36-Hours in the Eternal City: There’s No Place Like Rome
Leah Walker June 24, 2018

To step foot into Rome is to experience a history that dates back 700 years before Christ. It literally is older than Jesus. The Eternal City is deeply rooted in its past which has inspired sayings and artists alike. Michelangelo and Da Vinci defined the Italian Renaissance with their art. Augustus and Julius Caesar developed the blueprint for modern-day democracy. Jupiter was the ruler of the Roman gods and temples were erected in his honor. The Catholic Church carved out its own section of the city. William Shakespeare penned one of his greatest tragedies depicting the fall of Julius Caesar. Time cannot erase the influence Rome has had on culture, art, civilization, and society, and it is still alive and well throughout the city. There’s really no place like Rome.

There’s No Place like Rome

36-Hours in the Eternal City: There's No Place Like Rome by Leah Walker
The Statue of Liberty, base included, fits under St. Peter’s dome.

With a population of 2.5 million people, apparently all roads do lead to Rome. The Italian capital city has something that will pique the interest of anyone. Whether you travel for art, fashion, food, wine, history, religion, romance, or architecture, Rome has it all. The city has a unique identity, that’s both exhilarating and maddening. A ride in a Roman cab is like playing Russian roulette, but arriving intact to that marvelous family-owned trattoria makes the risk worth the reward.

In May 2018, I took my fourth trip to the Eternal City, a surprise birthday present for my boyfriend. Although he was born in France and has stepped foot on six continents, this would be his first time in Rome. Imagine that! Arriving on Friday evening and departing on Sunday at lunch {thanks to the French air strike} didn’t leave us much time for exploring. And, just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, we didn’t expect to experience it in one either. But, some Rome is better than no Rome.

36-Hours in the Eternal City: There's No Place Like Rome by Leah Walker
My Italy Perfect apartment was steps away from the Spanish Steps.

Veni, Vidi, Vici

I came. I saw. I conquered. These words were spoken by Julius Caesar centuries ago, but he could have been referring to our 36-hours in Rome. It is difficult to see and experience all Rome has to offer in a year, much less the limited time we had. Fortunately, I organized an apartment with Italy Perfect ideally located just a one-minute walk from Piazza di Spagna, home to the Spanish Steps, a place where poets such as Keats once climbed. Staying in this area allowed us to explore many of the most famous Roman attractions on foot. Plus, the apartment is near a metro station, which is always an advantage in a city, especially with nightmare traffic like Rome’s.

36-Hours in Rome

36-Hours in the Eternal City: There's No Place Like Rome by Leah Walker
The Trevi Fountain has been restored back to its former glory.

A traffic-filled, two-hour ride from Fiumicino Airport put a damper on any substantial Friday evening plans. A pasta dinner and walk to the Trevi Fountain are about all we could muster. There are hundreds of fountains in Rome, but this is the only one that, when a coin is tossed, ensures a return trip. We tossed in two each, just for good measure. My last trip to the city was October 2015, a time when the Trevi was undergoing restoration thanks to the fashion house, Fendi. Thus, it was like seeing the fountain for the first time for me, too.

Vatican City

36-Hours in the Eternal City: There's No Place Like Rome by Leah Walker
Gallery of the Maps is one of the highlights on the Roman Guy’s Express Vatican Tour.

A Saturday alarm should never be set for 5:45 am, but mine was. When time’s limited, sleeping late isn’t an option. An early start was also necessary for the Express Vatican Tour I’d arranged with The Roman Guy. This was the ideal option for us, as the tour showcases the highlights of the Vatican Museums in just 2.5 hours. The Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, Gallery of the Maps, and Gallery of the Tapestries are just a few of the places featured. The best benefits of booking the Express Vatican Tour are that it includes skip-the-line tickets and entry one hour before the general public. We still had to stand in line at security, but it was a special line for tour operators.

36-Hours in the Eternal City: There's No Place Like Rome by Leah Walker
Finish the Roman Guy’s Express Vatican tour in this picturesque location.

The Vatican Museums is a mammoth compound filled with countless art and treasures collected by centuries of popes. It’s also filled with thousands of tourists, so the 8:00 am entry with The Roman Guy actually allowed us to see the art and were even able to sit down in the Sistine Chapel. That’s almost unheard of on a Saturday in the summer. The tour ended in St. Peter’s Basilica. Dating to Constantine and 234 A.D., this marble and gilt church contains sculptures, mosaics, and tombs of former popes. It’s simply a work of art, and one we were happy to visit early. By 11:00 am, when we left the basilica, the entrance line was wrapped around Piazza San Pietro.

Use the code LEAHTRAVELS for 5% off group tours from The Roman Guy, excluding the Colosseum Underground and Colosseum at Night tour. You can also use this code on all tours from The Paris Guy tours.

Trastevere

36-Hours in the Eternal City: There's No Place Like Rome by Leah Walker
She watches Saturday unfold from her window in Trastevere.

Beyond the Tiber River lies one of Rome’s most preserved and special communities: Trastevere. My first time visiting Rome was in 2010, and on that trip, I became enthralled with Trastevere. I had the best artichokes of my life, and believe it or not, I still dream of finding something that tastes as good. Much like the people who live in Montmartre in Paris, those long-time residents of Trastevere don’t consider themselves Romans. I make it a point to walk through this area every time I visit Rome, and this trip was no different. From Vatican City, we walked about 15 minutes along the west bank of the river, until ducking into the maze of the 13th rione in search of lunch.

Piazza di Santa Maria was lively on this sunny Saturday. Locals were buying groceries, buskers played to the throng of tourists, and balloons flowed from the entrance of the Basilica of Santa Maria. There was a wedding, and we became two of several uninvited guests in the back of the church.

36-Hours in the Eternal City: There's No Place Like Rome by Leah Walker
What a wonderful setting for a wedding.

Santa Maria is one of the oldest churches in Rome, with some parts dating to around 350 AD. There are 22 granite columns taken from the ruins of ancient Roman buildings. The golden mosaics date to the 12th century, and the gilded wooden ceiling depicts the ‘Assumption of the Virgin’ and was created in 1616 by Domenichino. Legend has it that oil came from the earth by the church on the day Jesus was born. To the right of the alter, there’s a column inscribed with ‘FONS OLEI’ that marks that spot. Santa Maria is minuscule compared to St. Peter’s, but bigger isn’t always better. I was happy to revisit this church that I wandered into on my very first trip to Rome.

Jewish Ghetto

36-Hours in the Eternal City: There's No Place Like Rome by Leah Walker
The Jewish Ghetto was established in 1555, but the synagogue dates to 1904.

After lunch in Trastevere, we crossed Ponte Fabricio. Built in 62 B.C., Rome’s oldest remaining bridge led us to Isola Tiberina, the world’s smallest inhabited island. There was no time to see the working hospital or 10th century basilica, which contains the bones of Catholic martyrs who died in the Colosseum. It was back to the east side of the river and to the Jewish Ghetto. Outside of the Holy Land, Rome is home to the oldest Jewish community. In fact, there were Jews living in Rome before there were Christians. Rome is also home to the world’s second Jewish ghetto {Venice was the first}, established in 1555. The four-block radius of the Jewish quarter centers around Tempio Maggiore di Roma or the Great Synagogue of Rome. In a city full of churches, Rome’s largest synagogue features an aluminum squared dome, the only building of that shape in Rome. Since it was Saturday, unfortunately there would be no tour of the synagogue.

Ancient Rome

36-Hours in the Eternal City: There's No Place Like Rome by Leah Walker
Climb the steps of the Capitoline Museums. Go to the left for a view of the Roman Forum.

From the Jewish Quarter, we were transported to Ancient Rome. Close to the synagogue is Teatro Marcello. The semi-circle theater was ordered by Julius Caesar and completed by Emperor Augustus in 11 B.C., making it older than the Colosseum. It was and still is a place for watching theater and listening to concerts. Further on we walked to the Capitoline Museums on top of Capitoline Hill. This group of museums is guarded by former Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius on horseback and holds ancient Roman artifacts, as well as medieval and Renaissance art. There was no time to go inside, but it was the view of the Roman Forum around the corner that I was after.

36-Hours in the Eternal City: There's No Place Like Rome by Leah Walker
Walk in the steps of Julius Caesar at the Roman Forum and see the Arch of Septimius Severus {left}.

The Roman Forum was once the epicenter of ancient Rome. It was here that Marc Antony uttered ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears’ in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. I wandered around the Forum grounds on my first trip to Rome, once the city’s social and political center, but with just one full day of sightseeing, this view would be all we got {and it’s free}.

36-Hours in the Eternal City: There's No Place Like Rome by Leah Walker
A trip to Rome is incomplete without at least seeing the Colosseum from the outside.

It’s believed that Rome will stand as long as the Colosseum does. So far, that’s proven to be true. In 80 A.D., the Flavian Amphitheatre {as it was once known} opened with 100 days of games that included gladiatorial and wild animal fights for 50,000+ spectators. The Colosseum was also the location where Christians were stoned, crucified, burned, and fed to wild beasts. After being used for 400 years, the amphitheater essentially became a quarry. Now, despite being about 2/3 destroyed, it’s synonymous with Rome and one of the most visited attractions in the city. Touring the Colosseum is one of my favorite memories from previous Roman trips, but we settled for a stroll around the massive structure and a look at the Arch of Constantine. Dating to 315 AD, this triumphant arch commemorates Emperor Constantine I’s victory over Emperor Maxentius, marking Rome’s transformation to a Christian state.

With one more site left to check off of our Roman essential list, we hopped on the metro at the Colosseo station to Barberini. Before visiting the Pantheon, Nutella gellato at Giolitti was in order. Dating to 1900, this is one of Rome’s oldest and tastiest spots for ice cream. Satisfied and sticky, it was on to the Pantheon, which is believed by architects as the world’s only architecturally-perfect building. As the best preserved ancient Roman structure, the Pantheon was originally built to honor pagan gods, before being converted to St. Mary and the Martyrs Basilica in 609 A.D. As the largest unsupported dome in the world, in diameter it’s 46 feet larger than the US capitol’s dome. Magnificent on all accounts, no trip to Rome is complete without a visit to the Pantheon.

An Evening in Rome

36-Hours in the Eternal City: There's No Place Like Rome by Leah Walker
Aperol spritz is the quintessential Italian cocktail for summer.

After a power nap and a quick shower at our Italy Perfect apartment, we made the short walk to the top of the Spanish Steps for an aperitivo at Il Palazzetto. With two terraces, it’s a wonderful spot for an Aperol spritz. While sipping on our Prosecco cocktail, we watched a bride and her maids posing for a photographer on the steps. The strong sun was dipping below the mustard-colored buildings, signaling it was almost time for dinner.

36-Hours in the Eternal City: There's No Place Like Rome by Leah Walker
Lines around the block led to this larger location for Pianostrada.

I’m a true believer that we only get so many meals, so they might as well be great ones. Italian ranks among my top three favorite cuisines. There was no way I was going to settle for something sub-par, so I consulted an American friend living in Rome. She enthusiastically suggested Pianostrada. Located on the east side of the Tiber, near Ponte Sisto, this hot spot is delicious, both visually and gastronomically. Run by two women and their daughters, Pianostrada was so popular that it relocated to a much larger location. Dine at a table in the front room, a counter in front of the open kitchen, or in the back fanciful garden. We sat in the garden, where we ate sophisticated versions of Italian pasta classics from their dinner specials menu. For service, food, and atmosphere, I’d eat here again in a heartbeat {make reservations!}.

36-Hours in the Eternal City: There's No Place Like Rome by Leah Walker
The bartender mixes drinks at the Eitch Borromini rooftop terrace.

A 10-minute walk from Pianostrada is Eitch Borromini, a 17th century palace designed by Borromini. Now a luxury hotel, it also is home to an art gallery, Terrazza Borromini {a restaurant overlooking Piazza Navona}, and in the warmer months, a rooftop terrace. With a 360-view over Rome, my original plan was to have sunset aperitivos here. However, entrance is by reservation only, and there were no slots available, despite calling a week in advance. Thus, we settled for digestifs instead. Despite the darkness, the view was still beautiful. There’s really no place like Rome! The Eitch Borromini rooftop was worth the price of drinks {read: not cheap}, though I imagine the view is much more impressive before the sun goes down. 

36-Hours in the Eternal City: There's No Place Like Rome by Leah Walker
Trastevere, despite the tourists, still has its traditional bones.

Recounting every Roman contribution, ruler, conquest, invention, and war would read like War and Peace. The history of this remarkable city is virtually unmatched. I’ve taken four trips to Rome, with the last one only lasting 36 hours, which is almost criminal. I enjoyed introducing my boyfriend to one of my favorite cities in the world, and no doubt that we will return soon.

Titus Livius once wrote, ‘Rome has grown since its humble beginnings that it is now overwhelmed by its own greatness.’ I think most are overwhelmed by its beauty. Really, there’s just no place like Rome!

 

Don’t forget! Use the code LEAHTRAVELS for 5% off group tours from The Roman Guy, excluding the Colosseum Underground and Colosseum at Night tour. You can also use this code on all tours from The Paris Guy tours.

 

 

36-Hours in the Eternal City: There's No Place Like Rome by Leah Walker

This article was first published in 2011, but drastically improved in 2018. 

Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, USA Today 10 Best, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel and wine ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's lived in Paris for three years, and was recently awarded another four with a Passeport Talent visa renewal. Though, her talent for speaking French is abysmal.

22 Comments

    1. Oh, aren’t you sweet! I didn’t take any of those pics. If you click on them, they’ll take you to the amazing photographer’s stream. He took all the one’s I used. I’m starting a series on Rome. I was lucky enough to have an Italian friend help me plan the trip. The only things I would change would be to bring more money and stay more days!

  1. Love it! Rome is such a great city – when I’m there as a design nerd, I always take a trip to Trajan’s Column to look at the amazing capital letters inscribed on the base 🙂

    1. Isn’t it just amazing what was accomplished with such simple tools? I’m amazed with every corner I turn in Rome. I can’t even imagine learning all there is to know. It would take a lifetime and then some. Simply beautiful. Thanks for stoping by!

  2. *sigh* No, you are not the only one to have fallen in love with Rome. I was there again earlier this year and as each day passes, I miss it and long for it more and more. I am seriously heartsick. Anyway, lovely piece here. I may not be able to physically get to Rome again any time soon, so I’m counting on your posts to take me there! I know you won’t let me down 🙂

    1. Rome haunts me in a good way. The food is something I dream about certainly, but it’s just the whole package that made me fall in love. History, art, culture…all just speak to me. I hope I can do Rome justice.

  3. Yes, the photographer takes wonderful pictures. They almost look like a fantasy. You’re right. A week is not enough. But I’m afraid that a lifetime wouldn’t be enough to fully experience Rome. La dolce vita for sure!

  4. Rome was the very first place I ever set foot when I first visited Europe. It was the place that made me want to move to Italy in the first place. And even though I’ve been there about a dozen times now, I never get bored. There’s always something else to discover in a city with as many layers as a lasagna. You guys covered an impressive amount in 36 hours!

  5. I have a complicated relationship with any of my old pieces of writing. Revising a seven-year-old piece must have brought back memories. I also imagine a little bit of self-doubt with the qualifiers you use like “drastically improved”. Your photography was sublime and I loved the pacing of your trip. You combined some higher end tours which skipped lines with some free walking tours. I would imagine this is how we would visit Rome. Much like your boyfriend (from seven years ago), we are experienced travelers who somehow have missed out on Rome so far.

  6. This is a really infirmative post. It’s always useful to read ideas for a city if time is of the essence!

    Rome has never really been on my radar to visit; but this year I plan on travelling more in the UK which is closer to home, so make well add it to my must-visit list. I know you’re original post was written in 2011, but how did you find the prices in Rome in general? I’ve heard it’s very expensive – is that true?

  7. Rome is one of our favorite cities in Europe. We spent 2 days in Rome and were ensorcelled by its architecture and the history especially the magnificent Colosseum. Exploring the squares was our favorite part where we could sit and relax and enjoy the street performers.

  8. There is no place like Rome and I couldn’t agree more with that statement! I visited Italy about 4 years ago and yet, I hold Rome very close to my heart. It’s one of the most iconic cities I’ve been to, especially when it comes to history and archaeological finds. It goes without saying that the Roman Forum and Colosseum were amazing but I was also completely in awe of Vatican City and it’s sites. St Peters Basilica was superb. I don’t think that I made it to Jewish Ghetto though, I am sure I would have liked that!

  9. Rome is my husband’s favourite city so whenever we are in Europe we have to spend a couple of days in Rome. There is so much to see and wherever you walk you are surrounded by history. You really managed to cram a lot in the 36 hours that you were there. I don’t think that I manage as much in 3 days! LOL I enjoy La Dolce Vita too much.

  10. You’re right, there really is no place like Rome! I went in 2015 and found a lot of scaffolding – including the Trevi fountain like you, so I need to go back and see the city again. I loved Trastevere though, I spent all my evenings there wandering the streets and eating incredible food – I had a spaghetti and clams which was to die for! I also missed the Vatican, so that early morning tour sounds like a must for my next trip!

  11. It has been awhile since we visited Rome. Thanks for the great tease to return. It is time. Maybe we should have tossed more coins into the Trevi fountain too! We loved watching all the people with their wine on the Spanish Stairs. A great area to stay. I like the idea of doing an express Vatican tour early in the morning. We have missed Trastevere on every other trip so that will definitely be on our list. I had not heard the saying before that Rome will stand as long as the coliseum does. Let’s hope that continuous maintenance keeps it standing. An Aperol Spritz is my perfect way to end a day in Italy!

  12. The Roman forum is, of course, a destination one shouldn’t miss when in Rome. I love how classy you are as a traveler. I love this guide as much as I’d love to take a sip of that Aperol Spritz.

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