It had been six years since I was last in Rome. My dad worked there for a while, helping the Italian Air Force pilots and I spent a summer there with my family after graduating from high school. It was nice being back and I remembered quite a bit from my days as an 18 year-old exploring the city.
The best advice I can give anyone visiting Rome is to go during the off-season. Traveling to Rome in January was the best decision we could have made. It rained the first day but the next two were perfect. It isn’t too hot to walk everywhere and the best part is there are less tourists. Still, because Rome is such an entry-level destination (everyone’s first trip is to Italy it seems) I can’t remember being anywhere and seeing as many tourists as we did in Rome. It was a bit embarrassing to be speaking English, thankfully Alex spoke enough Italian so that he could at least make an attempt at saying everything in Italian. We would cringe when we heard people not even try or seem ashamed. Still, the Italians are incredibly nice and seemed to put up with annoying Americans like I never would.
Rome is such an incredible city, it makes sense that it is teeming with tourists. You can spend all your time just walking around the city. Everywhere you look it is like you are in a museum.
Santa Maria in Trastevere
Where to Stay:
Stay in Trastevere. It’s across the river from the main sights, but not a far walk at all. There are very few if any big name hotels in this neighborhood and although tourists do venture out this way, you will feel a bit more like a local. The nightlife is excellent and there are tons of great restaurants. Be prepared to stay in a B&B or an Airbnb, and you should!
Where to Eat:
For our first meal in Rome, this restaurant was a fantastic choice! We ordered a delicious pizza and Italian beer. You can get a pizza with three different toppings to try a variety. The building is super old and the staff was incredibly friendly. Since we live in Spain, customer service isn’t something that we’re used to. The waiter kept coming to our table asking if everything was alright.
This restaurant in the hipster neighborhood of Rome (Madonna dei Monti) was adorable and what seemed like a husband and wife duo working were so nice! Even though every table in the tiny restaurant was taken, we just had to wait 5 minutes and one freed up. Alex got the lasagna and I got a delicious pasta with veggies and we each had a glass of amazing Italian wine. The old man working was even kind enough to put up with a couple obnoxious Americans that came in and while he was telling them the menu in English, the daughter immediately cut him off to make him aware of their vegetarian tendencies. How nice of them to save him the effort of reciting meat-ridden dishes in vain! Eventually we finished and ordered cheesecake for dessert. Possibly pistachio flavored, not too rich or too sweet, very civilized. Don’t know if I can eat regular cheesecake ever again.
Even though dinner here was one of the most uncomfortable meals of my life, I must include this place because the food was excellent and my experience was not the fault of the establishment. The restaurant itself is fairly small and we ended up basically sharing a table with 3 Italians who kept staring at us and our food. It was also eerily quiet in the restaurant so everyone could hear each word we spoke. Fortunately the three Italians left shortly after our entrees arrived. We had delicious anchovies for a starter and I had spicy penne pasta which was delicious. The bread they served was excellent as well.
I loved this restaurant so much! The decor is really cute and inviting and the music was nice. I had linguine with Roman broccoli-the really fractal kind and Alex had fettuccine with ragu. It was the best pasta I could ever remember having before! For dessert we couldn’t help ourselves and ordered another cheesecake which was served in a jar. This one was even better than the last we had. The crust was like oatmeal and honey granola and there were berries on top it, was incredible.
Italian Beer Crawl:
Our first night in Rome was dedicated to the amazing craft beer scene. Beer certainly isn’t the first image that comes to mind when you think of Italy, but we found that like their food and wine, they are making some damn good craft brews. Normally with beer in places you wouldn’t expect it e.g. Spain (albeit there are some great beers), I keep that in mind as I sample the beer and give them credit just for trying. A Spanish beer for example might be really good for Spain, but you couldn’t compare it side by side to many beers from Seattle. Many Italian beers however would definitely hold a candle to US craft beers. It seems like the majority of their styles are IPAs and Belgian styles.
We started the night off here and I got a sour beer from Revelation Cat Craft Brewing in Rome. They had over 30 beers on tap! It was like heaven. The bar itself is cool, very open and in a neat part of Trastevere.
Next stop was in the heart of Trastevere’s nightlife area. Here too there were over 30 beers on tap of many varieties and tons from Spain. The bar itself is narrow, lively and crowded. The food we ordered was delicious and well prepared and came out quickly! The pizza we ordered had a sour dough maybe made with brewer’s yeast? And for beer I had an Italian cinnamon cask ale that was unbelievable.
The name of this place means something like “what the hell are you doing here”. The space is small but luckily we got two stools at the bar. The level of busyness kept coming in waves of there being a giant line and then being fairly empty. The staff was so nice and I successfully asked in Italian where the hops were from in an Italian IPA I was drinking. I got a long-winded answer but unfortunately didn’t understand a thing. The Italian CDA (SeraNera) by Eastside Brewing was amazing!
The last stop of the night was Open Baladin just over the river. The place is enormous and there was a bouncer type outside controlling the number of people allowed inside. We sat upstairs and the decorations were pretty zany. They have a huge taplist menu and food as well. We didn’t try the food but we ended up going back two more times! There were just too many beers to try.
For our second day in Rome we spent the entire day walking around the city and seeing everything. It was a perfect sunny day and not too cold.
We started by seeing the Knights of Malta Keyhole on Aventine Hill. You wait in line and then get a chance to look through an actual keyhole and see St. Peter’s Dome.
We walked to the Circo Massimo and then over to Palatine Hill which happened to have free entrance on Sundays and wasn’t too crowded either. We were lucky to just walk up and be handed free tickets immediately.
We saw the colosseum but since entry was free for the colosseum as well, the line was atrociously long so we skipped the inside and realized we could spend the time waiting in line seeing many other things.
We ate lunch in the hipster neighborhood Madonna dei Monti and then walked through the Roman Forum. As always, it is so cool to imagine what it would have looked like 2k years prior. We went to the top of the Altare della Patria for a great view of the city.
We ended the day of touring at the Piazza del Popolo at sunset and then walked to Open Baladin for a beer. After resting in the Airbnb for a bit, we went out in Trastevere for dinner and grabbed a couple of beers to take home from a bottle shop called Donkey Punch.
Third and Final Day in Rome:
After breakfast at the b&b we went straight to the Vatican. As soon as you get near the Vatican people start trying to convince you to join their tour groups. One guy told us the wait in line was 3 hours to get inside which we were skeptical of. We didn’t give anyone the time of day and got in line to the basilica for mandatory security. Within 20 minutes we were inside the basilica. The inside of course is incredible so we walked around for a long while and then decided to go to the top for a view and I had never been.
It was about 4 Euros each to climb the 550 stairs to the top of 2 Euros more to take the elevator. The elevator however only got you about half way up and that was by far the easiest half to walk.
After climbing half way there is a beautiful view of inside the basilica looking down. There are phenomenal mosaics all around the walls. But then looking at how narrow the passage was to climb the final half, Alex required a pep talk and some Xanax to make it through. It wasn’t the best environment for someone who is both claustrophobic and acrophobic. Near the top the wall is almost completely sideways, even I was a little uneasy. The very final stairs were in the smallest section. I could envision many large Americans getting trapped because you had to be quite slender. For the first give minutes at the top it was pouring rain but thankfully the rain subsided and I was able to get some great pictures. It was such an impressive view and totally worth the stair climb. Maybe not for Alex though. He couldn’t fully enjoy the view from so high up but he was a sport for making it.
We spent about four hours at and around the Vatican and then stumbled upon a fantastic restaurant for lunch.
We walked through Piazza Navona and although I expected no less, it was pretty horrible. There was some crummy fair type thing with a little carousel and games and lame street performers. It was a shame really because the piazza itself is of course gorgeous and historic.
Our last touristic stop was the Pantheon which never fails to amaze me.Then we went back to Open Baladin one last time since we couldn’t get enough. We had three beers between the two of us and then went back to Bir & Fud and had three more.
Before heading to the train station to take the night train to Sicily, we stopped by a grocery store to pick up some mozzarella, bread and more beer for the train ride. We also found a little place with pizza for dinner where they cut the amount of pizza we wanted with scissors.
We caught a commuter train from Trastevere to Termini where we were nearly swindled as a man working there told us we could get our ticket onboard the train. He also told us the ticket counter should have closed three minutes prior. Alex and I looked at each other and we knew something wasn’t right so we immediately walked back to him and Alex used his basic Italian to communicate that the email we received clearly stated that we needed to have our tickets printed at the station. That time he said we needed a “PNR” which obviously we knew what that was and had that and finally he was convinced into printing our tickets. We were so fortunate because of course the conductor when we reached the train took our tickets and would not have accepted an electronic version, and then by that point the ticket office would have been closed.
The train was amazing! It wasn’t fancy or spacious by any means but it was pretty clean. We had our own private car for the 12 hour train ride from Rome to Palermo. There were 3 bunks and a little sink. We drank our beer, ate our leftover pizza and watched a movie before going to sleep.