Mini Travel Guide: Rome, Italy

Looking for a travel guide to Rome? Click through for Rome travel tips from a local - where to go, what to do, and how to travel in Rome cheaply!
Looking for a travel guide to Rome – that city of architecture, cheese, and Vespas? Lucky for us, I brought in a local to share her best Rome travel tips: where to go, what to do, and how to do it all cheaply!

Hello, friends! My name is Karen. I’ve lived in the Eternal City for five years and have seen it through the eyes of a tourist, a student and a worker.

More importantly, I see if through the eyes of a devoted admirer, aware of its flaws but fascinated by its beauty. My mantra, in this and other cities, is to live life with open eyes and to make the most out of any city in which you live or to which you visit: to live like a tourist. And thus, my blog.

Must do while in Rome

Must Do in Rome

Bike the Appia Antica

When they said all roads lead to Rome, they surely included the Appia Antica, one of the longest and most important roads of the ancient republic.

If walking around the city isn’t enough exercise for you, you can rent a bike on the Appia Antica and practically go as long as you want. The original road was over 130 miles! In the first six miles, you can stop and visit the Catacombs of San Callisto and San Sebastiano, ancient crypts located outside of the city walls.

Opera at the Terme di Caracalla

In the summer time, the city uses the Baths of Caracalla as a backdrop to an open air opera house. Even if opera isn’t your cup of tea, I think there is rarely a visitor that wouldn’t be impressed by a combination of sitting in the open air of a Roman evening, listening to Puccini’s music with orange-lit ruins of an ancient bathhouse in the background.

must do while in Rome

Must Go in Rome

The treasures of Rome are hardly a secret. So, I will let the plethora of other guide books give you pointers on those. In the meantime, here are some other ideas:

The Pantheon at Night

One of Rome’s most underrated sites is the Pantheon. Don’t get me wrong, the Piazza is still filled with tour groups on any given day. However, unlike the Coliseum, St. Peter’s or even the Bocca della Verità, the pantheon has not come to symbolize la bella Roma. I’m not sure why.
It is the best preserved Roman temple and the roof with its oculus, the hole at the top of the roof and its only source of natural light, is an architectural feat that cannot be recreated today. While the interior is worth seeing, it is closed in the evening. My advice: make two trips. At night, basked in golden light, the Pantheon is truly awe-inspiring.

Take in the View from the Gianicolo

No matter how long your stay is, you need to get a view of Rome with its splendid cupole and its terracotta tiled roofs. You can do this from Villa Borghese’s pincio gardens, the top of the “wedding cake” monument, Vittorio Emanuele, or even the Dome of St. Peter’s.
My favorite however is a bit further out of the main area on the Gianicolo (Janiculum), one of the Seven Hills of Rome. This view, night or day, is remarkable, allowing a taste of what it must be like to see an empire.
Must eat while in Rome

Must Eat in Rome

Cacio e Pepe

Though famous for prosciutto, porchetta and a variety of other pork dishes, as a vegetarian I can only recommend that which I know. So a Roman classic to try: cacio e pepe.

This dish of pasta with cheese and cracked black pepper may sound boring, but it is a reminder of how wonderful simplicity can be. Try it with a side of cicoria (chicory) if you want to add some greens.

Fiori di Zucca

Another classic is fiori di zucca, the flower of a squash. Often you will find this dish in the antipasto (i.e. appetizer) section of the menu.
The squash blossom is usually filled with mozzarella and/or anchovies and deep fried. If you want to avoid deep-frying or anchovies, you can usually also find a fiori di zucca pizza where the blossoms are served as a topping on their own.
Looking for a travel guide to Rome? Click through for Rome travel tips from a local - where to go, what to do, and how to travel in Rome cheaply!

Cheap travel tips for Rome

Bountiful tourism and the robust Euro have made Rome quite expensive. My advice: enjoy the small pleasures (like coffee and wine) that are still quite affordable.
Another tip: walk whenever possible. Many tales of taxi drivers scamming tourists are true so avoiding cabs is a good rule of thumb. If you aren’t in a rush, public transportation is also an option. It is cheap (1 Euro per ticket), but it isn’t reliable. The best option is to use your legs.
Rome is very walk-able, and there is history at every corner (quite literally) so it gives you a better chance to explore. P.S. When you get thirsty from all the walking, take advantage of the free flowing water fountains around Rome. Yes, it is safe to drink!
Airbnb is usually cheaper and more authentic than a hotel or hostel. Here’s a one-bedroom loft for $32 a night and a super cute two bed place for $59. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s a $40 credit towards your first booking!
Travel cheap in Rome

Cultural Tips for Traveling in Rome

There are a lot of cultural norms when it comes to caffé. Coffee shops are called Bars in Italy. Having a coffee at the banco (at the bar) costs less than sitting down (for everyone, not just tourists). Thanks to Starbucks, you probably know that the basic Italian coffee is espresso.

So if you want that, you just ask for a caffé. An Americano is just watered-dow espresso; it is not filtered coffee. If you want a caffelatte, it is important not to shorten it and ask for a latte because this will land you with a class of milk.

Coffee is usually served warm, not boiling like in the U.S., which is normal and easier for drinking at the bar. Italians will almost NEVER order anything but a caffé in the afternoon, particularly after a meal. However, they have gotten used to serving cappuccinos to foreigners at almost any time of day.

Just be prepared for a weird look. The one exception? After 3:00am, when cappuccinos become appropriate again coming home from a club or late-night party. Stopping for a cornetto (Italian croissant) and cappuccino is a late-night tradition. La Sorchetta on Via Cernaia is one famous place for this.

Thanks so much, Karen!  Have you ever been to Rome?  Any tips to add?

P.S. How to live out of a suitcase – glamorously

Photos by Vincent Versluis and Jace Grandinetti on Unsplash

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  1. Haddock

    Enjoyed reading this.
    Biking is one of the best (and good) options in Europe.

  2. Italian Postcards

    I have always thought it was funny that coffee shops are called bars but it's like having a Cheers the size of a broom closet and a Starbucks rolled into one.

  3. Mollie @ Jennings Brae Bank Farm

    I stumbled into the Pantheon one night. They were having a free concert with a quintet of French Horns. Such beautiful place and the acoustics were stunning.

  4. Karen Mardelli

    Small correction! I just learned that the Gianicolo is not one of the "seven hills of Rome." It is just another hill. 🙂 I stand corrected! Regardless, it is still worth the visit.

  5. Frankie

    My friends are leaving for Rome and I had to suggest this blog. Grazie mille!

  6. Clare

    I was in Rome as a student from January to May 2012. I miss it everyday! For another side trip, we loved going out to Ostia Lido for a day at the beach. The train only cost a euro or two and the atmosphere was wonderful!

    Our school was near the Giancolo Hill, and the views are incredible. It was one of my favorite spots, any time of the day.

    I wrote a blog about my time in Rome and all of Europe. Check it out if you want!

  7. Anila Babla

    I wish I knew about the Appia Antica before I went to Rome those many years ago as a naive college student. It looks like an awesome way to see the sights!

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