When my friend Thea and I traveled to Europe 19 years ago for a study abroad program, I couldn’t wait to visit France. I had studied the language through high school into college. We stayed in Paris for a few days, before making our way to Florence.
France was great. But when we arrived in Italy, I fell in love. Despite the country being a bit gritty, with strange smells, stray dogs and cats everywhere, the relentless catcalls, pressure to buy things when walking through the markets, I loved Italy. (A lot of this seems to have changed, by the way, Italy seems cleaner. The stray animal problem has virtually disappeared and the strays that you do see appear very well fed.)
Even though I kind of miss the Italy I first met, the art, the history, the food, the wine, and the laid back vibe, that all remains the same.
What brought us back to Italy last October was a conference that Thea was attending in Rome. Why not plan a trip around the conference? Matt and I, and Brian, whom Thea married in the midst of planning the trip, boarded a plane and met Thea in Rome.
I’ve had the same experience every time I have been to Rome. I spend the first day terrified to cross the street. Eventually I realize that I just have to cross and the traffic will stop for me. And then I spend the rest of the time in awe of the remnants of ancient Rome.
We spent 3 days and 4 nights in Rome. Thea put together a fabulous itinerary for us. Between her plans and Rick Steves Italy travel guide (affiliate link) we maximized our time in the city without feeling overwhelmed.
Our first morning in Rome, we woke up to a steady rain. A little reluctant to head out, we lingered over breakfast before walking over to Capitoline Hill and the Roman Forum, slowly making our way over to the Colosseum. Too slowly though, the wait to access the interior of the Colosseum was long. You can purchase tickets in advance or get there early, but we were jet lagged, not thinking clearly, and that’s our excuse.
When we finally made it to the front of the queue, and entered through the metal detectors (Which are in most museums, by the way.), Matt was stopped because he had his pocket knife. He couldn’t enter with it, of course, and he didn’t want to throw it away, so he waited for us outside. But don’t worry, he and Brian came back on a different morning. They arrived at the Colosseum when it opened and walked right in without having to wait.
Later in the evening, after dining on gnocchi with pesto, we relaxed on our hotel patio with a box of wine. Later, we ventured out to the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps.
Our next stop was dinner at a fabulous place recommended by our friend Rick Steves. Antica Enoteca.
After an amazing meal, we needed to stretch our legs. We walked along the Tiber River towards Vatican City.
The following morning we were up early for our tour of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican Museums. If you have ever been to Rome than you know how insanely long the lines can get for these tours. If you value your time, even a little bit, sign up for this early access group tour.
I feel like this is also a good time to bring up the “dress code” while visiting many of Italy’s churches. Bare shoulders and bare knees are not allowed. We are well versed in this, there are signs everywhere and guidebooks give you lots of reminders, but we did see people turned away from places like the Vatican and the Duomo in Florence after having waited in line.
The whole Vatican experience is definitely a sensory overload. I recommend leaving time for a nap afterwards. And then having a glass of boxed wine on your hotel patio.
For dinner that evening, we wanted to try a restaurant close to where we were staying. We were intrigued by the metal garage door covering the entrance with the restaurant hours written in masking tape.
Who knew it would be so cute… And so delicious!
The next morning we ate an extremely light breakfast in anticipation of a food tour. The Roman Food tour. It was informative and fun, and so, so good. We ate cannoli, pizza, cheese, eggplant parm, caprese salads, cured meats, ravioli, gnocchi, calamari, and gelato.
In our food coma, we walked back towards our hotel along the Tiber. Rome is a very walkable city – if you’re willing to put in the miles. I recommend those miles because you will eat a lot in Rome.
We had a couple of hours to tour the Roman Forum before they closed the gates.
And then we sipped a glass of wine before returning to the Imperial Forums for a sound and light show. I know it sounds corny, but these light shows are extremely well done. You have a choice between Caesar or Augustus. And for about an hour, you stroll through the grounds and a few buildings while listening to a recording while things are projected on the walls. It truly brings ancient Rome to life. Here’s the website: www.viaggioneifori.it
There is so much to do in Rome. There is so much history, and art, and gelato. If you visit, make sure you give yourself enough time to do all the things you want to do. While some of the popular spots can be overwhelmed by tourists, there are many ways to avoid the crowds. Book as much as you can in advance and visit the popular spots early in the morning.
Next stop: Sorrento!
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