Roma, La Città Eterna! Ugh, where do I even begin? Rome: A mesmerizing mix of modern and ancient, a rare and colossal capital. I consider myself extremely blessed to have called this place home for four months. I felt the most alive in those 4 months than I ever have. This trip absolutely changed my life. And I’m certain it can change yours too!
Prior to living here, I had so many questions but yet expectations of what this city had to offer. You see the stereotypical depictions in the media of Rome being this magnetic place where the All-American girl meets the love of her life. So I asked myself, would Rome be all that is it lived up to be? This magical land, far far away….
Well, I went looking for adventure but instead I gained so much more; I ended up falling in love with the idea of love and passion and discovery of myself and my environment. If the opportunity arises, experience for yourself the history, mystery and cuisine that Rome has to offer.
Here is my go-to guide for venturing out the front door and onto an experience of a lifetime!
You know… When in Rome!
The language, scenery, cuisine, and just the way of life… was as if I was living in a postcard. I lived in one of Rome’s favorite neighborhoods, Trastevere. Just a scroll across the Tiber river, this picturesque, formerly working class district, is truly a slice of modern Roman life. With delicious restaurants nestled in what seemed like every corner and even the tiniest of cafes in between, it would be impossible to find yourself hungry here! If I had to use two words to describe this neighborhood, it would be: romantic and authentic. Should you and your loved ones find yourselves wandering the winding cobble stone streets, y’all are in for a treat! You’d stumble upon nightlife, locals gathered around smoking and chatting about, all while dodging Vespas zooming past… this is THE place to explore. Trastevere will take you away from the crowds to the hidden corners of Rome.
One of my favorite things about Trastevere is how many sites of interest are at an easy walking distance away. We explored the city, in its entirety, by foot. But if you are on a quick vacation, and do not have the time to do so, there are other easy options: You can hop on the Tram, Bus, Subway, Taxi, etc. In my experience, public transportation throughout the city was extremely reliable and safe! The Metro stops are near most of the major tourist sites or just a quick walk away from a bus stop!
I arrived in Rome at the end of August. This is the time of year where many Italians take their month long vacation, leaving many restaurants, shops and cafes in local neighborhoods closed. Streets were fairly empty and the foot traffic was light. It were as if, we had the entire city to ourselves! The cobblestone streets, vine wrapped archways, and the exaggerated hand gestures that the locals exchanged, made my first couple of days all too surreal yet perfect. It was not until we had to grocery shop or order food for the first time that reality hit! Talk about lost in translation…
Unlike, other countries I had visited, Italy was the most stern in speaking in their native tongue. When I first arrived, I mistakenly greeted everyone at all times of the day with, “ciao,” and struggled with the most basic phrases, and after very long, awkward exchanges, I would get: “Just speak to me in English!!” Or “Non, capisco” (“I don’t understand”) . Very quickly did I pick up on the fact that I was approaching the language barrier and assimilation to the culture, poorly. This was not a forgivable place, where my American ignorance could get me by. I had to learn the language or at least try my very hardest to.
One of the most challenging yet rewarding aspects of our school was our Italian classes. I believe we had a midterm (entirely in Italian) on week three! The first thing we were taught was that “ciao” is an informal greeting. It is only used correctly when it’s said among people who know one another. So it all began to make sense, having gotten sideways glances from locals I did not know to whom I was throwing “ciao” to. Once, I began to use the correct formalities and genuinely gave Italian a-go, I felt like I gained their respect. As my time there proceeded, I noticed how much more welcoming the locals were with me. On my walks to school, I developed rapport with the market/cafe/restaurant owners. Closer to the end of my experience, I was greeted by name, a few times a day, by these individuals. This is by no means to say, Italians aren’t friendly, in fact, I met so many locals who were more than willing to help make my visit unforgettable, but rather, When in Rome, you should expect to become familiar with the unfamiliar and appreciate such an authentic culture. And isn’t this the goal when traveling?… To fully immerse yourself in a new culture and engage in authentic local interactions and experiences. So even if you are not planning on learning the language before your trip to Italy, this is your friendly reminder to pack the basic travel phrases along with your belongings 🙂
From my personal experience, I always felt extremely safe and comfortable within the city! As with every major tourist destination, there are pickpockets and scummy con artists waiting to take advantage of the distracted tourist so take precautions. My biggest piece of advice is to NOT carry your phone or wallet (ahem, men!) in your pockets especially in the back pant pockets. This is pertinent, particularly in public transit! Carry your valuables in a backpack and wear it in front of you, holding onto the bottom portion. I had seen some pretty intricate theft schemes, so I even went as far as locking my backpack and purse to itself while I was out and about. This is something I feel many people don’t talk about when marketing such a beautiful city, but I will definitely suggest to be mindful. Pay attention to your surroundings and keep an eye out for one another. That said, Rome is an overall safe city, with the massive armed presence both the locals and the tourists are well looked after.
Now, the good stuff! Roman daily life revolves around their piazzas. Piazzas are the hubs for eating, drinking, catching up with friends, or simply sitting by the fountains and watching the world go by.
- Piazza di Santa Maria : This medieval piazza, is filled with shops, cafes, and religious beauty. Sit alongside locals and tourists at the steps of the fountain. Here is a great place to watch live music, eat up your gelato, or simply people watch.
- Piazza Navona: My favorite of them all! Arguably the most beautiful of all the piazzas in Rome, Piazza Navona is particularly stunning at night. The Baroque architecture, showy fountains, and colorful buildings feel as if you were transported back in time.
- Piazza Campo De’ Fiori: This piazza, provides one of the most lively atmospheres I’ve ever experienced! A jewel, really. In the daytime it’s a bustling outdoor market offering fresh produce, flowers, meats, and spices, that transforms into a popular nightlife center in the evening. Mid-day the tents are put away, restaurants set up their outdoor seating options, and the buzz begins. From the Swedish bar to the English pub and Italian wine bar, there is something here for everyone.
- Piazza Dell’Orologio: My second favorite of them all, this charming piazza is nestled away (just walking distance) from hustle and bustle of the Vatican and Castel Sant’Angelo. A place you’d likely walk among the locals, this piazza is where I spent most of my time! Not only is this the piazza where my school was located but in all honestly, this was probably the most aesthetically pleasing piazza to me. The square’s name, “Orologio,” which translates to “clock” derives from the 17th century clock highlighted on top of the church bell tower. Wander along the narrow cobble stone side streets and find beautiful mosaics, churches, eateries, and some of the prettiest multicolored buildings, you will find! This piazza is for sure an Instagrammer’s dream!
- Largo di Torre Argentina: This square is the site of where Julius Caesar was assassinated! For that reason alone this place is worth a visit. It is also maintained as a cat sanctuary today. It is a good stop off and resting point if you are walking through the city.
- Piazza Venezia: This white marble modern spectacle is considered the hub of today’s city traffic. This square was the headquarters, if you will, of the Fascist Regime in the 19th century. In fact, this was the very balcony that Mussolini greeted his crowds. It is a stark contrast in architectural style to the neighboring Roman Forum and Colosseum. You can tour the palace and go up to it’s vantage point of the entire city. It is absolutely beautiful!
- Piazza di Trevi: Arguably the most magical place in all of Rome! As legend has it, be sure to throw a coin from your right hand over your left shoulder, this will ensure that you will return to Rome. Unfortunately, the fountain was under construction the entire time I was abroad, but I will be revisiting later this year…so I guess the legend is true 🙂 You can also find a lot of eateries, shops, and bars nearby.
- Piazza Della Rotanda: Home to the Pantheon. It is yet again, a majestic marvel. There is the famous Renaissance fountain in the center of the square, and surrounding restaurants and bars.
- Piazza Di Spagna: The imposing 138-step staircase, is the perfect gathering place for tourists and locals alike. It was one of my favorite areas to relax in the evenings with some snacks in hand. In the upper Piazza, Trinita dei Monti, you’ll see the stunning twin tower church dominating the steps. From atop, you get one of the best vantage points of the city…domes, church steeples, hotels, in all their glory. Flanking the piazza on all sides is the main shopping street, where some of the world’s largest brands are represented.
- Piazza San Pietro: This holy site, will literally leave you in awe. No words suffice to describe this architectural splendor. It really is THE place which unites people from all over the world. Marvel over Bernini’s work all while overhearing a Sunday service by Papa Francesco. Religious or not, visiting St. Peter’s Square is an almost out of this world experienece that you will never forget. There are also tons of really yummy restaurants to the right of the basilica.
- Piazza del Colosseo: I mean!!! I legit cried walking up to this beauty! Mind you, it is a very congested area with tons of foot traffic but still a great area to rest or marvel in awe. It will cost you € 12.00 to get inside, but once you’re in, you can choose from a guided tour, underground tour, or simply walk around the fascinating grounds at your own speed. Head into the ancient past by visiting the Arch of Constantine before walking through the Roman Forum and up Palatine Hill. Explore the impressive ruins or have lunch at any of the several nearby restaurants.
- Dar Poeta: This hidden gem is in the heart of Trastevere, nearby the Tiber River. They are famous for their Nutella & Ricotta Calzone.
- Mama Angela’s Trattoria: HANDS DOWN MY FAVORITE EATERY IN ROME! It is just a short walk away from the Termini Train Station. Their Cacio e Pepe and Creamy Truffle Pasta were by far my favorite meals. I tried this place on a whim one night and loved it so much, I began going at least once a week!
- Ci-Lin: One of my favorite things about Rome was the plethora of Chinese Restaurants. Ci-Lin was the Chinese Restaurant I frequented the most! Yummy food at amazinggg prices. I’m talking about $5 for three course meals!
- Bar Amore: In the heart of Piazza Orologio, this family run eatery, is where I spent all my free time at…breakfasts, lunches, and mid afternoon pick-me-ups! There is a vast variety of fresh, yummy food on their menu. My favorite was the Nutella Panino! Not to mention, the staff here is amazing (ask for Fabio)! They take the time to get to know you, help you out if need be, and they provide such speedy service! Recommended stop for all hours of the day.
- Forno Campo de’ Fiori: As the name suggests, this eatery is in the heart of Campo de’ Fiori. If you are looking for authentic pizza slices, this is your place! Yummy quality pizza at an affordable price.
- Gelato at Giolitti: A visit to Rome isn’t complete without gelato! Giolitti, is a famous café and pastry shop as well as the oldest gelateria in Rome. Opt for one of the unusual flavors like champagne or pumpkin pie.
- Almalu: In the heart of Trastevere, Almalu serves all kind of funky cocktails, including their famous, “Harry Potter Shot”. This was the first bar I experienced in Rome and definitely a good starting point to your night.
- Art Cafè : This popular dance club is definitely worth a visit. Tucked away near the Borghese Gardens this place is a fun way to dance with the locals. Popular Hip Hop and EDM hits are usually played. However, I would suggest to dress up here.
- Bum Bum di Mel: This place serves some of the strongest drinks I had in Rome! The size of the glasses are larger and they use tons of fresh fruit in their drinks! It is a more intimate bar but thrives as a relaxed environment.
- Ice Club: This place!! Def a COOL experience! A bar cased in ice, kept at a very cold temp, serves drinks in ice cones while everyone is handed an insulated poncho to wear. This is definitely not a place to bump into locals at, but should be tried during your time there!
- G BAR: One of Trastevere’s most popular bars! This is usually the pregame bar, somewhere with cheap drinks, a great international crowd, and pop hits. You’ll find a mix of locals and visitors alike.
- The Yellow : This is a hostel BUT let me emphasize how amazing this place is! I discovered the Yellow on TripAdvisor as it has won #1 hostel several years in a row. I stayed here whenever I had visitors in town and it was by far the cleanest, prettiest, and cheapest place I stayed in in all of Europe! The Yellow is just down the street from Termini station, has a popular bar and yummy brunch spot located downstairs and thrives in a youthful and friendly atmosphere. I know what you could be thinking, a hostel…no thanks! But private rooms were less than $20 a night! Don’t go through the hassle of finding an Airbnb or spending hundreds a night at a fancy hotel, The Yellow is def the place you want to stay.
Whew! This was a long one but I hope it has provided you enough information and inspiration to plan a trip! So in conclusion, is Rome this magical place where you’ll fall in love blah blah blah….? Well….it really is! You may not find your Fabio but you will fall in love with the way this city makes you feel. You will feel enchanted, you will feel in awe, and you will marvel at every single corner, dish, and attraction you encounter. Rome is really more than just a city, it is an experience. Xo