Rome City Guide: Tips, tricks & things to do

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Last month, Dan and I packed our bags and went on a city break to the Italian capital! I have never ventured to Italy before, and it's been on my bucket list for some time. Safe to say I was pretty excited! It was also our first break abroad on our own together, so we were both excited to explore somewhere new, just the two of us. 

Rome pretty much united most of the things I wanted from a city break. Lots of beautiful things to see, amazing food to eat and lots of history. As the centre of the Roman Empire, there is still plenty left of Ancient Rome to explore as well as lots of beautiful churches and architecture across the city.

I tried to cram our three days there into one, long blog post, but I decided no one wants to read 2,500 words so I'm afraid it's a two-parter. My love for food is so strong that I'm dedicating a whole separate post to that, but to start with, here's what we saw in Rome along with lots of tips and tricks! Enjoy!

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Travel and accommodation

We flew with EasyJet from London Luton to Rome Fiumicino. Our flights were around £90 return with hand luggage only. To make the most out of our annual leave, we flew out at 7am on a Friday morning then flew home mid-morning on a Monday. Three days was definitely plenty of time to explore!

We couldn't find any hotels that were within budget, so we decided to opt for an Airbnb. We stayed in Casa Alessandra Colosseo, a studio apartment located about 15 minutes walk from the Colosseum and about three minutes from the nearest Metro station that took us across the city. It was very basic but for £60 a night, we couldn't complain. All we really wanted was a bed, a bathroom and a fridge as we planned to be out all day.

Getting around

As with most European cities, the best way to see Rome is on foot. Comfortable shoes are essential, as we did nearly 30,000 steps a day. However, as we were there just short of three days, we made full use of the tram and metro if we wanted to nip across town. You can buy a travel pass that is valid on buses, tram and the underground metro for up to 72 hours. This cost us around €15 each and meant we didn’t have to keep buying single journeys. You can buy these tickets at the metro stations. 

We got a taxi transfer to our hotel for ease, which our Airbnb host organised for us. It was €55 and well worth doing as the queue for train tickets into Rome was huge!

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The Colosseum, Roman Forum & Palatine Hill

I was absolutely in awe of the Colosseum when we first saw it. It sits in the middle of the city, surrounded by modernity and I couldn't help thinking of all the things it has seen since it was built 2,000 years ago. It's an incredibly impressive reminder of Ancient Rome and although most of it has crumbled away inside, you can still get a good idea of its scale.

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The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill are included in your Colosseum ticket and are just across the road, so make sure you head there after taking in the sights of the ancient amphitheatre. The Roman Forum comprised of several important government buildings in Ancient Rome and is the biggest archaeological site within a city. There is a lot to take in, but if you've had enough of walking already, then head to the top of the Palatine Hill. You'll be able to see most of the Forum as well as some great views across the city and towards the Colosseum. You might also be able to earwig a tour guide!

Top Tip: Make sure you always buy your tickets from an official website like this one. Be wary of all of the touts selling tickets and souvenirs outside too. They can be quite aggressive so watch your bags and ignore them. 

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The Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica & The Sistine Chapel

The Vatican City has always been on my list so this was another ‘must’ for us. We headed out early on Saturday morning for a 9:30am entry and managed to get in around 10 thanks to our skip the line tickets. Dan referred to the first part of the tour as a ‘massive tease for the Sistine Chapel’ which it absolutely was. For about an hour we wandered through ornate rooms with painted ceilings and lots of beautiful statues and I was constantly asking, "Is this it?" But then you get to the Sistine Chapel, and you know it because from floor to ceiling is covered with beautiful paintings. It was perhaps more impressive than I ever imagined, although blink and you might miss Michelangelo's famous painting, the Creation of Adam. 

After the Sistine, we went into St. Peter’s Basilica (which is free to enter, but you have to queue if you haven’t already visited the Vatican Museums) which was overwhelmingly beautiful inside. You can also head to the top of the Basilica for epic views, but get there early or late, as the queue was huge by mid-morning!

Top tips: The Vatican is sickeningly busy so be prepared!  Don’t forget to cover your shoulders and knees if you want to go into the Basilica. Make sure to check your dates before you go - if the Pope is home, the attractions can be shut.

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Castel Sant’Angelo

If you walk straight down from St. Peter’s Square you will find yourself standing in front of Castel Sant’Angelo. It was commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian for himself and his family. It costs €14 to go inside and apparently well worth it, but we didn’t end up going in. It was a great spot for photos by the river, and the view looking towards St. Peter's was one of the best views of the Basilica we saw all weekend as you got a real sense of its scale. 

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Piazza Navona, The Spanish Steps & Trevi Fountain

We did these three sights on our last full day as they are all within walking distance of each other. This was probably my favourite area of Rome as there were so many beautiful little streets that were untouched by graffiti or touristy shops, which is exactly what I imagined.

Piazza Navona is a beautiful square overlooked by a large church with plenty of fountains. You will be able to find a bite to eat here as lots of restaurants surround it.

The Spanish Steps climb a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and with the Trinità dei Monti Church. They are incredibly impressive to look at and you can get a great view of the city if you walk up to the top.

Although the Trevi Fountain was an impressive sight, it was somewhat tarnished by the fact that it was so dominated by tourists. My guidebook said ‘try going in the evening’, which made no difference to the number of tourists at all - I still couldn't get down to the edge to throw a lucky coin into the water! That said, You can see the whole thing from the edge of the crowd. This area of Rome is very busy, but we managed to find a fairly quiet spot for lunch just round the corner. 

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The Pantheon

I wish we got a chance to go inside here, but to be honest, it was one thing we completely forgot to factor into our day! The Pantheon is around the same area as the Spanish Steps. It's a former Roman Temple, now a church and dates back to about 126 AD. In other words, it's very old! It's free to get into but the queue was really long by the time we got there at midday, so we enjoyed a violinist playing 'Shape of You' in the piazza instead.

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Piazza Venezia

We actually stumbled across Piazza Venezia whilst seeking pizza and gelato on our way back from Trastevere to our apartment. It is overlooked by the epic Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, a monument to Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy. I felt like a little ant standing next to this! 

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Trastevere

And last, but by no means least, Trastevere. This little district stole my heart. There are beautiful cobbled streets around every corner, and there are plenty of little bars and restaurants to settle yourself into for the evening. Trastevere has a lot of atmosphere so it's great for dinner and drinks. We stopped at a great little restaurant called Tonnarello and loved it so much we went back the following day! It's a great place to follow your nose around because you will no doubt stumble across some real hidden gems and it feels so much nicer than the tourist hot spots. 

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Final tips...

One thing to bear in mind when you're visiting Rome is the heat. We went on the penultimate weekend in June and it was around 28 degrees. Although there was some cloud cover, the heat can definitely slow you down to make sure to take suncream and factor in breaks! You can drink all the tap water in Rome and there are lots of water fountains all over the city to keep your water bottle filled up.

Everyone warned us Rome was expensive, but I thought it was no more than London prices. We went by €100 a day which was plenty to keep us going. Most restaurants now take credit cards too so you can reserve a bit of cash for any cash only places you find.

When planning your itinerary, make sure to factor in some time for just walking without Google maps to hand. You'll be surprised what you find and it gives you a chance to soak up the atmosphere and go off the beaten track. We did the Colosseum and the Vatican in one day which meant we could tick two big attractions off our list, leaving us the final day to just get lost.

Have you ever been to Rome? 

How to use My Places on Google Maps

This tool enables you to save overlays on Google Maps so you can plan routes and mark destinations on a map - life changer for city breaks!

Open Google Maps on your browser, open the tab on the left-hand side and click on 'My Places'.

You can then create your own map overlays for different locations all over the world! I created a map for Rome for you guys to use detailing all the restaurants and sights we visited. You can save this map to your places and use it as a basis for your own maps.

Now, all the places you want to visit are easily accessible on your phone and you can quickly see what's around you, wherever you are. You can also add notes to each point on the map.

Top tip: Mark your accommodation on the map and start plotting what's nearby. You can also save routes on your map to get directions and see how far away you are.

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