When I was 18, I traveled to Italy for the first time. We traveled from Venice all the way down to Palermo, Sicily in 2 weeks, stopping and staying in one breathtaking city after another. One of my favorite cities, of course, was Rome. And it still is. I promised myself that I would go back. And I did…two years later to study in the American University of Rome. This is when I really had the opportunity to see, taste, and experience the eternal city the way the locals do.
Ten years after I set foot in the city for the very first time, I returned, but only for the weekend. If two days is all you have, I will tell you what to do with a weekend in Rome.
Friday evening. Termini Station. Light rain letting up. The sound of suitcases rolling over cobble stone streets, and me, trying to remember my Italian directions from years prior.
If the hotel you plan to be staying at is a 15 or 20-minute walk, it is best to save the taxi fare and walk. And that’s just what I did.
Two days in Rome means you may or may not want to stay in the middle of the tourist’s attractions, but you do want to be close enough to walk. Rome is a “walking city,” which means not only do the locals prefer it, but it is the best way to discover new places, run into interesting people, intimate shops, and tucked away restaurants that you might miss if you took the bus.
Friday night. Check-in at Hotel Apollo on Via dei Serpenti. Via dei Serpenti is one of these streets that are tucked away, but look down the block and at the end you will see the Coliseum. I highly recommend staying in this area; otherwise, I would stay in the neighborhood called Trastevere. Hands down. I’ll tell you why later.
Saturday morning. Fresh air. It is always best to wander your way to the closer attractions first. There is a balance between frantically checking off destinations on an itinerary and moseying until siesta. Have a clear direction about what you want to see and where these places lie.
A clear game plan looks like this:
Breakfast near the hotel (L’Antico Forno ai Serpenti)
Coliseum and Roman Forum
Pantheon (walk or bus)
Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps) by way of Via dei Condotti or Via Borgognona
Trevi Fountain & Gelato
One day, 5 km (3 miles) of walking, five breathtaking must-see attractions that help make historical Rome as palatable as it is. Of course, you can have dinner before heading back to the hotel. Following rule of thumb, wander away from the cameras and sites, to where there are locals- that is where your dinner should be.
Saturday. Mid-morning. The adventure begins. But not before coffee and handmade personal pizzas and pastries served fresher than you have ever had.
On the corner of Via Cimarra and Via dei Serpenti sits L’Antico Forno ai Serpenti. Inside this smaller corner eatery lies “pane, pizza, and biscotti,” or bread, pizza, and pastries. They also serve wine, coffee, and a whole lot of la dolce vita on a plate. You will wish you had more days in the city if only to start your day off this way more often.
I recommend getting an early start, but after the rooster crows because, as mentioned, there will be plenty of walking involved for the next 24- 48 hours. The city has hundreds of small cafes which will beckon you in by the smell alone. If L’Antico Forno ai Serpenti isn’t near your hotel’s neighborhood, make sure you select a café/eatery that is off the beaten path with little to no tourists. A local once told me, “the less conspicuous the outside looks, the more delicious and authentic it will be inside.” Testing this theory many times, he is right.
Saturday. Sunny afternoon. Coliseum after breakfast, taking plenty of photos of the grandeur from the outside. It is free to wander around and even enter underneath the Coliseum, but it is very much worth the 12 euro entrance fee (or 7.50 for EU citizens under 25) to walk the stairs to the top and marvel into where there where once gladiators, animal fights, even re-created battle scenes at sea.
As all travelers know, always bring a Student ID’s, Teacher ID’s, over 65 ID’s, EU ID, and any other ID that may give you a ticket discount. Also, be aware that purchasing online beforehand may potentially reduce the price and/or help to skip the lines. As for the Coliseum, there is free admission on the first Sunday of each month. It may be worth swapping one of Sunday’s activities if this is when you’re traveling.
Saturday. Mid-afternoon. Wander down Via Fori Imperiali, passing ancient ruins of temples, fortresses, and statues, to come around to Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II in Piazza Venezia. This beautiful building is both a Roman history museum and holds an unmarked tomb, not to mention it stands as one of Rome’s most recognizable structures. I like it because I can see all of Rome from the top.
I highly recommend walking from Piazza Venezia to the Pantheon. If you choose to skip this, then straight down Via del Corso is a quick and very glitzy avenue that will lead almost directly to the Trevi Fountain. However, I have seen the fountain in the day and at night- a glowing blue fountain with stone white Oceanus against a dark black sky always wins.
Sticking to the plan, submit back into the side streets and choose an off-the beaten path restaurant on your way to the Pantheon for lunch.
Saturday evening. The Pantheon is a dream to see in person, and a nightmare for photographers. Light pours into the top of the dome shadowing the well-preserved art along the walls.
As the day fades, walk out into the plaza and make your way northeast in the direction of Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps). Along the way are gelaterias, chocolaterias, boutiques, and some of the most exquisite designer shops. The window displays alone deserve a place in the Smithsonian. As you get closer, turn right on either Via dei Condotti or Via Borgognona. BluMarine, Gucci, Dior, Bruno Cucinelli, and countless other high-end designer stores decorate the sides of the street, making stepping out into Piazza di Spagna at the end all the more exhilarating.
Saturday night. Starting to make my way back to the hotel, but not before buying a gelato and sitting on the edge of the Trevi Fountain for good ol’ people watching.
This is the last attraction for the day, but it is close to where the shopping, restaurants, and bars are. If you prefer to grab dinner next, wander out of the immediate plaza; I suggest finding either a local spot, or, if it’s warm enough, a rooftop terrace. Since budgets vary and atmosphere is subjective, check out The Rooftop Guide.
Dinner and drinks before the hotel make a perfect way to end the night.
What about the rest of the itinerary?! Check out What to Do with a Weekend in Rome Part 2!