Rome is an amazing city jam-packed full of rich history, stunning architecture, and delicious food! Here are 10 things you either need to see and do or can avoid “When in Rome!”
HIT ? Eat Gelato, LOTS of Gelato!
Gelato is one of the four basic food groups of Italy: Pizza, Pasta, Wine, and Gelato. These are the foods you’ll find at almost any restaurant or eatery. We didn’t find many places to avoid when it comes to gelato. One thing we did find is that being adventurous with gelato can pay off sometimes but also go horribly wrong. If you don’t want to be disappointed by your ice cream then stick with a safe choice like chocolate, hazelnut, pistachio, peanut butter, cookies n’ cream etc. Really it’s hard to miss with such an amazing frozen treat but we did have a few that we probably wouldn’t get again given the chance.
HIT ? PizzaZizza
You may notice a common theme of the first two Hits – the food in Italy is absolutely amazing. This pizza place I actually can not speak for personally because I was so sick that I didn’t get to eat here but my family absolutely loved it! I haven’t heard the end of what I missed and I am dying to get back to Rome to have some of this Pizza. It is right outside of Vatican City and was heralded by my sisters and parents as the best Pizza they had in Italy which is saying something because we had a lot of Pizza there! Because of its proximity to Vatican City, it is worth hitting on your way out of St Peter’s Basilica (see below) either for Lunch or Dinner depending on when you are coming out of Vatican City. It is located just down the street from the Square immediately in front of the Basilica. Here is the Yelp review with the location just so you make sure you’re getting to the right place.
HIT ? St. Peter’s Basilica
Ok I get it, Vatican City isn’t the same city as Rome let alone the same country but it’s so darn close it’s hard to imagine going to Rome without seeing Vatican City. St. Peter’s Basilica was definitely the highlight of the trip to Vatican City. This cathedral was absolutely stunning, which is saying something because Italy is full of amazing cathedrals. In the basement is where St. Peter is buried along with the other Popes which is pretty incredible to see. You can also take a hike up to the top of the cathedral which is well worth it and you get in a pretty solid workout to boot! It’s all steps up and down and there are some relatively tight places so watch your head!
MISS ? Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel
Of our time in the Vatican, we spent probably 2/3 in the museum and Sistine Chapel. Unless you really like Renaissance art then you’ll probably have the same experience we did. It is a lot of paintings. Actually, the scope of the paintings in the museum is quite impressive but none of my family is passionate enough about art to spend hours on end being shepherded through a long stream of painting after painting which holds little significance to us. The 4 Raphael rooms were impressive because we knew the name but other than a few other obscure paintings there wasn’t a lot of great interested generated for our family.
At the end of the museum, you prepare to enter the Sistine Chapel. This was the part we’d all been waiting for. You hear story after story of Michaelangelo painting the roof on his back, suspended from the ceiling. It sounds like something that should absolutely blow you away. Then you enter the chapel…
The Sistene Chapel measures 135 ft by 40 ft and is packed wall to wall with people. I can’t say if it was the throngs of people crammed in or if the dimensions really are quite small but it just felt tiny. It, for me, was comparable to a cereal box where pictures are enlarged to show detail. The roof is also 70 feet up and so it is hard to really get a good view of any of the paintings. Overall what we thought would be the highlight of the museum turned out to be quite disappointing.
HIT ? Take a Cooking Class
As I mentioned before, Italy is famous for its food. We took a cooking class about pizza but at the end of the class, they mentioned there were classes for pasta as well as gelato! Since coming back my wife and I have used the recipe we got from the cooking class to host a pizza night at our apartment with a group of friends which was a blast! It’s a neat way to spend an afternoon or evening learning about some of the cultural aspects of Italian food, learning how to make it, and, of course, enjoying it! This company in Rome that has many different options as far as classes go: Pizza, Pasta, Gelato, and more. There are many other’s who offer classes but this is a good place to start.
HIT ? Food Tour
Food again! Hopefully, you’re understanding just how amazing the food in Italy is. The same company above also does food tours so it may be worth doing kind of a one-stop-shop as far as your attractions go but we did our food tour through a different company (the tour website can be found here) It was amazing to try all the different foods and our guide was wonderful. She knew all sorts of history and food fun facts. It was a delicious and informational way to spend one of our evenings in Rome!
HIT ? Pantheon and Trevi Fountain
These two iconic landmarks are right in the heart of Rome. One of the most exciting aspects of traveling to Rome is the history of the city. Just walking around the city you see a cool European style city and then you round a corner and BAM! There’s the Trevi Fountain and then a couple of blocks later BAM! There’s the Pantheon. The Pantheon is amazing to see from an architectural perspective. There are no supporting structures of the dome and the hole in the ceiling is quite an interesting feature! The Trevi Fountain is a must-visit in Rome because if you through a coin over your shoulder into the fountain, legend has it, that you are destined to return to Rome – and who wouldn’t want another trip back?
HIT ? Colosseum
One of the iconic landmarks in Rome the Colosseum, contrary to the Sistine Chapel, exceeded expectations. Often heralded as one of the modern 7 Wonders of the World it did not disappoint. Because the Colosseum is one of, if not the top attraction in Italy, the lines can get quite long. A travel blogger from myadventuresacrosstheworld.com wrote an excellent and comprehensive guide to visiting the Colosseum which can be found here. Although it can be quite crowded it’s big enough that it doesn’t seem too packed which is nice and it is absolutely worth visiting when in Rome.
MISS ? Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum
This is where it all started you history buffs out there! I’ll start with a preface that admittedly the reason this was a miss may have been more user-error than anything else. The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill are the locations of the original location of Rome when it was first founded. While a self-guided tour of the Colosseum is do-able, unless you really know your history and Roman geography, the self-guided tour of these two locations was not. Everything is pretty spread out and you end up running into a lot of the same looking structures without really any context for what they might be. There were a lot of cool looking columns that were certainly ancient but without any context, one dilapidated ancient column or stone structure tends to blend into the next.
I will gladly admit that this might be a highlight with a knowledgable guide if you are excited by Roman history but for us lay folk trying to wander around these places was a little bit of a waste of time.
HIT ? Random Cathedrals and Basilicas
These are truly the hidden gems of all of Italy. Make sure to leave time as you are walking from one place to the next to visit some Italian Cathedrals. It is always fun to get lost in a new city and one of the best ways to explore Rome is through cathedrals. Many of the cathedrals are open for most of the day to visitors and as we were walking around Rome from one attraction or restaurant to the next my dad would spot a cathedral and inevitably we would walk in. At first, it seemed kind of intrusive but after a while, I was on the lookout for cathedrals and basilicas because the architecture was incredible and no two are ever alike! As an added bonus we visited over Christmas and so each cathedral had a unique nativity scene and it was fun to see all of those.