Greetings Internet Stranger! So you want to have a perfect Rome itinerary? You’d like to include the Pantheon as well? Well, the best way to start is by screwing your positive attitude tightly into your brain. Rome is arguably the most beautiful and historically significant city in the world, but it is also one of the most crowded. During the summer, it can also be one of the hottest.
You have to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative in your mind if you intend to enjoy this Rome itinerary as much as I did. If I got too hot or felt like there were too many tourists in fanny packs around, I tried to pretend that I was a Piero della Francesca angel and I was terribly above it all.
That usually did the trick. And as long as you stay in a good mood, you’re sure to have a perfect Rome itinerary in one of the most fascinating cities in all Europe!
Where to Stay?
It’s going to be hard to find a hotel in Rome. The poor little city is just starting to get tourists. What to do? But if you’re looking for a hotel that has air conditioning, affordable rooms, an excellent location, and breakfast on the roof, I suggest the Hotel Otivm. Rather stay in a creepy underground lair that will steal all your money and give you no coffee? I can’t help you there, Internet Stranger!
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Rome is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, if you’re American or from the UK, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with American or British plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
Morning: Galleria Doria Pamphilij
I’m a big believer in starting my day with a museum, mostly because I am too tired to concentrate on most museums in the afternoon. The best art museum in the Centro Storico is the Galleria Doria Pamphilij on the Via del Corso. It houses a number of works by famous Italians such as Caravaggio and Bernini, but it is also the adopted home of works from other countries, including one of the world’s most famous paintings by Velazquez. You won’t be able to take in every work in the museum, so I’ll help you out with…
Approximately top 5: Galleria Doria Pamphilij
1)Velazquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent
Keep in mind that the Galleria is inside what used to be the palace of several different wealthy Roman families, including the Pamphilij family for whom it is named. In fact, Giovanni Pamphilij later became Pope Innocent X of Velazquez Intimidating Pope Portrait fame.
This means that the building itself is almost as interesting as the works of art housed in it. You will enter through the palatial apartments before you reach the gallery, so I urge you to explore the furnishings in great detail. You never know what you might find.
2) Oh look! A bird! Hello bird!
This is a little painting of a swan I spotted in a corner of the museum. Who put it there? Is the swan the symbol of the glorious Pamphilj family, aka the family of my future husband? I hope so! I’d really like my family to be represented by the swan because they are both beautiful and mean.
3) Caravaggio’s Rest on the Flight Into Egypt
Unfortunately the Velazquez painting was on vacation with the other pope portraits, so my favorite work in the collection was this beauty by Caravaggio. If you can’t have a frightening pope, a frightening angel will do just as well.
Why are the angel’s wings black? Can angel wings get black from hypothermia like fingernails do? Did the angel get hypothermia in Egypt because that seems really unlikely to me? These are the kinds of questions raised in my mind when I look at great art.
4) the museum itself
That’s because the museum is a palace. It belongs to an Italian royal family known as the (not joking) House of Doria-Pamphili-Landi. I do not know if this house has any sons of marriageable age, but if they do, please let it be known that I am available!
I am a very classy lady and I speak some Italian. (Mostly curse words from watching The Godfather and Goodfellas.) Pope Innocent X belonged to this noble family before he was the Pope, so that’s why his portrait is in this museum.
5) increase your bust knowledge
If you haven’t gotten enough Pope Innocent X, here is an impressively lifelike bust of him made by legendary Italian sculptor Bernini. (Spoiler: We will learn more about him in another post.) If I were Pope, which seems not likely to happen, I think I’d prefer this portrait to the Velazquez because I look a lot less like the actual Devil in this one.
6) Get lunch at Antico Forno Roscioli
I speak very bad Italian, but one of the words I learned quickly in Rome was “forno”, which means oven. It’s important to know because any restaurant with forno in the title has a good chance or serving up some delicious, fresh-baked Roman pizza.
Now, as a native New Yorker, I thought I was pretty familiar with pizza. There are several different kinds of New York slices, but I like mine with the crust thick (but not deep-dish, obvs), the sauce schmeared on, and the cheese thick and bubbly. If I’m feeling adventurous, I want some spicy pepperoni too.
But in Rome, the pizza is a much more delicate creation. The bread is very thin, almost like a flat bread, the sauce is sparingly applied, and the fresh bufala mozzarella is gently dabbed on top. Observe the beauty of a slice of pizza from Antico Forno Roscioli, an old-school bakery in the Centro Storico:
This marvelous beauty took me two seconds to order and cost 2 Euros. All I had to do was point to what I wanted and the men behind the counter chopped it up and handed it to me wrapped in brown paper. I had to eat it standing up at a back counter table, but it was worth it. Italian pizza mozzarella is so much better than the pizza mozzarella we get in the United States it’s hard to believe it is even in the same species.
Afternoon: Explore the Centro Storico!
The Centro Storico is Rome’s historic district, and in a city as historic as Rome, you can expect to find a lot here. Even though it’s super crowded with tourists, you won’t want to miss out. Let’s transform ourselves into those superior Piero della Francesca angels and find…
Approximately top 5: the centro storico
1) The Pantheon
You’ve probably heard loads about the Pantheon. But have you ever heard about it from someone as geeky about Roman history as I am? Thumbs down, says the emperor!
The Pantheon was originally constructed as a temple in honor of all the gods by General Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa during the reign of Augustus. Agrippa, who was Rome’s greatest general and also Augustus’s son-in-law, had just won the major Battle of Actium against Marc Antony, whose girlfriend Cleopatra you might have heard of.
To put this in American terms, this would have be as if General Dwight Eisenhower, after the successful completion of D-Day, had come home, married FDR’s daughter, and then decided to finance a massive church in Washington DC.
Unfortunately Agrippa’s original structure burned down and the Pantheon was rebuilt by the Emperor Hadrian, who is not as interesting as Agrippa. Mostly this is because, unlike Agrippa, he was not maybe poisoned by Augustus’s wife Livia so that her son Tiberius could marry the emperor’s daughter Julia and become emperor himself. Hadrian was, however, very good at building things. You can go check out his wall if you are ever in Northern England.
24 Hour Tip
You really have to rent an audio guide here if you want to learn about the Pantheon. There are not many signs and it’s too crowded to think and reflect without the audio guide’s dulcet tones whispering in your ear. The Pantheon was converted into a church in the 7th century, and many famous Italians are buried there, so mostly the guide will tell you about their tombs. Look! Here’s King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy!
I feel like this guy’s stock really rose a lot after Mussolini. Fascist dictators tend to have that effect on kings who came before them.
24 Hour Treasure
Everyone’s favorite part of the Pantheon is the marvelous hole in the ceiling, also known as the oculus. The light that is filtered down through the oculus has an almost magical glow, like it’s the bright light at the end of the tunnel.
According to my audio guide, there’s a clever drainage system that helps remove the water from the building when it rains. Those Romans thought of everything!
2) see the Basilica di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
This is within walking distance of the Pantheon. You will know it by the handy elephant/obelisk combo outside.
There are many colorful beauties inside the church, but my 24 Hour Treasure is this statue of Christ Bearing the Cross by Michaelangelo.
Probably the most amazing thing about Rome is that it’s the kind of city where you can say to yourself, “Ho hum, I’m bored. Think I’ll just pop into a church and look at a Michelangelo. Then maybe I’ll get some extraordinary pizza for 2 Euros. Sounds like a good day!”
3) visit the roman ghetto
The Roman Jewish community is one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe and there is still a large Jewish community in Rome today, largely because many Romans resisted Nazi efforts to capture the Jews of Rome. Approximately 85 percent of the Roman Jewish population was saved from the Nazis. You will know you are in the Jewish Ghetto by the Fontana della Tartarughe pictured above.
24 Hour Treasure
The Roman Jewish cuisine is insanely delicious and unique in its own right. Even if you can’t stop for dinner and try the Roman-style artichokes that are a specialty of the ghetto, do drop in on one of the bakeries. I stopped in a shop called Nonna Betta on Via del Portico D’Ottavia, 16 and bought some delectably flaky cookies made with what appeared to be cornflakes. They were a perfect afternoon snack.
24 Hour Tip
Do not visit the Roman Ghetto on a Saturday. Everything will be closed for the Sabbath.
4) see the Largo di Torre Argentina
Of course, these are the ruins of Roman temples that are about 2000 years old. In New York, we would close all this off and charge a lot of money to visit it. Do you know what Romans do with it? They turn it into a cat sanctuary. That’s right, if you wander around here, you’ll see loads of happy stray Roman cats just chillaxing on some ancient Roman ruins.
I bet those ruins are worth a lot more than the bed my lazy cat likes to sleep on.
24 Hour Treasure
One last thing to keep an eye out for are the manhole covers with SPQR on them. SPQR was the motto of the Roman Republic and it stands for Senātus Populusque Rōmānus. This roughly translates to “For the Senate and the People of Rome”. I think it’s so cool to see this ancient phrase still has currency in Rome today.
That’s my green toenail polished sandal, getting ready to step on some history.
5) sit in the Piazza Navona
Just as I believe the late afternoon is for wandering, I am firmly convinced that the early evening is for sitting. Of course in Rome you can always find a nice cafe or wine bar. But what is the point of doing that when you can sit for free in the Piazza Navona? It’s near the Pantheon, so it’s easy to find.
The Piazza Navona is crowded, touristy, noisy, and overwhelming. I loved it! I love every tacky bit of it from the giant fountains with sea creatures on them, to the touts dressed up as gladiators performing tricks for the amusement of tourists. It is the human circus at its very finest, and I like to come here with a book, make myself invisible, and spy on the people as they go by.
The giant building in the background is the Palazzo Pamphilij. Don’t confuse it with the Galleria we were at earlier today. You can’t go inside this one. I’m still working on convincing Mr. Prince Pamphilij to marry me so I can get my mitts on two Roman palaces.
Evening: Dinner at Casa Bleve
Of course we can’t have a proper Rome itinerary without a delicious dinner. Everything about the decor of the restaurant Casa Bleve screams special occasion. The setting is in a 16th-century palazzo complete with elegant waiters, giant ceilings held up by columns and arches, and a calm aura of elegance that gently permeates the room. It also has a certificate of excellence from TripAdvisor, if you care about that sort of thing. The staff speaks perfect English and there’s an English menu, so you don’t need to worry about that either.
24 hour treat: bufala mozzarella
I started with a salad of bufala mozzarella and fresh tomatoes. At this point, I had become obsessed with Italian mozzarella. Both the mozzarella and tomatoes were as fresh as my greedy little heart could desire.
24 hour treat: Piedmontese beef
For the main course, I selected the steak tartare made with freshly slaughtered fancy beef from Piedmont. Beef from this region has a reputation for being tender and lean at the same time, which is a hard feat to accomplish. I can attest that the claims about Piedmontese beef are true. Just look at how red the steak tartare is!
For dessert, I had an ice cream cake called spumone made with pistachio and fior de latte ice cream. It shocked me to see spumone in Italy. It used to be so popular in Italian restaurants in New York when I was a little girl that I just assumed it was some spurious American bastardization of an Italian dessert. But no, the spumone was real and it was spectacular.
Further Reading: Rome Itinerary
Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Rome right now? Let me give you some suggestions for further reading for your Rome itinerary. I like Lonely Planet’s guide to Rome if you want more tips on things to do. They divide the chapters according to neighborhoods, which is very helpful.
If you want to find some fascinating nonfiction about Rome, try reading Michelangelo: A Life in Six Masterpieces. By the time you’re done, you’ll feel like an expert on arguably the most famous artist to ever work in Rome.
If you’d rather go in for historical mystery, try the Marcus Didius Falco series, set in ancient Rome. I recommend starting with The Silver Pigs. You’ll never look at Rome the same way again after reading this book!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Rome. If you want to add a Rome itinerary with the Vatican, try this one. And if you’d like to spend a Rome itinerary at the Colosseum, go here. Finally, if you’re looking for a Rome itinerary with Borghese Park, I’ve got you covered here.