We (2 adults, 2 teens) spent 5 fabulous days in Rome in June. Most of my planning was based on tips I got from this board - so a big THANK YOU from all of us, you made our vacation ! Below is my trip report - hope somebody benefits from it, as I did from the posts I read.
1. We booked airport transfers using Romeshuttlelimousine.com. Pros : they were prompt both ways, and relatively inexpensive (50 euros each way, Rome Cabs was not available and wanted more). Cons : older cars (did not bother me); one of the drivers spoke no Englih (did not bother me); the driver who picked us up at the airport had a tiny sign with my name on it, so it took a while to find him (other pickups held up much bigger signs that were easier to spot).
2. We rented an apartment (300 Via del Croso, booked from Sleep in Italy). FANTASTIC location (within 50 feet of Piazza Venezzia, so walking distance everywhere). FANTASTIC service (the owner was waiting for us when we arrived, explained everything in the apartment to us, gave us tips on the neighborhood, was super friendly; apartment itself was spotless, roomy, and a/c worked well as did everything else). Con : the apartment was slightly noisy (4th floor with lift, and insulated windows, but even then there was some traffic noise that could bother a lite sleeper). I slept a couple of times on the living room couch because that room was quiter (comfy couch). Even so, the location was FANTASTIC so I was happy with the apartment.
3. On our first day, I booked a walking tour of the Spanish Steps / Pantheon / Trevi / Piazza Navona. This worked well - having a pre-booked tour forced us to stay awake and we got adjusted to jetlag quicker. The tour was nice (only one other family, super friendly guide who spoke excellent English and bonded nicely with my teens).
4. Con : the tour guide recommended a couple of restaurants (as "great food, not so touristy"). We tried both, and they were "meh". Food was okay, but in retrospect I think we would have preferred "touristy restaurants with ok food" for the touristy atmosphere (maybe heresay on this board, but our family was in uniform agreement that ok food in Piazza Navona was preferred to better food in a hole-in-the-wall with no tourists). Our kids wanted to dine where they could see the fountain and watch people buying the fake Prada purses !
5. Daughter had a hamstring injury a few weeks before trip (ouch!). SO some tips
- Metro station at Spanish Steps has an elevator to the top (you do not have to climb !).
- The Colosseum has elevators to the second level & also to the underground area, and if you ask nicely they let your injured teen use them
6. Colosseum : underground tour was great, and having pre-booked it was well worth it (long lines otherwise). Plus the info provided by the guide enhanced the experience.
7. Palatine Hill : skip it if you want to save walking (we went, and our injured teen suffered from the walk, and it was not that spectacular).
8. No decent food between Colosseum and Palatine Hill - had to eat at the food truck.
9. Forum : need some kind of guide. We had Rick Steves audio guide. It was a little hard to fidn teh places he mentioned, but his descriptions were good. Without some type of guide, the forum will just look like a pile of rubble - if you splurge on one guide in Rome, do it at the Forum.
10, Pantheon : spectacular. Also the neighbourhood around the Pantheon is fantastic for atmosphere, food, and random wandering (and it was only 5 minutes from our apartment).
11. Sistine Chapel + St. Peter's : spectacular. Enough said - everybody already knows these are special places. We took the 3-hour tour (booked online), which was great (and saved us the long lines). The Raphael Rooms in particular - WOW !
12. We decided not to climb St. Peters (injured teen). But then we decided to take a recommendation from this board and walk 20 minutes out of the way for lunch. Food was good, but do not do it - eat the touristy food instead and save the walk ! And then we walked to Castle San Angelo and climbed to the top. Fantastic view, but my girl was in pain that night from all the walking and climbing. Next time : cabs and eat at the touristy places !
13. Despar was great for stocking up on stuff in the apartment, but nowhere near a Safeway. We are spoiled in California !
14. So my teens (17 and 14) had wine or beer with every dinner. I was reluctant the first time about my 14 year old, but the waiter said "you are in Italy, let him enjoy". Also he is almost 15 and is actually taller and stronger than me already, so he looks older. Anyway - I let them have a glass with each meal (I would rather they drink with me and de-mystify it). They enjoyed it, and they know that back home the rules are different.
15. We did a day trip to Florence. I know some on this board tried to dissuade us, but it was FANTASTIC. And not hard at all - the fast trains are great. We pre-booked in advance for teh low fare (19 euros), bought a family Amici card for annual membership to the Uffizi (which gave us free admissions everywhere and skip-the-lines access).
16. Florence is FANTASTIC. The first place we visited was the Duomo - which is spectacular from the outside. And the most memorable thing of all is David in the Accademia - WOW ! For the Uffizi, we had the Rick Steves audio guide which took us to the highlights in about 2 hours (yes you can spend all day inside the Uffizi, but 2 hours was just perfect for us). Then we made a mistake : we climbed to the top of MichaelAngelo Plaza. Next time : take a cab (especially if you an injured teen with you !).
17. Lost my return train tickets in Florence. Were they stolen from my pocket or did I drop them ? In panic. Realized I had saved a PDF on my phone. Asked the info desk, she said PDF was sufficient. Realized phone was DEAD. More panic. Luckily the train has a charging port and I had packed my charger and a converter. Phew !
18. Campo di Fiero : nice atmosphere, perfect for last day in Rome. Putting our hands in the mouth of the oracle : okay, so we were tourists. Should have bought that leather belt - I hesitated, and now I regret not buying it (wife and daughter are thrilled with the fake Prada !).
19. Churches around the Pantheon : beautiful (St, Ignacio, Sophia Minerva), They had a free concert in St Ignacio which I attended - the atmosphere and the church was just gorgeous. Perfect for our last night in Rome.
20. Leaving Rome : we went from Rome to Paris for 5 days (see the Paris forum form my Paris trip report, I will type that next).
And THANK YOU again to the regulars on this forum, you made my vacation planning so much easier !