A Rome travel guide

Harriet tells you what to do when you're next in Rome...

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Photograph by Harriet Heaton

As an overly enthusiastic History student who is currently writing her dissertation on the influence of ancient Rome on the Middle Ages, I can say I was more than a little excited to get to visit this amazing city. And I have to say I was not disappointed. I went with one of my closest friends at the beginning of September, staying for a week in a hotel just off the Piazza Navona.

The city itself is very accessible and by that, I mean walkable. You do not need to fork out for taxis or public transport unless you want to. But I would strongly encourage that one of your activities is walking, especially in the early evening as that is when the temperature is coolest, and the Romans come out to play.

While walking, you will get to see the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Villa Borghese Gardens, the Vatican and all the other sites across the city. You will also get a real feel for the history of Rome and the magic this city possesses. The shops stay open late, so I would advise doing your souvenir shopping then: that way you won’t waste time during the day when you are site seeing.

So, where do I recommend visiting? These recommendations are based on the places my friend and I visited, although I know there is way more to see if you are not limited to a week. Firstly, check out Castel Sant’Angelo which is free to get into on the first Sunday of the month: a happy accident my friend and I happened across. It was our first visit, a lot of fun, and provided lot of history for us to absorb – there were information boards in both Italian and English.

Secondly, visit the Capitoline Museum which is towards the south of Rome. It is a large museum with a great view over the Roman Forum which is spectacular when you see it for the first time. It contains a good history of the city, from its founding and into the Roman period. Tickets are priced from €13 if you are aged between 16-25 so take ID. Your student ID can also help with entry costs.

Next, I recommend the Colosseum and the Forum: with a student ID this will cost you €7.50. These sights are both included on the same ticket so do not worry about paying again. The Forum is better than the Colosseum, in my opinion, as there is so much more to see, so you should prioritise your time there. But you will need to stand in a queue, and it can be a long one: we spent more time queuing than in the Colosseum itself. But you can’t go to Rome without going to the Colosseum.

The Vatican is also a must-visit and I suggest you spend a little bit of money on booking an organised tour before you even set out, as the woman who showed us around gave us an insightful experience. You also get to bypass the queues which, I can tell you, are very long. But it is up to you: if you are prepared to queue and take yourself around, then tickets start from €8 without pre-booking.

Lastly, the park with the Villa Borghese in the centre is a relaxing and quiet place away from the hustle and crowds of the main city. If you go up to the park near the Piazza del Popolo you will get the most amazing view across the city: it really is breath-taking. Also, if you are with your significant other, this park is incredibly romantic: a perfect spot to watch the sunset.

Other places to perhaps visit would be Rome’s churches as they are beautiful and there are so many of them in the city. They are also usually cooler than outside so perfect for getting out of the heat. But if you do decide to attend one of these churches and you’re a woman, I would advise for you to have a scarf in your bag as you will need to cover your shoulders if they are on show.

Eating in the city can be surprisingly cheap. Near us, on the Via dei Coronari, there was an incredibly cheap pasta place, doing a variety of pasta for €5 a plate, and it was honestly some of the best pasta I have ever tasted. A tip, though, is that the restaurants in the main areas are the most expensive and not always the best quality. If you look for where the locals eat, not where the tourists do, you’re in for a real Italian treat! Pizza and pasta is an obvious must-try, but I also recommend trying foods such as Pollo alla Romana which is delicious chicken with a tomato sauce.

When looking for somewhere to stay I would suggest choosing somewhere central as you will cut down on the transport costs when visiting. Obviously the more central the hotel the higher the prices, on average, so do factor that into your travel budget. But Rome is more affordable than you think when you shop around.

If you are looking to get transport around the city, there are a few options. When my friend and I arrived in Rome we took a taxi from the station to Piazza Navonna and it cost us €8. Always use the white taxis in Rome as these are safe and reliable and not too expensive. Another option is the site seeing buses which are good if you are there for a short amount of time, as I believe you can hop on and off. Bicycle rentals are also available if you fancy, but do be wary of Roman traffic.

So, what else can I say? If you ever find yourself in Rome, say “ciao” to the old city for me: she’s got some fascinating history to reveal.