Besides Sicily, we had only visited Naples and the Amalfi Coast within Italy before traveling to Rome. While we love Italy and are super excited to eventually “see it all,” we have been putting off many of the key cities until later. We mainly want to visit Italy in off season so that we can try to avoid the crowds. I say try because that absolutely may not be possible, as with our trip to Rome.
Prior to visiting the “eternal city,” I received mixed feedback; some people LOVED it and others HATED it. I was determined to be in the LOVE camp from the start. We decided to visit during a long weekend in February with unusually warm weather and enlisted the help of Katie of Planes, Trains and Babies to pin down an itinerary and tours. I honestly felt SO RELIEVED that I did not have to plan this trip, as there are SO many things to see and do in Rome, it’s hard to choose.
So, if you are planning a trip to Rome yourself, you may be thinking, “Should we really book tours?” “Is February a good time to go?” “Was a long weekend enough time?” Read on to find out!
We arrived in Rome mid-day. It took us about an hour to get from the airport to our hotel and then we hopped on the metro to grab some lunch. Katie recommended the cacio e pepe pasta at Hotel Eden Il Giardino and it did NOT disappoint. We then paid a visit to the INCREDIBLY packed Trevi Fountain before heading back to our hotel to get ready for dinner.
One piece of advice Katie gave me was to pre-purchase tours for Rome. We don’t really consider ourselves to be “tour people,” but we trusted the travel expert, and guess what…. we were SOOO glad we did! Rome ended up being packed, which was unexpected. Tip: My advice is do not go “in season.” Even in February, it was overwhelming. Busy season in Rome is a no for me.
Our first tour (and my FAVORITE!!!) was a food tour of Rome by LivItaly tours. Perhaps I loved it because it wasn’t in a jam packed area, but our guide, Jill, was absolutely amazing! We started out with traditional aperitivo (wine and a charcuterie plate), moved on to some traditional Roman fried food (like the Jewish artichoke), experienced true Roman pizza (it’s super thin, square and incredibly tasty), sat down for another round of cacio e pepe pasta, and finished off the night with some unique gelato flavors – like pine tree (AMAZING)!
While walking from place to place on the food tour, we also received a mini tour of the city. Our stops included the Parthenon, the turtle fountain, and the location where Ceasar was killed. Jill also told us about all of the little gold walking stones we were seeing in front of the houses in the Jewish Quarter. Sadly, they represent the Jews whom were taken from the homes where they are placed. The gold stones detail names, arrest dates, concentration camps, and assignation dates.
On Day 2, we got up early for a Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica small group tour (6ppl max). We ended up being the only ones on our tour, so it was basically a private tour!
If I had to do it all over again, I would do the following things: show up earlier than the time they tell you to meet, walk straight to the Sistine Chapel – don’t stop – and, pay extra for a longer tour that includes the museums.
Tour groups are the first to enter the Vatican, but there is still a queue at security. By the time we made it to the Sistine Chapel, there were already quite a few people inside. If we had been earlier, we could have visited the chapel with less people. With that being said, because you run to the Chapel when you get in, it’s best to have a tour to see the rest of the Vatican museums on your way out. Our tour led us right to St. Peter’s Basilica, meaning we would have to pay again to re-enter the Vatican museums and I was not keen about doing that.
Also, as a side note, you can make reservations to visit the underground of the Vatican/St. Peters, but you have to do it directly from the website and FAR in advance. Additionally, you can visit the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, but EVERYTHING at the Vatican is CASH ONLY! So, don’t be like me and forget to stop at an ATM before you go.
Another thing to know is that it is forbidden to photograph the Sistine Chapel. There are private tours in which photos ARE allowed, but they cost upwards of 450€ per person!!! We opted not to spend our life savings on that, so you won’t find any Sistine Chapel photos here. Sorry!
After we had our fill of the Vatican, we wandered straight down the street to Castel Sant’Angelo. We were starving and ready for lunch, but opted to check this place out while we were in the area. It was a good choice. In my opinion, this is a SOLID place to visit just before sunset. You get an amazing view of the Vatican AND Rome. It’s incredibly beautiful and well worth the entry fee. My photos 100% do not do it justice, as it was midday with the brightest sun.
For lunch we dropped in to a local old-school trattoria, Dino E Toni. Once we were seated, the food came out of the kitchen. We didn’t even have to order. It was great and inexpensive.
For our last day in Rome, we booked a tour of the Coliseum, Roman Forum, and Palantine Hill. This tour lasted three hours. While I was intrigued by all of the history, about half way through I was starting to check out. Despite the fact that the tour lasted three hours, we missed many things I wanted to pause and explore more. I think that’s why I wasn’t such a fan of this one. What was super cool about it, is that we got to go out on the Coliseum stage like the gladiators and check out the underground, where they kept the animals, etc. It was a little bit creepy but sooooo informative. I really loved this part of the tour.
We LOVED The H’All Tailor Suite! I decided to book this particular hotel because of their breakfast. The hotel’s Michelin star restaurant serves and individualized breakfast. It was really incredibly and I would definitely stay here again. Also, our room was HUGE!