WHEN IN ROME & VATICAN CITY
ROME TRAVEL GUIDE
ITINERARY FOR A 3 DAYS IN ROME, ITALY
DAY ONE ROME
As y'all know Italy has too much to see for one trip but we were committed and determined to get the most out of our 10 days. We wanted to hit the ground running (quite literally) as soon as we landed, so we planned to see most of the notables on the first day. However, insane customs/immigration lines and less than stellar weather did not allow for this. As a result we had to flex some of our plans to the next day.
SIDE NOTE: if you are taking a non-stop direct from the US to Rome, just be prepared for some ridiculous lines in customs/immigration. It took us 2 hours to get through customs alone! It seems that the FCO airport has several international flights land mid-afternoon which accounts for the ridiculous lines. Also, there are many affordable transportation options leaving the airport. We used the SIT bus (6 Euros/person - cash only) and would definitely recommend this option over cabs, shuttles or even the train.
VARESE GUEST HOUSE (LODGING)
We really tried to keep our housing affordable throughout the trip, and since we were traveling with our besties we wanted something that catered to group housing. This is effectively a glorified dormitory. Several group housing rooms that all share a couple of bathrooms.
- RATING: 4/5
- PROS: great location (two blocks from Termini Train Station, clean, reliable wi-fi, good common area space with small kitchenette, spacious rooms (some with balconies).
- CONS: average comfort, no breakfast, city/tourist tax to be paid in cash only
RIFUGIO ROMANO (RESTAURANT)
- RATING: 4/5
- PROS: good food, affordable prices, really nice helpful staff
- CONS: long waits, reservation highly recommended (or go early - like before 8PM).
DAY TWO VATICAN CITY + ROME
Since we encountered lots of temperamental weather the Sunday we landed, we had to flex our original plans to the next day which meant a lot more walking!! Thankfully we packed comfortable clothing and shoes 🙏🏽. Between the Vatican museum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica & Colosseum, there was quite a bit of walking - 7 miles to be precise. Yep SEVEN.
During the planning stages of this trip we got tons of great insights from our many friends who had been to Italy already. Pretty much everyone told us to buy skip-the-line tickets for both the Vatican & the Colosseum (+ Forum). This was excellent advice, however the key to this being useful (for the Vatican in particular) is doing the earliest tours available. Skip-the-Line tickets allow you to skip the entrance lines for these high profile sights, but do not allow you to skip the security lines (metal detectors). The security lines are smallest first thing in the morning! The other benefit to morning tours is that the Vatican is WAY less packed. You have some breathing room to enjoy the artwork & historical artifacts, but more importantly really gawk at the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel.
- RATING: 4/5
- PROS: great quick tour with a knowledgable guide, all the highlights are noted, great for individuals who enjoy fast paced tours (length was 1 hour, ending with the Sistine Chapel - could stay here indefinitely), the Vatican Museum Map room was 😍, we got blessed by a priest in the Sistine Chapel!! 😇
- CONS: not as informative as we personally would have liked (could have been more in depth)
- PROS: go at your own pace, explore freely, this Basilica was personally my favorite from our tour of Italy, absolutely breath taking architecture and so artfully made. THIS IS A MUST SEE.
- CONS: This tour comes with an audioguide (downloaded through your own phone on an app), headphones cost extra and are only for normal headphone jacks (not compliant with iPhone 7 and newer).
- NOTES: Our tour was in the afternoon when there were floods of people, definitely recommend first thing in the morning.
SOME NOTES ABOUT THE VATICAN:
- If you decide to use these two tours linked above, I would recommend doing all three sights back-to-back. As the day progresses, the Vatican gets super packed both outside and within the museums. Its best to be done with all the tours before lunch in my opinion. Also the Vatican is a no re-entry zone, so once you exit a museum you can not go back in.
- Special attire is required (pants, no hats, no revealing clothing for women - no sleeveless, knees must be covered, and according to most sites - closed toe shoes (however this one didn't seem to be strictly enforced)).
- The Vatican is closed on Sundays and several religious holidays throughout the year. It is best to make sure that it will be open during your visit before booking anything. If you can, book the garden tour - we regret not buying tickets to see this.
- Ok and our final note, lots of restaurants in the area will solicit your attention in a semi-aggressive manner. I would plan meals as much as possible. We made the mistake of walking into one of the restaurants and getting some fruit. We didn't think it would cost that much and the price wasn't listed on the menu. It cost us 50 Euros just for the fruit salad (note this is not the restaurant listed below)!!
- RATING: 4/5
- PROS: great basic italian dishes, really inexpensive ($), and very fresh
- CONS: nothing too inventive (just the basics - think pesto, pomodoro, fungi...), only 4 stools in the restaurant to sit, a little hard to find because in a alley way of sorts, not the nicest staff.
Much like the Taj Mahal, the Colosseum (aka Colosseo) is magnanimous in person. Its so incredibly grand and massive - I was literally speechless. We thoroughly enjoyed just walking around the entire archeological site and spent a couple hours doing only that (and taking pictures 🤗) before even going in. It was really incredible to be in a space that was built almost 2000 years ago! So incredible that we went back 3 times!
- PROS: well preserved, lots of historic artifacts throughout
- CONS: tons of people, very touristy food in the area, steep uneven stairs
- SOME NOTES:
- The Colosseum offers skip the line tickets which were excellent. Our scheduled entry time was 5:30 PM and we basically walked in. The security line at that time was pretty minimal which was also really convenient. Just a heads up, only small purses/backpacks are allowed, tickets can be purchased here and are good for 2 consecutive days (this proved very useful with the bad weather we encountered), and tickets give access to the Forum (where Caesar is buried) & Palatine Hills. Oh also they are super affordable - however the link above is not for a guided tour - if you are looking for that then I'd suggest the Viator route.
- I also really recommend going back to the Colosseum at night when its all lit up. There is a little bridge right across from it that is a great view point at night (see picture below).
- Lastly, watch out for the gladiators. These guys are aggressive, will essentially take your phone as collateral until you pay them, and will ask for ridiculous amounts of money for about 5 minutes of fun. Have cash ready for this instead of opening your wallet in front of them. They demanded we pay $100 USD, we gave them $30 (which is still a bit much).
DAY THREE TIVOLI GARDENS + CIVITA DE BAGNOREGIO
The next morning we had a late breakfast before picking up our rental car and leaving Rome for Villa D'Este aka Tivoli Gardens. Some of our good friends raved about these lush gorgeous gardens so we knew we had to check it out. The gardens were first commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este an avid patron of the arts in the 16th century. Today the site is owned by the Italian government and is a a world UNESCO heritage site. Tickets can be purchased in advance (to be picked up at the counter) here.
- RATING: 4/5
- PROS: beautiful lush gardens, very well maintained, expansive, lots of fountains
- CONS: can't be reached by train, sometimes large groups