‘When in Rome do as the Romans do’. ‘All roads lead to Rome’. ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’. I’d used these sayings most of my adult life, in that cliché kind of way, totally taking their meaning and origin for granted.
Until that was, I finally visited Rome for my birthday last month. After six years of living in Australia – a country so vast it takes as long to fly across it, Sydney to Perth than it takes to fly London to New York, I’ve found myself with a heightened sense of gratitude for how accessible continental Europe is from Doncaster. It’s only when Europe is not on the door step that you truly appreciate it. The history, the architecture, the varied food, national pride and idiosyncratic cultures. I missed it all, so much so, that I’ve even started to think fondly of the French.
I guess I always thought it would be better to do Rome with boyfriend. Unfortunately, I’ve never managed to hang onto one long enough to take the trip. So this year I decided to admit defeat and go with the girls. As it turns out I’d got my Italian cities mixed up. It’s Venice that’s deemed the romantic city, which coincidently I haven’t been to either. I’ll save that one for Prince Charming, if he ever shows up given I lost my glass slipper, along with a rather expensive Mulberry handbag at a party in 2005.
Anyways, back to Rome. I can count the places I’ve been to on one hand, that I found so memorising, I cried. The Taj Mahal, Chichen Itza Mexico, the mountains tops of Arlberg, sunrise at Angkor Wat. And now the view of Rome from the very top of The Altare della Patria.
Rome was everything I’d dreamed and more. But what made this trip extra remarkable was knowing exactly where to go, when to go, how much to walk and when to head to a bar. And that was all thanks to a school friend of mine, also from Doncaster. Gemma loves Rome so much that she goes there every year without fail. There was no question, then that she would come and be our designated tour guide. So here’s her awesome itinerary for whenever you find yourself in Rome, because all roads lead to Rome.
A long weekend in Rome
Head out on foot towards The Spanish Steps, passing the Quattro Fontane (four fountains) on the way. Enjoy drinks and nibbles in Rome’s busy and fashionable Via Condotti. Afterwards head over to the Trevi Fountain. Feeling proud with yourself that you’ve already done a couple of the sights explore the side streets around Trevi and stumble into the first restaurant that takes your fancy for a late dinner of pasta and Prosecco. If you’re into cool and trendy check out speak easy, The Jerry Thomas Project – booking essential.
Start with the Colosseum. Book your tickets in advance to avoid the queues. Next head to the Roman Forum opposite, entry is included in the Colosseum ticket price. From the Roman Forum head towards the Altare della Patria (the Wedding Cake Building) stopping for a cappuccino before you venture in. Once at the Altare della Patria, head up the stairs, then take the glass lift at the back to the roof for possibly the best view tourist accessible views of Rome. Drinking in this view you’ll start to understand why they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day. The view is breath taking. Getting your head around how Rome was built – the power, the ambition, the physical labour, the creativity and the architectural genius – well that’s a head fuck entirely.
Meditate on this thought on your way to the Pantheon. This building is best appreciated if you try and feel it, so once inside take a seat and marvel at this weird and wonderful Cathedral, with the hole in the roof and a slightly domed floor for when it rains. It’s design perfection. Have lunch and a few beers at Piazza Navona – you might recognise the fountains from the film, When in Rome.
In the afternoon wander around the side streets off Piazza Novona, nibbling on freshly made arancini. Try the best Gelato from Gelateria del Teatro, the lemon cheese cake and chocolate red wine flavours are to die for, no wonder it’s deemed the best in Rome. On Saturday night, head out Roman style in Trastevere for a night of Pizza and Prosecco amongst the locals.
Walk up the Via Veneto, where all the big hotels are, then head into Villa Borghese park. Hire bikes, walk around, picnic or just chill on the grass and snooze off the hangover for an hour or two. When you’ve had enough, head back down the Spanish Steps and wander back around Navona. By now you should have your bearings so wander back along your favourite side streets, stopping at a bar or two.
Head to the Vatican. Making sure you leave plenty of time to look around St Peter’s Basilica, one of the largest churches in the world, before flying home in the afternoon. Once in the Basilica take the lift and then stairs up to the roof for magnificent views of St Peter’s square and a final glimpse of the Roman sky line.
How to do Rome well.
- Leave the high heels at home. Rome is best seen on foot – cobbled streets and high heels do not make for a good time. Bring wedges if you must or the evening (I did) but flats are a must for the day.
- Don’t worry about the calories. If you walk everywhere (expect home on Saturday night) you’ll be doing about 25,000 steps a day which means you can consume an extra 900 calories guilt free.
- By all means look up restaurants on trip advisor and ask friends for recommendations, but don’t labour over finding them. Half of the fun of Rome is finding an area you like and choosing a restaurant at random.
- Drink Prosecco by the bottle, at only 15-18 Euro’s a bottle it’s an affordable treat. And finish off each meal with a couple of shots of locally made limoncello.
- Of course take photos but no camera can capture the true essence of Rome so it’s a waste of time trying. Whilst the hoards of Asian tourists try and capture one perfect selfie after another, instead to drink in the historic Roman sites and imagine all of the generations of people this awe-inspiring place has touched.