Words & Photography / Zi Nguyen
Rome – the Eternal City with rich history and endless romance!
So you finally decide to visit Rome; it’s time to put together a plan of things to see, to eat, and to experience in this grand ancient city. If you’re going to be here for a couple of weeks — lucky you, you’ve got all the time to explore everything Rome has to offered. For those who could only spare a few days, the itinerary can be packed and a bucket list is something that will help to guide you through the city and make the best out of your days in Rome. In this post, I put together a ultimate bucket list of things to experience while you’re in Rome and some valuable tips that can save you time and money.
1. Check out Spanish Square and walk the Spanish Steps:
Remember the movie Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck on those beautiful stairs? Welcome to Spanish Steps! I love strolling through Spanish Square then up these stairs in the morning when there are less people to get some fresh air and let myself sink into the beauty of this view. Alternatively, you can also come here in the afternoon or at night to just sit and enjoy the sun/ nightlife. It’s a great place for people watching.
2. Get a view of Rome from above
Keep going up the Spanish Steps and follow the street on your left, you’ll get to see a beautiful view of Rome from above. Fill with old buildings and ancient brick roofs, this easily became one of my most favorite scenes of this city ever. Smoke flowing up the tunnels, birds spreading their big, white wings across the sky,… I could certainly stay here and watch the city for hours.
Sometimes it’s pretty amazing what you’ll see from above, so treat yourself a great view here.
3. Eat the real Italian gelato
Avid ice cream lover or not, the real Italian gelato is something not to miss while you’re in Rome. Because gelato contains less air and more flavoring than other kinds of frozen desserts, it has a density and richness that distinguishes it from the others. The sugar in gelato is balanced with the water to act as an anti-freeze to prevent it from freezing solid.
Our favorite place to grab gelato is Gelateria Della Palma – not so far from Pantheon. This place is always crowded but trust me, it is worth every minute of waiting. With around 150 gelato flavors, you might get a little overwhelmed (like we did) when you walk into the shop; but take you time, look around and see what you like. Here, you’ll have to pay at the cashier counter first, then take the receipt and make your way back to the gelato display to get your ice cream. After all that effort, just let yourself drown in the deliciousness of heaven.
Tips: Try their mousse! It’s definitely one of a kind.
4. Throw a coin (or three?) into the Trevi Fountain
t’s almost inevitable. Every tourist comes to Rome with a mission, that is to make it through the crowd at Trevi Fountain and throw their coins into its water.
Legend has it that if you throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain – throwing the coin with your right hand over your left shoulder and with your back to the fountain – it will ensure a return to Rome. Some say you also have to make a wish to return to Rome; so to be safe, I guess you could do both. Now that I think about it, we actually didn’t do it correctly… We did everything right except throwing it over our left shoulders. I do hope we still get to come back to Rome though, because last time we were there, we missed the Colosseum. (Don’t panic! Let me explain below).
And is it just a coin or does it have to be three? From the movie “Three Coins in the Fountain,” another legend has it that you should throw three coins – the first one guarantees your return to Rome, the second will ensure a new romance, and the third will ensure marriage. So the number of coins to be thrown is kind of based on your needs, interestingly.
5. Pizza. More pizza. And even more pizza.
If there’s one thing with a label must-do in Rome, it’s got to be to eat pizza – eat the real Italian pizza, in Italy. They are so unique and incredibly tasty; and the Italians really go wild with their pizza toppings. Many of the toppings are authentic and you won’t find them much in America, so dive in! Try all you can: from different flavors, shapes, and sizes to different crust levels of thickness. Hop from one popular pizzaria to another (Sforno, Antico Forno Roscioli, Forno Campo de’ Fiori,… ) or just judge a place for yourself as you go. The line of people waiting is nearly always a good indication of whether their pizzas are good.
6. Visit Vatican City
With an area of about 110 acres and a population of 842, Vatican City is the smallest internationally recognized independent state in the world by both area and population. That fact alone is already pretty amazing, but more than that, its door opens to everything about the Pope and the Catholic religion. And though this place is the heart of Catholicism, it’ll be equally fascinating for those who have different religions.
One of the top things to see in Vatican City is the St. Peter’s Basilica, designed by some of the biggest names in the Renaissance time. Walking through the basilica is like walking through the rich history of Catholicism, and in order to make the most out of it, I would recommend to rent an audio guide. This is certainly the most beautiful basilica I have ever seen.
7. Check Out Vatican Museums
Besides Vatican, the Vatican Museums are also worth a visit while you’re here. With an enormous collection built up by the Popes throughout many centuries, they hold some of the most renowned classical sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world. If you do have time to spare, I’d highly recommend to read the story that is associated with each artwork. You’ll understand and will have more appreciation for it.
And of course, everyone is in here to see the Sistine Chapel and its famous frescos painted by Michelangelo. It’s further inside the museums so make sure you arrange enough time to check it out. Personally, I feel like everything that leads to the Sistine Chapel is equally amazing — the Gallery of Maps is one of our favorite; the Raphael Rooms; the double spiral staircase designed by Giuseppe Momo; and many others.
Tips: Buy your ticket in advance!!! The museums’ website allows you to purchase ticket online at least 2 days in advance (no purchase within 48 hours of your visit). This will help you save 2-3 hours waiting in line without paying extra for skipping-the-line service.
8. Explore the Colosseum – Palatine Hill – Roman Forum
There’s not much to say about the Colosseum other than the fact that it should definitely be on your list. The Colosseum, built in 70-80 AD, is the largest amphitheater ever built. You’ll be standing inside a 1946-year-old masterpiece of the Roman Empire, where people once used for gladiatorial contests and other public events like animal hunts or re-enactments of famous battles.
The Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill are located in the same archaeological area as the Colosseum and they all share the same admission ticket. Each one has their own entrance; you can walk freely between the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum but the Colosseum is separate. You’ll need to exit the other two in order to get to the Colosseum. Be careful since there’s an exit that leads you out of this archaeological area; in order to get back in, you’ll have to come back to the entrance. Make sure your exit says that it is to Colosseum.
Tips: The Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and Roman Forum is free on Sundays. If you want to save €12, arrange your visit on Sunday. Another valuable tip is to buy your ticket at the Palatine Hill entrance. Tourists often visit just the Colosseum so the waiting line here is incredibly long, while there is a much shorter line over at the Palatine Hill. We got our ticket immediately without waiting at all. Make sure you make it over to the Colosseum before 4pm. We learned this the hard way. We spent the entire day exploring the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum without noticing the last entry hour of the Colosseum and ended up missing out on it. Yup. More reasons to come back to Rome, no?
9. Enjoy Italian coffee
Pick a restaurant/ coffee shop with a lovely outdoor sitting spot and order yourself a cup of coffee. It’ll quickly become your favorite self-treat activity, I’m sure. We’ve tried cafe latte/ cappuccino at a number of different places and they all tasted really good. It’s like the Italians made a vow not to screw up their coffee ever or something.
Tips: Be careful when you order your cafe latte. In Italian, the word latte means milk, and it’s not a short form of cafe latte (like how we use it in English). If you go into a coffee shop and order a latte, they’ll bring you a cup of milk. So be sure to say cafe latte!
10. Grab some snack from the Italian food truck
If you’re around People’s Square or Vatican, the odds are that you’ll see lots of food trucks. Don’t shy away from these guys; oftentimes they offer amazing street food at decent price. Also, this is a great option when you’re hopping between places and don’t have time to sit down at a nice restaurant. Grab yourself some trapizzino (pizza pockets filled with classics like meat and tomato ragu or braised chicken), pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice), supplì (fried rice balls), or pizza calzone (oven-baked filled pizza; left picture above). I’m officially obsessed with pizza calzone, street food version.
Tips: Skip buying water bottles at food trucks since they’re super pricey.