How many days should you plan for seeing Rome? Is just a weekend enough? Some say a lifetime is not enough for Rome, but just for a glimpse, a weekend is good as well! This article will provide you with all you need to know for your visit to Rome.
I am in Rome for the third time, my husband is visiting for the first time, so I took care to show him all of the main sights! Two previous times I visited Rome, I had an amazing local guide – my dear friend Francesca, but this time we are visiting on our own, as right after Rome we are heading to her hometown Veroli for her wedding!
When to Visit Rome
We come to Rome on a Wednesday afternoon and we have to head to Veroli on the Friday evening. It is the very end of June, the city is steaming hot and there are tourists everywhere. You can’t escape tourists in summer, and especially during weekend, but if your vacation is limited and you only have the summer – I always say better visit when you can than don’t visit at all! Rome is very much worth it!
How to Get to the Center of the City in Rome from Airport
To get to Roma Termini, we take the Leonardo Express train. There is a machine at the station (we paid 14 euro per person, children under 12 ride free) and the journey takes thirty minutes. Don’t try to ride for free, as the tickets will be checked! Train is cheaper than taxi (fixed price of 48 euros), and considered how on my two previous journeys the taxi drivers would find ways to charge more anyway, I am a big fan of the train.
Where to Stay in Rome
We book a small private guesthouse 15 mins away from the train station, and I did the booking relatively last minute, three days before the trip. We stayed two nights at the Trevi Fountain Guesthouse (we paid 90 euros per night with breakfast). It is 8 min walk from the famous Trevi fountain, just opposite the Palazzo Barberini which hosts National Gallery of Ancient Art. There is a metro station 2 min away from the guesthouse.
Day 1 – Fontana di Trevi, Galleria Alberto Sordi, Vatican
We decide to go for a walk on the first evening and just soak in the sights. The closer we get to the Trevi fountain, the busier the streets get. Artists painting you or your name, street musicians, souvenirs, and some of the vendors are quite aggressive (not as bad as a year ago in Paris, but still uncomfortable) and many, many tourists. The area around the fountain is so busy it is impossible to come near it, so I am not surprised that recently two women got into a fight about taking pictures here!
You have to understand that whenever you look in Rome, you will see something historic. The city IS history. An obelisk here, a church there, and not even marked in any special way (although in another country it could have been the most impressive sightseeing place). So you will have to stop the urge to take pictures of everything, as there is just too much!
It suddenly gets cold and it looks like it will rain, so we head inside. We find ourselves in a more modern building, Galleria Alberto Sordi, which is a 20th century art nouveau example. It is a shopping mall with spectacular glass roof and fancy shops. After taking a few pictures we head to Vatican. We pass Gilotti, one of the most famous ice cream cafes in Rome, and you can feel the presence of Instagram and “traveling for the ‘gram”. It almost seems that every second person has bought the ice cream just to take a picture of it, and not to actually enjoy.
Soon we have reached the beautiful Umberto I bridge where we see a stunning view to Tiber, Castel Sant’Angelo and St.Peter’s Basilica. A bunch of photographers are already stationed on the bridge with their tripods, but we head further, to the opposite side of the river to the alley of platans. You can get some souvenirs and paintings here, there is a food truck, but no people. Must be the dinner time, as streets have suddenly become deserted!
We head to the Basilica slowly, enjoying the views, and meanwhile the sun has set and it becomes dark. People are enjoying their evening at the many restaurants, we hear some ambulances sirens in the distance (just like in those Hollywood movies, where they show Paris, London or Rome – there is always the noise) and begin to make a turn to head back to the hotel. Now we see a different glimpse into the city – the one of homeless people. I feel like there are many more of them than there used to be, and statistics say there are from 3 to 7 thousand of them in Rome, and only Athens, Budapest and Moscow beat Rome in this unfortunate statistics in Europe.
Our walk feels a bit unusual this evening. Typically we have a plan, a list of items to check off our list, but not tonight. Tonight we just walk and feel the city. It is time to eat, though, and looking at the cheerful people waiting for their meals at the many restaurants we get so hungry that we must eat now. We also don’t feel like paying the famous “sit down” fee charged by many restaurants in Rome, so we go to.. McDonalds. Soon, it is time for bed.
Day 2 – Palazzo Barberini, Piazza Di Spagna, Piazza del Popolo, Vatican, Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Forum, Colosseum, Giardino degli Aranci (Orange Gardens)
We start our second day in Rome without any rush. Slow breakfast, then a walk in Palazzo Barberini garden and heading to Piazza Di Spagna, the famous Spanish steps. The day is extremely hot, the walls radiating the sun, it is windy and the flowers at every building are moving in the strong gusts of wind. Motorollers passing us by loudly and tourists chatting everywhere you turn. You feel Rome with every fiber of your soul.
Spanish steps is the place where me and Francesca tried to have lunch last time, the steps were beautifully decorated with petunias and we sat down to eat our sandwiches. Just a moment after opening the sandwich box, a policeman approached us and said we are not allowed to. The steps have at least ten times more tourists now, but I don’t see a single policeman. They would have come in handy, as while there, my phone rings and I spend the next twenty minutes solving an urgent issue with someone on the other side of the world and I have to continuously tell the many guys approaching me that no, I don’t want to buy a selfie stick or have a rose. Spanish steps have unfortunately turned into Paris-Montmartre like place. They are not as nasty as in Paris here, but it is still very unpleasant. These guys mostly approach women and give them roses, and after a few meters turn to the men and ask for 5 euros for that same rose they just “gave for free”, putting the men in an uncomfortable position. Many pay. Some get angry, trying to give the roses, but the vendor wouldn’t take them back.
Is Rome safe? Remembering how already 10 years ago Francesca used to carry her backpack in the front and not on the back, I don’t have any illusions about safety here, so my valuables are tucked deep in the bag. But one thing is good – you can get a fresh, cold bottle of water from these guys for just 1 euro, and then can reuse it all day. There are numerous drinking fountains in Rome, and it is perfectly safe to drink from them!
When we get to Piazza del Popolo and head inside the park, we are surprised to see so many policemen here. Some areas of the park are closed off completely. Turns out, it is the St.Peter’s day today and there will be fireworks later in the evening! Where could we watch those? We decide in favor of Orange garden on the opposite side, up on the hill.
While wandering in the park, we also see the smallest bird we have ever seen – a man is standing motionless and the tiny bird is perched on his shoe!
We decide to go to Vatican using the metro. Several men with guns are guarding the entrance, and it does feel a bit uncomfortable. There is a reconstruction going on in the metro, so some areas are closed to visitors, and when we finally get inside, the metro seems unimpressive, not like the beautiful stations in Paris or Athens. While we are buying the tickets at the machine, we get a “helper”, who does not look like he has our best intentions at heart, so we politely decline the offer and buy our own tickets, 1.50 eur per person.
When we are finally approaching Vatican, we feel very hungry, but now we are in the most touristy area in Rome, but one must eat? The place is disappointing and expensive, and even if you decide to “wander around” and pick something you like, I would recommend checking Tripadvisor first.
When we head inside Vatican, I realize one of the mistakes I have made in not-planning this trip. Before coming here, I remember thinking to check out the Papal mass schedules, not because I am religious, but to see that as part of the experience. Turns out, St.Peter’s day is one of those when the Pope was here, and now the mass has just finished. All remaining were not-so-neat rows of chairs and some unused prayer books I pocketed as souvenirs for relatives at home. If seeing a Papal mass is something you are interested in, you can check the official site, the entrance to these is for free.
I have been inside Vatican last time, so we decide not to wait in the long line and just walk around the beautiful square. I send a few postcards to relatives from the Vatican post office and we head back to Tiber. We pass beautiful mandala’s on the way and a few heavily armed men and military trucks. Than is the new reality of Europe.
We walk to beautiful Piazza Navona fountains. As soon as you get off the touristy path, there are not so many people, but once you are back at the key sightseeing spot, tourist masses are everywhere. Numerous selfies, dipped feet in fountains, someone eating an ice cream on the side. Pantheon area is even more crowded. The famous building, completed in 125, is impressive, but I mostly remember the unbelievable crowds around. A street musician is playing there, people gathering around him, but then police comes and asks them to leave, as the traffic can’t pass through, and then antique cars drive buy. It is just a carousel of emotions here!
Colosseum, Forum and Orange Garden
We take the metro to the Colosseum. We have visited a few of those already, in Pula, Croatia, and El Jam, Tunisia, both of which are better preserved than the Roman one.
You could easily spend the whole day walking in the Forum area around, as this is the very historic center of Rome. But since we have to leave already the very next day, we rush to the Orange garden. On the crossing of Via di S. Sabina and via di Porta Lavernale there is a door with a keyhole, a famous “hidden” attraction in Rome, as through that keyhole you can see the Basilicum. As we have stuck around Colosseum a bit too long and the sun is about to set, we totally miss the spot and when we understand we have passed it, it is too late to go back. The gardens are beautiful, and I know someday I will come back to Rome anyway, so I am not worried about missing this view. The sunset over the beautiful Roman roofs is worth it, with cicadas and some street musicians playing and sun disappearing in clouds. When will the fireworks start? Turns out, the park is only open until sunset, and soon the guard comes and asks us to leave. So we see the fireworks somewhere on the way down from the hill. It is very low, just a few pops and certainly not worth the wait!
We take the metro back to the hotel. At the station, there has been a fight. A man with a bloody head is sitting on the floor, and there is police around. Not the most pleasant feeling.
Once we are at Piazza Barberini, we head to pizzeria and buy a few cut out pieces of pizza. You just pick the one you want, and they cut some with scissors from a large pan of pie. We also buy some slushie here, you can get either lemon or coffee one. I am not a fan of coffee, but the slushie is just out of this world! Lemon one is also pleasantly sour and cold, and in the remaining part of our trip in Italy we keep on buying these!
The Last Day – Car Rental in Rome and All The Troubles With It
We again have a slow breakfast and head to Europcar office to pick up our car.
Car rental in Rome is not the most pleasant experience. First of all, our free rental coupon didn not work, and while I tried to solve it with every possible person on the phone and in email, the prices went up and then also the available cars finished, so we had to head to a different office altogether. After having waited for an hour in line, we get a tiny Fiat. Driving seems alright, as we use the GPS. But almost a year later we get a fine. Apparently when we have returned the car, we have driven to Zona Trafico Limitato ZTL, and we must pay 90 euros (!) fine. If you don’t pay right away (within 6 days), then 112 euros, and if you take longer than 60 days, then 194 euros. The fine is automatic, there is a picture and they are allowed to charge you one year after the rental has provided them with the information (which costs another 45 euros, that Europcar charged us).
With out second car, which we took later, Maggiore, it is even worse experience. We took it to go to Amalfi coast, and this time we showed up even earlier for the rental (as last time it took so long!). But we did not notice than because we were some 20 min early, they changed our car return time by 30 minutes as well! So as a result, when we gave it back at the airport, and having waited for more than 20 min to return the keys, they charged us for one full day rental, and not 30 euros we paid, but 100 euros! So for something like a 12 min delay, according to them, we paid 8 euros per minute for the rental! We tried contacting them by email, calling, all without success. So I would never ever rent again with Maggiore. So I would use Europcar in Italy and Rome, and not any of the local companies, as later searching for reviews I found many similar stories. If not our drive to Amalfi and Veroli, I would not have rented a car in Rome, and you don’t really need one here, as driving in the city is a hassle and parking is too. But if you have to drive, you can’t even trust the GPS, as that’s what we did and still ended up with the ZTL fine. Also, apparently, very common in Rome.