A classic stop on any European sightseeing tour, Rome, Italy is famous for its good food, architecture, art, and history. Whether you are going to Rome with the goal of seeing as many museums and historic sites as possible, or you care more about eating the food and sitting on the Spanish Steps with a gelato in hand, here are our family’s highlights from our experiences in Rome, which we hope can help guide yours. Rome is also a perfect jumping off point to see other parts of Italy, including our favorite stop in the Tuscan countryside, Cortona!
Where to Stay in Rome
As with several European cities, we recommend Italy Perfect. The company is in many ways a precursor to AirBnB, but with the ownership and management of the Bryne sisters, the apartments hosted through Italy Perfect, Paris Perfect, and London Perfect, are very carefully maintained, cleaned, and cared for.
Italy Perfect has apartments located throughout Rome, so depending on what attractions you would like to be close to, try to focus your apartment search near those neighborhoods (we recommend staying near the Trevi Fountain and Pantheon)
Where to Eat in Rome
While we ate in some amazing restaurants in Rome, it is almost laughable to give specific recommendations for restaurants. In fact, when we looked up some of our favorites on TripAdvisor after our stay, they were not anywhere near the “top rated.” There are simply too many delicious and carefully run restaurants in the city to make the top rated list. Furthermore, when we tried to walk by the places we had heard about as “amazing” before coming to Rome to eat at, they were overrun by tourists (some even had lines down the street!), we knew it would be overpriced and not as special.
Our suggestion? When you get hungry, find a restaurant nearby that has a reasonably priced menu and that looks like it’s serving good food, and go with it. Stay away from tourist attractions (for example, walk a couple minutes off of Piazza Navona rather than sitting down at a restaurant in the square (it will save you money, and chances are the food is better at the smaller restaurants). Keeping these ideas in mind, you have a pretty good chance at finding great Italian food.
Things to Do in Rome, Italy
While Rome is a bustling city, individual streets and neighborhoods give the impression of a laid back lifestyle, inviting visitors to spend time wandering and enjoying “la dolce vita.”As a family, we spent many hours doing just that, but we also made sure to hit some of the famous historic sites in Rome while visiting the city:
Built between 118-128 AD, the Pantheon stands as a historic and foreboding architectural wonder, even today. While there can be a long line to enter, make sure you do walk inside versus just viewing it from the outside.
We also loved visiting the Square in front of the Pantheon at night, as it is a bustling center corridor to many neighborhoods known for food and evening strolls. Plus, the Pantheon is lit each night to accentuate the ancient architectural features, making it a beautiful sight.
The Colosseum and the Forum
Probably the biggest tourist draw in all of Rome, the Colosseum and Forum are historic for countless reasons. In order to maximize your experience, and minimize time waiting in lines, plan to spend at least half a day (more if you want to explore the entirety of the Forum), and start at the Forum. You can buy tickets for both sites at the Forum if you go their first, thus skipping the ticketing line at the Colosseum.
Today, the Forum is set up like a large park, with walking paths connecting the various architectural ruins and exhibits. Make sure you make the most of your time there, as you cannot go back in once you leave to head towards the Colosseum. Utilize the plaques placed around the Forum, or invest in a guidebook or tour guide that can explain the significance of the different exhibits and structures in order to fully maximize your time there.
Once you have finished visiting the Forum, exit through the gate closest to the Colosseum, and find the Colosseum entrance designated for those that already have a ticket. Follow the marked walking paths and lookout points, and read the information plaques to learn more about the history and significance of the Colosseum over time.
One last thing to note: don’t go too late. While many guidebooks recommend going to these two sites closer to closing, they are large, so you can easily run out of time if you do this. By buying your tickets at the Forum, you will still be minimizing lines and crowds, which is why many suggest going later, thus allowing you to minimize crowds while giving yourself plenty of time to visit these sites.
The Vatican is a separate country within the city of Rome, and whether or not you are Catholic, it is a must-see place in Rome. Oh, and make sure you take a Passport, as you are crossing country borders when entering!
The lines at the Vatican can make the lines at the Colosseum look short. When we went, we booked a tour, which allowed us early access into the Vatican (meaning we got to see the Sistine Chapel before the general admission tours came, thus making the Chapel only about 50% full, compared to the rest of the day). While this was a bit more expensive than a general tour or general admission (and we hardly ever do tours in cities, preferring to use a Rick Steve’s book and audio headphone guidance rented from the ticketing office instead), we knew that skipping the line, the early morning tour, and guided tours through the different parts of the Vatican were important.
For those looking to skip the general admissions line while also trying to minimize tour costs, consider finding a cheap tour that includes jump-the-line admissions (but does not enter before general admission hours) to balance costs.
The Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps are an iconic location to visit in Rome. While it is important to visit it them during the day, at night they come to life. When we were there, our family sat together eating gelato about halfway up the steps a few different times. We also really enjoyed sitting on the steps in the evening to people watch.
The Spanish Steps can be entered from either the top or the bottom. No matter which way you enter, you should see it from both sides, as each gives you a unique perspective on the size and beauty of the steps.
Piazza Navona is another fun tourist destination in Rome. The Piazza is beautiful during the day but, like the Spanish Steps, comes to life at night. Restaurants, a Cathedral, and shops line the Square, which is a beacon for tourists and locals alike when enjoying a night on the town. The streets behind the Piazza’s Cathedral and the streets between the Piazza and the Pantheon were our favorite neighborhoods to explore in Rome. Both the Piazza and its surrounding neighborhoods offer plenty of people watching, good food, and cute window shopping (for both souvenirs or general shopping).
From longing lovers to young children, the Trevi Fountain is a key destination in Rome to visit to throw a penny into for a wish, and to marvel at. The Fountain is adorned with intricately crafted sculptures, which are meticulously maintained, so the historic piece of art can live on with all of its fine finishes.