When I was thirteen, I vowed that I would someday get to see Italy. My first trip was in 2007, and since then I’ve been two other times. All three visits included time in Rome, for good reason. In fact, the most recent trip was to Rome only. The goal was to slow things down so I could roam around this beautiful city. After all, it is the former glory of the empire.
The best trips are those that involve some planning. Where to stay, what sights are on the list to see, budget, and even learning a few words of the local language should be included. Most Romans do speak English, but are much more helpful if you know a few words in their local language. You’ll also want to book some tickets in advance for some of the busier attractions such as the colosseum, Vatican museum, and certain tours.
You want to make certain you stay in a central location so you can access things. The Trevi neighborhood is recommended. Typically, I find that getting an apartment for a lengthier stay is best. This enables you to bring delicious foods back to your apartment and enjoy them for the duration of your stay. Not that you’ll have any leftovers from the meals at the fabulous restaurants in Rome, but you may enjoy purchasing fresh items from vendors.
Divide your stay up into regions of the city. The first area to cover on your day of arrival will be the Trevi. It is a tradition to toss a coin over your shoulder, into the fountain, to assure your return to Rome one day. It’s worked for me so far so why not do it? There are a couple of excellent gelato places around the Trevi, if you can push through the crowds. I like to go early in the morning, or later at night when it is less busy.
Book your tickets for the next morning bright and early to start out at the Colosseum. Their guided tours are excellent, and on my last visit, I was fortunate to have one of the archeologists that was excavating there. She had details about some of the latest items excavated, and the stories behind them. You can also do the underground tour if it is available, which takes you beneath to where the animals and gladiators awaited their destiny. The Arc of Constantine is beside the Colosseum, and the Roman Forum is on another side. The forum can be included in your tour and is also recommended. These few stops will take a good bulk of your day, especially if you wander over to the Imperial Fora across the street. Head out and treat yourself to a nice Italian dinner. Recommended is Gioia Mia, which is on your way back to the Trevi area. The line for this place queues up early, around 5:00. Order the porcini mushroom appetizer. They have excellent house wine to pair with each course. Your Italian will come in handy here. Ask the waiter to recommend the best dishes of the night and they will do this with a smile. Ask them in Italian and they won’t be able to do enough for you.
Day three, head to the Pantheon first thing in the morning. Again, it will be less crowded. After entering, stand in the middle, at the oculus point, and look up. Imagine that when it rains, the rain that comes through runs down the inside walls, in symmetry. Enjoy strolling in the piazza and also viewing the baroque fountain in front of the Pantheon. Get yourself some fresh pastry from any of the bakeries in the area this morning.
Spend your afternoon over at the Spanish Steps. This rises above Piazza di Spagna, which is at the head of an excellent but expensive shopping district. Get a gelato, sit on the steps, people watch, and perhaps descend the steps to window shop at all the designer shops below.
Day four is another early morning. The Vatican area is actually its own separate country, but St. Peter’s Basilica and the museum take up a good portion of it. If you wish to see the museum, again book in advance. I did a late day reservation, close to closing time, because I wanted to get to St. Peter’s and climb to the top early in the morning before the crowds built up. If you can do it, climb the steps to the top of the dome. The view, as well as the walk up, are magnificent. You will be walking up steps that people have walked up for centuries. Browse around the cathedral next. These two alone will take up half your day. Grab some lunch around that area, but venture out a little bit, away from the tourists. Remember – the restaurants catering to the tour buses are used to serving food in bulk, so you won’t get the same quality as you will away from the area a bit. Your reservation for the Vatican museum will ensure you can get in, without waiting in their lines, which can wrap around their perimeter wall. If a glimpse of the Sistine Chapel is what you’re after, it’s a distance from the entry. Follow the signs, and the crowd, over to it. It will be noisy and crowded, but seeing it is worth every moment and penny that got you there. It was long and tiring day, but proved to be a day to remember.
Day five is to get out of the city for the day, and head over to Frascati. This is a small town that boasts some of the best wine making outside of Tuscany. Another excursion you’ll need to pre-plan and book your tour ahead of time, it is well worth the effort and more. You can take a train directly from Termani, to there, and your guide will meet you at the station upon arrival. After a tour of the town, you will be taken to a local bakery, where you’ll get to sample stuffed bread and cookies, just a teaser for what is ahead. Off to the vineyard you go, where a sample of fresh grapes and figs, followed by a wine tasting with appetizers and sweeping views of Tuscany in the distance, await you. Next, you’ll be dropped at an excellent restaurant in town, where you’ll get served a multi-course lunch paired with Frascati wine. If you hang around afterward, you might get lucky and get a waiter to take you down to their wine cellar, where there is a private dining area. After walking around town on your own, head to the train station back to Rome.
Day six is time to sink into some neighborhood culture. Take a cooking class in Trastavere. It’s pretty much an all-day affair, and needs to be planned well in advance. I’ve taken two classes from this chef, http://www.cookingclassesinrome.com/ and highly recommend the class. Get there early, as you’ll get to wander around this old-Rome-feel neighborhood when it’s quiet.
You’ll get to learn about, prepare, and enjoy great food, in excellent company. This all comes paired with wine. On the way back from your class, you’ll pass by the area where Julius Caesar was murdered, which also happens to be a cat sanctuary. Stray cats used to be a problem in Rome, but this group of volunteers helps both the cats and the city’s problem. On the way back to the Trevi from the cat sanctuary, stop at the Campodoglio and go to the top. You’ll get a magnificent view on one side of the city, and another side of the forum. It will be the end of the day, so the crowds should have reduced by now. You’ll also get a bonus of the orange sunlight on the ruins for some spectacular memories.
Day seven is for strolling, shopping, or for any of the hundreds of sights you didn’t see yet. So many choices, so little time. Via del Corso will offer some of your best shopping for better pricing than Via Condotti near the Spanish Steps, but still providing some good quality. You will find that if you know your merchandise, some of the cart vendors can offer good deals on leather goods and souvenir items. They typically are just off of Via del Corso, but can be seen from the sidewalks. Once finished with your shopping, return your treasures to your apartment and head out to the Barbarini area. Don’t forget about the Barbarini palace just behind this, it houses the Galleria Nazionale. Another excellent choice would be to go over to Piazza del Popolo and walk over to the Pincio. A lone palm tree marks the spot, and you can see people standing up on it from the center of Piazza del Popolo. It offers the most romantic sunset in Rome, overlooking the Vatican in the orange glow of sunset.
Whatever you choose to do, say goodbye to Rome in your way. Don’t forget your last gelato, or stroll while enjoying a fresh panini.