I woke up to the sound of footfalls echoing down the street. Seconds later, the clatter of shop shutters rang through the air. Two men stopped for a conversation below our window, their voices occasionally drowned by the urgent honk of a horn. I could have slept for another half an hour were it not for the aroma of coffee that wafted into our room.
My feet throbbed, a reminder that another day of endless walking lay ahead of us. But as I thought of the first sip of coffee filling my dry mouth, the prospect of getting out of a warm bed at 7am seemed less daunting. Besides, the streets of Rome were already a hive of activity, and I couldn’t wait to get out there and explore the rest of the city.
Is Rome worth visiting?
Rome was never on my bucket list, despite being a mere 90-minute flight from home. Perhaps what put me off visiting the Italian capital was the fact that almost everyone I know has been there at least once in their life. It’s the same reason why I’ve never been too fussed about visiting London. In fact, most of these popular cities tend to be a bit overrated (in my humble opinion).
So when an unusually excited boyfriend phoned me up to ask me if I fancied heading to Rome for Christmas, my reply was simple.
“Only if the flights are incredibly cheap.”
But he had already made sure that this trip wouldn’t break the bank, and an hour later I was brushing up on my (almost non-existent) Italian.
There are two things I wish I had done before our four-day trip to Rome: bought a second memory card and saved more money. Rome turned out to be more beautiful and expensive than I had thought, and after the first day in the city I decided to take less photos and drink less cappuccinos throughout the rest of our stay. But that didn’t last very long.
Hunting out the perfect cup of cappuccino soon became our number one challenge, followed by capturing the perfect sunset photo in different parts of the city.
But there are many other things worth visiting Rome for, besides stunning sunsets and perfect cappuccinos.
Here are some of the things that make Rome worth visiting, despite being one of the most touristy cities in the world.
Rome is perfect for history buffs
Yes, Rome is indeed beautiful, but what really stunned me during our trip was my boyfriend’s extensive knowledge of Roman and Greek mythology, which I became fairly acquainted with on our first day in the city, well, in the Vatican City, to be more precise.
We were in the Gallery of Statues and the Hall of Busts, admiring the well-preserved collection of ancient sculptures, and Douglas was correctly guessing the identity of each and every pagan god.
“This must be Artemis. And that’s Hercules on the other side. Oh my God, is that sexy beast over there Zeus?!”
And as we marvelled at the intricate details of each work of art, I decided to ask Douglas a question. A really stupid question.
“Are these the original statues or are they simply replicas?”
Although I actually whispered the question, I’m quite sure I felt all eyes in the room swivel to me. Douglas just stood there, mouth agape. He looked just like the theatrical masks hanging on the wall behind him, his face frozen in shock.
“We’re in the Vatican Museums – of course they’re the bloody originals!” He said at last.
Despite being a self-proclaimed history buff, the Roman Era is not exactly my forte. Neither is Italian Renaissance. In other words, I visited Rome without ever having heard of the Romulus and Remus myth, the great sculptor Bernini and the breath-taking Pantheon.
Needless to say, I learnt quite a few interesting things while I was in Rome, mainly thanks to Douglas, who was in possession of a Lonely Planet guidebook and had just watched Angels & Demons before our trip.
But it wasn’t just the compelling history lessons that made this trip surprisingly blissful.
You can get off the beaten path in Rome
I could have never imagined that one can actually escape the crowds in a place like Rome. On our last day in the city we somehow ended up in a forest, where the only sign of civilisation was an old woman walking out of a creepy, derelict house. Although this (mis)adventure took place on the outskirts of Rome, on our way to Ostia Antica, we still managed to find a few tourist-free spots in the city centre, including the quiet neighbourhood of Trastevere and the Jewish Quarter.
While my idea of ‘adventure’ involves climbing mountains and exploring little-known villages, Rome has taught me that you can still get off the tourist trail in popular cities, as long as you are willing to venture beyond the main highlights and resist the urge to stop for a cappuccino every 45 minutes.
Many things in Rome are free (not the bread though)
As much as I hate doing typical touristy activities, I tend to make exceptions when visiting certain cities. I mean, you can’t go to Rome without seeing the Colosseum, right? I have been up the Eiffel Tower, explored Edinburgh Castle, walked over Charles Bridge and visited Parc Güell, and I would do all of those things again.
There are many free things to do in Rome, from exploring beautiful piazzas to visiting ancient sites like the Pantheon. However, dining out can be a bit pricey.
I must admit that I’ve had my best dining experiences in Rome – except that time when we were made to pay for four slices of bread that the waitress had unceremoniously plonked on our table, even though we didn’t ask for any bread.
Also, when in Rome, do as the Romans do and drink your espresso at the bar. Otherwise, expect to pay between 4-6EUR for your coffee. Shocked? Well, I certainly was when I first found out about this.
I was sitting at a table in Piazza Navona, soaking up some sun, when Douglas walked out of the café looking rather dumbfounded.
“We’re having our coffee at the bar,” he said decisively.
“Why? It’s a beautiful day,” I protested.
“BECAUSE I’M NOT WILLING TO PAY 12 BLOODY EUROS FOR TWO CAPPUCCINOS.”
Well, I couldn’t really argue with that.
So, do you still want to go to Rome?
If you’ve decided that Rome is worth visiting, it’s now time to plan your trip. I recommend spending at least 3 days in Rome to really get to know the city and explore the main attractions.
My husband and I visited Rome in Christmas, and we couldn’t believe how quiet the city was (although the Vatican Museums were busy). Having said that, we were in Rome a few weeks after the Paris terrorist attacks of November 2015 and many cities across Europe were on high alert.
To help you plan your trip to Rome, I’ve put together a 3-day Rome itinerary (+ map).
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