On our 9-day trip to Italy back in October 2019, we spent 3 full days in Rome other than Venice and Bologna. This was the second time I visited Rome, and the city felt bigger and more lively since I last went in 2010 with a tour group. Traveling on our own this time, we got to see sights more in-depth and check out restaurants on our list. We followed a few of Rick Steves’ free audio walking tours in Rome, and learned a lot about the history and background of the various sights.
Activities to book ahead of time
We regretted a bit about not having done more research beforehand and most that require booking are sold out. Eventually, we got tickets for some of them on third-party sites at a higher price than the official sites.
- St. Peter basilica: guided tour, or wait in line (ideally before 8 am). They could close for mass at certain times, though it is quite hard to find these announcements.
- Vatican museums: the line was crazy long when we went, and I’d strongly recommend booking this ahead.
- Colosseum: the ticket includes entrance to the Roman forum and colosseum.
It was an easy walk to the Vatican from the closest Metro stations. The country was surrounded by walls and housed a wealth of arts and history within. We didn’t get to visit St. Peter Basilica because we couldn’t get the tickets in time.
📝 Closed on Sundays; book ahead
I’d give it at least three hours, after getting into the museum. This was perhaps the landmark in Rome with the most history and culture. On a weekend, intense crowds could be highly expected with large tour groups in different languages.
We spent about 2 hours in the first part of the tour, appreciating sculptures, paintings, maps, arts, and items from the Roman time to modern days in a series of rooms, hallways, and courtyards. The Sistene Chapel toward the end left me in awe, viewing such elaborate paintings at 360 degrees by Michelangelo from almost 500 years ago.
St. Peter Square
The square is so beautiful with columns and sculptures on top surrounding the St. Peter Basilica and Vatican Museums. Since we stayed near the Vatican, we took a walk several times here and I really enjoyed coming here during off-peak times.
Colosseum & Roman Forum
The scale of the Colosseum amazed me, no wonder it is still the largest amphitheater in the world to this day. It was difficult to imagine the Colosseum was first built almost 2000 years ago. After the Colosseum, we walked to the Roman Forum nearby. The Roman Forum used to be the meeting place every day and has so much history in this plaza. Each of the monuments has a story behind it, and we spent more than an hour walking in the forum.
Pantheon & Piazza Navona
These two sights are within walking distance, and we visited in the same morning. We started from Piazza Navona, where games and events were taking place centuries ago. Then we walked to Pantheon, which used to be a Roman temple and became a Catholic church to this day. We did not wait for long, and both the exterior and interior were breathtaking. Later, the staff was clearing the crowd for a mass as we visited on a Sunday.
After a breakfast sandwich and a cup of cafe latte, we walked to the ancient Roman bridge that crosses the Tiber river since 134 AD. We didn’t visit the castle & museum given our tight schedule, just walked through the bridge with angel statues along the pedestrian-only path.
We stopped by the lively Piazza di Spagna before dinner near the Trevi Fountain. The 135 Spanish Steps start from the piazza and lead to the church Trinità dei Monti at the top. It might seem like the perfect picnic and snacking spot, but no food is allowed on the steps. The view of the piazza was stunning especially near sunset, we also saw a couple taking wedding photos.
Probably one of the most well-known fountains in the world, the Trevi fountain was actually completed much later than other monuments in 1762. We only stayed there a few minutes for photos before dinner, but I could really just sit in front of the fountain all day and admire the details in the architecture.
Walking in Trastevere
We crossed the Tiber river, and followed the route in Rick Steves’ audio tour to Trastevere. The neighborhood is a bit quieter than the other side of the river, and lined with cobbled streets and colorful houses. We walked through a few streets and stopped by two churches – Church of St. Cecilla where we witnessed a wedding and ended at Church of Santa Maria where we saw a popular priest.
Pizza by the slice at Bonci Pizzarium
This was our first meal in Rome, and we arrived at the shop right before they opened. There were many kinds to choose from, all with fresh toppings. The ordering process was a bit confusing for us travelers, but we managed to get a few slices on a wooden platter to enjoy outdoors.
Espresso break at Caffè Tazza D’oro
We stopped by this coffee shop after visiting the Pantheon. The store was quite busy but the line went by quickly. I got a mocha, and Tony got an espresso shot. I was less used to the strong coffee taste, but Tony enjoyed it quite a bit.
Risotto at Risotteria Melotti
I am a big fan of risotto, but only the localized version in Taiwan and the US. We wanted to try risotto in Italy, and came to this restaurant that specializes in risotto. Risotto was actually not a common item on the menu for the restaurants we went to this trip. We got one with red sauce and the other with white sauce, both were flavorful with rice on the harder side.
Carbonara at Tonnarello
My coworker Paolo lives in Rome and recommended this restaurant in Trastevere, especially their carbonara. I really loved the ambiance of this restaurant, and enjoyed every dish we got – smoked salmon salad, pizza, and carbonara. The carbonara was rich in flavor with crispy bacon and plenty of cheese.
Sandwiches at Pane e Salame
This sandwich shop is very close to the Trevi fountain, and got a line when we went. The indoor dining space was pretty small but cozy, and the sandwich was really good at a reasonable price. We also got a zucchini plate on the side, as they offer a variety of platters.
These are our observations of a few cultural differences from this trip, particularly in Rome:
- People often stand for food and coffee and pay more for sitting down
- No leftover food takeaway
- Smoking in many public spaces
- Regulated coffee prices
For sights like the Vatican, Spanish steps, Trevi fountain, and Colosseum, they are within walking distance from Metro line A. However, Piazza Navona, Trastevere, and Ponte Sant’Angelo are at least a 20-minute walk from a Metro station. After walking about 19 km / 12 miles per day, we tried taking a bus but only certain lines are frequent. I’d recommend using CityMapper or Transit apps for public transit options, as Google Maps was quite misleading with the ETA.
We stayed at Vatican White Domus, a guesthouse that is just a 4-minute walk from Cipro Metro station and has a bunch of cafes and markets nearby. Especially, the Vatican is about just a ten-minute walk. Our host was really nice, letting us leave our bags before check-in time and giving us suggestions in the neighborhood and Rome.
There was so much more to see and eat in Rome than we could fit into our short stay. I highly recommend a self-guided audio tour for different neighborhoods and historical sights, as there are so many stories and details behind each sight. I felt like walking into different times in history in Rome, and hope to be able to time travel once again.