Italy’s capital and American’s 5th most searched for destination swells with visitors for months on end every year. With their cameras ready and tickets to the greatest of Rome’s attractions pre-purchased in advance, the question could be raised as to whether any of these visitors have ever really seen a real Roman– or just their fellow travelers.
With history lurking under every pillar and enough relics to leave even the greatest amateur historian a tad “over it”, it’s difficult to see Rome for the first time and truly grasp the magnitude of what you are experiencing. To help you along, we’ve spoken to our Roman friends at Touriocity for a breakdown on where to go and what to avoid during your visit to Rome.
Touriocity is the easiest way to book tailor made tours in the world’s greatest cities. Touriocity matches you with the best guide, provides transport and purchases entrance tickets to allow you to skip the line, leaving you to do the fun stuff.
Meet Katie & Meet Emi
Photos courtesy of Touriocity
Katie is a California native who first ventured to the Eternal City on a Fulbright Scholarship. With a background in art history, it’s no surprise that she fell in love with the city. It’s been over 8 years now since she prolonged her initial 10-month stay and she’s still in love with the incredible views, the gelato and its ancient charms.
Emi, on the other hand, is a true Roman, born and raised and fueled by his Gladiator roots. Sunglasses on and espresso in hand, he is the quintessential Roman. After living abroad in London for 5 years, he returned to Rome, passed the incredibly difficult Roman tour guide exam and assumed his career working in the “best job in the world”.
Both Emi and Katie take visitors across Rome on personalized tours that touch on the interests and backgrounds of the vacationers. Whether visitors are firmly grounded in their quest to see all the ancient sights, want to see the forgotten museums or enjoy the architecture of the streets, Katie and Emi will make you fall in love with your piece of Rome.
Planning a trip to Rome? See our picks for our favorite places to stay from designer Palazzos to cozy B&Bs here!
On the Roman sights that are actually worth seeing
Katie: “I definitely wouldn’t skip the Colosseum. Even when it’s busy, it’s an incredible monument. With all the movies and books about it, people really relate to the Colosseum in a way they can’t relate to some of the other sights.”
Emi: “The only sight people shouldn’t miss is the Vatican. Everything here starts and ends with the Vatican; the way that our city was built and developed to the way our culture is shaped today, the Vatican still has an extremely important influence on being Italian. The popes have influenced our society for generations and that is definitely something that you can only come to understand at the Vatican.”
On Roman sights you shouldn’t miss even though you might
Katie: “Go up to the Gianicolo hill, where you get this spectacular view of Rome from high up. Go later in the day, towards sunset with a bottle of wine and a couple of friends and relax and just take it all in.”
Emi: “At Le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini, they discovered these ancient Roman insulate houses built underneath the palace. They did excavations and have created a multimedia experience for visitors. When you enter, you’re given an audio guide and then you walk out on a glass floor. Underneath you see the digging that has been carried out. You hear a voice speaking, everything is dark around you and the lights only go on when referencing a specific thing. You see water where there used to be water and even see the effects of a house falling down because of an earthquake. It is astonishing and I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
Emi: “If you’re interested ancient Rome, visit the Capitoline Museums. There is one wing, which is in my opinion is way more interesting and beautiful than the actual museum called the Centrale Montemartini in the Via Ostiense. Since they had too many statues to host at the Capitoline Museums, they created an exhibition on top of an old hydraulic machinery plant where they were producing electric energy. The beauty of this museum is that you see ancient statues on top of machines from the beginning of the last century. You see how things have developed from when we were producing marble statues by hand and chisel till when we were able to produce energy using enormous machinery.”
Katie: “There’s a collection I actually really like for ancient art at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. They have rooms full of ancient frescoes, which is something you don’t see in the Roman Forum; most of the walls there have lost their marble and paintings and people have a hard time imagining how grand it all was. So, if you supplement your visit to the ruins with the museum, you get an even greater understanding of how amazing ancient Rome was.”
Which sights in Rome you can skip
Emi: “The Colosseum is a very interesting from the inside but sometimes it’s not really worth it to go in. It’s very hot in the summer, there is always a line and everyone has to go through a metal detector, even if you have a ticket. Plus, the inside is only the skeleton leftover and most of the Colosseum can be seen from the outside.”
Katie: “The Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain are places that you can swing by while you’re walking in the evening between dinner and after dinner drinks. They don’t need to be the spots you seek out and spend significant amounts of time in.”
On their favorite neighborhoods in Rome
Photos by Natalia Kvitek
Katie: “There are a lot of neighborhoods in Rome that are interesting to stroll through, not famous so much for their monuments but for their atmosphere; great restaurants, great shopping, great places to go for a walk. Italian culture has this idea that an activity is going for a walk– they call it the fare una passeggiata. So a lot of people do that after lunch, after dinner. It’s a great way to relax, to decompress and process everything you’ve taken in.“
Katie: “I really love the Monti neighborhood; it’s full of shops with Made in Italy products. If you want something really unique, Monti is the neighborhood to go to.”
Katie: “The Ostiense neighborhood is not too far from pyramids, just behind it. A lot of the walls are full of beautiful murals. When people come to Rome, they tell me they weren’t expecting so much graffiti and in the city center you see a lot of classic graffiti but when you go to the Ostiense neighborhood, that’s really where it become street art.“
Emi: “People can experience the heart of Roma in the Trastevere neighborhood. Even though Trastevere recently became a bit touristic, you can still have a beer outside in the square or by the stairs with the locals. The restaurant menus might not be in English but don’t let it scare you off– just see what everyone else has on their plates and order what looks good. “
On their favorite spots in Rome
Katie: “It’s funny because it’s a place everybody goes to, and it’s crowded. But every time I go into the Pantheon I feel this overwhelming sense of awe at what people were capable of building 2000 years ago. It’s a place I can continue going back to time and time again, and I love it every single time.”
Emi: “The best sight in Rome, for both the view and the atmosphere is at the Giardino degli Aranci, the Garden of the Oranges. It’s famous for this big keyhole through which you can see a garden and then past that you see St. Peter’s Basilica. The door is actually the entrance to a closed convent that belongs to the Knights of Malta. So through the keyhole you see three different countries: Malta, Italy and the Vatican. But right before you reach the keyhole, you’ll see the Garden of the Oranges and the panoramic terrace. The garden isn’t usually busy and if you’re lucky someone will be playing the guitar or the violin. At sunset, it’s a very romantic place to spend some time.”
Where to “get away” from Rome while still in Rome
Katie: “The Villa Doria Pamphili is a huge property that was once owned by the Pamphili family in the 17th century. They were one of these rich papal family that built Rome as we know it today. It’s a vast park full of trees, a lake with swans, a lot of paths for hikers and bikers. A lot of people go and have picnics, especially on the weekends when it’s full of locals. I feel like that is my oasis when I need a break from it all and you can get there easily by taking a bus from the city center.“
Emi: “If you’re looking to go somewhere romantic, you should head to Tivoli. It’s a very nice, picturesque escape from Rome, a little hilly town only 40 minutes outside of Rome. In Tivoli, you must see Hadrian’s Villa. The remains there are similar to what you would see in ancient Ostia or Pompei. Nearby is also the Villa D’Este, which is much more recent. It has hundreds and hundreds of working fountains in the expansive gardens, very beautiful and refreshing in the summer. Essentially in Tivoli, you get a taste of the renaissance, the baroque and the ancient, very close to each other.”
On their favorite #Eats in Rome
Katie: “Italians tend to course out their meals and a lot of the first courses are vegetarian and they tend to get more of the meat or fish for the second courses. Recently I have fallen in love with a restaurant near Campo de’ Fiori called Di Tirambo. They have a menu with a lot of vegetarian options. It’s traditional Roman cuisine with a modern twist.”
Emi: “What I like is something quite simple, it’s called panini con la mortadella . It can keep you going for the rest of the day. You can get pizza anywhere, so in Rome you must try the panino.”
On the “must-try” gelato flavor you might not know about
Katie: “There is a gelateria right near the Vatican called Hedera. They have made a special flavor for the jubilee year, that has the colors of the Vatican flag which are yellow and white. They mixed egg cream with limoncello gelato and it is out of this world. It’s probably only for a limited time only, so get it while you can.”
Emi: “I get so frustrated, and I even get angry because when I take visitors to get ice cream, all the guests end up choosing one flavor. You can have up to 3 or 4 flavors in the same cone in Italy. They say it’s too many decisions. Personally, I would never go with standards, not pistachio, nor stracciatella or chocolate. I really like something that is called Variegato alla Nutella. It’s basically a mixture between nutella, which is way better than chocolate and variegato means mixed, so it’s essentially nutella and a mix of milk cream and it’s something I like way better than stracciatella.”
On what makes Rome different from other European cities
Katie: “They have managed to continue living their history, you feel it all around you, you see modern buildings that have ancient or medieval components still somewhere in the walls. Maybe that’s why they call it the Eternal City since it’s constantly reinventing itself with ingredients from the past. That adds a charm to it that you can’t see in other important European capitals.”
On how Rome is changing
Emi: “In the city center, anywhere close to the Colosseum or the Vatican, I wouldn’t even buy a coffee. There are too many tourists shops and tourist restaurants, it’s all meant for tourists. The tourist menu at any restaurant offering it must be avoided.”
Katie: “I feel like there are more tourists. It’s so much busier than I remember it being when I first got here. One reason people come is because they are drawn to the cuisine; we know Italian food so well in places like North America because there is a large Italian community that have made those traditions familiar over time. Italy is also getting better at organizing themselves for tourism. I have a lot of clients say they came 20 years ago and had a really hard time communicating because very few people spoke English. Now they are amazed at how many people speak English very well.”
On why visiting Rome with a tour guide is better
Emi: “I tell my friends that are visiting that if you can to afford to hire a tour guide, even in a group, get one at the Vatican. At the Vatican you really need to have someone that stops you when necessary because there is so much to see and takes you through shortcuts to reach the most important things.”
Katie: “When people come and see the city on their own, they have a really hard time separating the layers. When you have a tour guide that is able to explain each historical era and clarify it for you, it becomes so much more simple to understand. There is also not a lot of information at many of the monuments in Rome. You can go with a good guide book but then you see less because you’re reading instead of looking. Having a tour guide allows you to enjoy what you are seeing and also get the information.”
Katie: “Many people have also mentioned how helpful it is that I show them reconstruction, particularly for places like the Forum or the Colosseum, there is a lot missing. If you don’t have someone with you telling how something looked or where something stood, you don’t get as much out of it.”
Thanks to Katie & Emi and Touriocity for the interview!
Tip: If you’d like to keep Katie and Emi’s recommendations handy on your walk around the Eternal City, click the ⭐ icon next to the Maps title to save it to your own Google Maps!
Need a hotel in Rome? See our picks for our favorite places to stay here!