Seeing everything in Rome in just a day is nearly impossible. Since Rome is one of the Mediterranean’s most popular cruise excursions, that’s sometimes all the time you’ll have. The best way to maximize your experience is by planning ahead. For us, that’s all part of the adventure.
No matter where we travel we like to blend in and do like the locals do. We also like to eat. So we researched Rome before we left for our trip and found out some interesting facts about local customs and regional habits. Did you know that Italians take their digestion very seriously? There are tons of customs that you probably don’t even know about. For example, cappuccino is a morning drink, to accompany something sweet, and should not be ordered after mid-morning. After that it’s espresso, which is consumed after a meal. Also, spaghetti shouldn’t be cut but artfully twirled. Tips are always included in the price but leaving a few coins is fine. This is a lot to digest (pun intended) so we suggest cliff notes or flash cards (just kidding!).
Once we had all the rules down, we began our day in Rome by walking to a local café for a cappuccino and a pastry. We were doing a great job of blending in like locals until Rick, with all the southern charm and twang he could muster, ordered a sweet tea. Cover blown.
With limited time, we decided to jump on the hop-on hop-off double-decker bus, one of our favorite ways to see any city. Depending on how long you will be in Rome, you have the option to get a 24-, 48-, or 72-hour pass. Even if you never get off the bus, it is a terrific ride, giving you a bird’s eye of Rome.
Viewfinder Tip: Location, location, location! The front seat and the very last seat on the upper deck have the best vantage points.
The bus stops at all the major sites like St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums, the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, the Colosseum, Circus Maximus, Baths of Diocletian, and Republic Square. You’ll get ear buds when you get on the bus and you’ll be able to listen to commentary (which is available in eight different languages) about everything you are seeing. For many of these sites, especially the Vatican Museums, a better option is to get tickets in advance, perhaps even a private tour. The lines can wrap around the buildings and with a limited amount of time you don’t want to waste hours standing in line.
Legend has it that if you toss coins in the Trevi Fountain, it will guarantee your return to Rome. A very clever fundraiser, but it must work, since we tossed fists full of coins on our first trip to Rome and we have in fact returned!
We’re not ones to buy a lot of souvenirs (our photos and memories often suffice), but this trip Rick had his heart set on a “popener,” a bottle opener in the likeness of the Pope. While we did find one, we’re not sure if this trinket has been officially sanctioned by the papacy or blessed by the Pontiff. Rick was hoping that when he used it to open a bottle of soda, it would turn into wine. It didn’t.
For lunch we sat at an outdoor café and ordered individual pizzas. It was just a block away from one of our bus stops, and in retrospect, we should have walked a little further off-the-beaten-path. The cafes close to the major monuments and attractions aren’t a true experience, typically cost more, and tend to pray on the naiveté of the tourist. We ate our so-so overpriced pizza and moved on.
We’ve all heard the expression about it being “who you know,” and that couldn’t be truer than when you are in a foreign city. Knowing a local, someone who not only speaks the language but also can share the local culture with you, makes for a totally different experience. As luck would have it, we actually ran into our friend, Elyse, while walking around Rome. She shared with us two of her favorite places in Rome, Piazza Navona and Gelateria del Teatro, that have since become two of our favorites as well.
Piazza Navona, located just west of the Pantheon is simply beautiful. Here you’ll find painters, street performers, and open-air cafes. It’s been the backdrop in many movies and as we sat there sipping our icy cold beers in the summer heat we almost felt like we were on a movie set. It is what we always pictured Rome to be.
No trip to Italy would be complete without a gelato! Gelateria del Teatro had some of the best gelato we’ve ever tasted. All local fresh ingredients, you watch in amazement through the window as they slice, dice, chop, and incorporate these amazing flavor combinations into the likes of raspberry sage, rosemary honey, and chocolate wine. Like hoarders we piled several flavors into our bowls knowing that our next trip to Rome we’d rather be throwing coins at the Gelateria del Teatro than the Trevi Fountain.
Rome might not have been built in a day, but we managed to see it in a day. Next time, however, we’ll stop and stay a while.
How do you maximize your time in a city with only a few hours?