On my first visit to Rome when I was backpacking through Italy, I threw a coin over my shoulder into the clear waters of the Trevi fountain, wishing to return again one day. Eleven years later that coin redeemed itself when I stood jostling for a good vantage point by the elegant fountain once again. From the lovely baroque facade leapt fantasy sea horses and mythic figures. Water cascaded over rocky steps, fed by a 2000-year-old Virgo aqueduct, which stretches to the ancient city from the Salone Springs over 19 kilometers away.
You can’t help but love Rome. Just the name itself, as it rolls off the tongues of the locals—Rrroowma—inspires a vision of delightful surprises and unforgettable adventures. When I recently returned to the Eternal City on Country Walkers Rome Select Experience, I was able to enjoy these pleasures first hand. And though there were enough high points during my three-day stay to fill a museum, a few stood out for me as particularly can’t-miss. Here are a few of my favorite highlights in Rome.
1. Try the Gelato. Gelato, in my opinion, should be its own food group. And the Italians are the undisputed masters. On just about every street corner in the center of Rome you will find glorious, sculpted mounds of this frozen treat piled high beneath large, striped canvas awnings. One gelato store I particularly loved was Giolitti. Located down a cobbled street near the Pantheon and Italian Parliament, it is definitely worth marking on your map and visiting (twice, at least). I was led to this gem by my walking tour guide Ester, who explained that it was opened in 1980 as a milk distributor and, over the years, developed into an ice-cream store. Today they create both creamy and sorbet delights along with tasty and pretty pastries. The store retains many of its original features of a bygone era, such as the detailed wood finishes and marble floors, and you can sit and enjoy your treat under chandeliers or out on the street side tables for some people watching.
2. Take a Scooter Tour. Rome’s main attractions are closely clustered together, and that makes the city great for walking. However, for those who want to go further, a chauffeured Vespa tour is a unique and exciting way to venture beyond the city’s well-traveled highlights and see a bit more of the real heart of Rome. Minutes after meeting my guide we were zipping down narrow back streets, overlooked by small, geranium lined balconies. Michele proved to be a knowledgeable and personable guide and chatted amicably as he showed me around the city he grew up in. One advantage of the Vespa tour is that you can cover a lot of distance in four hours. We followed the old city walls to the Gateway of Rome to discover ancient ruins further out of the city. I saw stunning views of the city from several of the seven hills that Rome was built on, cruised through cute piazzas, visited the Parthenon and even had time to grab a coffee and some pizza from places only the locals like Michale know about.
3. Soak Up the Café Scene. One of the best things to do in Rome is to not do anything at all. The city’s café culture is legendary—an intoxicating blend of caffeine, pastries, rattan furniture, and people watching. If you are looking for a bit of all of the above—in an establishment that boasts famous past customers like Keats, Wagner, Casanova, and Hans Christian Andersen—then I’d personally recommend Caffé Creco. Possibly the most well-known and oldest bar in Rome, the café still attracts writers, politicians, and artists of all stripes…as well as a few Japanese tourists. Simply put, this place is posh. I loved sitting on the lush red velvet chairs at marble top tables surrounded by statues, busts, and bookcases. Ornately framed pictures of the past hang off richly decorated walls—a reminder of the celebs who once graced the café, maybe at the same table you’re sitting at.
4. Take In Some of History’s Greatest Landmarks. With all this time spent people watching, Vespa riding, and gelato eating, it’s important to remember to actually see the sites while in Rome. Everyone has their own must-see landmark in this fabulous city from the Vatican to the Forum to the Pantheon but for me, my favourite is the Colosseum. Fortunately, Country Walkers Select Experience left me with time to do my own thing, so I could spend an afternoon touring this icon of ancient Rome. Images of fierce gladiators, wild beasts, thundering chariots, and roaring crowds came to mind when I laid eyes on the towering repetition of archways rising up above me. Inside, the scope is staggering. I was struck by the terraces of seats sloping down to the skeletal labyrinth below where the floor would have been—evidence of the hidden passageways and trap doors that once helped create the “magic” of one of the world’s grandest and bloodiest spectacles. I enjoyed following along with an audio guide to help reveal the building’s secrets but would absolutely recommend you take some time on your own to inhale the emotion and history that this place exudes.