There are some experiences that stay with you for a lifetime. Getting married in Las Vegas was certainly pretty epic, but I can now add a weekend of fun and food in Rome to this list.
Rome has been on my ‘travelling to-do list’ for a very long time. For various reasons it’s taken me until my 33rd birthday (in May) to get to this city, and my only regret is that I didn’t do it years ago. Having said that, I do believe visiting Rome in my thirties probably ensured I had a more well rounded experience. I enjoyed and took pleasure in things I’m pretty sure 19 year old Laura wouldn’t have given a hoot about. Of course, we enjoyed a plethora of Italian dishes and enough red wine to drown in during our three night visit (more of that in a sec), but the city itself is just breathtaking. The history is truly fascinating and the archetecture has to be seen to be believed. What a phenomenal city!
Our jam-packed weekend started with a very early start and a flight from Birmingham International to Rome Fiumicino Airport. Despite being irritated by the Jet2 theme tune (which they relentlessly play on repeat from landing until you escape the tin can) I was like a kid at Christmas once through passport control. Even my husband, Ian, who rarely shows over-enthusiasm unless it involves Oasis or steak, was ready to get his tourist hat on. We decided to hop on the quick city link train which takes you from the airport directly into Rome, dropping us at the city’s main station: Termini. It took about 30 minutes and cost €14pp which is far cheaper than getting a cab and doesn’t take much longer.
Our pad for the next few days, Hotel Acropoli was based 500 yards from the station (I plan things well) and sits just 20 minutes walk from attractions such as the Colosseum and Trevi Fountain. More like a hostel set up than a hotel, it was nothing fancy (at all) and a very dated inside, but location wise it was perfect for exploring. For somewhere so central, the £90pp price tag (even with the obligatory city tax) seemed very reasonable for the weekend. The hotel is also surrounded by shops, bars and restaurants, plus it’s right next to a metro; handy for jumping on and off if your feet are aching.
Let’s get down to (the most important) business: the food. If you follow my blog at all you’ll know I really like cheese and carbs. If you do too I can highly recommend a visit to Rome. Just before our getaway I’d been Insta-perving on a friend’s trip to Italy, eyeing up all the lovely authentic dishes she’d been scoffing along the way. Her food adventures had made me even more determined before our trip to make sure we dug out some hidden gems for a more authentic food experience overall. To be quite honest we ate so much it would be silly to try and tell you about all of it, but here’s some of my highlights. My favourite find for pizza ended up being both the first thing I ate in Rome and just 5 minutes walk from our hotel. Scoglio di Frisio is between the Esquilino and Monti quarters and offers a mega €8 daytime deal including a pizza and a beer. Great crust, delicious cheese and toppings, generous in size and they give you an insanely good chilli oil to dip your crusts in. Just be aware they don’t open on Sundays. We also enjoyed pizza at Ristorante Il Secchio, around the Monti area, but nothing quite compared to our first find. In the main tourist areas the pizzas are half the size and never looked as inviting as those we found a bit further afield.
If you’re not eating pizza you’ll no doubt be eating pasta, and again we found somewhere truly excellent just yards from our hotel. The Monti district really is the best for food in Rome, in my opinion. Because it’s less touristy the portions are better and it’s always cheaper. We enjoyed (many) an aperol spritz at Elettra Esquilino, the restaurant across the road from Hotel Acropolis. Here we had plates of cured meats and the best pesto pasta I’ve ever eaten – and I’ve eaten a lot. Everywhere serves pasta, not everywhere does it well. Some places use their gorgeous terrace to lure you in but the food won’t give you much joy. We had a pretty naff experience for my birthday lunch at Ba’Ghetto (around Sant Angelo) that promised a great seafood platter. It didn’t deliver and was our most expensive meal – can’t always be helped but just be a bit savvy re street seating and what you’re actually getting for the money.
If you like ice cream, Rome is heavenly. Gelato shops are literally everywhere, but it’s worth doing some Googling to find places worth visiting. I fell in love with Gelato Paolessi, a small independent chain offering outstanding pistachio ice cream. It’s only available in three parlours across the Capital’s different districts: Monti, San Lorenzo and San Giovanni. We went back several times as one shop was on our walk route back to the hotel, and found all sorts of wonderful flavours.
Booze wise we spent most of the weekend drinking aperol, beer and red wine. Some cool spots to look out for include craft beer and burger bar Open Balddin, La Pace del Cervella which offers beers with nice view of Colosseum, and Bar Monti, a lovely bar with a pretty terrace. If you like cocktails and have cash to splash, Salotto 42 is a quirky little bar right by Pantheon, but be aware it’s 10€ up for a drink.
My favourite thing about Rome food wise was the relentless bar snacks given away with drinks. These can range from a simple bowl of nuts to slabs of bruschetta topped with sun ripened tomatoes and fresh basil. Top bars for this include Il Portico in the Jewish Quarter. Also, if you like free food, you have to check out Freni E Frizion. This place offers anyone buying a drink a complimentary visit to the snacks table. When they say snacks though they means huge bowls of seafood, salads, fresh fruit and cheese. We found it by accident and were both amazed by it; very busy and a younger crowd. Feels a bit like a student union.
Coffee. I love coffee. And in Rome I really really liked coffee. Even a shit brew there is better than most of our coffee here, so just enjoy it. It’s available literally everywhere, and is worth trying as espressos even if you normally don’t like them. I liked family-run Art Caffe (again in the Monti area) and Squisito Cafe (opposite the Colosseum) where we also enjoyed massive breakfast sandwiches.
There are certain touristy things you can’t avoid, and to be honest you wouldn’t really want to either. Over the weekend we packed in a lot of sightseeing and walking, and I say ‘a lot’ I mean just over 60km in three days. My favourite attraction was The Forum, found opposite the Colosseum. Tickets are €18 for entry into both, but being that it was my birthday that day (and I didn’t want to queue for 3 hours) we paid the €12 upgrade which included queue jump. It’s worth doing; even the ‘fast track’ passes you can buy online before your trip still require you to stand in a line.
The Colosseum is undeniably spectacular, and thanks to our upgrade we got a tour guide as part of the ticket price. The history of this building is fascinating, especially when you learn it was actually very rarely open for gladiator battles. Across the road you’ll find The Forum; personally I think this is the most beautiful area of the city. This area once saw some of the most important political decisions made, and is where Rome itself was actually founded.
Despite not going into the Vatican we did cross the river and visit Vatican City. It’s quite spectacular, and the size and scale of the place is mind boggling. Near to this you’ll also find lots of street stalls and cafes serving ice cold beer to enjoy in the sunshine. People watching paradise.
Of course, we visited the Trevi Fountain (busiest water feature in the world, I swear to god) and Capitoline Hill, which is worth scaling for the views across the city and the Forum. There’s a host of museums around the latter too. We also visited the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, Theatre of Marcellus and various places we found completely by accident.
This city is simply stunning. From the culture to the food, the people and the vibe; it’s a soul-lifting place that offers more than you can possibly see, do, and try in one weekend. I’ve fallen in love with the Italian spirit and hope to make it back there again, and it’s also made me more determined to see Venice, Florence and Naples. Fancy coming with me..?
Have you been to Rome? Do you have any recommendations for more places I can explore in Italy? Let me know in the comments.
Disclosure: It should be obvious – but just to confirm – all food, drink and travel within this post was paid for by me and The Husband.