By Michael Welsch
So you’ve decided to visit Rome. “Che cazzo ti ha fatto prendere cosi tanto tempo!!” Translation: “What the fuck took you so long!!” The eternal city is truly amazing. Between the food, history, architecture, fashion, and sights, it’s not surprising that Rome is one of the most visited cities in the world year in and year out. However, it’s also a sprawling metropolis and one of the most populous cities in the EU. For those with limited time in the Italian capital, which I imagine is most people, fitting everything in to your allotted time may seem like a tall task. But don’t fret, I am here to guide you through Roma’s ancient cobbled streets. So even if you only have a few days, you can still have a fantastic and fulfilling Roman holiday by following my advice.
I was lucky enough to live and study in Rome for six months. It was a phenomenal experience and I feel blessed to have been able to do it. Being there for a prolonged time afforded me the chance to see beyond the Colosseum and the Vatican. To explore the backstreets. Visit the lesser known churches. Venture to the wild nightclubs outside the city center. However, since most people do not have six months, this article will focus more on the bigger sights, while splicing in some lesser known recommendations. So without further adieu, Roma.
The Spanish Steps
The Spanish Embassy at the base of the steps lent its name to the iconic staircase. A great spot to hangout and people watch. There is a fountain at the base of the steps depicting a half sunken boat. Legend has it that the Tiber River flooded and carried a small boat to the foot of the steps. When the water receded the boat remained and thus, inspired the creation of the fountain. The neighborhood at the base of the steps, specifically Via dei Condotti, houses some of Rome’s most high end shopping. Every prestigious and trendy designer has a store there.
The largest and most famous fountain in the city. Throwing 1 coin over your shoulder into the fountain ensures you’ll return to Rome (it’s worked a few times for me!). Throwing 2 coins means you will fall in love, and 3 coins means you’ll return to Rome, find love, & marry. I’d recommend going early in the morning or at night because the crowds can be absurd. I used to walk past at 3am on the way home from the bars, there wouldn’t be a single person there, it was really cool.
This Roman temple, now Catholic church, is over 2,000 years old! It predates christianity! It’s a domed building that uses ALL natural light. Domes are amazing because they are self supporting structures where each piece bears equal weight once the keystone is in place. A remarkable feat of engineering that shows how far ahead of their time the architects of ancient Rome were. Vittorio Emmanuele, who unified Italy and was its 1st king is entombed within the Pantheon, as if renowned renaissance man Raphael. Also, if you’re able to go when it’s raining, it is quite spectacular to see the rain fall through the opening in the dome.
While traveling through the cobblestone streets and magnificent sights, you’ll certainly want a trusty camera as a companion. Here are a few highly recommended products to take with you on your adventure:
Trastevere is a quaint neighborhood within Rome. During the day, try to get lost in the quarter’s narrow and winding cobblestone streets. At night both tourists and Romans alike flock to the areas many bars and restaurants. The neighborhood has maintained its character and never feels like a tourist trap. I’d suggest having dinner or a night out in Trastevere during your trip.
One of the city’s main squares, famous for its 3 fountains. Especially the one in the center, Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. Although not a household name, Bernini is perhaps Rome’s greatest sculptor, architect, artist. He left an indelible mark on Rome’s artistic and cultural heritage. But back to the Piazza – it’s usually filled with performers and artists trying to make a buck. There are also a lot of restaurants in the piazza, but I’d recommend avoiding these as they’re tourist traps…
Side Note: There is a night club off the square called Anima which stays open until 4am, while most clubs in the city center close at 2am. If you’re willing to go outside the city center, the clubs rage until dawn.
St. Peter’s Basilica
Absolutely breathtaking. Hands down the most impressive church I’ve ever been in. It seems like everything about it is massive – and made of gold, granite, & marble. Michelangelo designed the church but Bernini created the square outside. Notice how symmetrical everything in both the basilica and square are – it’s not by mistake. I’d recommend getting up & going early to beat the lines, which can get very long. The Pope does a public mass on Wednesdays and Sundays, it’s a harmonious atmosphere if you can catch it.
Make sure to visit the crypt under St. Peter’s, most people miss it. Many of the deceased Pope’s are laid to rest here. Also, if you have time, I would advise going to the top of the Cupola (the dome). Take the stairs, it’s worth the experience. When you get into the dome, the stairway tilts diagonally and is super narrow. Once you reach the top the views of Rome are unparalleled.
Here is where you will find the world renowned Sistine Chapel with Michelanelo’s famous ceiling The Creation of Man and equally impressive Last Judgement. However the museum is gigantic and so much more than just the Sistine Chapel. With works by Raphael, Da Vinci, & Caravaggio to name only a few. Weeks wouldn’t be enough time to appreciate the embarrassment of artistic riches housed here. Side Note: Outside of the Vatican Museums is the original Old Bridge Gelateria. Get some gelato here, you won’t be disappointed.
Castel Sant’Angelo and Ponte Sant’Angelo
Next to Vatican City is Castel Sant’ Angelo and Ponte Sant’Angelo. The castle was used as a papal fortress and is where the Pope would flee to anytime Rome was under siege or attacked. There is actually an elevated passageway connecting Vatican City and the castle. The bridge (ponte=bridge) that leads across the Tiber is adorned with 10 beautiful statues of angels.
It’s like the center of Rome. Many of the city’s main roads intersect the piazza (via del corso, via dei fori imperiali, etc). Be careful crossing the street here as the cars and vespa’s come in pretty hot! Mussolini used to give his speeches from a balcony overlooking the square. The piazza is dominated by the Altar of the Fatherland, which contains the Tomb of the Unknown soldier and the Vittorio Emanuele monument. It is said that the horse Emanuele is atop is so large that the sculptor ate dinner inside of it to celebrate its completion.
Colosseo of Rome
The Colosseum needs no introduction, it is the world’s most famous stadium. Over 2,000 years old and could hold up to 80,000 spectators. Another remarkable feat of engineering by the Roman Empire. Today only half the outer wall survives and all the metal has been stripped away by thieves or because it was needed in the war efforts of WWI and WWII. Nonetheless, the Colosseum is still breathtaking and a time machine to a bygone era.
Other Tips & Things To Do in Rome if Time Permits
Rome has 3 metro lines. Expansion has been slow because they can’t dig 5 feet without hitting some historical site that needs excavating. The metro lines run to all major attractions.
For restaurants, I feel like you can’t get a bad meal in Italy, but I’d try to stay away from places that are close to the big attractions. It’s like eating in Times Square, not saying you can’t get a good meal, but it’s going to be way more expensive. Also try to steer clear of any place that has a giant menu, in all English, and pictures of the food.
For pizza – there is pizza al taglio “pizza by the cut”, they literally cut it with scissors. You tell them which type you want, how big of a piece you’d like (piu=more, meno=less), and they’ll cut it & wrap in wax paper for you to eat on the go… If you go sit down at a restaurant the pizza will be circular, thin crust, and you eat it with a fork & knife
Wine is everywhere, it’s good and it’s also cheap. Therefore, drink and be merry.
For classic Roman dishes:
- Spaghetti alla Carbonara – one of my favorites. Pasta, egg, pepper, pancetta and pecorino romano
- Suppli – croquettes stuffed with rice, meats, cheeses
- Stuffed Artichokes – filled with veggies and spices
- Saltimbocca – veal, prosciutto, sage rolled up and cooked in white wine
- Prosciutto – cured meat
- Bucatini all’Amatriciana – classic red sauce with meat & pasta
Campo de’Fiori. During the day it’s a bustling market; but at night it’s a big bar and restaurant scene. Extremely popular with expats and study abroad kids. Be forewarned that it has a kind of Americanized college flair with places like The Drunken Ship and Sloppy Sam’s.
Santa Maria Maggiore and San Giovanni Laterano. In my opinion, after St. Peter’s Basilica, these are the 2 most impressive churches in Rome. However, few people actually visit these two. There is also a piece of the table used during The Last Supper in San Giovanni’s.
Buon Viaggio! Enjoy Rome!
Rome holds a special place in my heart and I feel like I could write all day about the city and all it has to offer. Villa Borghese, Piazza del Popolo, the Roman Forum, Circus Maximus. The list could go on and on. But I’ve tried to condense the above to include the “must sees”, in my opinion. I hope you find it useful. Now go eat, drink, explore, and enjoy Roma!
If you have any question about planning a trip to Rome or any of the locations we’ve written about, please reach out on our contact page, we’d love to help! Or if you just have some feedback we welcome that as well.
For adventure inspiration, head to our blog page.
To learn more about Boundless Brooks, head to our About page.