A Roman Holiday: 36 hours in the Eternal City.
Most people will tell you that it’s impossible to do Rome in a day. But if you’re on a budget, and the best flight deals only allow for one full day in the Eternal City, I’m here to tell you that it’s absolutely possible, and that it can even be done comfortably.
For me, my flight got into Rome Fiumicino around 8:30 at night. Since time is crucial on these trips, splurge on the 30 minute Leonardo Express to get to Termini Station, the stop closest to the center of Rome as soon as possible.
For accommodations, I ended up staying at the same hotel I stayed at when I was a kid, the Hotel Martini. Located in the Municipio I District and only a 3 minute walk from a metro station, it was the perfect place to revisit as a college student. Most hostels in the area will run you about 20€ a night, and usually for 6-8 person shared dorm. So when I found that this hotel had a double to split for about 24€ a night, which meant a private room and bath, I knew it was a great find. It was perfectly located as well, only a 10 minute walk from Termini Station.
After checking into the hotel around 9:30pm, it was time to find pizza. Given our timeline of only 2 dinners and one lunch, getting a slice of Italian heaven was a must have. Breakfasts were going to be little muffins and pastries purchased along the way. After being told by our receptionist the only place to avoid getting pizza in the area was the Irish pub next door, we set off for La Gallina Bianca, just a short 6 minute walk away.
There were tons of locals in the restaurant so you could tell from the start this was going to be great. And let me tell you, it was absolute perfection. I’m saying this with full acknowledgement that I’m still drooling over the memory of this pizza margherita.
After a quick stroll back to the hotel, it was around 11pm—time for bed and setting an early alarm.
Like I said before, it is entirely possible to do Rome in 24 hours. Less than that actually, but my advice would be to get up early and go to the farthest point of interest from where you’re staying and work your way back. For me, Vatican City was the reach, so we took the metro over and were in St. Peter’s Square just before 8am. It was really nice because the lights were still on, illuminating the Basilica; as an added bonus the massive plaza was essentially empty. Entry into the Basilica is free and worth a visit, however the Cupola costs about 7€ to climb all the way to the top, and 10€ to take the elevator up halfway. Prime weather wasn’t in the cards when we got to Cupola so I decided to pass on the opportunity, especially since I wasn’t sure if I could make it up and down before our tickets to the Vatican Museums were viable.
At 9am we were at the Vatican, and began our open tour of the massive complex. The most important thing to do is to buy your tickets ahead of time and to take advantage of the student discount. This way an open tour will cost you 8€ plus a 4€ online fee, for 12€ total a person, but when you see the line you don’t have to stand in, you will be so glad you spent the extra euro. Like I said, it was raining, but thankfully we were inside during almost all of the downpour. The museum was an amazing place to explore, but the most impressive part was hands down the Sistine Chapel. It was amazing to revisit and a great opportunity to understand my childhood awe. We left the Vatican around 11:00am which was perfect timing as it had just stopped raining.
Having seen the most important parts of Vatican City, it was time to work our way back towards Roma Centrale. Next stop? The most famous Roman icon: The Colosseum. As our luck would have it, blue skies were just starting to become visible as we got off at the metro station which puts you right at the famed monument. Our pre-paid skip the line passes once again got us in without hassle for 9.50€ total, and for the first time I got to see the inside of the Colosseum.
Since the skip the line also includes entry into Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, that was naturally the next place to visit, which put us there around 12:15pm. Getting to wander around the ruins was incredible especially when you imagine what these buildings must have looked like all those years ago.
Now it was about 1:00pm, which means it’s lunch time! Right across the street from the exit of the Roman Forum was where we ended up. I’m sure there are much better places to go to, but for convenience sake and price, it wasn’t terrible. Lasagna, when made right, and in Italy, can really change your life. In comparison to American Lasagna which is often dense, the Italian version is very simple: Your pasta, a bechamel, and a ragu sauce. Heaven!
At this point we were about a 15 minute walk to the Trevi Fountain. Of all the sightseeing we were doing on this trip, this was my most anticipated place to see. When we got there it was pretty crowded but not unmanageable. We made our way down to the side of the fountain and got to have a decent amount of space to ourselves. After throwing 3 coins in the fountain– maybe twice if I’m honest– and getting a few pictures, it was time to head over to the Pantheon, which was about an 10 minute walk or so.
Like the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon was decently crowded at this hour, but it was still another must see site. After watching the Da Vinci Code not too long before I arrived, this was especially cool to see in person.
Since we were just another 10 minute walk to the Spanish Steps, we were doing well ahead of what I had anticipated. Like I had been advised, when you end up at the Steps, it’s not as miraculous compared to other landmarks. Nevertheless this was another favorite spot of mine, if only for its true semblance to its namesake, Spain, but also because Audrey Hepburn had graced this place. We ended our sightseeing trip around 3:30pm, having seen all of Rome’s landmarks, in really just one day.
At this point we were obviously exhausted, so we headed back to the hotel to rest up for a few hours. My must-have view in Rome was the Trevi Fountain at night, so I got a little dressed up and went back, which was only a 15 minute walk from our hotel. Just to be warned, if anyone else is inclined to attempt the cobblestone streets of Rome in stilettos, you’re going to want to have had some practice under your belt. It was not my worst idea but my experience–and of course the photos –had me truly living la Dolce Vita.
Now it was about 7:30, and although it was early for an Italian dinner, we were famished. I went back to the restaurant I’d been to as a child that my family really enjoyed, and all these years later I can finally understand why. To be fair, we got more than decent meal for what we paid, although we certainly committed a faux pas by not ordering primer piatto, secondo piatto… etc. My dinner consisted of an order of bruschetta, followed by a delicious penne pasta all’arrabbiata. Paired nicely with a bottle of red house vino, I got to experience my first real moment of adulthood–the waiter poured a sample of the bottle and I had to do that little swirl, sniff, sip routine like I don’t buy 1€ bottles of Rosé in Spain. Admittedly, I was a little more than tipsy when it came time for the “should we, shouldn’t we” of dessert. Eventually we settled on a custard since they weren’t offering tirarmisu.
By 9:30pm we were back in the hotel and since our flight didn’t leave until 2:00pm the next day and checkout was at 11:00am, we figured we’d enjoy a stroll around the streets of Rome for a few hours in the morning.
As our luck would have it, all the beautiful streets and alleys and plazas that we took all led us to our first happy coincidence: The Trevi Fountain. Yes, that’s right, on three separate occasions I ended up back at that fateful fountain. I’m certain this has something to do with the fact that I threw in 3 coins, twice and another one just for luck when I went back the night before. It’s my favorite piece of Roman trivia, if you throw a coin in once, you’re guaranteed a return to Rome. If you throw in two coins will bring you love and if you throw in three coins, you’ll secure your marriage.
Whatever it was that brought me back to the fountain, the legend or dumb luck, I was glad to say goodbye to my favorite fountain, to a much quieter setting. Another series of twists and turns lead us again back to the Spanish Steps. There, to fewer people sitting on her steps, I was able to recreate the famous Audrey Hepburn scene –although finding my Gregory Peck will perhaps, be for another trip.
And with that it was back to the hotel and to Termini Station. A word of advice, just take the direct train, the Leonardo Express back to the airport. It will save you so much hassle and stress of taking the hour long suburban line and switching trains. Everything worked out, as it usually does, but it will make the end of your journey that much smoother.
As you can see a trip to Rome can be done in less than 2 full days. For me it was so much more than a tourist adventure….who knew the coin I threw in the fountain at 5 years old would actually lead me back one day? I can’t wait to see what the next trip(s?) back have in store for me.
Until next time Roma, mi amore!