You know that saying “All roads lead to Rome”? Well for me they all seem to leave from Rome and go different places. I’ve touched down in Rome three times now, but none of those times was a proper Roman visit. A few years back landed in Rome, spent a night and went on a road trip to Amalfi Coast, Capri and the South of Italy. Last year, landed in Rome, spent a night and went for a road trip through Tuscany. And once I had a layover of a few hours, and decided not to stay in the airport. So I’d say that put together, I spent probably about 48h all together. Even with all these rushed visits to the Eternal City, I did get a bunch of great shots and experienced some amazing places.

The Vatican City

One of my favorite spots in Rome is actually the Vatican. Piazza San Pietro and the Basilica are as amazing as they look in pictures. And even if I’m nor catholic, nor very religious, I can’t help but feel a bit more serene when I get to this square. Out of the three times I’ve been in Rome, I’ve set foot twice here. I visited the Basilica and I went to the top for that iconic shot of the square. A little word of advice… don’t visit the Basilica when the Pope is addressing the square. San Pietro fills up quickly with so many people that you literally won’t be able to get out.

Basilica San Pietro in the light of the golden hour is something truly magical.
One of the most iconic views of San Pietro square, while people are gathering to listen to the Pope’s sermon.

One thing I haven’t manage to see yet is the Vatican museum. The lines are HUGE, and well… I would rather spend 3h walking the streets than waiting in line. Also to visit the Sistine Chapel you need to get a ticket with a time slot. That’s the problem with just a night’s stay. You don’t have that many options.

Three Coins in the Fountain

My second favorite spot is Fontana di Trevi. Excluding the huge crowds and the wait to be able to take a proper shot of the actual fountain, this is one of the best and most beautiful places in Rome. You can enjoy a nice gelato or a slice of pizza on the steps while you wait for an opening on the edge of the fountain.

Of course you have to play along with the tradition and throw a coin over your shoulder. The legend goes like this: if you throw one coin over your shoulder, it guarantees you returning to Rome. A second coin toss willย apparently lead to a new romance and a third will get you walking down the aisle. I did return to Rome, twice, so can’t argue with that part of the “legend”. However there is no new romance in sight… and the only aisle I’m walking on is the plane’s aisle.

One of the most beautiful fountains in the world – Fontana di Trevi – depicting Oceanus (not Neptune) – the personification of the enormous river that encircles the world

All those coins do add up to quite a sum. Last year apparently there were about โ‚ฌ1.2 million collected from the fountain. And all that money goes to a catholic charity that helps feed the poor. So if you don’t believe in wishes coming true, at least you know you will be helping out someone in need.

Peeping hole on the hill

The third spot I actually discovered on my last trip. On the top of the Aventine Hill, in Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta you will find a doorway to a property belonging to the Priory of the the Knights of Malta. If you are lucky you will also find a small line of people waiting to peer to its keyhole. I did manage to get a perfect shot after several times staying in line. The keyhole is perfectly aligned with the garden and St. Peter’s Basilica.

But this is not the only thing to see on the Aventine Hill. The piazza in front of the gate is decorated with a lot of esoteric, Masonic and nautical motifs. The Aventine Hill was considered to be a sacred ship that will set sale towards the heavens. And a little further down the road, in the Giardino Storico di Sant’ Alessio you’ll get to experience a beautiful panoramic view of Rome.

The viewpoint from Giardino Storico di Sant’ Alessio

The bridges of Rome

Tiber is the heart of Rome. The Eternal City stretches alongside the two banks of the river, and just like stitches holding both sides together, there are a lot of bridges along its course . I didn’t find an official number, but on Google maps I counted about 28. I guess it depends where you start counting. Out of all these bridges, Ponte Sant’Angelo and Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II just stand out to me. They are amazing for taking some great shots of Castel Sant’Angelo, St. Peter Basilica and Tiber river. Besides the great views, they are exquisite works of art with angels, saints an allegoric scenes.

Castel Sant’Angelo: a mausoleum, a fortress, a prison, a papal residence and now a museum
Castel Sant’Angelo and The Bridge of Angels reflecting in the Tiber river

Ponte Sant’Angelo is also known as The Bridge of Angels. If you look more careful at the 10 angels that ornate the bridge you will see they have an interesting story to tell. Each of them is holding a symbol from the Passion of Christ: the column where he was flogged, the whips, the crown of thorns, Veronica’s veil (Volto Santo – more about it here), Christ garments and the gambling dices, the crucifixion nails, the cross, the INRI inscription, the sponge and the lance.

The Bridge of Angels leading to Castel Sant’Angelo

The Vittorio Emanuele II bridge is just like an outdoors museum adorned with colossal bronze winged Victories at each end and huge allegorical travertine marble sculptures representing Liberty, Oppression defeated, Unity of Italy, and Loyalty to the Constitution.

Basilica San Pietro and Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II as the sun sets over Rome

Food, glorious food!

And last but not least, I can’t talk about Rome and not give you a some foodie tips. Just to put things in perspective… I once planned a longer layover in Rome on purpose… just so I would have time to eat a delicious tiramisu and a pistacchio cannolo.

The best tiramisu to have in Rome is at Bar Pompi. They do have all sorts of flavors, but I recommend you go for the classic one. Nothing beats this desert. Not even gelato (ok… just kidding, Italian gelato is amazing).

For the best tiramisu in Rome, you have to go at Bar Pompi. Their tiramisu is a real Italian story (una storia italiana)

On the other hand, if you want some great gelato, go for Gelateria del Teatro. You can almost pass by it on via dei Coronari, so keep your eyes open. Of course it’s gelato artigianale and with loads of flavors to choose from. I dare you to resist it! They also have a savory side. So for a slice of great Roman pizza, head down the small alley next to the ice cream shop to Pizzeria del Teatro.

Pizza by slice? Check out Pizzeria del Teatro, just behind Gelateria del Teatro
There’s always room for gelato

Another amazing place for real Roman pizza is Pizzeria da Baffetto. It might not be the best staff or the best location in terms of views, but THAT pizza. Mhm mhm mhm… Sure it helps if you know a little Italian. English is not a strength of the staff, so they might seem a bit unfriendly. But don’t take it to heart. I got the recommendation from my AirBnB host, so an actual Roman citizen. It is truly worth it. (If you’re wondering why there is no photo here… I was famished, dived in the pizza as soon as is hit the table, completely forgot to take a photo of it.)

And to top it all, grab a cannolo at La Cannoleria Siciliana. It’s not your typical Roman desert, but oh so good. I told you I planned my layover in Rome to be longer just so I can get one – I got on a train from the airport, got a cannolo and a cappuccino, went back to the airport and continued my trip.

A cannolo worth a few hours layover in Rome

Rome wasn’t built in day, so for sure discovering its secrets will take even longer. These little flash backs of Rome just make me want to finally give it that proper visit it deserves. Give me a chance to explore its hidden parts and discover the city beyond the main tourist attractions.

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Jaunting Tips

  • Book your Vatican museum tickets ahead of time. Check the dates and available hours here
  • Get your walking shoes on and take Rome by foot. With all those calories burned you can indulge yourself in some amazing deserts, pizza and pasta.
  • Don’t let the crowds make you miss some amazing places like Fontana di Trevi or the Vatican. They are crowded for a reason. Just take your time and enjoy Rome. Nobody is chasing you.
  • Hungry or craving some delicious Italian food?ย (just click the links for the Google maps locations)