Thinking about going to the Eternal City? Here’s how to plan a trip to Rome Italy!
When anyone thinks of a trip to Italy, it’s impossible not to think of Rome right away. It’s not just the capital of the country, but it’s also THE Eternal City! There is so much history and culture within the streets of Rome, it’s no wonder that it’s one of the most popular travel destinations in the world! In fact, around 10 million people visit Rome each year to experience the rich history, see the stunning sights, and indulge in the amazing food scene.
But unlike some other destinations in Italy (like Florence and Positano!), Rome is huge – which makes it a little bit harder and more intimidating to plan a trip. But lucky for you, I was just there on my honeymoon and I’m sharing a complete guide of my best travel tips and suggestions so you can make the most of your time in Roma!
How To Plan A Trip To Rome Italy
1. Decide on a budget
Before you plan any major trip, it’s important to figure out how much you want to spend. This will help you figure out what time of year you should go, how long you should stay, what type of hotel to look for, and what type of activities you should do.
2. Pick a time of year to visit
The busy season in Rome lasts from May to September, with June through August being the most popular months. We went at the end of May and it was definitely busy, but I still think it was a great time to visit. We also had unseasonably hot weather two of the days we were there and it made me thankful we didn’t go later in the summer. It gets HOT there!! If you don’t love the heat and/or crowds, I would suggest looking into planning your trip for April, early May, late September or October instead. You’re also more likely to find deals during that time too since it’s considered “off season”.
3. Plan how long you want to stay
Based on your budget and how many days you can take off from work, plan how long you want to stay in Rome. Is this just a quick trip or do you want to stay a while? Are you planning on also visiting Florence or Positano while you’re over there? We spent just under 4 days in Rome – arriving on a Wednesday afternoon and leaving on a Sunday morning. While I definitely could have stayed longer, it was the perfect amount of time to see all of the major sights.
4. Research hotels before picking one
It can be tempting to pick the prettiest hotel or the best deal when planning a trip to Rome, but there are a few things to consider before picking one. We stayed at a hotel near the train stations (Roma Termini) our very first night in Italy because we got in late and we had train tickets to Florence early the next morning. The hotel was great, but I definitely wouldn’t want to stay in that area while exploring Rome, especially for the first time.
We got a few recommendations for hotels in the Piazza di Spagna area, as well as near the Coloseeum. Ultimately, those also felt a little removed from the action. Adam and I like to walk when exploring a new city, so we didn’t love that staying in hotels in those areas would require more cab rides or public transit instead of being right in the city center.
After a whole lot of research, we finally ended on Palazzo Navona Hotel. I truly cannot think of a better location for first time visitors. It is located just one block away from Piazza Navona, which quickly became my favorite piazza in Rome… it is SO BEAUTIFUL. It’s also only a 5 minute walk to both the Pantheon and Campo de’ Fiori, and about 10 minutes to the Trevi Fountain.
On top of that, it’s also only a 15 minute walk from Trastevere, a charming neighborhood that my brother lived in while studying abroad back in college. When we go back one day, we’d love to stay in that neighborhood, among all of the cobblestone streets and incredible restaurants!
5. Make reservations in advance
Rome is a very popular city, so planning ahead is important! Obviously, you need to make sure you book your hotel ahead of time… that’s a no brainer. After you have that taken care of, the 2nd task should be booking your activities. I’ll talk more about this in the next tip, but if you want to do any guided tours or get skip the line tickets, it’s best to secure those ahead of time. Same goes for any day trips or cooking classes you want to do! And lastly, I’d recommend making a few dinner reservations. We only made one ahead of time when we went at the end of May and it wasn’t a big issue, but if you’re going in June, July, or August, I’d make a few reservations just to be safe. Keep scrolling for some restaurant suggestions, too!
6. Consider Skip The Line Tickets
This is probably the tip I am most passionate about – BOOK SKIP THE LINE TICKETS. They are usually a little more expensive than buying tickets at the door when you arrive, but they will save you SO MUCH TIME. When researching skip the line tickets, it’s likely that options with a guided tour will also pop up. When it comes to those, I feel a little less strongly. It really depends on what type of traveler you are. Do you like to be able to ask questions and get lots of details, or do you prefer to go at your own pace?
We did a Vatican City and St Peter’s Basilica Skip The Line Tour which we didn’t love for a few reasons. First, the tour was late and they didn’t tell us that until we got there. Second, our guide was all over the place. And third, (if you recall from my Florence recap) I’ve realized that I just don’t really like guided museum tours! If I could do it again, I would just get us regular skip the line tickets without a tour, and then listen to Rick Steves’ free podcast tours as we explored.
That being said, we got these skip the line tickets that came with a small group tour of the Colosseum and Roman Forum, and it was excellent. Our tour guide was a DELIGHT, she had so much knowledge to share, and she answered all of our questions. Highly recommend!
7. Visit Tourist Spots at Less Popular Times
We’ve all seen shiny photos of the Trevi Fountain or the Colosseum without anyone else around on Instagram… but that’s really not reality in the peak season. If you want a shot at photos without a crowd, it’s best to go very early in the morning or very late at night. If you don’t mind a small crowd as long as you can get a good look, we had the best luck in the mornings (around 9am). Don’t let this nighttime photo fool you, there was a HUGE crowd around us!
8. Create a base itinerary
I know not everyone likes to create itineraries like I do, but when you’re planning a big trip, it is REALLY helpful. And no, this doesn’t mean you have to plan every minute! Before we left, I wrote out everything I had previously booked (along with confirmation numbers!) and then filled in ideas around those activities based on our location. In other words, give yourself room to be spontaneous, while also making sure you know where you’re going and you don’t waste precious time in a magical city!
9. Always have some cash with you
While you can pay with credit cards pretty much everywhere now, it’s helpful to have cash on hand just in case!
10. Learn basic Italian phrases
Don’t freak out – you absolutely do not need to learn Italian before visiting Rome. But it is helpful to have a few key words locked down. Ciao is hello, buongiorno is good morning, buona sera is good evening, and grazie is thank you. It’s also helpful to learn some food words, especially the 4 main pasta dishes that Rome is known for: carbonara, cacio e pepe, amatriciana, and gricia.
What to do in Rome
Rick Steves’ Heart of Rome Tour
Most people know who Rick Steves is, but not everyone knows that he has FREE PODCAST TOURS! Yes, you read that right! Adam and I discovered these on our last European adventure when we went to Barcelona and Lisbon. We loved them so much that we knew we would do the same in both Florence and Rome.
After we checked into our hotel, we headed out with his Heart of Rome Tour. It started at Campo de’ Fiori, brought us back up to Piazza Navona, on to the Pantheon, up to the Trevi Fountain, and ending at the Spanish Steps. It was a great way to get our bearings and see so many major sites right away. And as always, we love these tours because we can pause them if we want to take more time somewhere, say something to each other, or just get an espresso or gelato (or both!). I linked to his website above but I recommend going to your Podcasts app on your phone and searching there. That way you can download them right to your phone and you won’t need to use any of your data to access them when you’re abroad.
We walked past the Pantheon on our first day, but we went back to go inside a few days later – and it is 100% worth it, especially since it’s FREE!!! We went in the morning and didn’t have to wait in any line, but I did have to cover my shoulders, so just keep that in mind. It’s so wild to me that such an old historic building is just hanging out in the middle of the city. So crazy!
The musical theatre nerd in me kept singing The Light In The Piazza to myself every time we walked around Piazza Navona. It is just SO BEAUTIFUL.
Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill
As I mentioned above, we got these skip the line tickets that came with a small group tour of the Colosseum and Roman Forum, and it was excellent. Out of every tour we did, this is the one I would recommend the most. The history of the Colosseum is so wild, that it’s fun to hear about it from someone who has tons of knowledge on the subject. Plus, Adam got to ask as many questions as he wanted about the crazy battles that happened there. I mean, fighting BEARS?! Wild, wild wild. Also, don’t forget to stop at Caffe Roma before your tour to enjoy a cappuccino and pistachio croissant with a spectacular view.
My brother lived in Trastevere when he studied abroad in college and let me know that we HAD to spend some time there when we visited, and he was 100% RIGHT. So much of Rome is about iconic monuments, but Trastevere is this hip little corner of the city with charming cobblestone streets, flowers climbing up the buildings, and unreal restaurants.
Vatican City, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica
I felt strongly that I had to see Vatican City when we went to Rome… but as I mentioned above, we didn’t love our Vatican City and St Peter’s Basilica Skip The Line Tour. If you are a museum person or a very religious person, a guided tour is probably still the way to go. But if not, I would recommend getting regular skip the line tickets, maybe popping in a Rick Steves’ podcast tour, and walking through The Vatican Museums and everything else there at your own pace.
If even that feels like too much, the one portion I would absolutely not skip is St. Peter’s Basilica. WOW WOW WOW. I didn’t get the chills in any other part of the tour, but the Basilica took my breath away. It is so grand and intricate and absolutely stunning. Absolutely worth a visit.
Where to eat in Rome
I didn’t research many restaurants in Rome and part of me is glad I didn’t, while the other part of me wishes I did. Here’s the thing, the food in Rome is generally amazing. Literally every corner has amazing options, as long as you’re not directly next to a tourist spot. (As a general rule, try not to eat right in a piazza or right next to a monument – even one block away will have better/less expensive restaurants.)
Because of this, I also have trouble telling people that they MUST go to particular spots in Rome! What if it’s not near your hotel or what you’re doing that day? What if you’re only going for a short trip and don’t want to wait in line for an hour+ to get a table? That being said, here are a few places we ate at and loved!
My brother recommended this pizza place and we loved it so much, we went twice! It’s very small and they don’t take reservations, but if you avoid peak times, you shouldn’t have to wait long. We went at 6pm the first time and 2pm the second time. We especially loved the Dar Poeta pizza (it has zucchini on it!), margherita pizza, and amatriciana pizza. Highly recommend!
Just a short walk from Piazza Navona, there are bustling streets packed with people waiting to get a table at one of the many restaurants… but if you turn down one of the narrow side streets, you’ll find this quiet little gem. We sat outside and had freshly homemade tonnarelli pasta – Adam got a cacio e pepe and mine had zucchini, tomatoes, basil, and pecornio. We also ended the meal with the only tiramisu of the trip, and it did not disappoint. So so good.
Adam and I were craving pasta for lunch one day, and we stumbled upon this restaurant’s patio. We sat outside and ordered rigatoni amatriciana (for me) and cacaio e pepe (for Adam) and we were both in heaven.
We kept passing this restaurant since it’s super close to Piazza Navona and I loved their little patio with string lights – and the food looked amazing so we decided to take a chance on it. The food wasn’t my favorite of the whole trip (still good!), but the service was outstanding. Our waiter suggested a bottle of wine that Adam and I looooved, and he brought out limoncello AND amaretto after our meal 😂 We left very full, drunk, and happy!
If you are going to the Colosseum (which you should!), I highly recommend getting a cappuccino and pistachio croissant here beforehand. We were there around 9am, got a table outside, and just soaked in the view… pinching ourselves that we were actually there. So dreamy.
As soon as I heard that this place is known for their coffee granita, I knew I had to try it. It’s basically a coffee slushy with fresh whipped cream… need I say more? They also have really great cappuccinos and pastries, too!