Rome is one of the most popular stops for travellers in Europe and getting off the beaten track is easy to do.
A city famed for its history, food, coffee and culture, Rome is somewhere everyone should visit at least once. I had been briefly for a one-day whistle-stop tour and loved it, so exploring further seemed like a good idea.
There are two airports in Rome: the main airport Fiumicino (aka Leonardo da Vinci Airport) and Ciampino airport, which is where the budget airlines fly into. If you are going for a budget weekend getaway, you’ll likely be flying into Ciampino. It’s about 45 minutes from central Rome by bus which can be picked up outside the terminal. From Fiumicino there is a fast train (about €11 – takes about 40 mins) or bus service (from €4, can take an hour or so).
Where To Stay
The area around Rome Termini is where many of the budget hostels are. I stayed in the Yellow Hostel, a 5-minute walk away from Termini station. The room in a 4-bed dorm was very reasonable, only 13 euros, so I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived. The staff were friendly and the dorm was clean and well-equipped; each bed had a locker, light and plug socket – simple things that make all the difference! There was also a lively bar downstairs and lots of activities on offer. It’s a bit of a party hostel, so if you want somewhere a bit quieter, there’s lots of choice for digs. There are lots of reasonably priced hotels on Booking.com both near Termini or closer to the Vatican
Having decided to check out the walking tours on offer that day, I found a company called Free Tour Rome (which actually cost €5 to cover the admin fees). I chose a sunset tour starting at Piazza Republica at 5pm. We walked around the main sites including the Trevi Fountain and saw a sunset view of the Vatican and St Peter’s basilica – a real treat. It lasted for two hours and was a good introduction to the city. As I wanted to see a different side to Rome, I also booked a tour of the Jewish quarter for the next day. The tour guide was very knowledgeable about the local history and buildings, the Jewish community’s experiences pre and post 19 century, and a good way to get off the beaten track.
Although it’s not on the tourist trail so much, Trastevere is a quaint old neighbourhood in the south west of the centre. In terms of sightseeing it’s mostly old cathedrals and palazzos (palaces), but it’s more about the laid back vibe and eateries. It’s a great place for lazy strolling, people watching and enjoying some genuine Roman food. Bear in mind that Roman dishes tend to use a lot of offal, so you’ll find pasta with intestines (rigatoni con la pajata) or tail (coda al vaccinaria) in many restaurants.
There’s many backpackers and travellers visiting Rome so there’s lots of opportunities to meet like-minded people. The Yellow Bar at my hostel was one of the busiest in the area, closes at 4am and seems to be the hub of the local backpacker nightlife. Being a capital city, Rome seemed like the perfect place to try the CouchSurfing app’s hangout function. I had a lot of fun using the app and met some interesting people who were also backpacking around the world, but it also enabled me to meet some locals who recommended some tucked away restaurants and areas.
Food & Drink
My friend and I were recommended to try Ristorante Anni Cinquanta (via Flavia 3), a pizza restaurant close to Piazza della Repubblica by Giuseppe who lived in Rome but was originally from Naples. Naples is called the “home” of pizza so when Giuseppe declared this the best pizza in Rome, we had to try it! I had the margarita which with the fresh tomatoes and fresh mozzarella was delicious. It was great to get insights about where to go from a local!
The next day we discovered Da Simo restaurant on Via de Parione, where you can have chilled (and nice) one-euro beer out of their fridge van parked outside. We had a lovely time sitting outside in the sun, sipping our beer. They also had huge sandwiches with prosciutto and other meats and the owner was very friendly.
Feeling peckish, we later headed somewhere we had again been recommended – for more pizza! This time at Pizzeria la Boccaccia, on Piazza Pollarola opposite Hotel Sole Rome, where you get pizza by weight, cut into squares from huge slabs of pizza. We sat on the beer barrels outside, watched the world go by and ate as much of the pizza as we could manage (there was A LOT!).
Another spot I’d recommend IF you are feeling flush, was the rooftop bar at Hotel Minerva on Piazza Minerva. We went there at sunset and was treated to a beautiful view overlooking the rooftops and duomos of Rome. However, an Aperol Spritz set us back 18 euros each, so be prepared!
I recommend walking the city as much as possible to see all the sites. I would liken it to a real-life museum as every corner has another piece of history to appreciate. The Coliseum and the Forum are of course some of the must see attractions of this open air museum and at only €14 for the two it is worth the price of entry, even if you’re not that big a history buff. If you’re on a budget you can take in the view from outside both of them. If you do get a ticket get it from the entry to the Forum, not the Coliseum as the queue here tends to be huge.
If you are looking for free or cheap then the Trevi fountain is of course a wonderful stop. The Pantheon, an ancient temple still standing in the heart of the city is a short walk from the Piazza Navona – both relics of the ancient heart of Rome and free to see and enter.
An impressive view is from the Monument of Victor Emanuel II (or Altar of the Fatherland on Piazza Venezia which is “affectionately” called the wedding cake or typewriter by locals). Locals don’t like the building but I was very impressed by its grandiosity. You can get an even better view if you pay 7 euros and go up the elevator to the platform at the top. It’s just along the road from the Coliseum so it’s well located to view the landmarks.
Other things to note: Book tickets beforehand to go to the Vatican Museum and see the Cistine Chapel. Make sure you do it a few days before you want to go – and maybe more in the summer months – to ensure you get a spot. It should be €16 a ticket.
For average prices in Rome – an espresso should be around €1.50 (Cappuccino is for breakfast – get a macchiato in the afternoon); you will pay more if you want to sit outside, less if you take it at the bar. A pizza in a restaurant tends to be between €6-10, most will be around €8. A plate of pasta will be around €7-8.
A glass of wine or beer is around €4, although you will pay more in popular tourist areas and maybe even find cheaper food and drink near to student haunts.
You will want to grab a local ice cream aka gelato – prices vary by size but you can get a few scoops for around €3.There are gelato places everywhere! Ask at your hotel or hostel for the best ones in the area – everyone has an opinion! And what fun trying!
All in all, I loved Rome and highly recommend a visit so get your walking shoes on and explore!
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