Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning.
-Giotto di Bondone
Ahh, yes Rome. The eternal city. I was thrilled when I found out that the school I work for, My English School, decided to host this year’s national convention in Rome. My boyfriend and I decided to tack on a few extra play days to the trip so that we could enjoy the city outside of the hotel conference room.
Although I had been to Rome twice before, I think this last trip was the most enjoyable. Third time’s a charm, right? Having seen most of the major touristic sites before (Colosseum, Vatican City and ancient ruins), I felt like I could actually roam around Rome without a strict itinerary this time, which allowed us to visit some of the lesser-known spots. I also had some super advice from some locals and Italy bloggers (bloggers know where its at folks!), which really made our trip special.
One thing I can’t stress enough is having a flexible itinerary when traveling. Gathering research before you embark on your journey is certainly helpful, especially with a city as vast as Rome. Nevertheless it’s also important to relax and be willing to improvise – go with the flow. That’s what we did with this Rome trip and I found it both relaxing and interesting at the same time. We researched some ideas of where we wanted to go and I put together a very rough itinerary, yet no matter what, we just went the flow. If we wanted to stop for gelato instead of going to a museum, we did. If we were tired and wanted to take a nap, we did. Instead of making reservations for all of the restaurants a week ahead of time, we just decided where we wanted to eat that day and maybe called 30 minutes before. Big cities like Rome can be overwhelming – keep calm, do what you feel like doing, when you feeling like doing it and ROME ON!
Roaming Rome: A Rough Three-Day Guide
We checked in at The Beehive, a cute bohemian ho(s)tel owned by friend Linda and her husband, Steve. Linda and I had been following each other on Instagram for sometime so it was great to finally meet her and check out her place that has been so widely spoken about.
I loved Linda’s style and the personal touches she put into making her hostel/hotel a unique and cozy place, that’s both eco-friendly and affordable. We didn’t feel like we were staying in a budget friendly hostel because our private double room was so warm and cozy!
After checking-in, we dropped our bags and headed out to seem old Roman stuff! Following the route that Linda from The Beehive suggested to us, we walked through the Domus Aurea area (remains of Nero’s ancient villa) until we reached the Colosseum. We meandered around the area for a bit, admiring the Arch of Constantine, the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill.
For lunch we headed to La Taverna del Foro Imperiale, one of the few good restaurants open on Sunday according to Linda. Just a stone’s throw away from the Colosseum, I was actually surprised at how authentic it was. We scarfed down a tasty plate of Carbonara ‘Vignarola’ – a special twist on the classic carbonara with the addition of peas, fava beans and artichokes. All of their pasta dishes looked fabulous and different (not just the classics). It’s definitely a place I will go back to the next time I’m in Rome.
With our tummies full of deliciousness, we headed out into the warm Roman sun and walked along Via dei Fori Imperiali. It was a pedestrian-only day so the views and fresh air were even better. We passed so many old ruins that I kept thinking to myself – this really is the eternal city. Layers of old stuff, upon layers of even older stuff – and they are still discovering ancient ruins here! It’s really a breathtaking site to see.
During the late afternoon we climbed up the steps of the Vittorio Emanuele building, until we reached the terrace about halfway up the building. We could have paid the ticket and gone all the way to the top, but the view was already beautiful from there and we couldn’t bother to wait in the line. On our way down we spotted one of the many Santa Claus invasions going on in Rome- this particular group of Babbo Natales was full of A-class rollerbladers!
That night, per Eleonora Baldwin’s suggestions, we dined at La Ciambella – a modern, vintage eatery with interesting and fun plates. Although I wouldn’t necessarily rave about the quality of the food, I would recommend this place if you’re looking for a break from traditional Roman food. It’s also great if you’d like to eat during non-peak hours, as it is open from 7am – 12am.
Our next morning started off right with a breakfast of champions from the Beehive Café. I had a wonderful Caffè Americano (it had been so long, I couldn’t resist), homemade bread with fresh orange marmalade and butter and a bowl of fruit salad. As much as I love a good cappuccino and croissant, it was SO NICE to have a break from Italian breakfast. The chef at the café was so kind and hardworking – we watched him make six people’s breakfast at the same time!
Feeling refreshed from our morning snacks, we walked through the Barberini neighborhood to get to the Capuchin Museum and Crypt. This is the place where the Capuchin monks, known as “cappuccini” used to reside and live their lives. In fact, they lived their simple lives in lots of places throughout Italy, not just in Rome; however this particular place has something special – a work of art that perhaps isn’t for the fainthearted but is wickedly cool. The capuchin crypt is adorned with skulls and bones of dead monks – arranged in such an artistic way that it is considered a masterpiece by many. My boyfriend though it was utterly horrible and morbid, but I found it to be beautiful – a sort of dark art trying to represent our ability to accept and cope with death. The museum also gave some interesting insight into the way the capuchin monks lived.
From there we took the metro to the Testaccio zone (getting off at the Piramide stop) thanks to the suggestions of Georgette from Girl in Florence. We had a quick look at the Pyramid of Cestius – an amazing structure built by the Romans in 12BC as a tomb for Roman magistrate Caius Cestius. The Egyptians weren’t the only ones building pyramids my friends!
We walked past loads of tratorrias and markets, until we reached the foodie paradise called Testaccio market.
In reality, Testaccio Market isn’t all about the food – they also sell clothes, wool, yarn, and other crafty articles. However for us the main focal point was the food- the fresh fruit and vegetable stands selling weird Italian vegetables (puntarelle + artichokes + broccoli romano) and the street food style eateries. There were so many yummy things to choose from – Roman style tripe or porchetta sandwiches, pizza bianca, gelato. We settled for ‘suppli’ – a Roman specialty cousin to the Sicilian arancini. The classic version is an oval shaped ball of rice, stuffed with tomato and mozzarella, then breaded and fried. We unintentionally chose gluten-free suppli (because that’s how cool Testaccio market is that they actually have allergy/intolerance friendly foods) and they were delicious and diverse. We had one cacio pepe suppli, one with artichoke and pecorino, and one classic with tomato and mozzarella, making for a great light take-away lunch.
The weather was gorgeous, so rather than take public transport we decided to walk along the Tiber River in search of the Tiber Island – a small island in the middle of the Tiber River. It’s not really an island island, it’s just sort a piece of land that got a little separated from the main land. By the time we reached it, we were pretty worn out and used our tiredness to sit down and treat ourselves to a giant three scoops of gelato from Sora Lella. It might not be the best gelato in Rome, but the place was absolutely adorable and the gelato hit the spot.
After our little break, we continued our walking journey into the center, making our way through the Jewish Ghetto, Campo de Fiori, Piazza Navona and eventually to Castel Sant’Angelo.
It hadn’t been in our plan to visit the Vatican at all. In fact, with all the hype about security and terrorist attacks and the Jubilee our plan was to avoid St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican area completely. Yet, seeing the sight of majestic St. Peter’s from Castel Sant’Angelo we simply couldn’t resist.
I have been to St. Peter’s before, visited the Pieta statue and all of the insides of the basilica, but it still amazed me seeing it again. It’s just SO BIG and ornately designed that you can’t really help but be mesmerized by the whole thing. I mean really – this giant church was built around 1626. There wasn’t modern technology then. There weren’t even cars. HOW IN THE WORLD DID THEY MOVE ALL THAT MARBLE? It’s one thing for Michelangelo to design a dome that big, but to actually build it? I just don’t get it. Simply mind-blowing.
We were both so intrigued by it all that we figured since we were already there, we might as well climb the dome too. So we pulled out britches up and climbed 390 stairs all the way to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica. Absolutely amazing view. Stunning. Probably the best view in Rome. It was sunset so the sun was bathing the entire city with light. Plus you really get an idea of just how big and ornate the basilica is.
After all that climbing and walking and being awe-amazed we were pretty hungry when we got back to our hotel. Not wanting to walk very far, we ended up having a quick aperitivo inside the Termini train station. Maybe I was just really hungry but the place we stopped at was actually pretty darn good. It’s this chic little cafe called VyTA. The service and quality was good. For 5 euro a head we each had a spritz and shared three baby panini. Moral of the story? If you have to eat in Termini station, VyTA bar is not half bad. Better than McDonald’s and all the other overpriced stuff inside there.
That night we met up with the boyfriend’s friend, Guido, for dinner. He suggested we meet him at Osteria da Fortunata, just a stone’s throw away from Campo dei Fiori, making me initially suspicious of the restaurant’s authenticity and quality (usually restaurants neat major piazzas are overly priced and touristic). However, Guido’s choice proved me wrong. From the outside of Osteria da Fortunata we watched through the window as a plump woman was hard at work rolling out wormlike shaped of pasta called strozzapreti (‘priest strangler’ pasta) while waiting for our table. I was really relieved once we sat down and the waiters began to greet Guido like a regular, along with dozens of other locals. This place was nothing but authentic.
Guido suggested ordering any of the primi (first courses), so we each got a different pasta dish, as well as a starter of fried veggies that came out sizzling hot. We had just finished devouring them when shortly after arrived our pasta – cacio pepe, amatriciana, carbonara with artichokes – all made with fresh handmade pasta. It was a “bomba” (a bomb – meaning really heavy but delicious in Italian).
We took a much needed passeggiata to Piazza Navona after that to admire the white marble fountains under the moonlight before heading off to bed.
During our final day of Rome we sort of wandered around without much plan. In the morning we had a late breakfast at Sant’Eustachio – my favorite coffee bar in Rome. A lot of people have said the quality has gone down over the years but I still think their coffee is good enough to be a drug. We ordered the specialty – ‘Gran Caffè’ which comes out like a thick coffee foam. It sounds really strange but I love how strong and dense it is.
Awoken by our Gran Caffè, we wandered around the Pantheon a bit and visited the church of St. Ignazio di Loyola – a church that I have visited every single time I’ve come to Rome. The illusory painted ceiling and dome inside fascinate me. They were both painted by an artist named Andrea Pozzo who, wanting to give the impression that the church was bigger than it actually was, painted the ceiling in such a way that it appears three dimensional. The same as for the dome – from the back of the church it seems that there is a this giant dome above the altar, but as you get closer you can see that it’s only paint and the center of the dome is actually not centered after all. This is why art is cool my friends.
Our last stop was the Trevi Fountain by day. Recently renovated it was even whiter and more majestic than the last time I saw it. We made a wish, tossed in a few coins, laughed at all the people taking awkward selfies, and then took an awkward selfie ourselves. C’est la vie!
Before leaving Rome for good however, we had to have one last meal and I was determined that it be a really really good one. I gathered the suggestions of many locals and decided Flavio Velavevodetto was where we had to go. I had heard that their pasta carbonara is some of the best in Rome. Plus I just like the way the name rolls off your tongue. We hopped on the Bus (Bus 83 from the center takes you directly in front of the restaurant) and headed for the Testaccio area, calling the restaurant on the way to make a reservation, which was a good idea because the place filled up quick. I ordered the rigatoni carbonara while the BF got amatriciana. Both were seriously drool worthy. The carbonara was incredibly yellow, creamy, and peppery. The pancetta was thickly cut – definitely fresh. I don’t want to say it’s the BEST carbonara, just in case I offend anyone, but it definitely makes the top list.
With out tummies full and our wanderlust satisfied, we caught out afternoon train for Rovigo, thinking back on our three days in Rome as if it all were a dream.
THE ROME LIST: Our Favorites
- The Beehive – not your average ho(s)tel with a bohemian, eco and social friendly atmosphere. Both shared and private rooms available.
- La Taverna del Foro Imperiale – awesome place near the Colosseum with both new and traditional dishes – open on Sundays – amazing pasta
- Osteria da Fortunata near Campo di Fiori – Amazing pasta dishes and desserts. Authentic roman cooking in the center.
- Flavio Velavevodetto in Testaccio – out of this world Amatriciana and carbonara.
- Sant’Eustachio Bar – My favorite coffee place in Rome, although watch out! The service can be off-putting.
- Testaccio Market – Lots of street food eateries where you can try bits of Roman snacks.
- VyTA bar in Termini station – if you need a quick bite to eat while waiting for your train, this place has good quality and fast service.
- La Ciambella – Modern vintage style eatery in the center open all day (they don’t close in the afternoon like most other Italian restaurants)
To See: Off The Beaten Path
- Pyramid of Cestius– If you’re looking for something different…
- Testaccio market – If you’re into a food…
- Vittorio Emanuale Terrace – If you want a good view of Rome, but don’t have a lot of time or are on a budget
- Climbing the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica – if you like heights and breathtaking panoramic views
- Church of St. Ignazio di Loyola – If you like illusions…
- Capuchin Crypt and Museum – Only if you’re into dark art or religious history…
- Tiber Island – If you like exploring small places…
Some Transportation Tips
Rome is a MASSIVE city. Do not attempt to walk it all! We found moving around by bus and metro to be quite easy. Use Google maps to plan your route and buy your tickets beforehand. For the bus you have to buy the tickets from a local Tabaccheria shop, bar or newsstand that sells bus tickets and then validate your ticket in the machine on the bus. For the metro you can simply purchase your tickets from the electronic machines inside the metro station. For both the bus and the metro, a 100-minute ticket costs 1.50 euro. Day or week passes are also available. There are also taxis available but fares can add up quickly so opt for public transport when possible! *The metro closes at 11:30pm.
A HUGE thanks to all the locals & bloggers who gave us wonderful suggestions for our Rome getaway. You’re the best: Linda & Steve from The Beehive, Georgette Jupe from Girl in Florence, Eleonora Baldwin from Aglio, Olio & Pepperonicino, Rick Zullo from Rick’s Rome, and many others. :)