John Steinbeck said about Italy: "It is a dream place that isn't quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone” - and that’s exactly how I felt about our first Roman holiday, which passed by in a blur of general amazingness that I couldn’t quite get straight in my head.
Everywhere you look there’s something beautiful and important and ancient - all clamouring for your attention at the same time – and that can be pretty exhausting! This time around we spent hours lingering over coffees and drinks on particularly pleasing piazzas (they're all particularly pleasing) and one of the nicest memories from the trip is the afternoon we spent wandering lost amidst the falling leaves. Which brings me to…
When to go: We previously visited Rome in summer and I found it much nicer this time around; autumn is gorgeous with plenty of sunshine and we still sat outside for drinks and food, but found it much more comfortable wandering around to see the sights. So spring or autumn would be when I’d plan another trip.
Getting there: There are two airports in Rome: Leonardo da Vinci Airport (at Fiumicino) and Ciampino. From either, it’s easy to get to the city centre on public transport ( by train from Fiumicino, bus from Ciampino) to Rome’s main railway station, Termini. Mr Fluff and I flew to Ciampino with Ryanair and got the bus to Termini for €8 each (return); if there are 4 of you, a taxi from Ciampino is reasonable at €30 one way (it’s €48 to/from Fiumicino).
Where to stay: On this visit we based ourselves in Trastevere, which has become my favourite district in Rome; it’s on the tram line and in easy walking distance of most of the major attractions. We got a great deal at Hotel San Francesco which is a beautifully charming boutique hotel with marble floors, antique furniture and stunning panoramic views from its rooftop bar.
Where to eat and drink: Oh c’mon, this is Rome so everything's delicious, the real question is where not to eat and drink? And that’s any major tourist attraction: we paid €18.72 for two medium cokes in Bar Academia on Via del Tritona, just around the corner from the Trevi Fountain. That’s not much less than we paid for an entire meal for two in Trattoria der Pallaro, which I’d highly recommend: you eat what you’re given, house wine is included, there's a set price and everything is totally authentic and delicious. Da Vittorio in Trastevere was another highlight. Oh, and if you’re not sure what to eat, just ask the waiter what their best dish is: they rarely steer you wrong.
What to see and do: So this is the big question and my best advice is try not to do it all, plan your days out in advance but leave loads of time for wandering and sitting and enjoying. These three things were particular highlights:
ONE: Take a guided walking tour or two: you’ll get a great sense of the city and learn loads more than wandering about on your own - but the biggest benefit is getting to skip the (often massive) entrance queues to popular attractions. The Vatican is so vast that a guided tour is invaluable and the queue would have made me cry if we had to join it. We also took another tour that covered the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Roman Forum and Colosseum. There are tours aplenty – we arranged ours through our hotel. Top tip: Take comfy shoes with decent grips for walking on age-smoothed cobbles and paving stones.
TWO: Visit the Capuchin crypt: this won’t be to everyone’s taste but if yours runs to the slightly macabre, it’s well worth a trip. For reasons that weren’t entirely clear to me, the Capuchin friars created beautiful and terrifying designs and sculptures in the crypt that are entirely constructed of human bones and mummified corpses. Imagine a serial killers lair, but with hymns and lots of incense. No photos are allowed and that's probably for the best - skeleton selfies are rarely in good taste.
THREE: Torre Argentina: the ancient temple ruins are interesting enough (they’re the oldest in Rome, dating from 400 – 300 BC) but if you’re a cat person, this place is totally magical. At the foot of one of the staircases into the site is a cat sanctuary staffed by volunteers, to feed, clean, care for and love more than 180 moggies of all ages. There’s plenty of cuddling going on and they do a brisk trade in international cat adoptions.Top tip: it doesn’t open till noon.
Have you visited Rome and do you have any travel tips of your own? Please share them in the comments! And you might like to check out some more of our Italian adventuring.