Rome in a Day - A Travel Guide
A few weeks ago, we went on holiday. It was much needed. I have been spending so much time trying to juggle everything - working on the house, my day job and running my business, as the boy has been super-busy studying for important work things for the past year or so - that I was a little burned out.
We were lucky enough to be attending our wonderful friends’ wedding at Villa Palazzola (separate blog post here) just outside Rome. As neither the boy nor I have ever been to Rome before, we took the opportunity of spending a couple of nights there before heading to Rocca di Papa. Have I mentioned before how much I hate flying? Every time I get on a plane I am filled with abject terror. I don’t mind the bit where it hurtles down the runway at the beginning, or the bit when it touches down at the end, it’s just the entire bit where the wheels aren’t on the floor that I disagree with.
Anyway, we did not plunge in fiery doom from the sky (the boy is always right about this) and arrived at our hotel in the early evening.
Where to Stay in Rome
The boy had booked a room at the iRooms Pantheon, as the location looked great. It was really central and within walking distance of all the major attractions. There are cheaper areas in Rome to stay, but as we had such a short time in Rome, we opted for convenience over budget. I hadn’t had time to do any research before we got there, so was somewhat surprised when the receptionist showed us into a huge room that had its own sauna and a jacuzzi almost big enough to swim in! Brilliant fun, and felt so very decadent!
Where to get great pizza in Rome
I had asked a friend of mine who is often in Rome for recommendations of places to eat that weren’t overpriced and super touristy. Based on where we were staying, she suggested heading to the Monti area, as it’s reasonably central, but just far away enough from the tourist stuff that locals also hang out there. We wanted pizza and prosecco (when in Rome, etc…) so I did a quick google search and liked the sound of Alle Carrette (Via della Madonna dei Monti, 95, 00184 Roma). We had a lovely wander from our apartment (so lucky with the weather, it was really warm) past some ancient ruins, to the restaurant. And it was lovely! Bargain prosecco (yay!), and massive, crispy, wood-fired pizzas, which ranged from €6 - €9. We also had supplì to start, as I was told you can’t go to Rome without trying this quintessentially Roman snack. It’s similar to arancini - basically a fried ball of rice with either vegetable or meat filling and mozzarella - and is absolutely marvellous. I failed to take any photos as I was too busy stuffing my face with molten cheesy goodness.
Although the tiramisu also looked amazing, I had my heart set on getting some gelato. My wonky map reading skills decided that the Trevi Fountain was kind of on the way back to the apartment, so we detoured slightly to Gelateria Valentino (Via del Lavatore, 96, 00187 Roma RM, Italy), where the gelato was oh so delicious but also pretty expensive!
Trevi Fountain is very beautiful and very, very crowded! It’s incredible to think that this magnificent Baroque structure was all built and carved by hand from travertine stone. The fountain was restored and cleaned a few years ago by the Fendi luxury house, so it’s all sparkly and new looking. Well, I mean not new new, obviously, as it’s been there since ancient Roman times, but the stone is all pale and shiny again!
After a slightly drunken and sugar-fuelled wobble back to the apartment, we decided that we should make a plan for sightseeing the next day, as we only had one full day in Rome before heading out to Rocca di Papa.
Vatican City and The Sistine Chapel
Top of our list was Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel - you can’t go to Rome and not see that right? Also, it helpfully appears to be the touristy thing that opens earliest, so we made a plan to get up ridiculously early and walk there. I freely admit to knowing very little about Rome (or history in general!) and was surprised to find out that Vatican City is actually an entirely independent city-state. It’s in the middle of Rome, but there’s a great big wall around it and everything!
Anyway, putting my general idiocy aside, we headed out early, caffeinated the boy and rocked up at Vatican City. There’s a really big queue. Chatted to a couple of people who had been in the queue from 6:30am. Realised we probably should have researched this a bit more in advance. Anyway, we decided to go with a skip the line tour of the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel. It costs a bit more than waiting in line to get in, but as we were only here for the day and wanted to fit a LOT of stuff in, it seemed worth the extra cash. I’m glad we did it as we got a really great tour guide, who was an art history graduate, and learned a lot about the history of Vatican City, the artworks in the museum and the Sistine Chapel.
The Vatican Museums are huge, with galleries of historical artworks in every direction. All of the ceilings are amazingly beautiful and your neck will hurt from looking upwards constantly. The gallery of maps on the way to the Sistine Chapel was one of my favourite parts though, and I was a bit disappointed that we were rushed through. The maps were all hand painted using an aerial perspective, many years before satellites were even dreamed of. The maps are painted with such accuracy and tiny decorative details I could have spent hours exploring.
After the map galleries you enter the Sistine Chapel, which is just breathtaking. We learned about Michelangelo’s artistic achievements during my degree, but nothing can quite prepare you for looking up at the stunning artwork. You’re not allowed to take any photographs in there, and the rule is very strictly enforced by the many security guards pacing the perimeter.
St Peter’s Basilica
After the tour, we were free to wander around the rest of the museum and St Peter’s Basilica, which was just beautiful. I adore Baroque architecture and have been very spoilt with basilica beauty, having also been to Venice with my mum earlier this year. Saint Peter’s Basilica is a wonderful fusion of Renaissance and Baroque architectural styles, with one of the largest domes in the world. I could have stayed there and been inspired by the decorative details and fancy columns all day, but only having one day in Rome there is so much to see, so onward we marched!
From Vatican City, we headed back across the river to the Pantheon, which was next on our list of things we’d really love to see. As a bit of an architecture geek, I was excited to see the Pantheon's dome - it is still to this day the world's largest un-reinforced concrete dome, almost two thousand years after it was built - how amazing is that?! The centre of the dome is open to the sky and the flooring section under it was roped off as it was raining when we visited, I’m assuming so no-one slipped on the tiles. It’s free to enter the Pantheon and there was only a short queue when we arrived, so I would definitely recommend visiting.
After a brief lunch stop, the final thing we really wanted to see was of course the Colosseum. We are lucky enough to be able to walk for long periods of time as trying to see all the sights of Rome in one day is pretty full on.
Upon arriving at the Colosseum, it looked very busy and there were a lot of organised tour companies trying to get us to pay extra for skip the line tours. Having done a bit of research (thanks google!) on the walk there, it seemed like the lines to get in moved really quickly compared to the queues for Vatican City, so we decided to just wait in line. It only took us around 20 minutes to get in, so it definitely wouldn’t have been worth paying the extra to skip.
And gosh was it worth visiting! Dating from ancient Rome, the Colosseum is the world’s largest amphitheatre and has survived from the fall of the Roman Empire to remain standing (albeit in a somewhat crumbled fashion) today.
The entry ticket to the Colosseum also includes entry to the Forum and Palatine Hill. The Roman Forum was at the centre of daily life in Rome, dating back to the sixth centry BC (I basically Wikepedia toured us around Rome as we forgot to get a guide book!) There is a lot of climbing up to the top of a really big hill. We briefly dithered as to whether it was worth the bother, given that we’d been on our feet exploring since about 7am. It really, really is worth the bother - the views across the Forum and the city are just stunning. Having visited Venice and now experienced the beauty of Rome as well, I have completely fallen in love with Italy and the boy and I are already planning future trips.
By the time we had found our way out of the Forum and back to the apartment, it was about 7pm, so it was a pretty full on day. There was a lot of walking and my feet hurt, despite super-comfy sandals. We had about 10 minutes to flump, then it was out again to meet our friends who were also going to the wedding at Villa Palazzola.
Drinks and Dinner in Trastevere
Our friends were staying in Trastevere, and found a lovely little bar for us to meet in before dinner - Bar San Calisto (Piazza di San Calisto 3, 00153 Rome). Again with the bargain prosecco (bloody love Italy!) and a busy, friendly bar with a lovely atmosphere.
We moved on for dinner to Tonnarello (Via della Paglia, 1, 00153 Roma RM, Italy). They were very friendly and patient whilst we waited for our friend who had been dealing with all sorts of stressful car-rental related stuff, and we had a lovely dinner. More gelato was then demanded and we went to a fabulous (and much more reasonably priced than Trevi Fountain one) gelato bar for dessert - Gelateria Artigianale (Vicolo de' Cinque, 17, 00153 Roma). I asked for one scoop of cherry and one of vanilla, but they gave me cherry and hazelnut instead, which was an interesting combination, but still delicious because ice cream.
With our day in Rome at an end, I think the only thing we missed out was a visit to the Spanish steps, as we just didn’t have the time to fit it in. I’m happy with the sights that we prioritised though and the whole day was brilliant fun! Rome is such a beautiful city and the boy and I were both struck by the history of everything. Secret courtyards hide behind intricately decorated doors, and each time you turn a corner, you stumble across another ancient and magnificent building or ruin.
So, after slightly tipsily staggering back to the apartment, we were ready for our lovely (and incredibly brave) friend to drive the boy and I up to Villa Palazzola the next day to continue our holiday. Seriously - road safety in Italy is a whole new world. Just assume that (a) there are no rules and (b) everyone apart from the pedestrian has right of way, then you might not die. (Part 2 follows here…)