Johnny's Guide to Rome, Italy

I didn't think I was going to enjoy Rome as I much as I did, in fact I thought I would hate it as I generally dislike going to overhyped,crowded places packed with tourists.  But even though Rome was all of that and more, it was so amazing and I had to write a post about it to share what I learned, what I saw, what I ate and and how you should travel the city if you ever end up going, which highly recomend you do. I didn't get a chance to do any work while in Rome so this won't be a guide for digital nomads, but honestly, it's not a place to cowork anyways, it's a place to enjoy your vacation and see some sights.

The first thing I noticed about Rome was even though it was a bit more expensive than other cities, it was no where as overpriced as places like Paris, Amsterdam, or London. Even being more expensive, it was actually worth every penny as it was an incredible place to be and experience first hand. Seeing photos just doesn't do it's grandeur and history justice, so make sure you put it on your list of places that you have to visit. This is where I stayed, what I ate, and what I saw.

Where I Stayed in Rome

Since I only had two days and wanted to see as many sights as I could during my short time there, I stayed in the city center right by Piazza di Spagna which is by the Spanish Steps as it's the heart of it all. Most of the walking tours start from here and within walking distance are iconic places to visit like the Fontana Di Trevi and Pantheon. I booked a place using called Hotel Cecil which was €90 a night for a standard room that included a decent breakfast buffet.

If you're on a tighter budget, want to stay in a hostel or if you're here for more than a few days, I would recommend staying near the train station (Roma Termini) instead as it's a lot cheaper and still super easy to get in and out of the city from anyways. If anything since you have to pass the train station regardless if you come in by cruise ship, plane or train, you might want to stay near there regardless just so you don't have to drag your luggage far in and out of Rome.

As for how to get in and out of Rome, the good news is there's a direct flight from a ton of places including LA, Miami, NY, Atlanta and even Bangkok. I flew business class from Rome to Bangkok in 10 hours which was one of the easiest long international flights of my life as the time change isn't as bad as going to the U.S. to Asia and since it was overnight, I was able to lay my seat flat and wake up without feeling terrible the next few days.

Fontana Di Trevi - Go early in the morning as it's super crowded

What to Do in Rome

My suggestion is see Vatican City, Trevi Fountain, and the outside of the Roman Colosseum either on your own or with a free walking tour which I'm a huge fan of. I went with Rome's Ultimate which was a small group that took us to some of the lesser visited spots and skipped some of the big ones which was nice as it ended just outside the Vatican city so be prepared to spend a 1-3 hours exploring that yourself afterwards. If I had more time I would have also went with the other tour company that did free walking tours as they bring you to places like the Spanish steps, Trevi Fountain, etc that Rome's Ultimate missed on their itinerary.

They also have a tour that takes you around the outside of the Colosseum which is honestly the only part worth visiting as you can see everything from the perimeter and there's no reason to spend the money or wait in the crazy lines to go inside. If you somehow insist on going inside the Colosseum, make sure you buy tickets online first on their official site as the lines can be 2-3 hours or longer if you don't. I chose the pick up (ticket reservation) option as I didn't have a printer and wasn't sure if they would accept a smart phone download and the line was less than 30 minutes at 9:30am, but if I were to do it again, I would have found a printer and skilled the queue. But honestly, it's not worth going inside! The columns are see through so you can see 90% of it by walking around the outside, saving yourself hours of time and €14.

Inside the Roman Colosseum 

Outside of the Vatican City

Inside of the Pantheon

Day Trips from Rome

In the same day you can also visit Florence and Pisa which are in the Tuscany region of Italy if you didn't want to stay there overnight. The train is super easy and comfortable so it's definitely the best way to get around. I didn't have a chance or a big reason to visit Florence, but my parents who I was traveling with really wanted to take the cheesy photo at the leaning tower of Pisa so we did that.

In Pisa don't bother taking an organized tour as you can see everything yourself. But I do recommend a shared shuttle bus instead of taking a taxi as that gets expensive. You won't need more than 2 hours in Pisa as there isn't a ton to see, but if you do end up going, make sure you try out Gelateria Orso Bianco which is a 7 minute walk from the tower and by far the best ice cream I've had anywhere in the world. I had the Pine Nuts flavor and was blown away but how good it was. My sister and mom also said it was the best they've ever had.

If you aren't bothered taking a photo of the tower, I would advise skipping Pisa all together and just staying in Rome for an extra day as the sights there are much more amazing.

Standard must take cheesy photo at the leaning tower. 

At the leaning Tower of Pisa

What to Eat in Rome

One of the best things about being in Italy is the food. I've heard mixed reviews on Italian food when I was back in the U.S. from friends who had visited but after having it myself, I gotta say, it's awesome. I think the reason why some people prefer the American version of Italian food is because they're used to an overload of toppings while in true Italian style, everything is simple.

Just like how the best slices of pizza in New York are always plain cheese, the same concept applies in Italy. When ordering pizza, get margherita which is topped with modest amounts of tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil. It's the original and if a restaurant can't make this correctly, don't even bother with the other varieties. A big hint when ordering pizza in Italy is that good pizza takes time. Never order pizza from a random take away place as it'll never be as good as an actual pizzeria. I tried having a slice on the way to the train station and it was the same mediocre tasting pizza that you can have anywhere. Instead, sit down at a proper pizzeria. It's not much more expensive, still comes out super quick and is absolutely worth it even if you're sitting alone.

Incredible Tuscan style margherita pizza

The same goes for pasta, always start with something simple like a pasta pomodoro. One trick is to simply ask the server what they're famous for. I was surprised when I ate at Pastamore that they recommended a fettuccine bolognese instead of spaghetti as in the U.S. we normally only eat wide noodles with cream or cheese sauces like an alfredo. But  of course the server was right and the pasta was the best I've ever had anywhere in my life. It was perfectly Al Dente, more than anywhere else.

For family dinner we ate at Mamma Angela's which also had great service but only decent pasta so get your pasta somewhere else. They did have good Italian wine though.

As for Gelato, since I had such a good experience in Pisa I wanted to try out what Rome had to offer so I went to the #1 rated place in Rome at the time of visit, Gelateria Valentino but these ratings change all of the time, so I would advise you look up what's currently the best whenever you visit. The dark chocolate fondant was the darkest chocolate ice cream i've had in my life, and to prove it, I got it all over my shirt and had it wash it in a public fountain as I was on my way to a walking tour. Luckily, it was linen so it dried quickly. It was very good but nothing compares to the place in Pisa.

Perfectly cooked pasta from Pastamore

Good with fresh tomatoes but nothing compared to Pastamore

Final Thoughts

As much as I thought I would dislike Rome just because of how busy it is, it's one of those places that are actually worth the stress of being in, kind of like New York as they are both busy, crowded and gritty. However unlike the U.S., Rome has thousands of years of history to admire and their buildings and statues really are something to be amazed by.

Aside from Uber Pop (the same as UberX or the non-black car Uber) now being banned in Italy which is a shame because taxis are overpriced everything else was actually a very good value. Even the hotels which are a bit more than other cities are still a decent value compared to overpriced cities like Paris or Amsterdam. My advice is that if you want to visit Europe, to go to the less hyped paces such as Vienna, Krakow, or Prague all of which are just as beautiful but way less crowded, not as touristy and without the stress. However, if you insist on going to somewhere everyone in the world wants to visit so you can impress your friends,  go straight to Rome as it's magnificent.

It's definitely not a place for digital nomads to live and cowork, especially since like the Spanish they value their Siesta or Riposo time more than they do growing businesses but it's a great place to visit as a tourist.

Vatican city in Rome, Italy

The Vatican during sunset. 

I don't know if I'll be making a trip out to Rome again anytime soon, but since it's an easy direct flight from Thailand, I might have it be a hub to get in and out of Europe.

For now all I have to say is Ciao Bella!

Warm Regards,

Johnny FD

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  1. I was the same about Rome, loved it much more than I expected. I went in the middle of summer because I was in Europe for a friend's wedding. Bad time to go, it was wall to wall tourists around every attraction. Stinking hot too. I did a lot of stuff early morning or at night to avoid the heat and people.

    One tip for the Colosseum. I did an after dark tour so no queuing for tickets and we got to explore all the underneath bits which were much more interesting. I think they only run in summer.

    I stayed in Pigneto which out of the centre but really cool, maybe a little too hipster, but much better value and way less touristy than the central areas. Probably not worth it for a couple of nights stay but for a week or longer, top value.

    1. Hey glad you enjoyed Rome Kathryn, good tips about going early morning or at night to avoid tourists.


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