Despite being a top destination for travelers around the world, Italy’s capital city has a special kind of charm that seems impervious to the throngs of tourists crowding out its most popular attractions. Yes, Rome is filled with visitors year-round, but the city and its residents are particularly adept at handling the attention – and it doesn’t take much searching to find charming and authentic experiences.
Rome is a city with thousands of years of history layered on top of one another. When I visited Rome, I wanted to have an experience that was just as layered and multifaceted as the city itself – which is why I decided to visit it twice.
I took my first trip to Rome around Christmastime in 2015, staying through the New Year and enjoying the festive holiday ambiance. Since it was my first time there, I spent the majority of the trip focused on sightseeing. After all, Rome has so much incredible history, from ancient Roman ruins like the Colosseum to relics of the Italian Renaissance, such as St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, to its modern attractions. It’s important to read up on Roman history before you arrive, both to understand the city’s cultural significance and to make sure you don’t miss any important destinations during your trip.
After falling in love with the sights, sounds, and tastes of the city, I decided to return only a few months later – in March of this year – to uncover new layers of the city. During my second trip, I embraced Rome’s contemporary cultural and lifestyle, avoiding the touristy areas of the city in favor of more authentic local neighborhoods.
Rome is best explored in layers: depending on the amount of time you have and your own interests, you can dig deeper and deeper into the city’s rich cultural and historical offerings.
Scraping the Surface: History and sightseeing
Yes, the consistently long lines at Rome’s top destinations might seem daunting, but these hotspots are worth your patience. Sites like the Colosseum, Piazza Venezia, the Trevi Fountain, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Vatican are inspiring beyond words. Each of these destinations shares a sense of indescribable beauty, and all of them are worth a visit.
If you’re looking for an efficient way to see the sights, I recommend looking into the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tours; there are several different tour options available, so you’ll easily find one that fits your schedule and preferences.
While long lines are inevitable no matter when you visit, there is one destination you’ll want to book for in advance: Vatican City. I also recommend paying extra for the ‘skip the line’ service: you’ll still have to wait, but the time you spend in line will pale in comparison to the people filling that endless queue that snakes around the Vatican walls, even at the earliest hours of the day. And you should show up early if you can: exploring the Vatican will take nearly an entire day – including visiting the breathlessly beautiful Sistine Chapel – and will be worth every minute.
Going Deeper: Unique experiences off the beaten path
As much as Rome is known for its history, it’s also a destination rich in style and elegance – something that the traditional tourist experience doesn’t always allow for. While I was exploring the city, I made sure to indulge in some of Rome’s more decadent experiences. For a touch of chic Italian refinement, I recommend dropping in to The St. Regis Rome for tea time. Along with enjoying delicious beverages and bites, The St. Regis Rome is famous for mastering the art of sabrage, or champagne sabering. Each evening, you can watch the hotel’s head butler demonstrate this art form during a sabrage ceremony in the lobby.
Another way to embrace Rome’s elegance is to peruse its chic, stylish shops. While Italy’s fashion capital may be further north in Milan, Rome is an exceptional shopping destination, and is more affordable than its northern counterpart.
If you’re visiting Rome during the holiday season or on any kind of special occasion, be on the lookout for unique events! On my first trip, I managed to ring in the New Year at the Colosseum, which added new depth to my experience at one of the city’s busiest tourist destinations. There’s something truly magical about celebrating the year-to-come in a place that has been standing for thousands of years past.
Reaching for Roots: Digging into local life and culture
Having hit all the major tourist destinations during my first trip to Rome, my second trip was all about exploring the city’s modern culture and the local lifestyle. To do this, I headed down to Trastavere, a charming neighborhood south of the Vatican, along the west bank of the Tiber. Narrow cobblestone streets and quaint old homes give this area a delightfully rustic vibe, making it popular with visitors and locals alike. Because of its more authentic character, you’ll find that prices are cheaper, too. You can also head to Villa Borghese, a picturesque 148-acre park dotted with statues, fountains, museums and other delights.
Finally, Rome’s local population is incredibly friendly and welcoming toward visitors, so conversing with residents is a great way to really learn about day-to-day life in Rome. Pick up an Italian phrasebook and see how many different ways you can strike up a conversation.
In boca al lupo! (Good luck!)