There’s something a little magical about taking a trip around Christmas time – getting wrapped up and exploring somewhere new during the festive season. This year, we decided to visit the ‘Eternal City’ and celebrate the new year in Rome.
Combine the untouched history of the ancient city, with great food and endless amounts of photo opportunities and you have one of the best places to take a city break in Europe.
The city lay out
As with any large city, deciding where to stay can be tricky. One thing I like to do before visiting somewhere new is have a look at a tourist map in advance. This gives me an idea where all the major landmarks are, so when I’m choosing accommodation I can pick somewhere that is close to the action. We decided to stay between the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain.
I also like to do a little bit of research around food ahead of any trip, just in case there is a hidden foodie district that I might miss out on – which is the case with Rome. You’ll see from the map above, that most of the major tourist attractions are to the right of the river and you would be forgiven for spending the entirety of your trip around here.
However, on the bottom left is an area called Trastevere, which is bursting with gorgeous little restaurants and cafes. It is an area that is loved by locals and if you are a foodie like me, it’s a must visit.
If you don’t mind walking, I would go as far as saying that staying in this area is worth considering. It’s cheaper than the city centre, you’re only a short distance away, and in the evenings you’ll have so many gorgeous places to eat close by.
Speaking of food
We were there for five days, so we had lots of opportunities to sample the famous Italian cuisine. Here are some of my favourite spots. (Ps. Anything underlined in this article is clickable for more info).
The single greatest place we ate during our stay in Rome. It was so good, we went back twice. They serve delicious platters of breads, salads, fruits, relish, cheese, oils and cold meats. You may have to que to get in here, but trust me, it’s worth the wait.
Obviously, when you go to Italy you must eat your weight in pizza. No brainer. Of all the pizza places we visited, Pinsa ‘Mpo, which is just outside the Vatican City, was the best. We enjoyed a lovely brunch here one morning.
They serve fresh, hand-made pizzas with some really interesting choices of toppings and there are also some lovely options for vegans. It’s a tiny little place though, only enough seating for about 6-8 people so you may have to get it to go!
This place is down a little side street, right behind the Colosseum. Like all major touristy spots, there are lots of places close to the Colosseum that will charge you way above the odds for even a bottle of water. However, Gavi Café really was good value.
The food was delicious and it has a lovely authentic Italian feel. I just had plain old spaghetti with tomatoes, basil and olive oil, yet somehow it was one of the tastiest meals of the trip.
Again, there are many, many places to enjoy ice cream around the city, however if you are ‘dairy challenged’ or vegan, it isn’t so easy. This place is right beside the Trevi Fountain and has a fantastic selection of both traditional gelato and allergy friendly versions. We went back a couple of times during our stay, and even got a little cup to ring in the New Year with.
This place is teeny-tiny, so be prepared to get to know your neighbour while you dine! (Joke). They do a great cup of coffee, and have an impressive menu of lunch foods and desserts. (Disclaimer: I robbed the below exterior photo from their facebook page!)
- The Italians love their traditional espresso bars – they drink their espresso standing at the bar, often with a sweet treat and then they go about their business. My main advice would be to walk the streets and stop every chance you get at the little cafes and eateries around the city.
Whether you take a bus tour or just wing it yourself, there are a couple of places around this city that would be a shame to miss out on. I spoke to someone recently who said that they “didn’t bother with the Colosseum” while they were there.
While I am all for going off the beaten track, there is no denying that the Colosseum was the best thing we saw during our trip. I tend to throw the word ‘stunning’ around fairly loosely, but there really is no better word to describe it. It’s STUNNING!
If you do decide to visit, be sure to book your tickets online in advance. If you want to skip the line or take a tour, you are also much better to book ahead.
DO NOT, I repeat do NOT, go with one of the ‘tour guides’ who are outside when you get there. We booked our admission online, but since everyone else had too, the que was really long. So, we foolishly decided to go with a tour guide who claimed we could skip ahead if we took her tour. This was not the case, we paid her and she brought us right back to the line we could have just waited in by ourselves. The tour itself was awful too, so wasn’t even worth it for that. But you live and learn!
I highly recommend you only go with an official guide through the Colosseums website or a well-reviewed partner online.
A general ticket for an adult is €12 or a line skipping ticket is €19. You can view the site I used: HERE
Your admission ticket also includes entrance to the roman forum and palatine hill. A walk around there is like stepping back in time, the old ruins and clear outline of the ancient city really have to be seen in person, so don’t skip this part!
Eat Pray Love sites
I am a walking cliché. I wasn’t really loving life a few years ago, so after I watched Eat Pray Love, I decided to follow in Elizabeth Gilberts footsteps and travel as much as I could.
I didn’t do it quite as drastically as her though, taking a year off work just didn’t seem right for me. I did get around to a hell of a lot of places in a year though (and then some!), and I’m so glad Rome was on the list.
If you are a fan of the movie or book you’ll know that she spent the first leg of her trip in Rome. She references a lot of places in the story, most of which you will stumble upon during a visit to the city, even if you aren’t looking for them. These are my favourite spots, with a few tips to go with them.
- Trevi Fountain
An absolutely gorgeous site – that is swarming with tourists! Let me be honest, getting in front of the fountain for a photo is a mission. If you are expecting to get a solo selfie during the day (solo as in – without sharing the scene with any strangers), you can forget it. There are lots of people cramming around to get their shot – which also means pick pockets so be mindful of them too.
The good news is, if you really want that picture-perfect insta-moment, it IS possible. Getting to the fountain super early is your best bet – I’m talking sun rise!
- Piazza Navona
I loved this fountain, again it was a really memorable place in the movie so when we stumbled across it in person I was delighted. There was also a little Christmas market in the square when we were there – where I finally got to try roasted chestnuts.
Won’t be having those again!! lol.
Originally the temple of all the gods, this building is Ancient Rome in a nut shell. It is extremely impressive to see in real life – photos just don’t do it justice. The square in front also has a good few bars and restaurants, so it’s a nice spot to stop and enjoy an evening.
We had planned on ringing in New Year’s Eve at the Colosseum, but when we realised that the rest of Rome had the same idea, we changed our mind. I just didn’t feel comfortable being in such a large crowd, so we decided to take a stroll to the Spanish Steps instead.
There were still a lot of people around, but nowhere near the masses at the Colosseum. We found a good spot and when the clock struck 12, we got to watch the fireworks that were exploding over the city from there.
What has that got to do with shopping?
Well, the streets directly in front of the Spanish Steps are filled with high end fashion stores. We didn’t go there during the day, but that night we took a walk around the area.
If you are into fashion, and have the money to spend on it, then this is the place to be. Guicci, Fendi, Stella McCartney and Dolce & Gabbana are just some of the big names that call these streets home.
If, on the other hand, you prefer to trawl the vintage stores, like myself, then fear not! Rome has its own little vintage hub that is filled with some amazing shops. The neighbourhood is called Rione I Monti, but you may be better off putting the below shop into goggle maps and just walk around there, Monti covers quite a large area.
My favourite store was Pifebo Vintage – there was so much to choose from and it was all very reasonably priced. I got one of my now-favourite coats here for €50!
Other things to note
We got the train from right inside the airport, to the city centres huge train terminal (Rome Termini). The ticket is €14 each way, and you can buy them in the airport itself.
Rome also has a very good metro system. The day we visited Vatican City we decided to take the metro as it was quite a distance to walk. It only cost us €2 each way and we just bought our tickets before we got on each time.
The station you need to get off at for the Vatican is Ottaviano station – just FYI, and this is another place you need to book for in advance. The day we went, people were queuing for about a half a mile around the wall of the city to get in.
Once you book in advance, there is no need to turn up until about five minutes before your allocated time – they won’t let you near the place before then anyway. Because the Vatican is its own country you need to bring your passport and you will have to go through a security check.
The city is worth visting for the art alone and the guided audio tour that you can rent on arrival (for about €5) is very educational.
When you get to the Sistine chapel, which takes about an hour from the start of the tour, it’s almost like being at a cattle mart. They usher you through, shouting stuff in Italian as you gawp up at the fabulous ceiling. Again, worth seeing, but also a very intense experience. You’re not really meant to tkae photos, and they do watch you like a hawk, but where there’s a will there’s a way – our tiny Go Pro came in handy here!
Lastly, when it comes to the night life, I can’t really comment as we didn’t go there for that. However, I do know that Rome has a very cool speakeasy scene. Like New York, there are lots of hidden bars and nightclubs dotted around the city.
If you are looking for inspo for a good night out, make sure you look up some of these places before you go. There is one that is so exclusive, you basically have to study their website to find the password to get in! Check out this article for more info on Roman speakeasies HERE.
I feel like we only scratched Rome’s surface in the five days we were there. There is just an endless amount of beauty – every single street you walk down has something. Despite all the grander things the city has to offer, one of my favourite memories from that trip was getting a cup of coffee and a slice of sweet almond cake and going for a night time walk around the cobbles streets of the city centre. It was just such a cozy and romantic place to be.
I’m really looking forward to visiting Rome again in the future, it’s one of those places I think you could revist time and time again and not get bored.
If you have any tips or experiences to share from Rome, please get in touch.
Written with love,