A 3 Day travel itinerary to Italy's capital: Rome.
Ahhhh Roma. As I began doing my research for our 10-day trip to Italy, it became clear quite quickly how Rome was so different to what I had pictured. It always seemed like more of a majestic Washington DC, with white churches and white large important buildings. But with the climate giving the city it’s lush green trees, and Roman ruins unearthed and left to their rustic devises, Rome appeared a much more casual affair, certainly compared with what it had been during the Roman Empire.
As you know, Rome is one of the most touristy places in the world so I wanted to put together a 3-day guide for navigating around the city without falling into some of those so-called ‘tourist-traps.’ I CANNOT have you eating a shite pizza or missing some hidden gems. There’s a Google Map at the bottom of this post filled with the places listed along with general tips & resources for you. Please reach out if you have any questions or comments!
Here we go…
JEWISH GHETTO | TOURISTY ROME | ROMAN CUISINE
Upon arriving in Rome, you’ll most certainly need a snack. Drop your bags and head to the Jewish Ghetto* for some classic dishes. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, the city’s best bakery sits on a corner in an unmarked shop front. Pasticceria Boccione is famous for their pizza ebraica (Jewish pizza), an almond-flour-based roll with nuts, raisins and candied fruits. It sounds like your grandma’s Christmas fruitcake nightmare, but the textures and savoury notes are exquisite. The piece de résistance is their ricotta and sour cherry cake: a layer of cherries topped with a mountain of ricotta and finished with a burnt top. It’s every cheesecake lover’s dream. Resist the apricot tart, biscotti and bread, and perch yourself on a bench or at the café two doors down where you can enjoy your treats with a coffee.
Should you be more in a savoury mood (the Jewish pizza can solve that), you should head to Nonna Betta just up the street. You’ll find people queuing at lunchtime but between the lacklustre pasta and overwhelmed wait staff, just order 3 fried artichokes (carciofi alla giudia) per person, pay the bill and thank me later. Best dang artichokes you’ll ever have.
With a satisfied tummy roll over to the Jewish Museum, Museo Ebraico di Roma, which is housed in The Great Synagogue. For all of the churches you’ll see in Rome, you need to make time for this gorgeous Jewish temple. A guided tour of the synagogue is included in the museum where you can find an interactive map of what the ghetto looked like in the 16th century when it was erected, a collection of over 800 Torah covers, and general history about Judaism in a Christian-dominated country. I’d recommend taking the Jewish ghetto tour (1 hour) to get a feel for the streets and rich history in this tiny neighbourhood along the Tiber River. You can purchase tickets in the museum.
*Keep in mind many businesses within the ghetto are closed Saturday for the Sabbath.
Give ‘street food’ a try. Pianostrada is run by four women who make their own bread and focaccia. Read: order a sandwich. Nab a seat at the bar and order some fritti to begin.
If you’re looking for a delicatessen, just up the street from the Jewish ghetto is a cosy shopping area where you’ll find Roscioli, a salumeria and restaurant. As soon as you walk in, you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported to a farm with the fresh smell of cheese. If you don’t smell it, you’ve walked into their other venue. Their wine wall is extensive as is their selection of meats and food products for purchase. As this is a deli, stick to what you can find within the case and leave the mains and desserts. Try the mortadella with Parmigiano Reggiano, as it’s the butteriest cured meat you’ll ever eat. They’re well known for their burrata but I’ve had better. Anything with their sweet vanilla butter from St. Malo (Le Beurre Bordier) is a must. Share a pasta (either La Gricia, Burro E Acciughe, La Carbonara or Gnocco) and ask for the bill. Complimentary sweet biscuits and chocolate fondue will satisfy your sweet craving until you can get your hands on some gelato.
Or, if you’ve got pizza on the brain, I’m told to head to Emma, where a lot fresh toppings of salumi, cheese, alongside the biscuits come from Roscioli. Order some fiori di zucca (fried courgette blossoms filled with ricotta and anchovy) because when in Rome…
Might as well get some of the best touristy must-sees out of the way. Take a stroll through the shopping street and make your way up to the Pantheon. If you’re inclined to queue, head inside to see the oculus (hole) in the dome, otherwise visit on Sunday for mass. You can get a good view of the lower half of the interior by just taking a peek from the outside. It’s worth popping into Basilica di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva to see the royal blue ceilings which are a bit different to other forms of church architecture you’ll find in Rome. You’ll also want to peek into Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola for the fantastic ceiling fresco that creates an optical illusion.
Grab a coffee at Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe because it will be one of the best coffees of your life. Just a simple long black does it for me. Then take a stroll to Fontana di Trevi and do the whole coin toss thing the right way. I blubbered it up and just threw one coin in facing the fountain. Then I threw one in facing backwards so I’m pretty much doomed. What you need to do is throw three coins in backwards, holding them in your right hand and throwing them over your left shoulder. You’ll have to watch for if they sink or float because two coins sinking will lead to a new romance and three a marriage or divorce. Anyways, 3k euros are found each day and given to Rome’s needy. Then spend a few more coins at Il Gelato di San Crispino. I’m told the caramel meringue is the flavour of choice, but ask for plenty of samples.
There are a few museums in the area: Galleria Doria Pamphilj (well-adorned estate with artwork), Galleria Barberini (two galleries with ancient art), Mercati di Traiano Museo dei Fori Imperiali (archaeological museum) which you may fancy a look in. It just depends on how many museums you can handle in one day. Depending on what’s on at Piazza Venezia you should spend the afternoon there at Complesso del Vittoriano which usually has some very esteemed artist exhibitions. And you can’t beat the view from the very top. While you’re there, pop into Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara coeli to admire the gorgeous chandeliers.
I’m going to go out on a limb and recommend a restaurant I haven’t eaten at. You’ll be ‘walked out’ on your first day so might as well stick close to the centre and enjoy a traditional meal at Armando al Pantheon. It’s a three generation-owned establishment with brothers Claudio and Fabrizio running the joint. Have a read of Katie Parla’s blog to know what to order and a bit more of the history of the place.
VATICAN | DELI | VILLA BORGHESE
Each morning should begin with a doughnut. The ones filled with a bit of cream and covered in crystallised sugar. My favourite is from Panifico Passi in Testaccio but you can find them all over.
Hop on the bus or Metro and head to the Vatican. You’ll 100% want a guided tour of Vatican City, not just because there are so many frescos that need explaining, but so that you don’t have to wait in a massive queue that feels, and looks, a mile long. You’ll need to book around a week in advance (I’d recommend the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica 3-hour tour) so that you can walk straight in. Book in ahead even if you simply want to see the basilica without a guided tour, otherwise you’ll spend precious hours queuing! There will be many people looking like ‘official representatives’ of the Vatican selling tours, but avoid.
Once you’re inside, you’ll be packed like sardines for the entire three hours as multiple tour groups fight alongside you to see the incredible works of art by Michelangelo and Raphael. BUT you just cannot miss seeing such a sight. Seriously.
Tip: If you’re lucky to be in Rome on a Wednesday, you’ll have a chance to see the Pope. And what a sweetheart he is.
Once the morning is complete and you’ve walked the grounds, head to a quieter part of town just 12 minutes northwest of the Vatican to Secondo Tradizione. They’ll kindly explain the daily menu in English which I’d recommend ordering a dish off of, but definitely get the cacio e pepe, Rome’s famed, by simple pasta. It’s made with just three ingredients: pasta boiled in water before being transferred to a pan cooking with butter, pepper and some reserved pasta water before Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino cheeses are added. A platter of charcuterie is a must as their deli, La Tradizione (just up the road), is the best in town. In fact, if you’re looking to bring home cheese and wine, this is the place to stock up. And if you’re lucky, one of the guys will spend thirty minutes with you explaining the different cheeses and meats from all regions of Italy while giving you a good taste sampling.
Walk off your lunch as you make your way back into the centre of the city. You’ll head past Castel Sant’Angelo, home to the National Museum (free the first Sunday of the month). If you fancy, take a look inside. Otherwise I’d recommend walking via the Spanish Steps towards Villa Borghese.
Villa Borghese is home to many of Caravaggio’s works, the famous Baroque painter who strayed from the norm to create realistic scenes with dramatic use of lighting not done before. The villa itself is quite the sight with incredible frescos and sculptures by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. You need to book in advance for a specific 2-hour time slot. If you can, book a guided tour, otherwise pick a time and arrive 15 minutes late so that you miss the queue’s collecting tickets and mass of people being let into the gallery. Once you’ve finished within the gallery, take a walk through the Bioparco di Roma (park) that surrounds the museum as it’s a calm oasis within a bustling city.
If you’re looking to stay close to the villa, I’m told Marzapane is very good. It’s more ‘fine dining’ so if you’d rather a casual evening, I’d hop on the tram (or a taxi) and head to Mazzo. It’s a 12-seater restaurant by The Fooders (Francesca Barreca and Marco Baccanelli) who were once known for their Asian supper clubs. The food here is traditional Italian (sometimes with an Asian spin), with dishes like beef tongue (and other offal), Roman pasta, and a nice seafood selection. Pair your dinner with a ‘natural’ wine as it’s a completely different tasting experience, or with their large gin selection. Just don’t forget to book a table, otherwise you’re out of luck.
Trastevere | Testaccio Market | Roman Ruins
Have a lazy morning stroll to Trastevere, one of Rome’s trendier neighbourhoods. By this point you’ll probably have seen all of the frescos in the world but Villa Farnesina is home to Raphael’s many frescos and famous works. One more can’t hurt…
From there, get your legs into gear to climb a big hill up to La Fontana dell’Acqua Paola, a fountain and vantage point overlooking Rome. If you come down and walk slightly out of your way, you’ll find a great natural wine bar, Litro serving fun snacks like anchovy butter on toast (open from noon), or a natural wine and craft beer shop Les Vignerons where you can purchase plenty of goods for friends back home. Apparently a bottle by Frank Cornelissen is a must given the “taste like the aftermath of a volcanic eruption,” according to Vogue. I never fancy lugging things around but sometimes you just have to.
From there, head across the river to the Aventine Keyhole. This requires further uphill walking, but it’s one of the biggest highlights of my entire trip to Italy. The only keyhole in the world through which you can view three countries: Malta, Vatican City and Italy, it’s simply a work of pure genius.
If you haven’t yet starved to death, Eataly is but a 20-minute walk, and given it’s the largest of the stores in the world, you may want to check it out. There will be plenty to eat there. But if you can hold out, visit a local place in Testaccio…
Visit Testaccio Market, predominantly filled with produce but home to a great sandwich shop: Mordi & Vai. There are a few well-known eateries around: La Torricella (seafood), Flavio al Velavevodetto (good traditional pasta dishes), Piatto Romano (traditional Italian), Pizzeria da Remo, and across the river La Tavernaccia (Umbrian cuisine & natural wines) and C’e’ pasta… e pasta! (Kosher eatery with takeaway available).
Now it’s time to get serious and see one of Rome’s main attractions. Yep, a frolic around the Colosseum, Forum and Palatino is on the cards. You can buy a combination ticket, which is valid for two days (again I’d recommend a guided tour which you need to book one and a half weeks in advance), and pick up your tickets at the office. Now, before you start your journey, take a look at what the Colosseum looked like in it’s glory as it’ll give you some context for what the heck the rocks you’re looking at mean. There are some great books in the bookshop “upstairs” that can help you. If you end up walking around on your own, purchase an audio guide so that you aren’t just looking at ruins, but rather getting a grasp on what animal fights took place, the endless trapped doors, seating and more…
If you fancy continuing (ahem you’re probably tourist-ed out), a mosey around the Forum (former plaza surrounded by ruins of government buildings) and Palatine Hill (residential ruins) is worth getting a tour or audio guide for.
Book yourself a table at Trattoria Monti. Each dish is consistently good. The trattoria is run by the Camarucci brothers who are both very warm and welcoming (when not overwhelmed with tits for guests). You’ll want to start with one of their flans, before indulging in Mezze Maniche con pecorion di fossa, salsiccie e peppe nero (sausage pasta). There will usually be a few specials so order whatever is in season. And even though you might not consider yourself a brain fan, they deep-fry their lamb brain making for a creamy, crunchy snack. It’s like Philadelphia cream cheese bombs (but only in the best of ways). Oh and the dessert. You’ve gotta order the semifreddo all’amaretto. It’s to die for. The pear tart is nice and so is the cheesecake, but they don’t blow me away like that chocolaty goodness.
General Rome Tips
If you’re in Rome on a Saturday, Galleria Colonna is very much worth checking out as it’s only open from 9am-1:15pm that day. Their English guided tour is as 12pm.
Roma Pass: Have a look to see if this card makes sense for the sights you want to see. If you’re under 25 and an EU citizen, you might find that individual entrance fees cost less.
- Elizabeth Minchilli (also hosts food tours)
- Katie Parla (also hosts food tours) + Gelato Guide
- Rachel Roddy (Guardian Writer)
Rome is very walkable and you’ll soon find that your feet will carry you faster than an overcrowded and delayed tram or bus. It’s also the best way to see the city.
- Metro: The metro is Rome’s underground train service. A ticket will cost 1.50€ per ride, 7€ for a day pass. If you’re like me and you enjoy walking, you won’t have a need for one.
- Bus/Tram: No matter how crowded they are, hop on. My elbow was hanging out of the door on a tram ride once because I knew the next tram would be delayed and rammed.
- Driving/Taxis: Driving seems hectic when you’re a pedestrian, but it’s pretty straightforward once you’re behind the wheel. There’s obviously no need to rent a car whilst in Rome, but if you’re looking to leave the city have some faith. If you need a taxi/uber, Uber is very expensive in Rome. Instead, download mytaxi.
- Airport: If you’re arriving into Fiumicino Airport, getting into the city (Terminus main train station) is a breeze with the 32-minute Leonardo Express train (14€). With trains leaving every 15 minutes, it’s easy to purchase a ticket, validate and hop on. Note that you purchase a ticket for a specific time so be sure of when you travel.