“She had always been fond of history, and here [in Rome] was history in the stones of the street and the atoms of the sunshine.” -Henry James
Rome was my first experience in Europe. My first time crossing the Atlantic. My first time walking next to a lady wearing Gucci and Prada while standing on soil where chariots once raced and lions once fought. My first time sipping Rossini just a mile away from where the Apostle Paul was on trial during Jesus’ time. And like any firsts, Rome set my standards. Rome raised the bar for coffee and leather. It topped the cake for art and history. Rome brought life to my taste buds, showed me how to dine for hours, and proved that gelato really is a food group. Rome opened my eyes to a beauty I had never seen, made from dirt, fire, and dust. This entrancing city was my first travel romance and my first true love in Europe. And even after weeks of prepping for this trip, brushing up on history, studying the hand of Michelangelo, marking my map with must see Piazzas and cafes before arriving, nothing could have prepared me for Rome.
Travel books would give any Rome-bound explorer lists upon lists of things to do in this city. And with cobblestone streets weaving through and through, anyone experiencing Rome will need a great pair of shoes and legs eager to walk miles upon miles—there is just so much to see! But truly, no amount of book-worming before the trip can prepare even the most affluent explorer for their first time in Rome. Perhaps if we were to stumble upon Audrey Hepburn’s diary during her 20 years of calling Rome home (yes, she lived there!), we would be better prepared for the experience that is “The Eternal City.” Until then, below are a few musts for any explorer with a heart set out for Rome:
The Colosseum, The Forum & Palentine Hill
If you forgo a tour guide, download audio guides and print maps before your trip. These stops are so rich in history that you will not want to miss the details. Buy your tickets ahead of time—and to get out of waiting in long lines, save the Colosseum for after the morning rush. Meander through The Forum first, grab some local pizza nearby, and then explore the ancient arena (best part is your ticket is good for all three places!).
Vatican & Saint Peters Basilica
Did you know that the home of the Pope, the Vatican, is it’s own country? It also has five miles of artwork within its walls. And if that is not enticing enough, let’s bring up Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel—the most impressive work of art ever created by a single human being. After exploring endless museums and the largest church in the world (a nine story building can fit inside its tall dome), climb up the winding stairs to the very top, to the tallest point in all of Rome.
“From the dome of St. Peter’s one can see every notable object in Rome…[she] can see a panorama that is varied, extensive, beautiful to the eye, and more illustrious in history than any other in Europe.” -Mark Twain
The Romans mastery of building techniques is evident in the Pantheon—an engineering feat with its manipulation of interior space, this building is a must see. And by night, stop by the Pantheon for a Rossini or a Peach Bellini at one of the surrounding cafes as the clock strikes midnight. It feels a bit magical and unreal.
The Spanish Steps & The Trevi Fountain
Rome really is a living museum of culture, art, and history. When merely walking around the streets you come to architectural feats and cannot do anything but just stand and stare, pinching yourself because, is this all a dream? At the Spanish Steps and the Trevi so much hustle and bustle takes place, its the perfect stop to people watch, enjoy mouth watering gelato, and be amidst Roman culture and architecture, all in one place.
Stretches of green grass, lush trees, park benches, and spectacular fountains—this is Villa Borghese. Stop in at Gina’s Restaurant where they have “The best vegetable soup in Rome.” Order this favorite to go and enjoy a picnic and some down time in these beautiful gardens.
To truly experience daily life in Rome, an afternoon stop in a Piazza is a must. Art vendors sell their work, flower carts display freshly cut blooms, and restaurants taunt passerby’s with their lunch menus. Piazza Navona keeps a little local secret. Without spoiling it, if you ever should go here, stop in I Tre Scalini and be sure to order “tartufo” to go. Chocolate lovers, you won’t regret it.
T-Nobile, Leather Shop
Walk into this store and just bask in authentic Italian leather. Messenger bags, clutches, wallets, large totes, belts, and more, this darling shop not only has a leather good for every gal, it is also very affordable compared to the typical leather prices. And color definitely pops when you walk into this store—you’ll find mustard yellow, fuchsia, cherry red, teal, plum, and apple green leather in addition to classic neutrals. A stylist’s dream!
Visit in the summer and you’ll leave Rome boasting of the city’s free flowing, ice cold, drinkable water fountains. Sounds simple, yes, but this tradition carries on all over the city with fountains that have been there for hundreds of years. And thanks to artist Bernini, who left his mark all over the city, these fountains are very ornate.
Amongst the loud and busy that Rome can often be, Trastevere overflows with quiet alleys and romantic nooks. This is the romantic Rome so commonplace in movies. Give yourself a few hours to get lost here, and at dusk, find yourself at Aventine Hill for a spectacular sunset.
Whether lost in Rome for days, or as a brief stopping point amidst one’s travels, the ancient capital of the world will surely leave its mark. Forever my first travel romance, my first love in Europe; my heart still sings of feelings as if I were still in Rome, best captured in the words by English Poet Samuel Rogers: “I am in Rome! Oft as the morning ray?visits these eyes, waking at once I cry, Whence this excess of joy? What has befallen me? And from within a thrilling voice replies, ‘Thou art in Rome!’”