They say that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and let’s be honest – it’d be impossible to experience it in only one too. There is so much to experience in the Eternal City that one could spend a lifetime there and find something new every day. I spent two months living there this past summer and didn’t get to see all that I had hoped. But that’s the beauty of it. The city sprawls. Dusty streets wind around the seven hills. The bustle of modern city is interrupted when you wind the corner and stumble across a building as old as an empire. The city is ageless and remarkable.
The first time I visited in Rome, I spent only two days there. But I was so captivated I returned years later to spend two months. There’s magic in the city. Italian culture thrives at it’s heart, and it’s a melting pot of history. Everywhere you turn there’s the Renaissance, the Roman Empire, and simply Rome today. Which is why I believe it deserves to be on everyone’s travel itinerary. The city is a step back in time.
However, if one is not fortunate enough to drop everything and move to Italy for two months as I so gratefully was, I’ve narrowed down the most important landmarks to experience when visiting the Eternal City.
There’s nothing quite like seeing the Colosseum for the first time in person. This is an obvious on the itinerary. My advice? Buy tickets ahead of time online to avoid massive lines, and go first thing in the morning to avoid crowds (and heat, if you’re there in the miserable summer like I was).
Palatine Hill and The Roman Forum
Buy a ticket that includes this with your Colosseum entry and your golden for the morning. Walk back in time among the ruins of ancient Rome. Temples, houses, markets… there’s nothing more chilling than the realization that you’re walking the streets that people did thousands of years ago. Via Biberatica is the most intact ancient Roman street. Take a stroll.
Capitoline Hill and Surrounding Monuments
Michelangelo designed the surrounding piazza, and word on the street is he made some pretty great art. Visit the museum if you have time. There are many more monuments in the area you don’t want to miss as well, such as Trajan’s Column. Spend some time just strolling and take in the history surrounding you.
The second landmark that will catch your eye besides the Colosseum. This massive monument, dubbed the ‘Altar of the Fatherland’ or, my personal favorite, ‘the wedding cake’, is worth visiting for the sole purpose of taking the elevator to the top. The view of the city is breathtaking.
Campo di Fiori
End your day at the hub of young nightlife. A thriving marketplace during the day, Campo becomes a buzzing center for night owls. Pull up a seat at any cafe, order a drink, and indulge in Italian nightlife.
A landmark destination just to see the Baroque masterpiece Bernini fountains located here, Piazza Navona is a great place to relax and people watch. Stroll though vendors selling beautiful paintings, then sit and indulge in a cappucino and a cornetto for breakfast.
Another site to wander through and think about how old the world is in comparison to yourself. This temple was built around 118-128 AD. Let that sink in.
Via Del Corso
If you love some fine shopping, do I have the district for you. This road sits in the heart of Rome and everything on the day 2 itinerary is conveniently located nearby. Shop designers (and realistically) to your hearts content.
Afternoon Gelato at Giolitti
Opened in 1900 and owned by the same family, Giolitti claims to be Rome’s oldest gelateria. With way more flavors than one could ever possibly hope to choose from, I won’t blame you if you decide to come back a second time after dinner.
Sit. Just sit. Grab a cappucino and sit. Grab some more gelato and sit (still not judging). Just sit on the steps and take in life. (Also recommended – sit and watch the sunset).
Dinner at La Fontana di Venere Restaurant
Needless to say my mother found this restaurant on TripAdvisor. We ate there once and fell in love. So we went back the next night as well. Did I mention we only spent two nights in Rome? This was the first place I wanted to go back to when I studied in Rome last summer. Just off the beaten path from the Trevi Fountain, this cozy restaurant is hospitable (the owners were the friendliest and most welcoming people – they even sent us their lasagna recipe to make for Christmas), affordable, and absolutely delicious. My mouth is watering as I write.
Feel free to indulge in this before dinner, but my favorite time at the fountain is at night when it’s all lit up and I’ve had a bit too much wine. Don’t forget to throw a coin into the fountain a-la Lizzie McGuire. Rumor has it that a coin in the fountain guarantees a return to Rome.
Tour the Vatican
Catholic or not, the Vatican is a must. Not only is it it’s own city-state, but the sprawling museums house some of the most incredible art and historic collections in the world. Spend as much time as you can in the Sistine Chapel breaking your neck to take it all in. Tour St. Peter’s Basilica – I saw a lot of churches when I was in Europe, but nothing is more overwhelming and decadent and breathtaking than St. Peter’s.
While you’re at it, climb to the top of the dome (not recommended for the claustrophobic or those who prefer not to sweat like your in Dante’s ninth layer of hell) and take in the most incredible view overlooking St. Peter’s square.
(Optional afternoon in Trastevere)
If your wandering feet aren’t exhausted after the Vatican, head down the river to Trastevere – a local neighborhood that will allow you to feel like you weren’t a total tourist the whole weekend. Sit in the Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere and take in a dinner under the stars and among the locals. This is the neighborhood I lived in, and for being so close to everything, it’s like a world away. After dinner, stroll along the Tiber river and wander streets. The best places we found were the ones we were never looking for.
Rome is magic. Rome is yesterday and today and tomorrow all in one.
And as with any city, there are some experiences that just can’t be put on an itinerary. You never know what you’ll find until you get there. Some of my favorite memories were spur of the moment decisions or discoveries or places we stumbled upon. We saw the most incredible fireworks show put on at the Castel Sant’Angelo. We went to an incredible performance of the opera Madame Butterfly where the stage as created in the ruins of ancient Roman baths. Always keep your eye open. You never know what unique experiences you’ll find.
What are your favorite Roman spots?