Let me introduce you to a dear friend of mine. Domestic goddess, baking beauty and world explorer Sophie Stewart. Sophie recently surprised her boyfriend with a foodie mini-break to Rome, and as soon as she arrived back, I was pestering her for her top travel tips. Combining our two passions of travel and food, we’ve joined forces to bring you this amazing guest post. Enjoy…
As a food blogger, I am always keen to experience as many of the culinary delights of European cities as possible. Being based in London, it is pretty ideal to be able to work a full day Thursday, hop on a flight for less than a couple of hours, and be immersed in another culture for a long weekend, being back in time for work on Monday. So I thought I would compile a list of my top tips for planning the perfect foodie weekend in the Italian capital.
1. Save money, plan ahead
I booked the flights in April, and wasn’t due to visit until October. This meant I got return flights, for two people, for £160! Flying from and to our most convenient London airport, Gatwick.
2. Avoid the masses and heatwaves – book outside peak time
October was perfect. The weather was ideal (an ideal 21-23C) and we managed to avoid most of the crowds. I would recommend autumn and spring (excluding Easter weekend) as perfect times to visit Rome, avoiding crowds and blisteringly hot weather! It is still worth booking tickets for the Vatican in advance, as it can be very busy so it guarantees you miss the queues.
3. Stay somewhere convenient
Don’t pay excessive prices. Rome is a small city, so you can easily walk everywhere. I advise you stay in the area you think you will be in at the end of the night, i.e. near bars! Makes it so much easier to pop home than it does to trek back across the city. The two places I would recommend are either in Trastevere, a gorgeous area full of young professionals and lots of bars, or near Campo di Fiori, where there are plenty of bars and restaurants, including one called the Drunken Ship, if you fancy meeting some other English-speaking tourists. We chose Trastevere, and booked a gorgeous apartment on airbnb.
4. When in Rome… Do as the Romans do!
Chatting to locals can give you great local insight. We even ended up getting taken for dinner one night for the best pizza we have ever had in our lives! Find the local bars, and after a few drinks pluck up the courage to speak to a local. Our favourite hang-out for this was called Bar San Calisto, and it was just off the square in Trastevere. No frills, and apparently nothing has changed since the 1960s. Frequenters include artists, actors and musicians, as well as Roman locals catching up. A large bottle of beer was €2.50 – you can’t argue with that! Locals give you insight into the best food, cheapest bars and best night life, as well as some great tips on avoiding the crowds at tourist sites.
Also, don’t forget it is very rude to cut up your spaghetti. If you are someone who does this (as my boyfriend is), it’s time to learn the fork-twist!! And don’t get annoyed for casual service in restaurants. They are Italian, so naturally a lot more laid back than us Brits!
5. Plan your days to make the most of them
We used the guide book from Rough Guides, which had a great map and lots of recommendations for bars, restaurants and shopping, as well as some background history on lots of the monuments. Our plan was as follows:
Day 1 – The Vatican, Vatican city and an evening in Trastevere
Day 2 – The Pantheon, Campo di Fiori, Piazza Navona, the Spanish steps and Trevi fountain (sounds a lot, but it wasn’t!)
Day 3 – The Colosseum and Roman Forum, then travelling home
We had plenty of time to sit back and watch the world go by, but saw all of the sites we wanted to. There were even a few extras thrown in when we stumbled upon amazing artefacts while walking through the city, like the site where Caesar was killed. Walking really is the best way to discover Rome!
6. Do breakfast the Italian way
There are an abundance of cafes and patisseries in Rome, and the best, cheapest ones are found off the main tourist drags. When you are planning your walking route, try and go off the beaten tracks a bit, as you will undoubtedly stumble upon one. The pastries are exceptional, the orange juice is as fresh and sweet as it possibly could be, and the coffee is divine. Sitting outside in the sunshine and soaking up the atmosphere is a great start to the day.
7. Drink the Italian drinks
Italians are famous for their wines like chianti and pinot grigio, so spend time getting to know some of the different varieties. Peroni and Nastro Azzuro are the Italian beers we know the best in the UK, and Italian coffee is also world-renowned. However, for something a little different, try Aperol. It is an Italian liquor and is served either in a spritz (my favourite – Aperol and Prosecco with a slice of orange) or straight over ice. For a great after dinner treat or as a night cap, try ‘scrupino’ – a light lemon granita/sorbet, with vodka poured all over it. Not sure if I have the spelling right…
8. Seek out Roman markets
There are loads of markets all over Rome, with some attracting more tourists than others. The main tourist market, open 10am-2pm Monday to Saturday, is at Campo di Fiori and fits in nicely with some of the other tourist attractions in that area like the Pantheon and Trevi’s fountain. There was an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables in all different shapes, sizes and colours, and lots of classic Italian foods like different coloured pasta, truffles and cheeses. There was even a stall selling the most incredible fresh pomegranate juice. A market definitely worth exploring, with enthusiastic stall holders and unusual fruit and vegetables.
9. Try the local delicacies
And I’m not just talking about alcohol! Rome is famous for its gelato (like ice cream), and in Italy, it wouldn’t be right to not experience some antipasti. There is amazing street food on every corner, but make sure you don’t get ripped off.
10. Enjoy yourself!
There is no better way to really appreciate Rome than with a drink in a little square, watching the world go by. Street performers come and go, and as the sun sets you see another side of Rome come to life. We sat in the square in Trastevere for about 4 hours on the Friday, just watching.
Even if your itinerary feels busy, you will always have time to sit, chill out and soak up the atmosphere, so make sure you enjoy it – you will appreciate it when you’re back to work and have had a relaxing weekend!
Enjoy reading Sophie’s post? Check out her other guest post on The Travelista, Review: Constance Moofushi Resort, Maldives