When in Rome: Three Days in the Italian Capital

When in Rome: Three Days in Italy’s Capital

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After Venice, Rome was a welcome sight, though it was hardly any less crowded. While there were plenty of towns we’d visit in southern Italy toward the end of our trip that were both affordable and untainted by tourists, Rome was not that city (neither was Venice for that matter). Yet, in Rome—a city of immense size, nearly 500 square miles!—you can still find your pockets of quiet.

Rome, Italy

We took a three-hour, high-speed train to Rome, walked a few blocks and checked into our Airbnb rental, which may have been the best Airbnb rental of all time. I will say, it wasn’t cheap, though. Apparently, police in Rome take roll call, so the host is required to pay a tax of $25 per guest per night. I tell you that so you won’t have sticker shock when a listing is $250 a night at first glance, then quickly jumps to $375 a night when you factor in five additional people (it was a three-bedroom, two-bedroom flat, so we assumed six people was a reasonable amount).

Rome Aibrnb rental

Rome Aibrnb rental

Rome Aibrnb rental

Still, it was cheaper than if we’d gotten three hotel rooms, the flat was gorgeous, the hospitality was awesome, and this was our view of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore out the window:

Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome

The main reason we stayed over in Rome is because my sister and her boyfriend now fiancé had never been (nor had my dad for that matter, but he stayed holed up in the apartment the entire visit, nursing his ever-present man cold). Plus, my mom digs this stuff—her undergrad degree from Vandy is in European history—so she wanted a full week to revisit all the museums she’s seen a handful of times.

Coliseum in Rome

SVV and I stayed for three nights before renting a tiny little nugget of a car and road-tripping it to his former stomping grounds in Sicily. We didn’t have much of an itinerary planned, other than to eat all the bruschetta and gelato and drink all the wine (which might as well have been our motto for our three weeks gone in the first place).

dining out in Rome

Wine, wine and more wine. I was so wine-d out by the time we got home, that I didn’t drink for a week! (Uh, that’s a lie. I might have taken two days off….)

The first morning there, we explored our ‘hood and had baked treats and coffee from Panella, which we would also visit all the subsequent days. So. Good.

Panella bakery in Rome

Panella bakery in Rome

We then wandered down to the Colosseum, which was just about a mile from our rental pad. People kept trying to sell us the fast-tracked admission, but we stood our ground. We knew it was going to be a long wait—took just over an hour—but at least we were under the shade the majority of the time.

We didn’t mind the wait—it was a beautiful day! we were in Rome! we were all together! even after 11 nights on a small ship together, we still like(d) each other!—but I’ll let you in on a little secret, a trick to getting in quicker if you will. You can bypass the long line and skip right to the front without paying a penny extra.

Colosseum in Rome

The people who didn’t pay to skip the line were ushered to the right, while the others were sent to the front of the line to the. But once we got inside the gates, where the line still wound around for a good 45 minutes, no one was monitoring that line. I saw a whole bunch of people bypass the rope and go straight to the front of the quick line to buy the same tickets we were purchasing in the slow line. No hassle, no wait, no extra cost. Next time, we’ll know better. I can’t guarantee this works every time, but with the chaos that is “Italian order,” I bet you can figure out a hack or two of your own.

Colosseum in Rome

Colosseum in Rome

The next day was SVV’s 40th birthday—July 4; yes, I am long overdue in blogging our time in Italy—and we started the morning with a little trip to the Pope’s house. I’d been to the Vatican City before, on Good Friday as it so happens, but I’d never been to the Vatican City in the height of summer. Let me just do you a service and say if you’re planning to do a holy tour of Rome, save it for spring or fall.

Vatican City tour

I’m not much for tours, but if that’s your thing, you can buy tickets from plenty of vendors peddling their services around the square or purchase online in advance for better prices. Next time, I’ll probably just get admission to the Vatican Museums at the door—16 euro an adult and includes the Sistine Chapel—and meander on my own. The three-hour tour we went on was waaaaaay too long in my opinion, and none of us could understand a word our aggressive guide was saying.

While I got a few decent photos from the experience that I’ll share at a later date, I nearly had a panic attack as I was carried from room to room in a sea of bodies, particularly down the tight corridors that led to the Sistine Chapel.

The Vatican City in Italy

It wasn’t until the tail end of our tour in St. Peter’s Basilica that I felt like I could breathe again. I’ve never been so happy to escape a place as I was the Vatican City (made all the worse by the fact that we were all famished—our tour ran from 11am till nearly 2:30pm—and there was nowhere inside to so much as buy a packaged snack).

That night, we had a night out on the town, starting with drinks with fellow blogatrix—and founder of World Nutella Day—Sara, who has been an online friend since way back and who I met for the first time offline in San Francisco a few years ago, then walked over to Pierluigi for SVV’s 40th celebration. I mean, if it’s good enough for Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z (two of our favorites), it’s good enough for SVV.

night out in Rome

The drinks were killer, with a few of them being set on fire or served in peppers. We dined alfresco on a perfect Italian summer evening. The whole gang was there (plus Sara and her friend later on for dessert).

Pierluigi in Rome

Pierluigi in Rome

That said, while the food and experience were great, let me let you in on a little secret: Do not order the specials without asking the prices first. We shared a couple of them among the table, as well as an appetizer and drink (or three) each, and our total bill for six of us was more than 700 euro, before tip. Eek! That’s a $1000 meal when we probably only ordered a total of three entrees and the regular menu items weren’t unreasonably priced. I still think they messed up our bill, but we were all too Southern-polite to ask.

night out in Rome

night out in Rome

night out in Rome

The one thing we didn’t do on this visit to Rome was the Trevi Fountain because, well, you can see for yourself.

Trevi Fountain in Rome

UNDER CONSTRUCTION. No wishes for you!

Rome was fun, because it was our last hurrah before we parted ways—us to Sicily, Kari and Josh back to Charlotte, Mom and Dad to stay put—but I can’t claim we did much of anything other than the traditional tourist stuff. I was happy to get down south to the islands and away from the maddening crowds.

The truth is that we didn’t do much beyond the typical tourist trail, and that’s alright. Only three out of the six of us had visited Rome before, and you can’t really go there for the first time and not experience the Vatican and the Colosseum. That said, we did manage to wander into a number of family-owned restaurants for meals, which lent more authenticity to the experience than had we stayed on the main roads in the tourist hubs.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Rome? What must we absolutely not miss next time we’re back?

COMMENTS
  • December 26, 2014

    Good tip on the tax per person for the vacation rental. I am used to paying $300-$350 (ugh) for a rental here in CA, and they’re not as nice as the one you rented (and that view!). I also like that you mentioned that Rome was crowded because the last time I was there (a long time ago), I left feeling like I didn’t want to go back. It can feel so chaotic.

    • December 26, 2014

      Yeah, full disclosure: At first, party out of habit and partly because I thought the host was being unreasonable, I only said we had two people staying to avoid the surcharges, then when I realized the tax policy in Rome, I immediately felt guilty and paid for each night each of us was staying.

      I also agree on not wanting to go back to (parts of) Rome. I feel that way about the Vatican and the Colosseum, having seen them both twice, the most recent time during the height of tourist season. But we stumbled upon so many cute (deserted) streets and quaint neighborhoods that I would like to go back to see more…just not during summer months.

  • December 27, 2014

    Awesome photos. I hope to make it over to Italy next year, fingers crossed…thanks for the inspiration!

  • December 27, 2014

    I’ve only been to Rome once and spent every single night at Trevi Fountain (it was close to our hostel) so I’m sad it was under construction for you. It now has a special spot in my heart.

    My mind exploded when I saw the cocktail in a pepper!!

    • January 1, 2015

      I’ve actually been there in 2001(!), and I remember going at night with my high school friends. It was relatively uncrowded (April) and peaceful. I think I prefer having that memory than the tourist onslaught that likely would have been July at Trevi had it been open 😉

  • December 27, 2014

    Okay, several comments.

    1 — THREE HOUR TOUR?! No thank you. I’m all about the 45 minute everything.
    2 — That purple and teal dress is fierce.
    3 — Thank you for being as chronologically behind time in blogging as I am. Safety in numbers!

  • December 28, 2014
    Schuyler

    After walking through St. Peter’s I somehow got separated from the friends I was traveling with. Luckily, I was able to find the Vatican Museum easily enough and got there right as they were (supposedly) ending ticket sales for the day so I could walk through. It was insanely crowded–and when I went, there was no line to enter the building or even buy a ticket, unlike when we drove by in the morning and the line was blocks long. I ended up practically running through to get to the chapel because there were so many people/tour groups in there; I rarely feel claustrophobic but that was ridiculous. And, I didn’t realize how huge that museum was!

    I was bummed that the Trevi fountain was under construction but I guess that’s something to see if/when I go back. I also wanted to visit Castel Sant’Angelo, which I am sure would have been swamped, but still.

    Whilst in Rome we visited the place that was my favorite of our Italian trip–the Catacombs of Domatilla, and this is a place I would suggest warrants a visit on a trip to Rome. In all honesty, I wish we had visited some of the other catacombs. Domatilla, I believe, is the most extensive of them and the only one that still contains some bones. It also has a large underground basilica. I am not very religious, but was almost otherworldly for me. The one we visited (amongst others) was created so that early Christians be buried, and gather, and practice their faith, I think, as Christianity wasn’t the state religion at the time. There were a lot of things going on there as we wandered through. I was thinking about the physical differences humans have gone through (I think the guide mentioned that “roman sized” was 4-ish feet); the symbolism that was created and sometimes necessary for them to communicate with other Christians; their burial practice–they thought that the second coming was imminent, and they were simply wrapped in cloth and placed in these little cubbies in the rock. It wasn’t only–or maybe even mostly–the religious atmosphere, but the early history of the place. These places are important for art history, too, as there are paintings in some areas of the tombs. I wish we had visited some of the other nearby sites, as well as the Jewish catacombs as well.

  • December 28, 2014

    Rome is a magical place. Looks like you had a great time with your loved ones! I went to similar sights. There are so much to explore in Rome… should go back!

  • December 28, 2014

    I just love Rome! It has been a long time since I was last there though. I can’t believe the Trevi Fountain is under construction. When I was there, I missed the Sistine Chapel and swore one day I’d go back. But, if crowds are truly like that, I will just settle for photos from other people. Too many people for me!! Glad you took two days off from the wine. 😉

  • December 28, 2014
    Helen

    The Villa Borghese is a nice respite from the city. It’s a park that sits above the Spanish Steps (if I’m remembering correctly) that has a great view of the city.

    • January 1, 2015

      Excellent tip for next time I’m back. Thanks, Helen!

  • December 29, 2014

    So many lovely memories Kristin! Italy is one of our favourite countries and we’re continuously drawn back there every two years or so. In fact, my German husband wants to retire in Italy!
    It’s been years since I was in Rome and I was there for a week so I did absolutely everything a tourist should do. I went to the Vatican, the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, everything. Oh yes, a taxi driver hit on me. That was a shocker as I was younger then and didn’t know what to do. I do now LOL!
    What to do? You can pre-book the museum visit at specific times at no extra cost. Just go to their box office or go online and as you say, Spring or Autumn is best. I went in May and it was blazing LOL!
    Lovely, lovely post. 🙂

  • December 30, 2014

    I’ll be spending 10 days in italy and concluding the trip with rome.
    Your pictures are delightful! Cant wait to experience the country and have wonderful memories like you did.

    X, Carina
    Running White Horses

    • January 1, 2015

      That’s exciting! I hope you get to enjoy a lot of the Italian countryside and make it to the Amalfi Coast, as well.

  • December 30, 2014

    That’s one of the nicest Airbnbs I’ve seen! Sounds like you had a great time in Rome, despite the over-crowded Sistine Chapel!

    • January 1, 2015

      Yes, it is! I’ve had a lot of great ones in the past three years, but I think the Rome flat was my favorite yet.

  • January 1, 2015

    Yay for Rome 🙂 I love seeing that picture – it was a great evening, even if that price tag was sooo steep! Ouch 🙁

    I hope we get to hang out again soon 🙂

    • January 1, 2015

      Oh yeah, great rec from you on restaurant (we loved it!), bad call on me and the fam for not asking the prices on the specials when they pitched us on them (the listed entrees on the menu were not unreasonably priced!).

      Regardless, super fun night, and when are you coming to TN? I’ll actually be in SF at the end of February if you’re going to be back in CA…

  • January 19, 2015

    Looks like you had a great time. Rome is one of my favorite places and you really captured it. Happy Travels.

  • January 19, 2015

    Rome has that authentic unique Italian atmosphere… the people, the sounds, the foods, the monuments. It’s so beautiful and I was lucky enough to have been there twice.

  • December 8, 2015
    Jen

    Rome is one of my favorite places to visit. There is so much to do and the food is amazing! Glad you were able to share this amazing place with your family – looks like you had a wonderful time.

  • July 22, 2016

    Love this piece! Those drinks inside of peppers sound pretty wild, wish I had tried one when I was in Rome. My friends and I did visit an ice bar however which was quite a cool experience (sorry for the pun, it was right there.)

    • July 23, 2016

      Oooh, that sounds amazing! Crazy but I’ve never actually been to an ice bar in all my travels. Would you recommend it?

  • December 5, 2016

    You KNOW the founder of nutella day? She is my hero and nutella is surely the nectar of the gods!! 🙂

    We rented an apartment in Rome, too, as we always travel with the kids and sometimes grandmother and/or aunt. This gives everyone some space to spread out! YOURS though has to be the prettiest spot ever and clearly worth every penny. I have not used Airbnb but am surprised to hear about the $25 fee. OUCH!

    We’ve traveled with the kids since they were born domestically, but Rome was their first international trip. Traveling with the group of friends and families builds memories that will last a lifetime! You can take the kids and have a marvelous time.

    • December 8, 2016

      Totally! I’d definitely stay there again if we were back in Rome. The location, the setting, the set-up—all of it was perfect.

      And yes, knowing the founder of Nutella Day gives me street cred, ha 😉

  • March 2, 2017

    When i’m in Rome, i just love to walk the Via Appia Antica. No people, no sounds, the only thing you hear are the crickets

  • October 24, 2017

    Rome is a wonderful city and if the visit in autumn is even more beautiful. The days are still warm and walking in the middle of the monuments makes me happy.

  • July 11, 2018
    Cindy

    Planning our Italy anniversary trip and we’ll start in Rome, thanks for all the great tips!

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