MOLTO BELLA! I have had three, too-brief stopovers here and love this city and want MORE. There is a vibrancy here you find only in New York, Tokyo and London, along with a marvelous sense of history. When you are visiting sites that were built in 72 AD, you can feel the years of history weighing on every bit of the town. Growing up in Catholic school, my opinion of Rome was all about big churches and popes and I had no interest in visiting. Yes, this is part of Rome’s fascinating culture, but the city is alive with fashion, art, food and fun. It is crowded and exhausting - you need to go to the outskirts to really see it.
Top 5 Days
- Private Tour of the Vatican – We did a 3 hour private tour and it is well worth it. This holy rolling extravaganza is the second most toured location in the world, right behind Disneyland. We learned so much from our guide and got to go at our pace. There is more art to see here then even the Louvre in Paris and the works are not all religiously related. This history of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica are fascinating. Go on Wednesdays if you want to attend Mass. Plus, I hit my 39th country with this country of 900 population.
- Ramble through Trasterverne – Spend the day ground at ground zero for hip and cool. Shop, café, wino, stroll and observe. I would compare this the Greenwich Village or the Mission in SF. Just a few years older. ;)
- Check out Ancient Rome – See the Colosseum, Palazzo dei Conservatori, and the Roman Forums. There are hordes of people here, so just plan on few hour to soak up the history.
- Fountain Hop – Get a special map and wander the city by checking out every local piazza with a beautiful fountain as the center piece..
- Shop for Contempory Art – We saw so many cool contemporary art stores, many quite casual, and I would have love to have come to specifically look for pieces, many established artists and explore other unknowns.
Top 5 High Style, Low Maintenance Hotels
- Hotel Eden - I only stayed here on my Starwood points and it was a perfect use of points. It is in a lovely location, but too high maintenance for my style. Our room had an awesome balcony overlooking the city – but I never would have dished out the $1,200 per night. We went to play dominos on the rooftop deck and it was so pretentious and stuffy.
- St. Regis - Yep, another stay on points. This is a great city to use any of your hotel points, as the hotel prices are outrageous. Even the Best Westerns looked nice.
- Tablet Hotels – I would trust any of the recommendations on this London-based operator’s site.
- Chic Retreats – Great site to look for a tiny, boutique hotel. I usually love to get city recommendations from the owners at these small places.
- Casa Howard – 10 contemporary room , cozy rooms in two locations is like staying at your hip Italian friend’s pad.
Top 5 Foodie Finds
- Sabatini – This is an elegant, yet casual seafood spot right on Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere with outside seating. We chatted up a woman from Oakland, CA that had been coming since 1969 for the eggplant parmesan. Try the seafood pastas and Roman artichokes. The vibe is full energy in the Piazza so the elegance is mixed with fun.
- Traverna Flavia - Awesome, authentic spot with great pastas. The carbonara here is one of the best dishes I have ever had. Do it.
- Wine Bars – Wine bars are great place to get small bites to each in a casual setting before a night out on the town. Try hip, tiny Ferrara in Trastevere. Food all over Rome is mixed especially in the tourist areas, so definitely hit guidebooks or ask the locals for recommendations.
- Cafes – Make sure to make time to stop for a cappuccino or espresso along the way. Relax and chat up the locals. It’s also a great way to wake you up if you are fading after a long day of taking in all Rome has to offer.
- Hamasei - After 10 days eating Italian and Croatian food, we were ready for some sushi. We were surprised how good the sushi is here. The fish is local and fresh.
Top 5 Tips
- Book private Vatican or Rome tours directly – We booked through our hotel and it was marked up quite a bit. Try Context Travel at contexttravel.com for Rome’s best art historians and PhDs to school you.
- Siesta – I guess that is what the Italians shopkeepers do from 1 to 4 pm? Well, when in Rome.
- Stay for Week – You still would have tons to do. Combine a trip to Umbria or Amalfi for the perfect vacation.
- Get out of the super tourist areas a bit – then you will see true Rome. And they know how to live. They are partying, passionately fighting and making out all over town.
- Don’t be afraid to be a tourist – Romans are proud to show off their city and it is truly filled with tourists. I don’t care if I am carrying a map, a big ol camara and my white tennis shoes. The nuns are.
Top 5 Misses
- Skip the big group tours – We signed up for one at the Colosseum, and they ended up having about 30 people in the group. They spent more time herding the cattle than giving the tour. Try an audio tour instead.
- Negotiate Before You Pay – For extra scoops of gelato, renting cars, etc… Since tourism is down, everyone is trying to make a buck.
- Watch the meter – Rome’s taxi drivers are notorious for adding costs. Make sure the red dot is on #1 before you settle into your seat.
- Waiters – They move at their own pace and can be gruff at times.
- Summer – You’ll be praying to the pope to get you outta hell in July and August. Plus, the city shuts in August and they escape the heat and cool their sins in the ocean.