For my 25th Birthday, I celebrated with a long weekend in Rome.
For 4 days, we managed to visit so many of the sites and key attractions. I will share in this blog what we got up to including tips to getting the most out of a short visit to Rome.
Not forgetting key tips for a vegan in Rome.
23rd February – Flying out on Friday from Heathrow. We arrived in Rome (Fiumicino) at 6:55pm. There are two airports in Rome with Fiumicino being furthest from the City centre (45 minute drive) and Ciampino being slightly closer (in hindsight we might have wanted to try and get into Ciampino). We had arranged an airport transfer for the first night, not wanting the hassle of using public transport. This gave us time to drop our bags at the apartment and begin exploring.
We stayed at Primo Piano Suites (find them on booking.com here). I would thoroughly recommend checking the accommodation out. It’s not only beautiful, it’s also run by the most amazing owner – Fabio. He is a Civil engineer who designed the suites and he really takes pride in ensuring you enjoy your stay. The hotel is situated at the heart of the ancient part of town, close to all the main attractions and is located just adjacent to the Piazza Navona. Because of the close proximity, we first explored the Pantheon (10 minute walk) travelling via the Piazza Navona.
We had dinner at ll Corallo where I ordered the fried Zucchini flowers and fettuccine pasta with porcini mushroom. The fried zucchini was my only food miss whilst in Rome. I assumed the fried zucchini would be suitable for vegans…unfortunately it was full of cheese. However, the restaurant was accommodating and I was offered an alternative starter of Braised Artichoke hearts (Carciofi alla Romana). This was nice to try as its a traditional dish in Rome.
Tip 1: Always ask if the meal is Vegan. A handy phrase is ‘Sono Vegano’ – Its important to make clear you are vegan as even veggie dishes are cooked in butter and finished with ample cheese.
*Highlight of the dinner was having identical twin waiters and thinking we had only one server till the end of the night. It really was amusing at the time.
We started bright and early to maximize our time sight seeing. We first visited the Colosseum. We traveled there using the local bus system.
Tip 2: Bus tickets are sold at local bars and tobacconists, so make sure you buy a ticket before getting on the bus where you can then validate the ticket.
Tip 3: You can get discounted entry to the Colosseum if you are a European Citizen between ages 16 – 25 so be sure to take your passport along.
The Colosseum is sited right next to the Roman Forum ruins and only a short 15 minute walk from the Capitoline Museum. We visited both after touring the Colosseum.
On our way back, we discovered a very tucked away restaurant – Edoardo II, where we stopped for dinner (a lot of Italians have lunch as their main meal and you know what they say: “when in Rome…”). Here I experienced the best pasta of my life.
It was simply delicious and the atmosphere was amazing. One of the waiters even began singing opera (it was impromptu) as we ate. To start we had bruschetta, which might sound dull, but was actually quite surprising. 50% of the bruschetta was a typical diced tomato affair done very nicely, but the other half was made up of courgettes. I eyed the courgette slice suspiciously at first, though after one bite was won over. It was gorgeous and that was just the starter. The pasta arrabiata…I cant really talk about without getting misty eyed. It was as I said the best pasta I have ever had being cooked and seasoned to perfection. Check them out here.
Tip 4: Don’t eat anywhere near the tourist attractions and make the effort to explore places off the beaten track.
After lunch, we went to the Borghese gallery. To see the Borghese gallery you have to book ahead of time. We had a 3-5pm slot. The gallery holds some truly beautiful art and holds some of the most stunning sculptures. I thoroughly recommend a visit, though it’s far out from the ancient sites and requires a pre-meditated approach.
On our way back to the accommodation, we managed to get on the wrong bus and ended up going on a journey in the wrong direction (in our defence the tourist information specifically told us which bus to get on) that took us a few miles away from our destination. We then had a very uncertain 1 hour+ wait for the next bus. Despite the circumstances, we managed to keep our spirits up and even befriended a Russian guy who, despite speaking no English, provided us with updates as to when the next bus would arrive. It was a little unscripted adventure that allowed us to see the non tourist part of Rome.
Tip 5: I recommend googling bus routes and stop names ahead of time. Be on the right side of the road…don’t just rely on tourist information.
For dinner, we discovered the most amazing Pizza Slices at Mamii. The google reviews are quite disparaging, but don’t be put off – the staff are friendly and the quality of the food is great. This place is especially excellent if you just wanna grab a slice of pizza whilst you look around the sites or head back to your hotel.
Tip 6: Pizza without cheese is often referred to as Pizza Marinara. Mamii offers Pizza Marinara as well as another cheese free option with mushrooms on.
Day 3: My birthday!
It began with an early start to visit the Vatican and the Vatican museum. There was so much to see and we spent two hours exploring. Truly some of the most beautiful art I have ever seen. I just don’t think my phone photography truly captures it.
Tip 6: Use alternative queues and security checks. Funny observation: everyone joined the nearest queue even when there was a shorter queue in close proximity.
Tip 7: On the last Sunday of the month you can get free entry to the Vatican museum. Unfortunately this does mean bigger queues. We saw St Peter’s basilica first before heading to the Vatican museum and by around 10:30am the queue for the museum was over 1km long (yes you read that right) which equated to just over an hours wait.
Tip 8: You can get overwhelmed by the number of tickets, offers and passes that you can get for visiting sites in Rome. Since we visited in Winter outside of peak time it might not be advisable to do what we did in the Summer months (i.e. just arrive at the sites on the day and pay the standard fee). Almost all attractions offer queue jumps and the Roma pass is seen by many as a good way to get the most out of the City (it is especially handy for those who are less comfortable with walking for periods of up to 20 minutes at a time as most public transport is free with the pass).
I had my birthday dinner at L’eccellenza naturale – a vegetarian restaurant, cocktail bar and art gallery. Check them out here. The quality of the food and drink was again superb with dishes that we really had to double, if not triple check to ensure that they were vegan (they somehow managed to replicate whipped cream & ice cream perfectly). They might also have converted me with their dessert (which i usually avoid) of a deconstructed apple crumble. I genuinely couldn’t compare the meal to any other I have had, the flavors were totally unique!
Then for some candid photos at the Spanish steps, before a fairly direct walk back to the hotel. We could pretty much get from the Spanish steps all the way to the hotel by travelling down the street: Via dei Condotti. I point this out because any keen shoppers with coin to spare will manage to find all the biggest and most luxurious labels along this street.
We woke up to a snowy Rome. Fabio informed us that it was the first time it had snowed in Rome in 15 years! We made sure to squeeze in the last sites on our list by visiting the inside of the Pantheon and the Trevi fountain before eating one last lunch back at Mamii’s (again really good Pizza slices!). The hotel organised our transport to the airport just like they did for our arrival. Fortunately, by the time we left it was the afternoon and most of the snow on the Roads had thawed.
Now, I wanna talk about the most important part of the trip (I kid…kind of) – Venchi chocolate. I spent a lot of time looking around gift shops trying to find a very particular brand of Italian chocolate spread that I got as a present from my Sisters. Alas, as much as I searched the spread evaded me. Defeated I looked around in the airports branch of Venchi (Italian chocolatiers) for a substitute. That’s when I found their Suprema Hazelnut and olive oil dark chocolate spread, which they allowed me to sample. It was love at first bite. I believe they have branches in London which i’m sure i’ll check out when my supplies run low ;).
Hope my blog post is helpful for your trip to Rome.