Rome, Italy – The Eternal city. With more history than most countries, getting lost in this maze of tangled walkways, secret courtyards and seductive piazzas will set your imagination on fire. How can you possibly fit what needs to been seen of a city founded in 753BC into just 24 hours? After all, excusing the cliché, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
One of great things about Rome, from a layover perspective, is how immensely easy it is to trek. With most iconic wonders bundled tightly in the historic centre, the major attractions can be done easily with plenty of time left to sip your perfect caffé in some of the world’s most beautiful piazzas. While you can’t see everything in a city that has been building for the better part of 3 millennia (even if you had a lifetime), you can do more than most within the limited time constraints of a layover. Quite honestly Rome is the perfect choice for your quintessential layover escapade…
As always I have outlined my major recommendations under the 5 headings – Sleep, Go, Eat, See and Play. I have then tied these into my 24-48 hour walking tour itineraries at the bottom.
As with any layover, location needs to be carefully considered whilst trying to find something that gives you the best value for money. Below I’ve outlined some of my top choice neighborhoods with a few recommendations in each.
Perhaps the most charming neighbourhood in Rome, Trastevere would be my personal choice if both time and budget limited. Just a short walk across the Tiber into the historic centre, and with slightly more on offer for the budget traveler, Trastervere is a gorgeous area with a huge range of top-notch eateries and chic bars to choose from. Check out the highly rated Hotel Residenza Santa Maria (http://www.residenzasantamaria.com) or equally popular Loggetta di Trastervere (http://www.loggettaditrastevere.com).
The historic centre of Rome, Centre Storico – home to the vast majority of icons – is, without doubt the most ideal location, with an endless array of restaurants and nightlife choices to boot. Costs are, of course, higher, so book well in advance. Check out Hotel Albergo del Senato (http://www.albergodelsenato.it) for something special.
The fashionable neighbourhoods of Sallustiano and Trevi, to the East of Centre Storico, offer slightly better in terms of value for money, with the most affordable options closer to Stazione Termini, a little further south, in Monti and Esquiline. Check out the very highly rated Deko Rome (http://www.dekorome.com), or popular budget option, Casa Romana (http://www.dekorome.com).
Plenty of other options exist depending on your personal desires and budgetary limitations. As a general rule, the further from Centre Storico the better value, however if you only have 24 to 48 hours here I wouldn’t stray too far. I will advise cross checking these, and any other recommendations, on some of the well known travel review websites.
If my thoughts on the matter haven’t quite come across I’ll spell it out for you – W.A.L.K! Losing your bearings within the cobweb that is Centre Storico is easily the most exciting way to see Rome. It’s as if each cobbled alleyway was purpose-built to confuse and seduce. Drawing you round hidden corners that open up onto impossibly beautiful piazzas, it won’t be long before you give into her beautifully crafted web of spires and domes. The fruitless operation of map reading is soon appreciated as almost every street is worth the time taken to explore.
Oh, there is a Metro system with two lines and an extensive Bus network (http://www.atac.roma.it)! My walking tour itineraries are good for neither of these options (see bottom).
Traveler’s Tip – Be mindful of the area of town you are in before getting yourself lost. While it’s more than safe in and around the main areas of town, some neighbourhoods are less so. I might also add that theft is a profession in Rome. Budget for the day before leaving the hotel room, taking only what you need. Leave everything else in the safe!
For a country that takes such pride in the coffee they serve (you cannot find a single Starbucks), I’ve always been perplexed by the abundance of eateries willing to overcharge you for a bowl of very average pasta. Don’t get me wrong, some of the best Italian food in the world is, of course, found here – an abundance in fact – but without doing your homework you can be easily disappointed. Below are some of my recommendations and friendly tips to make sure you eat like a Roman and not a tourist.
For PIZZA both Pinsere Roma (Sallustiano) and Pizzarium (Via della Meloria) are worth making the trek to. For something a little more central grab a slice from Forno Campo de Fiori (Campo di Fiori) or Pizzeria da Buffeto (Via del Governo Vecchio). Those willing to seek the absolute crème de la crème of pizza joints should find their way to Sforno (Via Statilio Ottato), Gatta Magnolia (Via Ozanam) or La Fucina (Via Giuseppe Lunati). 00100 (Via Giovanni Branca), ‘Gusto (Piazza Augusto Imperatore) and Bir & Fud (Via Benedetta) are also very good.
For some straight up ITALIAN the choices are limitless with plenty of good and bad. Machiavelli’s Club (Via Machiavelli) is highly rated, as is Osteria Barberini (Via Della Purificazione) and Sora Lella (Via de Ponte Quattro Capi). Moma (Via San Basilio) is a great restaurant while Ad Hoc (Via Ripetta) is also very well received (and pricey). For something a little less high-end check out the no fuss, but simply delicious, Pasta Imperiale (Via dei Coronari) while Da Gino (Vicolo Rosini) is one of my personal favorites (Try the gnocchi on a Thursday or the tonnarelli alla ciociara). Those looking for the best individual pasta dishes should seek out Roma Sparita (Piazza Santa Cecilia) for Cacio e Pepe, Da Danilo (Via Petrarca) for Carbonara or Trattoria Vecchia Roma (Via Ferruccio) for some excellent bucatini all’ amatriciana. I should stress a lot of these recommendations require prior booking so take heed!
For SANDWICHES check out Duecentogradi (Piazza del Risorgimento), La Sandwicheria al Nazareno (Largo del Nazareno) and Baguetteria del Fico (Della Fossa). Panepiu Bistrot (Via Florida) and Tastevere Kmzero (Vicolo de Cinque) are also very popular delicatessens.
The best GELATO will have Romans in bitter dispute. Some institutions include Il Gelato di San Crispino (Via della Panetteria), Giolitti (Via degli Uffici del Vicario), Fior di Luna (Via della Lungaretta) and Palazzo del Freddo Giovanni Fassi (Via Principe Eugenio). Gelateria del Teatro (Via del San Simone) is a must! Other great sweet spots include La Cannoleria Siciliana for some of the best cannoli in Rome and Valzani (Via del Moro) – a pastry shop.
The perfect CAFFE depends on what you drink and where as each coffee bar tends to have its own specialty. Below I’ve listed a few institutions and what to order in each. Il Caffé Sant’Eustacchio (Piazza Sant-Eustacchio) for a Gran Caffé (espresso with cream) is very popular. Just around the corner is the famous La Tazza D’oro (Via degli Orfani) where Granita di Caffé (crushed ice and sugared coffee with two layers of cream), is a specialty. Bar del Cappuccino (Via Arenula) might do the best Cappuccino in Rome while Cafffé Camerino (Largo Arenula) is the best for a Caffé Completo (espresso with dark chocolate, whipped cream and cocoa powder dusted atop). Hot Chocolate lovers should go to Bar San Calisto (Piazza San Calisto) in Trastevere.
For MARKETS fondle the fruit and veg at Campo de’ Fiori, otherwise Mercato di Testaccio is great for carnivores while Mercato Trionfale has everything. Please note that markets tend to be open in the morning till early afternoon from Monday through Saturday only.
One more recommendation I would like to add having recently come back from another Layover. Highly recommended – why not consider a FOOD TOUR. In particular www.eatingitalyfoodtours.com do fantastic ‘authentic’ Roman tours around some of the less touristy neighborhoods.
Traveler’s Tip – Rome is a minefield of tourist traps! Do your homework and cross check any recommendations, including these, via some of the popular online review based websites or blogs.
In Rome, to be honest, everything is worth seeing – it’s that beautiful. I’ve outlined what I believe you should see given only 48 hours here.
Top of the list for most tourists is Vatican City and for good reason. – If St Peter’s square doesn’t bowl you over, the view from atop St Peter’s Basilica certainly will. The Vatican Museums, housing Michelangelo’s awe-inspiring fresco ceiling, is worth coming to Rome for alone! Traveler’s tip – Save time and buy tickets online (http://biglietteriamusei.vatican.va/musei/tickets/index.html).
If only to relive scenes of Gladiator, the Colosseum is next on the list for most first timers. Nearby a stroll around the Palatine and the Roman Forum will also wet the imagination while Capitoline Hill, including the Capitoline Museums, is littered with beautiful sites. Traveler’s tip – Head atop Il Vittoriano for spectacular views across this whole area.
Packed tightly with so much to see and do, Centre Storico is where tourists tend to spend the majority of their time. The absolute must visit areas include the mighty Pantheon; the impossibly beautiful Piazza Navona and beloved market and nightlife square Campo de’ Fiori. In neighbouring Trevi, the Trevi Fountain is gouge-your-eyes-out beautiful (Traveler’s Tip – go at night when lit up), while further north in fashionable Tridente, both Piazza del Popolo and Piazza di Spagna are stunning spots.
A trip to Rome wouldn’t be right without a stroll through the streets of Trastevere. Aside from a large number of quality authentic eateries, chocolate shops and chic bars, Basilica di Santa Maria is worth a peek inside while a hike atop Gianicolo affords spectacular city views.
For some of Rome’s finest art you must make a visit to Museo E Galleria Borghese (Traveler’s Tip – you will need to prebook your ticket – http://www.galleriaborghese.it/info-en.htm). Galleria Doria Pamphilj also houses a massive private art collection, while Caravaggio fans (my personal favorite) should also take a peek inside Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi where three of his canvases hang (access is free).
If somehow the beautiful iconic wonders and endless art museums aren’t enough for you, don’t worry – there is a great deal of other activities to keep you busy.
WALKING is the number one activity in Rome with plenty of pedestrian walkways and largely fine weather all year round. My walking tour itineraries (below) are based in and around Centre Storico including most of the above-mentioned sights. Should you have a little more time, or simply want to escape the mad hordes of tourists, a stroll through the Gardens of Villa Borghese or Villa Doria Pamphilj offers more serenity.
For NIGHTLIFE the options are also limitless. Some of Europe’s hottest underground clubbing scene in various centri sociali (social centres) litter the suburban areas of San Lorenzo, Testaccio, Ostiense. Closer to the heart of Rome plenty of bars will also provide a great night on the town. My favorites include: Bir and Fud (great boutique Italian beer selection and wonderful pizzas), Big Mama (live music – book online!) and Freni e Frizioni (great aperitivo bar) in Trastevere; Open Baladin (38 Italian brews alla spina!), Fluid (aperitivo bar) and Il Goccetto (wine bar) in Centre Storico and Antica Enoteca (wine bar) in Tridente. Monti is also a great area for nightlife while music lovers should leave an evening spare to check out Auditorium Parco della Musica (cultural centre) in Northern Rome. The Theatre, Cinema and Opera are other options I’m yet to explore…
SHOPPING is also high on the agenda for many who come to Rome. For high end fashion the area of Tridente seems to be top choice while a vast array of other boutique fashion and antique stores scatter the medieval streets of Centre Storico. Foodies please refer to my list of markets above.
From September to May SPORTS fans might look to see a match in Stadio Olimpico to cheer on either AS Roma or Lazio. Be forewarned rivalry between these two sides is fierce!
LAYOVER ESCAPADES 48 HOUR ITINERARY
DAY 1 – From high to go…
Campo de’ Fiori and Via Giulia – Start your day bright and early at Bar del Cappuccino (A) to awake the senses. From here make your way to Campo de Fiori (B) to fondle the fruit and veg. Be sure to grab a slice from Forno Campo de Fiori before strolling down the beautiful Via Giulia (C) towards the Vatican.
St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums – After a flurry of photo taking inside St Peter’s square (D) spend the morning exploring the Vatican Museums (Traveler’s Tip – the Vatican Museums are huge – make sure you know what you want to see before entering and book your fast track tickets in advance to avoid the queues – I would factor 2 hours as a minimum). Leave time to climb atop St Peter’s Basilica for the best views of Rome. For lunch grab a sandwich from Duecentogradi (E) or, if you have time, seek out Pizzarium for some wonderfully wild creations.
Gelato and Centre Storico – After lunch head across the Tiber opposite the beautiful Castel Saint’Angelo and make your way to Piazza Navona (F) via Via dei Coronari. Make a pit stop for your perfect choice of gelato at Gelateria del Teatro. After exploring the impossibly beautiful Piazza Navona, avoid the tourist traps and make your way to the mighty Pantheon (H). Be sure to admire Caravaggio’s work inside Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi (G) on the way. After the dizzying effect of looking up inside Hadrain’s magnificent dome it’s time to recharge the batteries. Head to either Il Caffé Sant’Eustacchio for a Gran Caffé or the famous, La Tazza D’oro for a Granita di Caffé – both close by.
Trevi Fountain and sunset on the Spanish Steps – Make your way to ‘that fountain’ (I) and toss in a coin or two. From here walk north towards the Piazza di Spagna. Note that La Sandwicheria al Nazareno is roughly midway between should you feel extra peckish. If you’ve paced yourself well, climb to the top of the Spanish Steps (J), cuddle your loved one, and admire the sun as it falls behind the magnificent web of spires and dome. (Another great spot to watch the sunset, should you have the energy, is atop Pincio hill up the eastern side of Piazza del Popolo). If that feels just a little too cheesy have your pick of Italian drops by the glass in Antica Enoteca.
Dinner at Da Gino and drinks at Open Baladin – Make your way to Da Gino (K) for a bowl of simply divine tonnarelli alla ciociara (be sure to book). From here make your way to Open Baladin (L) for your choice of Italian brew on tap, stopping by Il Gelato di San Crispino, for your second gelato of the day (oops), on the way. See out the night from your choice of bars and nightclubs in either Centre Storico or Trastevere to end your perfect 24 hours around Roma.
Day 2 – From Riches to Ruins…
Museo E Galleria Borghese and lunch at Machiavelli’s Club – Begin your day with a two hour stint in this swanky art gallery (A) (Traveler’s tip – You will need to prebook your tickets online. Also note that visitors are only admitted for two hour intervals (9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm and 5pm)). From here make your own way to Machiavell’s Club (B) for lunch with an aim to seeing the monumental Colosseum (C) afterwards. If you plan to walk consider grabbing a slice from Pinsere pizza. Other lunch options between the Museo E Galleria and the Colosseum include Trattoria Vecchia Roma or Da Danilo.
The Colosseum and surrounds – After a good feed, time to relive Gladiator with a tour of the Colosseum (Traveler’s tip – To save time pre-purchase your tickets at the Palatine (which includes admission to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum (D)). If you want a guided tour make sure the tour operator is a trusted one). Use your ticket to explore the Palatine and Roman Forum or go have look inside the Capitoline Museums. Be sure to head atop Il Vittoriano (E) for spectacular views across this whole area. If you have time to burn, head to Galleria Doria Pamphilj (F) for a look at some more impressive art works.
The labyrinth of Trastevere – Recharge with an afternoon Caffé Completo at Cafffé Camerino (G) before heading across the Tiber to explore the chic area of Trastevere. If you have the time take a peak inside Basilica di Santa Maria (H) otherwise head straight to Freni e Frizioni for a great aperitivo. Head to either Bir and Fud (I) for a pizza and beer or Roma Sparita (Piazza Santa Cecilia) for a bowl of Cacio e Pepe. Finish your night with some live music in Big Mama (J).