Hi there! This is the last of my three Italy recap posts. In this post, I’ll be writing about some of my favorite activities in Rome , my favorite foods/restaurants in Rome, and the best way to get around Rome!
My Favorite Things To Do In Rome*
*not in any particular order because I can’t imagine how I would put these in order
You cannot go to Rome and not visit the Vatican. I mean, I guess you can. But don’t. Technically, Vatican City is its own country, but I won’t bore you with the details. My #1 tip for seeing the Vatican is to book a tour. Seriously. Don’t go without a tour. My reasoning is two-fold. First, the Vatican Museums are enormous. There are 54 galleries filled with beautiful art and sculptures and, unless you have the time and resources to really do your research, I think you’ll just be too overwhelmed to really appreciate it. A tour guide can show you the highlights, give you interesting tidbits of history that aren’t always in the guidebooks, and answer any questions you might have. Second, even if you want to do your own research, the line to get into the Vatican without a tour can take hours. If you are only in Rome for a few days like I was, you don’t want to spend hours standing in line. Most tours allow you to skip the line, and some tours even allow you to go in front of the skip the line tours. We booked our tour through Viator with City Wonders.
My favorite part of our Vatican tour was the Sistine Chapel. Although tour guides are not allowed to give tours inside, our tour guide, Francesca, told us about the layout of the Sistine Chapel and what we could expect in each portion of the chapel. She also gave us some interesting factoids about some of the paintings. For example, in The Last Judgment, which takes up an entire wall of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo had painted a very unflattering picture of the Pope’s Master of Ceremonies, Biagio da Cesena, in Hell. When Biagio complained to the Pope, the Pope responded “My jurisdiction does not extend to hell, so the portrait will have to remain.” Pat and I both found that pretty funny.
Regardless of season, I recommend comfortable shoes. Also regardless of season, you must dress modestly. Yes, even in the scorching heat. That means no shorts, and nothing that shows off your shoulders or midriff. Yes, you will be uncomfortably hot. I wore a long dress with a very light cardigan that I tied around my purse after we left. I recommend lightweight clothes if it’s a hot day.
This was a last minute addition to our itinerary, but it was so worth it and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a nice glass of wine. Vino Roma‘s motto is: “Drink wine. Not too much. Mostly Italian.” I’m not sure we really made it on that second rule, but we did fall in love with Italian wine.
We learned so much at this wine tasting. Seriously, Pat and I walked away with pages of notes. I really want to go into the details about the wines we tasted and what we learned about Italian wine, but that would make this post incredibly long, so I will likely do a separate post just on our experience at Vino Roma. In short, our sommelier explained to us the proper way to taste wine, and then introduced us to six very different wines, all hailing from different regions of Italy. He also explained that, in Italy, food is ordered first, and wine second, because wine is meant to complement the food, rather than be enjoyed on its own. I found this really fascinating because, in America, it’s the total opposite. We order drinks first, then we decide on dinner.
We left feeling like we knew a lot about how to pair wine with food, how to do a proper wine tasting, what region of Italian wine we enjoyed most, and how to tell the good wines from the cheap ones. I would love to find something like this class in America, where the wines are classified more by grape variety than by region.
The Jewish Ghetto
I’ll admit that I may be somewhat biased as to this area because I am Jewish and interested in Jewish history. The Roman Jewish community is the oldest in Europe. The Jewish Museum was interesting and worth a visit, but the Great Synagogue (which can only be visited with a staff member from the Jewish Museum) is the highlight. If you’re Jewish or have been to many synagogues, you know that most of them are rather plain. The Great Synagogue, however, is absolutely stunning. It also has the only square dome in the city of Rome! I didn’t mean to rhyme, but I’m glad I did. At the Jewish Museum, you can sign up for a walking tour of the Jewish Ghetto, complete with history from its formation in the 1500’s to World War II.
Even if you’re not interested in Jewish history, the Jewish Ghetto is worth a visit. It’s very pedestrian-friendly and a great place to stroll around. Nonna Betta is one of the best restaurants we visited in Rome, and the Jewish artichoke is unlike any artichoke dish you’ve ever tasted.
The Colosseum/Roman Forum/Palatine Hill
This is kind of a “duh” but I do have some advice on how to visit. If you visit the Colosseum, I recommend booking a tour to skip the line. Like the line for the Vatican, the line to enter the Colosseum can get incredibly long, and you don’t want to waste precious hours in Rome waiting around, especially in the summer when it’s very hot.
I recommend booking a tour through Viator for the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and the Palatine Hill. Our tour, which took just under three hours, gave us the opportunity to enter the Colosseum through the Gladiator entrance. We got to experience the view that the Gladiators had when they entered the Colosseum. You can only get to that level of the Colosseum with a tour guide, and it’s a unique experience. I definitely recommend it. What I don’t recommend is ever being a Gladiator. Our tour guide told us that, aside from fighting to the death, Gladiators also had to deal with surprise animals, floods, and fires being thrown into the ring if things got too boring. Yikes!
These tours require a lot of walking, so if you’re going in the summer, make sure you wear sunblock and carry water (there are water fountains available at the Colosseum and in other places on the tour). Regardless of season, comfortable shoes are a must, not only because of the length of the tour, but also because there are some slightly rocky areas.
The Trevi Fountain is iconic. It’s the most popular fountain in Rome, and the largest baroque fountain in the city. You can see the Trevi Fountain in movies such as La Dolce Vita, Roman Holiday, Three Coins in the Fountain, and, most importantly, The Lizzie McGuire movie. Hey now, hey now! This is what dreaaaaaams are made of. But I digress.
Throwing coins into the Trevi fountain is a tourist tradition in Rome. Throwing a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder ensures that you will return to Rome. A second coin ensures new romance. Pat kept joking about throwing in a second coin. Ha. Ha. Rude. A third coin ensures marriage! I’m not sure if throwing three coins cancels out the second new romance coin, but I threw only one coin in, just in case.
This area can be extremely crowded during the day, but less so if you visit later at night or early in the morning. Even during the day, though, if you’re willing to push through the crowds (aka if you’re from NYC), you can definitely get up to the actual fountain and get some cool pictures. PS Coins are donated to charity, so you can feel good about doing something super touristy!
My Favorite Foods from Rome
Pat’s reaction the first time we ate this dish was “This is so good, I might cry.” All’ammatriciana is a very simple pasta dish, made with a specific sauce. The sauce includes guanciale (pork jowl), tomato sauce, and parmesan cheese, with a variety of spices. I want to recreate it at home, but I’m a little nervous about working with pork jowl. Any tips? The best all’ammatriciana we had was at La Tavernaccia, a restaurant a bit off the beaten path, but close to our Airbnb. We went back to La Tavernaccia a total of three times on our four-day trip to Rome. That’s how good it was.
(This picture is not from La Tavernaccia because I was too busy drooling over my food there to take a picture)
We ate a lot of baked goods in Italy, but the maritozzi is one of the most indulgent baked goods I’ve eaten in my whole life. A maritozzi is a half sweet bun filled to the brim with a very dense whipped cream. I mean, it was bursting with whipped cream. I recommend this with an espresso or two. It was incredibly delicious, and I would be very impressed to find someone who could eat more than one of these babies. Don’t leave Rome without trying one. Or splitting one, if that’s your jam (I ate my entire bun, thank you very much).
We had this dish a couple of times, but the best carciofi alla giudia we had was at Nonna Betta. The artichoke is deep fried in olive oil, seasoned only with salt and lemon. The artichokes are submerged in water first, to soften them, and then fried to a crisp. They turn out both soft and crispy. It’s a difficult mouth feel to describe, so just trust me, and go for it. You won’t regret it. And, if you do, it’s just an appetizer, and there’s more delicious food where that came from.
I should mention, if anybody who keeps Kosher is reading this, that Nonna Betta, despite its location in the Jewish Ghetto, is not actually Kosher. It’s actually “Kosher style.” The good news is that it’s open on Friday nights and Saturdays, unlike other restaurants in the Jewish Ghetto. But if you’re specifically looking for a Kosher restaurant in Rome, my recommendation would be La Taverna del Ghetto. It’s pretty small, but the food there was very good.
My other recommendations are to start every morning with a cappuccino and a cornetto (croissant), eat a lot of pizza, drink plenty of wine, have a daily gelato (don’t be afraid to try new flavors), and try a tiramisu while you’re there.
The Best Way to Get Around Rome
I highly recommend purchasing a multi-day ticket from the metro station. They offer a 24-hour pass, a 48-hour pass, and a 72-hour pass. We purchased the 72-hour pass for our stay. I believe that the price for that pass was 18 euros. The pass was valid for unlimited trips on the metro, bus, train, and tram for 72 hours from the moment it’s validated. We could get anywhere in Rome using our passes, and we absolutely didn’t regret buying them. It was much cheaper than buying a pass each time we got on a form of public transportation and much, much cheaper than using taxis. The only thing this pass isn’t valid for is the Leonardo Express, which allows for a quick trip from the airport to the city center.
I should note that, when getting on the bus, tram, or train, you don’t actually show anyone your ticket. What you do is scan it in one of the machines that you will see inside of the bus, tram, or train. It didn’t happen to us the entire time we were there, but officials will sometimes come around to ensure that people have validated their tickets, so don’t forget to do this. I’m not sure what happens if you forget, but it probably involves a lot of loud Italian and maybe a ticket? Don’t quote me on that. This rule doesn’t apply on the metro because you’ll need to use your ticket to enter the metro, similar to most major cities.
Welp, that’s it. I’m kind of sad to end my Italy recaps because it has been super fun to relive this vacation. In happy news, I did throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain–so I’ll be back!