In this age of COVID, travel is even more of a luxury than it ever was, and thanks to the airline industries trying to revive holiday travel, flights are more affordable than they’ve ever been, so why not discover Europe?
After two years without boarding a flight, my wife Nataly and I were just itching to go somewhere, anywhere! Then we discovered that Rome, the Eternal City, has opened its doors to vaccinated visitors who have certification of their status (and a negative COVID antigen test, taken no more than 48-hours before arrival), so we were off to the airport!
Arriving in Rome
One of the first things you should keep in mind is that Rome is the fourth most visited city in the world, so expect the airport queues to be slow and long. That means to plan on at least two and half hours from deboarding to walking out the front door and vice versa for the flight back home!
Rome’s airport is located in Fiumicino, a town on the sea about 1 hour from Rome. The best way to get to the city is via train, so make your way to the Trenitalia station. At first, you will see many windows offering tickets, but look for the official terminal and avoid the friendly touts trying to earn a commission selling you the same ticket for more.
But also keep in mind at the official window, if you just ask for a ticket to Rome, they will sell you the €16 express ticket, when you can get the 2nd class train for just €8. Alternatively, if you feel up to it, you can get your ticket at any of the automated ticket machines. The final station in Rome is called Termini.
Your best bet for getting around Rome without walking everywhere is just to buy a tourist pass (BTI) which gives visitors unlimited use of public transportation from the moment it is first validated. The 3-day BTI has a price of €16.50, the one-week card costs €24. A single-use ticket costs €1.50.
There are many affordable as well as pricey options for staying in Rome, but the key to a quick visit where you can see the most is to find something centrally located. But the closer to where all the action is, the more it costs. You can see this on Booking.com’s amazing map search.
We were lucky to book a room in a lovely tiny boutique hotel of just three rooms called Al Passetto (www.alpassetto.it) located between the beautiful Castel Sant’Angelo and Vatican City. Walkable even to the Colosseum, it has a great location and is great value for the money. The owner, Valeria, is a very welcoming host, well-known for being ready to help you with whatever you need. The rooms are nicely cozy and offer easy to access all the important sites.
Sites to See
So, what to do if you find yourself with just a couple days in Rome? Well, of course you’re going to want to see the Vatican Museum, the collections there are amazing, but the walk is long, so schedule a couple hours to see it all. Also, be sure to pre-book your tickets (www.museivaticani.va) to save more time. To get the most of your visit, download the Rick Steves free tour app and audio segments at www.ricksteves.com.
Other must-see spots of course include the famous Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon (both are free, pizza on the square of the latter is worth the tourist prices). If you’re up for it, you can preorder a ticket to the Roman Forum, which gets you into the Colosseum as well (www.parcocolosseo.it), but we recommend to just walk around and enjoy the views from the street. The entire city of Rome is a living museum and you never know what it will reveal to you unless you get lost in it!
For a great view of the Forum, find the magnificent Piazza Venezia, the central hub of Rome, where several thoroughfares intersect. Facing the grand building, walk up the road to the right of it, until you see stairs going up to Piazza del Campidoglio.
The square at the top of the Capitoline Hill was a project of Michelangelo. Walk behind those buildings and you will have the perfect vantage point to see the whole of the famous Forum. You might even enjoy the company of a brave seagull!
As for St. Peter’s Basilica, the Basilica itself is free to enter. To go to the top of the dome, however, you will need a ticket. The basic deal you will need to make with yourself is, is it worth the very long lines through security? If so, and you are determined to climb to the top of the dome, the lines are generally shorter in the morning, so get there early.
Another great bit of history to check out is Piazza del Popolo, whose center point is the Flaminio Obelisk, which was brought from Heliopolis by Augustus in 10 BC and set up on the spina of the Circus Maximus in Rome as a monument to the conquest of Egypt and as a dedication to the sun. It dates to the 13th century BC and has hieroglyphs from both Seti I and his son Rameses II. From here, head up to the hill to the Terrazza del Pincio overviewing the piazza. Behind the terrace is a lovely park to explore, Campo Marzio, where the Villa Borghese resides.
For relaxing evening strolls, be sure to check out the three fountains of Piazza Navona, the lighting is amazing! Also, check out the Marcello Theater, started by Julius Caesar and pre-dating the Colosseum, then stroll around the old Jewish Ghetto area for great Kosher dining options.
Italy is one of the food capitals of the world, so we’d like to make a few mentions on this. If like us, you are keto or low carb eaters, Rome is full of no-carb options, but still, you will want to cheat a little and enjoy some exceptional pasta and pizzas.
But be forewarned, in Rome, for every gem of a restaurant, there is a horror story waiting to happen. We won’t go into the details, except to say avoid Ristorante Delizioso at all cost (see Tripadvisor if you’re curious to know why).
Luckily, we discovered a charming little restaurant on our first night, the kind the Catholic priests come to eat at, with seating in an alley where you can hear the church bells. We stumbled on it after walking and seeing as much as we could and were justly rewarded!
This snug little place is called Voglia di Pizza (www.vogliadipizzaglutenfree.com) and is known for being a gluten-free option, they even have 5 different variants of gluten-free beer available! The pizzas looked amazing, but the pasta was heavenly, worth breaking keto for! Be sure to order the Eggplant Parmigiana for a real taste treat…
Of course, you’re going to want to eat some gelato, and here again, you have many options. But hands down, by far, the best we discovered (both in taste and in price) was Fatamorgana Gelato, with several locations and 66 Gluten-Free & 24 Vegan flavors!
We finished off our trip with a fine dinner at another off-the-beaten-path restaurant, not too far from the famous Spanish Steps, where we had the most amazing meal of our trip at Dillà (Via Mario de’ Fiori 41). The service was impeccable, the cocktail selection masterful, and the food, simply amazing.
I had the most succulent Tagliata di Manzo (sliced beef) while Nataly had Polpo (grilled octopus) and we enjoyed a Carciofo all Guidia (fried artichoke) that was very addictive. We topped off the last night of our Roman holiday with some perfect cannolis at Cremilla (www.gelateriacremilla.com) near our hotel.
Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning, with something for everyone. Salute!