Why I went here? I have never been to Italy. It was the part of Europe that was due to be explored.
Best time to visit? Spring or fall; summers are hot, jam packed, and just plain miserable.
Best way to get there? Rome has two airports: Leonardo da Vinci, more commonly known as Fuimicino (FCO), and Ciampino (CIA). The former is the larger of the two and is often the port of entry for most American travelers. There are no direct flights from Dallas to Rome, however, there are several from major airports on the east coast (BOS, JFK, IAD). To get to Rome from Fuimicino, take a bus or an express shuttle to Termini station, followed by a metro connection if applicable, or a cab. Kiosks at the airport where you can buy the tickets of your choice are clearly marked and there is a cab station just outside of the main entrance to Termini. Ensure that the cab is one of the officially marked ones before getting in on them. The bus cost is 4 euros and the express shuttle is around 14 euros. A cab ride will cost you 40-50 euros from the airport to any part of Rome within the Aurelian walls.
What to see/do? This is a tough one to narrow down. I personally spent a solid four days in Rome and failed to see all the major sites (I missed out on the Vatican Museums and the Villa Borghese). For a first time traveler, it is best to divvy your sightseeing into two parts: Ancient Rome and The Vatican. Ancient Rome includes The Colosseum, The Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and the Pantheon while The Vatican itinerary includes St. Peter’s Square, Basilica and the Vatican Museums. Other mentionable stops include the Vitorrio Emanuelle monument (one of the grandest in Rome and has a great view), Piazza Navona (an old track that when flooded used to be a huge public bath), Capitoline Hill (a Michelangelo designed piazza), Trastevere (Rome’s Left Bank), Campo Di Fiore (home to a daily market), Spanish Steps (iconic series of steps leading to Rome’s most famous shopping street), Villa Borghese (Cardinal’s villa turned museum) and the Trevi Fountain (elaborate fountain immortalized in Hollywood films). Just a bit of travel tip: whatever you decide to do, wear comfortable shoes. Rome is best experienced on foot.
Food and drinks: When in Italy, one has to try the Italian food trifecta composed of pizza, pasta, and gelato. Even though the original pizza originated further south in Naples, Rome has plenty of pizzerias to entice the tourists. You can choose a sit down meal, ordering a full pie, or just wander into one of the smaller locations selling them by the slice. Pasta is another staple in Italian cuisine and in Rome the Amatriciana is the sauce of choice. It is often served over spaghetti and is a staple offering in almost all restaurants. If it is in season, try carciofi alla Romana. It is a vegetable dish made of artichokes stuffed with garlic and breadcrumbs. Lastly, what is an Italian food experience without gelato? You can eat it as a dessert, a pre-cursor to your meal, or even a meal substitute. It is everywhere and a favourite of tourists and locals alike. For the ultimate experience, visit Della Palma, a gelateria near the Pantheon that offers an astounding 140 flavours. When it comes to drinks, Italians are proud of their coffee and wine and Rome is no different. Learn about the coffee culture in Italy to avoid getting the wrong thing or the unwelcoming glance when you order a cappuccino after lunch and be prepared to answered how you prefer your wine: sweet or dry (yes even on reds). It is highly unlikely that you will come across a bad meal in Rome, but to enhance your culinary experience, choose wisely. In my opinion, restaurants nearby extremely popular tourist spots and those that often recruit you to come dine may not be your best options, so forego the easier spots and turn a corner or two away from the sights. Getting lost is a part of your Roman adventure and some of the best eats I have found were results of happenstance.
Where to sleep? It is no secret that hotels in Rome can be terribly expensive however there are a couple of more affordable options to choose from. Hostels and apartments are aplenty in Rome. Most of the tourists I have encountered have rented flats. Prices vary on the location and the space allotted but generally ranges from $150 to $250 a night. For an even cheaper form of accommodation, hostels are the way to go. During my visit, I stayed at a place called Dreaming Rome and must say that I was genuinely pleased with my experience here especially after comparing it to my other hostel experiences in other Italian cities. The positives include dormitory rates which were around $40 a night but the price included breakfast and linens. Its location was also a plus for me because it was just around fifteen minutes from Termini. It is also in a residential area, so it was safe and quiet come nightfall. If you wake up early enough, you also get a glimpse of how the locals live and go about their morning routines. The breakfast inclusion was the best I have yet to encounter in a hostel and our sibling hosts, Domenico and Fabio, were both very friendly and hospitable people. My only qualm was the space. The dormitories only have six and seven bed options (they do have a couple of private rooms) so it can be tight at times and weekend mornings in the kitchen can be standing room only. Despite that, I will still consider a return stay here and will recommend it to anyone seeking cheap shelter in Rome.
Daytrips: For a deeper understanding of life in Ancient Rome, head outside the fortified walls into Ostia Antica or head south into Pompeii. The former is a location not too far from Rome (approximately 30 km SW) and was the site of Rome’s ancient harbor. It is just as impressive in details as its cousin city to the south. If what you seek, however, is to truly go back in time and to experience what Ancient Rome may have been like at its peak, Pompeii is worth the 3 hour trip . It is a deceivingly large city, which puts into perspective how great the eruption of Vesuvius was then. The city is a showcase for Roman engineering and contains some of the best preserved artifacts during the height of the empire. Both can be easily reached via rail or by booking guided tours.
Why I would go back? There is just so much to see and do here that it warrants a second, third, even fourth time to really appreciate it. The Vatican Museum is one of the attractions I missed on my first trip so that in itself guarantees a return trip to Rome. There is also that unique feeling of being in a dream rather than a reality. During my first couple of days, I was awestruck at seeing iconic sites such as the Colosseum and St. Peter’s Basilica. Not since my travels to London did I feel that way. It could very well be that I was merely seeing it on the telly right before I left for research, but it felt wonderfully surreal. “Wow” suddenly because my lone vocabulary. Rome is a city full of history and it can be overwhelming at times but you learn to adjust to it. You even begin to embrace the somewhat chaotic days because that is Rome for you: lovable despite the turmoil; and because throughout history, no city represents Italian culture more than the Eternal City.