Rome is a fantasy for many, even once. I consider myself fortunate that my profession allows me to explore the city numerous times. I’m spellbound by its magnetic charm and feel excited before each layover in Rome. I’m happy to share my favorite places.
The city can be divided in 2 parts, east and west of the Tiber river:
Eastern Bank: Trevi Fountain, Colosseum & everything around!
For the first layover in Rome with limited time on hand, always pick the eastern bank. Pick only a few destinations per layover to evenly distribute your time across history, nightlife, Roman cuisine, and much more. Top places to explore on this side of River Tiber are:
- Trevi Fountain: It is the top pick on every Rome bucket-list is. It is centrally situated at the Piazza di Trevi and provides access to several popular tourist destinations. Some require time, some are just passerby attractions. But before you leave the fountain, don’t forget to toss a coin; that does bring you back to Rome, worked for me every time!
- Villa Borghese: Rome is a land of villas and gardens. Borghese is one of the top places to breathe in the fresh air of Rome. Formerly a vineyard, the park is perfect for enjoying long strolls and letting the feeling of landing in Rome sink in. The park has several beautifully pruned hedges and greenery. You can even check out the Galleria Borghese. It is a museum home to some of the world’s most famous sculptures and paintings.
- Spanish Steps: This 135-step stairway forms a ramp to the otherwise inaccessible Pincian Hill attractions. The view from the top makes climbing them all worth it. It is also a great selfie spot. It falls en route to Villa Borghese, so you don’t have to go the extra mile.
- Pantheon: This is by far the best ancient Roman building I have ever come across. The 16 Corinthian columns pose a fantastic photo opportunity. However, the open dome at the center is its most beautiful aspect. It’s a symbol of divine light, a unique experience, even for not-so-religious types like me.
- Bocca della Verità: This marble mask is located near the Tiber river, and a bit hard to find. According to the legend la Bocca della Verità (Italian for “Mouth of Truth”) will bite off your hand when you lie to any question from a friend, while you put your hand in the mouth of the stone. It’s a fun crew challenge! I still have both of my hands, I can’t say that from the co-pilot on our last flight 🙂 !
- Capuchin Crypt: For a bone-chilling experience, visit this catacomb-like spot. It is a display of human bones that will run a chill down your spine. Horror movie buffs must take a guided nighttime ghost or a vampire tour, including the Crypt and the Domitilla Catacomb. However, these are ideal for groups as they can get terrifying at times. Even so, these are a rage among tourists because of their uniqueness.
- Giolitti: After the chilling catacombs experience, how about some pleasant chills? Head to Giolitti next. If you think Rome is known for pizzas, wait until you have tasted the authentic Roman gelato. With uncountable flavors, I wouldn’t mind another layover in Rome just to taste a few more. By far, I have tried their Joys mini delights, Giostecco strawberry, and the giant cone of assorted ice creams. Gelato melting in your mouth is an inexplicable joy.
- Forno Campo de Fiori: Now that I have mentioned Pizza, it goes without saying that I mention my favorite Pizza place near the Trevi. Forno is the oldest bakery and has served delicious and light pizzas for thirty years. Their toppings choices are nowhere else to be found. I love their white pizza; I can eat it in every meal. Also, the pastries and the walnut bread are a delight.
- Via Del Corso & Centro Storico: It’s impossible to return from Rome without new cloths. These two streets are a real paradise, although the premium brands are too expensive to me. But I love the local boutiques and authentic Roman jewelry stores!
- Testaccio Neighborhood: Rome is the land of art, but art doesn’t just reside inside the museums. Even the streets are littered with it. Street art is one of the major attractions in the Testaccio neighborhood, apart from craft cocktails, restaurants, and nightlife.
If you had to pick one place for homemade craft cocktails, I suggest you check out Rec23. It is the place to observe the true Italian Apertivo tradition.
- Colosseum: Finally, the amphitheater that the world talks about is a never-to-miss destination in Rome. Be it night or day, the building can’t ever look anything but grand! Although it is a little far from Trevi, you can visit Trevi during the day and Colosseum at night when it’s all lit up or take the reverse route. You might even enroll in a gladiator school nearby to learn the Roman warcraft techniques.
However, just a look at this building suffices to say that you have been to Rome. And you know what, it is not just a historic icon, it is a venue for top-notch concerts and shows too. You can even head to a bunch of close-by attractions, including the Mouth of Truth, Roman Forum, or the Caius Cestius Pyramid. You could carve a complete layover in Rome centered around the Colosseum.
Western Bank: Vatican City
On maybe the second or the third layover in Rome, you can head to the western bank. But don’t even slightly underestimate this side of Tiber. It is home to the Vatican, after all! Some of the must-visit places here are:
- Castel Sant’Angelo: You can think of this as the Colosseum of the west if nothing else. The five-story majestic castle, along with its spiral ramp and Ponte (Bridge) Sant’Angelo, is a sight to witness. You can check out the weapons section or climb up to the terrace to capture some blog-worthy city views. This place is as grand as the Colosseum, and that’s the highest compliment in Rome!
- St. Peter’s Basilica: This is now the second-largest religious building in Christianity. It is the most stunning landmark in Rome, with carved domes, stained glass windows, and iconic structure. Its beauty beats the more popular east bank attractions any day. The dome was designed by none other than Michael Angelo and garners its very own tour.
- Sistine Chapel: Second to none, the chapel is another high footfall garnering destination housing the famous The Creation of Adam fresco mural, among many others. The ceilings, walls, and every inch of the chapel is a store of immeasurable artistic wealth. If you are an art buff in the Vatican, Sistine is your topmost destination, and if you have time, visit the Apostolic Palace to check or another famous fresco, The School of Athens.
- Bonci Pizzarium: Once you have admired all the art and architecture, head to nowhere else but Bonci Pizzarium to satiate your appetite. The seasonal, fresh from farm toppings and creative preparations will simply blow you away. The authentic Roman pizza experience is here. I loved their Meatball pizza and the Lemon Ricotta pizza. They have ample vegan, veggie, and meat variety, so you don’t have to think about food preference even once.
- Trastevere Neighborhood: Once the night falls and you need some libations, Trastevere is your neighborhood to be. Birrifugio Brewery is your top destination for tap beer, cocktails, wine, and whiskey. You even get an expansive food menu, the famous Italian espresso, and international teas and infusions in short. It is your one-stop-shop for dinner and drinks.
Ci Vediamo dopo Roma
Rome is unceasing. I still have so much to explore and so many more meals to eat. Wine tasting is on my list for the next layover. I have heard that Rome has fantastic adventure sports, there appears to be a kayak tour through ancient Rome, also on my list. Rome is truly boundless!
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