If you have a week or more and an unlimited budget to enjoy all that Rome has to offer, then you are extremely fortunate. Many who travel to Rome see the city as part of a whirlwind tour of the major points of interest throughout the entire country of Italy. But, what if you and a few friends want to do Italy on your own but have only 48 hours to devote to Rome before moving on? Here are some tips for getting the most of those hours and doing it on a budget.
1. Choose your must-see destinations
Hundreds of well-known sites clamor for the attention of tourists to Rome, both inside and outside the city’s boundaries. Tours can be arranged that focus on art galleries or wine tastings, and there are even those that cater to specific religions or historical traditions, such as Jewish Rome, Christian Rome or Baroque Rome. Some visitors choose to use Rome as a launching pad for day trips to other places like Tuscany, Pompeii, Assisi or the Amalfi Coast. The majority who come to Rome for the very first time, however, want to see the Vatican, the Basilica of St. Peter, and the Sistine Chapel with the ceiling painted by Michelangelo. They want to see the ancient Coliseum, the Arch of Constantine, Palatine Hill and the Temples of Vesta and Saturn. And they most assuredly want to ascend the Spanish Steps and throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain. Once you and your fellow travelers decide on your sightseeing priorities, the rest of the planning becomes more manageable.
My friends and I chose tours called Classic Rome, the Vatican and Ancient Rome and were very satisfied with all we saw and experienced. The Classic Rome tour included the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and Piazza Navona, and we were pleased to find all four locations within easy walking distance of each other. Inside and outside the Vatican, we admired the architecture and the incredible works of art and sculpture created by masters centuries earlier and stood in quiet awe as we gazed in wonder at the Sistine Chapel. We marveled at the building capabilities and ingenuity in the Coliseum and in the ruins of other ancient structures as we considered the limited tools available at the time they were constructed.
Our guide was punctual for every tour and able to answer our questions thoroughly and patiently.
2. Stay in a clean, safe, convenient location
If you only have 48 hours in Rome, you will NOT want to spend much of your time in a hotel room. I suggest that you look for a clean, comfortable B & B that is conveniently located near public transportation stops. Spend your money on a first-rate guide instead of a five-star hotel. The Star of Rome is part of a trio of B & B’s — the Star of Rome, the Love of Rome and the Heart of Rome. They are all reasonably priced with good websites for researching the locations ahead of time. The Star of Rome, in particular, is located only a few minutes’ walk from a bus stop and a metro stop, and a taxi stand is within sight of the front door. The beds are clean, the bathrooms are large, and the breakfast is tasty and filling. The staff is very helpful with answering questions, and the whole environment feels safe and secure.
3. Splurge on a knowledgeable guide
Some of the best money you can spend in Rome is on a private, reputable, bilingual, knowledgeable tour guide. Guides, especially those who are natives of Rome, know important tricks for planning meeting points, getting advanced tickets, maneuvering around large crowds, taking the less-known paths, and giving their clients the most for their money with many extra insights and interesting bits of information.
My fellow travelers and I chose Armando Solipaca, after learning of him from a friend who had just enjoyed his tours while taking shore excursions from a cruise that docked in Rome. Armando has a user-friendly website, and he accepts payment in advance via Pay Pal. He is prompt about responding to email correspondence and proved to be very patient on the 3 tours he led for us.
As a special bonus, he helped us arrange perfect transportation to our next city and recommended a restaurant that turned out to be our favorite in Rome.
4. Embrace the public transportation
You can certainly get from Point A to Point B by taking taxis throughout the city of Rome, but you will spend much more money that way than with Rome’s public transportation (buses, the metro, and trains). Italy has a highly-developed and impressively organized public transportation system. By doing your homework and asking as many questions as necessary after you arrive, you will find yourself rubbing shoulders with the locals and not having to fight traffic. It is also much cheaper than renting a car, buying gas and attempting to find destinations on your own.
Know where you are going, find out what metro or bus stop is nearest to that location, purchase your ticket and trust the drivers. Be sure to buy your ticket, before attempting to board the bus or metro. Tickets are available in tobacco shops, bars and in vending machines at the metro station and at major bus stops. The worst that can happen is that you might have a funny story when you arrive back home, but the best scenario is that you save money and feel very proud of yourself for figuring out how to manage efficiently.
Italian trains, I must add, are a marvelous way to traverse this amazing country. I highly recommend that you book a ticket on Trenitalia or Italo. For extra fun, try one of the high-speed trains operated by both companies.
5. Promise yourself to eat gelato every day
Ahhhh, gelato. The very word conjures up sweet deliciousness in this country known for its pizza, pasta and astounding culinary offerings. There are numerous gelaterias in the city with colorful confectionary displays. Il Gelato di San Crispino, featured in the Julia Roberts movie “Eat Pray Love” is possibly the most popular right now, but Giolitti near both Trevi Fountain and Pantheon is also recommended by many. Start on Day 1 to find your favorite flavor. My husband chose pistachio, but mine was stracciatella. Go. Try it. I promise you’ll like it.
For actual meals throughout your days in Rome, it’s hard to go wrong in any restaurant. Look specifically for the word “trattoria,” which generally means a family-owned restaurant. One of the best in the city is La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali, located in the heart of Rome only a couple of blocks from the end of the tour of Ancient Rome. The smells will hypnotize you, and you’ll find yourself wanting time to slow down so you can devour each bite more slowly.
You will start planning to return the moment you leave
Rome is an architectural and historical wonder. Every traveler should go there at least once. But your first visit is sure to leave you wanting more. If so, then start saving your money. If you incorporate some of my tips, you might get to return sooner than you think. If you can afford more time, consider taking in the sights of Rome without a tour guide. Wander your must-see points of interest at your own pace. If the crowds go one way, you can easily go another way. By all means, talk to the locals, eat what the locals eat, travel like the locals travel and take hundreds of photos. That way your memories will allow you to return to the Eternal City again and again.
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