When the wonderful Suzanne Johnston contacted me and wanted to be our quest blogger for a day in June… I was totally excited to hear about what she wanted to talk about. Seems like she's got the travel bug in her these days and wanted to share her simple yet... very informative traveling tips when planning a holiday in Rome. You're in for a real treat!
All images and content by Suzanne Johnston.
Friends, Romans, Countrymen – lend me your stretchy pants. I’m going back to Italy this summer. Two weeks of daily nocciola gelato and charred, wood-fired pizza with bubbly mozzarella di bufala and smoky prosciutto.
Rome is the perfect city to work off all that food. Around each corner is a slice of ancient history. Narrow, unassuming streets lead to architectural wonders spanning centuries.
If you’ve never been to Rome, three nights is a good start. Pick up a guidebook or Google “Rome itineraries” to map out your stay. If you travel in high season, book your accommodation in advance. The last thing you want to deal with is banging on doors like Joseph trying to find room at the Inn. Especially in 32 C.
Toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain to guarantee your return to Rome because even with a week you wouldn’t get to see everything. This’ll be my third time in Rome and I have a whole list of new and old sights to tackle. I’ve hung out at the Trevi Fountain three times in one trip. It’s a great place to haggle for cheap beer and tourist watch.
Here are a few insider tips to get more out of Rome’s most famous sites, as well as some recommendations for eating and sleeping.
- Vatican Museum/St. Peter’s Basilica: You don’t have to be Catholic or the Pope to appreciate the scale and grander of St. Peter’s Basilica. And whether you love art or you’re just into shiny things, the Vatican Museum is worth a two-hour stint (includes a neck straining look at Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling).
- Insider Tip #1: Tour the Vatican Necropolis – a vast underground graveyard beneath the Basilica with tombs dating back to the 2nd century. It’s a little creepy (and not good for claustrophobics), but you really feel the weight of Rome’s history above you. The path you walk on used to be ground level. It’s hot as hell down there, but you have to cover your shoulders and knees, so don’t go trotting up to the Swiss Guard in a crop top and short shorts. Reserve several months in advance. Details here.
- Insider Tip #2: Save yourself from standing two hours on hot pavement to get tickets and either go early (it opens at 9 am), go late (the night tour looks awesome, last entry at 9:30 pm), book a tour or buy your tickets in advance.
- Colosseum: More than 50,000 Romans gathered here 2,000 years ago to watch animals and people fight to the death for fun.
- Insider tip #3: The first time I visited the Colosseum, I pointed at the off-limits exposed underground level and cried, “I want to go there!” It turns out you can, but you need to book a guided tour well in advance here. See the Gladiator Dungeons, stand on the arena floor and act like an Emperor from the Colosseum’s exclusive third tier!
- Borghese Gallery: If you want to see marble statues that will blow your mind, don’t miss this gallery. I know next to nothing about fine art, but could appreciate this great collection, which includes works by Bernini, Caravaggio and Raphael. It’s located in a public park (Villa Borghese) so take a stroll, work off the gelato.
- Insider tip #4: Book well in advance at this site. We showed up and got lucky because of a cancelled reservation. Don’t take that chance. And get there before you reservation time just in case there’s a line. Because there’s always a line.
- Use TripAdvisor to find a list of recommended restaurants wherever you are. Download the Rome City Guide app onto your phone in advance (available offline).
- Venture off the beaten path to avoid expensive, tasteless tourist food and find hidden gems down tight alleyways. Ask around. Locals know best.
- Bring a reusable water bottle. Thanks to Rome’s aqueduct built in the 1st century CE, cold, fresh water flows from little fountains all over the city.
My first stay in Rome was eight years ago. I slept on a bunk in a twelve-person room without air conditioning. My level of comfort has since changed. But I still look for a good deal. In high season, we’ve stayed at nice places for less than $150 a night. I usually aim for $100 a night. Book in advance and you’ll be able to hunt for deals online. Don’t be afraid to use AirBnB.
If you want to stay near the Vatican, check out Bibi e Romeo’s bed and breakfast. We’ve stayed there twice. It’s about five minutes from the Vatican and across from a great market. They also make delicious pastries. We came home at 2 am to a peach pie. You bet we ate that peach pie.
Have you been to Rome? Share your tips and questions in the comments!