It’s really important to me that you love Rome.
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I often talk to people who have traveled to Italy and when I ask them if they just loved Rome, one of my 4 favorite cities in the world, (along with Sydney, Paris and Florence), they say no. And then they tell me it was expensive, overcrowded and dirty.
If I ask them where they went in Rome, where they stayed in Rome, what they did in Rome it’s normally the same things. They stayed in a high tourist area, went to just the main tourist sights (which are always crammed with cruise ship and tour bus travelers) and ate in those same areas.
Don’t get me wrong, you have to go to the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Pantheon, while you’re in Rome. You have to climb the Spanish Steps and throw coins in the Trevi Fountain, but there is so much more to Rome that you need to experience!
I love Rome. I know that if I spent the rest of my life there and went exploring every day I would still never get to the end – there is just so much on offer. When I take ladies to Rome on my Glam Italia Tours they are always blown away by how incredibly cool Rome is, and how much truly fantastic stuff there is to see and do.
Some of my traveler’s have been to Rome before and not liked it, but when I show them my Rome they end up loving it to pieces and can’t wait to get back.
That’s what I want for you. I want you to experience the magic of the city that created civilization as we know it. I want you to see the side of Rome that isn’t full of tour buses and tourists. I want you to enjoy amazing meals that cost less than €10, surrounded by locals.
I want you to love Rome.
10 Things You Must Do In Rome
We’ve already established that you are going to see the main sights, but here are some other cool experiences to garner while you’re there.
Firstly while you are around the Colosseum:
You Colosseum ticket also gives you entry to the Forum and the Palantine Hill. If you are walking from the Colosseum, take the entrance beyond the triumphal arch and wander up into the Palantine Hill and up to Domitian’s palace. Domitian was emperor of Rome from AD 81 until AD 96
When I bring my tours here I have a local tour guide, Daniella, with us to explain everything (because it’s so amazing!) but if you are going alone I recommend you at least google it beforehand so that you can understand some of what you are seeing.
The palace is enormous and quite brilliantly designed. The entry alone must have been overwhelming to Domitian’s guests. The scope of his private “rec room” alone is just crazy.
There is a chunk of statue of what is left of a foot, with only the little toe still intact. When you stand beside it you get a concept of how outrageously huge the entire statue must have been.
I don’t even know how many times I have been to Domitian’s Palace at this point, but I will still keep going back! The views are astounding and the palace itself with it’s windows into Roman life is just sensational.
Lunch In The Monti
Okay, so here are the rules of eating in Rome (or anywhere in Italy). Firstly never eat around the major tourist sights. The locals don’t eat there, and for a good reason – the food is expensive and low quality, churned out for tourists who don’t know any better. When you are hungry just turn your back to the tourists and walk 5 minutes and you will find fantastic places to eat, they will be full of locals, and they won’t be expensive.
Second rule is never eat anywhere with pictures on the menu! Again this is low quality and mass marketed to tourists, and that’s not what you traveled all the way to Rome to experience!
Once you are done with the Colosseum and Forum (and hopefully you’ve gone to Domitian’s Palace on the Palantine Hill) wander up to an area called Monti for lunch. If it’s a boiling hot day you can grab a taxi at the bottom of Via Cavour. The Monti is one of those fabulous old cobblestoned pockets of Rome. It’s a little boho but also super well heeled, which makes a nice mix. It’s beautiful, the shopping is great, and it also has fabulous places to eat, both for restaurant/bistro eating and also street food. You will love it!
I want to keep you in this part of town for one more thing, and that is a visit to one of my secret places in Rome:
Visit The Basilica San Clemente
This is one of my absolute favorite secret spot in Rome. I haven’t written about it on the blog before because I’m always scared I will go back and find tour buses parked outside and a million tourists lining up to go in. So you and I are keeping this a secret, okay?
After lunching in the Monti, wander back to the Colosseum. With the Colosseum on your right I want you to walk maybe 1/4 of a mile across the intersection and along a quiet street called Via Labicana. There will be thousands of people behind you back at the Colosseum, but pretty much nobody here, which will blow your mind!
The Basilica named for Saint Clement, is an unassuming building from the outside, but is just staggering inside. You enter at street level into a church that was built around 1100. The golden apse mosaic and the frescoes alone are worth the visit, but it keeps getting more amazing. Once you’ve explored the street level, head down the stairs to the middle level. This is a church built in the 4th Century, with art work dating into the 9th Century. There is so much art down here, in fact it houses the 2nd largest collection of medieval art in Rome! as well as sarcophogi, pieces of ruined plaques and statues, mosaic floors – all kinds of amazing treasures. The last time I was there I ran into a dude with a masters degree in Latin something (I can’t remember the last part of his degree). He wandered around with me and deciphered some of the Latin text we were seeing. He told me that Latin abbreviations are super hard to figure out, but he could explain enough of the words we were seeing to make it an even more brilliant experience. (I’ve written before about why you should travel alone at least once in your life, and this is one of the reasons why! Had I been with friends I wouldn’t have ended up talking to him, and would have missed out on something really fantastic).
But it doesn’t stop here, there’s even more! There is one more level below. It was a private home built in the 1st century with running water and a mithraeum. It is honestly just incredible.
Rome as we know it is 25 meters higher than it was during Julius Caesar’s time. The Romans didn’t knock down good buildings, they would fill them up with dirt and sand and build on top of them. This city is full of treasures!
I don’t know what hours the basilica is open during the mornings, but I think it opens around 3pm so it’s a good spot to go after a long, Roman lunch.
The Jewish Ghetto
If you’re not out of steam yet you can take another lovely stroll back past the Colosseum, the Forum, past the Wedding Cake, and down to Teatro Marcello and into the Jewish Ghetto. If you are taking a cab, get it down by the Wedding Cake. If you get a taxi up by the Basilica San Clemente the driver has to go the long way and it will cost much more.
Depending on the time of day you can wander through the Jewish Ghetto and have a glass of wine or a spritz and some of the world famous Jewish artichokes, or stop for dinner. Once again while there are thousands of tourists around the corner there are almost none here in the uber chic ghetto.
I’ve written about the Jewish Ghetto several times. You can read a more in depth post about the Jewish Ghetto here
There are many more things to do when you are in the vicinity of the Colosseum, but moving on, here are some things to do that are not far from the Colosseum.
Visit The Caravaggios
I am a little bit (a lot) obsessed with Caravaggio. he is perhaps the most influential Italian painter since Michelangelo during the time from the Renaissance to the Baroque. In my opinion anyway.
Caravaggio’s work is so moving. He paints real life into his stories, taking religious themes from the purely ethereal and delivering them to the people in the street in an identifiable way. He pioneered the art of chiaroscuro, using shadow and light to create more mood.
I read a fantastic book on Caravaggio by one of my favorite art historians Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane by Andrew Graham Dixon. If you have watch the Italy Unpacked and Sicily Unpacked series you will know Andrew.
I definitely recommend going to the church of San Luigi dei Francesi (near Piazza Navona) and see the St Matthew series.
Here is a list of where to find Caravaggio in Rome. Just make sure you check the hours each place is open each day.nna of the Serpent; Young Bacchus, Ill; David with the Head of Goliath, others)
- Santa Maria del Popolo (The Conversion of St. Paul, The Crucifixion of St. Peter)
- Vatican Museums – Pinacoteca (Deposition from the Cross)
- Capitoline Museums (Gypsy Fortune-Teller, St. John the Baptist)
- Sant’Agostino (Madonna del Loreto)
- San Luigi dei Francesi (The Calling of St. Matthew, The Martyrdom of St. Matthew, St. Matthew and the Angel)
- Palazzo Corsini (St. John the Baptist)
- Galleria Borghese (A Boy With Fruit, The Sick Bacchus, The Holy Family, St Jerome, David and John The Baptist.)
- Palazzo Barberini (Narcissus, Judith beheading Holofernes, St. Francis in Meditation)
- Galleria Doria Pamphilj (Mary Magdalene, Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Young St. John the Baptist)
Did you know there is a pyramid in Rome? It’s such a great spot to go visit, and once again you won’t find many, if any tourists there.
Back in 12 BC when all things Egypt were madly in vogue Gaius Cestius built himself a pyramid outside of Rome. It was his burial place. Rome grew and grew and before long the pyramid was inside the city. It takes about 30 minutes by foot from the Jewish Ghetto, 5 minutes by taxi, along the side of the Aventine Hill in a neighborhood called the Testaccio. If you are walking take Via Mamorata. You can’t miss it – it’s the only pyramid around! Read my post about the Pyramid of Cestius here
While you are in the area try out some restaurants. Testaccio is known to be one of the most fabulous dining areas in all of Rome. Private culinary tours always come through here because the restaurants are so wonderful and authentic (and inexpensive).
Wander The Trastevere
This is my neighborhood in Rome. I love it so much I can barely breathe. This is the Rome of the narrow cobble-stone streets, darling little restaurants and shops. Sometimes you see tourists in the heart of the neighborhood in the area around Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, but not throngs of them. This is the Rome where locals go out to eat and drink. It is bustling and full of fun and excitement, but also just beautiful and timeless. Trastevere has it all.
While there make sure you go inside the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. It is truly remarkable and is one of the oldest churches in Rome. The sanctuary dates back to the 3rd century, the floor and structure was built in the 340’s with the rest of the structure being built in 1140-1143.
The ceiling is breathtaking, and the 13th century gold mosaic apse is breathtaking. Interestingly it shows Mary sitting at the right hand of Jesus, something you don’t see too often! You can read the Wiki on Santa Maria in Trastevere here
There are so many restaurants with the best food you’ve ever eaten for next to nothing. On Via Dondoli we had a carbonara that was so incredible you wanted to weep. And it only cost 8 euros.
I always go eat at Carlo Mente, another restaurant that is packed with locals all night long. I often go alone and they find me a seat at the table of some family or group of fun young people. I get to make new friends while I eat my pizza with rocket (arugula) and drink my 1/2 liter of house red wine, each of which cost 4 euros!
Read more about the Trastevere here
Sunset At The Janiculum Hill
The Trastevere backs onto the Janiculum Hill, one of the very best places to take in the sunset. It is the second tallest hill in Rome, so the views are insane. Because it sits across the Tiber river (Trastevere!) it isn’t one of the proverbial 7 hills of Rome, and somehow tourists don’t seem to know about it. This past summer while in Rome I went up there every evening to watch the sunset. It was all locals walking their dogs and taking in the view, and it felt like another wonderful secret place in Rome!
You can find your way up there via any of the staircases along the hill. I took the big stairs at the end of via Glorioso. There are a couple of spots to take in the view, the best being a little further round, by the statue of Garibaldi on his horse.
Walk The Monuments At Night
This is one of my favorite things to do when I’m in Rome. Some of my tour groups want to do it every night because it’s just so beautiful and feels a little surreal. Walking around the monuments at night is a wonderful way to get a different view of Rome. The tourists are gone, the madness of the city has calmed down, the monuments are lit up and you feel like you are in a different world.
We always stay in the Trastevere, so we walk across the Garibaldi bridge, stopping to look down the river to St Peters, then wander up through the Jewish Ghetto to Teatro Marcello, then up to the Forum and the Colosseum.
We also go to St Peters Square/ Vatican at night. It’s just magical! You will see homeless and those on a pilgrimage sleeping on the sidewalks as you walk into the square, which is a little unsettling, but there always seems to be lots of people around , so I’ve never felt unsafe. St Peters is hauntingly beautiful at night – you will think back to it over and over when you return home.
The Palazzo Barberini Art Museum
This might just be my favorite art museum in Rome. They have an entire wing dedicated to recovered stolen art. Each piece has a plaque describing where and how the piece was stolen and recovered. There are paintings from all different eras, Renaissance paintings, impressionist and post impressionist, Baroque – you name it. There are statues and Etruscan sarcophagi and just so many fantastic pieces, each with a double story – one of its creation and one of its theft and rescue.
The grounds are wonderful to walk around too.
I hope you will go see at least some of these places while you are in Rome. I would love to hear from you about your Rome experience, the places you enjoyed and any extras you think we should add to this list.