When in Rome...
Rome. It’s not just the city where Kristin Bell finds love or Lizzie McGuire finds herself (although, admittedly, that was a draw...). Rome is of the most well-documented ancient communities of all time- if not the birthplace of Western Civilization itself- and continues to hold incredible global relevance today. It’s the heart of the Catholic Church and houses the world’s smallest (and richest) Nation; Vatican City. Most importantly, however, Rome is home to the best gnocchi I’ve ever eaten. So, if you’re heading to Rome in the near future (as you should be) here is ~officially~ everything you need to know about what to do, how to get there and where to eat.
Accommodation: What You Need to Know
Hostel, hotel, Air BnB? These are not new- or particularly easy- questions. So, after a stint of serious research and a very helpful review from The Telegraph (check it out here!), we stumbled upon Hostella, an affordable, adorable and all-female hostel on the outskirts of Rome. With three out of my four travel companions (including myself) all-girls high school veterans, single sex accommodation an instant draw. Although it’s not advertised, Hostella is more of a boutique Hostel. The entire second floor apartment consists of a kitchen, sitting and reception area, terrace and three bedrooms rooms that sleep four girls each; making it perfect for our group. There are three spotless bathrooms and two showers, all of which are significantly nicer than the one in our little Florentine apartment. Lastly, and most importantly, Hostella provides are free croissants, tea, and coffee at all times, day or night. It was a peach-painted dream, enhanced by complimentary luggage storage, a free book exchange and unbelievable water pressure. If you are in Rome and looking for a quite place to overindulge on croissants, Hostella is your a go-to girl.
Free Walking Tours: What You Need to Know
Free walking tours are a thing- a very important thing, in fact, for budget-wielding students like ourselves. There are a million and a half out there, but we chose ours- Free Tour Rome- based on departure times, reviews and monuments covered. Beginning at 9am our overly helpful- and quite frankly adorable- tour guide met us at Piazza Barberini, just a 15 minute walk from our hostel. She took us to the Trevi Fountain, Temple of Hadrian, Piazza Navona, and, most importantly, Venchi Gelato, giving a decently in-depth history of each and extra time for pictures. For an online booking fee of 2.50 each, I was seriously impressed.
San Luigi dei Francesi and The Spanish steps: what you need to know
I know these activities aren’t typically lumped together, but after a day of wearing holes in my Nikes I’d honestly recommend it. The first destination, San Luigi dei Francesi, is a bit of a hidden gem. This church, built in the mid-16th century, is home to three extraordinarily influential paintings by the Baroque master Caravaggio. Still in their original places, all three pieces are dedicated to St. Mathew and are some of his most famous work. If this isn’t enough for you, the church is completely free and almost entirely empty- it’s one of my absolute highlights from the weekend. As for the Spanish Steps? Not the worst I’ve climbed, not the best view I’ve seen. It’s a pretty even give and take.
Highlight: the five star hotel at the top of the Spanish Steps. My top Roman tip? Avoid those one euro public bathrooms and find a swanky hotel instead.
Altare della Patria: What You Need to Know
Lovingly nicknamed “The Wedding Cake”, Altare della Patria is a rare free view of Rome. Not sure what we did to deserve a double rainbow over the colosseum followed by a sunset that would rival Amalfi's, but that’s what we were greeted with at the Altare della Patria. Just look on their website for opening hours or wander in sometime before dark. It’s free, the view is incredible and the guards have maroon berets on. Can’t beat it.
Pro tip: if you have time for a line take the glass elevator to the very top of the structure. Wet marble stairs are the most fun.
The Doria Pamphilj Gallery: What You Need to Know
Palazzo Doria Pamphilj is often referred to as the ‘other' Borghese Gallery in Rome. If you, like us, were not the most proactive about reserving tickets to Rome’s most exclusive, intimidatingly tiny and indisputably beloved museum, the Pamphilj is a great alternative. I would even say it’s pretty comparable. The rooms are uncrowded, lavishly decorated and filled with Renaissance masterpieces by Caravaggio, Titian, Velasquez, Filippo Lippi and so many more. Plus, the audioguides are free. Some of the best eight euros I’ve spent in Roma.
The Vatican: Tickets and Tour
Whatever you do, do not buy tickets from street sellers. Now, I know this seems so obvious, so painfully clear to anyone with any sense at all, but what you don’t realize going into a day at the Vatican is how good the street sellers are. They wear suits, speak flawless english and have official badges hanging around their necks. They’ll be your best friend and take your 40 euros without blinking an eye. They’re good- really good. Having been warned in advanced about this kind of scam, we pushed through the layers of hawkers, found the right line, and waited it out from 7:30am to 9:00am, when the museum opened. We got in at 9:20am, giving ourselves a serious head-start on the tour buses and panicked crowds that descend mid-morning. Our fatal flaw? Snacks. Bring them. Don’t be like us and get stuck eating four euro tomato panini’s inside the museum to avoid passing out.
Must see Masterpieces
My top must-do at the Vatican museum? The audioguide. It transformed the maze of 1,200 rooms stuffed with potentially unrecognizable art into navigable, understandable and incredibly significant cultural icons. If you follow the clear map that comes with the 7 euro audioguide, you’ll hit not just the main attractions of the museum, such as the Sistine Chapel, but the more easily missed masterpieces as well.
My favorites include: The Raphael Rooms (of course), Van Gough’s Pieta, The Gallery of Maps, Salvador Dali’s Angelic Landscape, and Laocoon and his Sons.
The Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palantine Hill- What You Need to Know
Luckily, our Roman Weekend happened to be the first one in November, which meant that all the Nationally run archeological sites and museums were free. You heard that right. My receipt for the colosseum read 0.00 and it’s the most beautiful piece of paper I’ve ever owned. Keeping this in mind, we hightailed it to the line by 7:30am, hoping to beat out the unavoidable crowds. Happily munching on our snacks the whole time (see! learning things!) our foursome spent 40% of our day exploring the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, which are all included on one ticket, and 60% of our day at lunch. As it should be.
Trastevere- What You Need to Know
Trastevere is my favorite neighborhood in Rome thus far. Besides it being my sister’s residence during her study-abroad summer, Trastevere, barley across the Tiber, is known for it’s known for innovative Trattorias, cozy craft beer pubs and genuine artisan shops. Romans and tourists alike flock to Trastevere in the evening especially for hand pulled pasta, charming streets filled with string lights, casual crowds, and deliciously affordable drinks. Trastevere was our go to spot for all three nights in Rome.
WHERE (AND WHAT) TO EAT
Finally, the important stuff. Below are my top spots! Almost everywhere we ate in Rome was fabulous (thank you to Ricardo’s Restaurant Rules), and every place was totally spur of the moment and/or fueled by a mixture of location and insatiable walking-tour-hunger. Check them out!
- Otella alla Concordia- a cozy yellow Trattoria a few blocks west of the Spanish Steps that was empty at noon and had an hour wait by one. We played that one right. Go for the chickpea and noodle soup and fried artichoke. Sounds weird, but totally worth it.
- Pimm’s Good- This was our dinner spot in Trastevere our first night! After living in Italy for two and a half months, no one was exactly on the hunt for pasta, so this English / Italian fusion pub with live music suited us perfectly. I, surprise surprise, still ordered pasta and recommend you do the same as it was the most incredible pesto gnocchi I’ve ever eaten. Pub pasta, who knew?
- La Scala- Our second night in Trastevere we ended up at La Scala. Only a few blocks from Pimm’s Good, this elevated, outdoor Trattoria was packed by 7pm and turned on all their heat lamps for us. They refilled our bread basket with hot olive rolls four times without judgment and let us subtly spy on our fellow dinners. It was heaven and we stayed three and a half hours, at least.
- Fatamorgoni- Organic, Vegan Gelato that doesn’t taste like Costco Italian Ice or cost 14 euros? If you told me this existed a week ago, I wouldn’t have believed you. Fatamorgoni, despite it’s unfortunate name, offered a whole case of delicious and creative dairy free options. I ended up with orange chocolate and hazelnut cream. Marry me, is all I have to say.
- La Pigna- La Pigna was our rain savor. Nestled in the pedestrian back streets near Piazza Navona, this little trattoria was not only super accommodating and affordable, but it served the best vegetable soup I’ve had in a looong time. It was packed with potatoes, tasted like home in the best way and allowed me to justify a sixth piece of bread. La Pigna is the place to be on rainy Sunday afternoons.