It's been almost a month since I returned from our trip to Italy and Croatia (eek! I've been struggling to share this post for over a month). I have to say though that this was one for the books. It felt like with every day the trip was more beautiful and inspiring. It's difficult for that not to be true, considering the places we visited, but I do think we had a pretty great itinerary that I feel it is a must share.
Where to start? Well when I was planning this trip I considered how my husband and I travel. Which is not like everyone so our itinerary may be too dense for some, but if you know you're the kind of traveler who enjoys long days, loaded with lots of things to do from cultural activities to shopping, this will be good for you. We averaged 20K steps per day which is close to 10 miles. On our last day in Rome we walked over 28k steps (14.12 miles), which was our record day! I'm sure you could take more taxis, buses or metros to cut down on the walking, but my favorite part of traveling in cities is about experiencing the city and wandering. I would recommend that you wear shoes that are comfortable to walk in. I am kind of a snob about sneakers and didn't bring trainers, so I ended up with several blisters, however considering the amount of walking I don't think I would have come home without any had I'd even worn my nikes the entire time. I did remember to pack extra band-aids to be prepared.
3 Days + 2 Days (5 Total Days)
We started our trip in Rome, and planned our activities around the location of our hotel. I chose a hotel that was located a little more north, near the Villa Borghese Gardens. I found the Casa Montani on Tablet hotels, which through the subscription offers a free room upgrade and a bottle of prosecco upon arrival. Also, Tablet vets their hotels to ensure any listed on the site will be quality and worth the money. They're adding new ones each day, however you'll find that some cities do not yet have any Tablet hotels listed. In the second half of our trip we returned to Rome and stayed in an incredible Airbnb in the Rione VII Regola. Located a little further south, this leg of the trip we dedicated to food and wandering (even more than the first part). I would say this was although slightly accidental, a great way to end the trip. I would recommend that anyone traveling to Rome that you book hotels in two different locations to get the full experience.
Day 1: Central Rome
Flight Recovery and Banish Jet Lag
Whenever we fly to our travel destination we immediately find our hotel, unload our bags and head out to wander the streets until the bedtime of that time zone. We also have found it best to go to the most obvious tourist sites that don't need too much brain power (for example, in Paris we went straight to the Eiffel Tower). In Rome, we strolled south from our hotel to visit the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, and the Piazza Navona. Along the way we stopped for gelato and this walk brought us to about the right time for Aperativo (Italian happy hour, which includes appetizers with your cocktails, usually served from 6pm - 9pm). Before our trip I had created a google map with starred restaurants, bars, gelaterias across different neighborhoods. This was good for the first day because we weren't sure about what kind of mood we'd be in for food-wise after a long day's travel. I would recommend for the other days however, or if you're a foodie to have reservations made at specific restaurants to ensure you get a seat at a good restaurant. Granted we never ate poorly, but I do think there was a few missed opportunities. Also, one thing to note is if you want to eat like the Roman's don't book dinner until 9pm. Otherwise if you eat earlier, you'll be eating with the Americans. Absorb the culture, enjoy aperativo from 6 pm to 8:30pm then find a different place to eat dinner.
Highlights for this day's list:
Sites + Attractions
The Spanish Steps | The Trevi Fountain | The Pantheon | Piazza Navona
The Margutta Veggy Food & Art - Via Margutta, 118, 00187 Roma, Italy
Upscale veggie and vegan restaurant
Gelateria del Teatro - Via dei Coronari, 65-66, 00186 Roma, Italy
The best gelato IMO (there are two locations)
Pompi Tiramisu - Viale Guglielmo Marconi
The place to try Tiramisu
Bar del Fico - Piazza del Fico, 26, 00186 Roma, Italy
A circus themed bar that is apparently one of the trendiest in Rome.
Day 2: Museums, Ancient Rome + Shopping
Galleria Doria Pamphilj, the Colosseum + Roman Forum, Shopping in the Rione I Monti
We enjoyed a late start to our day eating breakfast at our hotel (it's free with the booking and actually quite good) before we strolled down towards the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj. The Galleria Doria Pamphilj is a house museum and private art collection of the Pope Pamphilj ( Pope Innocent X). It is said to be one of the largest private collections in Rome. It is still privately owned by the princely Roman family Doria Pamphilj. I would advise to spend the extra 12 euro to tour the private rooms where the family still uses today on weekends. The bathroom is epic.
2. Lunch in Monti at Zia Rosetta
I forget who told me about this cute little sandwich shop, but it's perfect for a midday lunch. They offer pressed juices, salads and mini sandwiches (as well as regular sized ones). We were very happy that there were plenty of vegetarian options for us!
3. Shopping in Rione I Monti
Before our next appointment at the Colosseum we had plenty of time to stroll and shop this cute little shopping district. The highlight shops were: Lol which had several locations through the district - the largest one is directly across from Zia Rosetta (via urbana, 89 - 00184 roma). However I would suggest you visit all of the shops, including the outlet. We loved King Size Vintage (Via Leonina, 79, 00184 Roma, Italy) for it's massive collection of Doc Martins, military jackets, Barber Jackets, among other fashion nostalgia. At Moll Flanders (Via Urbana, 132, 00184 Roma, Italy), a highend second hand boutique. I found a MM6 dress, floral blouse by blank, and Jack found a great designer label Carhart bomber jacket - all at fair prices. Another place we missed but I had on my list was Pifebo Vintage Shop (Via dei Serpenti, 141, 00184 Roma, Italy).
4. Guided Tour of Colosseum, Roman Forum + Palantine Hill
I followed Jordan's advice from @Local_Trove about booking a guided tour of the Colosseum through Walks of Italy. My friend Jennaway had suggested I take the arena floor tour (which takes you to the first level of the Colosseum) but we didn't book early enough. I would say that's probably the best deal as you get to see the everything we saw in addition to the first floor for only a few euros more. I think it's important to note: if you're buying the Roma pass the Colosseum is included in the pass however, you're paying a premium price for the tour guide and admission is included in the tour. We didn't get the full use out of the Roma pass and wouldn't recommend purchasing it.
5. Aperativo at Caffé Propaganda
We unfortunately missed this restaurant even though I had it on my list. I would say you should definitely be smart and get a drink here before having dinner later (although I think they have a full menu). This place looks super chic, like a posh French bistro. According to my source (which I can't remember where I pulled the info from) this is where locals come to enjoy great cocktails. The best thing to do is to take a seat at the beautiful vintage bar and ask the mixologist for recommendations. It’s also a good place for dinner and, most of all, tasty homemade desserts. Location: Via Claudia 15, 00184 Roma.
6. (For Vegetarians) Dinner at Il Margutta
If you're a vegetarian, make reservations ahead and enjoy dinner here. We splurged a little on dinner here, but I would say it was the best veggie restaurant in Rome. We chose to try the appetizer sampler, asked the server to recommend the wine and ate the Seitan entrees. Everything was delicious and the staff was extremely friendly and kind. Location: Via Margutta, 118, 00187 Roma, Italy
Day 3: Vatican City + Villa Borghese
Vatican Museums + Villa Borghese Gardens + Galleria Borghese
1. Villa Borghese Gardens + Galleria Borghese
We chose to visit the Villa Borghese Gallery in the morning - partially because it was located 15 minutes by foot from our hotel at Casa Montani, but also because I think it was the only time we could book a tour. Which I must mention, you have to book well in advance. You will not get into this museum if you do not book at least 2 weeks ahead (in the Spring and early summer, I can imagine it's further out in high season). The Galleria Borghese is a wonderful art gallery originally built by the architect Flaminio Ponzio, developing sketches by Scipione Borghese himself, who used it as a villa suburbana, a party villa at the edge of Rome. It features a large collection of Caravaggio works, as well as Titian's Sacred and Profane Love, Raphael's Entombment of Christ and works by Peter Paul Rubens and Federico Barocci. The gardens are a separate attraction and worth a stroll. We lucked out being there at the exact same time as an International Horse Show at the Piazza di Siena. We took the opportunity to catch a few rounds before heading off to the Vatican.
2. Lunch at Bonci Bonci Pizza
A few people suggested this place for a good slice of pizza. There are two locations, one is a little closer to the Vatican, however the neighborhood felt a little dicier to us. The other is a longer walk but a better location. We ordered the margherita pizza and the vegan one - chickpea, spinach and tomato. It's better than you'd expect. However, there were a ton of different and creative topping combinations. Be careful though, the waitress keeps saying, and as you order somehow convincing you to order more than you need. They also cut the slices according to how you ask - bigger or smaller depending on your request. I believe you are charged by weight.
3. Vatican Museums
We purchased our tickets ahead of time having read that the lines can be outrageous. There surprisingly wasn't a line when we went, but I would still buy ahead. It's worth not having to take the chance. I hate crowded museums and this definitely took the trophy for most horribly crowded museum. My suggestion is to take the short cuts to see the Raphael rooms and the Sistine Chapel. Then go back through the Egyptian rooms, Greek sculpture rooms, etc at your own pace. If you go in the afternoon, you'll end up closing out the museum. In the last two hours the latter rooms I mentioned were practically empty and completely private. After our trip through the museum we mosied over to the Vatican city. If you want to see the Pieta I would perhaps suggest flip flopping today's itinerary. However make sure you get to the Vatican museums extremely early.
4. Aperativo at Cul de Sac
I did not make it to this place, however it was on my list. A favorite for the encyclopaedic regional wine list. Located just off the Piazza Navona, there is an always-busy terrace. I would recommend relaxing here after a (most likely) annoying afternoon in the Vatican museums. Lonely planet recommends booking ahead for an evening sitting
5. Dinner at Da Enzo
Elaine from @decorno recommended this restaurant for the carbonara (unless you're vegetarian* then ask if they can leave out the bacon of course), and to order a few fried artichokes. In her words, "this place gives me life. And the owner/host is such a gentleman. Love him." I asked our driver about Da Enzo and he said, you can't get a table unless you kill someone or book months in advance. Which explains why we missed it sadly (I see a running theme here). It's also listed as one of the top 10 restaurants in Rome. We have this on our list for next time.
6. Wander the Trastavere (IF you have the energy)
Now that you're belly is full and you're probably exhausted, take this time to wander and work off some calories. Or go to bed and be ready for the long day tomorrow.
*I would suggest if you are planning to break up your stay like how we did, today would be the day that you set aside some time to move to the new Air Bnb in Rione VII Regola. The next few days are more tailored around that location than the northern local.
Day 4: Day Trip to Ostia or Naples + Herculaneum
(if you're not planning any dates in Naples - stay tuned for our Naples Itinerary)
1. Breakfast at aT Active.Natural.Eating (Strange name I know)
This was on my list for a place to grab healthy food options, smoothies, juices and basically anything that's a break from the heavy italian food. I would suggest grabbing a quick breakfast and some to-go sandwiches from here before you head down for a long day at the Archeological sites. Location: Piazza di Pietra, 62, 00187 Roma, Italy
2. Ostia ANtica Archaeological Site
If you're heading to Naples for a few days (like we did) I would recommend doing Ostia on its own. However if you only have one day for Naples, then check out my upcoming Naples guide for that itinerary. Otherwise, Ostia is close to the airport in a small town, that we stopped by after picking up our rental car for our drive down the coast. We were able to quickly get through most of the site in about 2 hours, however you could easily stay for close to 4. The ancient port of Rome, Ostia features ruins of a central market. A highlight for me were the floors of old market stalls still have the original mosaics depicting their featured products. Afterwards, take a stroll around the small town and check out the castle with a moat, along with the pretty floral covered homes. It's also close to the beach if you're in need of a dip. See the Ostia travel guide for suggestions [here].
If you do decide to go to Ostia then you'll have the afternoon to head back to Rome to visit the Musei Capitoloni, where the Capitoline Wolf is a bronze sculpture of the mythical she-wolf suckling the twins, Romulus and Remus, from the legend of the founding of Rome.
4. Cannoli at Nonna Vincenza
We went here twice in one day. It had the best croissants I've ever eaten - make sure you get the ones with the pistachio filling. And bar none the best cannolis. We started with two minis and Jack went back 3 more times to order more... the women at the counter had to laugh. Enjoy an afternoon delight of the cannoli, then in the morning go for the croissants. Location: Via dell'Arco del Monte, 98, 00186 Roma, Italy
5. Aperativo at Barnum Cafe
I found this restaurant/bar/cafe on a Roman blog. It was a nice retreat from the touristy cafes and nestled amongst a street of great boutiques for shopping. It felt a lot like a Brooklyn-esq establishment, without the attitude. The cocktail list is great, and there are good vegetarian app options. We probably could have eaten dinner here however you're going to want to try the next option. Location: Via del Pellegrino, 87, 00186 Roma, Italy
6. Dinner at Sora Margherita
Dinner here was quite the experience! Pass through the velvet rope drapes that hang on the door to experience a multigenerational authentic italian trattoria. We didn't need a reservation, though I would recommend it. Their fried artichokes are made different from most other restaurants, and totally worth an order or two. We finally had a chance to try the famed Roman dish fettuccine cacio e pepe - delicious of course. A highlight for this designer mind was the decor. The walls are covered in thank you notes, letters and vintage posters. A hodgepodge but definitely fun and extremely nostalgic for my husband, who said reminded him of his late italian grandparents' kitchen. Location: Piazza Delle Cinque Scole 30 00186 Roma
Day 5: Catacombs + Campo Di Fiore + Trastavere
1. Breakfast pastries at Nonna Vincenza
As I mentioned earlier, we had the best croissants I've ever eaten. So have them for breakfast! Our driver told us about the pistachio filling, saying that this Sicilian bakery imports its pistachios from Sicily, which is apparently where the best pistachios in the world are from. We also ordered the cheese filled ones and the nutella. Be glutinous. It's worth it, and you have another long day ahead of you. Location: Via dell'Arco del Monte, 98, 00186 Roma, Italy
2. Campo de Fiore + the Rione VII Regola for shopping
If you're fond of cooking you should definitely check out the market at Campo de Fiore (Piazza Campo de' Fiori, 00186 Roma, Italy). Also, make sure to keep an eye on your wallet - it's noted for pickpockets. My husband kind of hated this place with what a lot of the stall vendors seeming like crooks. I didn't go there with a plan so it wasn't as beneficial as it could be, but there are so many spices that you can't find easily in the states. Next I would suggest wandering the streets of Rione VII Regola for some good shopping. There are a number lovely antique shops - a few that were closed as we were there on a bank holiday, and some great consignment and high-end clothing boutiques. One in particular that was well merchandised was OfficineRed located at: via del Pellegrino 79/80 Roma. I also enjoyed the home store Lela Casa (located at: Via dei Pettinari, 37, 00186 Roma, Italy) that sells lovely italian linens, beautiful tableware and dishes, enamelware and home essentials. The buy is focused on the simplicity of form and function, with attention to material quality and design.
3. Roam the Trastavere
It's very busy and a bit of a scene in the evening but the perfect place for people watching. We were there on a holiday weekend so the Trastavere was even more crazy. I would suggest wandering around until you find a good street side cafe to stop and drink. We ended up at the Meccanismo Bar & Bistrot (Piazza Trilussa, 34, 00153 Roma, Italy), it's a bit of tourist spot but the food was good and there's a good cocktail list.
So that's it, my long lengthy itinerary for 5 days in Roma. I know I still missed some things, but I do think it's a well rounded list with a lot of good foodie options, as well as a range of museums and shopping - both of which Rome has a lot of. Do you think I missed anything major? Anything on this list that is your favorite? I would love to hear about it!