The Ultimate Rome Travel Guide

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They say all roads lead to Rome.  Twelve years ago I felt the pull of the Eternal City as I selected my study abroad location.  As a history major, it doesn’t get any cooler than studying THE empire on its home turf.  My time overseas ignited my passion for travel — I wanted to see and remember everything!  I started tinkering with my first camera, and set out to explore every inch of the city.  Rome became part of my personal identity — so much so, that years later my boyfriend surprised me with a return trip, saying that he would never really know the full Jillian until he walked the city streets with me.  Smart guy.  I married him.


Why should you consider Rome for your own travel bucket list?  Choose Rome if you’ve ever wanted to feel as if you’re traveling back in time.  The old cobblestone roads whisper stories of the past, and buildings from antiquity still proudly stand as a backdrop to the city skyline.  It’s a history lover’s paradise, and even if you’re not a history buff, you’ll soon find yourself throwing on the soundtrack to Gladiator and envisioning the past.  The people are warm and friendly, the food is delicious, and it really is the place to experience “la dolce vita.”  This ultimate Rome travel guide has everything you need to know for planning a romantic getaway to the Eternal City, including options for luxury hotels, my favorite restaurants, and most memorable experiences.  

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    For your Planning Purposes

    Getting there:  If you’re coming from another European city by train, you’ll arrive at Rome Termini station, which is located within walking distance to many hotels.  Rome’s international airport, Fiumucino, is located approx 40-50min outside the city.  To get to the city center, you can hire a taxi or Uber.  Alternatively, there is a high speed train that departs for Rome Termini train station (located downtown) every 30 minutes.  It’s very reliable and easy to use – I suggest doing so if you’re traveling light or without kids.  If you’re traveling with kids (and thus with a lot of luggage, you may want to splurge for a car transfer).  


    Getting around:  Rome’s public metro is reliable and easy. They have 2 main subway lines that can take you just about anywhere in the city.  If you’re staying in the city for 72 hours, you can purchase a RomaPass for 38 euros, which will allow non-stop use of all public transportation.  However, this is a walking city and the best way to see it is by foot!  It is not recommended to rent a car – the driving is…aggressive, and parking limited.


    When to visit:  Rome is blessed with mild Mediterranean climate all year long.  The average temperature is in the 60’s.  Spring and Fall are optimal months to visit, as the weather is warm, but the crowds have not yet descended upon the city (exception: Easter).  Summer is the high season, so expect hot temperatures and expensive pricing for hotels and other services.

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    What to do in Rome

    Highlights if you're in a hurry!

    • Take the time to see the Colosseum and Pantheon:  It’s easy to fill your entire itinerary with sightseeing – it can be somewhat overwhelming figuring out where to go first!  All the ancient monuments are worth your time, but my two favorite historical hot spots are the Colosseum and the Pantheon.  The Colosseum still proudly stands after 2,000 years -- even if you’re not a history buff, you would not want to miss seeing the backdrop to some of your favorite movies.  I suggest hiring a guide to help bring the ancient structures to life, or you can take a night tour of the Colosseum for an off-the-beaten-path experience.  My other favorite ancient monument is the Pantheon.  This one feels like a secret -- it's tucked in between small ancient alleyways. Don’t forget to actually enter inside to see the oculus in the ceiling.  It’s a cool spot to check out in the rain too.


    • Take the Scavi Tour:  If you can only take one tour in Rome, this is what you want to see.  The Scavi tour takes guests below St. Peter’s Basilica to the preserved ancient streets of the city.  It is believed that St. Peter is buried in this location and dates back to the 1st century A.D.  Tickets book out months in advance, so if you want to step back in history, reserve your spot early!
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    Ready to explore the Eternal City?  Need some advice on how to skip lines or figure out tours to prioritize?  Check out this article to help plan your trip:

    • Go to a soccer game…I mean it!  I’m not a diehard soccer fan (blasphemy, I know), but a true Roman experience means attending one of these games.  Soccer fans bring the sports arena energy to a whole new level — imagine flags constantly waving, thousands of Romans singing the team’s anthem, and even a firework or two may suddenly go off.  To attend an A.S. Roma game, go here to purchase tickets.  Sit on the “curva sud” side, and arrive early to hear the Romans sing for their team.  (That’s the best part!).  


    • Relax in Piazza del Popolo and Piazza di Spagna:  It can be easy to switch into go-go-go mode as a tourist in Rome – there is simply so much to see!  However, simply sitting in a piazza with some gelato in hand can really be one of the best experiences.  Make sure to pencil in some downtime and enjoy my 2 favorite piazzas in the city -- Popolo and Spagna. 


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    Luxury Accomodations in Rome

    When I lived in Rome, an old apartment complex near the Vatican became my home.  However, as I explored the streets everyday, I took note of the beautiful hotels, carved into the old city walls.  I knew I’d want to return one day as a guest in one of these accommodations.  Four years later, my wish came true on a romantic Roman get-away with my now-husband.  Here are some of the best luxury accommodations in the Eternal City for a couples trip, including both personal favorites and properties on my future-visit wish list.

    My Pick

    • Hotel Hassler- Sitting atop the Spanish Steps, this hotel is right in the middle of the action without feeling overrun by tourists.  The service is excellent and they have a delicious breakfast spread in the morning.  Don’t forget to spend time on the rooftop terrace which has panoramic views of the city.  It was a dream come true to stay at this accommodation, as I always admired it on my walks through the city.   

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    I Also Considered These Hotels

    • Hotel de Russie- Located between Piazza del Popolo and the Spanish Steps, Hotel de Russie is one of the most luxurious hotels in the Eternal City.  However, it’s 5-star without having a “loud” presence.  When you enter through the front doors, you’ll find a quiet garden and private terrace waiting for you – one that you wouldn’t even know existed next to the hustle and bustle of Rome!


    • J.K. Place Roma - This boutique hotel won my heart in Florence (their original location) when I stopped by one day for lunch.  Ever since that lunchtime experience, I’ve always had this brand bookmarked on my hotel bucket list!  They now have locations in Rome and Capri, and are famous for their beautiful interiors, stellar service and prime locations.  


    • St. Regis Rome - Walking into the St. Regis, you’ll feel as if you’ve entered a Renaissance-era palace.  The St. Regis is all about fine luxury, which you’ll experience in their spacious suites and elegantly adorned lobby.  To me, this one screams “La Dolce Vita,” and would be an unforgettably pampered hotel experience.
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    The Best Restaurants in Rome

    For Pasta

    I thought I knew what great pasta tasted like, but then I lived in Rome.  Handmade, fresh pasta will melt in your mouth!  Did you know there are over 400 types of pasta in Italy? Mamma Mia!  Here are some of my personal favorites and other popular choices that came highly recommended:

    • Ambasciata d’Abruzzo- Somehow I didn’t discover this one until I returned years after I lived there.  It’s a short drive outside the city and worth the effort to get there.  Order the artichoke pasta. 


    • Renato e Luisa-  This became my special occasion go-to restaurant and it never disappoints.  Make reservations well in advance.  They are known for their cache e pepe (a famous Roman dish).


    • L’arcangelo:  Thursday is gnocchi day in Rome!  Stop by this restaurant for authentic gnocchi plates.  

    For Pizza

    • My favorite local spot is Pizzeria da Baffetto.  The line starts at 6:30pm, and it’s worth the wait!  


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    For Gelato

    Daily consumption of delicious gelato is a must-do experience in Rome, but how you eat gelato also matters.  Don’t just buy a cone and scarf it down in a hurry!  You may end up staining your shirt, as my husband learned the hard way.  Instead, find a piazza to sit down and enjoy the flavors. 

    • My favorite place is Old Bridge Gelateria — grab a scoop after dinner and take a stroll through the quiet streets near the Vatican.


    • Giolitti - This is one of the most famous gelaterias in the city.  It's around the corner from the Pantheon and has plenty of flavors to choose from.


    • Fatamorgna - This artisan gelato shop has taken Rome by storm!  They’ve even opened up some stores in the US.

    For A (Daytime) Drink

    • Caffe Sant’Eustachio - This is one of the most famous coffee/espresso shops in the city.  They focus on high quality ingredients, and have been doing so since 1938!


    • If you visit in the spring or summer, order a spremutta — it’s delicious fresh squeezed orange juice, and you can find them in local trattorias.  


    • Babington’s:  If you’re like me -- a tea lover -- then at some point during your Roman holiday you’re going to miss having the right cup of tea.  Romans may have nailed pizza, pasta, and espresso, but tea is not the star of the show in this city.  Luckily, the English tea room at Babington’s will satisfy your tea-fix. 

    For a Future Visit

    • A unique Roman style food is deep fried artichokes.  This dish is most commonly found in the old Jewish Quarter of the city.  


    • Suppli Roma - Suppli are deep fried balls of rice, tomatoes and mozzarella.  Yum!  The most popular spot for this street food is Suppli Roma, in Trastevere.


    • Panficio Bonci - Known as one of the best bakeries in the city, Panficio Bonci has chocolate filled croissants, focaccia and other baked goods ready to go when the sun rises.  Stop by to try their pizza too. 

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    Tips for traveling to Rome

    • Don’t rush Rome:  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I don’t suggest trying to see it all in 1 day…or 2, or 3.  Rome is a rather large city!  You’ll end up sacrificing quality for quantity by cramming your itinerary.  At the very least, spend 4-5 days in Rome in order to take it all in.  Not sure how to lay out your vacation?  You can access the exclusive Compass Roam downloadable Rome itinerary by clicking the link!


    • Limit yourself to 1-2 major sites per day and go early:  As an addition to the above point, I’d recommend visiting just one (maybe 2) of the major attractions per day.  If you try to do more, you’ll spend most of your vacation in lines.  Additionally, museums and sites are less crowded in the morning, and some even open at 7am. 


    • Take advantage of summer hours at museums:  Many museums stay open later in the summer months.  If you can go later in the day, it’s another good tip for avoiding longer lines. 


    • Look up museum hours before planning your itinerary:  Many museums are closed on Mondays in Rome, and some Churches have limited availability on Sundays.  Plan accordingly.


    • Expecta'-a-siesta:  Many Italian shops close from around 1-3pm everyday, as store owners head home to enjoy a lunch with family and a short nap.  Know this ahead of time so you’re not disappointed while shopping.


    • Dinner is at 8pm and is not rushed!:  Italians generally eat a later lunch and dinner than Americans may be used to.  While some restaurants do open “early” (i.e. 7:30pm) for tourists, locals usually don’t arrive until 8-9pm.  Dinners also run 2-3 hours.  In addition, waiters will never rush you out by bringing the check.  If you need the bill, you have to ask for “il conto” on your own. 


    • You don’t need to tip waiters:  This one always feels a bit weird, but it is true!  Italian waiters are paid a competitive wage, and don’t expect tips.  If you received excellent service you could leave 1 euro/person.  However, it’s not expected. 


    • Wear comfortable shoes:  This is a walking city!  Italians may make the most fashionable boots, but I would not recommend those for everyday treks as a tourist.  Pack a pair of comfy and durable walking shoes.


    • Ladies- bring a scarf for churches:  It’s required to have your shoulders covered in many of the churches.  It’s a good idea to have a scarf on you just in case you need to throw it on.  


    • You have to pay to sit down in a coffee shop:  When you walk into a cafe in Rome, you’ll notice locals standing by the bar slurping their cappuccinos.  Why don’t they take a load off and rest their feet?  In the U.S., while we might enjoy our coffee and pastry at a table, it actually costs extra to sit down in Rome.  Therefore, if you choose to sit, you'll notice a "coperto" charge on your bill. It's usually a small  fee. 
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    Day Trip Options from Rome

    • Orvieto - Ninety minutes north of Rome is the stunning Etruscan hilltop town of Orvieto.  This one is worth the train ride if you have an extra day built into your itinerary.  The town has stood for centuries on top of a hill, with the high outcrop providing protection from attacks.  Today you can tour the cathedral in town, and explore the many shops and boutiques that line the narrow alleys.


    • Ostia Antica- One hour outside of Rome is Ostia Antica, the ancient port and naval base of the Roman Empire.  It is still possible to view the ruins of the baths, theater, temples, houses and government buildings; Ostia is one of the largest excavated sites in Italy!


    • Tivoli- Tivoli was the popular vacation choice for emperors of the Roman Empire.  Emperor Augustus had a summer villa there, and it’s still possible to view Hadrian’s Palace.  You can also tour the UNESCO World Heritage site, Villa d’Este in the town of Tivoli.  The sites of Tivoli are approx 40 minutes outside the city.

    That's a Wrap

    Rome will always have my heart -- it will always feel like home and is an incredibly special city.  It's magical to explore as a student, even better returning to fall in love, and one day will be a blast exploring with kiddos.  If you're thinking of adding Rome to your travel-list, move it to the top and make it happen PRONTO!

    I hope this article has inspired your own getaway to Rome.  If you have any questions, or your own travel tips, please leave them in the comments below.  Also, don't forget to sign up for the monthly newsletter, packed with travel tips, upcoming news, and access to FREE destination itineraries.

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