Hannah Drake

Italy

9 Things to Do in Rome

TravelHannah DrakeComment

We were only in Rome for about three and a half days and we did two different walking tours (Best of Rome Walking Tour & Cooking Class and Rome in A Day), but we also spent a great deal of time wandering around the historic city on our own.

SEE THE COLOSSEUM AT NIGHT

This was absolutely my #1 priority in Rome and we did it the first night (after checking into the hotel and hanging out for a while, watching The Lizzie McGuire movie, of course). We planned on taking the tram from near our hotel in Trastevere to the Colosseum, but a bus had broken down on the tracks, so we were forced to walk. The walk was AMAZING and got us there just as the sun was setting. We walked between the Roman Forum and the Colosseum taking it all in and I just don’t have the words to tell you how beautiful it was. They light up the Colosseum at night and even though you can’t go in and there are people everywhere, it’s definitely worth seeing against the candy coloured sky. There are nighttime tours of the Colosseum available through different tour companies that might be worth looking into as well. It’s just absolutely stunning all lit up!

LOOK UP — AT THE DETAILS

The Romans were absolutely brilliant when it came to engineering and art, as well as combining them in their architecture. And while the city has been rebuilt (or built upon—more on that later), beautiful buildings continue to line the streets. The intricate details in the buildings is absolutely breathtaking and the best part about Rome is that it might be an incredibly famous architect who designed them.

GET HIGH — FOR THE VIEWS

Getting up as high as you can in a new city is one of the first things I try to do when travelling and something I always recommend. Rome is no different. The morning of our first full day, we walked to Parco del Gianciolo, which offered some great views of Rome from above and was a beautiful park. We also went to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, which had 360 views of the whole city and is absolutely worth the cost and the effort to get to the top.

VISIT LARGO DI TORRE ARGENTINA

We actually stumbled upon this location (which is why the next thing is so important) and I’m so glad we did. It’s currently a cat sanctuary, AKA heaven, but once upon a time, it was the site where Caesar was assassinated. You can walk all the way around the area and see the ruins from above. It’s strange to think about such a pivotal piece of history took place there and now the streets around it are bustling with everyday life.

GET LOST

The entire city is packed to the brim with history and art. No matter what street you walk down, you’ll find something beautiful, something historical, something that might just take your breath away. There is so much to do and see in the city and I love that we did two different walking tours (even though there was some overlap on the stops), but I think you should also set aside time to explore on your own. See what you stumble upon and try seeing the city without a solid itinerary.

TAKE THE STAIRS AT ST. PETER’S BASILICA

There is so much to do and see inside the Vatican, but one of the best is to take the stairs all the way to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica. There are 551 steps to the top and it’s not for the faint of heart. (Possibly not for the claustrophobic either because those stairways get quite narrow near the top.) It’s worth the views from the top, though. You get 360 degrees views of the Vatican and Rome, though you’re looking through bars. You can stop at a couple of points on the way up or down to get some other views too. It’s €10 per person to go to the top and it’s cash only.

EAT WHERE THE LOCALS EAT

The best tip I can give you for the country is that if you find yourself looking at fettuccine alfredo on the menu, you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere. We learned in our cooking class that Romans do not eat fettuccine alfredo. In fact, it’s an American invention. Instead, Romans eat cacio e pepe and now, so do I. Italians also don’t eat chicken on pasta. Instead, you’ll find a pasta menu followed by an entree menu that would include various cuts of meat and chicken. Keeping those things in mind, you should be able to tell with a quick glance at the menu whether it was created for tourists or Italians. You may also need to travel away from main tourist attractions to find an authentic Italian restaurant. For example, the restaurants across the street from the Colosseum are probably there for tourists.

VISIT THE JEWISH GHETTO

We got this recommendation from a few people, so we decided to make our way to the Jewish Ghetto on our last night in the city. We didn’t spend as much time as we would have liked, but it was the most quintessential Roman scene I could have imagined. We sat at a red and white checkered table on the cobbled street eating pasta, drinking wine, and listening to street musicians make their way up and down the street. It was the chilliest night of our trip, but it was still warm enough to sit outside. Aside from the fact that I got mad at Luke for something really stupid, it was a perfect night in Rome!

When we go back, the Jewish Ghetto will undoubtedly be one of our first stops. It’s the oldest Jewish settlement in Europe, dating back to the 2nd century BC. It’s brimming with Jewish culture. Of course you’ll find a beautiful synagogue and kosher bakeries, all the while rich with history. I read that approximately 2,000 of the 7,000 Jewish residents in the area were rounded up in one day in 1943 and sent to concentration camps. Only 16 survived. Today, Rome is said to have fewer than 20,000 Jewish residents and only a few hundred live in the Jewish Ghetto.

Many of the restaurants will be closed Friday evening through Saturday, so it’s worth looking into an advanced booking if you plan on visiting over the weekend.

GO BACK IN TIME AT BASILICA DI SAN CLEMENTE

Nina, our first tour guide, recommended we visit the Basilica di San Clemente to get a better idea of how Rome is layered on top of itself. The city has been built upon itself a few times over and this particular Basilica essentially functions as a time machine as you travel down through the layers. Through excavations, they have discovered two more layers beneath the basilica that stands on the modern Roman street. It’s absolutely breathtaking! No photography is allowed in the excavations, so you’ll have to see it yourself. I recommend checking the hours before you go as they close for lunch. We made it by the skin of our teeth and actually had to beg them to let us go down as they weren’t allowing any more visitors before lunch. That meant we didn’t get as much time as we wanted, but it was worth the €10 admission fee.

(Apparently I didn’t get any photos of the basilica, even from the outside.)

WHAT TO WEAR IN ROME

I decided to include this section for any ladies planning a trip to Italy in the late summer or early autumn. Consider the cobbled streets of Rome when choosing your footwear and stick to something with a sturdy sole. You’ll likely be doing a lot of walking and you want something comfortable. Rome won’t be as warm as the cities on the coast, but it’s still hot during the day. You might want a light jacket in the evening, especially toward the end of September.

PIN FOR LATER!

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Rome in A Day

TravelHannah DrakeComment

On our last full day in Rome, we did an eight-hour walking tour of the city that 1) wasn’t as bad as it sounds and 2) I couldn’t recommend more highly. I think we both really enjoyed it and it was such a great way to see two of the most iconic landmarks in Rome without having to wait in line. With our tour, we got to skip lines at both the Colosseum and the Vatican and that was absolutely fantastic!

Sadly, because I’m writing this post so many months later, I don’t remember a ton of the information from the tour, so I hope you’re not looking here for a bunch of facts and a lot of history. Besides, I think the tour was really cool and that it should be experienced by anyone who has the opportunity.

We booked our tour about a week before we left for Italy after having saved that day for something like that. After a lot of research, we ultimately decided to book with Walks of Italy and I’m glad we did! Not only was the tour itself bigger than the tour we had done the day before, but it was also a much bigger operation. We met in a park near the Colosseum in the morning along with at least a half dozen other tours from the same company. The entire tour was done by headsets, which definitely made us feel like cheesy tourists, but really came in handy when you wanted to straggle behind to see something for a bit longer.

Because the tour started near the Colosseum, that was our first stop. Like I said, we got to skip the line, but there are a few things to keep in mind about visiting the Colosseum. First, there’s a bag size limit. Luckily our MUZMM backpack was small enough. (You can use the code HANNAH20 to get one for yourself.) However, we had to throw our spray sun cream because you can’t bring any sprays (sun cream, deodorant, bug spray, etc.) into the Colosseum. I’m not sure why, but that’s just the way it goes.

After spending much of the morning walking through the Roman Forum, to the Pantheon (which we had seen as part of the tour the day before, but got some new and different information), and more, we took a bus to be closer to the Vatican. So it was a lot of walking in the morning, but when you look at a walking route for everything we saw, including walking to the Vatican, it' seems like a lot.

We broke for lunch, so Luke and I wandered off for our daily pizza, before meeting up again outside of the Vatican. Like the Colosseum, there are things to know before visiting. Most importantly, there is a dress code for the Vatican. You can’t show your knees or shoulders. Luke brought jeans to change into during the break since it was obviously too hot to wear jeans all day, and I made sure not to wear a tank top. There were vendors selling wraps that people had around their waist or around their shoulders, but you don’t want to get stuck paying for an overpriced scarf when you can just dress appropriately to begin with.

Again, we got to skip the line, and the tour guide showed us through some of the museums in the Vatican, as well as the Sistine Chapel. We did have to wait in a line for the Sistine Chapel, but that’s because they control how many people are in there at a time, so everyone has to wait to go in. You can’t take any photographs and you’re not permitted to speak. The experience was, to be honest, a bit underwhelming. There were security guards loudly telling people to be quiet the entire time we were in there. The ceiling is incredibly high, so the painting is far away. And it’s insanely crowded. I can fully understand how that could be a moving spiritual experience, but personally, I would probably need to be in there alone or with only a handful of other people. It was just too much for me.

The tour finished after the Sistine Chapel, but we were already in the Vatican, so we decided to stay longer. We walked up the steps of St. Peter’s dome (which is not included in your ticket and is cash only). We saw St. Peter’s Basilica from the bottom and marvelled at its beauty and intricacy. We walked around the courtyard, which definitely made me think of The Da Vinci Code. We decided that it counts as one of the countries we’ve visited because Vatican City has their own flag, their own stamps, and their own designs on the Euro.

It was such an amazing experience to be able to visit the Vatican. When we go back to Rome (notice I didn’t say if, because we agree that we could easily spend another week at least in Rome), we absolutely want to spend an entire day in the Vatican alone. But the tour was a great way to see some of it and a great way to understand what we were seeing.

The tour cost about £115 for each of us, but we thought it was worth it. Tickets to the Colosseum are €19 to skip the line and it’s €21 to skip the line at the Vatican museums. Even thought that’s only about £36 combined, the knowledge we got from the tour guide was well worth the money. I would recommend a tour like this, especially with Walks of Italy, at the beginning of your time in Rome. You’ll see so much of what you came to Rome to see and you’ll get a good idea of how you want to spend the rest of your time.

WHAT TO WEAR IN ROME

I decided to include this section for any ladies planning a trip to Italy in the late summer or early autumn. Consider the cobbled streets of Rome when choosing your footwear and stick to something with a sturdy sole. You’ll likely be doing a lot of walking and you want something comfortable. Rome won’t be as warm as the cities on the coast, but it’s still hot during the day. You might want a light jacket in the evening, especially toward the end of September.

This post contains affiliate links, so I may make a commission off any purchase you make through the link. Some linked items are similar to what has been shown. Thank you for supporting my blog!

Best of Rome Walking Tour & Cooking Class

TravelHannah DrakeComment

We thought it would be fun to start our time in Rome with a walking tour and I loved the combination of a walking tour and cooking class, probably the number one thing I wanted to do while we were in Italy. So we booked the tour for our first full day in Rome, after getting to take it easy and being able to explore on our own the evening before and the morning of the tour.

We met our tour guide, Nina, near the Spanish steps, where we hung out for a little while, playing cards until it was time to meet. Our tour was just us and a mother and daughter from Chicago, and it was really nice to have such a small group because we could ask questions easily and it wasn’t ever a struggle to keep up with a large group.

I highly recommend doing a walking tour with Nina if you’re ever in Rome and because of that recommendation, I’m not going to go through all the details of the walk but instead let the photos tell the story. The only thing I’ll say is that it was such a bummer that the Trevi Fountain happened to be empty while we were there. They were doing a scheduled cleaning and planning on refilling the fountain either the day we left or the day after we left. It was a disappointment to not get to see it in all its glory.

I thought it was kismet that about two weeks ago I got an email from Nina saying she had started her own tour company after leaving Best of Rome. Her new company, Sublime Tours, currently offers nine different tours. It looks like ours was the Pasta Class.

The tour led us to the restaurant where we would do the cooking class portion. Nina explained that we would go into the kitchen to learn how to make bruschetta (pronounced with a K sound like “brusketta”) and then two different pastas, including cacio e pepe and—I think—amatriciana, a pasta with a tomato base and pork belly. She explained that cacio e pepe is a proper Roman recipe and has been Americanised as alfredo. Italians don’t actually eat fettuchine alfredo and if you find it at a restaurant, you’re at a restaurant that’s designed for tourists, not Italians and especially not Romans. As someone who would always get fettuchine alfredo, I’m 100% team cacio e pepe now. It’s still creamy and delicious, but I don’t feel like I want to die after I eat it. Nina said it was born out of typical ingredients any Roman would have in their fridge: pecorino cheese, parmesan cheese, and black pepper. That’s all you need!

The cooking class was a lot of fun. The chef was Italian and didn’t speak much English, so Nina translated. It was cool being in the kitchen of an actual restaurant and getting to learn from an actual professional. The food we made was so delicious. I wish I could go back to that meal now! Making pasta from scratch is really easy too and we’ve made it a couple of times since we’ve been back, almost always as cacio e pepe.

WHAT TO WEAR IN ROME

I decided to include this section for any ladies planning a trip to Italy in the late summer or early autumn. Consider the cobbled streets of Rome when choosing your footwear and stick to something with a sturdy sole. You’ll likely be doing a lot of walking and you want something comfortable. Rome won’t be as warm as the cities on the coast, but it’s still hot during the day. You might want a light jacket in the evening, especially toward the end of September.

This post contains affiliate links, so I may make a commission off any purchase you make through the link. Some linked items are similar to what has been shown. Thank you for supporting my blog!