Maybe it’s the crowds, or the somewhat metropolitan feel, or the overall sprawl of this city; but for one reason or another, it seems many visitors don’t have the fondest feelings toward Rome. And that just breaks our hearts.
The first time we traveled to Rome, it was for a simple day trip from Florence. An easy 90 minute train ride brought us into Roma Termini (the city’s main train station), and from there our day became a whirlwind of walking, sightseeing, tourist-elbowing, and sweating. We checked off the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and even a trip through the Vatican… all within about 7 hours. Unsurprisingly, I was nearly in tears by the time we got on our evening train back to Florence. So yes, we totally understand how Rome can be overwhelming.
Thankfully, we learned some valuable lessons from our rookie mistake. We learned that it’s okay to travel somewhere without visiting EVERY “must-see” spot in the city. In fact, it’s how we prefer to travel these days. We mentioned this in our Florence post, but it applies even more so to a bigger city like Rome: take your time. The Eternal City has stood for thousands of years – it would be a shame to rush through some checklist while missing all of the quietly immense details that make this city truly awe-inspiring.
Rome’s Fiumicino airport (FCO) is a major international hub, meaning it’s accessible from most airports/cities. We typically fly to Rome on AerLingus via Dublin, but this time we decided to splurge a bit on a direct flight from Boston to Rome (it was our honeymoon after all!). We upgraded our tickets and enjoyed an extremely comfortable 9 hour flight. Alitalia consistently wins awards for the food offered in its business class cabin, and now we understand why. Truly, Alitalia’s business class experience almost made me wish I didn’t fall asleep for 90% of the flight.
On our return trip, we arrived at the airport a few hours early (since I am one of those crazy people who lives in constant fear of being late for a flight). And we are so glad we did! The Alitalia lounge in FCO is one of the best lounges we’ve been to – the bar has a full selection of beers, wines, champagnes, and alcohol, and the FOOD is better than what you’d find in many restaurants (prosciutto, fresh pasta, beautiful salads). It was the perfect end to our honeymoon (and made it even harder to leave!).
Staying Here (Economy)
Via Nazionale 69, Rome, Italy
Hotel Giolli (“Jolly”) is easily our favorite hotel in Rome. It’s extremely conveniently located: less than a 10 minute taxi from Roma Termini, and also about a 10 minute walk for the light packers out there. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, and the nightly rate includes a standard Italian style breakfast [meats, cheeses, fruit, pastries, and endless espressos]. Many of the rooms also have high ceilings covered in beautiful frescos, which adds a luxurious feel during your very affordable stay. Without a doubt, this will be our go-to hotel for all future trips to Roma.
Staying Here (First Class)
Waldorf Astoria Rome Cavalieri
Via Alberto Cadlolo 101, Rome, Italy
Unfortunately, our first class stay at Rome Cavalieri was not an experience we would recommend to friends, family, or readers. Long story short, we paid a first class rate for a less-than-first class experience*. Check back in after our next trip to Rome (hopefully soon!) for a new and improved suggestion.
*The plus side, however, was this view.
Spending the Day
If you look up any travel book or online guide for visiting Rome, they’ll likely all have a similar “must see” list – Colosseum, Roman Forum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona, Campo de’Fiori, St. Peter’s & the Vatican, etc. And yes you should definitely try and see all of these incredible landmarks during your lifetime. But we have a few tips and tricks for making the most of your time in Rome without wanting to run away and hide in a quiet dark space:
- Wait for nightfall to hit the major tourist spots – If you make an attempt at visiting Trevi mid-day, there’s a good chance you’ll actually just end up seeing the back of 1000+ tourists’ heads. Our favorite way to take in the stunning architecture and fountains of Rome is during a late-night, after-dinner stroll. The temperature drops significantly compared to mid-day, and you’ll be able to admire the world-renowned sites in your own space and at your own leisure. They’re also all lit up so beautifully that you’ll wonder why anyone chooses to do this in the day time!
- Cool off in the Borghese Gardens – As mentioned previously, mid-day in Rome is hot. Our favorite way to stay cool is in the shadows of the gardens of Villa Borghese. These sprawling gardens include ponds, fountains, walking paths, and plenty of spots to cool off or take in a view of the city. Insider tip – rent a motorized bicycle! It’s only about €10 or €15 for an hour of childlike joy. Plus, the Italians don’t care so much about things like “rules” or “safety,” so you can take it wherever you want and enjoy a Peroni or two on the ride.
- Shop – If you’ve ever noticed how painfully chic Italian men and women are, the best thing you can do for yourself is start shopping at their stores. Even the H&Ms in Italy have much better pieces than you’ll find in the states. Even better? Most of the shops are air conditioned.
Insider Tip – For only a few euro, you can take an elevator up to the roof of St. Peter’s Basilica!
Pre-Dinner Drinks (Economy)
Via del Moro 8, Rome, Italy
For those of you who don’t know, one of Mike’s hidden talents is foosball. Born from many childhood hours in friends’ basements (or many slow hours at a tech start-up), Mike’s foosball talents are pretty much unmatched. Challengers welcome. So any time we pass a bar with a foosball table, we’re obligated to stop in. Thankfully, 8millimetri’s drinks were delicious enough to distract me from yet another embarrassing loss.
8millimetri’s cool interior fits in perfectly with the relaxed vibe of the Trastevere neighborhood. The theme is a subtle nod to old Hollywood movies (hence the name), and the space is filled with comfortable chairs and couches to chat with friends. 8millimetri also offers a varied (and delicious looking) spread for aperitivo; however, we passed on the nibbles since we were saving our appetite for our favorite restaurant in Rome. Read on below!
Dinner Date (Economy)
Via Garibaldi 56, Rome, Italy
As Mike’s favorite date flight restaurant in the world, you know there has to be something special about Marco G’s. We were lucky enough to have our “farewell dinner” at Marco G’s during our wedding week. Marco himself was incredibly helpful and accommodating in putting together a special evening for friends and family who traveled so far to attend our wedding, but you’ll experience the same hospitality even just wandering into the restaurant from the street.
Now, about the food. First things first, do yourselves a favor and order the meat and cheese platter to start the meal. It’s an extremely generous serving and the smoked mozzarella will speak to your soul. Take your time on the appetizer since your next dish is a bit heavier – truffle and sausage pasta. I don’t even like truffle and this is one of the most incredible pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten. Everything on the menu is truly delicious, but we know from personal experience that you’ll be talking about these two dishes for months after you leave Rome.
If you need any further convincing, just know that two date flights friends were in Rome for 3 days for their honeymoon.. and ate dinner at Marco G’s twice. And we would do the exact same thing!
Dinner Date (First Class)
Via Alberto Cadlolo 101, Rome, Italy
Our dinner at La Pergola may go down as one of the most incredible meals of our lives. Located on the top floor of the Rome Cavalieri, we dined at sunset on the spacious deck overlooking all of Rome. The setting was so beautiful we kept having to make sure it wasn’t actually a green screen. However, we were quickly distracted from the incredible view when the food and wine arrived.
In typical date flights fashion, we ordered the gourmet tasting menu with wine pairing*. Every bite was delicious, but we’ll remember the Fagottelli “La Pergola” forever. Picture the best carbonara sauce you’ve ever had, except it’s contained inside of the pasta, creating a saucy explosion as you bite through the perfectly prepared fagottelli. Mind-blowing is the only way to describe this dish.
While we wouldn’t stay at the Rome Cavalieri hotel again, we will definitely be back to La Pergola.
*Usually wine pairings = one glass of wine per dish. Not here! Our servers kept the wine flowing all night as we worked our way through 10+ courses.
Have you been to Rome? Did you love it as much as we do?