I'd visited Italy a couple of times over the years, but never seemed to make my way to Rome. It was one of those places so many people seemed to either love or hate (never a good sign), and I didn't want to waste precious travel time in a place that might underwhelm me. As I made summer plans to visit Morocco, I decided this was my chance to give Rome a try. A three-day stop seemed like enough time to get a taste of the city - see the sights, eat the gelato and meet the locals. Most of Rome's historic sights were located in and around the Centro Storico, so I was able to see A LOT in just a few days. I used the Marco Polo Rome Pocket Guide to piece together a 36-hour itinerary, and that was all the time I needed to fall in love with the city. Truly an Instagram dreamland!
The only way I could get a photo at Trevi Fountain without crowds of people was to show up at 5:30 AM. That gave me a 30 minute window with just a couple of other early risers at the iconic fountain.
Soaking in the historical wonders of Vatican City.
My Marco Polo Rome Pocket Guide never left my hand.
Views of the city from the Roman Forum.
Roman Forum (I was in line before it opened).
The colorful world of Trastevere - my favorite neighborhood in Rome!
Via Giulia. How was I able to find my way to all these little streets? I did an offline download of Rome in my Google Map app. It was a lifesaver - it guided me all over the city, and it never used data or wifi connection.
In search of the cutest cafes.
One of many cute spots along the Via del Governo Vecchio.
I was in awe of the sculptures inside Vatican City.
150 flavors of gelato at Della Palma (located very close to the Pantheon).
St. Peter's Basilica.
How cute are the cobbled streets of Trastevere?
Piazza Navona had the best summer vibes. This was my favorite recommendation from the Marco Polo Rome Pocket Guide.
Reading up on the Colosseum before opening.
It was the prettiest stroll through Rome to Vatican City in the early morning.
So many colorful alleyways in Trastevere.
Quiet mornings at Castel Sant'Angelo.
My magnet fix.
Too many cute doorways in Rome.
Main piazza in Trastevere.
Are you a guidebook junkie when you travel?
I had to race to the fountain from Gelateria Valentino to get a photo before my gelato melted.
Always making friends with the four-legged locals.
The neighborhood was so colorful!
Getting a few travel tips while at the Roman Forum.
Surrounded by historic magic.
I lost count of how much gelato I ate in Rome ...
I made a wish at Trevi Fountain!
Me and my guide book - all I needed to explore this amazing city!
The soaring insides of St. Peter's Basilica.
Sunrise at the Colosseum.
Farewell, Rome! See you again in a few months!
There was so much to experience in Rome that I thought this post would be most useful as a guide to my favorite spots around the city. To plan this trip, I used the Marco Polo Rome Pocket Guide; the Trip Advisor travel forums; and Instagram - all useful for different reasons.
It wouldn't be a trip to Rome without a visit to the Colosseum! The towering amphitheater was one of the most iconic sights in the city, and truly a must-see. For the best view of the Colosseum, I headed to the elevated viewpoint above the Piazza del Colosseo, located right across the street (this spot was especially lovely for photos at sunrise).
A tourist highlight in the Marco Polo Rome Pocket Guide, I decided the Pantheon was worthy of two visits while in Rome. I wanted to experience the quiet of the Piazza della Rotonda in the early morning without crowds of people surrounding the Pantheon. And then visit again later in the day, this time to go inside with all the other tourists to see the oculus of the monument's grand dome. The two visits were completely different experiences - I'm glad I had the time to go twice.
This vibrant square was another must-see according to the Marco Polo Rome Pocket Guide, and the recommendation was spot on. This beautiful piazza was my favorite in Rome, bursting with summer energy during my midday visit. I spent a couple of hours here soaking in the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, Fontana del Moro and Baroque Roman architecture while watching dozens of local artists sketch the beautiful historic surroundings.
I visited the Ponte Sant'Angelo enroute to Vatican City, and had the bridge pretty much to myself at 7 AM, sharing the iconic spot only with the occasional jogger. With its grand views of the Castel Sant'Angelo, this was the prettiest spot in Rome to cross over the Tiber River.
For me, it was a must to be one of the first people into the Roman Forum at opening. I needed a few photos without mobs of tourists, and I wanted to enjoy the historic magic of the place before it crowded with people. This was one of the few places in the city where it truly felt like I was walking through Ancient Rome with its free standing columns, crumbling ruins and decadent archways. The Temple of Castor and Pollux, Temple of Saturn and the House of the Vestals were a few of my favorite spots.
A couple of tips. Buy your ticket online, in advance. Also, have a game plan before you get there - the Roman Forum is massive. I didn't realize how big the place was, and had to wing it when I arrived to get the most out of my early arrival.
Gorgeous outdoor staircase bookended by the Trinità dei Monti and the Fontana della Barcaccia.
Yes, it's possible to get a photo at Trevi Fountain without other people in the frame. In fact, I did it twice while I was in Rome. The secret? I was at the fountain at 5:30 AM (this was in mid-June) with a 30 minute window for photos, sharing Trevi Fountain with just a couple other people. And to put the crowds in perspective, I visited again at 2:30 PM, and there were more than a thousand people surrounding the fountain. Early bird catches the worm in Rome!
Vatican City was a last minute addition to my itinerary, and thank goodness the guide book convinced me to go. I was blown away by the grandeur and beauty of the historic wonder. I arrived just before 8 AM for empty photos of St. Peter's Square, but spent a half-day in Vatican City exploring the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica and the Garden of Villa Barberini.
If I had to cut anything out of my itinerary, it would have been the Villa Borghese. It was a long walk to reach the public park, and an even longer walk once inside to find the English-style gardens that I'd wanted to see. The place was a bit underwhelming for all the effort it took to get there.
INSTAGRAM NEIGHBORHOODS / STREETS
This might have been my favorite spot in Rome. The colorful cobbled neighborhood felt like an Italian village, and there were times in Trastevere when I forgot I was in Italy's capital city. I adored this part of Rome where I could lose myself in the lovely maze of streets lined with vibrant cafes, colorful gelaterias and tiny shops.
Via dei Coronari (street)
This pedestrian mecca of colorful shopfronts, bars and restaurants looked like it was made for Instagram snaps. I adored afternoon strolls along Via dei Coronari with its quaint cobblestone, colorful shutters and Italian Renaissance feels.
Via del Governo Vecchio (street)
It's a little silly to single out the cutest streets in Rome ... because everything in the city is so darn picturesque! But I was particularly fond of Via del Governo Vecchio with its historic facades that housed picturesque cafes, bars and boutiques. This street was quintessential Italia!
Gelateria Della Palma
150 different flavors of gelato. Passion Fruit, Strachiatella, Pistachio Orange, Kit Kat, Kiwi, Vegan Mint, Twix, Green Apple ... Need I say more?
Another tasty spot! I found Gelateria Teatro on the adorable Via dei Coronari, the prettiest street for a stroll with cone in hand. I loved their Passion Fruit gelato!
Pasta Chef Monti
Located in the heart of the Monti neighborhood, Pasta Chef Monti was a delightful hole in the wall that served up the freshest pasta dishes including lasagna ragu, porcini ravioli, pomodoro rigatoni and more. Oh, and almost all the pasta dishes were under 10 euro.
St. Regis Rome
Recently renovated, the five-star St. Regis Rome occupied one of the best locations in the city within walking distance to the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Villa Borghese Gardens and most of the major Centro Storico sights. This place oozed with Italian Renaissance glam!
I love to explore new places on foot, and Rome's Centro Storico couldn't have been more perfect for this type of adventure. In three days, I walked more than 30 miles, hitting everywhere from Vatican City to the Spanish Steps on foot. It was pretty easy to find my way around thanks to the Marco Polo Rome Pocket Guide fold-out map and my Google Maps app. This was my first time downloading a map offline, and it came in very handy tracking my movements and guiding me through the streets of Rome.
Special thanks to Marco Polo Guides for sponsoring this post! xx
All honest opinion are my own.
Photo by myself and Anh-Thi Nguyen (@leftietraveler on Instagram)