Though we started out with a few days in Paris, the main destination of our February vacation was Italy. My partner, sister, brother-in-law, and I managed to pack in enough sights and experiences during that week that the very idea of writing about it became something to avoid and procrastinate later. This is why I’m referencing a February vacation in June.
There are too many obvious, touristy attractions in Rome to count, but snubbing your nose at any of them would be a disservice to you and your fellow travelers alike. If you get the chance to visit this city, do the touristy things. As many as you can. Just stay away from the restaurants around the touristy things. The story you tell your friends about the Coloseum, Palatine Hill, or the Sistine Chapel will be much nicer without that side of diarrhea. Diarrhea that you overpaid for. Check out TripAdvisor, get suggestions from locals (airbnb hosts are quite good at suggesting places), or check out some of my suggestions at the end of this tedious blog post. But do not get drawn into a place just because it is next door to your tourist stop. You will pay double to triple the price for food less than half as good. So be warned.
Though Rome is indeed a large city, it really is not very intimidating. I would say that maps are easy to come by and easy to follow (which is true, even in a maze of a city such as this), but most people visiting are going to have GPS on their smart phones anyway. And why learn to read a map when you can run down the battery on your phone in less than two hours? Luckily for most travelers, many of the sites are clumped together. Also, maniacal cab drivers are willing to get you anywhere you need to go–for a fairly cheap price, considering they’re at least less scary than the ones in Paris.
The sites to see are clumped in such a way that one can tackle a lot in a matter of a few hours. Here is a general rundown of things to do based on my slightly Asperger view of the city’s geography:
The airbnb apartment we stayed in was almost next door to the Pantheon, which is also a fairly short walk to both the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. The entire area was buzzing with life–even in February–though, admittedly, we were lucky to have experienced unseasonably warm weather. These attractions can all be seen in the same day, with plenty of time to sit around and consume enough pasta and pizza to make Oprah jealous.
I am no historian, and there are countless places on the web to read the facts and hstory behind all of these locations; all I can share are links to the travel websites that can offer potential travelers as much information as possble. I can also offer the humble opinion from my own personal experience that anyone visiting will be in complete awe.
Of course, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill are among the most touristy spots in the city, but going to Rome without seeing them just doesn’t make sense. My advice would be to go some time in the off season, as guides, residents, an fellow tourists alike will warn you that it is far too busy (not to mention too hot) during the Summer months to truly enjoy it. Admittedly, there was quite a bit of rain the day we went. I personally felt that getting drenched by the rain was a small price to pay for the joy of walking around these amazing relics unhindered by hordes of people. No lines. No baking heat. Who cares about a bit of rain? Even in February it wasn’t too cold. Check out this year round link for Italy weather and decide for yourself!
- The Colosseum
- The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill:
There are some great tour options on Viator for both Colosseum/Forum tours as well as Vatican/Sistine Chapel tours. You can usually opt for a large group tour or a small private tour–whichever your pocketbook allows. We opted for the group tours, and they were quite well done. The guides were knowledgeable and friendly, and the tours were only around 2-3 hours. We managed to do both of these major tours all in the same day; so if anyone reading wishes to get a really quick Rome experience, that is the way to do it. Tour the Colosseum and the Forum/Palatine Hill in the morning, then have some pizza or pasta, ponder why you decided to come to Rome and only spend a day there, then head over to the Vatican to finish off your day.
The Vatican, St. Paul’s Basilica, and its museums–including the Sistine Chapel–are truly breathtaking, which is sort of expected given the church raped the rest of the city to build itself (a great deal of the marble in the Vatican and St. Paul’s was taken from the Colosseum, which is why it now resembles a big hunk of concrete). Try not to be too mad at the church for pillaging and pundering and save your indignation for all the raped kids instead. At least they knew how to build pretty buildings and collect some decent art, right? Check it out!
- The Vatican: Lots of Jesus, but also some stunning architecture, sculpture, and artwork from several of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Seriously, though. The Michelangelo and Raphael in here are pretty amazing.
- Saint Paul’s/Papal Basilica: The Most Famous Jesus Castle
The Villa Borghese Gardens and the Galleria Borghese are not to be missed, either. The park was gorgeous, even in February (it had luckily been relatively warm and sunny the day we went). I would highly recommend renting a golf cart to drive around. It isn’t just for lazy people stuffed full of wine and pasta; those things are a blast to drive around in. It was relatively inexpensive, so whether you want to treat your inner child or outer obese alcoholic, this is the choice for you. Seriously, though. If you’re super lazy, the Galleria is quite a hike. So you’ll miss it unless you rent this giant Walmart scooter. Do it.
- Piazza Popolo and Villa Borghese photos are below. The Galleria does not allow photos, but does house some really amazing art by the likes of Raphael, Caravaggio, and Titian. And not all of it is paintings of Jesus, I swear. Most is, but not all.
Museums, art, history, ancient ruins, and Catholic Central aside, great Italian food is an integral part of any Rome experience. I would generally advise to stay away from restaurants right next door to tourist attractions (especially the ones in the Piazza Navona), but determination to walk just a bit will yield a lot of great results. And in today’s world of GPS, is it really that hard to leave the path and then find your way back again? No. It isn’t.
Here are some restaurants I would highly recommend to any tourist. All had great food, wine, decent service, and were relatively inexpensive. Check them out if you go!
Finally, some random shots walking around, and of the city at night.