As a first timer visiting Rome this year, I had high hopes for the Italian capital after I got a taste for Italy in Florence last September. As always when visiting somewhere new, I had some specifics in mind that I wanted to see and do – the Colosseum, the Trevi fountain, sample the infamous coffee and gelato, and of course the food (any food!) Romans are famous for. Over the four days we did all of this, but discovered so much more and Rome really stole my heart. Usually it takes me a second visit somewhere to really fall in love with the place, but with Rome it was love at first sight and here’s just a small selection of reasons why.
The furthest throwback you can imagine to Ancient Rome
I absolutely loved learning about the Romans and Roman history at school, and visiting the Colosseum was an incredible experience that takes you back 2000 years. It’s hard to get your head around it, but seeing this amazing fortress built so long ago, and imagining the events that happened here was really eye opening.
It’s huge, and would have held over 80,000 people, like Wembley, but this was built so long ago without any of the constructions means of today it’s mind boggling. With the floor gone you can see the maze of dark tunnels and passageways where the gladiators and slaves were kept, and the trapdoors that sent them straight up into the glare of the sun and the waiting crowd.
Nearly all of the marble that once covered the entire thing is long gone, but there are bits of it still left and you can only imagine how beautiful and impressive it was in years gone by. If you face any queue, tourist line, hagglers selling tickets, make it for the Colosseum. I found it quite difficult to figure out where to buy tickets, here’s my full guide to the Colosseum with all the info.
Most tickets for the Colosseum also grant you admission to the Roman Forum which is very close by. This gated and ticketed area is an area that once was the heart of ancient Rome, and the ruins of old buildings and Roman lifestyle are still there for you to wander through.
Shrines, statues, public areas and important buildings still stand, albeit barely, and a walk through again will take you back thousands of years to the times of Ceasar and Hadrian.
The hardest decision you’ll have to make – which flavour gelato?
There will be gelateria parlours and carts on every piazza, square and street you come across in Rome, and choosing from the hundreds of whipped up colours and flavours will be your biggest decision of the day.
Flavours, toppings, cones, scoops the options are endless and in the heat of the day with everyone’s mouths watering around you waiting their turn, the pressure is real when you’re stood in the tiny space trying to take it all in.
Coffee and vanilla are the traditional Rome choices of course, but I sampled a good five or six others and they were all just as delicious.
Italian food ‘alla Romana’ (Roman style)
Where to even start with Italian food anyway never mind the Roman favourites. The culinary delights of any destination are what makes a place so special for many, and that is absolutely true for me in Rome.
Pasta is one of my favourite dishes anyway, especially carbonara (done right), and originating from Rome I lost count of how many times this was ordered among us during our visit. A far cry from the sloppy, tasteless bowl of it so often served up for the bargain price of £3.95 in many establishments through Britain, the true Pasta alla Carbonara from any restaurant in Rome is one you’ll return to again and again.
Coda alla vaccinara is a spicy oxtail stew that you’ll find on most Roman menus. I didn’t have it myself, but oxtail was a popular flavouring as part of many other dishes, including pasta and braised meat. Apparently in Rome, they favour meat from the ‘quinto quarto’ or fifth quarter of an animal, so for meat eaters expect some slightly different meat based dishes than what you might expect, as well as the usual.
Artichokes are also a common ingredient throughout the summer, served in all sorts of ways, both stand alone and as a garnish or side dish. Not a personal favourite of mine but if they take your fancy expect them stuffed with breadcrumbs or garlic, seasoned with olive oil, roasted, fried, any which way you like.
And finally, abbaccio alla Romana, or abbaccio alla scottaditto, which are lamb chops served on the bone, seasoned with salt, pepper and herbs, lathered in olive oil and served up tastily and hot. Traditionally you’re meant to eat them with your fingers, explaining the name ‘alla scottaditto’ which means finger burning.
Coffee breaks by the Pantheon
Walking all over the city and taking in all of the sights can be pretty full on, especially in warm weather and for a first time visitor trying to experience as much as possible. Our third day was a lot slower than the previous days, and we spent a lot more time enjoying the cafes and wine bars found on all of the piazza’s.
One of my favourites was just by the Pantheon, Piazza della Rotonda. The old Roman temple dominates the small square, but there’s still room for a fountain in the middle. The outskirts are completely lined with cafes and bars spilling out into the square. It’s crowded and bustling, but I loved it for it’s excited atmosphere and the buskers ranging from opera singers to guitar and accordion players.
We picked one where there was space outside, and ordered coffees, juices, I think even wine at one point and enjoyed watching the world go by. Others around us were starting early on the aperol spritz and bellini’s, but whatever your poison it’s a great spot to rest your feet with a view of even more ancient Rome.
The cheery atmosphere from locals and street performers
Rome is just such a happy place, everywhere you go it’s impossible to feel sad while wandering the colourful cobbled streets. The bottleneck tourist areas such as the Spanish steps and Trevi fountain can be frustrating due to the volume of people, but even then the beauty and relaxed Italian vibe still shines through.
The locals are so friendly and love it if you show any interest at all in trying to speak even a word of Italian, or ask them who their team is. Roma were playing Liverpool while we were there so this was a great topic of conversation that got them all glowing with pride, it reminded me of Newcastle.
Restaurant owners do stand proudly outside their eateries, but out of everywhere I’ve been in Europe they were the least pushy to lure you inside. It was almost like they just didn’t worry if they got custom or not, they just enjoyed being there if you did fancy a bite to eat.
In most of the main squares there were some forms of entertainment, but it wasn’t overpowering or annoying it just added to the atmosphere. One afternoon an opera singer just stood and belted out the most beautiful song, no microphone, no music, just his voice and it was the most Italian thing I’ve ever seen.
In Piazza Navona a group of musicians played throughout the day in the central square. They were so good they didn’t need to wander around asking for change at all the restaurants and cafes, people were throwing money into their guitar case to keep them playing.
Drinking a prosecco in the sunshine listening to their music dance across the entire square was my absolute highlights of the trip. We spend so much time trying to see as much as we can, it’s sometimes worth just stopping for an hour or two to enjoy just being there.
Street art souvenirs worth buying
I hate tacky, predictable souvenirs from anywhere (except London for some reason), and I never buy anything unless I actually would use it at home. The only thing I ever buy is street art from the local painters and artists of most European cities. I have some gorgeous little paintings of Paris, and the street art found dotted about Rome is just as beautiful.
Piazza Navona is the main hotspot, where it’s all on display and some of their stuff is absolutely amazing. I browsed each one over the few days we were there, and on our last day I decided on a painting of the Trevi fountain.
Visiting the 100 year old House of Peroni
We came across this by chance after wandering through the Roman Forum on our way back into the main city. Located on Via di S. Marcello, a site with a long history that is told on the placemats of the restaurants, and the painted murals of it’s walls.
A spot visited by locals and tourists alike for the past 100 years, the staff welcome you in like family, and are proud to serve up overflowing tankards of their world famous beer. We got lucky and got a table quickly, for lasagne, bolognese and of course carbonara, but by the time we left locals were sat in groups outside waiting for tables.
Completely worth a visit for the beer alone! The atmosphere, great food, and hilarious staff are all a bonus.
Discovering the Trastevere neighbourhood
Built up by the river banks this bohemian up and coming area will quickly become your favourite Roman neighbourhood. Casual, quirky, colourful and ever so casual the maze of streets will have you returning night after night.
Restaurants don’t have names above their doors, they don’t need to be recognised when the constant flow of locals wander in straight off the street in their droves. The clink of wine glasses and popping of corks from the wine bars on every corner can be heard over the clattering of shutters overhead being flung open by residents too hot, or climbing out their windows for a drink on the roof in the warm evening air.
Bars with big outside spaces serve whacky cocktails, like this Joker cocktail, chosen from a movie list of drinks, at the most quirky bar I’ve ever been to. Nobody was out of place, yet everyone completely different it’s impossible not to like this neighbourhood.
The gem of this entire place is a restaurant I had recommended to me by a colleague, who lived in Rome for years. Impicetta is a family run restaurant in the heart of the Trastevere, and I can not emphasise enough just how amazing it is. No frills, traditionally Italian, staff that seem like old friends, and portions big enough to feed ten, I almost don’t want to tell you about and keep it secret forever.
In case you can’t tell, I absolutely adored Rome and everything it had to offer. These are just some of my highlights but there’s plenty more, and I’ll soon be sharing a four day itinerary of everything we did.
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