It’s an old, clichéd expression that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and exploring Italy’s capital is indeed a walk through this eternal city’s history. For first time visitors, or if you haven’t been in years, here’s our list of must see’s if you only have a short time for a Roman Holiday.
Tired of walking, hop on a vespa to see Rome from the back of a bike with Scooteroma tours.
The Trevi fountain is undergoing restorations, you can still see it, but behind scaffolding and with no water flowing—not ideal. It’s expected to be completed in the fall of 2015, but this is Rome so who knows…
Have Portrait Suites book your car service from the airport if you are not using a guide. Taxis are not always willing to go to the hotel door. If you have several pieces of luggage this can be a problem.
Check In: Sleep in style at Portrait Roma, where we felt like guests in a friend’s lavish home. The friends being the Ferragamo Family, who own this boutique hotel, a 14 room townhouse located in the heart of the city next to the Spanish Steps. The rooms are stunning and the service top notch. Though there’s no restaurant, there is an honesty bar and a lovely breakfast tray - served on the rooftop terrace! It’s also a fabulous spot for late night cocktail. We were with our older teens and it was perfect for us as a family. If you want a more bustling, full service hotel stay at the nearby Hotel de Russie.
Get it all in: To make the most of a short time, I’d recommend hiring a driver. The best driving company I found was that of Giovanni Musella. If you feel like doing a little comparative shopping, Nick Solipaca is good as well. If you go with Nick, make sure he’ll be doing the driving himself, rather than passing it along to a colleague. If you want to opt for a tour guide and driver, Angelo from Access Italy is the only one to use!
Must do: Experience ancient Rome at the Colosseum. This has to be at the top of your list! A guide is really key here, so book ahead. It’s beneficial to have someone explain the history of the gladiators and bring the building to life. Want to beat the lines? Go to the Roman Forum first, where there is rarely a line, and purchase your ticket there. It is the exact same ticket for entering the Colosseum. If you want a more exclusive experience, with no crowds, you can visit the Colosseum and the underground tunnels at night when it’s closed to the general public. You can arrange this through Walks of Italy.
Don’t Miss: The Domus Aurea was a vast palace built by the Emperor Nemo – touring the remains is a true highlight. As parts of the palace just reopened, spaces are limited so be sure to book online in advance. (The expected date for completion of the whole restoration is 2018) The tours, offered on weekends only, are led by the actual archaeologists who are working on the Domus Aurea, making the tour that much more special. How often do you get to visit a work in progress? The temperature is controlled at about 50 degrees Fahrenheit so make sure to bring a sweater.
Lunch: Armando al Pantheon is a small restaurant serving genuine Roman food. It is located right near the Pantheon (as the name suggests) and always delivers. Explore The Pantheon after lunch, a 2nd century Ad temple later converted into a church. Another option is to head to the historical districts of Testaccio and Prati and eat at Flavio Al Velavevodetto. It’s more local than the slightly touristy Armando al Pantheon. Try the ravioli – its divine.
Gelato break: Fatamorgana is one of the best gelaterias in Rome known for unique flavor combinations. Try some unusual choices such as wasabi chocolate, banana and lime or forest strawberries and calvados. If you are travelling with kids, head to Giolitti for their gelato making school. Angelo can arrange this in advance.
Dinner: Ristorante Tullio offers an elegant evening with superb service and excellent food. Tullio is considered to have the best Tuscan food in Rome. The wine list is extensive. Another favorite is Checco er Carettiere. For a more casual experience, head to La Gensola. The food alone is worth the trip to Rome!
Art fix: Villa Borghese is a beautiful park to spend time in. Children of all ages will enjoy strolling the grounds, playing in the playground or riding the go-carts. The zoo is also lovely. The Borghese Gallery is located in the park and worth a visit. Highlights include the Caravaggio collection and Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne – simply incredible. A guide here is not necessary, just rent the headphones. (Ticket reservations are needed--you can book online.)
Late morning walk: Go to the Jewish Ghetto. The Jewish Heritage Museum showcases the traditions, history and artifacts of the Roman Jewry and is located in the beautiful Great Synagogue. After your museum tour, walk through the cobblestone streets. Need a snack? Maybe lunch? The fried artichoke (carciofi) at Giggeto is famous; the pasta’s are also excellent.
The Vatican: You’ll need approximately 3 hours to explore Vatican City a huge complex comprising the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, Pope’s Palace and the Basilica of St. Peter’s. There will always be crowds, and there is no way to reserve. The best strategy is to queue up when most people are getting ready to leave for lunch, though there are no guarantees that the lines will be shorter.. For both men and women, shorts and tank tops are taboo, girls should note no miniskirts and other revealing clothing are permitted. Wear a jacket or shawl over sleeveless tops, and avoid T-shirts with writing or pictures that could risk giving offense. If you’re interested in a private visit, that can be arranged after hours. Though heavenly, it’s extremely extravagant and costly, as you have the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel all to yourself.
Pizza Snack: I always say yes to pizza, so when I was told Pizzarium is possibly the best pizza in Rome, I did not hesitate. Just a short walk from the Vatican, 15 minutes tops. Order away, there are plenty of toppings to choose from--the potato is awesome as well as the prosciutto. This is a small place, so expect a line. Another delicious pizza option is Il Forno Campo dei Fiori, located right in the heart of Rome. This is not a place where you sit down and relax - its pizza on the go.
Underground: Travel back and down in time at Santi Giovanni e Paolo and Santa Clemente, two of Rome’s oldest basilicas. Explore the subterranean chambers, a literal layer cake of thousands of years of Roman history. They reminded me of catacombs and illustrate the changes in Rome over time. We found it fascinating and a highlight of our trip.
Dinner: For a modern twist on classic Roman food, head to Agata e Romeo. Prices are a bit steep but well worth it. At Taverna Trilussa the slow roasted artichokes and fried mozzarella are must orders. The ravioli mimosa is award winning. If you are a seafood lover, don’t miss La Rosetta, truly outstanding.
Day Trip: If you have more time it’s worth the 40-minute car ride to experience the Villa d’Este at Tivoli. An incredible monastery transformed by Renaissance cardinal’s into a lavish palace. The terraced gardens and the fountains are the main attraction with hundreds of lavish fountains. Seeing it involves a walk down a steep hill and back up again, but children tend to love it. With an early enough departure, you might also manage a brief visit to Hadrian’s Villa 4 miles away.
These images have been supplied courtesy of Rome based photojournalist, Susan Wright. You can view these images and more in her recently published book entitled 'Rome Secrets'. A visual journey through Rome's backstreets and neighborhoods, hidden doorways and tucked-away gardens. 'Rome Secrets' is both an insightful travel resource and a love letter to the city, that captures Rome's atmosphere and history in spectacular detail.