Rome city guide
And welcome to my short and sweet guide to Rome.
We visited back in April, and completely fell head over heels with the place. So much so that we keep fantasizing about a potential future relocation.
There is so much to love about Rome - it is a city that is so pleasing to the senses. Everything is beautiful; the food, the architecture and the people.
It’s a city that has all the charm of a small town. Due in part to the height of the buildings (no sky scrapers here) but also the relaxed atmosphere. What strikes me in Rome, as it always does when I am in Italy, is the high quality of life.
Italians know how to live well. They take their time. They stop for a long lazy lunch with three courses and wine and conversation. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, so the saying goes.
So I would slow down your pace and resist the urge to rush around. If you can I would recommend taking at least four days to explore the city.
We had four full days (including one day of relaxing at the apartment) and it was the perfect length of time.
Read on for where to eat, sleep and explore as well as a few must-know tips!
We based ourselves in Trastevere, just over the river from the city centre, which we discovered to be the perfect location.
It’s easy to get to (trains run directly to Fiumicino airport) and a pleasant walk to the main sightseeing spots. Despite being near to the centre of town Trastevere has a relaxed feel and the sense of being in a ‘local neighbourhood’ where real Romans live.
Dotted with small shops, cafes and restaurants, Trastevere is delightful to stroll around and soak in the atmosphere. I found a great neighbourhood guide here!
Trastevere has the feel of an Italian village - people know each other, and greet each other on the streets. It’s also a great place to spend an evening – it’s lively at night and some of the best food in Rome can be found here.
We rented an Airbnb - a beautiful apartment with high ceilings, traditional tiled floors and windows that open on to a courtyard, letting in the gentle sounds of birds tweeting and the neighbours happily chatting away in Italian.
It was a relaxing haven in the middle of bustling Trastevere and only a 20 minute walk into town (or near the tram stop if your feet get tired).
Osteria da Fortunata - if you are looking for homemade, fresh pasta this is the place to go! A smiling nonna even greets you with 'buona sera' as you are led to your table. We ate tagliatelle topped with a hearty meat ragu and cacio e pepe, a traditional roman recipe of spaghetti covered with a sauce made simply from Parmesan, butter and pepper. Being quite centrally located it’s great if you are searching for a delicious but low-key and wallet friendly meal after sightseeing.
Caffè Tazza D'Oro - a Roman institution and right next to the pantheon, this is a fun place to get your caffeine kick. Stand at the bar and have an espresso and a glass of water - the Italian way. Also the cafe next door does great Nutella pancakes!
Aristocampo - drawn in by the ‘We are against war and tourist menu’ sign, this restaurant in Trastevere is a fun place to sit and watch the world go by. Ignore the surly water- this place has really authentic and delicious food.
Punto Gelato - a great gelateria, near the river. We would stop here for late night ice cream cravings on the way back from town. I especially recommend the chocolate sorbet; the perfect after-dinner chocolate hit.
Trastevere food market - we always like to try the local produce when we are abroad (and save some money) and we were recommended the local food market in Trastevere. The market is open every morning in the Piazza san Cosimato and has local vendors selling fresh and delicious produce - we stocked up on delicious local vegetables and fruit as well as olives, mortadella ham and cheeses.
Pasta making with a local - one of the highlights of our trip was spending an evening with Roberto, a local who hosts travellers from all over the world in his apartment making fresh pasta from scratch and teaching them the techniques passed down from his mother’s kitchen. We ate delicious food, sampled local produce and wine brought back from Roberto’s family home in the mountains and practised some of our (terrible) Italian. A must-do!
Rome is heaving with tourists, but with good reason. There is so much to see and do.
The city centre houses most of the main sightseeing spots, and is easy to explore by foot. These are just a few of my favourites!
Basilica di Santa Maria, Trastevere - one of the oldest churches in Rome, and an excellent spot to start exploring Trastevere. It is really beautiful inside and has stunning mosaics adorning the walls and ceiling. Enjoy an espresso and a croissant at one of the cafes overlooking the church then let yourself get lost strolling through the winding streets.
Trevi fountain - of course, a must-see is the Trevi Fountain. It is the largest baroque fountain in the world and it is really impressive. We passed by during the day but it is particularly beautiful (and less crowded with tourists) at night. So you can toss in your coin without battling for space!
The Spanish Steps and Villa Borghese - we were banished from our walking tour for forgetting to print our voucher (Romans are apparently sticklers for the rules) so decided to do a little exploring. And we were so glad we did! A few minutes walk from the top of the steps we stumbled upon the Villa Borghese, a beautiful public park and gardens. We hired a pedal car and an amazing time cycling around.
Basilica di San Clemente al Laterano - this church is really a unique and fascinating place to visit. You can take steps down underground into the original 4th century basilica where the walls are covered with ancient frescoes and mosaics. Further down still are the remains of an original roman house, complete with running water from a freshwater spring, and pagan temple. It is quite creepy (especially on your own) so be warned!
And finally a few must-know tips!
Unless you particularly enjoy sightseeing in the scorching heat (I definitely do not) I would avoid Rome in high summer (July and August). We went in mid April and it was beautiful weather.
If you are visiting the Vatican (which I definitely recommend) then book your tickets in advance here. This saves you about two hours of waiting – you can practically walk straight in. Also go as early as possible!
And lastly, if you have an extra day a really beautiful place to visit is the Villa d’Este in Tivoli. It’s a palace with absolutely stunning gardens full of fountains and grottoes and is a UNESCO world heritage site. You can take a direct train to Tivoli from Rome - it's around 30 minutes away and full directions can be found here.
I've love to hear your thoughts and recommendations - so please leave any other suggestions in the comments below!