How to explore Rome, like the Romans do
While we’ve all heard the adage “when in Rome, do as the Romans” do, a real Roman will probably skip out on the tourist attractions and avoid the crowds while navigating their way around the Eternal City.
But to help you make the most of your next vacation, here is a complete guide of what to do and where to go mixing in the best (and the oldest) sites to see in Rome along with some local favourites.
Eat all the food
We wish we could pretend to be a little more cultured here but honestly, our number one reco for Rome (and Italy in general) is to EAT. Pizza, pasta, gelato, wash it down with some prosecco, grab a suppli (fried rice balls with mozzarella and tomato sauce) off the street, repeat. Maybe throw in an extra pizza for good measure. Check out our guide on where to eat in Rome to help guide your taste buds to the right spots.
Also, don’t worry, Rome is super walkable so you can feel good about burning off all those carbs!
Hit up the major tourist attractions: A custom Mapped walking guide
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but we feel good about conquering it in one. Take this route by foot to hit up most of the major tourist attractions: Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Vittoriano, Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps. These places will all be swarming with masses of tourists, but for good reason. Rome’s ancient charm is nothing short of breathtaking.
Tip: Enter the Colosseum through the Forum or Palatine Hill entrance to skip the line. The same ticket gets you into all three spots.
Explore Villa Borghese
This large park perched near the top of the Spanish Steps is a perfect way to spend a leisurely afternoon in Rome. Stroll or bike the trails and observe the beautiful live music, al fresco cafés, stunning gardens, and various museums and attractions.
Attention, men: Take your lady over to the lake with the rowboats to deliver a romantic experience straight out of The Notebook.
Visit Vatican City
Head on over to the Pope’s stomping grounds to admire the intricate detail of the Sistine Chapel and the grandeur of Saint Peter’s Basilica. The lines for the Vatican Museum can get quite long so be sure to purchase your tickets online before to avoid spending your entire morning waiting.
Find the secret keyhole
There are more myths and mysteries surrounding the city of Rome than we can remember, which is 100% part of its charm. On Aventino Hill, there is a nondescript door that when you peak through it you can see the perfectly framed view of Saint Peter’s Basilica. The mystery remains of the door, to the Priory of the Knights of Malta, as it’s still TBD whether it was an accident or intentionally designed this way.
Pick up lunch at a local market
The Mercato di Campagna Amica del Circo Massimo is not only Rome’s largest farmers’ market but also one of the most laid-back in the city. The vendors all believe in the 100 km diet selling and sourcing items as locally as possible. Mostly the produce is coming from the Lazio region. Grab yourself some bread, prosciutto, olives and fresh cheese and you’re all set for the best picnic of your life.
Spend all of your euros at Galleria Alberto Sordi
Gallerias are to Italy what malls are to America. But instead of being giant shopping centres, they are a beautifully ornate building where marble lines the floor, turning your next shopping trip into a luxurious experience.
First built in 1922, Galleria Alberto Sordi has some of the latest in contemporary Italian designs. Be sure to visit La Rinascente (basically the Italian version of Nordstrom or The Bay) to get lost in the chic and colourful designs.
If you haven’t maxed out your credit cards yet, head to Via Condotti for designer shopping or Campo Marzio for vintage and Italian heritage brands.
Indulge in aperitivo hour
Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy happy hour like the rest of the city. In Italy, an apertivo is usually a bitter fruity drink like an Aperol or Campari Spritz served with delicious bites to eat.
Likely to be busy, but it is well worth the lines to grab a spot on the sprawling terraces in Campo de’ Fiori.
Creep through the Catacombs
One of the coolest (or creepiest, depending on your mood) spots in the city to visit is the Catacombs of Rome. These ancient burial sites are located underground and are some of the eeriest tunnels we’ve ever walked through. There is rumoured to be around 40 throughout the city so at any given moment you could be walking over one and you’d never even know…
If that hasn’t given you the heebie-jeebies already, your best bet for exploring them is to book a guided tour to explore underground.
Explore the botanical gardens
The Orto Botanico tends to 30 acres of lush greenery in central Rome. Today the Orto Botanico is run by the University of Rome’s Environmental Biology department and is filled with exotic plants and ornate fountains just waiting to be the perfect backdrop to your next photo (not like Rome was lacking in these backdrops, but one more can’t hurt).
If you really want to explore Rome like the Romans do, head across the Tiber River to Trastevere to this hip, boho neighbourhood. Whether you are dining at a trattoria or just popping by for an aperitivo to drink, Trastevere is always buzzing with people enjoying la dolce vita in the best way.
Take a day trip to the beach
Take a break from the busy big city and head out to Ostia, passing by the historic Roman aqueducts Fregene and Ceveteri on your way. The locals love coming here to cool off in the summer by dipping into the Mediterranean Sea. Don’t worry, we won’t tell your beach bod that you have been eating carbs every day.
Roam through the ancient Roman ruins
Dating back to 500 BC, the Roman Forum is one of the most historic sites in the city, and is where Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar once ruled. Today, you can explore the Trajan’s Column, the Arch of Titus, and the Circus Maximus to learn the history of Ancient Rome. It’s a stunning and humbling sight to see.
Try your luck at the Bocca della Verità, an ancient stone carving of a bearded man’s face, that is rumoured to bite off the hand of anyone not telling the truth.
Find a moment of peace at the churches
The best spot to see art in Rome (and maybe all over Italy) is in the churches. Built in a more reverent time, these buildings were a focal point in the city and were made in some of the most ornate styles of the time.
In Piazza del Popolo, the church of Santa Maria del Popolo houses two Carravagio masterpieces and in Piazza Navona, the church of San Luigi dei Francesi has three of his greatest works.
Note: Remember that these places are still a space of worship. Be respectful and cover your shoulders with a cardigan or a scarf before entering and remove any hats to follow the Church’s rule.
Catch a film at Cinecittà
With over 400,000 square meters, Cinecittà is Europe’s largest film studio and considered the centre of Italian cinema. Renowned Italian and international filmmakers have all worked here including Federico Fellini, Roberto Rossellini, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese. It’s earned its nickname: Hollywood on the Tiber.
Guided tours are available as well as entrance to the onsite museum exhibition. Or, head to Cinecittà World for the full theme park experience.
Climb to the top of Vittoriano
Depending on how high you are willing to climb, the views from Vittoriano are some of the best in the city. Hiking up the outside steps will take you up close to the Art Nouveau mosaics in the colonnade. This is also one of the only spots in the city where you can get a view of the city without having this massive structure take up your view.
For an even better view, take the glass elevator from behind the monument, by the side of the Aracoeli church to the very top to see the entire city.
Step into the medieval fantasy of Quartiere Coppedè
Located a 30-minute walk from Termini Station, this whimsical neighbourhood feels like a fairytale. Enter at the corner of Via Tagliamento and Via Dora to explore this charming, eccentric, luxurious, artistic, quiet residential area with a chandelier in the giant arched entryway, a fountain adorned with spouting stone frogs, and medieval embellished architecture. This is Rome’s answer to Gaudi’s masterpieces in Barcelona. Take advantage of this relatively tourist-free gem in Rome while you still can!
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