When I first visited Rome, I enjoyed my time, and was happy to have spent a two day whirlwind tour discovering the city. However, to tell you the truth, I was a little less than enthused about this famous place that is known for ancient ruins, lively piazzas, and ornate Renaissance churches.
I don't think I'm alone in this perception, either. I have heard many a tourist say that Rome was great to see, but it wouldn't be making a reappearance on future itineraries and I never disagreed with this train of thought until 2013.
If you've read my blog before, you may have seen my post on studying abroad. During this time, our class traveled all over Italy and crammed as much historical information into our brains (and pizza into our faces) as possible. During my short stint to Rome, I decided that I was okay with not returning. It wasn't until 2013, when I went on a trip to Italy with my parents, that I truly fell in love with Rome.
What changed my mind? Well, a myriad of things, but mainly I revisited Rome and decided to take the non-whirlwind approach. We saw the city markets, cooked in the apartment, took tours from locals, and just experienced Rome as the Romans do. Basically, we found our way in the experiential travel world.
If you've thought that a trip to Rome could easily be trumped by a trip to Florence, Bologna, or Venice, I'm here to share how to make it a better competitor, and maybe even a top choice when planning your next jaunt to the boot-shaped country.
- Rent an apartment. I personally have never lived in a hotel (after all, we are not all Chuck Bass) and I don't anticipate that I ever will. To experience the local culture, one must live like a local, and an apartment is a great way to feel settled, have a kitchen, and experience what it is like to have a "home" in the city that you are visiting. My favorite sites are AirBnB, HomeAway, OneFineStay, and VRBO (although, many cities have great local options, as well).
- Stay for 3+ nights. I think that many people treat Rome like they do Paris: simply, a stopover en route to the next place. However, if you limit your time, you are limiting your experience. Here's the thing...it's hard to find the balance of seeing multiple places and spending quality time in each location. I suggest three nights per city to give it a fighting chance for your love.
- Take a tour. Don't love being in a blob of humans with one person leading with a funny umbrella sticking up in the air? Join the crowd (not literally). Rome has some great tours that are individualized that can allow for you to really see what you want to see, and how you want to see it. My favorites are Easitalytours and Scooteroma. Easitalytours provides an English (or Italian) speaking tour guide who is beyond knowledgeable on Rome's history, art, and culture. We spent a half day meandering through the wonders of Rome without having to use a map and learning the tricks of navigating through town. Our tour guide also served as an enthusiastic photographer when we got to the most picturesque locations. Scooteroma is a unique option that allows you to ride or drive a scooter through Rome on a designated path. Romans love their scooters and this is a great (and fast) way to see the city through a local's eyes.
- Test out your culinary skills. Don't forget that an apartment comes with a kitchen! The market in Campo di Fiori sells an array of fruits, vegetables, oils, spices, and even flowers (if you are wanting to make your place extra cozy). Take an early morning walk through the piazza, grab a cappucino, and start shopping. There is nothing to help you experience a city like haggling with a street vendor! You will probably save some money and have a great memory of creating your own version of Italian cuisine.
- Roam...in Rome. Like every city, there are different neighborhoods with varying cultures. This is no different in Rome. If you stick to the normal path, you will see normal Roman things (and probably a lot of that will be touristy since this is quite the hub of tourism for Italy). Put on your walking shoes and start to explore the nooks and crannies of Rome. If you are like me and you err on the side of caution, ask your waiter, tour guide or temporary landlord where they would eat, walk, and explore their own city. Your experience will be unique, you may get lost, but the adventure is all in the journey (and worst case scenario, they have Uber to bail you out).
I hope that if you didn't love Rome the first time, you may give it another shot! I can't wait to go back, eat some Cacio e Pepe, zoom around on a scooter, and drink a spritz in front of the Pantheon!