Italy, Italia, AKA where I think I should have been born, AKA my favourite place in the world. Home to two of my favourite foods – pizza and pasta – and the most beautiful country I’ve visited, I couldn’t wait to go back after 5 years of Italy withdrawal! Today I thought I’d share with you some of my experiences in a new city in a familiar country, and some tips if you’re thinking of visiting yourself!
As a child, I visited Italy every year in the summer holidays which my family, and every year I couldn’t wait to go back. Until now, I hadn’t visited in about 5 years, so when Reece and I were deciding where to go for a weekend break Italy was my first (and almost only) choice! Neither of us had visited Rome before, and it always looks so beautiful – plus, we were planning on going near my birthday (also Valentines Day!) – so it seemed the perfect choice.
WHERE TO STAY.
Well, where do I start?? We’d spotted this beautiful hotel months before we booked our trip when browsing and went straight to it when we actually came to book. The photos on the website are stunning and most definitely true to life! The lobby is modern and beautifully decorated, along with the breakfast room, and definitely carries through to the bedrooms. The room we had was a bit alternative – sliding glass doors with no lock on the en suite and shower rooms so not ideal if you have children! – but immaculately clean and modern. We stayed in the Junior room which had more than enough space for the 2 of us, although we didn’t spend too much time there as there was so much to explore in the city. The hotel is located so close to everything, so it’s perfect if this is your first time in Rome – 10mins walk to the Colosseum and Vittoriano monuments, 10mins in the other direction to the train station (2 tube lines for the whole city and it takes about 10mins to get from one side to the other – it’s crazy small if you’re used to London!)
WHAT TO SEE.
Now, I’m not a religious person and neither is Reece, but the Vatican is definitely a must-see purely for its stunning architecture and the sheer scale of the place! The thing that struck me most was the spotlessness of it all – the columns surrounding the main area could have been built this year, the look so flawless! We decided to visit the inside of the Basilica as we anted to get as much out of our trip as possible, and made the decision to climb the 500+ steps to the top. A word to the wise – if you don’t go to the gym at least once in a week this might not be for you – I haven’t exercised in nearly a year and just about made it without passing out. The view at the end is so, so worth it though – you get a 360 view of the whole of Rome and get to see the stunningly painted dome of the Basilica too, all for €6!
THE SPANISH STEPS.
As virtually everything in Rome is on the same Metro line, we were able to hop off on the way back from the Vatican to visit the Spanish steps. Unfortunately the actual monument is quite difficult to see as it’s covered in tourists most of the time by the looks of it! The area is beautiful, nonetheless – this seems to be Rome’s equivalent Kings Road, with Prada, Chanel and Valentino stores in buildings which couldn’t be more suited for designer brands! We found Barcaccia, the most amazing ice cream and patisserie shop – I can’t find a website but it’s right near the fountain and sells the richest Italian gelato I’ve ever had which is saying something! The Il Palazetto terrace bar is also worth a visit for a (slightly pricey!) glass of wine on a rooftop overlooking the steps.
THE TREVI FOUNTAIN.
This was easily the most beautiful sight we saw in Rome. We completely stumbled across it on the way to Piazza Navona for a meal (more on that later), and were absolutely blown away by it! The attention to detail in the marble is incredible and looks so beautiful lit up at night – I’d definitely recommend visiting in the evening if possible! We passed it a few times and although we didn’t get to see it in the day, I don’t think we needed to. The photo definitely doesn’t do it justice! I wish I could’ve taken more but it’s incredibly busy around the square and near impossible to avoid tourists’ heads in the photo!
This was the big one, the visit I’d been most excited about in the whole trip. As our hotel was so nearby, we had passed the Colosseum several times before actually visiting, but every time I found it just as breathtaking as before. Call me a nerd, but I think it’s amazing that even after 2000-odd years that so much of it is still standing and looking just as magnificent! We chose not to take a guided tour (although we were offered hundreds by touts outside – be careful!) and the queue was estimated to be an hour but we found it was much quicker. If you do want a guided tour but want to save money, it’s worth booking in advance online, we discovered later. I can’t quite describe the inside as it’s so absolutely humongous, so I’m going to let the photos do the talking again!
With your ticket, you also get a visit to the Palatine palace and Roman forum – these are more for the people who are interested in history as they’re mostly ruins now, but still worth a visit and probably a lot more enjoyable if you’re not wearing stupid shoes like I was! My top tip from the whole holiday: if you’re going to be walking round ancient ruins do not wear the flattest backless loafers imaginable as a. you will slip out of them A LOT and b. most of the ground is cobbled and hurts like a b*tch in flat shoes!
THE VITTORIANO MONUMENT.
The monument was one of the first major buildings I was stunned by when we arrived and we passed it every day we were there. A monument to the first king of Italy, the building is one of the newer but most impressive buildings we saw. As with most buildings in Rome, it’s difficult to miss as it’s made of bright white marble and is absolutely huge! On our last day, we took the panoramic lift up to the top for €7 each, and got an incredible view of Rome from the opposite side to the Basilica. With views of the Colosseum on one side and the expanse of Rome on the other this is something I’d definitely suggest doing as you can see more of the well-known sights than the Basilica and spend as long as you want taking in the views – I can imagine it’s amazing at sunset!
WHERE TO EAT/DRINK.
I wish I’d taken more photos here as it really is a beautiful place, however we’d had an incredibly busy day and had walked a while to find the place – we got lost on the way to the Trevi Fountain. However, I had the best mushroom pasta and some of the best service I’ve ever had in one of the restaurants here, Ristorante Vacanze Romane – I wanted to go back the next day and definitely would have if it wasn’t as far as it was from our hotel! Piazza Navona is home to tons of restaurants and bars, however is in a transport-restricted zone meaning no buses or tubes run near it. From the Trevi Fountain, however, it’s about a 10 minute walk and passes the historic Pantheon on the way.
We passed Da Brunello (props to Reece for hunting down the name after I forgot to take a not of it!) on the way to Piazza Navona, and I knew I just had eat there! Looking through the window, it was the tiniest, most traditionally-decorated place, and knowing Italy as I do I know these are the best kind of places. They’re often family-run and the food, usually old family recipes, is exceptional! Plus with that large wine selection, how could I resist for a meal on our last night?
I was not disappointed! Our waiter was everything you’d expect from an Italian restaurant – singing as he served us our food and drink and taking excellent care of us. The food was beautiful – another amazing mushroom pasta for me, and a gigantic pepperoni pizza for Reece! The meat also looked amazing (for those of you who are carnivores, unlike myself!) and I’d definitely recommend the Pinot if you like white wine – so good! I’m aware I sound slightly alcoholic from this post but I swear it’s just Italy – it’s impossible to resist in the home of wine!
If you’re looking for a city break where you’re a stone’s throw away from all the most beautiful sights you can imagine, then Rome should definitely be on your list! Having been to probably a dozen cities, Rome is definitely the most beautiful (sorry Venice, my previous fave!), and there’s a surprise around every corner. Make sure to seek out the hidden gems as well as the popular tourist spots, and of course, remember your comfy shoes!