Early this spring, I had the good fortune to return to Rome with my friends Erin and Dan (my previous visit was really more of a solo reconnaissance mission for – I hoped – a future trip), visiting in April with the hopes of avoiding the intense heat and at least some of the heaving crowd.
5 tips before your visit to Rome.
- Before anything else, book a place to stay. We booked a place on airbnb about 6 weeks in advance and by then very few properties were still available. Stay central for convenience (we stayed in Termini, which is a pretty scrappy area, but convenient if that doesn’t matter to you), or in Trastavere for beauty.
- For food suggestions, I’d just say download Katie Parla’s app (£2.49). Read about where you might want to go and try to book a place or two in advance so it doesn’t take up too much of your time on vacation.
- Bring good walking shoes. No matter what you do, you will be on your feet the whole day walking between sites or standing in museums. The last thing you want to be thinking about is your feet. Also bring a lightweight scarf for shoulder coverage in churches, crypts and some museums that have dress codes.
- Book your visit to the Sistine Chapel in advance.
- While you’re getting prepared, download the Trip Advisor City app for Rome to your phone (or budget for data top-up). Don’t waste precious time on the actual trip trouble-shooting directions.
At the end of this post, I share 5 favorite places and 5 things still on my list.
And now, our trip!
On our first day, we meandered from Termini to Barberini and through the heart of Rome to the Pantheon. The Pantheon was built to honor the gods and is the only structure of its age and size which has managed to successfully survive the damage of time and gravity.
The Roman legend is that the original temple was built on the same site and was dedicated to Romulus, their mythological founder, after he ascended to heaven from the site. Historians believed it burned down twice and that the building we see now was built by Emperor Hadrian in 120 AD.
Dan loving the Pantheon and some guy channeling the old Roman ghosts of the Pantheon.
On our walk through the center, I had to take Dan and Erin to the Capuchin Crypt, hidden below Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside (they seriously police it to, with hidden cameras, so don’t even try), and if you aren’t faint of heart, go! It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Some weird ole friar collected the skeletal remains of about 3,700 of his friar pals and created these recessed, decorative crypts of intricate patterns and bizarre vignettes. All in human bone.
Erin and Dan, I looked up that mysterious chickenbone (of course I did) and it turns out it is a tailbone afterall.
Meandering from the Pantheon over towards Trastavere, I recognized the old ruin pit that doubles as a cat sanctuary.The 250 cats that live there are taken care of by volunteers, also receiving vaccinations and neutering. Many are also up for adoption, too. Once you spot a few on a pillar, you suddenly start seeing them all come into sight.
The cat sanctuary (Torre Argentina) is really an archeological wonder unearthed in 1929 (Mussolini’s time), revealing sunken temples and ruins. Among the ruins uncovered is the infamous Theater of Pompey, where Julius Caesar was killed in 44 BC.
We wandered from there along the river towards Trastavere, passing walking paths including this little dog park nestled in what looked like an old moat (now dry and blooming with wildflowers).
Trastavere is my favorite place in Rome; we came back for meals, not wandering as much as I did on my first visit (annoyingly, many of the pictures I added to that old post have since vanished, so ignore any confusion if they don’t load for you).
For a warm night of food and drink, Trastavere is the perfect spot. If you find somewhere that you like, make sure you book a reservation.
Our first full day, we focused on visiting the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. If you’re planning a visit, it is imperative that you book your ticket in advance. Try erring on the earlier end of the day to minimize the crowd. If you decide to queue, it will take hours of your life you can never get back, and you also may be disappointed as there’s a daily capacity for non-ticket holders.
The Gallery of Maps! This hall absolutely blew my mind. Just look at that illuminated ceiling.
The Vatican Museum will quickly overwhelm you with pretty, tiny detail.
Dan also overwhelmed; Erin taking deets.
Learning about all the things alongside a map of Ancona.
Dan’s favorite apathetic, claw-sharpening lionman in the Tapestry Gallery.
Dan and the Anubis.
Larger than life.
Looking back out over Rome from the Vatican.
Post-Sistine Chapel fatigue in St. Peter’s Square, within Vatican City.
Some building adorned with tons of cameo’d men on the walk to Piazza Navona.
In Piazza Navona.
F.R.I.E.N.D.S hang by fountains.
Old glamour in Piazza Navona.
Sneaky shots of the inside of Sant’Agnese in Agone.
Erin sneaking into the sneaky shot…
The hours after Dan left :'( and Stewart arrived :D.
Taking Stewart on a 24 hour blitz of Rome, starting with the Colosseum.
Peaking out over the Forum.
Me & Erin.
Near the Forum.
I am still thinking about the delicious cacio e pepe pasta dish we had this night.
Whoops, we planned our site-seeing just for when the Rome Marathon was taking place, cordioning off all kinds of Rome.
The Arch of Constantine
N’aww, these guys.
And back to the UK!
My 5 top recommendations:
- The Colosseum – Palatine Hill – Roman Forum. Unforgettable. Get a combined ticket and either spend a good chunk of time going through or spread over two days.
- The Capuchin Crypt. So damn cool.
- A half day in the Vatican Museums followed up by a nice lunch in the Borgo.
- Just wandering. Meandering from Trevi Fountain to the Pantheon to the many open, ochre and gold squares. Find a good gelateria, sit on the Spanish Steps and people watch.
5 things still on my list:
- Go on a free walking tour. Like this one.
- St. Peter’s Basilica.
- Visit the gardens of Villa Borghese bringing along a picnic and renting a bike. With enough museum stamina, visit the Borghese Gallery for Bernini.
- The Keats-Shelly House.
- Visit a local vineyard for an afternoon of wine tasting (Erin suggested this Frascati Tasting Tour).