Italy is still on my mind since Venice and rather than leaving the country, let’s linger a little bit longer. Let’s visit the city responsible for western civilization as we know it and the city which still gives me butterflies: the Eternal City, Roma.
I’ve had the delight of being twice romanced by Rome—first during my semester in Norway in college and last summer with my greatest partner in crime, my sister Maria—and both times it struck how this famed city is immediately likeable. The vibrant piazzas and the almost continual rush of mopeds, motorcycles and Fiats are energizing and if you do need a pick-me-up, you’re never far from a deli or café serving perfect cappuccino.
My relationship with the Eternal City is far from monogamous and millions of visitors compete for its affection every year. Still, there are a few secrets I’ve learned to make Rome love you back (hint: lipstick and heels are a do). Make your Roman holiday an affair to remember with the following tips sure to brush jealousy aside.
#1: Guided tours are your friend. Every visitor wants their peek of Rome’s alluring past and present and, as such, you can expect long lines and long waits easily reaching two to three hours outside of attractions like the Coliseum and Vatican. No date marked by sore feet or sunburn is fun, so plan ahead with a guided tour. For about $40-$60 a ticket, booking a guided tour is well worth the money. Not only do you get to skip the line, but you’ll learn so much more from your tour guide than you would on your own.
Our skip the line tour of the Coliseum was excellent. Lead by an extremely knowledgeable and captivating archaeology professor, we learned not only about the Coliseum and its gladiators, but received an in-depth look of Ancient Rome as our same tour lead us to Palatine Hill and through the Roman Forum.
Our four hour tour of the Vatican allowed us to also skip the long lines, and included tours of the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. Our tour group was composed of about thirty people and we were all given headphones to ensure we could hear our guide at all times. As I had seen the Coliseum and Vatican before, my favorite tour of Rome was certainly the Dark Heart of Rome: Facts, Legends and Mystery Tour. Our American tour guide was, again, fantastic, divulging secrets about Rome’s naughty Popes along with lesser-known faucets of Rome’s history, such as The Murder of the Husbands. The evening tour also provides a safe and alluring means of exploring Rome by night. This is really not to be missed!
#2: You can’t go wrong eating al fresco. Since we spent more on guided tours and splurged on lovely accommodations in Cinque Terre (more to come!), we dined simply and deliciously in Rome with frequent picnics. You really can’t go wrong stopping at a local deli for sandwiches and Pellegrino and there’s always gelato to round out your meal. Our favorite gelateria was Caffe Pasticceria Giolitti just off Piazza Colonna at Via Uffici del Vicario 40. This was an easy walk from the Pantheon. Once you’re there, simply ask for directions and someone will help you find the way. The hazelnut gelato is heavenly.
#3: Escape to Trastevere. I’m convinced Romans don’t ever sleep and the busyness of the city can, at times, feel overwhelming. Strolling through the postcard-perfect streets of the Trastevere neighborhood is the ideal antidote. Located on the west bank of the Tibre, Trastevere is Rome without the throngs of tourists. The cobbled streets are mostly car-free and warm-colored apartments and cafès are marked by window-boxes spilling over with flowers. There’s also an abundance of good and reasonably-priced places to eat.
#4: Be ready to walk. Rome’s Metro system is okay. Tickets are cheap and can be found throughout the city at newsstands and tabacchis (tobacco shops), but the line isn’t very thorough and primarily hits only the four outer points of the city. My sister and I used the buses when we could, but found them somewhat confusing and unreliable. So! Prepare to walk. Lots. Also keep in mind that the metro only runs until 11:30 every night (12:30 on Saturdays), so if out late, plan a safe way to get home.
Walking really is one of the best ways to explore a city and, in the case of Rome, is the ideal way to discover local trattorias and shops. Just be sure to wear comfortable shoes—think chic ballet flats or Dr. Marten’s flats.
#5: Explore literary Rome. Almost all of the English Romantics spent time in Rome and the Piazza di Spagna (the Spanish Steps) was known as the English Ghetto for many years. John Keats, Percy Shelley and George Byron all spent time in Rome, marveling at the passion of Italian culture. In fact, apartment No. 26, located directly next to the Spanish Steps, was Keats home for the last few months of his life and has since been turned into the Keats-Shelley Memorial House. The museum is small, but well worth the visit. The cast mold of Keats at death is eerie and seeing the bedroom in which he spent his last days is humbling.
The Goethe Museum, located in Via del Corso 18, is housed in the same three rooms in which the poet/artist/writer/critic lived for two years between 1786 to 1788 and offers a first-hand look at hundreds of Goethe’s watercolors, letters and diary entries. Nobel writer Sigrid Undset, whom I came to love during my time in Lillehammer, Norway also spent time in Rome.
#6: Dress up when you can. Italian woman know how to dress and they’re not afraid to wear heels, dresses and all things femme fatale. When you can, dress like a local in figure-slimming clothes and don’t forget to wear lipstick.
#7: Get to know Catholic Rome. There must be hundreds of churches and cathedrals and Rome, and the reach of the Catholic Church extends far beyond Vatican walls. For a darker view of Rome’s papal past, visiting the Capuchin Crypt located beneath the church of Santa Maria near Piazza Barberini is, in a word, fascinating. Featuring the skeletal remains of 3,700 bodies adorning the Cathedral’s walls, the bones are believed to be Capuchin friars buried by their order or remnants stolen from catacombs. If you have time, exploring these other churches is well worth your time.
Inside the Vatican
Whatever reason or excuse you have to visit Rome, I hope you take it. Like a passionate love affair, Rome is nuanced and enthralling and its memory will last long.