1) Don’t cut it short
No matter what anyone tells you, don’t cut your trip to Rome short. All of the major attractions in Rome can be “glanced” at in under a day (we did this, twice over) however if you really want to even scratch the surface of the history of this metropolis, consider staying on atleast 5 days. Read as much as you can process about the architecture, art and sculpture so you can appreciate the most treasured ruins of the world. But be forewarned that truly understanding Rome is a different feat altogether. I had my head spinning from reading the various guidebooks and texts to place everything in context. The entire city is an archaeological goldmine and every year newer sites are discovered dating back 1000 years while life above ground continues business as usual. As our tour guide explained, Everything you see in Rome is the past, present and the future – all at once.
Some of the material that helped us with the research were the Metropolis series on Netflix, Rick Steves Rome on YouTube, The Blue Guide Rome among others.
2) You can walk everywhere
If you stay in the centre of Rome (which you must), everything you must see is at a walkable distance. It is also highly recommended that you walk this city to fully experience its surprises and also because public transport within the centre is not very reliable. We stayed in a neighborhood near the Colosseum and were able to walk to the Vatican across the Tiber in under an hour. This was end of December, so walking in summer might be a breeze in comparison! Just carry a comfortable pair of shoes, a map and an appetite to sample all the good stuff you see along the way!
3) Stay with locals
Ditch the hotels and stay with an Italian family in a bed and breakfast instead. Though this is a useful tip for most places, it makes most sense to do this in Italy as Italians like Indians live in big joint families in traditional compounds. We stayed in one such ethereal Air B&B property around Via Delle sette sale with a piece of history attached to its inception. Sharing walls with the compound of San Pietro in Vincoli which is home to Michelangelo’s Moses. Our hosts gave us excellent insight into the local life with their recommendations and tips and the icing on the cake for us was a home style three-course Christmas dinner prepared by them in our B&B kitchen(We still have dreams about that mean amatriciana sauce!) It was one of our favourite meals on the trip!
4) Consider traveling Off-season
Rome is infamous for being too touristy and for good reason. Almost everyone we have ever talked to has always been put off by the hordes of tourists in this “eternal” city which made it impossible for them to truly appreciate its offerings. Fortunately, we arrived in Rome a day before Christmas Eve, and contrary to what you may think, Christmas in Rome is a closed family affair. Which meant that we got to experience Rome sans the crowds for 2 full days before they descended in the city post Christmas. We could marvel at a near empty Piazza Navona on Christmas Eve, walk to St. Peter’s square at the Vatican and attend midnight mass at Santa Maria Maggiore – it was magical. Thus we highly recommend travelling in quieter seasons so you can really experience the elusive romance with Rome.
One thing to keep in mind while travelling during Christmas though is that a lot of major attractions are shut down or have altered timings, so plan accordingly.
5) Don’t forget the coffee
It’s a no brainer – you never leave Italy without getting enough caffeine in your blood stream. But really, those tiny cappuccinos are to die for and can make you crave them for several months after you leave and they are bloody cheap! Ditch the tourist coffee shops and head to someplace that the locals swear by. Our host gave us several recommendations at La Merulana and we found ourselves alternating between cappuccinos and gelato at Panella and Ornelli respectively. If you want to pack this caffeinated nostalgia as you leave to cherish later, buy yourself one of those Italian coffee pot and a few packs of Lavazza.
6. Pre-book everything
Remember when I told you about the insane swarms of tourists in Rome – don’t underestimate the lines at any of the Rome’s popular sights by any means. We had heard legends about the tickets/entry lines at these attractions and they were all absolutely true. Use your time wisely and book everything online in advance – the Colosseum, the Vatican Museums-Sistine chapel, Forum-Capitoline-palatine hill etc. Other attraction like the Pantheon, the various fountains have no entry fee so it becomes imperative that you visit these early morning to avoid the madness. Some of the most beautiful pieces of art, sculpture and architecture in Rome are free and reside inside churches. Zero on the artists you are interested and then figure out a church-trail that covers them. We did something similar and saw some spectacular works by Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Bernini and such.
Have you been to the eternal city yet? What are some of your travel hacks for the city?