Rome – the Eternal City

Rome
Pantheon

When in Rome, do as the Romans, at least when it comes to eating and drinking, what to and where to. Perhaps mostly where. That’s probably where most visitors fail. If you’re looking for the really authentic, though. If not, drop in wherever. I am not saying we have always navigated to the right places when we’ve been there, but we’ve had some hits. My first tip is to not spend too many days in Rome. You’ll get tired. So three days, perhaps four, should do. There is of course more to see than you can manage in three or four days, but then I recommend you go back some other time.

Arriving in Rome

I’ve only arrived via air and the main airport in Rome is the Aeroporto di Roma Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport. It’s a long name usually abbreviated to Fiumicino airport. It’s a modern airport with a lot of shopping possibilities which I would leave till departure. Just a quick note on that, if you’re looking for food to bring home, take the escalator up one floor in the departure hall (after security) to Eataly.

There are a few ways to get into the city. The simplest is to book a car to pick you up. Always nice to be met by someone with a sign stating your name. Gives you an aura of importance. That’s also the most expensive way of getting to town. Expect to pay in the area €100 for the ride. The fine thing about the car is that it will take you pretty close to where you are staying. Depending on the address they will take you right to the entrance, but alas, some streets in Rome are very narrow, so you might have to walk a few steps. The driver will direct you.There are cheaper ways of course, and the quickest is the express train to Rome Termini. Then you have to navigate from there. It’s swift though, bringing you there in about 30 minutes. Except early morning and late evening it departs every 15 minutes. You can buy the tickets at the airport, do not buy them at some random web page, you’ll probably be overcharged. Instead of me recommending types of transport I have not used, visit this page to learn more about getting to and from the airport and other stuff about Rome.

Rome is a compact city so you can easily walk between the attractions, at least if you live centrally. We lived close to Piazza Navona. If you want to go by public transport the bus is the best, even though the traffic may be heavy so it will take some time. Rome is not famous for its Metro, there are two or three lines so you’re lucky if it takes you where you’re heading. Buy tickets at a “Tabaccheria”, they are €1,50 each (summer 2024) and last 100 minutes once they are validated. Remember to validate as you enter the bus. They do have patrols jumping on and off the buses to check the tickets. Just as you know.

What to see?

Most people, except those specifically coming to visit the Vatican, come to visit the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish steps. Then of course the Vatican with its St Peter’s Church is absolutely worth a visit whatever your faith. There are numerous other sites and areas to visit as well, Rome is full of them. Churches of course. Coffee shops on any corner. Remember Cappucino or Caffe latte only in the morning, espresso in the afternoon and evening. Well, you do as you like. From my point of view the most interesting is the Pantheon. Last time I was in Rome it was free to enter and hardly anyone there. This time by ticket only (€5 pp) and crowded. So be prepared for a line. For the Colosseum and the Vatican you should hire a guide. Our guide at Colosseum was magnificent, his name is David Battaglino, Italian-British. His web site seems not to be up and running, but you can shoot off an e-mail to david(at)davidsrome.com. He also does Pantheon tours. Not a boring moment.

Among the not so famous attractions is the Largo di Torre Argentina. That’s where Julius Cæsar was asassinated. He was not an emperor by the way, but as statesman laid the foundation for the empire. At that site there is also a cats rescue center, so there is a lot of cats in there. From there it is a five minute walk to the Jewish Ghetto, well worth a visit for its shops and restaurants. And if you are slightly interested in cheese, do visit the Beppe e i Suoi Formaggi in Via Santa Maria del Pianto 11. Also a delicatessen and wine bar. Owned by a cheese maker from Piemonte, it turned out, so they have a fine selection of their own cheeses, and others. Will recommend their Giallina which is a Reggiano style cheese, but made from full fat cow’s milk. Piazza Navona in the evening, sit there at a café table and look at people, artists and whatever, drinking a coffee or cocktail, at a price you’ve probably never experienced before. Sitting there enjoying life comes a price, obviously. Campo de’ Fiori, the flower market, not only flowers, but a lively market. Turns into a restaurant tourist trap in the evening. Quite a few wine bars, though. They’re all right.

If you want to just ramble around, the route from say Campo de’ Fiori to Panteon, the Trevi fountain, Via del Corso for some shopping, the Spanish steps, Via Margutta for small artist shops and the like, residential area as well, to end up at Piazza del Popolo is a fine day’s activity. Sit down for lunch somewhere along the route.

Where to eat

I recommend a lunch at Mercato di Testaccio in the Testaccio area. Testaccio is also a place to go for authentic food at reasonable prices away from all the other tourists. The market has excellent products, good food and is very low key. Expect to have your wine served in plastic cups. I’ve had the best pommes frites ever there. They were freshly cut before stir frying. Took its time, but worth waiting for. If your stay in Rome includes Airbnb where you can do some cooking, go here for some shopping. If you do a morning tour at Colosseum and are in for some pizza for lunch, go to Alle Carrette, Via della Madonna dei Monti 95. Five minutes walk from the Colosseum and not a tourist trap. Very popular so expect to wait a bit. Tables both inside and outside in their back yard. A hectic but absolutely positive and kind atmosphere. Family run.

I suppose when in Rome you want to visit Trastevere for lunch or dinner. Not as local as it used to be any longer, so expect long lines to get a table. There is a lot of restaurants so it’s sort of pick and choose. I’ve had both lunch and dinner at La Canonica. For all what it’s worth, my Spaghetti Vongole was better the first time I had it. It’s not on any list of the best restaurants in Trastevere, but we had a good time and the wine was good. Worth a visit just for the public life in the evenings and at week-end lunches. We’re not much into fine dining on these trips, but I can recommends Roscioli. Not even a restaurant our guide at Colosseum told us. That’s correct, “Salumera con Cucina” they call themselves. Absolutely necessary to book in advance, well in advance as a matter of fact. Via dei Giubbonari 21. Their little brother is called Rimessa Roscioli, Via del Conservatorio 58. Probably easier to get a table. They also have a tasting menu well worth trying. We had lunch at Maccheroni, good but a bit pricy. Piazza dell Copelle 44. Terrazza delle 5 lune is roof top restaurant/cocktail bar. Low key and well worth for a pre dinner drink. Cul de Sac, Piazza di Pasquino 73, is a wine bar/restaurant that we had recommended, passed by a couple of times, but never came around to visit. Worth a visit it was said in spite of grumpy waitors. It’s close to Piazza Navone.

The Vatican

If you want to visit the St Peter’s basilica, book a tour with a guide, it will pay off. There’s security to get in, so expect a line. It took us 35 minutes which was fast, expect anything from 45 minutes to hours. Depending on the season, even the day and if there is any special occasions or strengthened security for any reason. Also remember to cover your knees and shoulders. Shoulders the most important. If you’re there also take the trip up to the top of the tower. It’s a few steps, 300 something and it worked fine. The steps are one way and narrow, so once you have started there is no turning around unless you want to create some chaos. Magnificent view of Rome from up there. There is a lot of people there, beware of pick pockets, especially on your way in or out of the Vatican state.

Lido di Ostia

We spent a few days in Lido di Ostia for getting a swim and a tan. Easy and cheap to get there. We took the bus to Porta S. Paolo, jumped on the “train” (more metro like, but very slow) to Ostia Lido Centro. Took and hour or thereabout, including the bus ride, and used the same ticket for both bus and train so €1.50 each. That’s a bargain. What to say about Ostia. Established a hundred years ago to cater for the Romans’ need for leisure, sun and sea. A bit run down, at least parts of it. We stayed at a hotel called Ping Pong. We were sceptic, who calls their hotel Ping Pong? But the name has a history connected to table tennis. Rather run down and pricy, but clean, and the breakfast was not at all as bad as some previous visitors claimed. Separated from the beach by a street, only. Air condition did not work the first night, but they got it up and running. There are lots of private beaches in Ostia, we never tried them but stayed at the public ones. Clean and with fine service. Chair about €8-9 a day. Umbrella the same.

The best meal we had was at Peperoncino Ostia in Via Claudio. The UBK, Urban Bakery Kitchen is always crowded. We had very good antipasti and pizza, but an awful Carbonara, no less. There is a lot of restaurants, we had burgers and salads at Old Wild West. Okay, but expensive. We thought/hoped there would be more up-scale seafood restaurants, could be we did not do enough research.

Getting back to the airport

There is a direct, but not express, bus service from Ostia to the Aeroporto di Roma Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino. Leaves from Ostia Lido Centro. NB! The tickets for public transport is not valid on this bus. Buy special tickets at any Tabaccheria in Ostia, they are €1.30 each. Buying the ticket on board the bus costs you €7 each, so worth popping by a Tabaccheria.

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