Rome is the Eternal City because it will forever ignite imaginations and compel humans to converge on its monuments. As I discovered, Rome is also a contemporary gem as much as a centre for historical travel.
Here’s how to spend the perfect 72 hours in Rome.
Canadians who opt to book their plane trip on Air Transat will depart with direct flights from Montreal or Toronto — I connected there from Vancouver and took advantage of the upgrade to the Option Plus level. This Air Transat option (starting at $59.50 per person, one way; $99 round trip) provides two checked bags as well as a complimentary meal, snacks, small welcome bottle of Prosecco, and an additional alcoholic beverage. It also offers early on-boarding and comfortable seating close to the front of the plane.
Once you complete the approximately nine-hour journey to Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, you can pick up your rental car, or use public transit, Uber, or a taxi to your destination. I had a poor and costly experience with a taxi driver and stuck to Uber and public transit for the rest of my trip in Italy.
Even after Gioacchino Pucci moved from Montreal back to his native Italy in the 1960s, his heart remained in his adopted country. So when he purchased a hotel in central Rome, he knew what to call it. Hotel Canada, part of the Best Western franchise, is an elegant property in a circa 1886 building with large rooms and wonderfully pleasant staff.
Less than two blocks from the Castro Pretorio subway station, Hotel Canada is within vicinity of most of Rome’s major attractions. The rooms feature air conditioning, free WiFi, high-end stereo systems with ports for mp3 players, and well-appointed bathrooms. While the hotel’s ties to Canada are limited to its name, the warm feeling and comfortable surroundings do make you feel like you’re at home. Nightly room rates start at around $150 CAD during summer.
This massive monument built in the 1700s attracts hundreds of visitors each day. It’s nestled in a neighbourhood of narrow streets and short buildings, making it appear even more dramatic. You’re supposed to throw in a coin and make a wish, but not wade into the water yourself. Take your photos, enjoy the scene and then move on.
One of many small restaurants near Roma Termini, the city’s central train station, Mangrovia serves outstanding seafood. Try the grilled prawns and calamari (12.50 euro; about $18 CAD) and a glass of wine (3 euro; about $4.35 CAD).
The attractive lobby lounge at Hotel Canada includes a bar with an adequate selection of wines and spirits, and outstanding value (a glass of wine costs 2.50 euro; about $3.65 CAD).
Following breakfast at Hotel Canada, head to the Colosseum, the monumental wonder everyone should endeavour to see at least once. Recent terrorist activity in Europe has led to added security at the entry gates, which can cause a delay of more than an hour. Some tour operators, though, can circumvent the lineup.
I booked a guided tour with Gladiator Tours for 30 euros (about $42 CAD), which included entry fee to the Colosseum and allowed the small group (there were only three of us) to skip the line. Once inside, the story of the Colosseum — which was built on a lake — will fascinate you. The tour includes a visit to the adjacent Roman Forum and its multi-storey gardens, which provide exceptional views of the city.
Two blocks from the Colosseum is Via Celimontana, one of many streets in the area that are occupied by a handful of inviting restaurants. They offer touristy fare. At Faiola, I opted for gnocchi and cheese pasta (11.50 euro; about $17.25 CAD) and enjoyed it with an iced cappuccino (3 euro).
Rome is a terrific city for shopping, and Via Nazionale has discount shops for your quality shirts and dresses, as well as your souvenir T-shirt or trinket.
An ice cream shop with a popular food truck, Verdi Pistachio has a brick-and-mortar outlet on Via Nazionale. For 2.50 euro, you can have a cone or cup with three scoops of up to three flavours. Try the pistachio — it tastes like peanut butter.
This famous square is home to the Spanish Steps, the wide staircase that connects to the Trinita dei Monti church. The circa 1725 attraction, which features 135 steps, is undergoing a renovation in 2016, but Piazza di Spagna is still a delight to visit because of its open promenade, luxury boutique shops and people watching.
This Michelin-starred restaurant promises to be a highlight of your stay. Imago at the famed Hotel Hassler, a five-star property close to the Spanish Steps, has recently reinvented its menu under executive chef Francesco Spina. You’ll find creative dishes blending the flavours of Japan — where Spina worked for three years — with Italian ingredients and tastes.
About 10 kilometres from central Rome, the Vatican is home to one of the most incredible art collections in the world. The Vatican Museum gives you the opportunity to stand beneath the artistry of Michelangelo. I found the Sistine Chapel underwhelming — it’s small, hot and crowded — but thoroughly enjoyed the Hall of Maps, which features ornate tapestries and globes from centuries past.
The lineup to one of the world’s great churches is, as you might expect, long. But it moves fast and is orderly. The basilica is about a 15-minute walk from the Vatican Museum. There’s no charge to enter the basilica but there is a cost if you want to ascend to the cupola for views of the city and the artful ceiling. You can either climb more than 500 steps (6 euro admission; $9.70 CAD) or take an elevator (8 euro; $11.70 CAD).
San Lorenzo is the place to glimpse how the citizens of Rome live. Visit Via dei Falisci for an authentic bistro-style meal at this tiny, casual restaurant. Order cuttlefish pasta, mussels, and prawns, and enjoy with a glass of red wine. Dinner will cost you about 14 euro ($20 CAD).
San Lorenzo has loads of bars and cafes, where people spill out into a square to dance and talk. Grab beer or wine from a corner shop, and enjoy the atmosphere on your last night in Rome. The energy you discover here will convince you to return.
This attraction on the west side of the Tiber River is also known as the Mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian. You’ll find ancient artifacts as well as a magnificent rooftop view of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Before checking out and heading to your next destination on your journey, try one of the best coffee spots in the city. Canova’s blends are smooth and easy to enjoy with one of its signature pizzas or pasta dishes.
Disclaimer: Air Transat supported the publishing of this article by providing a round-trip flight to the author. All opinions expressed are those of the author only.