Did you get a chance to see the highlights of our recent trip to Rome in my vlog post? It’s here in case you missed it. As I’m sure you can probably tell, we loved Rome. I really can’t believe I hadn’t been sooner; it’s such a wonderful city.
The Italian capital is a melting pot where you will find 3,000-year old historical ruins, iconic art, and the essence of the dolce vita lifestyle where one can indulge in the hedonistic pursuit of culture and gastronomic excellence. The city is a destination for romance and for basking in one of the many picturesque piazzas or quaint streets whilst watching the world go by. This is how we spent our long weekend in Rome.
We took a late afternoon flight from London. There are so many flight options available to choose from, and as it only takes 2 hours and 30-minutes, making it a great weekend getaway option. Arriving at 19.30, we jumped into a taxi and headed for Piazza Navona. Taxis are a really easy option for getting into the city centre and have a fixed rate of €48 to anywhere within the Aurelian Walls for up to four passengers. We shortly arrived at our hotel, Navona Suites. Given that we paid £430 for four nights, we were quite frankly surprised by the amazing central location and the high standard of comfortable accommodation. It was ideal as we were planning to be out and about every day.
Keen to make the most of our first evening, we dropped off our bags and headed to Ar Galletto for our first casual Italian feast. Overlooking one of Rome’s most beautiful squares, Fontana di Piazza Farnese, you will find the grand Palazzo Farnese designed by Michelangelo, the infamous High Renaissance sculptor, painter, architect, and poet. Today it is home to the French Embassy. We sat on one of the outdoor tables and dined on authentic Roman pasta and seafood mains. We sipped our wine long into the night and after a long day headed back to our hotel to rest our weary heads.
The next day we woke reasonably early and decided to grab some breakfast en route to our Vatican City Behind the Scenes Highlights Tour. We stopped off in a really unassuming sandwich shop on Via Giuseppe Zanardelli with a deli counter and ordered coffee and a fresh prosciutto and mozzarella focaccia. OMG – it was freaking awesome. I don’t know how the Italians make the simplest of flavours so magical. With our breakfast-to-go under our belts, we wandered through the already humid streets to Piazza San Pietro to join our tour.
After reading a squillion guides online, we decided a tour was the way forward to ensure we were able to queue jump the lengthy lines expected in the Vatican City. After reading a few reviews, I decided on Get Your Guide’s tour. It was really reasonably priced costing just shy of £60 each and included a 3-hour guided tour of the enchanting Vatican Gardens, the Sistine Chapel, and the largest church in the world: The Basilica of St. Peter’s. We loved the tour. Our highly trained expert guide was really informative and was able to offer loads of titbits of information you wouldn’t experience if you were going it alone.
We explored the Vatican City, home to only 1,000 permanent residents. The city-state is surrounded by Rome and is the heart and soul of the Roman Catholic Church and home to Pope Francis and a trove of iconic art and architecture. We started with a unique stroll around the Vatican Gardens. It is not possible to see the gardens unless you are on a guided tour, so this alone was enough to convince me. All tours take place in the morning by special permission of the Vatican, leaving the afternoons tourist free so that the Pope can stroll the gardens and say his prayers in peace. Our tour included exclusive access to the Pope Emerito House (home to Pope Benedict), the Vatican Radio Station, the Academy of Science, the Vatican Government Palace, a piece of the original Berlin Wall and the “Fontana dell’Aquilone”. From the gardens, you can admire a wonderfully unique perspective of St. Peter’s Basilica’s Cupola (dome).
The Vatican City is home to 4.5 miles of priceless masterpieces created by some of the most iconic painters, sculptors, and architects of all time. Our tour took us via the Gallery of Maps, the Gallery of Tapestries and Candelabras and the Chapel of Pio V before we entered the Sistine Chapel. In the crowded room, we beheld one of Michelangelo’s greatest works. The fresco took Michelangelo four years to create and is a beautifully balanced composition that depicts a range of religious iconography rendered in Michelangelo’s distinctive style (notably the human figures are painted in sculpted form). It is without a doubt one of the most cherished masterpieces in the world.
We were then escorted to St Peter’s Basilica (via the queue that in a matter of hours now filled Piazza San Pietro – thank goodness for the queue-jumping access!). The State opens its doors extraordinarily to an average of 40,000 visitors daily; some curious and others desperately seeking faith and guidance. It was an overwhelming experience to walk side by side with them in the holiest of places. St Peter’s Basilica, Italy’s largest and most spectacular Catholic shrine was built atop a 4thcentury church taking 120 years to construct in present form. Its decadent interior homes many magnificent pieces of art, including Michelangelo’s Pietà, his soaring dome, and Bernini’s 29-metre-high Pulpit.
We had hoped to climb the Cupola after our tour (it’s only €7, payable at the door), but the queue was mahoosive, so we made a decision to buy our Mum’s and my Grandma (located in Australia and Hong Kong) each a postcard from the Vatican City post office. They were then stamped with the State’s very own postage stamp. They took some time to arrive, but when they did about six weeks later, Si and I scored brownie points 🙂
After lunch, the spring thunderstorms rolled in to break the morning’s rising humidity. We purchased some Roma Passes at their ticket office located by the museum. These are great for anyone visiting the city and give you fast-track entry to three museums within 72 hours for €38 per person (much cheaper than paying entry to individual attractions). We spent the afternoon exploring Saint Angelo’s Castle National Museum. The commanding tower has undergone several transformations during its lifetime. It was originally built in AD 123 as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian and his family. Hadrian, however, passed away before its completion, though his remains did eventually find their way to the tomb. In 403 it became a significant military fortress that defended Rome until the beginning of the 11thcentury before becoming the state prison. It then exchanged hands several times before becoming a prison once more, until 1906 when finally it became a museum open to the public. Although we hadn’t been lucky with the weather and had to run between the rooms of the tower exposed to the elements, we were rewarded with some amazing views out over the city including St Peter’s Basilica from the top of the tower.
With the weather not being at its best, we headed to Hotel Locarno for some well-earned pre-dinner drinks. The hotel is favoured by artistic types (think Soho House). We’d hoped to go to the hotel’s secret roof garden, but it was closed because of the rain and we were instead shown to the hotel bar’s sheltered courtyard which smelt of deliciously sweet wisteria. The cocktails were equally as delicious!
For dinner, we went to Dal Bolognese, an elegant restaurant that overlooks Piazza del Popolo, and is frequently visited by the rich and famous. I couldn’t tell you who was there but the Italian paparazzi were poised across the road throughout our entire meal. Everything on the menu was excellent!
The next day we took a leisurely stroll along the cobbled streets of Rome past the charming old buildings and beautiful shop windows to the Trevi Fountain. It is quite possibly the most famous fountain in the world and has been captured in countless films. Legend has it that if you toss a coin over your left shoulder, you will someday return to Rome. Umm, what if you are a muppet and toss it over your right shoulder like I did?!
The Baroque sculpture atop of the fountain depicts Neptune grandly standing on a chariot being pulled along by seahorses. It’s estimated that tourists throw €3,000 a day into the fountain with aspirations that their dreams will come true. And in 2016, €1.4 million was removed from the fountain! The money was used by an Italian charity to set up a supermarket for the city’s poor.
I had often marvelled at the incredible pictures that bloggers post of the fountain. But truth be told, do not expect a people free picture of it unless you are prepared to head on down as early as 6 am, and even then, you may have to wait your turn! The crushing crowds grabbling for the perfect picture were overwhelming but absolutely worth it.
After an alfresco lunch in a neighbourhood trattoria we made our way along the busy streets to the Spanish Steps to watch the world go by…and eat gelato! I figured if Audrey Hepburn did it in Roman Holiday, then we should too! The steps ascend from Piazza di Spagna to Piazza Trinità dei Monti. The steps were originally designed to link the Bourbon Spanish Embassy, and the Trinità dei Monti church. It’s a super nice part of Rome overlooking the busy pedestrian streets that are lined with high-end fashion boutiques such as Fendi, Prada, Bulgari etc.
As it was a sunny afternoon, we decided to head back to Piazza Navona near our hotel to enjoy the sunshine and the vibrant atmosphere of the square with a glass (or two) of wine. Along the way, my eye was caught by the captivating Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland), which was originally created in honour of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of the newly unified Italy in 1925. The commanding monument features the most exquisite sculptures. Hint: if you go on a Sunday there is no fee to go to the viewing decks (usually chargeable). There are two decks with the most incredible views out over Capitoline Hill of the Roman Forum and the Coliseum. I am so glad we stumbled across this gem!
We eventually made our way to Piazza Navona for those drinks. It was so lovely just sitting out watching the street performers and listening to the buskers. There is such an energetic atmosphere in of many Roman piazzas, but this one is by far one of the busiest and it’s easy to see why.
That night Si was in charge of dinner. The boy done good – he had choose Osteria Delle Coppelle, a rustic family-run osteria in the style of an effortlessly chic speakeasy, that serves traditional hearty Italian dishes. The black truffle pasta and tornado Rossini (I realise this is a French dish, but they crafted it with an Italian flair), were out of this world. Hint: make sure you try one of their signature negronis with tequila and lime, you won’t be disappointed.
The next morning, we headed for Rome’s ancient icons – the Colosseum and the Roman Forum (both included in the Roma Pass), to marvel at the maze of ruins. As we made our way to the Colosseum we passed a real archaeological excavation amongst the ruins. I thought that was pretty cool.
The Colosseum was most famed for being a gladiatorial amphitheatre constructed in AD 80. The grand structure held 50,000 spectators, offering tiered seating that encircled the arena. Beneath it, the animals were caged and prepared to delight the gathering crowds. Curiously, the Colosseum has played many roles over the years. In addition to being a great sporting arena, it was even a wool factory during the 16thcentury!
For all you keen Instagrammers – don’t peak too soon. Save your photo taking for the far end of the Colosseum by the gated barriers where you’ll find fewer people. Or try crossing the road by Parco Del Colle Oppio to get that iconic shot. Again, if you want people free images, consider going early.
After lunch, we headed to the Roman Forum. The district was once the social, political and commercial hub of the Roman empire. Dating back to the 7thcentury BC, the site was home to opulent piazzas, political forums, temples, and basilicas.
I have to say, I think the Forum is Rome’s most impressive archaeological site. It is incredible to see how they created such an advanced society governed by politics, religion, and trade so many thousands of years ago, that has influenced much of the way society is governed today as a result.
That afternoon we took a gelato assisted walk to Circus Maximus. To be very honest with you, unless you have a lot of time on your hands, I would bypass this one. Off the back of visiting the Colosseum, I was expecting great things from the ancient Roman chariot-racing stadium, but sadly all I found was a grassy field with a sloping hill.
At the recommendation of Si’s sister, we went to Aventine Hill to check out the keyhole of the Knights of Malta, a Roman Catholic religious order of crusader knights that originated in Jerusalem in the 11thcentury. Look for the queue of tourists at the top of the hill and you will know you’re there. Peek through the keyhole for a magical view of the impressive domed top of St. Peter’s Basicillia, at the end of a perfectly manicured private garden. It’s over in the blink of an eye, but totally worth it. Getting the picture, however, is tricky business!
That evening we had a real treat. We headed to Trattoria al Moro for dinner. It was like stepping back in time to the sophistication and glamour of the 1920’s. Classically designed with wooden-panels, it is easy to see why this nearly century-old clubhouse originally reserved for Roman politicians and esteemed businessmen is favoured by the rich and famous including fashion icon Valentino.
The classic Roman menu and extensive wine list were in Italian. Whilst we could navigate basic menus, this was quite detailed and proved to be a challenge. It’s also worth noting that it was quite expensive so the pressure is on to ensure that you are ordering something you’re going to like. But you can’t possibly ask the waiter to read through the small novel, I mean menu! I’m pleased to report that we got it right in the end and the food was out of this world. Si was even brave enough to try the Roman delicacy of sheep’s testicles! Ewwww!! See what I did there 😉
Our final day in Rome had come far too quickly. We wandered down to Campo de Fiori and pottered about in the market on the way to Roscioli Caffè Pasticceria. Wowee, what a find! You absolutely must stop by for a genuine Roman breakfast. Busy locals lined the crowded countertop. Below the tempered glass top was tempting pastries freshly baked, and delicious bite-sized sandwiches. The café is tapas style – choose a few delectable mouthfuls to have alongside the perfect espresso and wallah! We loved this place.
After breakfast, we headed over to the Pantheon, one of Rome’s best preserved ancient monuments. Originally created as a temple created in AD 608 for Hadrian, it drew influence from Greece and paid homage to the classical gods. Though it eventually became a Christian church (Basilica di Santa Maria ad Martyres), which was actually how it managed to survive the medieval desecration of many of Rome’s ancient buildings. That said, if you go outside you’ll see that the bronze roof tiles were removed by Bernini for the extraordinary Baldachin at St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Pantheon is an architectural marvel. To imagine how construction took place almost two centuries ago, let alone how the design process occurred, I can’t even begin to imagine. Passing through incredibly large bronze doors you will find ornate marble floors beneath a monumental dome – the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever built, with a perfectly cylindrical hole in the middle.
With time for one more Roman feast before it was time to head back to London, we made a beeline for the infamous restaurant Pierluigi, located by Piazza Navona. The list of celebrity clientele at this place is nothing short of impressive and includes many a supermodel, Lionel Richie, Emmanuel Macron, Selena Gomez, Kourtney Kardashian, and Sarah Jessica Parker – and that was just in the last week or so! Go for delicious seafood served alfresco overlooking another pretty cobbled piazza.
Sadly, our trip had come to an end. They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, but over many thousands of years it eventually was, and as a result has created an incredible lasting legacy that has shaped western civilisation as we know it today. Rome really was a magical place and one I won’t forget anytime soon.
A summary of our trip with our top recommendations
Dinner at Ar Galletto
|Saturday||Get Your Guide’s Vatican City Behind the Scenes Highlights Tour – highly recommended|
Saint Angel’s Castle National Museum
Roof terrace drinks at Hotel Locarno – highly recommended
Dinner at Dal Bolognese – highly recommended (request a terrace table)
|Trevi Fountain – highly recommended|
Spanish Steps/ Piazza di Spanga – highly recommended
Altare della Patria – highly recommended
Piazza Navona – highly recommended
Dinner at Osteria Delle Coppelle –highly recommended
|The Roman Forum – highly recommended|
The Colosseum – highly recommended
Knights of Malta Keyhole – highly recommended
Dinner at Al Moro – highly recommended
|Campo de Fiori (market)|
Roscioli Caffè Pasticceria – highly recommended
The Pantheon – highly recommended
Lunch at Pierluigi – highly recommended (request a terrace table)
For more hints and tips on Rome, head over to Soph Hearts, and check out her post.
Until next time, safe travels.
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