Rome, ah the magical city that has enchanted my daydreams for just about as long as I can remember. Rome, and Italy as a whole, had pretty much been at the tippy top of Zach and I’s European Bucket List for just about as long as I could remember. The history, the food, the architecture, the culture…did I mention the food?? K, good, because that will likely be mentioned at least 1,000 more times before this guide is complete.
We visited during late July and early August, and I will say, it was absolutely packed with visitors from all around the world. It was also skin-melting hot. It was also magical beyond belief so the two previous points are moot. However, if we went again I would suggest going in early fall or late spring.
We ended up staying in Rome for a week, and even with that much time, I could have spent so much longer there! Rome is one of those cities that there is just SO much to do, see, enjoy and…eat!
This guide is perfect for the first-timer, who’s never been to Rome before and is lookin’ for that all-encompassing experience. It’s also perfect for someone who only has a few days in the city and is lookin’ for all the must do’s! So without further adieu, here are 11 things you can’t miss in Rome!
Head to the Tiber River
If you’re headed to Rome during the summertime, you’ll likely be privy to one of the most magical experiences you’ll ever well, experience. Welcome to the Lungo il Tevere. AKA the most magical summer festival you’ll ever experience. This summertime-only festival transports you, and adds an electric air to the Roman nightlife. Stroll along the banks and you’ll find each tent set up to be more transcendent than the one before. You’ll enjoy beer gardens, vendors selling local goods, and restaurants that have set up shop in (beautifully organized) booths and tents. We stumbled upon this during our first night in the city and we absolutely went back multiple times. If you’re here during July-August, add this to the top of your ‘must-do’ list.
Trek to the Colosseum in the Morning…& at Night
Seeing the Colosseum for the first time is a bit hard to put into words. This is one of the most iconic structures in the entire world, and seeing it with my own eyes was similar to seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time. I was completely awe-struck! It’s something you’ve seen in movies, read about your whole life in your history books, and then all of a sudden…BAM! There it is in the flesh. Well, not flesh, but you get what I mean. It was so surreal to see this in person.
My biggest piece of advice? Head here early in the morning to avoid the swarm of crowds that will be there. It will be a bit more peaceful, and even easier to imagine what Roman life was like thousands of years ago. My other piece of advice? Walk along the Imperial Fora to get here, with the Colosseum being the cherry on top of your walk back through history. Do this over the riding the metro to get a better sense of what Roman life was really like. My other, other piece of advice…watch Gladiator before you go. You’ll be transported back in time as you gaze upon (and inside of) this magnificent structure that was built from 70-80 AD. WHAT. I will never not be amazed by the history of this city!
Enjoy Life in the Piazzas
This could truly be said for so many European cities, but in Rome, this is a true art form. Life explodes within each piazza, buzzing with energy, and truly exemplifying la dolce vita. One of our very favorites (at the recommendation of one of our amazing friends!) was Campo de Fiori. We happened to actually stumble upon this particular place because it’s included in Rick Steve’s walks (love ya, Rick Steve!) but it’s so worth going out of your way to find. Though, try to wander a bit out of the square to get delicious food at prices that are less than those right in the middle, prime for tourists. As a sidenote, this particular Piazza has an absolutely incredible morning market that is definitely worth checkin’ out! Other, other sidenote: I highly recommend picking up a copy of Rick Steve’s Italy before you go! It’s filled with insider tips, history, and the best walks in the city! You can snag a copy here.
Indulge in the Carbs (sans guilt)
Say it with me now…sans. guilt. For real, don’t come to Rome and not indulge in the truly magnificent cuisine in this city. Did I watch Eat, Pray, Love before we came to Rome (multiple times)? You bet your cute little butt I did. Was my mouth watering thinking about all of the delish cuisine that we were about to eat? You bet your butt (again) it was! One of our tricks of the trade to determine if a place was super overpriced is to always check the prices of a staple menu item: Margherita Pizza. I honestly lost count of how many of these little doughy circles of what can only be described as pure heaven we ate. Finding a “staple” menu item is always one of our tricks to help us stay on track budget wise during our trips, feel free to steal it! 😉 Also, if you’re lookin’ for the best pizza for a seriously drool-worthy meal to Dar Poeta (but be for-warned….it gets busy!)
Visit Vatican City & St. Peter’s Square at Night
We did this on our very first night in Rome, and I don’t say this lightly, but I had chills as we sat in the square. After all the masses of crowds had left, this was such a peaceful, awe-inspiring moment. There are few travel moments that you know will stick with ya long after you’ve left them, and this was one of those.
This helped us beat the heat, as I mentioned it was toasty AF out when we were in Rome, so visiting in the evening was much more enjoyable, and far less crowded. This square, located in the heart of Vatican City and at the foot of St. Peter’s Basilica (home of the Sistine Chapel) is one of the most famous squares in the entire world-and for good reason. Not only will you be able to gaze in awe at it’s 284 (!!) columns that surround the square, but you’ll also be privvy to the 140 statues of saints that encircle it as well. In the center of the square you’ll find the obelisk, which was carried to Rome from Egypt in 1586. CASUAL.
One more insider tip: we unintentionally arrived at St. Peter’s Square by wandering along Via della Concilizaione, and it’s by far the most memorable way to arrive here, it begins at the Castel Sant’Angelo, and is absolutely worth the trip!
Venture to Trastevere
If I could emphasize this 1,000 times I would. Trastevere was such a reprieve from the busy more touristy destinations. This neighborhood in Rome is home to some of the most delicious (and fairly priced) cuisine we had during the entire trip. Dar Poeta, the pizzeria I mentioned above, is located here. It’s also the perfect place to grab apertivos, which are essentially happy hour esque nibbles. But the best part? During appertivo hour, you get endless food with the purchase of a drink! WINNING. I’d highly recommend Freni e Frizioni for apertivos, their cocktails are themed after classic movies and it’s got one of the best atmospheres in the city. 10/10 recommend venturing to Trastevere for a more local experience!
Picnic in Villa Borghese
If you’ve been around here for a while, you know one of my very favorite things to do while traveling is to find one of the best parks in the city–and have a picnic in it! Rome was no exception to this tradition of ours, and it might have taken the cake for one of the best picnicking experiences yet! The best part of this is that one of the easiest routes to this (seriously) stunning and huuuge park is by wandering up the Spanish Steps! Head to the top of the Spanish Steps, stop for gorgeous views, and then keep trucking to enjoy this oasis in the heart of Rome. Filled with museums, ponds you can rent boats on, and one of the best views in the entire city, you’ll find everything you need here for a perfect evening. Grab some Peroni and a pizza to go, and enjoy.
Speaking of memorable travel moments, this had to have been one of the coolest. Post picnic in the park, Zach and I were strollin’ in the park, and who do we see across the road but two friends we went to college with! It was the most surreal experience and SO cool to see someone you knew, in the middle of a foreign city, on the other side of the world! Definitely something I will always remember. We ended up meeting with them later while we were both on the Amalfi Coast at the same time (but more on this later..)
Visit the Trevi Fountain Early
Seriously, I say this without hesitation. Some places are better to visit in the evening to avoid crowds…the Trevi Fountain is NOT one of them. While this is absolutely a must-do while in Rome, it’s by far one of the busiest places in the whole city. At night, it gets even busier because of the magical lighting surrounding the fountain. We decided we wanted to experience the fountain in all it’s glory around 8 AM..and lemme just tell ya, there was NO ONE there. It was amazing. We were able to enjoy it, then head to a street side café to grab espresso (which, do not miss while you’re in Rome! Legit the best espresso in the entire world.)
Don’t forget, legend says that if you toss a coin over your left shoulder with your right hand into the fountain, you’re guaranteed to return to Rome! So save up those coins, my sweet!
Get Lost in the Streets and Alleyways
Okay, okay…this is likely on every travel post I will ever write–because it honestly leads to some of the most memorable, and unplanned, experiences! Nowhere is this more true than in Roma. Carve out some time to just let your feet lead you where they will, get lost in the cobblestone streets and alleyways and soak up every moment of this incredible city. A glimpse of where are feet took us this trip is below, and if you want to see more of our vloggin’ in the future, you can subscribe to our YouTube!
You may even see what I look like if you try to take my pizza away…#HANGRY 😉
Grab Dinner by the Pantheon
We did this on our very first night in Rome, and I had some of the most life-changing bolognese of all time. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, Zach and I are both pretttty big history nerds and sitting in front of a building that was constructed around 27 B.C. (!!!) legit blows my mind. There are tons of yummy restaurants around here, so pick your poison and enjoy the view. And don’t skip out on the pasta. You can thank me later.
One of my favorite things of all time: gelato. And nowhere do they do gelato better than Rome itself. The gelato is out of this world–I’m not kidding. If you think you’ve had amazing gelato, you’ll be bowing down to the deliciousness of it in Rome! And I’m gonna remind you of what we said above…enjoy this sans guilt! You’re in Rome. Enjoy all the deliciousness that comes along with it. Giolitti was one of our very favorite places to grab this sweet treat. Just a tip for ya: the places that have super brightly colored gelato aren’t usually as good, they have added coloring to attract the kiddos. Keep an eye out for more subdued colors in your gelato–and prepare for you tastebuds to explode.
Rome left me completely smitten and we already can’t wait to go back! It’s a city that you could truly return to again and again, and truly never see everything. Have you been to Rome? What was your absolute favorite part? Ciao, for now!