From all the places I’ve visited to date there’s no better place for me than Rome. Yes, there’s Paris and I love Paris very much but there is something about Tuscany and this city in particular that I find very difficult to top. There’s so much culture on every corner that I find it hard to comprehend how the locals go about their days as if they’re not living in arguably the best place ever.
So here are a few of my tips on how to go about exploring the city if you’re planning a visit.
1. Check in advance what events are about to be held at the Vatican during your visit and plan your days according to it. I’ve been in Rome twice for about 10 days altogether and didn’t manage to go up to the balcony of the cathedral although it was on top of my list and I went there specifically for it about six times. Six times I lost time in traffic going there and back while I could’ve been exploring parts of the city I hadn’t seen.
It’s pretty often they have big religious fests due to which people aren’t even allowed inside the cathedral, let alone up to the terrace. If you just decide to pop in and look around (especially if it’s during the weekend) there’s a big chance you’ll get to sit outside and listen to speeches in Italian which last all day. It isn’t bad considering you’re seated in the middle of one of the best piazzas in the world but still – it’s not what you came for and you’re probably going to want to come back.
I’ve personally given up on that view and I’ve accepted it does not want me to see it. Maybe in a few years I’ll change my mind and give t a go but for now I’m not getting my hopes up.
2. This is a bit of an obvious one but I feel like I have to mention it as it’s crucial – If you’re going to visit the Vatican Museum you have to book your tickets online. I mean you don’t have to but you want to. We waited for two and a half hours to get in with a reservation. The queue was endless and yet it was three or four times shorter than the one with the people without pre-booked tickets. It’s pure madness to waist time like this so I think you’re better off booking for the next day on the spot and just going somewhere else.
3. Going back to the gorgeous views of Rome I suggest an alternative to the classic go-to at St. Peter’s dome. Funnily enough while considered a touristy staple, Mussolini’s palace at Piazza Venezia is hated by the locals. Most of them believe it’s the ugliest building in Rome and consider the view from the top the best panorama of the city as it’s the only place you can’t see it from. The building hosts a small (and free) museum with a collection of old communist uniforms, weapons and some of Mussolini’s possessions. Of course you can completely skip it and take the glass elevator which is situated at the back of the building and has a view of the Forum Palatine. The view from the top is a truly amazing 360* of Rome and since it’s not so popular there are far less people than anywhere else. Highly recommend!
4. The most important one for me (and this goes everywhere in Italy) – find where the locals eat. I know there are so many wonderful restaurants but I’m really not interested in eating tourist food. Usually it’s totally worth it to explore the map and cut a few alleys away from the obvious destinations to find where the locals go on their lunch breaks.
My favourite place to go is this old pizza place/store for fresh produce on 281 Via Cavour called Pizza and Mortadella. It’s a 10min walk from the Colosseum, the main chef is this very old Italian man with huge moustaches and according to the photos inside the place was opened by his great-grandfather about a 100 years ago. Now, it isn’t fancy and it’s sort of a fast food place but I swear this man knows how to make pizza. Best pizza I’ve had in my life. Last time I went to Rome I ran from the train station (which is at the other end of Via Cavour) and barely missed my train to the airport in order to get pizza from him for home. Totally worth it even post landing.
Unfortunately I don’t have photos of the pizza itself as it disappeared immediately upon serving but I do urge you to go and try it yourselves!
Enjoy your stay in Rome!