Postcards from a Roman Holiday

YOU SHOULDN’T SEE ROME IN A DAY

WAYS TO TRAVEL SUSTAINABLY AND SOAK UP THE CITY

Ah Rome. At once frenzied, chaotic and colorful. But turn down this alley, linger on this plaza, languish on that square and it quickly becomes deliciously slow and simple and satisfying. As easy and pleasing as a scoop of Italian gelato. As magnificent and perfect as a polished marble sculpture. There are angels in the architecture here and even when you are lost down some labyrinth of little lanes, Rome turns up singing alleluia.

Rome wasn’t built in a day.”


Postcards from Rome

SEE ROME OFF-SEASON

We spent four days in Rome for our Winter Break in February. It was part of a week-long Italian tour that took us through Umbria, Tuscany and out of Milan. It was the perfect amount of time and a nice time of year. To explore and savor and soak up the capital of Italy. The weather wasn’t perfect, but it was better than Copenhagen!

Our base was a funky flat a few streets from the bustling flower market called Campo de’ Fiori. Every day we played witness to the daily purveyors set up and take down their stands of fruits, vegetables, nuts and pastas. Choices aplenty for cheap t-shirts, pottery and kitschy souvenirs for the tourists and of course flowers.

Lots of little restaurants circle the square with seats in the sun, but seem to cater more to a visiting crowd. Calling out to us in English, we’re an obvious mark. But we skip the hawkers, smiling back to their flirting and fawning, mortifying our teens in tow. Instead, we wait with the locals and try our Italian at the Forno at the end of the piazza. The pizza and panini from here became our favorite.

Forno Campo De’ Fiori
Campo De’ Fiori, 22 – Vicolo del Gallo, 14 | Roma – 00186
OPEN: 07.30-14.30 and 16.45-20.00
Owned by cousins Dino and Fabrizio, the Forno (bakery) here has been serving handcrafted quality baked goods since 1970. With two sides to serve you, the door to the right has beautiful breads, sweets and slices of pizza by weight. Pointing and gesturing how large a piece you want usually does the trick. Next door across the alley they serve delicious panini and other takeaway options.

TIP:  Peak Tourist Season in Rome happens during summer and Christmas. For fewer crowds, book your tickets outside of June 15 -September 1 or from December 15 – January 6.

CAMPO DE’ FIORI

When in Rome, live as the Romans do; when elsewhere, live as they live elsewhere.”
– Saint Ambrose²

TIPS FOR OVERTOURISTED SITES

Some things in Rome just need to be seen. Unfortunately so thinks everyone else as well. Even though it was February and not perfect weather, we met up with half of Europe and beyond here on holiday when visiting Vatican City. While we are duly impressed with St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums, the crowds were more than annoying and definitely dampened the experience. We waited in line to see the Rafael rooms and my favorite “School of Athens.” The room was packed to the gills. My inner Art History geek was disheartened not to be able to discuss this masterpiece with my children. All they wanted to do was get out of the crowd.

NOTE: Photographs and speaking are not permitted in the Sistine Chapel. 

But the throngs were on the same path. We were shuffled and shushed and pushed to finally see inside the stunning Sistine Chapel. “SILENZIA!” shouted security personnel through megaphones. There was no accommodation for taking your time and truly experiencing the masterpiece. We were definitely being herded. It was so unsettling that my teen son completely missed Michelangelo’s iconic “Creation of Adam,” in his attempts not to step on any toes. Literally and figuratively.

TIPS TO SEE THE SISTINE CHAPEL SANS MASSES
  • Check European school holiday schedules and travel off-peak for best efforts at avoiding the throngs and masses.
  • Book your tickets to the Vatican Museums at the official website online, wait times can be up to 3 hours long without them.
  • Booking a tour with a Tour Guides can get you in special access, but with over 200 groups providing tours, it doesn’t eliminate the possibility of still having to wait in lines.
  • If you’re an early riser (which tells me you aren’t traveling with teens) and can afford to pay extra – there are a few exclusive options to see the chapel – check out this Fodor’s article for more information.

What we did enjoy was wandering the neighborhood near the Vatican. Check out charming Borgo Pio where even the water fountains are beautiful. Worth a stroll through and lots of options for refreshments after being bustled.

VATICAN CITY

RELATED: The most charming hill town in Italy – Orvieto

 

ANCIENT ROME ROCKS AT THE COLOSSEO

While Renaissance masters and Holy Roman Sees may not have imparted the same infatuation in my children that I was hoping to influence, all was not lost. Ancient Rome rocked. Take the tour of the Colosseum, it was a family favorite for every one of us – parents to teens to tweens.

We booked the English speaking tour through the official website that included access to the underground and up to the top tier. Seeing where the animals and gladiators would have been lifted to the floor and the views from the top over the Forum were fabulous and without the crush of the crowds. So worth the extra fee.

TICKETS:
Adults | € 12.00
Children under 18 | Free
Students 18-25 | € 7.50

COLOSSEUM UNDERGROUND AND THIRD RING TOURS
Adults | € 11.00 ( € 9.00 Tour + € 2.00 Reservation Fee)
Children under 12 | Free
Students 18-25 | € 9.00 ( € 7.00 Tour + € 2.00 Reservation Fee)

TIPS TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR COLOSSEUM VISIT
  • Tour ticket prices are in addition to the base entrance fee to get in the monument itself. You must purchase both separately.
  • Ticket price includes entrance to Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine and all current exhibitions. It is valid for 2 days.
  • Tour dates will become available online every third Monday of the month for the following month. Make note of your travel dates to get the best slots for your travelers.
  • If you can convince your troop to rise earlier, the better. Good luck those traveling with teens.

NOTE: It is strictly forbidden to enter the Colosseum with backpacks, handbags or any other luggage because of safety precautions. Even people with reservations are requested to arrive at the ticket office 30 minutes prior to tour times.

COLOSSEUM THIRD RING TOUR

WANDER AROUND ROME

There are so many wonderful corners and alleyways and lanes to explore in Rome. Let your feet find the way. We would head towards an attraction, but not set the path. Downloading maps to your smartphone before you leave the comfort of your wifi helps. Let the teens lead. They will be hard pressed to put down their tech anyway. Get us to Piazza Navona. But first, let’s go down this beautiful street and look for gelato. Gelato always motivates.


RELATED: 10 WAYS TO ROCK TRAVEL WITH YOUR TEENS

Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning.” 
– Giotto di Bondone, Italian Renaissance Painter¹

PANTHEON AND CAFFÉ

One of my favorite buildings in the whole world, the Pantheon was a surprisingly quieter affair. Free to enter and not smacked with gobs of people. Set on a square much too small for its size, the Pantheon surprises you once you find it. Step inside and look up at the oculus, a 7 meter round hole in the center of the ceiling. Once a temple to all the Roman Gods, the oculus served as the link between the humans below and the deities above. Sometimes rain falls through, but don’t worry the floors are sloped to a drain in the middle.

The building as you see it has been here since 120 AD when rebuilt by the Emperor Hadrian. Maybe you saw some more of his work in the Forum or do you live in the UK and maybe have seen his wall there? Thank you to Hadrian, we still have the largest unsupported dome in the world. Fantastico! That’s Italian for fantastic.

And if all this oooh-ing and aaaaah-ing over ancient feats of architecture has made your thirsty, you’re in luck. Right around the corner of the plaza is some of the best coffee in the world.

La Casa Del Caffé Tazza d’Oro al Pantheon
Via degli Orfani 84, 00186 Roma

Not sure how to order coffee in Roma? Be confident! Need a little more help? Check out this great guide from Shelley and Agri at Travel-Stained | How to Order Coffee in Italy (Without Sticking out Like a Sore Thumb)

Rome was a poem pressed into service as a city.” 
– Anatole Broyard³

MEET THE LOCALS

In Rome, you are sure to encounter characters on every street corner. Compared to Scandinavia, where the locals are friendly, but not necessarily outgoing – Italians are notoriously gregarious and passionate, but really quite traditional. I love how they speak with their hands and without understanding much, you can clearly glean their tone.

Want to really rub elbows with locals when visiting Rome? Take in a football match by the team AS Roma at Stadio Olimpico. Set outside the city, we took a street tram to the stadium. Make sure you make plans for your return or leave a little early from the match. There were long queues and insufficient transport once everyone was out. But it was worth it to feel the energy, hear the chants and listen to the songs while watching the game.

TICKETS FOR AS ROMA MATCHES

We bought our tickets while in town at the official team shop for AS Roma, where my daughter procured her maroon and orange team scarf, something she has collected from matches around the world. You can also purchase online if you want to make sure to get seats while here on your Roman Holiday.

Not a football (soccer) fan? You can still meet the locals. Check out some street art. I love perusing what street painters are selling. Often they offer unique and beautiful perspectives and can be a wonderful souvenir from your travels. I try to pick up a piece each place we visit. My little colorful Italian coffee pot brightens my dark Danish winter mornings and reminds me of Roma.

If nothing else? Smile. Say buon giorno! Over tourism is real in iconic cities like Rome. You are a guest here. Enjoy it. But be respectful that people live here. Then maybe you won’t get looks like this. Although I think this may be her resting face. Or just a bad day?

TIP: Check out this list of useful phrases and how to pronounce them in Italian. While knowing English is common, there are many who do not. 

SLOW DOWN AND SOAK UP THE SCENES

NEON LIGHTS AND FOUNTAINS AT NIGHT

If you have older kids or are visiting sans children and when the days are shorter come winter, save some energy to stroll the streets at night. I adored the neon signs that illuminated corridors and called like a siren song. Famous fountains are easier to make wishes in when the day’s visitors have finished touring. Save room for a coffee or ice cream at iconic Giolitti, a perfect end to a full day in Rome.

Giolitti
Via Uffici del Vicario, 40 – Roma
Open the gorgeous and fancy doors to this legendary ice creamery near the Parthenon. Serving up coffee, cakes and ice cream since 1900.

Cicero smiled at us. ‘The art of life is to deal with problems as they arise, rather than destory one’s spirit by worrying about them too far in advance. Especially tonight.” 
― Robert HarrisImperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome

So come to Rome. Stay awhile. Savor the tastes. See some of the sites. Feel the charisma. She’ll woo you, she will. If you let her. Buona notte!

Suitcases and Sandcastles

58 thoughts on “Postcards from a Roman Holiday

  1. Soooo excited. Your photos are incredible as always. Just booked an apartment on the Campo de’Fiori so I have duly noted Forno. You’ll be glad to know we are staying 6 nights and avoiding the Vatican. I’m all about the piazzas and fountains!

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Thank you kindly Leona! It is a wonderfully stroll-able city isn’t it. I could photograph forever there. Thanks for the comment – cheers from Copenhagen!

  2. Erin we have the same take on Rome. Our top 2 were the Pantheon and Colosseum – agree, Pantheon surprisingly not crazy crowded – and we were quite disheartened by the Vatican. Grant it was July but we did everything we could to minimize the chaos – booked a guide, got there super early – but it doesn’t really matter. Entering the Sistine Chapel was anticlimactic. I wrote a post called the Low-down on Vatican City with Kids, because I do believe it’s not a must-see. We much preferred rambling around the city in places like Trastevere and seeing what was around the next corner. #fearlessfamtrav

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      I know! I agree now. But it makes my heart hurt that you shouldn’t visit it. Better management of crowds – I think the Colosseum does a better job – would make it a memorable experience for more. I would rather have to book ahead for limited spaces than do what we did. Not sure how else to rectify it?!

  3. Momma To Go

    found you from #fearlessfamtrav. I love rome! I studied there in college, its such a magical city. I went back in 2008, and we are planning to take the kids next summer (I know, tourist season…) My son really wants to go to a football game, so I saved this on pinterest! You saw a ton in a short time, I love just wandering around Rome!

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      We had a blast going to the game, just research ways to return from the Stadio Olimpico as it’s pretty far outside city center. We ended up walking a huge distance that night late. Not ideal!

  4. Wow, what an amazing array of pictures you captured. My hubby and I visited Rome 10 years ago but I long to take our son, although I might wait until he is slightly older so he can enjoy it a bit more. And thank you for the tip about the Colosseum! #fearlessfamtrav

  5. I am currently writing a post on an amazing hotel I discovered in ROme. It’s at Fontana di Trevi. In the evening, when everybody’s gone, you have a marvelous view on the fountain from your room. The fountain at it’s best! #FarawayFiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Oh I love that! Almost like stealing isn’t it when you get a personal view or connection with such a popular place! Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

  6. I love your suggestion of going to a football match (although it is not something i’d recommend in cities in Scotland! maybe a smaller local team) and your photos & suggestions are great. Rome is not somewhere I have on my list, because of the crowds, but it does look beautiful.

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Why wouldn’t you recommend going to a match in Scotland? I think you can definitely experience Rome sans crowds, especially if seeing top sites doesn’t concern you. You can still SEE the Colosseo from many places without actually waiting in line to get inside. Cheers from Copenhagen! Erin

  7. Wherejogoes

    Bella! I’ve never been to Rome and it sounds like going outside peak season is ideal, maybe cooler weather but fewer crowds and still warm enough for the gelato! Love your pictures and the way you combined the classic sites with more unusual options like street art and football. Thanks for hosting #Farwayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Yes definitely still warm enough for gelato Jo! I wouldn’t say that Rome is great art for street art on the walls, but definitely wonderful for artists on the street selling their things. We still have the watercolors we bought from a man in Piazza Navona when we visited the first time over 20 years ago! Cheers, Erin

  8. Lyn

    Loved this post. We managed to enjoy what we saw of Rome in a day (we were on a Mediterranean cruise) and saw quite a lot. Our favourite was the Vatican which although rushed would have been extremely disappointed if we’d missed it.

  9. I really enjoyed your story, and your photos even more so. I have to agree with you that Rome should not be rushed. Come to think of it, nowhere in Italy should be rushed. It’s one of my favorite places on Earth.

  10. Clare Thomson

    What a lovely post, Erin. Love the light in your photos. I’m all about exploring the lesser known parts of a city and finding the less crowded places. I too loved the Pantheon. I’d be tempted to book a private tour of the Sistine Chapel to experience it in more comfort. My kids would LOVE exploring Ancient Rome – it’s just the sort of thing they both adore.

  11. We visited Rome in March to try to beat some of the crowds. It sort of worked-I’d imagine the Vatican and Coliseum are always packed. Beautiful photos, they’re making me crave gelato!

  12. Oh my gosh this is such an incredibly useful post. Also quite inspiring. Planning a visit to Rome seems a bit overwhelming but actually just copying what you did looks like a pretty good option! I totally agree on checking European school holiday dates.

  13. Ruth

    Ahhh, it feels like walking around Rome is enough to have a great time. There are so may wonderful scenes and vignettes scattered around the city. The first thing I was going to ask is if there is really an off season for Rome. You answered that question when you described your experience at the Vatican. Sometimes I want to go back to Italy but the thought of maddening crowds intimidate me. #FarawayFiles

  14. We spent 9 days in Rome, and even that wasn’t enough… While the Sistine Chapel was anticlimactic I did enjoy the Map Room and other places on the way there… Still the atmosphere was too frenzied for my taste, and I felt stressed. We joked that “all roads lead to the Pantheon…” when we were there because we found ourselves there almost every night! #farawayfiles

  15. tracycollins2016

    Along with Split Rome is my favourite city in Europe – so much beauty all around. The food, the history, the culture, the art, the architecture…I have been 3 times and could go again and again. I took my niece for her 21st last year and she has already been back!

    Beautiful Photographs

    #farawayfiles

  16. What a comprehensive guide! We visited Rome this summer for a day. My five yr old son’s highlight was the number of army vehicles he spotted which were guarding the important sites from attack. Not the sites themselves!

  17. pigeonpairandme

    Really interesting that you still found some places crowded off-season. And that the pantheon was quiet! That did surprise me. Thanks for the gelato tip. I heard on the radio the other day that some Italian GPs recommend it as a healthy lunchtime meal! And thanks for linking up with #CulturedKids

  18. You certainly shouldn’t try and see Rome in one day. There is so much to soak in! I went a couple of years ago and heading back there for a girly weekend next year. Cannot wait. #culturedkids

  19. Jacki L

    Your opening paragraph describing Rome as frenzied but also lingering and satisfying was so perfect to my experience there. What a detailed account of the city, I enjoyed reading it!

  20. Yes, ah, Rome! I would love to live there, I’m so enamored with this place. Your photos are a treat. My very, very favorite in Rome is the coliseum, but we found beauty in any street we turned down. And we got lost a lot so we wandered a lot — the best way to explore!

  21. Your photos are so beautiful – it makes we want to get straight back to Rome! I must admit I’m always a bit reluctant to go with my young kids though – they have little patience for historical trips even without the crowds – but perhaps a winter trip is the way forward! #culturedkids

  22. As usual Erin, your post was a joy to read – and I just spotted your swiss guard photo that you said was almost identical to mine on instagram! I could return to Rome over and over, in fact my parents are off there (mum for the first time) so I’m in the middle of regaling to them where they need to go (I must get on with my blog post about it!) I definitely hold to it being my most favourite city in the whole world! #farawayflies

  23. Gorgeous! We never made it to Rome while living in Eirope because we didn’t want to deal with the crowds. Your tips though are helpful! We might have to try it out!

  24. From one art history geek to another! I LOVE School of Athens and desperately want to see it myself! As well as all the other incredible works of art held in Italy…Rome sounds wonderful but the crowds would be very tiring, which is such a shame. I would have thought winter would be less busy but I guess everyone’s trying to get away from the endless dreary days to the only slightly dreary days…I hope we can make it to Italy next year! #farawayfiles

    1. oregongirlaroundtheworld

      Juliette – I’m art history geeking currently in Athens!!! Gah!! Making my kids tell me what kind of columns those are might have elicited groans! I think you can see the Vatican VERY early on a private tour with much effort. School of Athens is amazing. Even through 68 iPhone screens. Just kidding. Kind of.

  25. Phoebe

    I don’t know Rome nearly well enough and am desperate to go back. The crowds are awful but even travelling off season and in foul weather it seems hard to beat them nowadays. But your tips are great and photos beautiful so hopefully I’l find a way to see some more of this magnificent place one day soon. #farawayfiles

  26. Hello, I’m a fellow Oregon native (from Portland)! LOVE your photos! I’ve been to Rome a few times, only in January/February, and completely agree with all of your advice here. I live in Madrid now and am always looking for ways to spend winter weekends somewhere in Italy!

      1. I am coming up on a year, though I did spend most of the summer here while my partner was working. I am so glad I found your blog—we are going to Copenhagen for NYE and I am scouring your posts to put our must-visit list together!

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