As a flight attendant, I have mastered the art of visiting a city in 24 hours. However, there are some cities that would take a lifetime of exploration to truly see it all. Rome, the Eternal City, is definitely one of those cities! Here are my Rome Essentials, 24 hour tips, and the best way to conquer the Roman Empire in the shortest amount of time.
My husband Marco was born and raised here, and we met on the Roma-Firenze Eurostar train when I was living in Italy right after college. I then became a flight attendant and worked as an onboard Italian language speaker from 2008-2014. In that time, I commuted to Rome from my base in Washington DC. I’ve spent countless hours wandering the streets of this magical city, exploring hidden alleyways, major tourist attractions, and hunting down special works of art tucked in the corners of old churches. Rome, to me, is enchanting. And while we will probably never get to see it all; here is my favorite game plan to explore “La Cittá Eterna”.
First things first, leave the expensive jewelry at home, and watch your pockets. Violent crime isn’t prevalent in Rome, but pick pocketing is huge, so watch your purse, backpack, and pockets, especially in crowded areas and on public transit. That being said, I feel very safe walking around the historic center of the city at most times of day and night, but when I’m alone I try to stick to well lit populated areas. Avoid walking around the Termini train station area at night, and if you have to, watch yourself, and maybe opt for a cab.
HOW TO GET THERE
When we go to Rome, we fly directly into Rome Fiumicino Intl Airport (FCO) from LAX, EWR or IAD. If you aren’t familiar with driving in the madness of Bella Roma, and you don’t absolutely NEED a car; then avoid renting one and go with public transit! The public transit is incredible in Italy and everything is fairly well connected. Also, taxis and Uber are reasonably priced and available at all hours of the day and night!
When using public transit from FCO, follow the signs in the airport to the train station, or “TRENI” in Italian. The Leonardo Express train leaves every 15 min during peak travel times and will get you direct to Termini Station in the center of the city in 35 min for €14 per person. From Termini Station either hop in a cab, call an Uber, or grab a bus to your hotel. If you decide to try my recommended hotel, the Hotel Romanico Palace and Spa, take the 910 bus three stops from Termini to the Piemonte/Boncompagni stop. Single use bus and metro tickets as well as day passes can be purchased from the Termini station or any “Tabaccaio” or “Giornalaio” (tobacco shop or newspaper stand.). **tip** Google maps is great for public transit and walking directions in Rome!!! Map of Rome Here
A ROOM WITH A VIEW
Hotel Romanico Palace and Spa
On this trip we had the pleasure of staying at the Hotel Romanico Palace and Spa. The hotel is in the city center, about a 40 min to an hour drive from the FCO airport including a bit of standard traffic. Street parking is available if you have a car, just be sure to pay the meter hourly (€1,00/Hr) or get a “scratch off” parking card from the Tabaccaio across the street to pay only €4 for every 8 hours of street parking. There is also a garage nearby available for €25-35/day. The staff at Hotel a Romanico were extremely helpful and informative with parking options. The lobby and lobby bar are beautiful, with a great selection of fairly priced drinks and a glass window in the floor that showcases some ancient Roman ruins! Just below the lobby level, the hotel is equipped with a small gym with all the essentials (free to use during your stay), and a beautiful spa!
The Romamor spa is a little oasis in the center of a bustling city. They’ve recreated the atmosphere of ancient Roman thermal baths and you can’t help but relax and feel like royalty in this spa. They have a beautiful Turkish Bath (aka steam room), showers and changing room, relaxation area, sauna and Irish shower. It is open every day, just make a reservation and let the front desk know when you’d like to go. The cost is 25€ per person, and they even offer exclusive access for couples. After a few days running around the city seeing all the sites, this spa is the perfect way to spend a relaxing afternoon.
The rooms at the Hotel Romanico Palace are the stuff of dreams. They are all decorated in palatial Italian decor, some more classic, some more modern. The giant picture windows open up to stunning views of the city and they fiery sunsets. We had a classic quadruple room that would comfortably sleep four people. One queen bed and two single beds with plenty of space for suitcases and shopping bags (I mean, when in Rome)!
Ours was an end room, with classic Roman Palace decor and a huge bathroom equipped with a jacuzzi tub, WC and bidet, and a three way shower that felt like a luxurious ancient Roman bath! Not only did the shower have a traditional shower head and rain shower, but a travertine waterfall that cascaded out of the ceiling and onto a marble throne (bonus waterfall shoulder massage)!!! It was pure magic. If you’re interested, they also have themed rooms and suites.
The beds were comfy, the rooms were clean, and the mini bar was a welcome (and very fairly priced) treat after long days of exploring the city. If you are an Airline or Travel Industry employee I highly recommend you book through the Staff Travel Voyage website. They negotiate all of their hotel discounts individually and I have yet to find a travel industry discount website with better deals than them. Currently at the Romanico, you will receive special room pricing, 25% off mini bar and 25% off airport transfers. Check STV’s Rates HERE
For breakfast head up to the rooftop terrace. The views are stunning and the food and coffee are delicious! They have a full buffet table with both hot and cold items, fresh fruit, cereals, yogurt, deli meats and cheeses, eggs, pastries and more! You also have the option of ordering room service for breakfast, or getting their gourmet AND romantic room service dinner package. When you are all fueled up and ready to go, it’s time to hit the town, and you just happen to be in the perfect location to start the adventure !
RECOMMENDED WALKING TOUR OF ROME
There are an infinite number of ways to explore this city… so by all means plan the route that works best for you. This route just happens to be my favorite, and Hotel Romanico is the perfect starting point!
For our first stop, set your sights on the Spanish Steps! “Piazza di Spagna” is a quick 15 min stroll from the Hotel Romanico. Turn right out of the hotel to start your walk, and hang a left on Via Vittorio Veneto. You’ll pass by the American Embassy, and Piazza Barberini on you way.
If you’re ready for a snack, because hey, you’re in Italy, my favorite Forno is along your route. A “ Forno” literally meaning “oven” in Italian, is basically just an old school bakery that sells simple but incredibly delicious breads, pizzas, focaccia, baked goods and occasionally other snacks like “arancini” (breaded and stuffed risotto ball of yumminess).
A traditional Forno is affordable, quick, and VERY popular with the locals. Forno Cerulli has been there since 1937 and is my absolute favorite. You can find it on your way to the Spanish Steps just off Piazza Barberini at Via di S. Nicola da Tolentino #53. Try the pizza rossa and focaccia!!!!
PIAZZA DI SPAGNA, THE SPANISH STEPS
When you get to the Spanish Steps (named for the Embassy of Spain located in the Piazza) be sure to check out the church at the top of the steps, the famed Trinità dei Monti. Walk down the iconic steps to the boat shaped Fountain of the Barcaccia and snap some epic pictures of the fountain built by both the famous baroque sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini and his father Pietro Bernini. The water in the fountain is supplied by an ancient Roman aqueduct from 19 BC!!!! Legend has it that the Tiber river had an epic overflow in 1598, and carried an adrift boat to the center of this Piazza. That boat inspired Bernini’s design. The Shelly/Keats house is also in the Piazza, on the east side of the steps.
Head down Via Dei Condotti, and window shop the best of high fashion and luxury at Dior, Bulgari and Ferragamo. If you need an espresso check out Antica Cafe Greco, a favorite of expat poets and writers like Keats and Byron. Start heading to the east (your left), and follow the signs for your next stop, the “Fontana di Trevi”.
FONTANA DI TREVI, THE TREVI FOUNTAIN
This breathtaking and world famous fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome. Built in 1762 and designed by Roman sculptor Nicola Salvi, it has been featured in numerous films, including Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” where Silvia and Marcello go for a jaunt in the fountain. WARNING: Don’t follow Silvia’s lead… it is strictly forbidden to …dangle your feet or hands in the sparkling crystal clear water (oops).
The travertine used to construct the fountain comes from nearby Tivoli, an incredible place to go for a day trip if time allows. Be sure to throw coins into the fountain! The proper way is to hold the coin in your right hand and throw it over the left shoulder. Legend says, you should always throw three coins… the first to return to Rome, the second to bring you love, and the third to ensure marriage. An estimated €1.4 Million is thrown into the fountain every year!!!! Fun fact, the money from the fountain is donated to subsidize a supermarket for the the city’s needy. Good job Roma!
Once you’ve thrown your coins, follow the signs towards your next stop…” Il Pantheon”.
Enjoy the winding cobblestone streets lined with charming shops, gelaterias, and street performers. When you come into the Piazza della Rotonda, you can’t miss the impressive church built in circa 113AD. It was built on the site of an earlier pagan temple originally commissioned by Emperor Augustus in 27BC. The Pantheon is most famous for its large hole at the center of the dome, and it is still to this day the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world!!!! This building is even more special because it is one of the only ancient buildings in Rome that has been in continuous use throughout history, so it is perfectly preserved! It is absolutely breathtaking, and free to enter, so go in and enjoy! When you’re done, head on over to Piazza Navona.
Just 5 min from the Pantheon you’ll find one the most famous Piazzas in Rome. Used by the ancient Romans as a stadium, and flooded to recreate “show” naval battles, Piazza Navona is now home to street artists and musicians.
During the Christmas season, it’s a must see for its specialty Christmas Market. The focal point of this long oval Piazza is the central Fountain of the Four rivers, representing the four largest rivers of the four major continents; the Nile (Africa), the Danube (Europe), the Ganges (Asia) and the Plata (America’s). It was built in 1651 by none other than the famous Roman sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who won the commission of the fountain in a design competition. Enjoy the live music and art as you walk around the Piazza. Don’t miss the smaller fountains on either end of the piazza, the Museo di Roma, and the church of Saint Agnes.
SNACK BREAK PART TWO
From Piazza Navona head over to Campo di Fiori. If you’re feeling peckish, stop for a famous focaccia and mortadella sandwich at a spot that’s been a favorite of locals for years! Il Fornaio is on Via de’ Baullari, and has a famous giant Mortadella (basically gourmet Italian bologna with pistachios in it) at the entrance, you can’t miss it! When walking on Google Maps most direct route from Piazza Navona to Campo di Fiori, you’ll walk right by it.
CAMPO DI FIORI
Campo di Fiori, literally meaning “Field of Flowers”, is exactly what this piazza was in the Middle Ages. Today it is a bustling Piazza with a daily farmers market that has everything you could need from fresh fruits and veggies to specialty pastas and spice mixes, fresh pressed juices, souvenirs, and even gourmet Italian truffle products! At night this is one of the more popular and rowdy piazzas for aperitivi (happy hour) and night caps!
The ominous statue in the middle of the piazza is dedicated to Italian Philosopher Giordano Bruno who proposed that the universe was infinite and that each star was in fact a sun and center of its own solar system. He was executed in this Piazza in 1600 by the Catholic Church for denying Church doctrine, and teaching his beliefs on science and reincarnation. After his death he gained popularity and became a symbol for scientific discovery and free thinking.
Once you’ve had your fill of produce and dark history, head out the back end of the piazza down Via dei Giubbonari. Enjoy the numerous Italian shoe shops and clothing stores on this quaint street, and don’t forget to hang a right on Via dell’Arco del Monte to head towards Ponte Sisto and Trastevere.
MERENDINA (ITALIAN SNACK BREAK)
Whether you’re hungry or not, you absolutely MUST stop at one of the best pastry shops in all of Italy, I dolci di Nonna Vincenza!!
They make the best Sicilian Cassata I’ve ever had (and I lived in Sicily)!!!! “I dolci di Nonna Vincenza” (Via dell’Arco del Monte 98) will ruin you forever. Their pastries, fresh made cannoli, cassata, and other delectable Sicilian deserts are some of the best I’ve had anywhere. I highly recommend the “Cassatina al Pistacchio” a mini version of the classic Sicilian dessert with pistachio infused fresh ricotta cream inside a layer of pistachio and almond marzipan, with candied fruit details on top.
Their cannoli are mouth watering, and I have literally never had a desert here that hasn’t blown my mind. I’ve recommended this place to hundreds of tourists and locals, and have yet to hear anything but a raving review. Eat something there, and take some to go… you will thank me later!
When you’re done, continue down Via dell’Arco del Monte and over the Tiber River into Trastevere.
Trastevere literally means “Across the Tiber”, and that’s just what we’re doing. While crossing the Tiber River, or “Il Tevere”, you’ll be walking across Ponte Sisto. This famous walking bridge was built in the 1470’s and is a favorite spot for more alternative musicians. The views from the bridge are gorgeous, and you can even catch a glimpse of the glowing Vatican dome to your right as you cross the bridge.
You’ll be entering Trastevere through Piazza Trilussa, a popular evening hang out. You’ll find young Italians and international students meeting up here and occasionally enjoying a drink on the steps of the popular Piazza. Head into Trastevere, and just get lost. This Bohemian wonderland has maintained so much of the character and soul of Rome.
Ancient homes and apartments line the tiny, winding cobblestones streets that are packed with amazing cafes, bars, restaurants and pizzerias at every turn. Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere holds the namesake church that dates back to the year 340. This is definitely the part of town to put away your map and wander, and just enjoy the “dolce vita”.
We’ve come to the end of today’s roaming. Trastevere is where I leave you…. If I’m in town you can probably find me sipping on a Campari Spritz at Caffè della Scala or having a traditional Roman Tonarelli al Cacio e Pepe (hand made egg pasta with a simple but decadent dressing of Pecorino Romano and black pepper) at Osteria da Otello. From here, you’re a 20 min cab ride or a 25 min bus ride back to the Hotel Romanico. If you’re up for an after dinner stroll, head up the river and check out the Vatican illuminated at night!!!
When you’re ready to keep exploring the city… I’ve got a few more tips and day trips for you below! Thanks for joining me on this adventure, and have a great time roaming around Roma!!!!
1/2 DAY WALKING TOURS
These are organized in 1/2 day adventures because I fully believe a huge part of the joy of travel includes time to just “be”. These ½ day itineraries are perfect to do on a layover, or put a couple ½ days together if you want a full day of activity. Just don’t forget to put your map down every once in a while and just get lost.
Spend a morning at the Vatican. Skip the line and buy your tickets in advance online, even if it’s just the day before. Make your reservation for both the Vatican museum and Sistine chapel. After you’ve explored the best of art and history, head over to the Basilica and take in some more beauty. Don’t miss Michelangelo’s famous sculpture the Pietá on the far right side of the church.
I totally recommend you pay the 6€ to climb the “cupola” or dome of the Vatican with killer city views. There is a dress code in the Vatican, so make sure your knees and shoulders are covered. Even throwing a shawl around your shoulders is fine. Have some lunch in the Prati neighborhood (i adore mercato Trionfale, just a 10 min walk and get fresh cheese, prosciutto, pizza by the slice and wine by the liter! They also have great truffle products, honey and hand made Italian specialties). Then check out Castel Sant’Angelo and stroll around the Tiber river in the afternoon .
COLOSSEUM AND THE ROMAN FORUM
Make your way to the famous Bocca della verità (mouth of truth). Legend says if you put a hand in the then mouth and tell a lie, the mouth will close on you! It was made famous in pop culture by Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in the 1953 film “A Roman Holiday”.
After you get your obligatory hand in the mouth photo, head over to Circus Maximus. From there walk through the Roman Forum to the Colosseum. I highly recommend taking a tour of the Colosseum so you know what you’re looking at. There are people standing outside the entrance selling tours. They are all great! Tour guides have to be certified art historians in Italy. (I used to sell and give these tours and they are cheap and informative!)
Check out the triple arch of Constantine, then head back to the Altare della Patria monument (giant white wedding cake looking building) and Piazza Venezia to see where Mussolini used to give his speeches. If you have time, go up the giant stairs to the right of the Altare della Patria and check out Campidoglio or Capitoline Hill. The Capitoline Museum is incredible and worth the time. It’s the oldest museum in Rome dating back to 1471!!!!! It’s up there that you’ll find the iconic giant marble hand, feet, and head from the ginormous Constantine statue that used to be in front of the colosseum around the year 312.
PIAZZA DEL POPLO AND VILLA BORGHESE
“Piazza del Popolo” or People’s Square is a short walk from the Hotel Romanico. It’s the largest Piazza in Roma, and home to the Porta del Popolo, the original northern entry gate into the city of Rome. The gate leads you out of Rome on Via Flaminia, the ancient road that lead to northern Italy. It’s incredible to imagine people arriving at this spot for centuries to enter the Eternal City. You can’t miss the giant Egyptian Obelisk in the center of the Piazza and the twin churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto. Via del Corso runs between the twin churches. Take this popular shopping street from Piazza del Popolo straight into the heart of the city.
Villa Borghese is Rome’s most famous public park. It lies just to the east of Piazza del Popolo. Spend an afternoon strolling or biking through the natural green gardens, enjoying the lake and beautiful landscaping. The park is home to the famous Galleria Borghese, once a Borghese family palace, now an inspiring museum filled with the families art collection of paintings, artifacts, and sculptures. The Borghese family were fans of sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini and dramatic painter Caravaggio, so there are many works by these two popular masters in the museum, along with other famous works by Titian, Raphael, and Barocci. Make a reservation and buy your ticket online ahead of time. Ticket price is €33 per person and worth every penny if you are a lover of art and antiquity. Buy tickets here.
If you have more time to spare before leaving Bella Roma, these are my top recommended day trips (all less than an hour and a half drive or train ride) from Rome.
I BAGNI DI TIVOLI
A hilltop town about 30 from Rome, Tivoli was an ancient resort town frequented by emperor Augustus in the times of the Roman Empire. The Bagni di Tivoli or Thermal Baths of Tivoli have been known for their therapeutic and healing properties for centuries. The sulfur and mineral content, along with the color of the water is famous throughout the world. Check out the modern town of Tivoli along with the gorgeous Villa d’Este, and ruins of Villa Adriana. Head over to Villa Gregoriana and take a walk through the natural park to enjoy its greenery, waterfalls and grottos. When you’ve taken in the sites, take a cab over to the Tivoli baths “le Terme di Roma” for a little pampering and rejuvenation.
From Roma Termini Train station, take the intercity train 45 min to Tivoli.
A tiny hill top city in Umbria, the region just adjacent to Lazio (home of Rome). This charming town is perched atop a cliff on the edge of a dormant Volcano. It has a stunning striped “Duomo” or Cathedral, medieval towers, and an incredible underground tunnel system. The town is known for its delicious white wine, Orvieto Classico, and there are numerous Enotecas and wine shops to do tastings and buy bottles. Don’t worry red wine lovers, their reds are just as “delicioso”! The architecture is gorgeous, and it’s a great little town to spend an afternoon wandering about. It’s about an hour from Rome by train. Take the train from Termini to Orvieto then grab a ticket to take the Funicular up the hill into town.
Ostia Antica is an archeological site of the ancient Roman port town of Ostia. Literally meaning “mouth” in Latin, it was the main entry port into Rome. All imports that came in from the Mediterranean Sea would first pass through the port town of Ostia and then up the Tiber river to Rome. This is where the first double pane glass windows and apartment living were found. The town is incredibly well preserved with working aqueducts and fountains, vibrant frescos, and mosaics that have withstood the test of time. Climb to the top of the old gym, and see the stunning mosaics of Neptune at what used to be the bottom of the pool. This place is absolutely incredible, and a fun place to run around for a day. Wear your walking shoes, and bring the kids to this awesome site! There is also a museum full of artifacts on site. Check out the ruins and then go enjoy the modern town of Ostia on the beach.
From the Piramide metro station in Rome, take the Ostiense train line direct to Ostia Antica. You can use your metro ticket for the journey. The entrance to the ruins and museum are just a 5 min walk from the train stop. You can also check out the cute seaside town of modern Ostia.
The charming home town of St Francis, Assisi is a famous hill town in Umbria. To me, Umbria is like the lesser known, less touristy sister of Tuscany. The region has great wine and gorgeous little cities that are perfect to explore in a day. From the train station, walk into the more modern part of town and check out the “Chiesa Nuova” or new church (There are awesome ceramic shops along the way). Here you will find Saint Francis’s original house inside the large church built in 1613. The church was actually built in order to preserve the home Saint Francis of Assisi was born in, and was financed by the Embassy of Spain in Rome (remember the Spanish Steps). There is also an entire chapel inside of the church! After exploring the buildings within this building, head up the hill towards the older part of town. The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi is a massive two level cathedral and monastery finished in 1253. Choirs from around the world come to sing within its beautifully acoustic walls. There are many other churches, medieval castles, a crypt, and ancient Roman amphitheater throughout the winding streets of this charming town.
To get here, take the train about 1 hour and 20 min from Rome’s Termini station to the town of Assisi.