Don't worry everyone, I'm back. Due to copious amounts of photos and a Wi-Fi network on par with the Spanish laundry system, this post and some others I'm working on have taken a little longer than expected to finish. Basically, just treat this post as if I had written it around February 9th after my weekend in Rome. Because that actually is when I wrote it. Enjoy.
What did you do this past weekend? Oh, you sat on your ass and watched Netflix? That sounds nice. What did I do? I was in Rome this weekend (Feb. 6th-8th). Yeah, it was pretty dope.
Just messing with you guys. Trust me, I don't want to take anything away from your Netflix-filled weekend, I've been there myself many a time. Part of me longs for a weekend like that after the marathon I put my body through in Rome.
But, marathon aside, it was completely worth it to see the incredible, awe-inspiring city of Rome, Italy. Even though the weather didn't always cooperate, it was cold and rainy pretty much all weekend except when we were inside visiting the Vatican (of course) or when we were leaving on Sunday (double of course).
Either way though, I still found the city incredibly beautiful. My love for history was definitely fulfilled walking through the ruins of the ancient empire's capital city and my love for food was also fulfilled with the awesome dining experiences I had, but more on that later.
I'm going to be doing a lot of traveling this semester outside of Barcelona on the weekends, and I want to take all of you with me. That's why, after I get back, I'm going to put these guide posts together.
This isn't just to show you what I was doing, even though I know you're all super interested. This is so that if you're anyone from a study abroad student who's also traveling to someone looking to take a trip to a specific city, I can give you a definitive guide to take with you and impress all of your friends.
So let's get down to the nitty gritty. I'm going to show you all what to see, what to eat, clue you in on the nightlife scene and much more, even if you only have a weekend to do it all. If I can do it, you sure as hell can too.
Note: This guide pretty much just covers everything I did and recommend you do. There's obviously a ton more that Rome and other cities I'm going to do guides for have to offer. Pick and choose what you want to see and add other things if you can squeeze them in. Don't let me hold you back, this is just a starting point.
Warning: This guide is long and contains a lot of information. It is not for the faint of heart. But, if you're going to visit Rome, I promise you'll find it extremely helpful, so give it a shot. Also, no matter how far you make it, at the very least check out the slideshow with more photos of my awesome weekend at the bottom of the post.
What to see
The coliseum and the forum
This one's a no brainer guys. I mean, come on. Who goes to Rome and doesn't see the Coliseum? If you're not gonna take my first advice on this guide, you might as well skip the rest of it. If you really can't make time in your trip to make it over there, at least lie to all of your friends and tell them you saw it or else face endless humiliation. But the choice is yours.
Anyway, the Coliseum is sick. End of story. Even though it was raining when I was there, seeing the ruins of the incredible amphitheater where it's said that 50,000 people and over one million animals were killed in the inhuman games was simply unbelievable.
My only issue was that, even though I knew a lot of the history already just because I'm a nerd and I took time to read a lot of the plaques around and stroll through the small museum portion with exhibits and explanations, it was still hard to grasp everything that I was seeing. I wanted more specific details and things pointed out for me.
I was supposed to receive the audio guide for the Coliseum. Unfortunately, it was raining, so they weren't giving them out anymore. It's a real shame because I definitely think I could have gotten more out of my visit there.
In addition to the Coliseum, no one ever talks about the Roman Forum. Which doesn't really make sense to me. I thought the Forum was one of my favorite things about Rome. Walking through the ruins of the ancient city center and seeing some of the views you can get from its higher points was amazing.
This is also right next to the Coliseum and you can get a ticket that covers both the Coliseum and the Forum at a reduced price of about 8 euros with your student ID (if you're an international study abroad student).
- Book the Coliseum in advance with an actual tour guide. It might cost a bit more, but I think the information they can give you about the structure would be invaluable.
- DO NOT stand in line at the Coliseum to get your ticket. The line to get a ticket there is filled with dumb people who don't realize there are three other places to purchase tickets. Don't be one of those dummies. Get your ticket at the Palatine Hill entrance or the Forum entrance. The line at these entrances is much shorter and your ticket covers all three areas.
- Make sure you get plenty of photos of the Coliseum for your Instagram.
This one is more of just a walkthrough on your way from the forum to other sights, but you're not going to be able to miss the Il Vittoriano with its huge chariots on top. According to my friend Ricky, of Ricky Roams Rome fame, who I was staying with this weekend, a lot of Italians hate the structure because it blocks views of the Coliseum.
It also required a lot of restructuring in the center of Rome and I think it was also built on top of some of the ruins of the Forum. While I appreciate and understand the hate, I found the structure interesting and cool to look at. Plus, you're in the exact center of Rome and that's pretty cool.
- You're going to end up walking through here eventually
- Stop for a few a minutes and appreciate the world around you. Even if your friends tell you to open your damn eyes and get out of the middle of the plaza before you get hit by a crazy Italian driver or tram car. (Just a joke, that didn't actually happen to me.)
I have to say, I was a little disappointed with the Pantheon. Only because I think I would rather see it from the top than from the inside, I just wanted a better look at the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. Even so though, it's free, so it's absolutely worth going to. Staring up at the dome and wandering around what is now used as a church is still pretty cool. It's also relatively close to other sites and is in an area with lots of restaurants and interesting shops. It also doesn't take too long, so I still think it is worth your time.
- Explore the plaza area around the Pantheon too. There's a lot of nice restaurants around there and it's a nice place to chill out and give yourself a foot massage before you hit the cobblestones again.
- Spend a little while and walk around the inside. Like I said, it's free. You're a poor study abroad student. Do the math. Look up at the dome but stay away from the middle if it's raining. Remember, that middle part is open, ya idiot.
Church of San Luigi dei Francesi and other churches
Right near the Pantheon, you'll find the Church of San Luigi Dei Francesi. This is a neat church that didn't take too long to explore and was on our way. All around Rome, you're going to find a ton of really cool churches, all with their own unique designs and flavors.
- If you have the time, stop in and check out a few churches. They're almost always free to the public and they'll almost always blow you away with their ornate details.
END DAY ONE
(Yes, this was all one day on my trip)
the vatican and st. peter's basilica/square
The church of all churches. I'm not gonna lie on this one though. Going into the Vatican museum, I had no idea what I was getting into. My impression of going to the Vatican was that you go into Vatican City and there's St. Peter's Basilica/Square and then there's a museum about the Vatican and I don't know maybe they have busts of all the pope's or something? Like Pro Football Hall of Fame style? Boy was I wrong. The Vatican is nothing like Canton, Ohio. And I'm happy about that.
Then I thought the Sistine Chapel was it's whole own thing right next to the museum maybe? Basically I was completely wrong. If you're line of thinking is anywhere close to mine, I can set you straight. I'm probably the dumb one here, but you already knew that.
Anyway, the Vatican is basically like walking through about 10 museums that lead you into the Sistine Chapel. Then, you have to leave the museum and walk all the way around to the other side to get to St. Peter's Basilica and the square. You see, what I didn't realize is that popes like to collect shit. And I mean a ton of shit.
There's the Egyptian collection, the ancient sculpture collection, the tapestry collection, the contemporary art collection, the ceramic collection and a bunch more. There's even an entire section devoted to the evolution of the popemobile for crying out loud. It was insane. Check out all of the sections of the Vatican before you go here.
Like I said though, these aren't really "collections" or "sections," they're pretty much small museums all under one roof. Since they're all they're own (pretty extensive) museums, it takes a while to go through. While I thought all of the artifacts and collections were incredible, it can get pretty tiring and overwhelming. At a certain point, all you really want to do is see the Sistine Chapel, walk around St. Peter's Basilica/Square and be on your way to eating more pizza, pasta and gelato.
When you do get to the Sistine Chapel though, give yourself ample time to appreciate it. The audio guide is key for this part alone just so you know what everything you're looking at is and so that you can understand the relevance of each character in the amazing artistic masterpiece.
After the museum and the Sistine Chapel, take some time to relax and grab a bite to eat before you see the basilica and the square. You need your energy to take in the plaza and snap all the photos you can over there.
- Book the Vatican in advance here because time slots do fill up.
- The audio guide isn't extremely helpful in my opinion because there's so much to see and a lot of intricate details, so it can be hard to pay attention. But it's worth the extra couple euros only for the Sistine Chapel, so pony up.
- Try to grab an earlier time slot because this one is going to take up a pretty big chunk of your day.
- Don't be afraid or feel bad if you don't make it to every single section of the museums. See what you want to see, it's your trip. But 100% get to the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica/Square.
- The pope comes out and does a blessing every Sunday morning, so if that's your thing, check that out also.
the spanish steps
I agree with a lot of people I've talked to and reviews on travel sites that these actually leave a lot to be desired. Movies and the Internet definitely romanticize them for sure. There's also the fact that the two towers at the top were being restored/worked on like everything else in the city when I visited and were covered with a Fiat ad.
However, I'm including them on this guide for a couple reasons. First of all, if you're unlike me in every way and love shopping, the streets right around the Spanish Steps have all the high-end Italian retailers that you're looking for. It's actually pretty cool seeing them all right next to each other on one street in my opinion.
Remember, even if you're a poor study abroad student, window shopping is always free. Except in Giorgio Armani. You have to pay to breathe the air in there, or so I'm told.
Additionally, going to the Spanish steps is, in my opinion, essential because it offered me the best view of Rome I saw all weekend. That view came at Villa Borghese. Villa Borghese is basically a park that is situated next to the top of the Spanish Steps. When you climb the Spanish steps, that's right I said when you lazy shit, head to the left up the hill. Keep going until you reach the top and look out at all of Rome sprawled out before your very eyes. It's incredible.
- Walk around the shopping areas and look but don't touch.
- Admire the fountain, climb up the stairs and beat off sellers of roses, knockoff sunglasses and selfie sticks.
- Stop at the top of the stairs and look down at the fountain and shopping streets.
- Head up to Villa Borghese for the view and stay there for a little while just taking it all in.
END DAY TWO
The jewish synagogue, museum and quarter
I'm so glad we were able to squeeze this in on Sunday before our flight home. After all the churches and the Vatican, it's nice to get a little diversity. Plus there's a bangin' bakery over here (shouts to my sister Gabby for the recommendation). It doesn't have a name but walk down the main street of the Jewish quarter away from the synagogue/museum and look for the line of people. Try to get there early because they only make and sell about 4 things and you're going to want to (attempt to) eat them all.
The synagogue and the museum are still the main stars here though. Be forewarned though, the area has dealt with attacks in the past, so security can be kind of tight. Especially if you're a study abroad student who has a flight in a few hours so he brought his carry-on with him. No, I do not have a pocket knife on me and my duffel bag does not contain any explosive devices, thank you good sir.
While the main synagogue was immaculate, I didn't think the tour that came with our ticket was anything to write home about. Basically, our tour guide took us to the smaller Spanish synagogue in the basement of the building first, then to the main synagogue upstairs. She basically led us around, said "here's synagogue one, take some photos" and then "here's synagogue two, take some photos. Any questions? None? Ok, cool."
I wish we could have stayed longer because that area had some really neat-looking authentic Roman-Jewish restaurants that I would have loved to try. I also just wanted to explore the museum more because I didn't really get to walk around the whole thing. Ok, maybe I just wanted to go back to the bakery and eat everything they had.
- Bakery > everything.
- Do the museum tour with the audio guide followed by the tour of the two synagogues.
- If you have time, grab something to eat at one of those restaurants I talked about.
END DAY 3
(Pretty jam-packed, right?)*
*You'll notice that the Trevi Fountain and some other major sites aren't on this guide. Specifically for the fountain, it was under construction this past weekend. I was told I wouldn't even be able to see it and that instead they had a screen up showing what the fountain would look like if it wasn't being worked on. I can see that online. So as much as I wanted to live out my Lizzie McGuire Movie moment, it just didn't happen on this trip.
Unfortunately for everyone, the public transportation system in Rome sucks. At least in my opinion. As always, I'm sure I'm exaggerating a bit and I was coming from the incredible metro system that exists in Barcelona, so it was definitely an adjustment.
On the plus side, the term "payment" on the Rome tram and bus system doesn't really exist. Sure, there are places to swipe a card or ticket, but if you get on a back entrance, no one is going to hassle you. I didn't pay for a single ride my entire weekend in Rome.
However, I found the system to be pretty unreliable. You essentially have no idea when the next bus or tram is coming and could wait for as long as 20-30 minutes for the next one. Furthermore, late on weekend nights, the trips become more infrequent and the tram stops at 3am (early if you're running on Barcelona time).
Luckily, I didn't have to deal with the system too much because I was only there for a few days and we did so much walking, I didn't really need it. I also never ventured into the actual underground metro system (with all two of its lines). But, my friends tried it and from what I gathered, it's sketch central station.
- Avoid it if you can, but you'll probably end up using it at some point.
- If you've got time to wait, it won't be too much of a hassle.
- In general, trams and buses are supposed to come about every 12-15 minutes.
- Don't use the actual metro if you don't have to.
- In general, be extremely careful and watch your stuff. Seriously, I feel more safe in Barcelona's metro system than I did all weekend in Rome.
What to eat
Just like the Coliseum, you aren't going to Rome without eating pizza. I'm not gonna let that fly and neither should you. However, finding good pizza in Rome isn't the easiest thing because everyone and their Italian grandmother is selling it over there.
Luckily, I was staying with my friend Ricky who is studying abroad in Rome this semester. Ricky took a cooking class and his instructor gave him a list of places to eat, including some of the best pizza places. One of them happened to be within walking distance of his apartment and, because I hadn't done enough walking on my first day already (scroll back up to see what my day one consisted of for a refresher), I agreed to join him for a pizza feasta.
The place was La Gatta Mangiona (The Fat Cat) and it definitely lived up to its namesake. We ordered two pizzas, both margherita, but one was classic/traditional margherita and one was a different take with buffalo mozzarella instead of traditional mozzarella. Both were heavenly. The restaurant also offered a wide variety of wines and beers and we also had some limoncello shots afterwards. (Note: limoncello is meant to be sipped, unless you specifically order a shot at a bar. I'll try to remember that next time.)
I had a couple other slices over the weekend, but none lived up to that first pizza. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it to any other highly recommended pizza places, but I know they're out there and I'll find them one day.
If you have a favorite pizza place in Rome, feel free to leave a shout in the comments or at me on social media.
Same deal as pizza here, but a little bit different. In Rome, I got the feeling that every pizza place wasn't doing it incredibly authentic, but I think that is not as likely with pasta.
If you're selling pasta in Rome, that shit better be homemade or no one is going to eat at your restaurant. Much like the U.S., no one really cares if you're another crappy pizza joint, even if you are in Italy. But they do care about their pasta.
My first day in Rome, for lunch, we went to Ristorante da Massi and I got fettuccine with pork cheek in a tomato sauce with pepper flakes. While I'll admit it wasn't the best pasta I've ever had in my life, it was still good and I could tell it was made in house, and that's good enough for me.
I think you're all starting to understand the recurring theme here. Again, tons of gelato all over the place. Don't get too caught up in it. Or do, and have it twice each day you're there. Your call.
Just beware of the numerous places with a thousand flavors that they leave sitting out all day. Go for a smaller joint off the beaten path that looks like it sells gelato with fresh ingredients and you won't go wrong.
My advice on flavors:
- If you're only in Rome for a weekend, I say get gelato at least twice. That way you try more than one place.
- Try different flavor combos. My first time I went for pistachio and stracciatella (chocolate chip). My next time, I went peach and pineapple.
- It's really important to try different gelato places and get one sweet/dessert flavor combo and one fruity combo.
I really wish I had ventured more into this category when I wish in Rome because each time I did, I was never disappointed. Like the rest of Europe, the bread game in Italy is extremely on point. Everyone is making it fresh. Every. Single. Day. Like clockwork.
This baking prowess makes its way into your sandwiches, which Italy also has a lock on because of what I like to call "the mozzarella complex." And you all know I love sandwiches, so I know what I'm talking about here. Get your hands on a capri, caprese or anything with prosciutto and you can't go wrong.
Sorry for the lack of photos of the baked goods and sandwiches. All of them were so good the only thing I could capture them with was my stomach. My camera and phone never stood a chance.
You're in a foreign country here people. It's a little different than your abroad HQ destination if you're only there for a weekend. It makes it more special. So eat out as much as you can. More likely than not, you're not going to have a kitchen anyway so it shouldn't matter. Besides the restaurants I already named above, there are two here that deserve honorable mentions:
- Hostaria del Moro da Tony: Probably my biggest regret of my trip was not going to this place. But that's only because we couldn't find it. Pro tip: don't go around asking locals where "Tony's" is. They'll have no idea what you're talking about. Use the full restaurant name and you should be good to go. While I've been told this place is extremely Americanized, it's still a great deal. Word on the street is that it's 15 euros for a HUGE portion of chicken parm (which is something you can't really find in Italy by the way) and bottomless, I repeat BOTTOMLESS, wine. Apparently this is some special deal though, so make sure you inquire about it if you go there. I also heard Tony is an excellent host.
- Pianostrada Laboritorio di Cucina: This place has its own post here. It's that good. Seriously one of the best meals I've ever eaten. Great experience, great atmosphere, great staff/owners and great food to back it up. I would legitimately go back to Rome just to eat at this place. I seriously can't recommend it enough.
Like any big city, Rome has a plethora of my biggest kryptonite, late-night munchies. My best recommendations follow.
I haven't ventured to a similar place in Barcelona quite yet, but these places are popping up all over Europe and even in the U.S. and I am extremely grateful. I have an unhealthy obsession/addiction with french fries and these places unfortunately fuel that addiction by making them the only thing on their menu.
To add more fuel to the fire, they have a trillion sauces and you can put on as many as you want. The place I went to even had avocado. AVOCADO PEOPLE. I didn't get that though. I stuck with some old standbys, and got cheddar and my first love, ketchup.
Donuts/other assorted pastries
There are a ton of guys in Rome who I'm sure make a very nice living selling donuts and pastries to unsuspecting drunk study abroad students. And the donuts are good! I had a chocolate-filled one and I think it cost me 1 euro. It was delicious and I would do it again proudly. The donut guys also sell other stuff that you may be interested in, just ask. I'll leave it at that.
Also unfortunately, a lot of gelato places are open late night in Rome. Luckily, I avoided temptation, but it certainly was not easy. Again though, as I said in the gelato section earlier, don't go to the places with a thousand flavors sitting out, looking at you "Blue Ice." Do not go there.
"When is he going to stop with the sandwiches?" The answer is never. Get over it. You know what you signed up for if you've made it this far into the guide. Yes, some sandwich places are open late too. I once again resisted temptation, kind of. I had a bite of one of my friend's late-night sandwiches, and it was everything I could have hoped for.
This district in Rome is filled with restaurants, including most of the ones on this guide and a ton of others. In addition to restaurants, it also has a bunch of small, mostly Italian local bars. Which is awesome if you don't want to get stuck going to all the places American study abroad students are.
Plus, you can take chocolate shots at Rivendita Libri. What more could you ask for?
campo de' fiori
This is where most of the Americanized bars are. Right across the bridge from Trastevere, it's only a short walk. We actually ended up going to some of the same places over here both of my nights out in Rome. A lot of the bars in Campo and other districts in Rome also double as some of the best restaurants in the city during the day, or so I'm told. This area is great because you can jump around from bar to bar with ease.
Ok, so I didn't actually make it to any of the clubs in Rome. Which actually ended up being fine. While the club scene is huge in Barcelona, I actually enjoyed a break from it. I'm more of a bar guy anyway and Rome's bar scene was excellent in my opinion. If clubs are more your scene though, there are some options:
- Gilda: Some of my friends went to this club the first night. Despite multiple recommendations that it was one of the best clubs to go to in Rome, they said it was somewhat disappointing. This could have been for a number of reasons though. It could have been the wrong night to go or a bad one, or the club scene just isn't as big as it is in Barcelona where they're used to going out.
- Art Café: Another club that we were recommended to go to. I can't say anything else about it other than I heard it's fun, because I've never been there and none of us went this weekend. Sorry, but I guess you'll just have to check it out for yourself.
- Promoter Bar Crawls: We didn't do these either, but they definitely piqued my interest. For 20 euros, they start you out at an open bar for an hour and a half, then they take you to a bunch of other bars where you receive one free shot at each. After that, they take you to a club with free entry. Not a bad deal in my opinion. You'll find promoters handing out flyers and passes for these at major sights in Rome, like outside of the Coliseum. If you stay in a hostel, they might also have an arrangement with a promoter for a similar deal.
Rome is an incredible city. Simple as that. The way the ancient city's presence is still felt in every cobblestone and the way that world is seamlessly integrated with the modern one is a sight to behold. The city's ancient charm is what makes it one of the most beautiful city's I've had the pleasure of staying in.
I highly recommend you check it out for yourself, but make sure you use this guide to do it right. And, for the love of all things good in this world, do not come back from Rome (or any other European city) with a selfie stick. Please, I'm serious.
Check out the slideshow below of some more photos that didn't make it into the guide.