A Roman holiday in the eternal city? Read on for tips and places you shouldn't miss on your travels!
Rome is for the most part a walking city, so come prepared with comfortable footwear! If you fancy a walking tour, try out the Rome Free Tour, offering free and twice daily tours of the city, otherwise walk forth and marvel at the wonders before you!
1. Ancient Ruins
If there is just one thing that Rome is known for, it’s all the magnificent constructions that bear witness and legacy to the empire that was. There is just no way you can go to Rome and miss out on a chance to ponder on civilisations gone by. The city is an ancient history lesson gone 3D and there is good reason why visitors flock in large numbers to see the old but still standing structures of the Colosseum, Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. Admission to all three is included when purchasing a ticket.
#HHWT Tip: If purchasing a ticket on the day, then go to the Palatine Hill ticket kiosk. The Colosseum entrance usually has longer queues which equals less valuable fun exploring time (unless you play games like ‘who am I’ and ‘I spy’ while waiting. That’s always fun).
While on the topic of all things old, the Pantheon and Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel) are also worth considerations in your go to checklist. What is interesting about these buildings is their purpose throughout the ages. Castel Sant’ Angelo wasn’t always a castle (and museum), having been a mausoleum previously and the Pantheon was once a pagan temple that later on in the years was converted to a church. The Pantheon still holds Christian services to this day and is free to enter. Hats off to Rome’s preservation team (that’s a service right?), as they do a mighty job of keeping these structures up and beautiful!
2. People watching on the Piazza(s)
Rome has numerous stunning centre squares where you can spend a lazy afternoon or easy evening just relaxing and taking in the local culture, eating gelato, people watching and fountain gazing. These centre spots are wonderful gathering places for families, tourists and local young people and professionals to sit in each other’s company and enjoy their surroundings. Likewise, they are also used as a quick pit stop to eat, rest and recuperate before the next adventure.
Some of my favourite things to do while travelling is café crawling and square sitting, simply because you immerse yourself in local culture and meet new people. There are dozens of centre squares in Rome but places of focus include the Piazza Navona, known for its fountains of four rivers, Piazza di Spagna where the spanish steps lie and Piazza de Trevi where you can view the Trevi fountain in all its delight.
By way of interesting tidbit, legend has it that throwing a coin in the Trevi fountain will mean an imminent return to Rome. Disclaimer: A. I have not tried this. B No refunds of coins should return to Rome not transpire :P
3. Visiting the Vatican
What is a trip to Rome without visiting the Pope? The Vatican is governed as an independent city state with its own flag and anthem and technically a different country to Italy, hence a visit to the Vatican, means another ‘country’ to add to your count. Italy is still very much a Roman Catholic country, and religious symbolism is at the heart of a lot of art and architecture, with the Vatican at its centre. The Angelus prayer takes place on Sundays at noon at St. Peter’s Square where the Pope speaks from his window and makes for a humbling experience wherever your beliefs lie. While in the area, other highlights here include St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum where the Sistine Chapel lies. A heads up tip is to mentally prepare your neck (or bring a mirror!) for the craning it has to do while marvelling at Michelangelo’s famous painting on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. This is a true feast for the eyes and your inner artist will be fully stuffed by the end of the visit.
#HHWT tip: Every last Sunday of the month, entrance to the Vatican Museum is free so come by early if you want in on this generous offer. If you are subject to paying for a ticket, then make sure you pre—book or else face hours of wait (and repetitive I spy games in the queue).
4. Park wander
Holidays are for exploring, eating and enjoyment. They are also for relaxing, and what better way than visiting some of Rome’s parks to soak up the local culture. Rome has a number of beautiful and large green spaces perfect for reading, napping or picnic-ing (I like to do all three consecutively). Consider visiting the Orto Botanico, a botanical garden operated by the University of Rome which contains more than 3000 species of plants. To access the grounds, an entrance fee applies, but with a Japanese garden at the top of the hill, there is a welcomed sense of peace in an otherwise busy and bustling city.
Roseto Comunale is a beautiful rose garden, open during the flowering season of April to June and another option for avid gardeners and appreciators of blooming buds. 1100 varieties of roses are housed here and make for a wonderful path walk as well as a sensory delight to the nose (and the perfect backdrop for a photoshoot).
Rome’s answer to New York’s Central Park is Villa Borghese. Grounds originally owned by a rich family in the 17th century, is now open to the public and complete with elaborate fountains, large hills and tree lined paths. If you can hack a bit of a walk, then this will lead to the Pincian hill which brings with it a beautiful view of Rome. The grounds also hold old villas and the Galleria Borghese; full of historical statues, beautiful renaissance art and provides an interesting insight into the lives of nobility in a time far past.
Gianicolo is more of a hill than a park, but it affords the best and breath-taking panoramic views of Rome. The path is not directly uphill, making the walk a gentle and leisurely affair and a must if you fancy both a walk in nature and a bird’s eye view of the city. This is also the spot where a tense battle took place in the struggle for Italian unification. As a legacy to the struggle, a canon is still fired from this hill every day at noon. In case the promise of a good view hasn’t enticed you, then perhaps a mention of a free puppet show might? The show takes place on the plaza on weekends (10:30–noon and 17.00-19.00). Granted, the show is Italian, but fun is universal, right?
5. Cuddle cats
You read right. Where Emperors once ruled, cats now reign. The Largo di Torre Argentina is an open cat sanctuary, housing more than 400 furry friends. The Sanctuary is open daily from noon to 18.00 and visitors are welcome to observe and pet the cats who live there (a dream for the animal lover who can’t/ doesn’t have pets). Admission is free but a donation is welcomed for the upkeep.
6. Parade in palaces
For the architect fiend, a visit to a palace or two is always in the books and Rome is home to number of stunning ‘palazzi’ owned by princely and aristocratic families who once ruled the city. Palazzo Colonna is one of the oldest and largest palaces and has two sections open to the public every Saturday-the Galleria Colonna and Princess Isabelle Apartments. The intricate details and marble flooring makes for an immersive experience and is a truly breath taking aesthetic sight. The Palazzo Doria Pamphilj is also magnificent. With c.1000 rooms in its hold (London’s Buckingham Palace only has 775!), visitors are in for an exceptional sight, in the form of a hefty art collection and ornate rooms themed by colour.
7. Consume carbs
What is a trip to Italy without eating as much pasta, pizza and other carbohydrate filled dishes as possible? Here are some of my recommendations:
- Pizzeria Luna Caprese
Sadly Italian Halal options are still hard to come by, but this restaurant, located near the Trevi Fountain is one of those rare haunts that serves halal food and there is no alcohol on the premises. If you are feeling adventurous try a kebab pizza, otherwise dig in to both meaty and vegetarian pizza and pasta options.
Opening hours: 11am - 10pm
Address: 130 Via Rasella, Roma, Lazio 00187
Don’t dismiss the small size of this establishment and let the queues of locals and tourists alike speak to Pastificio’s value. This no frills spot usually has 2 daily specials- one of which is usually vegetarian and for just €4 (cash only), this is a perfect spot to get a huge serving of freshly made pasta. Hope for a bright and sunny day and choose to take away your order and enjoy as you sit on the nearby famous spanish steps.
Opening hours: 10am - 10pm
Address: Via della Croce 8 00187 Rome
- La Casettadella Madonna dei Monti
This ivy-covered house is dainty, quaint and all things nice. It is also super old, dating back as far as the mid-15th century. Come to this café for brunch or tea, and enjoy an afternoon of coffee and pastries.
Opening hours: 9am - 9pm
Address: Via Madonna Dei Monti 62, 00184 Roma Rome, Italy
What are you waiting for? The empire is long gone, it’s now your time to reign supreme.