Rome tickles the imagination. With history going back thousands of years and a massive impact on world, there is so much to see and love in Rome. In fact, all of Italy will pull at your heartstrings and make you fall in love with her.
Our first trip to Italy (together) was back in 2013. When we first started planning our European adventure, we wanted to go everywhere! Ultimately, we decided to focus our travels and spent an entire month in Italy (check out our full itinerary here). This allowed us to see everything from Rome to the Amalfi Coast to Sicily and Venice…and much more!
This was also the trip that inspired us to start blogging. We knew we wouldn’t be calling home much, so we set up an account on the now defunct TravelPod. These early posts were focused on keeping our family and friends updated on our day-to-day adventures. That is to say, they really weren’t well written or even all that interesting.
Once we got serious about blogging, we knew we would eventually revisit these posts and make them appeal to a wider audience. Now is that time! We hope you will enjoy these posts and will find some inspiration in them.
Here’s how we spent four days in Rome on our first overseas trip together back in 2013. We also visited Rome in 2017, as chaperones on a school trip. We will use that second trip, hindsight and more travel experience to highlight what we could have done better and our tips for you!
Updated November 2017
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Leaving Atlanta, the Flight and Arriving in Rome
The night before departing Atlanta, we stayed at a Hilton Garden Inn near the airport with only our bags for the trip. When flying internationally, we typically like to stay near the airport the night before. It just makes things easier and less stressful, especially if it is an early flight.
Additionally, we moved into a new condo less than two weeks before this trip. Two days after moving in, the condo flooded due to a sprinkler line mis-repair across the hall. Needless to say, we were more than ready to get the vacation underway! And, since we were in a hotel anyway, we figured it might as well be at the airport.
For the flight, we used 200,000 Delta SkyMiles to book round-trip business class tickets from Atlanta to Rome. It was a long, but good overnight flight. While the seats were very nice and we got plush, full-size pillows, a real comforter, earplugs and an eye mask, neither one of us got any sleep to speak of.
We landed about 9 a.m. local time. Thankfully, we were able to check in to the hotel (Hilton by the airport for the first night), shower and relax for a few minutes.
A note on the hotel: the Hilton at the Fiumicino Airport outside of Rome is nice and a very easy walk from the airport across a covered walkway. But, you should bear in mind the airport is located quite a ways from Rome and the train ride into Rome is expensive to do on a regular basis.
We chose to stay here because we knew we needed good internet to get our SIM cards for our phones squared away, plus it was an easy place to get to right off the plane.
On the way home, we stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn at the airport. While not as convenient, it was still a great place to stay.
Once we felt rested, we headed to Rome to visit the Vatican City.
Day 1: Vatican City
We were so excited about Rome that we dove right in and went to the Vatican City the first day. While we enjoyed it, I do think the Vatican was more crowded than Disney World! There were tons of large tour groups and, in terms of the number of people, it was rather unpleasant.
Despite all the people, we saw some really cool things, including, of course, the Sistine Chapel….Just absolutely fabulous!! The last time I (Bonnie) was here, they were doing refurbishments, so it was great to see it without scaffolding!
In St. Peter’s Square, they had chairs and a screen set up for the Pope’s weekly address on Wednesday. We were about to go inside when we saw the line. After all the traveling and nearly no sleep, we just didn’t have the energy or patience. Instead, we found a place to get a pizza – yum!
We both nodded off on the train back to the hotel and after showers went to sleep at about 7 p.m. local time. Yep – that is what it takes to get yourself adjusted to the time difference and overcome the jet lag!
Pro tip: Buy Vatican tickets online. The lines at the Vatican are to buy tickets, not to get in. Also, visiting the Vatican with a tour group is not a bad idea. We did that on our second visit (in 2017) and it allowed us to bypass the lines into St. Peter’s Basilica. We also got some really great information from the guide.
The next morning, we took the shuttle bus from the hotel into downtown Rome and then walked over to our Airbnb. We stayed in a room in an apartment not far from the Circo Massimo metro station.
This was our first time staying in an Airbnb. While our accommodations were comfortable, it was off-putting to see one of our hosts sleeping out in the living room. We felt like we were taking his room by being there. At least now know what to watch out for!
Day 2: Palatine Hill, Roman Forum and Coliseum
When you come to Rome, these are the big sites you will want to see. This is ancient Rome.
Pro tip: Get a Roma Pass. You get two museums/archeological sites included, plus a discount on other sites and you get a metro pass for three days. The convenience alone is worth the cost… Plus you get to bypass a lot of lines.
Palatine Hill contains the ruins of Roman palaces, homes, temples. On one side, it overlooks the Circus Maximus. On the other side, there is the Roman Forum and Coliseum.
We thoroughly enjoyed walking through the ruins. While there were plenty of tourists, it was not inundated with crowds like the Forum or Coliseum.
The Roman Forum has a lot of important sites and is quite a bit more crowded, but is truly worth seeing. There is just so much history to see in Rome!
We decided to see the Coliseum later in the day to avoid some of the mid-day crowds, so we grabbed some lunch and then walked on towards the Trevi Fountain.
Unfortunately, we never made it to the Trevi Fountain. The streets, even with a map and Google Maps, are difficult to navigate. We completely missed the Trevi Fountain… and ended up at the Spanish Steps instead. I don’t know how we managed that. We are normally really good at reading maps, but we totally missed it.
After a jaunt out to Ostia Antica (more on that below), we came back and visited the Coliseum. Wow. Just wow. Words do not do this structure justice. They really don’t.
Ostia Antica is the ruins of the harbor city of ancient Rome and one of our favorite sites that we visited in Italy. This site was large, with extensive ruins to explore.
We really enjoyed getting away from the crowds in Rome, especially the tour groups, and just walking around the ruins at our own pace.
Pro Tip: this site is not far from the airport in Rome and can easily be accomplished in less than a half day. We really should have visited Ostia Antica on the first day, rather than the Vatican.
Day 3: The Appian Way and Catacombs
I think we walked about 10 miles this day… Literally! We started by walking to Appia Antica, the original Roman road….the road Julius Caesar would have traveled to get to and from Rome!
Note: when the guidebook says the first couple of miles are not pedestrian friendly, they mean it! We ended up taking some side roads and hiking trails to get around the crazy part, but still were living life on the edge while walking the first part.
Further away from town the road is much less traveled by cars and much easier to walk…aside from the uneven cobblestones. Much of the road has been redone – some with “normal” asphalt, some with new cobblestone, but some of the road is still the original stones!
Pro tip: Take the bus! It was easier to navigate than we thought it would be. Plus it is included with the Roma Pass.
We saw some cool things along the road and visited the Catacombs of St. Sebastian, which housed the remains of Saints Peter and Paul temporarily in the 2nd Century… Not to mention the remains of St. Sebastian!
I cannot say how much we enjoyed seeing the catacombs and the church. You really must go!
Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain
After that, we made our way back into town and ended up at the Spanish Steps, accidentally AGAIN!
We did eventually find the Trevi Fountain though we could not throw in a coin. Apparently, at the time it was not allowed, and the crowds were too thick to even think about getting close enough.
The Piazza Navona is a great place to get a gelato and take a walk. The square is huge, with a beautiful fountain in the middle. It is also just a short walk to the Pantheon.
The Pantheon is a marvel of ancient engineering. Once a Roman temple, it is now a church and one of the best-preserved buildings in Rome. It is also home to two kings of Italy, including Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a united Italy.
After dinner, we took a stroll along the Tiber River before heading back to our room for the night.
Day 4: Castel Sant’Angelo and Great Pasta
This was somewhat of a “throw away” day in Rome. We didn’t have anything that we just had to see or anywhere we had to be at a certain time, we really just had a loose itinerary that we hoped would keep us away from the majority of the crowds. Ultimately, we were very thankful for this day.
We visited the Castel Sant’Angelo, which was Hadrian’s Mausoleum, before turning into a Papal hide-out in times of crisis.
This ended up being one of our favorite sites in Rome. It was not nearly as crowded as other sites but had some amazing papal artifacts as well as some tremendous artwork. You must climb to the top, where you are rewarded with one of the best views of Rome.
Thankfully, we did NOT end up at the Spanish Steps accidentally, as we did the last 2 days! And…after four days in Italy, we finally got some amazing pasta at Taverna Cestia and gelato.
We discovered a new favorite pasta, cacio e pepe, which is simply spaghetti with olive oil, butter, black pepper and Pecorino Romano cheese. It is a simple dish, but it really highlights the pasta. It is now a must-have anytime we go to Rome, or anywhere else we can find it!
A Couple of Sites We Missed
On our second trip to Rome, we discovered a couple of really great sites we missed the first time which we highly recommend including in your itinerary.
First, the Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls is an amazing cathedral in a city full of amazing cathedrals. This church is far less crowded than St. Peter’s Basilica and is well-worth the visit.
Second, the Largo di Torre Argentina is not too far south of the Pantheon and is where Julius Caesar was assassinated. The square has four temples and the remains of Pompey’s Theatre. It is also a sanctuary for homeless cats. It was very cool and worth the walk, if for no other reason than to put a place with what you learned in literature class.
Lastly, take the time to go into St. Peter’s Basilica when you visit the Vatican. We didn’t the first time around and we were glad we did the second time.
Notes and Tips on Rome
- The Roman people are great. We enjoyed our time here and liked the people.
- The Popout map we bought for Rome was amazing. Get one!
- The sun will cook you, even if it is only 78 degrees in early June. Dress accordingly.
- The transportation system was good. We took the Metro everywhere. It is about as good as Atlanta’s system, but the busses are free (we think!). We walked quite a bit, but the roads are a bit of a mess (we ended up at the Spanish Steps twice, both times accidentally). All roads in Rome (well the Metro anyway) leads to Termini. The station is large and a bit confusing, but you will get used to it.
- You could not pay me to drive in Rome… unless in a tank and with a serious pardon and escape plan in hand. Don’t rent a car.
- The tourists are everywhere. They are not bad by themselves, but in tour groups, they are a pain in the ass. Basically, if you have “always wanted to see something” or always heard you should see something, so has everyone else. Expect a crowd. That said, there were a few places that had very small crowds that we loved, like the Palatine Hill, the catacombs of Saint Sebastian and the Castel Sant’Angelo.