Roman holiday: things to know before you go!

The Trevi fountain.. Breathtaking but pretty crowded!

I absolutely adore Rome. It’s probably one of the most beautiful cities on Earth, if not the most beautiful. Okay, so I’m a little biased as I grew up in Rome and have a lot of happy memories there, and even went back when I was 17 to study Italian and art history (in Italian, which was a little over ambitious!), but still – the cobbled streets, the grandiose architecture, the language, the food, the ice cream, the history… I could go on.

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As I hadn’t been back in years – four, five, maybe? And Jonathan had never been either, we decided to book a little bank holiday weekend away, and I couldn’t wait to show him around.. Except, it was a little disappointing. Maybe it was the way I had built it up in my mind, or maybe it was that it was quite a spontaneous trip and we hadn’t booked anything in advance, and the rain didn’t help. Looking back, there are a few things I wished I had done differently!

Not an ideal weather forecast on a rainy Saturday morning

Not an ideal weather forecast on a rainy Saturday morning…

So instead of another boring review, here is a list of things you should know before you go.

1. Book some things in advance!

We thought we would just wander around and explore, but once we were there, there were so many things and places we couldn’t see or visit as they had been booked up weeks – even months in advance! The Villa Borghese is one of the most beautiful and most interesting museums and is worth booking tickets for.

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View of Castel San Angelo and the bridge towards The Vatican… In the rain.

2. Do some research

As I spent so many years living there, I knew the streets like the back of my hand and know how to enjoy Rome like a local – but visiting as a tourist and wanting to actually see the historical sights, I wish I had done a little more research on what there is to see and where to book tickets etc. Not to mention which restaurants and bars are the latest hot spots!

The Trevi fountain.. Breathtaking but pretty crowded!

The Trevi fountain.. Breathtaking but pretty crowded!

3. Don’t fall in the tourist trap

During the day, visiting touristy things like the Coliseum, St Peters and The Vatican is totally worth it. But in the evenings, as wonderful as the atmosphere can be around The Pantheon, Piazza Navona and Campo di Fiori, they are tourist traps and most restaurants are over priced and lack quality. I thought it would be romantic to spend our first evening just off The Pantheon in a beautifully lit terrace where there was some live music playing. We ordered a cheese board, some bread and two glasses of wine.. The cheese board came with just four sticky greasy slices of plastic-y cheese and some shop-bought salami, the bread was a bit stale and the wine was average. The bill came to over €100! Instead, visit Trastevere in the evenings for authentic and delicious (and inexpensive!) food. It has a great atmosphere, it’s off the tourist track and full of locals. You can always walk back across the bridge for ice cream afterwards!

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4. Ice cream

Which brings us on to ice cream. Do not be on a diet in Rome. Or in Italy, in general. The streets are filled with incredible ice cream parlours, but the best one has to be the infamous Gellateria Della Palma just off the Pantheon. It houses every flavour you could possibly think of. We went back every single night to try new flavours – most were wonderful, some were downright wacky! From watermelon, peanut butter or liquorice to lavender, basil, pine nuts and even parmesan. The lavender was fabulous but then I tried the last three flavours together to see if it would taste like pesto – I wouldn’t recommend it (although the basil ice cream on its own was divine).

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5. Tour guides

Around the Coliseum and the Roman Forum there are so many tour guides, they’ll start to drive you bananas. But without going in with a tour group, you’ll spend twice as long queueing for the same price, and the experience won’t be as good. Sure, you can read up all you like about the history, but a tour guide really brings the history, the stories and the significance of each building to life, and will leave you hungry for more!

6. The Vatican

The one place I wouldn’t recommend a tour guide is the Vatican. The Vatican is huge – so huge in fact, that if you spent one minute looking at every piece of art, it would take four years to finish. Also, the tour guides move incredibly slowly, and chances are you won’t be interested in every ceramic bowl or statuette. If you already know what you want to see, that’s great, otherwise just march through and you’ll be surprised how much you see. It’s also definitely worth buying the queue jump ticket to avoid hour long queues – you can buy these in the shops in St Peters square right next to where the exit to the basilica is.

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7. Hotels

Book a hotel somewhere central – and research the area before you book. Obviously near The Spanish Steps is just fabulous, but it can be pretty pricey – same with near Piazza Navona or Campo di Fiori. Trastevere is just as great but cheaper. We booked a hotel near the train station and there was lots of traffic and noise, not many pedestrian streets or nice restaurants, and it felt like we were miles from anything.

8. Bag essentials!

It might sound obvious, but pack a handbag that has plenty of handy compartments and zips to keep everything safe as there are a lot of gypsies and pickpockets! I brought my brand new (and now favourite) Mia Tui Chloe handbag from QVC which was big enough to carry bottled water and an umbrella, and keep my valuables safely hidden.

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