We just got back from a two-week trip to Italy, and I’m finally rested enough to share my experience of Rome. We spent one week in the city, and a second week in Taormina (trip report in the Taormina forum), so that we could have a mix of urban culture and beachy relaxation.
Overall we enjoyed Rome, but were glad we didn’t try to “see everything.” We had made a list of all the sites we were interested in, and figured that if we hit half of those, we had done well. This ended up being a good strategy because life happened: I ended up getting sick, and it was a little hotter than we had expected, so we moved pretty slowly.
(FYI, this report will be long):
We arrived at FCO at noon. Passport control and customs were quick and painless—no one really has anything to declare. I’d reserved Rome Cabs and, as advertised, the driver was waiting for us right outside the customs area when we exited. The drive into the city center was comfortable and the conversation friendly—I was excited to have my first chat in Italian with the driver!
I was initially concerned about some previous posts about folks calling the city “dirty,” but I found Rome to be less cramped and more awesome-looking than expected. It is just an amazing juxtaposition of architectural textures and is really quite breathtaking.
Checking into our hotel, the Rose Garden Palace, was also efficient, and we were happy to see that our room was ready when we arrived. Check out my review of the hotel for more details. After showering, we decided to find Gina’s, a highly recommended salad-and-sandwich place supposedly next to the Spanish Steps. Unfortunately we chose to depend on iPhone GPS to lead us to the restaurant, but we ended up lost above the restaurant, at the top of the steps, when it really was at the bottom of the steps. So we ended up having lunch at a place with a little turtle pond in it. All in all, this was a 15 minute walk from our hotel.
A quick note about neck pouches and money belts: We wore these on our first two days, but ended up discarding them in favor of simpler methods on later days. The main reason was comfort: I found the Pacsafe neck pouch with the metal cable to be extremely uncomfortable and quite noticeable from the outside. My SO hated the Rick Steves money belt. We ended up only taking out our debit cards when we needed to make a withdrawal from the ATM right near the hotel, and returned them and a portion of the EUR to the room safe immediately after. This meant that we were only carrying a small amount of EUR and one of our two credit cards at any given time. I did use a Pacsafe Slingsafe 200, worn like a simple purse, and this was a much more manageable solution. If we had opted to take public transit instead of walking everywhere, however, I think money belts would have been a better idea.
After lunch, we were exhausted, so we allowed ourselves a 1-hour nap. Afterwards we took an evening stroll around the Borghese Park (a nice 5 minutes from the hotel up Via Veneto) and returned to have dinner at San Marco, also in the Via Veneto area. This was a filling, reasonably-priced meal.
We slept in until 11:30 AM thanks to jetlag. So much for plans to take in the hotel’s free breakfast or do the Cesar Shuffle early in the morning!
Instead, we recalibrated our plans to hit Osteria del Sostegno, one of the restaurants on our must-try list, for a late lunch before an afternoon visit of the Pantheon, Colosseum and Forum. This turned out to be a great choice. The place, although small, was filled with locals and had incredibly fresh food. I had two fried eggs with truffles, which was absolutely delicious.
After this, we made a detour to Blue Ice for some gelato, and then on to the Pantheon, Forum and Colosseum. I’m not sure if it was the time of year or the time of day, but the crowds were much lighter than I had imagined. I loved the Forum in particular (so pristine!). We bought Roma Pass while at the Colosseum because, unfortunately, we had some serious trouble trying to find a place to buy tickets near the Forum. The lines were short and fast.
After another gelato stop, we hiked back to the hotel (about 30 mins or so). It’s definitely true what they say about crossing streets. Just keep walking at a consistent pace and traffic WILL go around you.
We took advantage of the gym and hotel pool for the late afternoon and then got ready for our dinner reservation at the Hotel Forum. We opted to take a cab from the hotel to the restaurant (~7.5 EUR). Dinner was slow and peaceful, with about 4 other tables occupied and stunning views of the Forum and Capitoline area. The food was not up to par with some of our later restaurant choices. But you pay for the panorama!
We don’t drink wine, and we rarely can manage a full 4- or 5-course meal, so every meal on our trip didn’t cost us more than 75 EUR per person (averaging more at 40-45 EUR per person, since we literally had only gelato for lunch on a couple of days). We only had an issue with a forced bread charge on the first day.
Unfortunately, I started coming down with a cold, so we had to slow down a bit. The morning was spent near the hotel and taking advantage of the free breakfast. From there we settled on just doing two things that day: Use the Roma Pass to get in to the Capitoline Museum (which we’d neglected to do the day before), and visit Colline Emiliane for dinner that evening (we’d reserved this restaurant 4 weeks in advance based on recommendations from Chowhound).
We trekked again down to the Forum area to get to the Capitoline museum. It was pleasantly air-conditioned. The exhibits were pretty cool and expansive—a good collection of artifacts from many time periods. On the return trip we stopped by the Trevi Fountain (super-crowded but impressive nonetheless). We hit Despar, the local grocery store just next to the hotel, to pick up some drinks and snacks for the afternoon and took a nap in the hotel. This is a very affordable option when you need water, a coke, or just some fresh fruit. Just note that you need to bring as close to exact change as possible—they can’t often change out large bills like 20s or 50s.
We walked to Colline Emiliane for dinner around 9:30 PM. This was, by far, the absolute BEST meal we had on our entire trip, Taormina included. There have been some comments about the staff being cold, but if you try to start a conversation with them in Italian, they immediately warm up to you. And the food is absolutely amazing. Try the prosciutto from Parma (culatello di Zibello, I believe) followed by pumpkin ravioli for a great meal.
We had a reservation at the Scuderie Del Quirinale for the Caravaggio exhibit at 11:30, so we got up, grabbed breakfast, and began our walk. I think I had misjudged how close this was to our hotel, assuming it would be a 20 minute walk. It was more like 30-40 minutes. In any case, we arrived on time, and were really glad we had a reservation after seeing the huge lines outside.
The exhibit itself is a little bit of a blur for me thanks to Dayquil. I do remember some of the nicer paintings, and it was extremely crowded inside. Some very impressive works to be sure. But I was grateful to leave the crowds and head back to the hotel.
That afternoon we decided we would REALLY try to find Gina’s for lunch. This time we used a traditional paper map along with a location description from a reviewer, and found it right near the Metro station at the ground level of the Spanish Steps. Lunch was refreshingly healthy here, with quick service. We made a small stop afterwards to get more cold meds at the farmacia, and then back to the hotel for a nap and leisurely evening.
Our last full day in Rome was spent with absolutely zero plans. We decided halfway through the day to stop by the Campo di Fiori market and then attempt to find Piperno for lunch in the Jewish Ghetto. Since I was still feeling under the weather, we opted to cab down to Campo di Fiori and then walk back.
The market at Campo di Fiori was colorful and fun to browse. We got quite lost in the Jewish Ghetto area, however. We stumbled upon a schoolkid shaving cream fight (is that a thing?), ended up at the Tiber, backtracked, and found Piperno on our 3rd try. The staff here was just OK (they looked us up and down disapprovingly, despite the fact that there were other folks already in the restaurant dressed just like we were). The food was so-so. The dishes had way more lard than we experienced in the other meals on this trip. Oh well, we just wanted to sit down and eat at this point.
Dinner that evening was at a small but friendly Trattoria behind Via Veneto, where they offered some American options like hamburgers.
We left from FCO the next day to Sicily. We returned from Sicily a day before our flight back to the US from FCO. I had opted to stay in Fiumicino so that we wouldn’t have a long drive to the airport the next day, but in hindsight wish I had sucked it up and stayed in Rome for one more night. Fiumicino is pretty drab and the hotel we stayed at didn’t end up being that convenient.
A note about FCO airport:
Our arrivals were always simple, but our departures were chaotic. On our flight to Sicily, there were a lot of issues getting more than one bus to help transport passengers from the terminal to the plane on the tarmac. A lot of the staff looked confused and were arguing with each other. We assumed this might have been a Windjet thing, but found even worse issues when we tried to leave via United to the US. They had problems communicating the right gate (again airport and flight staff arguing among themselves), had problems getting a bus for passenger transport to the tarmac, and had problems communicating with the passengers. There were folks at gates near us having similar issues for flights on other airlines like Delta, Kuwait Air, etc. So, allow yourself plenty of time and be prepared for potential disorganization. I really wish airports could have better communication methods in general.
And that ends our time in Rome! I enjoyed this leg of the trip, even if Taormina ended up being the more relaxing portion. It’s important to note that even though we gave ourselves 5 days, we just barely scratched the surface. You just can’t account for things like jetlag, getting sick, crowds, heat, etc and expect to see absolutely everything the city has to offer. We could have seen a lot more but I think we would have been stressed and exhausted…I mean, we didn’t even get across the Tiber!