48 Hour City Break in Rome

The sun is definitely shining in Italy! This week, we head to Rome with our very own  Ali Woolliams as she takes us on a cheap weekend city break that avoids the crowds and tour groups but still manages to capture the ancient glamor of the Eternal City.

Trying to think of things to do in Rome is never a problem – in fact, every time you turn a corner, the city seems to hold a new architectural delight – a hiden fountain here, an ancient piazza there, a baroque church over there…And, the great news for budget travelers is that most of this unique history is (unlike so much of Western Europe) free to explore!

With so many things to see and do, however, the question for backpackers and visitors looking for a cheap weekend in Rome is how do you get the best from this sprawling, culture-packed city in just 48 hours?

Day One

Start with the Angels: Quite simply one of the best ways to appreciate the splendour of Rome, the top of the Castel Sant’Angelo (entry €7) offers 360 views over the city. You can see all the famous monuments peaking between the rooftops; right across the River Tiber, the panorama from the Vatican to the Pantheon and the ruins on Palatine Hill is truly one of the world’s top spectacles. The castle itself (actually the Mausoleum of Hadrian offically) is home to some interesting history and has become a popular attraction after it was mentioned in Dan Brown’s bestseller, Angels & Demons.

An express espresso: Grab a coffee to get ready for a day of drinking in the city – but take it how the Italians do; standing at the bar. You can buy an espresso for around €1 if you don’t sit down and linger, even in the heart of Rome’s tourist districts.

Via Giulia: Soaking up the atmosphere is best done on foot, and I could wander through the streets all day, happily enjoying the special buzz of tourists, clergy and well-dressed locals (mainly on scooters!). For a touch of the city’s renowned glamour and style, take a stroll along Via Giulia (near the Vatican). Originally built in the early 16th century by the Pope, this attractive street is lined with churches, antique stores and smart houses.

Dinner at Termini: Eating out in Rome can be a pricey experience – but there are still pockets of excellent, reasonably priced restaurants in the center. In the back streets around Termini Station (granted, this isn’t a glamorous area), there are any number of  family-run trattorias and cafes that serve big bowls of pasta or authentic pizzas for around €6 (and often accompanied by free bread and water), with not an over-priced menu touristico in sight!

Party at Testaccio: In the center, finding a club that isn’t packed with tourists can be a trial in Italy, as so many of the best parties have to be driven to out of the city. Your best bed for a night out in Rome is to head to the stylish Testaccio area where things heat up at midnight. With a range of clubs and music to suit everyone, it’s a great place to experience the Italian cool crowd in their natural habitat.

Crash at The Y: There are several good hostels in Rome, but some are quite a way from the sights so for a short weekend city break, The Yellow makes a great place to crash in the heart of Rome. It’s 5 minutes from Termini Station, so there’s no need worry about public transport and staying out late dancing …

Day Two

Skip the ruin crowds: To avoid expensive entrance for the Palatine Hill and experience a better-preserved and more unspoiled set of ruins, head to Via Appia Antica. Just outside the city center (a quick hop on the 118 bus from Piramide Metro), it used to be the main Roman highway from the east coast into the capital. Along the old road, you’ll find a handful of intriguing remains, including Christian catacombs and the Circus of Maxentius, of which much more can be seen than the famous Circus Maximus. Entrance costs about €2 to each sight.

Afternoon Aperitivi: Nowhere is that Italian dolce vita culture more evident than in beautiful Rome – but posing in a piazza with a cocktail can come at a price. If you’re visiting on a budget, though, you can still lap up the vibe with a bit of inside value – just look for a cafe or bar that offers free aperitivi (snacks) in the afternoon with a purchase. Try Obika (near the Pantheon in Piazza di Firenze) which offers free ‘tasting’ every day between 7 and 9 that features crostini, prosciutto and deserts for the price of a drink…

Marvel at the Pantheon: Of all the impressive sights in Rome, the Pantheon wins out on sheer unusualness. After you €8 prosecco and aperitivi at Obika, you can explore this ancient church for free. Built with an oculus in the center of the domed roof, the Pantheon lets in sunshine, rain and the occasional pigeon, and looking up at the sky from inside is captivating.

The Piramide: Another great, slightly alternative place to visit in Rome is Piramide (metro stop B) which has the added benefit of being off many tour groups’ radars. Check out the strange Pyramid of Cestius (on Via della Marmorata); built around 1st century AD, it’s true origins remain unknown. The Cimitero Acattolico also lies here (unoffically known as the Protestant Cemetry) on Via Caio Cestio, with its famous ‘residents’ including English poets Keats and Shelley.

Rent a bike… If you have the time (and the nerve amongst the hectic traffic!) to cycle around Rome, it’s one of the best ways to the see the city, as you can cover more ground than on foot but still get the benefit of all those hidden attractions and secret corners. Head to Villa Borghese to rent bikes, and enjoy a capuccino at beautiful Cafe delle Arti before you set off.

AW – do you have any must-see attractions in Rome to share or ideas for an alternative day out in the Eternal City? You can share your reviews with other budget travelers here – just get in touch below.

Images – thanks to Flickr friends sushimifume, mirkoBOT 0.9.1 and lorenzo cuppini.

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