When an idea pops into my head, I become obsessive about it. It just needs to happen. After my trip to Spain and Portugal, that is exactly what happened - I needed to return to Europe, soon. But when? And most importantly, where? The answer was obvious: it had to be Italy.
Originally, I had intended on going to Florence and Venice since Florence is the food capital of Italy. However, it was aggressively storming when I wanted to go and the hotels no longer were able to accommodate my stay so I had to act quick and Rome quickly became the answer.
I booked my flight less than two weeks before my departure so it was a loosely-planned trip, most of it which was referenced solely off of Google Maps. And because I was traveling so far for a quick weekend getaway, I had to ensure that my location was absolutely central. For that reason, I stayed at the most prime location - right by Termini Station. I stayed at two fabulous 5-star hotels: NH Collection Palazzo Cinquecento and Palazzo Naiadi, both of which were steps away from Termini.
The location couldn’t have been better - all historical monuments were no more than a 20-minute walk away or easily accessible via bus and metro. Transferring from the Fiumicino Airport (FCO) was extremely easy as well, accessible through the FCO Express, various shuttle busses and the regular metro. Not to mention it was within reach from further neighbourhoods (ie. Testaccio, Trastavere, etc) and the Vatican City - which was excellent! I would say that NH Collection, although brand new is a 4-star at best. It’s location is slightly closer to Termini by say, a two or three-minute walk and their rooms are quite large! Palazzo Naiadi barely scrapes a 5-star but won me over on Roberto Cavalli amenities, turndown service, and its adornment in marble = love!
Now….let me preface by saying that Rome is touristy, especially the centre of Rome. I’m not a fan of following drones of people 24/7 and paying admission for every. single. damn. thing. There is a lot to do in the metropolitan capital so I would definitely be picky-choosy about what you do. For me, the highlights of my trip were actually visiting the Vatican City and some select monuments and piazzas (Piazza del Popolo, Trevi Fountain, Villa Borghese, Altare della Patria, the Forums, and the Spanish Steps). Obviously, the highlight of my trip was the food and exploring neighbourhoods, far away from the touristic zones. Do make sure to buy your tickets in advanced though!!! This will save you a TON of time and will enable you to skip the line. I saw so many sad-looking people in line and I couldn’t help but chuckle.
Getting around Rome:
Walking - Rome is a very walkable city! I cannot stress enough to wear comfortable shoes. I was walking around in sandals and Birkenstocks and my feet died (hey, I did that in Spain/Portugal and was completely fine). Depending on where you are staying, you may be able to walk everywhere - which is what I did and is super key for any weekend trip to Rome.
Metro/Tram/Bus - Rome is so easy to get around via Metro! It is extremely simple to follow the routes and transfer when needed. Many of the attractions are located on the A (red) or B (blue) line. I’d recommend getting a 48-hour or 72-hour pass, depending on how long the duration of your trip is. I made completely use of the 12.50 euro cost of it all!
Airport Shuttle Bus - I used this to get me to Termini Station and back to the airport. This is a very reliable form of transportation (T.A.M. operates 24 hours!) and is essential when you have an early morning flight and the trains aren’t in operation. I mean, can you really complain about a 40-minute direct transport to FCO for 7 euros? I think not!
Things to do in Rome:
Historical Monuments - There are so many of them and a lot of them are FREE! This is one thing I loved about Rome - it’s like you wandering through an open-air museum. Let’s state the obvious ones: the Colosseum, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Forum of Caesar, Forum of Augustus, Altare della Patria and the Pantheon. I visited these all at night time as soon as I arrived - highly recommended! There weren’t a ton of people (mind you, I visited in the off-season aka November) but it was completely worth it to have some moments to yourself.
Vatican City - Technically, not a part of Italy, this city-state is home to the Pope and a must-see, even if you are not Catholic. Be prepared for drones of people (this is unavoidable) and plan your trip accordingly. My highlights were the Sistine Chapel and the Basilica di San Pietro (free!). The piazza is beautiful and grand and the basilica was completely breathtaking. I’ve seen a lot of basilicas in my lifetime but this was seriously jaw-dropping. I also loved the Gallery of Maps and of course, Michelangelo’s painted ceiling in the chapel. Absolutely stunning!
Eating - Rome is a city to be eaten. Italian food is so popular and you can’t go wrong with pizza, pasta and gelato. But try some traditional Roman food - seriously rich and full of flavour. More on this below!
Markets - Of course, I always recommend visiting markets in new cities. I’d recommend the Mercato Testaccio, Mercato di Campagna Amica and Mercato di Centrale Roma. The former is a traditional Italian market with lots of food stalls mainly open for lunch. I came just before lunch and missed out on this despite reading all the good reviews. Still fun wandering around! Campagna Amica is more condensed and you will find some wonderful meats, cheeses, breads and olive oils - makes for a great snack! If you read “market” and are looking for a fancy food hall (ie. Chelsea Market, Time Out Market Lisboa, etc.), then the Mercato di Centrale Roma is just for you! Trendy and on-point, there are many food and beverage outposts. This is located right in Termini so it’s perfect for if you’re waiting for your train. Also open quite late til midnight with excellent food and cocktail options.
Neighbourhood-Hopping - There is so much to explore in the outskirts of Roma Centrico. I spent some time in Testaccio, Trastavere and Pigneto and each little pocket had and brought their own charm. Testaccio, a working-class neighbourhood, was previously a slaughterhouse area. Nowadays, it’s home to the Mercato Testaccio and an abundance of old school trattorias - go if you’re a foodie! Trastavere is romantic with its winding alleyways and narrow corridors. Lots of excellent food options here as well. Same goes for Pigneto - a gentrified area now filled with lots of hipster cafes and restaurants.
Porta Portese - Do you happen to be in Rome over a Sunday and have some time to kill? Be sure to pop by this sprawling flea market. This is a pretty amazing flea market where things are seriously a bargain. Lots of clothes starting a 1 euro, leather jackets for 20 euros, women’s stockings for 1 euro each, vintage fur starting at 5 euros… There are a couple gems in there but a lot of the stalls were more or less of the same. Be sure to look out for the vintage book stalls, the fur stalls and the one olive oil/sauce vendor - I think you know where I spent most of my money.
What to eat in Rome:
Pizza, pasta, gelato. Can we try to be more original? Traditional Roman food is extremely comforting and full of flavour. I didn’t get a chance to cross some things off my list: bollito (slow-cooked pulled beef), carciofo (deep-fried Jewish artichoke) and baccala (deep-fried salted cod) but I still did pretty good! Some of my favourites are below and obviously, cannot or will be very difficult to find at home in Canada!
Coda alla Vaccinata - slow-braised oxtail stew. An absolute must! This was the best thing I ever ate in Rome. Can’t commit to a whole dish? Try a pocketful of it at Trappizzino - lots of outposts found across Rome!
Suppli - deep-fried tomato rice balls filled with mozzarella. This is a very common Roman street food you can find the classic version or variations of it anywhere.
Cacio e pepe - pecorino and pepper pasta. Loved the one at Roma Sparita in Trastavere. Hey, if Anthony Bourdain loved it enough to order it twice, it must be good, right? Their rendition was prepared in a pecorino cheese wheel and fried until crispy. Reservations are highly recommended - or do what I did and go right at opening at 12:30pm!
Pizza - I know this isn’t original but the pizza at Bonci Pizzarium/Panificio Bonci are seriously out of control. You aren’t going to find your average Margherita or pepperoni pizzas here: thinly-sliced potato, stacks of roasted broccoli, Italian ham, oven-roasted tomatoes, fig, ricotta… Get it. It’ll change your life forever!!!
Porchetta - Okay, we can find this back at home but obviously I had to have the real thing! Stuffed seasoned-pork and sliced generously and typically stuffed into sandwiches. I tried the one at I Porchettino in Pigneto and the taste was unforgettable. You can get here on a board without bread so it make for a perfect antipasti!
Bucatini alla’Amatriciana - My favourite pasta of all time is bucatini. Doesn’t matter what sauce accompanies it but this preparation was awesome! Hearty tomato sauce dotted with guanciale, a cured pork jowl.
Pasta alla Gricia - Like carbonara’s mature, older sister. Bacon, cheese, and tomato (no egg). Still makes for a delightfully tasty pasta! Honestly, can’t go wrong here.
Polpette - Meatballs! So many variations here in Rome. The one I had was one they had on a daily special at YEAH Pigneto, this cute music-influenced cafe. It was prepared with either roasted chicory or fennel. So good. Italians definitely know their meatballs.
Gelato - Of course, I had to sample some gelato! Honestly, you just need to go to one place and one place only: Giolitti. This gelateria has been around since the 1900s so you’d best believe it’s out of this world! I went with four flavours and I’d 100% recommend them all: zambaione marsala custard, fior di panna, tiramisu and white chocolate. Best flavour, best texture, and the most creamy! Get it.
Tiramisu - I LOVE TIRAMISU. One of my favourite desserts, ever. I love the variations they have a POMPI. Lots of locations around Rome and each box comes individually packaged and with a spoon, so you can save it for later or have it right away and down it in about 5 seconds flat. I went with the classic version but their mixed berry one looked amazing!
And there you have it! My complete guide to a quick 48 hours (okay, it was maybe close to 54) in Rome. And who said I couldn’t do it?! Please… don’t ever underestimate my traveling skills. I hope you have fun exploring this wonderful city as much as I certainly did!