Our train got into Rome just before dinner time. We made the rather quick and picturesque walk from the train station to our Airbnb to meet our host. Our airbnb in Rome was a super cute and decently spacious loft studio located quite centrally. We didn’t realize on the walk to our Airbnb ( as our backs were to it) but once we stepped outside for dinner we realized there was an amazing view of the Colosseum from our doorstep!
For dinner we wanted to stay close the first night so we headed to Li Roni for pizza. This place is super cute on the inside, it is set up to look like an outdoor street. Pizza here is quite good and quite affordable, we both settled for a Capricosa and split some house red. After dinner we walked by the Colosseum and then stopped by a grocery store to pick up stuff for breakfasts in Rome as we finally had a full kitchen again!
Despite our bad luck with the Uffizi we still didn’t learn our lesson and couldn’t find tickets for the Vatican online that fit our schedule so we decided to head to the Vatican first thing to see if we would have better luck there buying tickets for a later day. When we got to the Vatican everyone we followed the hordes of people we assumed were heading to the museum but we ended up in St. Peter’s Square. When we got there we realized the square was set up for a Mass ceremony but thought nothing of it and left to the museum. As we were walking towards the museum we notice the unusually high amounts of people walking away from the museum early in the morning and the lack of long line. As we approached a very closed museum and ticket office we finally put the pieces together and realized today was a very important Roman holiday, it was the holiday of Peter and Paolo the patron saints of Rome. Seeing we had come all the way out here we decided to head back to St. Peters to see what the ceremony was about. As we headed back and headed through security and the increasing crowds we begun to wonder what were the chances that the pope would show up to a mass at the Vatican, on an important Roman holiday, with visiting archbishops from around the world. While our sightlines weren’t great and we had missed the introductions the camera begun to focus on a very Pope looking person( as it was a holiday he was dressed in red and not the traditional white hence this was harder to decipher) who was giving a speech. After sufficiently squinting, attempting to decipher the Italian ( and a Google search later) we had definitively decided it was the Pope. So if accidentally stumbling into a speech by the Pope is not the most “When in Rome” thing you can think of I don’t know what is.
After the speech we decided to head back across the river to the centre of “downtown” Rome as my (second pair!!!!) of sunglasses this trip had broken and I needed a replacement. We walked along the Via del Corso until we found a decent looking pair at H&M. On our quest we sunglasses we also stumbled upon the Spanish steps as we turned a corner and hung out here for a little bit. This stumbling upon significant people and attractions seemed to be a trend of our time in Rome.
The Spanish Steps are kinda funny as the bottom is super crowded but there are very few people actually sitting on the steps themselves. So despite being here around lunchtime we were able to take quite unobstructed pictures.
After this we set off in search of a semi-affordable lunch, which is quite the mission in this area, and stumbled upon the Pantheon in the process. We finally found a decent place for pasta on a side street but nothing to write home about.
After lunch we made our way to Piazza Venezia to meet up with our free walking tour guide. This afternoon we had signed up for a walking tour of the Jewish Ghetto and Trastevere- two very interesting and less touristy areas of Rome.
Our walking guide was amazing!!! The most spunky, enegertic Italian lady ever. She literally would walk right out into traffic to make cars stop so our group could cross. ( We have come to realize that there are literally zero traffic rules in Italy, the only rule appears to be don’t hit anyone but besides that anything goes: cars treat stop signs as very optional, motorbikes go on the sidewalks and brave pedestrians jay walk everywhere.) She was amazing and went above and beyond not only explaining the Jewish Ghetto and Trastevere overall but also stopping to explain every building we passed, giving tips on eating/drinking in Rome and just generally providing information on the city and its history. If you take a tour with Free Tour Rome definitely try to get Claudia.
This tour was super interesting- especially the Jewish Ghetto as despite it being such a small part of the city a lot of important history has happened here. Recently the city has put a lot of effort into recognizing the devastation of the Holocaust in Rome, putting up a plaque commemorating the day the Secret Service came in and took away all the Jews in the Ghetto. She said some thousands were taken, only a handful made it to concentration camps in Poland ( the rest died in transit) and virtually no one returned. Outside the houses in this area there are little plaques which say who was taken from the house, on what day and where they died. This neighbourhood is really powerful and going with someone who can explain this history makes it even more.
After exploring this area we headed across the river to Roman Trastevere, which is where you can find a lot of best traditionally “Roman” food. This is an area where a lot of Jewish people and pagans fled to after the Pope took control of Rome.
After the tour we decided to grab gelato and make the (excruciatingly long) walk home. Note to self do not attempt this walk after a full day of walking, I actually wanted to chop my feet off at the end. BUT the gelato was really good so it was sorta worth it. We went to Fatamorgana which is known for their really fun flavours and great gelato. I got riccotta and citrus with a hazelnut/floral flavour and my friend got Chocolate Wasbi with Baklava.
So in Grade ten my friend had gone on a school trip to Rome where one of her teachers nieces who lived in Rome joined them for a lot of the trip. She and her became good friends and had stayed in touch all these years. So tonight we went out with Erika and a couple of her friends from university. They took us to a really cool area outside of Rome, called Roman castles or more specifically Frascati. This is a beautiful area on a hill that overlooks all of Rome, the neighbourhood is full of restaurants, many with beautiful views of Rome. We settled in at for an amazing dinner of traditional Roman classic pasta dishes. We got Carbonara, Caicio e Pepe and Gricia plus some starters and red wine to share. The pasta was great ( my favourite I think is the cacio) and the atmosphere is super fun. This was such a fun night as it was amazing not only seeing a part of Rome we would have never seen on our own but it was so nice making new friends and being able to connect with people our age from another country. We grabbed after dinner gelato and then headed back into town.
Step Count: 29,634
So despite our late night last night we still woke up early to make it to our morning walking tour of “classic” Rome. We went with the same company as yesterday after our amazing experience. This tour took us through the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona and more and was great at providing the foundational history of Rome. Our guide focused both on what he called the mythical and factual histories of Rome, going over the two stories behind the origins of Rome but also the two stories behind many statues/landmarks. We learnt about the pettiness of the Trevi Fountain architect who built a urn just to block the view of an annoying barber and of the feud between Bernini and Borromini.
After this tour we decided to take the metro to the market in Tesstaccio for lunch. this ended up being such a fun experience. Since the market is away from all the touristy landmarks it is so nice and calm. We were able to take multiple laps around the market without feeling claustrophobic from the crowds. This area is a super nice, quite residential area which is nice to walk around. We settled on Sicilian Arancini and zucchini flatbread pizza for lunch AND I finally found a real iced coffee( quite the struggle in Italy) to satisfy my summer iced coffee craving.
After this we headed to the Eataly which is also in the area. The Eataly in Rome is the biggest Eataly and OH MY GOD it is heaven on earth. It is three floors of incredible Italian food, both groceries and numerous kiosks and restaurants for hot food. It ranges from fresh pasta to the most impressive cheese selection, walls of hanging meats and half a floor dedicated to wine, including a “fill your own” bottle section! We ended up being so in love we decided to buy ingredients to make dinner at home ( it was also there anniversary so there was a huge sale). We picked up Genovese pesto, gnocchi, a 4EU DOCG Chianti (!), zucchini and some fun orange and lemon drinks.
After our beautiful foodie afternoon we headed home for a siesta. After our Vatican ticket kerfuffle we managed to get some tickets for the Friday night opening. In the summer the Vatican is open most Friday nights and it ended up being an amazing opportunity to visit the Vatican when it was less crowded.
The Museum opens at 7pm and closes around 11pm, we were only able to get tickets for the 9pm reservation. However we wanted more time to see the museum and so made a gamble to show up earlier to see if they would let us in. Since we imagined the wouldn’t be able to let us in right aaway ( we showed up at 7:30pm) we decided to stop at Old Bridge for Gelato. Old Bridge had come very recommended and omg it did not disappoint. I think this was my favourite of the entire trip. The gelato is so so good and super cheap! At this location it was 2Eu for a small with three flavours! I tried their speciality pistachio, biscotti and caramello. We brought our gelato to the line figuring we would have to wait but there was no line for reservations so even though our reservation wasn’t for an hour and 15 we thought we would try. The security guy looked at our tickets, looked at us, looked at the line and just kinda shrugged his shoulders and let us in. I ended up having to quickly finish the rest of the my gelato in the lobby as there were literally no lines in sight ( besides the still very long no reservation line of course). This was amazing and we ended up having the perfect amount of time to explore the entire museum.
Some exhibits are closed at night but almost all the main ones are open so you still get the full experience. Also there was a choir performing in the courtyard which added another layer to the experience. Seeing the Vatican at night also gives you kinda creepy cool Dan Brown vibes, you really feel like someone is going to jump out from the top of the building or something.
The collection at the museum is so so impressive. Next time I would definitely go with a guide or at least an audio guide, we had free app guides which gave us some information but covered only a small sliver of the huge collection. The best part of the night was by far the Sistine Chapel, which , even as a very non-religious person, took my breath away. This room is so impressive and so full of detail. The perspective of the painted room with painted paintings in incredible and every single inch of this space provides something new and interesting to look at. We were able to get seats along the side and just sat for a while taking in the space. I would definitely recommend budgeting a lot of time to just sit here and look.
After this we headed home and prepared our Eataly feast and then passed out for much needed sleep.
Step count: 25,770
Today we decided to take it slower and head back to the Jewish Ghetto/Trastevere for a bit more walking around and exploring. We didn’t realize that it was Saturday until we showed up to a mostly closed Jewish Ghetto but thankfully after Shul ended a lot more places opened up. We had been told so many times about the “Jewish style” fried artichokes from this area so we stopped into a place to try them. These are definitely delicious, with half of tasting like artichoke chips and half of it still super moist. We walked past the synagogue, the porticus octave and the old theatre.
After exploring this area we went to head across the river where we bumped into another Old Bridge. After our amazing experience last night we couldn’t say no so we got some gelato. This location only gives you two flavours with a small which was kinda disappointing but the gelato is so good and they have great flavours here. I tried the pear and ricotta and the Sicilian cannoli, both of which were amazing.
Gelato in hand we wandered over and begun getting lost in the back streets of Trastevere. Trastevere is a really fun area because it is really where you can get a more real slice of Rome, the streets are full of families and people on their way to and from work. There are tons of fun restaurants, bars, bakeries and beautiful churches. We headed up Gianicolo park as we had heard it had some of the best views of Rome The main viewing point is just after the Spanish Academy and has beautiful panoramic views of Rome. It is especially spectacular because you get all the mountains behind Rome too. Seeing as there are dozens of places you can pay to see good views of Rome this is a great hidden spot where you can get the same view ( or even better) for free.
So after walking up a hill we were (surprise!) hungry again so started wandering down streets in look for a place for lunch. We stumbled upon this cute Trattoria that had a cute patio with cheap pizzas ( and cheaper wine) and settled in a leisurely lunch to complement our extremely relaxing day. We continued to explore more and stumbled upon a really cute patisserie where we picked up some Italian cookies for snacks at home.
We then headed home as our friend was finally returning from her conference so we went to meet her at our Airbnb. We helped her settle in, hung out for a bit and then started planning our Canada day dinner. We found a good neighbourhood pasta place near our Airbnb ( called I Buoni Amici) which is known for great Roman food and donned our red and white. For Canada Day we had white pasta ( carbonara and cacio e pepe) and red wine. To further celebrate we even got Tiramisu, which was amazing. We did another nighttime walk by of the Colosseum to complete our night. ( You can’t see but I am wearing red shorts)
Step count: 16,920
On the first Sunday of every month all the museums in Rome are free. Since we previously weren’t planning on seeing the Borghese we thought this was the perfect excuse to see it always for free! We woke up early to get there early before openings to make sure we got tickets and were greeted with a very short line. Despite very little information about this online, even though the museums are all free you still need to pay and get a reservation to get in ( which was different than the Sunday free museums we had been to in Lisbon). Disappointed but not wanting to waste our early start to the day we wandered off to explore the Villa Borghese park. The park is quite beautiful and filled with cute little coffee stands where we got morning espresso. There are a ton of tiny old buildings housing museums and even a fake Globe theatre.
At the bottom end of the park there is a spot for beautiful views of Rome. It is nice because you view Rome from the opposite end that you would from Gianicolo so we were able to get really good perspective over the city.
The park exit form the viewing point pretty much lets out right by the Spanish Steps so we went there again so our friend could see them and again super crowded at the bottom and barely anyone on the stairs. We also went back to the Trevi Fountain and took some photos here. The beginning of July is a huge time for sales across Italy so as we waited for our lunch spot to open we walked up and down Via del Corso popping into some stores.
For lunch we went to Pastaficio which is a great place in the heart of Rome that makes 4EU fresh pasta served daily starting at 1pm. They make two types of pasta a day and serve it until it runs out. You can take your pasta to go or eat it standing in their shop where they sell their pasta packaged. The 4EU pasta also includes water which is amazing for hot summers day. The pasta was quite good and for 4EU the cheapest option around. After lunch we wandered over to the Pantheon and grabbed some gelato from Gelateria San Crispino.
After a quick siesta we headed out for aperitivo at a place in Trastevere highly recommended by our first tour guide. Freni e Frizioni is a hip apertivo bar with amazing drinks and a good, mostly vegetarian apertivo buffet. It was only 8EU each for a Hugo ( Northern Italian cocktail my friend discovered in Bolzano) and access to the buffet. We ate outside on the steps as this place gets super busy and enjoyed the beautiful roman night.
Afterwards we weren’t really in the mood to head home just yet so we found a cheap bar around the corner. This place was amazing because not only do they have super cheap drinks but they also served us little glasses of proseco while you wait for a table. We got 4EU giant Peronis and there was also super cheap wine. Their patio was a super fun place to people watch and soak in the super fun atmosphere of Trastevere at night.
For our final day we did the quintessential Colosseum day. Thankfully we had thought to book these tickets in advance so we went straight to the Palatine Hill entrance and exchanged our voucher for tickets and walked straight in no line. Honestly if you don’t buy tickets it is not a huge deal- just show up early and go to the Roman Forum or Palatine Hill entrance as there was no line for tickets here. One of the annoying changes they made is you can no longer go directly from Palatine Hill to the Colosseum, you have to go back out and around. So if you buy tickets here I would recommend walking straight there to get in early if you want to see this first as once you go into the Roman Forum you can’t go out and back in.
We ended up walking into Palatine Hill not knowing this so just committed to seeing this and the Roman Forum first. It was pretty cool seeing this first as there was no one else around so it did feel very ghost town-y. We used the Rick Steeves Podcasts as our audio guide which was amazing!!! I am so addicted to these now! We used both his Roman Forum and Colosseum one.
We wandered through Palatine Hill, down to the Roman Forum and then out and back to the Colosseum. We got in the ticket holders line at the Colosseum which went super fast. The Colosseum was busy but not unbearable when we were here so we were still able to walk around and appreciate it. The podcast is a definite must as I feel it would be hard to appreciate without any historical background.
After this we found a place near our Airbnb for a leisurely lunch as we had time to kill before our train. We grabbed good but not great pizza and just relaxed before heading back to our Airbnb to grab our bags and metro to the train station.
Overall Rome more than surpassed my expectations. It was a beautiful city- way prettier than I imagined. Also there is history literally around every corner and with a couple free walking tours it is pretty easy to get a grasp on the history and begin to appreciate it at every turn. We were able to find quite affordable food and once we got a hang of the crazy traffic we felt quite a home. I can definitely see why Audrey Hepburn called Rome her Dolce Vita!
Loved the Sistine Chapel, the views from Gianicolo or Villa Borghese and wandering through Trastevere.
Old Bridge Gelato was amazing!!! And everything in Eataly!
Do multiple walking tours! There is so much history around every corner so having a guide helps so much! Also when there is no guide available Rick Steeves Podcasts are a new lifesaver.
Where we stayed: Airbnb Rome
Sign up for Airbnb here