13 Things You MUST Do in Rome
Rome, Italy is one of the most fascinating cities on earth. With the horrific stories of the colosseum, visiting Vatican City (the smallest country in the world), exploring beautiful Trastevere, eating delicious Italian cuisine and renting a Vespa; I’m sharing some tips and experiences that we loved in this Rome Travel Guide.
Rome is a place you cannot explore without appreciating the history. Birthplace of one of the longest-standing empires in the entire world, Rome was a civilization that started around 1000 BC at Palatine Hill and continued until 453 AD, a timeframe of almost 1500 years!
Palatine Hill is now an archaeological site, providing the extensive history behind this city. Romans are referred to as one of the most technologically advanced empires. They were the first to introduce literacy, the first to have rules of law and expanded three continents, northern Africa, Europe and Asia until their empire fell. However, Roman life wasn’t all perfect. They’re known for extreme slavery, gladiator fighting and a lot of bloodsheds. Life as a Roman seemed pretty tough; you were either a poor peasant struggling, a slave or rich and in power, where everyone wants to stab you in the back to have that power. I think I prefer being a millennial!
A lot of cruise ships come here, so if you want to avoid the crowds, visit the tourist spots before 9 or 10 am.
The Colosseum is one of the craziest places I’ve ever been to. Apparently, it was completely free to attend the events they held here, to watch people be killed. The seating was set by social class, with the most wealthy at the front and the poorest at the back. People drank, ate and even fought in the crowd, it would’ve been chaos! Over half a million people died overall and animals were horrifically put up against people; in the first 100 days alone, 5,000 predatory animals, like lions, were killed.
Most gladiators were actually prisoners or slaves, forced to fight as a small chance for them to win back their freedom; to leave the stadium with prestige, a little money and be in a higher class in society - a little tiny light at the end of the tunnel to fight for survival. Towards the end of the emperor, some people actually volunteered themselves as slaves so they could become gladiators, putting themselves at risk of death in the hope they could have more privileges - horrific but fascinating history and well worth a visit.
If you’re planning to head to the Colosseum, for around 12 euros, you’ll get a ticket for here, the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, all sold together. The line at the Colosseum can get crazy long - I’m talking a 3-hour wait! So either buy your ticket online or head to the Palatine Hill first and get your tickets there, it will save you no end of time. You’ll be assigned a time to visit the Colosseum, so you won't have to do any waiting around like everyone else.
FOOD WALKING TOUR - TRASTEVERE
Trastevere is a must-see neighborhood in Rome. If you want to experience local, authentic Italian food from hidden gems, then a walking food tour is a perfect option for you! Most of the spots on this food tour felt incredibly local, not places you would have ever found yourself. Not only are you brought to these amazing eateries but you’re provided with the history and an explanation as to why you’re there; the benefit of a walking food tour.
The last stop of the evening, of course, had to be gelato at a not so local but still incredible gelato shop, Fatamorgan. If you don’t go on this food tour, I still highly recommend visiting here and trying the chocolate coffee hazelnut flavor gelato, it was mind-blowing!
Tips provided by our guide to avoiding touristy restaurants:
Go to a place that closes for lunch because they are the most traditional places.
Look for restaurants with a short menu, usually Italian cuisine focuses just on a few dishes.
If the menu is in Italian and not translated in many languages then it's a good sign.
A great way to explore Rome is by scooter. If you’re a confident rider then I couldn’t recommend this enough, it was one of my favorite ways to see the city. We hired from Bici Baci (meaning bike and kiss), picking up a beautiful Italian yellow Vespa for a few days. The good thing about driving a scooter is that you can literally park it anywhere; basically just find a spot between two cars and you're good.
COOKING WITH ROMANS AT LOCAL AROMAS
There are so many ways you can see Rome while enjoying the food scene. One of the most unique experiences we had was preparing our own Italian food in Benni and Valeria’s kitchen, the owners of Local Aroma. There’s something about eating the food you’ve cooked yourself; it makes you realize that you could learn to cook delicious food, even when you have no skill in it, but you’ve been led through the process and preparation.
Roman cooking is actually quite simple, there isn’t usually a ton of ingredients. What makes the dishes so tasty is the ingredients that they use. A lot of the ingredients are sourced from local markets by speaking with the farmers and building long term relationships with them - getting the best produce there is. I’ve done quite a few cooking classes before and I think making pasta has to be the most enjoyable.
During our cooking class, we made potato gnocchi, ravioli and tiramisu and each dish were paired with a lovely wine. Everything tasted home-cooked but with deliciously fresh and amazing quality ingredients; a home-cooked meal you dreamed of having. We’re constantly on the road, eating at restaurants, so this just had that authentic feel. Also, the dining room at their cooking school has an incredible view overlooking Rome and the Basilica, making it even more special.
If you’re planning on a cooking class with Local Aromas, make sure you plan ahead and book in advance!
The Pantheon, one of the most well-preserved and influential buildings of ancient Rome, was built in 120 AD. It’s so impressive that it was built that long ago and still stands today. Originally built as Roman temple, used as a tribute to the pagan gods, the Pantheon’s now a church. It’s free to enter (at the moment) unless you want to pay for a guided tour, but you still have to queue to get in. We arrived at 3 pm, and although busy, we didn’t have to queue.
A lot of people just take in the building from the outside, but I highly recommend going in. The ceiling is amazing; in the center of the dome, there is a hole to let light in, there’s no closure to this, so when it rains the water comes straight into the Pantheon and gets drained away.
Apparently, these steps are the widest steps in the world, connecting the Spanish embassy with the rest of Rome. I wouldn’t say this should be top of your list of places to visit, albeit still a beautiful spot with a great view over the city. If you do plan on visiting here, definitely come first thing in the morning, with the crowd’s midday, you can barely see anything.
Don’t grab a takeaway to eat on the steps, you’ll be quickly moved on by security.
EAT WITH A LOCAL
Eat with a local is where locals open their homes to cook for visitors all around the world. During your time in Rome, you’ll eat a lot of the same foods in restaurants, such as pizza and pasta. Whereas Deborah, the amazing cook who invited us into her home, cooked Italian food from all over the country. This allowed for a little break from pasta to experience delicious home-cooked cuisine, such as risotto and melon with custard, while still feeling like the convenience of a restaurant. Her food was amazing!
If you want to eat with Deborah then just send her an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
We were either brave or very stupid because we first visited Trevi Fountain at 5 pm - don’t do that; it was busy, like very busy, much busier than I ever imagined. Despite the crowds, it was much more beautiful than in the photos and so somewhere we would venture back but when a little quieter - the next day at 7 am. If you really want to get the most of Rome as a photographer, videographer or just someone who likes an uninterrupted view, there’s no question about it, you HAVE to do sunrise.
Rome is one of those places, despite how busy they get, you have to visit the tourist spots. They may not be the most enjoyable places when you're fighting against a crowd, it’s tiring, but because of their history, it makes them 100% worthwhile. As a recommendation, tick off one or two touristy locations first thing in the morning then go and explore the hidden gems or enjoy some delicious food; don’t spend all day ticking off every single spot in Rome, you’ll simply be in crowds the whole day.
VISIT A LOCAL PARK
If you’re looking for a little bit of a chillout moment, head to one of the local parks. Despite the crowds, the parks still keep an element of calm. We visited Villa Borghese park, a really beautiful park right behind the Spanish Steps; it’s right in the center of Rome but you wouldn't think it. Grab an ice cream, take a stroll and see all the cute local dogs, it’s a nice green break away from it all.
Other parks worth a visit:
The Botanical Garden
Villa Doria Pamphili
Parco Degli Acquedotti
Piazza Navona, one of the largest squares in Rome, and once home to the Stadium of Domitian, built in 80 AD as an athletic arena, which is why it's more of a long oval than a square. It’s a really beautiful spot to wander through and enjoy the atmosphere, surrounded by fountains, unique Rome buildings, and restaurants.
THE VATICAN CITY
Vatican City is the world’s smallest country with a two-mile border circling it and a population of 1,000 people. Although it’s a completely separate, autonomous city, it does do some things with Italy, for example, it doesn’t do its own taxation. However, Vatican City prints its own money and creates its own license plates and passports.
Basilica and St. Peter’s Dome
The Basilica is one of the largest and most incredible churches in the world - with mind-blowing detail covering every inch. It’s completely free to enter and you must dress respectfully - shorts and skirts must at least ‘cast a shadow over your knees’ and shoulders should be covered.
For 8 euros by foot or 10 euros by elevator, you can get an upper view over the Basilica if you head up St. Peter’s Dome. Hearing the choir sing was truly magical - it’s so angelic from the top of the dome and definitely worth visiting - if you’re not claustrophobic that is. The stairs are very small and tight to get through. Once at the very top, you’ll be greeted with views of the Pope’s garden, the Vatican and Rome - uninterrupted views for miles.
There are many other attractions you could visit in the Vatican City, including the Sistine Chapel, the official residence of the Pope and beautifully decorated. We decided to give those a miss ourselves and were ready for some tasty Italian food, but this may be something that interests you.
WINE TASTING WITH RIMESSA ROSCIOLI
Wine tasting with an experienced sommelier was amazing. The sommelier paired the wines with delicious food and that food completely transformed the taste of the wine. We enjoyed eight wines, a ton of appetizers and cacio e pepe (a pasta dish) - I highly recommend doing this if you like a glass or two!
For me, the highlight and most enjoyable side of Rome was eating our way through it, experiencing more of the local side - my style of travel. If you're planning yourself a trip to Rome, do not miss my Italy video series; for travel tips and all the best food experiences during your time in this beautiful city!
Let's get lost again in the next one!