as €2 for a large bottle at some places and as little as €0.30 after we discovered the real grocery stores.
Lastly, everyone knows there’s pick pocketers… what I didn’t know is that usually they are little girls. Apparently they have an advantage of the societal discomfort if a man grabs a little girls hand out of his pocket in public- it keeps them safe in an otherwise potentially dangerous situation. That being said, they aren’t as likely to be out at night as they lose this advantage.
We checked into our adorable Bed & Breakfast, Domus Trevi, located right by the Trevi Fountain. The hostess was a gem. She made us a hot breakfast to order each morning and mapped out our best routes for the day. The location was a two minute walk to the Trevi Fountain which was nice since it became so busy during the day, we were able to enjoy it quietly in the early mornings before the crowds. I did wish at some points that we had stayed closer to Trasteve so we could’ve easily eaten over there for dinner every night.. but you can’t have your cake and eat it too.. I did love being near the Trevi- so romantic! The location allowed us to walk everywhere.
Snagged some sandwiches to go as we began to wander at Prosciutteria Cantina Dei Papi Trevi right by the hotel. I was a little overwhelmed by our first sandwich experience, so let me give you a run down of how it works. You essentially pick your meat and cheese and that’s what determines the price (typically between €5-6 per sandwich). You can pretty much request any add-on you want at no upcharge. It’s similar to a Subway experience- where you can just point to things that look good. I was a little anxious at first and so we ended up with some measly sandwiches, but in my next few sandwich experiences (in Florence) I was excited to add on pesto and tons of roasted veggies. We paid immediately because we wanted to walk around, but usually you would sit and eat and pay before you leave. Also if you didn’t know, you don’t typically tip anywhere in Europe, if the service is exceptional you can leave some change, but it isn’t expected.
Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara coeli was a gorgeous basilica to wander.
Giardino degli aranci or the Orange Trees Garden was recommended to us by our hostess. It was a small park spotted with beautiful orange trees and we enjoyed the view of the city while a violinist played. It was very romantic and a great spot to relax and enjoy the moment.
We walked past the Aventine Keyhole, but didn’t join the line. Everyone waits to poke an eye through a keyhole in a doorway where you can supposedly see the best view in Rome. It’s located at the intersection of via di S. Sabina and via di Porta Lavernale on the Aventine hill.
Tonnarello was our first and my favorite dinner in Rome- I may be biased since there was so much excitement and it was my first pasta dish. The atmosphere was lively and we shared a bottle of house wine and each ordered the generous portion of spaghetti and meatballs. It was delicious and the couple next to us were locals… that’s how you know it’s a good spot, right?
Of course, we ended the night with gelato at Günther … most of the gelato places were pretty similar, our favorite spot was during a day trip out of Florence to San Gimignano at Gelateria Dondoli. More on that in the Florence guide!
Vatican & Sistine Chapel: 110% you NEED to purchase tickets before you go. We did book our entire trip about a week before going (we traveled standby), so you don’t need a ton of time in advance- but we had to be a little flexible to fit what slots were left open. We booked our tickets thru City Wonders and met them outside the Vatican at a designated time to cut the 3 hour+ line and receive our tickets. Once inside, we started to wander and felt very overwhelmed by how much there was to see. We opted to purchase the self guided tour via headsets that the Vatican offers and it was the perfect option. Unless you’re super well prepared and remember to download Rick Steves AND bring headphones. We enjoyed having a frame of reference for the rooms and art we were viewing, as well as a map to guide us. It was SO packed that we don’t think we would have liked a guided tour anyways- it would be too difficult to be herded and actually see what they’re speaking to while they’re speaking to it. We spent about two and a half hours touring before deciding we were tiring out and hurried along to the chapel to finish the tour. That’s to say, that if you wanted to- you could probably spend about four hours there.
We stopped into Pizza Zizza for lunch right next to the Vatican. It was very touristy and I fought Justin until I was too hungry and tired to do so. It had a zillion great Yelp reviews. I was right. It was disgusting. Remember those frozen Ellio’s pizzas from your childhood? Yep, just like that.
St. Peter’s Basilica: free to enter, it’s one of the world’s holiest catholic shrines and is located it Vatican City as well.
Free Walking Tour by Rome’s Ultimate was super interesting and entertaining- these are always our favorite way to learn the ropes of the city. This is also where we learned how to find good pizza. We prefer to do walking tours our first day of being in a new city so you get your bearings. The tour is completely free and they work for tips.
Porta del Popolo
Piazza del Popolo
Tomb of Augustus
An introduction to the Vatican
& more gelato, of course. We stopped into Gelateria Della Palma for their selection of 150 flavors on our walking tour.
Dinner at Nannarella this place had great reviews and when we finally sat we realized it was the exact same menu as the night before- whoops! Same restaurant with a different name. The food was still great, Justin tried the carbonara and I had a salad, we both preferred the atmosphere the first night and the spaghetti and meatballs.
Our walking tour guide had mentioned Salvatore Di Matteo Le Gourmet, but we never made it there.
Trevi Fountain: it gets super busy during the day, I recommend an early morning to enjoy it on your own and make your wish. It’s said that you should toss your coin using your right hand over your left shoulder to ensure your return to the city. The money is collected to subsidize a supermarket for Rome’s needy!
Old Market included tons of vendors with beautiful fresh produce!
Spanish Steps: a monumental stairway in front of a beautiful church, at the bottom is the Fontana della Barcaccia, or the Fountain of the Boat.
Castel Sant’Angelo: a beautiful castle with some interesting history located near the Vatican. The tickets were cheap, €5 each between 9-11am and it was an easy self guided tour.
We began a serious pizza hunt to make up for our disappointment the previous day, but it was too early and we were trying to eat before our Collosseum tour. Most of the places we sought out were still closed. We ended up at Casa Manco in Mercato di Testaccio. They had quite the selection of pizzas with crazy toppings. I had cabbage and potato and babe had roasted peppers and mozarella.
Colosseum and Roman Forum: this was our big splurge. We bought the special tickets with an underground tour of the Colosseum. Another item we had to be flexible with due to our last minute planning. WHAT A WASTE. First of all, private vendors snag up all of the tickets from the Colosseum and resell them, so they are absurdly priced. Second, our tour guide inside the Colosseum was an archaeologist (apparently they are the only ones allowed to tour underground). I’m sure he’s a wonderful archaeologist, but he was not a wonderful tour guide. He was boring and some people even left the tour because it was such a snooze. The underground view was brief and we would have been perfectly happy wandering the Colosseum with normal tickets without a tour at all. We had already recieved some brief history from our walking tour that helped with a bit of historical perspective. On the other hand, our tickets also included a tour of the Roman Forum, which was one of my favorite parts of the trip. It was incredible to see so much history for such various times in one small area. It would have been way too much architecture to understand without context from a guide.
After the tour, we scurried off to catch our train to Florence.
We did return back to Rome for one last night before our early departure back to Dallas.
This night, we stayed at Hotel Artemide which was a bit closer to the train station than our original location. The hotel was stunning, very chic and just about the same price as the B&B, just a different experience and location!
We stopped at Sapori e Delizie for dinner and babe said it was his favorite meal of the whole trip. It was crawling with locals. He had a calzone and I had a big ole’ salad with roasted veggies. The pizzas looked great too. Babe also dug into a tiramisu there that was mediocre.
Hope you enjoyed our trip as much as we did! Ciao.