When I visited Italy, I only had two weeks to explore. And while the Megabus was my affordable best friend, the long bus rides didn’t leave me with much time to dedicate to the many great Italian cities. Instead, I concentrated on a select four destinations - including Rome, of course. I only had four days in Rome and made the best of it by learning to cook signature Roman meals, eating my way through history, and taking the reins to explore at my own pace. Here are my first hand experiences and tips on where to stay and what to see and eat while on vacation in Rome, Italy.
What to Eat:
Pasta, Secondi, & Dolci!
You might remember that I am now a self-proclaimed Roman chef. Actually I have the certificate to prove it, if you are doubting me, so BYE.
I chose to learn how to cook some signature Italian foods with One Day Chef and am feeling extra boss about it. Located in the Eternal City, One Day Chef has open concept kitchens and offers the opportunity to book group cooking classes or private courses. You get to cook traditional dishes (pasta, a second dish, and/or dessert) and receive a free chef’s hat and apron - not to mention personalized Mateo-approved certification.
Pricing is a bit steep for the average backpacker, but not far from what it would cost at any day cooking course in the States or western Europe. I think it is ideal for families, couples, and groups. On the plus side, the menu can be customized if you want it to be. To learn more, visit their website >>
Historical Food Tour
Another way to experience the culinary history of Rome is to actually book a full-on food tour. I think Vinicultural Food Tours rock and would be the perfect choice if you want to skip restaurant dining and eat through the streets of Rome.
As you might’ve noticed by the company name, Vinicultural Tours is more than a food tour establishment. The sommelier owner specializes in wine tour experiences as well as craft beer. We decided to stick with the food on this particular tour, though, as we’d been drinking way too much (...but howwww much is too much, exactly?).
This full force food tour started in the Jewish Quarter (and we still tell friends about our history lesson in the Jewish Ghetto), and included Jewish artichokes, baccala, and zucchini flowers, and then moved on to different types of pizza, roman pasta, gelato tastings and training, and wine - of course. Learn more about the tour here >>
What to See:
We decided not to book any site tours in Rome and venture out on our own. There are so many things to see that it really becomes overwhelming, so we went at our own pace and saw what we could without running ourselves into the ground. So, here are some photos of the places I had enough time to see and tips on how you can make it all fit into your 4-day trip.
First: On Visiting the Vatican
I have a confession. I didn't visit the Vatican. I tried to. Multiple times. But the lines were astronomical and group tour prices were outrageous (they can help you actually get in past the line). Since we were tight on time, Alex and I discussed it and decided we didn’t really care if we missed it. We knew we’d return to Rome in the future and it honestly just didn’t feel that important to us (yes, I know it is important to Rome and history but just not to me, okay?). To this day I don’t regret that decision. HOWEVER, if you want to see the Vatican I can tell you that I learned a few things while trying to get in:
- Don’t think you are getting in within reasonable time without a tour guide
- Don’t think you are getting in (period) if you don’t arrive extra early
- Shoulders, legs, and cleavage should be completely covered (do you see how that just wasn’t going to work for me? Just kidding, just kidding!)
- You can book your ticket online a day before your date ahead of time up to 60 days in advance. Availability might be low for your preferred date though, so don't go too last minute.
We were so lucky with our visit to the Colosseum. We went on a weekday in the afternoon and literally JUST made it before closing. This was awesome because most people come with tours or want to spend the whole day there. We were fine with just being there for an hour.
We waited on (a very pushy) line and purchased our tickets for about 16 euros (which also grant access to the Forum and Palatino). While most people come in with tours or pay extra for an audio guide, we gave ourselves a tour by following the signs that tell us which areas to look at and reading the captions printed. There was even a museum section within the Colosseum that really provided awesome insight to the nooks and passages of the structure.
I was glad we did it this way; a few times we overheard guides talking and to be honest, they weren’t saying anything we didn’t already read on the signage, so we made a good choice and saved some money while learning the chilling stories about Gladiators, criminals and slaves, and animals fighting.
Tip: You can take a cheesy photo outside the Colosseum with costumed “Gladiators” if thats your thing...
San Giovanni in Laterano
If you want to walk freely around some holy gigantar statues, in the motherlode of all basilicas this is the place. The Archbasicila is even ranked higher than St. Peter's Basilica, as it is the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome. So boom, go there.
The Holy Stairs
I stumbled upon the holy stair by accident while visiting the Archbasilica. There was an anxious crowd waiting outside of its gates and I thought something felt important about it. Little. Did. I. Know....
They were waiting to crawl up the friggin' Holy Stairs! What is that, you ask? The Scala Sancta are supposedly the white marble steps Jesus walked up before going to trial. St. Helena (Constantine's mother; 4th century) apparently brought them to this building in Rome that also is the early Popes' first chapel.
Oh and I forgot: you have to climb these steps on your knees, saying a prayer at each of the 28 steps. Don't worry, there's wood covering/protecting the steps so your sinful knees won't damage it.
The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill:
Near the Colosseum is the Roman Forum and Palatine. Along with your Colosseum ticket you get 2 days to view it all, which is awesome because touring Rome requires naps.
If you want to visit without a guide, there's an awesome map from citiesinsound.com that tells you exactly what you're seeing and what order to see it all in.
The Pantheon is a popular destination (and free) to visit if you are looking for monumental sights. Up until the 15th century, the roof of the Pantheon was the largest dome in the world.
Though under construction during my visit, I heard the Trevi Fountain is a sight to see when it is not covered in scaffolding and tarp. There is tons of shopping and photo ops in the area so it is totally worth the walk over.
Where to Stay:
Rome is booming with tourism and hotels are everywhere. But they can get pricey - or crappy - really quickly. Depending on what you are most interested in doing, there are a number of areas you can choose from to book your temporary abode.
One of the hotels I stayed in was called Hotel Lancelot. Located conveniently near the Colosseum, Lancelot is a quaint mid-range hotel with balconied bedrooms. Throw me a terrace/balcony and cafe seating and you’ve got a fan for life!
Their bedrooms were huge, but the in my particular room, the beds I slept in fell short for me. That said, I booked last minute and got two twin size beds so I think they just were too small for the room. What the beds lacked, though, came tenfold in the bathroom with a shower that offered water pressure and hot water for days — when you travel a lot this becomes a rarity. Here are some photos and a link to the hotel website if you are interested >>
Another option: Aurelius
If you are dying to visit the Vatican, I found Hotel Aurelius to be perfectly located. Albeit far from places like the Forum, it’s just a 20 minute walk from the Vatican and less than 10-minute walk from the subway.
Hotel Aurelius offers a hearty breakfast, really great customer service, and decent sized rooms. The staff there are quite proud of their brand and exude so in their mannerisms. The cons? The internet was shotty while I was there, but the owner said they’d been having a line issue. If you are just looking to text and send email - no big deal. If you need to upload photos to a blog, like me, you might be extremely annoyed.
I liked staying at Hotel Aurelius because of its distance from crowded areas (I needed a break from other tourists) and its vicinity to the Vatican and metro.
When Are You Going to Rome?
There you go! That's an easy guide to help you enjoy four days of vacation visiting Rome, Italy while enjoying great food, historical sites and stories, and a beautiful place to rest your head.
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