The first time I traveled to Rome was in the summer of 2000. It was a school trip, and, unfortunately, our teacher thought it would be a great idea to stay at a convent where rules mandated that we had to be in our rooms by 11 pm. Aside from that, it was a cool trip, and because it was a school trip we obviously had to do presentations on all the sights. After nine days we felt like we had seen absolutely everything and taken in all the information we could, so we were okay with leaving the next day.
Since then, I had only stopped over in Rome to go to Naples and back on two occasions in 2014 where I really just went from the airport to the train station and back. Those two trips made me really want to visit Rome again, and, finally, this winter I went back for six days for my birthday and New Year’s Eve. (Check out my Rome Sneak Peek to see the first pictures I posted from that trip.)
As I had already been to Rome, I didn’t feel the need to make an itinerary and organize the trip in a way that would guarantee we would see everything. We took it pretty easy, despite the fact that it was my boyfriend’s first trip to the Eternal City.
We stayed in an AirBnB in Monteverde, a quiet residential neighborhood close to the popular Trastevere neighborhood where I stayed the first time I was in Rome.
Rome is a city which is best explored by walking. It’s such a joy to just stroll around the city and take in the architecture and the atmosphere. The only time we took public transport was during arrival and departure and when visiting the EUR district in the south.
Upon arrival, we first went to the Jewish quarter for lunch (which you can read about in my vegan travel guide to Rome). I’ve always had an interest in Jewish history, and it seems to manifest itself by me ending up in Jewish neighborhoods in many cities I travel to. Since it was Hanukkah while we were in Rome the menorahs were lit in the evening and the area was very lively. There are a lot of restaurants on the main street of this Roman neighborhood ranging from fast food to really elegant dining options. The Great Synagogue of Rome is located here as well and hosts the Jewish Museum of Rome.
We started the second day, my birthday, off by walking to the Vatican, and I was surprised to find that it wasn’t as huge as I had remembered from my first visit. After so many years of traveling and seeing so many things, my perspective really changed. While it was still a very impressive place to see it wasn’t as overpowering as I thought it was going to be.
We wanted to see the Vatican Museums as well as St. Peter’s Basilica, but we had not purchased any tickets yet, so we decided to buy them online and go back the next day. The lines were unbelievably long which I remembered from my first trip to Rome, but back then it was summer and there was a special church event going on with John Paul II. holding a service. I didn’t expect the lines to be that long this time because it was winter, and Christmas was over. Wrong thinking, Rome is just always packed with tourists. We sent some postcards from the Vatican post (which took forever to arrive), and then we decided to head back to the center for food.
In the evening, we went for a really long walk through the city which ended up taking about three to four hours. We saw the stunning Pantheon, the beautiful Fontana di Trevi, the recently renovated Spanish Steps, and ended up at Piazza Navona, before heading back to our favorite neighborhood, Trastevere, from where we walked back up to Monteverde.
Even though we went back to all these places again during the day, my boyfriend and I both agree that they were more charming at night. The Spanish Steps were particularly nice at night because there was a colorful Christmas tree. The luxury shopping area close by also looked lovely with the evening lights. If you don't have a lot of time, seeing some places only at night will really help you get the most out of your trip.
Trastevere was our favorite area which didn't surprise me. Despite its popularity with younger people and tourists alike it didn’t appear to be overrun by hipsters as many similar neighborhoods in the rest of Europe.
I have to admit that despite being in Rome, the capital of Catholicism, with tons of beautiful churches, we actually only went to see one church which was the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere. At least we made our only church visit worthwhile, as it is actually on of the oldest churches in Rome, having been completed in 1143.
The next day it was time to see the Vatican Museums. Since we had purchased the tickets online the day before we were allowed to skip the line. While passing by all the people waiting in line, at some point I overheard people mentioning that they had already been waiting in line for four hours.
By all means, do yourself the favor of buying the tickets in advance or booking a guided tour. We didn’t go for the guided tour as we really wanted to be more independent, but, in the end, this meant that we didn’t have enough time to see the basilica as we would have had to wait in line for that. If you plan on seeing both the museum and the basilica you should go for a guided tour despite the high price because you’re really paying to avoid wasting your time standing outside in different lines.
The museum itself is really impressive. There is just so much to see in terms of art, though, to be honest, at some point, it just becomes a little overwhelming. By the time we reached the Sistine Chapel which was crowded to the max we really just wanted to get out of there. Be aware of this when planning a visit to the Vatican. You should know how much time you are willing to spend here.
The next day we took the metro to the southern district of EUR which showcases Fascist architecture. As with the Vatican, I had remembered it to be much more impressive. The first time I saw it, in 2000, I had shivers running down my spine. The architecture the Fascists created gives off a cold atmosphere even before you consider the ideology behind it. The architecture and ideology compliment each other by invoking discomfort, if not fear. I think the EUR district is worth a visit if you have some time to spare in Rome. It’s an interesting contrast to the beautifully decorated churches, the Vatican, and the liveliness of the city center. On the way to the EUR area, we saw the small pyramid and a sculpture commemorating the victims of fascism. It would be a nice idea to add a sculpture like that to the EUR neighborhood itself.
A small, not so secret tip in Rome is to walk up the Aventine hill to get to the building of the Order of Malta. The door’s keyhole gives you a wonderful view of St. Peter’s Basilica. In general, the views from the Aventine hill are great, especially from the Orange Garden. All over Rome, when you are close to one of the hills you should climb them as you will be rewarded with stunning views of the city. The same goes for the enormous monument to Vittorio Emanuele II. at Piazza Venezia.
Surprisingly, we didn’t enter either the Forum Romanum or the Colosseum. I had seen both already on my first trip to Rome, and we didn’t want to wait in line again and spend more money. We already knew we wouldn’t manage to do everything, and since we threw our coins in the Fontana di Trevi we’ll go back to Rome someday, right?
We spend New Year’s Eve on Gianicolo Hill and in Trastevere which were both crowded, but certainly much less so than the busy piazzas. I love New Year’s Eve, but I’m not a big fan of fireworks so I was glad that despite having fireworks in Italy they are nowhere near as elaborate as in Germany.
Coming from Athens, what we liked most about Rome was the beautiful architecture and the fact that there is some greenery, especially on the hills. It was a very welcome change from the cityscape here in Athens.
Have you ever been to Rome? What are your favorite spots in the city? Let me know in the comments below.
Half Bulgarian Turk, half German living life as an expat in Greece.