Experience Rome like a local with my in-depth travel guide!
“Italy has changed – but Rome is Rome.” We’ve all heard that famous quote from Robert de Niro at some point, and you know what? He’s on to something. After all, Italy’s venerable capital city is known as the Eternal City. It’s a place that’s been a centre of power, religion and culture for centuries, and the legacy this city has had on European history is perhaps only rivalled by Athens.
Walk through the streets of Rome’s city centre, and you’re essentially taking a little journey through time. From the historic townhouses with their bright green shutters to the mighty archways standing tall over ancient ruins, pretty much every structure in Rome can tell a story. But a city break to Rome isn’t just about the history. In fact, one of the things I love the most about Rome is just living the good life. Head a little further away from the usual tourist hot spots and you’ll come across a whole different world. You’ll see locals gather at humble restaurants, tucking into generous portions of cacio e pepe and sipping on local wines.Conversations on the terraces draw on and on as the long evenings bathe the city’s spires and cupolas in golden light. Couples stroll beneath rows of umbrella pines, admiring the distant silhouette of the Vatican.
When you first arrive in Rome and you’re in the midst of all the main sights, you might struggle to see how people can fall in love with Rome. After all, the crowds are huge, the streets are hectic and the buildings can seem a little worse for wear. But don’t let that marr your experience of the Italian capital. Take your time! Keep on exploring at your own pace, and don’t be afraid to take a different turning. You’ll find that there’s so much more to Rome than just crossing off all the sights from a long list!
Things to do in Rome – experience the city like a local
Getting to Rome from Ireland is very simple. There are plenty of direct flights between the two countries, with the journey taking just under 3 hours each way. Ryanair and Aer Lingus are the main route operators, with Dublin the only airport served by direct flights. Travellers going from other airports such as Cork or Shannon will have to do a stopover along the way. – and they tend to be much more expensive too unfortunately.
Rome features two airports – Fiumicino and Ciampino. The former is favoured by major airlines, while budget airlines will stick to Ciampino. Generally speaking, if you’re flying with Ryanair you’ll be heading to Ciampino, while Aer Lingus will bring you to Fiumicino. But don’t fret – no matter which airport you fly to, you have loads of transport options to get you to the city centre. I’ve listed below some good options for getting from Rome Ciampino airport to the city centre, as well as Fiumicino.
Leonardo Express: These trains run to Rome Termini station and cost €12 each way. Only go for this if you want to travel quickly to Termini as it’s a more expensive choice.
FR1 train (towards Orte/Fara Sabina): These trains will also bring you to Rome via Trastevere and Ostiense. Much cheaper at just under €6 each way. From Rome Ostiense you can get the subway to Rome Termini.
Terravision bus: Direct buses between Fiumicino and Rome Termini. Prices start from just €5 each way and takes around an hour.
Transfers from Ciampino Airport:
Bus + Train: Take a local bus from the airport to Ciampino railway station. This will be the cheapest option – the bus to the station is just €1.20, while the train costs just €1.50.
Terravision bus: Tickets from Ciampino to Rome Termini can be found online starting from just €4. If you buy tickets on the day a ticket will cost you approximately €6.
SITBusShuttle: For €8 for a return ticket, you’ll be taken from Ciampino to a bus stop along Via Marsala, which is pretty much right beside Termini station.
Public transport in Rome
There’s a lot of things to see and do in Rome, and you’d have to be pretty hardy to want to do it all by foot! Luckily there’s a great transport system in place to help you get around very easily, and I recommend using it as an aid to help get you around – otherwise you’re going to have some very achy feet by the end of it all.
Rome actually has one of the smallest metro networks in Europe, featuring only two lines – helpfully named line A and line B. These two lines make a cross that spreads out from Termini Station and covers popular areas of the city such as the Colosseum, Villa Borghese and the Spanish Steps. Since the network is rather limited then it will more than likely be the bus that gets used more often. There are over 300 bus lines in Rome, so I recommend doing a bit of research to find the bus lines you’ll need to get to certain landmarks – it’ll save you a lot of awkward standing around!
For information about public transport in Rome I recommend visiting the Rome.netwebsite. There’s lots of straight-forward information about the different types of transportation and you’ll pick up handy tips and tricks along the way.
Sightseeing in Rome – the most famous landmarks
As the legend goes, Rome was founded in 753BC. That means that you’ve got almost 3,000 years’ worth of history to discover when you set foot in the Italian capital. It can seem quite daunting at first to know where to start, but with my recommendations you’ll have a good knowledge of where to start. Admittedly a lot of Rome’s most famous sights are very busy with tourists, but don’t let the crowds put you off! You can explore further from the usual tourist hotspots later. :)
Gurutip: Be sure to pick up a Roma Pass when doing sightseeing in Rome! You’ll get free entry to loads of sights and you’ll even get free use of public transport included.
The Colosseum is by far the most famous landmark in all of Rome. Built between 70 – 80AD, the Colosseum is the world’s largest amphitheatre and is also one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It was the scene of countless battles between fierce gladiators. The structure is made up of concentric arched arcades where spectators would be able to reach their seating areas. Unfortunately over time, the impressive structure has sustained quite a lot of wear and tear. From devastating earthquakes to locals looking for building materials for their own homes, the Colosseum has been stripped down somewhat from its original. But that doesn’t stop it from being any less impressive. The Colosseum towers up to an impressive 48 metres tall, and it was able to seat an incredible 80,000 guests in its heyday.
Directly outside the Colosseum is the sprawling Roman Forum (or Forum Magnum if you want to go by its original Latin name). The site of the modern-day forum was the political heart of Ancient Rome. Public speeches were given, markets were held, processions marched their way through. Once you get a bit of extra reading done into the structures here in the Forum you’ll really get a sense of the sheer amount of history here. Take the Temple of Saturn for example. Said to be the oldest building in the forum, it’s estimated to be built in around 500BC.
The Trevi Fountain & the Spanish Steps
Many of the popular sights in Rome are heaving with tourists during the day, so that’s why I’d recommend getting on the move quite early before the other tourists are up. This is especially true of the iconic Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps – the crowds of people here during the day often mean you can’t enjoy much of the views at all! If you come here early in the morning, it’s very likely you’ll have this place all to yourself. Crowds are still large during the evening, but the romantic lights mean that it’s still worth checking out. The steps are a popular meeting place, and you’ll often see people sat down to enjoy the cooler evening weather and planning their adventures to come. And of course, you just have to toss a coin into the fountain for good luck! Would you believe that in 2013, the Roman authorities managed to retrieve €1 million worth of change from the Trevi Fountain? Incredible!
The Vatican Museums & St. Paul’s Basilica
If it’s your first time in Rome, then you just have to visit the Vatican City. Not all of it is open to the public, but you are still able to visit and admire St. Paul’s Basilica, St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican Museum, where you’ll find the legendary Sistine Chapel. When visiting the Vatican Museum I’d recommend spending at least 3 hours here, since the Papal art collection is one of the largest and most valuable in the entire world. Even if you’re not massively into art, the exhibitions will knock your socks off! And of course, be sure to get your tickets in advance – you’ll be able to scoot your way past the colossal queues that form in the morning and afternoon. The museum will lead you through stately chambers such as the Appartamento Borgia and Rafael Rooms before finishing with the highlight: the Sistine Chapel. Designed by Michelangelo himself, it’s a true masterpiece in every sense of the word.
St. Peter’s Square and St. Paul’s Basilica can be visited for free, though you will have to undergo a security check – and be sure to dress moderately (no flip-flops!). Plan your visit to St. Peter’s Square in the evening. Unlike during the daytime, the square really can get quite empty, so you won’t have to put up with big queues at the security checkpoints. Inside the basilica you’ll be greeted with a truly awe-inspiring sight – the way the light streams in through the windows is just unreal. And for €6 you can even make your way up to the top of the dome of St. Paul’s Basilica for some awesome views from the top!
Villa Borghese & Gianicolo Hill
Need a break from all the big city goings-on in Rome? Then hop aboard the A Line on the metro and get off at Flaminio. Not only will you be directly at Piazza del Popolo, one of the most famous squares in all of Rome, but also just a stone’s throw away from a sprawling green space right in the centre of the city. The Villa Borghese is a place where you can simply enjoy the nature and enjoy a bit of time away from the otherwise busy streets of Rome. You can rent bikes, sail on the small lakes, admire the many fountains or even just plop yourself down beneath the shade and chill for a bit. Art lovers must check out the Galleria Borghese which is also situated in the park and features one of the most valuable private art collections in the world. Entry tickets cost €11 and must be booked online in advance.
Here’s something you’ll be delighted to know – you won’t need to pay a penny to enjoy the best views of the city. Simply make your way to Gianicolo Hill (Trastevere district) and walk to the Garibaldi Memorial. From there you’ll have a breathtaking panoramic view of the city and enjoy the landmarks from a different angle.
Of course that’s not all that Rome has to offer of course – in fact the list of landmarks, museums and sights seems almost endless! But here’s a few more popular recommendations that are definitely worth checking out when you have a bit of time:
Pantheon: An impressive ancient temple built two thousand years ago – and features the world’s largest concrete dome that doesn’t feature any internal reinforcement. You can visit it for free. (Tram 8 – Largo Argentina)
Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica: One of the four grand Papal basilicas in Rome, built in the 5th Century. (Bus 714)
Piazza Navona: A square built in a Baroque style which features several impressive fountains. (Tram 8 – Largo Argentina)
Torre Argentina: A haven for an estimated 300 stray cats, right in the heart of ancient Rome. (Tram 8 – Torre Argentina)
Dining in Rome
Rome truly is a haven for foodies – everyone is certainly going to feast like a king here no matter your tastes! Of course Italy as a whole is famed for its cuisine, but Rome also offers some of its own regional dishes certainly worth checking out if you want an authentic taste of the culture here. Here’s a small run-down of traditional Roman cuisine (cucina romana) as well as some wicked recommendations on where to eat.
Cucina romana features many local ingredients and carries with it the history of the region within it. Take coda alla vaccinara for example – this is an oxtail soup that owes its origins to the butchers of the Regola neighbourhood. The neighbourhood of Tastaccio is the best place to go if you want to try out the most traditional dishes of cucina romana. Here’s a little list of some typically Roman dishes to get stuck into!
Bucatini – a pasta shape typical of Rome. Essentially a thick but hollow version of spaghetti and goes perfectly with matriciana sauce.
Carciofi alla giudia – deep-fried artichokes. This dish is the most famous example of Roman-Jewish cuisine (there was a large historical population in the city).
Carbonara – freshly cooked pasta thrown together with raw egg, pecorino or parmesan cheese as well as diced pancetta ham or pig’s cheek (guanciale).
Cacio e pepe – simple, but oh-so good! Spaghetti is mixed with Pecorino cheese, black pepper a little bit of pasta water.
Abbacchio alla scottadito – lamb is a hallmark of Roman cuisine. This dish sees lamb cutlets seasoned with a generous selection of herbs before being grilled over charcoal.
Another neighbourhood that’s recommended for food is Trastevere, the traditional butcher’s district. The neighbourhood features a maze of cobbled streets and lovely squares, so you can enjoy some lovely evening strolls after a meal as well – just what you’ll need after a huge feast! Some restaurants I’d recommend checking out here are I Pizzicaroli Trastevere, Otello and the Prosciutteria Roma.
Mercati – the best food markets in Rome
Of course, you just can’t talk about food in a city like Rome without taking a look at the markets that are there! Markets are a fantastic way to really delve into the local way of life. The produce sold at these markets are incredibly fresh and of fantastic quality – it doesn’t get more authentic than this.
Mercato di Campo de’ Fiori is perhaps Rome’s most famous and touristy market, but it’s still worth checking out despite the big crowds. There’s a wide range of products on sale and it’s a great first introduction to markets in Rome. One of my personal favourites however is Mercato di Testaccio. The market offers row upon row of stalls and it’s certainly more of a place where you’d do your grocery shopping, but the small street food vendor Mordi e Vai is worth the effort finding. The best sandwiches in Rome are sold here! Foodies that are looking to bring back some tasty treats from Rome or simply want to self-cater with local produce should check out the Mercato di Campagna Amica, where ingredients are all locally sourced from the surrounding Lazio region.
The best restaurants in Rome
When it comes to the best places to eat in Rome, it’s almost impossible to know where to start in all honesty! The city is filled with everything from humble eateries to high-end, Michelin-starred restaurants, so I thought I’d go with a real quick list of some of my favourite places to eat, whether that be a hearty main course or just a few sweet treats on the go!
Cheap places to eat in Rome – my favourites!
Pastifcio Guerra (Via della Croce 8, 00187 Rome): A stone’s throw away from the Spanish Steps, this small eatery makes fresh pasta – for €4 you’ll get a generous portion, plus water and wine. There are only two dishes to choose from each day but they are delicious!
Trattoria dal Cavalier Gino (Vicolo Rosini 4, 00186 Rome): Don’t be put off by the mega kitschy interiors – the food here is absolutely delicious, yet the prices are very reasonable. Reserve ahead, as politicians from the nearby government buildings come here for lunch.
Da Remo (Piazza di Santa Maria Liberatrice 44, 00153 Rome): This humble-looking trattoria offers proper Roman-style pizzas that feature wafer-thin crusts made with olive oil (unlike the pizza down in Naples!) and it’s a hit with the locals. The typical rule applies here – don’t be put off by the basic décor! Proper trattorias such as this one always tend to focus on the food more than interiors.
Biscottificio Innocenti (Via della Luce 21, 00153 Rome): Easily one of the best bakeries in Rome! This business has been family-run for nearly 100 years, so it goes without saying that these guys know their stuff when it comes to biscotti. The brutti ma buoni cookies (“ugly but good”) made with hazelnuts are particularly moreish.
Pinsere (Via Flavia 98, 00135 Rome): This place is amazing for a bite to eat on-the-go. Pinsere serves typically Roman pinsa pizzas, which are more oval in shape. Once you’ve got one, plop yourself down outside on the street and give your feet a little rest as you get stuck into what will be a very delicious lunch!
Cremeria Monteforte (Via della Rotonda 22, 00186 Rome): You can’t visit Rome without trying some proper gelato ice-cream. This little ice-cream parlour close to the Pantheon serves some of the best, with scrumptious flavours such as chocolate mousse, mango sorbet and vanilla cherry.
Nightlife in Rome
Remember Trastevere, the neighbourhood that I recommeneded for authentic eats in Rome? Well, it’s also a fantastic place to be for a night out as well! The cosy streets here are home to countless little bars and restaurants where you can enjoy the warm evenings al fresco. Yet despite drawing plenty of tourists, Romans from all walks of life still flock here to enjoy the atmosphere, and you can definitely sense this from the mix of people you’ll encounter. Beer lovers should check out Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà?, a pint-sized (haha!) beer bar which boats around 16 different beers on tap, plus a wide selection of international craft beers by the bottle. The staff are always on point with their recommendations. Bar San Calisto is popular with the locals and you tend to get a lot for the price you pay, which is great if you’re tight on funds. Artsy crowds tend to flock to Freni e Frizioni, a bar set up in a former mechanic’s workshop. You’ll find some excellent cocktails here – you could try and find a place on the terrace outside, or do as the cool kids do and sit up on the walls in the square.
Plan your next trip to Rome!
This is of course just the tip of the iceberg in many respects! Rome is a huge city that’s packed to the brim with things to do, see and experience. But I hope that with this guide to Rome you’ll get a great feel for the city before you go, and you’ll have some great recommendations to start you off just nicely!
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