Get a local’s insider secrets on how to spend 3 perfect days in Rome!
Rome, the eternal city, never ceases to mystify me with its concealed courtyards and mazes of vine covered passageways revealing 2,000-year-old ruins. Just like its famous recipe for artichokes, Rome is best peeled back layer-by-layer to discover its heart.
For better or worse, modernity has struck and now Rome is divided into two realities. One is a hectic touristic checklist of monuments with lots of standing in line and sweating under the hot Roman sun. Or if you peel back a layer – past the Colosseum, Fontana di Trevi, and the Vactian, you’ll discover the true Rome – as locals know it – and truly savor the sights, flavors, and magic of this glorious city.
First Stop in Rome
When you arrive into Fuimicino Airport, rather than head straight into the center, spend your first night at QC Terme Roma. A mere five minutes from the airport on Via Portuense – an ancient road built in 1st Century A.D. – all your travel woes will be washed away in this stunning terme and wellness farm. Truly an oasis, this is my go-to first stop into Rome.
Once refreshed, head into the center and check into Small Luxury Hotels of the World Hotel Splendide Royal where you’ll feel like a contessa in a restored 19th-century palace overlooking Villa Borghese.
Start your morning with a cappuccino al vetro con cacao and cornetto at Bar Barberini on Via Marmorata. Then leisurely walk up Aventino Hill to Villa del Priorato, the headquarters of the Knights of Malta, and peek through a tiny keyhole that reveals one of most surprising views of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Then mosey next door to Giardini di Aranci for more gorgeous views of Rome and the Vatican. Once you exit the garden, take either the stone path to the right down to the Tiber river or walk back down Aventino Hill and head towards Il Campidoglio museum while rounding the Colosseo. You can either then enjoy the museum or walk up the stairs around to Piazza Venezia, the Fori Imperiali and make your way to Portico di Ottavia.
For late lunch, taxi back to Hotel Splendide Royal and treat yourself to fine dining Italian-style at Mirabelle. Dine on the balcony with views of 19th century palaces the likes of Pinciano, Villa Medici and Trinità dei Monti. Let your sommelier choose the Italian wine and definitely try the Sinfonia di pesci crudi (symphony of raw fish) and the lobster gazpacho. A little known fact: Italy has amazing raw fish dishes and both truly were the best I ever had.
After lunch take of one of my favorite strolls through Rome. Start at Palazzo Barberini, make a right onto Via Sistina which brings you to the top of the Spanish Stairs. Keep walking past Villa di Medici on your right where you’ll have a bird’s eye view of Rome’s rooftops and cupolas. Once you reach Casina Valdier in Villa Borguese, stop and have a caffe macchiato on the terrace and enjoy a stunning panorama of Piazza del Popolo.
After a bit of shopping between Via dei Condotti and Via Frattina, make your way back to Via Babuino to Jardin de Russie for a truly Roman experience and refresh with their world-famous artisanal cocktails or a bellini with fresh pressed peach juice.
At sunset, take a seat the Grand Hotel de la Minerve’s roof garden and watch colors change on the rooftops of Rome as the sun goes down. Sip a delicious Hugo spritz cocktail with mint. Then walk across the terrace for dinner with yet more stunning views of Rome. See the moon rise over the Etneral City as you dine on Spaghetti all’ Astice and other specialties on one Rome’s most beautiful rooftops.
For nightlife, head back to Via Babuino to check out what’s happening at the Cortile di Babuino as (almost) nightly they host events – classic movies, drinks, dancing and you’ll rub elbows with an interesting eclectic mix of Romans.
In the cool morning, taxi to the entrance to Appia Antica and walk the ancient road to Rome. It’s a magical experience and you’ll feel truly out of time. Treat yourself to a delicious early lunch in an orange grove at Il Giardino di Guilia e Fratelli just off of Appia Antica. Try their delicious contorni (vegetables side dishes) that come from the owner’s garden.
Then taxi back to Piazza Trilussa where you can explore the winding vine-covered passageways of Trastevere and the gorgeous Piazza Santa Maria di Trastevere. Swing by Biscottificio Innocenti and sample brutti ma buoni (good but ugly) cookies on Via della Luce.
Then wind your way to up the stairs from Via Garibaldi to Gianicolo Hill where you will find a gorgeous view of Rome next to the Fontana dell’ Aqua Paola. Continue on to the American Academy in Rome and ring the bell at the gate for entrance into their art gallery. At the Academy’s bar enjoy a pick-me up café shakerato and drink it outside in the gorgeous cortile.
Then (if it’s not already, it must be 5pm somewhere) it’s time for a cocktail at the Palm Court Bar in the famed Hassler hotel above the Spanish Steps. The bar is a wonderful place to mix with Rome’s who’s who and people-watch exceptionally dressed Romans.
Just before sunset head toward Piazza Navona and wind your way through a maze of tiny vicoli (side streets), walk down Via dei Coronari and stop at Gelateria del Teatro for gelato.
Then head towards Castel Sant’ Angelo and watch the sunset over Ponte Sant’ Angelo for an incredible view of the Vatican. Then dine at Da Tonino on Via del Governo Vecchio for a local Roman trattoria experience. And if you eat meat – order the polpette (meatballs)!
For nightlife make your way to Piazza del Fico for a drink and more people watching. Bar del Fico (which literally means “cool”) is the spot for Rome’s actors and hipster crowd. Or for a quieter night enjoy a nightcap at Piazza del Pantheon and bask in one of my favorite views of Rome at night.
Today create your own adventure. No master plan. No map. Let the magic happen. By now, you have a sense of the city and can fill in any gaps of what you still want to experience be it wine, gelato or sightseeing. My suggestion is to wander and meander. Turn down any via or vicolo that looks interesting because this is how you truly discover the hidden treasures of Rome.
A few suggestions to guide you:
For pizza: pop into any forno or panificio that smells delicious or has a long line of Italians. Some of my favorites are Bonci on Via Trionfale, Forno Campo dei Fiore and Panificio Mosca on Via Candia. Ask for what is appena fatto (just made) and be sure to try pizza rosa and pizza bianca. In Italy, the simplest recipes are often the best. For dessert, look for pasticcerias (bakeries) such as Pasticceria Linari and Fonderia. Forno Il Roscoli on Via dei Chiavari also has amazing local sweets such as crostata.
For me, Rome isn’t a city with monuments to check off the “to see” list. Rather, it’s a string of authentic spontaneous experiences waiting to happen that took over 2,000 years to perfect. It’s an invigorating mix of chaos, beauty, and pleasure. Let Rome have its way with you and you’ll forever enchanted by the Eternal City.
More tips for perfect days in Rome:
- Springtime in Rome is wonderful. The ancient monuments are covered in wisteria and the air smells like orange blossoms.
- For a fresh and unique perspective on Rome, renowned watercolor artist Marlene McLoughlin offers tours for small group of art enthusiasts.
- Make dinner reservations as most locals do and you’ll experience an even warmer welcome.
- If you’re traveling by yourself, try social dining with KitchenParty and enjoy an authentic Roman dinner in a private home.
- Rome is seasonal and not all rooftops are open year round. It’s always best to inquire what is open when.
- The American and French Academies in Rome often host interesting events on art and history that are open to the pubic.
- Don’t eat at restaurants who solicit you. But if the ambience is right, definitely get a drink.
- Treat yourself to taxis. The underground and busses can be hot, crowded, smelly and full of pickpockets.
- Jet lagged? Take advantage of the early morning to enjoy Rome without the crowds. Piazza Navona is exceptionally beautiful at sunrise.
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Images of Night view of St. Peters Cathedral, St. Peters Basilica from the Keyhole, Pantheon at night, Outdoor Restaurant in Rome, Casina Valdier via Shutterstock. Other images courtesy of QC Terme Rome, Hotel de Russie and Hotel Splendide Royal and Grand Hotel de Minerve