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  • Allyson Rychlak

All Roads Lead to Rome: The Italian Capital in Under 5 Days

Rome has the most special place in my heart. I studied abroad here from August to December 2019 and I never take the memories I made, or the places I visited, for granted. Ciara, one of my roommates from Rome (turned good friend, turned coworker!) and I started talking about the idea of returning sometime in 2022, and I knew the trip was going to be one for the books.


For the sake of this guide, I combined the itinerary Ciara and I followed with other recommendations from my time abroad. There is so much to see and do in Rome, and by no means is this a comprehensive account of what is the best. However, I highlight my most favorite spots with the hope that future travelers can enjoy them just the same. See end of article for an additional list of restaurants and things to do that were not included on this trip, or mentioned previously in this guide.


As one of city's most iconic images, the Colosseum is a must-see tour on a trip to Rome


Our trip spanned Wednesday evening until the following Friday afternoon, but we did not spend the whole time in Rome. Check out my Taormina, Sicily guide, where we were lucky enough to visit from Sunday through Wednesday before retuning to the U.S. on Friday morning.


Thursday

After a roughly 4pm Wednesday flight out of JFK, we landed at Rome–Fiumicino International Airport, otherwise known as "Leonardo da Vinci," or FCO, early Thursday morning. Taxis should be a flat rate of €50 to and from the airport, which is expensive in comparison to other cities in Europe, but certainly more convenient. The ride should take about 40 minutes, depending on your location in the city and traffic, and can be hailed easily from the terminal exit. Another option is the Leonardo Express, a train that takes a little over 30 minutes from the airport to Termini, the central train station, with prices around €14 per person. While studying in Rome, our favorite airport transportation is the SIT Bus, which is around €7 from the city center to the airport, or vice versa, in around 40 minutes.


Prati, the upscale, residential neighborhood where we lived and studied while abroad, sits at the top of my recommendations when planning where to stay in Rome. This neighborhood borders the Vatican (our apartment was a handful of streets down from St. Peter's Square), and has a host of delicious restaurants, cocktail bars, shopping spots, and more. Since Prati sits across the Tiber River, it is significantly less crowded and a nice escape from the tourist crowds of Rome!


We started our first day back by dropping off our luggage at a secured locker nearby the Vatican (approximately €8.50 for a maximum of 4 hours), and had breakfast at Lumiere. This cafe actually sits at the ground-level of the building we had our classes in, and has the best cornetti and capuccini. Check out nearby Piazza Cavour and the Palace of Justice, Italy's Supreme Court. We couldn't check into our Airbnb in Prati until noon, so we walked around St. Peter's Square, ate our first gelato of the trip at Cremilla, and strolled the shops on Via Cola di Rienzo. Cremilla is to die for... we may or may not have gone multiple times a week when we lived down the street.


St. Peter's Square is breathtaking at any time of day, and a perfect place for a photo op!


After unpacking, showers, and quick naps in an attempt to curb the jet lag, we headed to La Zanzara for aperitivo. This is a great spot for dinner or simply to grab cocktails; highly recommend their mojitos or other curated cocktails if wine or an Aperol Spritz doesn't suit your taste! After La Zanara, our first Italian meal was waiting for us at Margot Ristorante. We ate here often once a week during our time studying abroad, and the owner recognized us immediately and offered up big hugs. While you can't go wrong on the menu, the amatriciana is unbeatable!


Friday

After catching up on some sleep (tips for being able to sleep on an overnight flight are greatly appreciated), we set out on Friday to explore the city by foot. There truly is so much to see in Rome, and one could spend days simply slowing down the itinerary and taking well-deserved time through the monuments. If only all trips could be 2+ weeks!


Castel Sant'Angelo, St. Peter's neighbor on the right bank of the Tiber River, is a lesser-known attraction. However, since we had the gift of time during our semester here, we toured the castle turned museum a handful of times. There are beautiful views of the city of Rome, as well as St. Peter's, from the upper-levels. If you're tight on time, I'd suggest checking the other landmarks off your list first.


After we crossed the river and left Prati for the day, we strolled around the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, and Piazza Colonna. Entrance to the Pantheon is free, but I suggest going early in the morning to avoid the long lines of tourists. The Trevi Fountain is also within walking distance of these landmarks and can be easily added to the itinerary here. However, on our trip, it was pretty hectic around these parts with a weekend approaching, so we decided to return at night later in the trip to avoid the crowds. What about the Colosseum, you say? That comes later too!


Later in the afternoon, we popped in and out of shops and headed back to our favorite restaurant in Prati, Margot, for aperitivo of Aperol Spritzes, prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella, and chocolate cornetti. Dinner at Dar Poeta, a pizzeria in the neighborhood of Trastevere, was calling our names! This pizza is some of the best I've had in all of Italy, and there is always a line to wait for a table. In a city so oversaturated with restaurants, I consider this to always be good sign!


After dinner, we grabbed drinks also in Trastevere at Caramella. Although we were so full from our pizza dinner, I have eaten here before and highly recommend for a dinner in this neighborhood. Located south of the Vatican and Prati, Trastevere is my second-favorite neighborhood in Rome. There are fabulous restaurants and coffee shops, and lesser known attractions such as Villa Farnesina and Basilica Santa Maria that I visited in my art history class while abroad. If you're looking to explore away from the crowds, check out those spots.


Margot, our favorite restaurant in Prati from when we were studying abroad


Saturday

In the morning, we waited in the security queue to enter St. Peter's Basilica (with knees and shoulders covered) and had our breath taken away once again at the sheer beauty of the Vatican. The line, which was wrapped through the square, was about 30 minutes from when we joined. If you're planning on attending mass, I'd allot extra time to wait in the queue because it can be hard to determine the length. Much time can be spent gazing in awe within the Basilica itself, monuments to various popes, and Michaelangelo's The Pieta.


The lines can be long to enter the basilica, but tend to move quickly! One of my favorite times to visit is at night


The grottoes of the popes, where some former popes are buried, is also open to the public and can be easily accessed from the main cathedral. While we did not spend extensive time here during this trip, our theology class abroad took us to the Tomb of St. Peter and the Necropolis under the basilica. Only 250 people are permitted to enter the Scavi a day, making it one of the most coveted and exclusive tours in Rome. For directions on how to book a tour, see this link on the Vatican site. I highly recommend this tour if you are able to secure a spot - it is a gem among the many tours offered.


Otherwise, tickets to enter the Vatican Museums and see the Sistine Chapel are easily booked and essential for your trip to the Vatican City. It is possible to enter the museums without a guide, but one could spend hours upon hours touring. There is so much to see and learn about, including my favorites beyond the Sistine Chapel itself: The School of Athens by Raphael in the Papal Apartments, Apollo Belvedere, Laocoon, and the double-helix staircase that marks the exit from the Museums. If you only have time to enter once, as most do on a limited trip, I suggest booking a guided tour to get a fully immersive experience.


There is also an option to climb the 551 steps to the Dome of St. Peter's Basilica for approximately €8 per person. Views from the interior of the Dome, where you'll be able to see tiny specks of visitors below in the cathedral, are just as incredible as the exterior. If your legs aren't already screaming and you're determined to see the incredible 360-degree views from the top, keep trudging up a spiral staircase and narrow pathways to access the exterior of the Dome. When my family visited me during Thanksgiving, we did this together. It was tiring, but so worth it for the views!


After our visit to St. Peter's, we strolled along the river through Piazza del Popolo to Villa Borghese, one of Rome's largest public parks. Although we did not have time this trip to visit the Galleria Borghese, I highly recommend getting tickets for this museum, which is my favorite museum in Rome. Here you can find Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini's famous sculpture collection, including Apollo and Daphne, The Rape of Proserpina, and Bernini's David. Other masterpieces include paintings from Raphael and Caravaggio's collections. Since I visited this gallery with my art history class, my recommendation is that you cannot go wrong with a tour. However, the most economical method to visit is by getting tickets directly from the official website. With fees, tickets should amount to around €18.50 per person, which is much cheaper than a guided tour.


During our latest trip to Villa Borghese, Ciara and I strolled through the park and gardens. Pincio Terrace provides panoramic views of Rome; to avoid some of the crowds mid-day, continue along this path for other similar vistas. We headed to the artificial, yet stunning, lake near the Bilotti Museum to rent rowboats. The boat rental is approximately €4 per person for 20 minutes, which is plenty of enough time. Confident as ever, I hopped right into the boat only to realize it might take me a few minutes to even get the hang of the rowing! This was a fun way to get off our feet, listen to live music in the park, and bask in the sunshine.


Believe me... it is harder than it looks!


While there are plenty of cafes or stands to grab a bite to eat in Villa Borghese, we were craving panino from an old favorite back in Prati. We hopped on the Metro stop outside of the park for around €1.50 per person and headed 2 stops to Lepanto, nearby shopping street Via Cola di Rienzo. Just a few minutes away walking, La Pagnottella Gourmet has incredible sandwiches, bowls, and more, so we had to pretend once more that we were grabbing lunch in between classes!


After lunch, we spent the afternoon going in and out of stores on Via Cola di Rienzo before resting for a bit at our Airbnb. In the evening, we took a taxi to the Colosseum, but this can also be accessed easily by the Metro. Standard adult tickets to enter the Colosseum are around €16 per person, but paying an extra €10 for an audioguide could be an economical way to learn about the structure without getting tickets for a more expensive tour. Tickets usually need to be purchased online ahead of time; the box office is almost always sold out, but can be paired with a visit to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. This is a must when visiting Rome!


For dinner, we walked from the Colosseum area to Campo dei Fiori for Osteria da Fortunata's famous pasta. The carbonara here is my favorite, but once again... you can never go wrong with any Italian pasta classics. The pasta is handmade, and each time I've been there, workers make the dough right in front of you at tables near the front. There are 2 locations of this restaurant around this area, and we were able to sit down right away since we chose inside. Buon appetito!


Sunday - Wednesday

On Sunday morning, we headed back to FCO for a noon flight to Catania, Sicily to begin our adventure in Taormina. Check out my Taormina guide for more info here.


After a long travel day to return to Rome, we checked in Wednesday evening to our 2nd Airbnb in the city. Instead of Prati, this stay was a stone's throw from the top of Spanish Steps. When my family visited me while abroad, we ate dinner at Il Gabrielo, which is under a mile from the steps and the Airbnb we stayed at. While the restaurant may look like a simple basement from the exterior, don't be fooled! This is one of my favorite restaurants in Rome and I highly recommend having dinner here if you're near the Spanish Steps area during your trip. The pasta is fabulous, and we ended the meal with limoncello like true Italians. You can't go wrong with Il Gabrielo.


Following dinner, we headed back to Prati to spend some time with another friend from abroad, who was visiting at the same time since her brother was in the same program. On our walk home, we passed the Trevi Fountain with little to no crowds (the best time, in my opinion).


Thursday

Our final full day in Rome did not disappoint. We had pizza for breakfast at Pinsitaly Trevi, walkable from our Airbnb near the Spanish Steps, where we tried amatriciana and carbonara pizzas! Fueled and ready to go for the day, we spent the morning walking through the shops around Piazza di Spagna. Whether simply window shopping or making big purchases, this area is known for its high-end Italian brands and other designers.


We had our final aperitivo of the trip at Il Palazzetto Cocktail & Wine Bar overlooking the Spanish Steps. We did not have to wait for long, but this place definitely attracts a line since it gives diners stunning views of the steps and the Piazza below. In the late afternoon, the sun over the steps was simply breathtaking (and perhaps worth the overpriced Aperol Spritzes!). I recommend this spot for a drink, and while the charcuterie and pizza we ordered was great, you are definitely paying for the view.


Aperol orange is just so photogenic!


The church at the top of the Spanish Steps, Trinità dei Monti, is beautiful and so peaceful. Before we headed to a cooking class - our finale in Rome - we stopped inside here. There are almost 1,000 churches in Rome, and some of my favorites from my art history or theology classes are quite obscure amidst the city.


Booked through Get Your Guide, our cooking class titled "Spritz and Spaghetti"was a ton of fun. We learned to make 3 spritzes, including Aperol, Campari, and Limoncello, as well as both cacio e pepe and carbonara. This class was engaging, informative, and delicious - highly recommend if you're looking for both a cooking and mixology class.


Before the mess: you should've seen our work stations after making that dough!


With full bellies, we returned to our Airbnb to pack for our flight the following morning. As with any international flight, we allowed for plenty of time at the airport. If you don't have Global Entry, which costs a fee, download the MPC - Mobile Passport Control app to skip the line when you arrive back in the U.S. for customs. This saved us likely an hour or more at JFK, and it only requires you to upload your passport into the app before you join the queue at customs.



Other Recommendations:


Restaurants:

  • Taverna Trilussa (Trastevere): Traditional pasta served in the metal pan it is cooked in!

  • Osteria Birra del Borgo (Prati): Craft beers, different menu, and great atmosphere inside

  • MAMA (Prati): Super kind staff and yummy food away from the crowds

  • Amalfi (Prati): Another good pizza spot in the neighborhood where we studied, but a bit further from the river

  • Santa Lucia (Ponte): Right across the river from the Castel Sant'Angelo, great seafood!

Gelato (Other than Cremilla, of course):

  • Lemongrass (Prati)

  • Old Bridge (Prati)

  • Portofino (Prati)

  • Frigidarium (Piazza Navona)

  • Venchi (Pantheon, but there are at least 3 locations)

Things to Do:

  • Papal Audience: If you're in Rome on a Wednesday, this is your chance to see the Pope!

  • Aventine Hill Keyhole and Orange Gardens: One of the seven famous hills in Rome with a special view of the Vatican through the keyhole

  • Giancolo Hill: Expansive view of the city just beyond Trastevere

  • A.S. Roma game: If you're a soccer - or "calcio" - fan! The stadium is really neat.


Rome is one of my favorite places, and there is truly so much to see, do, and eat in this city. I hope this guide is informative and insightful for future trips to the Eternal City. As always, feel free to reach out via DM on @life.with.allysonn or via inquiry in the form at the bottom of this page with any and all questions or additional recommendation requests! Ciao for now.


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