Rome had been on my bucket list for a long time, and I decided that it would be the perfect place to visit for my 30th birthday. This was 2 years ago, but Rome still holds a special place in my heart, and is somewhere I know I will be visiting again. With the trip being for my 30th, we did treat ourselves to a few luxuries, but a lot of what we did was either free or a lot cheaper than I expected. My friend and I were surprised to have a fair amount of money left over at the end of our trip, particularly as we had been told beforehand that Rome was going to be expensive. I have put together the details of my trip, where to stay, where to visit, and how to fit it all into a few days!
We were looking for a hotel that wasn’t too expensive, but wanted to stay somewhere quite luxurious. Impossible? I thought so. Until I discovered The Church Palace on Booking.com. I emailed to hotel to arrange an airport transfer, as well as a few other queries about the booking and the area, and the excellent service began well before we even arrived. The concierge, Mr. C, was absolutely brilliant. When we arrived at the hotel, he greeted us like friends and made us feel so welcome, and had a great sense of humour!
Our room was basic as we did book the cheapest of the rooms, but it was extremely clean and comfortable. However, the main part of the hotel is, quite simply, stunning. From the Maserati parked outside to the décor inside, the hotel exudes luxury. The wide corridors are lined with giant Jo Malone candles, the walls are lined with artwork and there is a small but well stocked bar. We took our cocktails to the gorgeous outdoor area which, despite being the end of March, was warm enough to sit outside for hours.
The modern black and white design of the restaurant is perfectly juxtaposed with the historical church building in which it resides. I ordered the ravioli and I have to say, it’s still the nicest pasta I have ever eaten. Breakfast was served in The Circus Restaurant, and there was a huge variety of food on offer.
Food and Drink
I don’t think I have ever eaten so much whilst on holiday, but the food and drink in Italy is just too good not to enjoy! I was surprised at how cheap the food and drink was when eating away from the main sights. Of course, we had to try as many different types of gelato as possible, pistachio is my absolute favourite (yummy!) For lunch, we generally ate in café’s closest to where we happened to be, but we did visit the five-star Hotel Hassler for afternoon tea. It was quiet when we visited, but I felt so lucky as we were served our champagne afternoon tea in such beautiful surroundings. We then headed to a bar at the top of the Spanish Steps, ordered some wine, and obviously devoured the pretzels and mouth-watering olives that were served with them.
For my “birthday” meal (this was actually a couple of months after my birthday, but if you can’t make your 30th celebrations last a few months, when can you?!) we had booked a meal at Brunello Bar and Restaurant. The food was beautiful, but the staff are what made this such a special experience. They treated us like regulars, and made us feel so welcome and relaxed. As a surprise, they brought out a specially made dessert with a candle for my birthday, which was such a lovely moment. We did struggle to finish it though, as we had been so well fed and looked after that we were absolutely stuffed! This didn’t stop us from heading to the ice bar for cocktails, though, and even though I had open toe sandals and a dress on, we managed to stay for quite a while. It’s a small bar, but it wasn’t overly busy and once again, the staff made the experience with their friendly and warm service.
I LOVE an itinerary. Especially when visiting somewhere like Rome, where there is just so much to see, I think it’s important to make some sort of a plan. We arrived in the middle of the afternoon, checked in, ditched the bags, and headed straight to the Vatican. As we walked towards the entrance to the Vatican, the queue seemed to snake around the road into infinity. We were approached by a young man asking if we wanted to book onto a tour. A bit dubious and wary of being scammed, we followed him to a tour shop. He showed his ID and it all seemed very legitimate, so we paid out fee and joined the group of tourists. I cannot recommend this enough. We walked directly to the front of the queue and headed straight in, saving ourselves hours of waiting time. The Vatican Museum is also so huge that had we gone it alone, we wouldn’t have had a clue where to start or what we were looking at. Listening to the tour guide through the headphones we were given gave us so much information that I feel we would have otherwise missed out on. Once we got to St. Peters Basilica, we were left to explore on our own. It was Easter weekend when we visited, so this was quite a special time to be in the Basilica.
The Colosseum and Roman Forum were one of the main sights we wanted to see, and having slept in, we arrived to long queues. We again took advantage of paying around 17 Euros to join a tour group, cutting out waiting time down to about 30 minutes. Even if you don’t stick with the tour, which on this occasion we didn’t, it’s worth paying for the queue jump alone. We exited through a side gate at the Roman Forum, which had a much smaller queue than the main entrance directly opposite the Colosseum. I would recommend if you’re not part of a tour group that you queue here to get into the Roman Forum, and definitely take some bottled water with you.
The Spanish Steps were unfortunately being refurbished, but we did make the most of walking around the designer shops at the foot of them, around the Piazza di Spagna. (You can read more about my experience of buying my first pair of Louboutin’s in Rome here) If you’re a literature geek like me, the Keats-Shelley museum is a must. I was in absolute awe as I walked around what was John Keats home. Dedicated to the Romantic poets, the museum is full of literary treasures.
The Pantheon was surprisingly quiet, there was no queue and only a small crowd outside who had gathered to watch a street performer. For chocolate lovers, there is a Lindt shop nearby which was an absolute dream. We visited the Piazza Navona and had gelato (beware the selfie stick sellers), which is lined with cafes and restaurants. The next stop was the Trevi fountain which was predictably busy, but overwhelmingly beautiful. We witnessed a proposal and threw our coins in the fountain, before heading for yet more food and shopping.
After a few days in Rome, you feel like you have been living there for years. Make use of the public transport, the metro in particular is so easy to work out. The Church Palace Hotel is only two metro stops away from the Spanish Steps, and once you know wheat you’re doing, it’s the easiest and cheapest way to get around.
Do watch your bags and pockets, particularly on public transport, as pickpocketing is rife. My friend went to Rome the week after I did, and I had advised her to always keep her bag closed and to the front of her. She forgot, and her purse was stolen on the Metro. Don’t let this put you off though, as long as you’re careful you will be fine. The thieves are mostly opportunists, and violent crime is rare.
Comfortable shoes are a must, I have never known pain like it in my feet and I wish I had thought more carefully about my footwear choices.
Eat the food. Eat all the food. And drink all the wine. You will not regret it.
Make an itinerary! As boring as it sounds, it helped us make the most of the weekend. Pay a little extra for a guided tour, even if you don’t stick with the group, it will help you avoid waiting in long queues (again, thinking of your poor feet!)
But most of all, take in as much as you can of this beautiful, friendly, historic city. Rome stole my heart, and I’m sure it will steal yours too.