They say all roads lead to Rome.
So it was especially fitting that after 2 weeks of constant travel across Italy, we would end our trip there.
We were preparing for chaos. Our Airbnb hosts in Orvieto had told us “don’t let Rome make you crazy”. We were tired and starting to get burnt out, but we had to push forward. We had just 4 days to see and do as much as possible in Rome!
We had a bit of a rocky start. While trying to return our rental car on the outskirts of Rome, we experienced the most white-knuckle driving conditions I’ve ever faced. “These people are crazy!” I just kept saying, as cars, motorcycles, and pedestrians would weave in and out of traffic with reckless abandon. Once we were finally out of the car (alive, thank goodness), we carried on our 1-hour journey by train and on foot to our apartment in Trastavere. It looked really close on the map, I thought, but I hadn’t figured in all the hills and one-lane roads with barely a sidewalk to follow. Fun fact: we even stumbled upon the highest point in Rome on our journey!
Now, this might not have been so bad if we weren’t carrying 2 backpacks, 2 suitcases, and 1 toddler.
Needless to say, we finally made it Trastavere. And after my initial frustration with the city (or more so myself) wore off, I could finally see what was so lovable about it.
Rome is a bustling, international city. It’s also well spread-out with much to do. You can see most everything by walking, which is the perfect way to get a feel for the city and take in those winding cobblestone streets. From the bright colored buildings with the occasional palm tree sprinkled in, though it’s jam-packed with tourists, Rome is a city best seen at a slow place.
If you’re planning a trip to Rome, don’t miss these 10 must-have experiences:
1. Shop the Market at Campo de’ Fiore
You’ll find all kinds of delectable treats at Campo de’ Fiore, Rome’s most well-known outdoor market. From a morning snack to Italian food souvenirs, the market’s central location makes it easy to pop in and out as you stroll the alleyways that surround it. We must have walked this charming part of Rome nearly every day we were there.
2. Stop for Apertivo Hour in Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona has its fair share of touristy restaurants, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still a great place to sit and enjoy an afternoon Rome. Instead of dinner, stop at one of the many restaurants for apertivo hour (Italy’s happy hour, generally starting around 6 PM) for an Aperol Spritz and appetizers. Evelyn especially loved chasing birdies around the fountains after we sipped our sangria.
3. Stand under the Dome at the Pantheon
The Pantheon is a marvelous feat of architecture. Standing in the center of the building staring straight up into the dome, you’ll realize just how small you are. It can seem like it might take forever to get inside, but there’s free admission and the line to get inside the Pantheon moves pretty quickly. So don’t let it deter you from experiencing this free gem.
4. Stroll through Aqueduct Park
Sadly, I didn’t learn about Aqueduct Park until after we’d already left Rome. Though it’s a bit off-the-beaten-path, it can be reached relatively easily by the red metro line (stop at Guilio Agricola). Once inside the park, stroll the criss-crossing flat trails that weave between 6 of the remaining aqueducts that supplied ancient Rome with water.
5. Throw a coin in the Fontana di Trevi
My best advice for the Trevi Fountain (and anywhere in Rome, really): get there early. By mid-morning, we were surrounded by so many tourists that we had to fight our way down to the side of the fountain just to toss a coin in. But the thick crowds weren’t about to stop me from cordoning off our own little section so Evelyn could throw a few coins in herself.
After visiting the Trevi Fountain, make your way over to Il Gelato di San Crispino, one of our favorite gelato stops in all of Italy.
6. People Watch on the Spanish Steps
Ok, I get it. The Spanish Steps are kind of overrated. But, “when in Rome!” Again, try to get there early to avoid the massive crowds and enjoy the view before carrying on your way. If arriving later in the afternoon, grab fresh pasta to go from nearby Pastificio, a super cheap meal at just 4 Euros!
7. Visit the Vatican
Since we visited Rome over Easter weekend, we decided early on that tackling the Vatican with a toddler just wasn’t going to be in the cards for us.
Still, it should be on every families bucket list, and may be best to enlist the help of a guide to make sure you get the most out of your time. The Vatican lines can be crazy long, so you’ll want to do plenty of research beforehand to make the trip to skip as many of those lines as you can.
Marta at Learning Escapes has a great guide to visiting the Vatican with kids here.
8. Get Lost in Trastavere
Trastavere is a favorite among visitors, so it was unquestionably where we chose to base ourselves in Rome. The lively neighborhood is full of bars and restaurants, but also home to hundreds of winding alleyways dripping with ivy along the oh-so picture-perfect cobblestone streets. We spent an entire afternoon meandering around, eating everything in sight from gelato to pastries to classic Roman dishes, and pretending to be locals at the children’s playground at Piazza di San Comisato.
9. Eat Gelato twice a day
Some might say that eating gelato twice a day is excessive. Gluttonous even.
I say, “When in Rome!” (Yup, I’ll never stop using this cheesy excuse!)
Our two favorites in Rome were Il Gelato di San Crispino (near the Trevi Fountain), and (my personal favorite!) Gelateria del Teatro, straight across the River Tiber from Trastavere. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried their creme brulee gelato!
10. Explore the Colosseum & Roman Forum
Last but not least, a trip to Rome without a visit to the Colosseum would be like visiting Paris and skipping the Eiffel Tower: you just have to do it!
Allow yourself plenty of time to see the both Colosseum and Roman Forum. Both are a bit of a hike from the rest of the touristy center of Rome, so instead of rushing through it (as we unfortunately did), try to spend a full morning or afternoon discovering in the entire area. The Monti neighborhood, which sits right behind the Colosseum, is often overlooked and full of homey restaurants. And if you can squeeze it in, include a stop at Parco di Colle Oppio for some unique Colosseum views.
Have you been to Rome? What are your favorite places to explore?
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