Outside of my home city of New York, my favorite city in the world is Rome. I’ve spent almost half a year of my life there, and I find new things to love every time I visit.
I’m sometimes asked for advice on where to go and what to do in the Eternal City, so I’ve compiled this little guide containing my favorites. If you’re just interested in the hitlist, scroll to Itinerary. But if you’re looking for more than you can find on TripAdvisor, hang tight: more important than what to see in Rome is how to see it.
Most people who visit Rome make the mistake of packing in as much sightseeing and touring as possible, leaving exhausted and overwhelmed, ultimately having a fine experience as tourists without ever ‘living’ the city. The joy of Rome is in embodying the Italian mindset, in taking on a new skin, in adapting to the city rather than sealing yourself hermetically behind glass, behind tour guides, behind what is comfortable.
Note: Travelers to Rome often visit other places in Italy or tour around Europe. This guide is built for folks spending two to four days there. If you’ve got more time, I’ve got a few special out-of-the-way places for you that are worth the hike —drop me a tweet @franktisellano for more on that.
Rome is a historic city absolutely brimming with monuments, museums, archaeological sites, churches, and of course delicious food. It’s easy to get anxious thinking about all the things you won’t see. Don’t sweat it. Know that no matter how long you stay, you’ll miss something. Great! Use that something as an excuse to return.
Tip: Keep your schedule flexible. You can’t walk 5 meters in Rome without tripping over something beautiful. If stopping at an unexpectedly phenomenal place means you don’t get to see another phenomenal place, let it happen!
My philosophy on Rome is this: many areas of Rome will deliver a combination of delicious food/things to do with beautiful things to see. These are the best parts of Rome. Secondarily, Rome obviously has immense archaeological significance, so you’ll want to see the monuments, etc., but most of the big attractions are a little out of the way — they’re not in areas of the city that most Romans live and work in, so most of the food is crappy tourist food.
Tip: Dedicate a few hours each morning to “purely touristy” stuff, then spend the rest of the day strolling in search of delicious food. On those strolls, you’ll see incredible art and architecture (including historically important art and architecture) as part of the natural course of your stroll.
Below I’ve outlined my advice for a three day trip. Part of why I love Rome so much is how easy it is to get lost and to be spontaneous. Tip: Feel free to ignore most or all of this advice and just wing it. (Corollary Tip: Do not ignore this advice if you aren’t planning on winging it at all. The winging is the fun part.)
Many Romans, especially in tourist-heavy areas, speak at least some English. But you’re in Italy! Don’t forget the classic saying: when in Rome, don’t be a jerk. Try to speak the language!
Here are a few phrases you might find useful on your trip:
|Buon giorno/buona sera||Good morning/good evening.||Don't worry about aligning these perfectly with the time. Italians will appreciate that you've tried!|
|Dov'è il/la...?||Where is the...?||Dov'è il bagno?
Where is the restroom?
|Buono/a!||Good! (Delicious!)||La pasta è buona!
The pasta is delicious!
|Posso avere...?||May I have...?||Posso avere un cornetto?
May I have one croissant?
|Un caffè, per favore.||One coffee, please.||A "coffee" in Italy means espresso. If you'd like a longer, American-style coffee, order un caffè Americano.|
Entering the City
Keep your eyes peeled on your way from the airport into the center of the city as you pass under the Aurelian Walls. They’re massive, 1700-year-old walls built to protect the ancient city.
Do in the morning to avoid crowds. If there’s a tour offering to skip the line for a small fee, it’s often worth it, especially in the Vatican.
- Roman Forum/Palatine Hill
- Altare della Patria
- Trajan’s Market/Trajan’s Column
- La Bocca della Verita, the Mouth of Truth (pretty boring, honestly — I don’t think it’s worth the line — you can see it from outside without doing the tour)
- St. Peter’s Square (Vatican)
- Musei Vaticani/Sistine Chapel (requires at least a few hours — it’s a long tour)
- Lots of other stuff in the Vatican if you’re interested
- Villa Borghese — beautiful views of the entire city. A little hike to get here, but worth it to spend time in a quiet park.
Delicious Food and Beautiful Sights on the Way
In the spirit of continuous improvement, I’ll be updating this list over time. It is incomplete. I’ll add new items as I think of them.
- Piazza Navona
- Fountain of the Four Rivers — a masterpiece by Bernini — right in the center of the piazza
- Incredible food around here. Just don’t eat at any of the restaurants in the piazza. They’re tourist traps with frozen food.
- Best Gelato: La Gelateria Frigidarium
- Take a detour to Castel Sant’Angelo before going back through the piazza toward Campo de’ Fiori.
- Campo de’ Fiori
- Great food around here, too. Many of the restaurants in the piazza are actually quite good.
- Baccanale is a good little shop/window for pizza and panini for carrying on your walk or eating by the fountain.
- Favorite Restaurant: Roscioli. Carbonara that makes my knees buckle. They also have a bakery that makes great little pizzette and other lunch-type snacks that will sustain you on your long walks.
- Must-see, inside and out. The building is nearly 2,000 years old and is absolutely awe-inspiring.
- Food in this piazza is also solid. Worth a stop in for a panino.
- There’s a famous coffee shop around here called Tazza d’Oro. Italy is famous for good coffee, but lots of coffee in Italy is bad. This place makes excellent coffee.
- Via Veneto/Via del Corso/Spanish Steps
- Fancy shopping streets with expensive stuff. Leads to the Spanish Steps. Famously, Italy’s first McDonald’s is around here. Don’t go there.
- These places are also beautiful:
- Piazza del Popolo
- Trevi Fountain
- Random Favorite Restaurants: