We love traveling at Medicareful Living. It can expand your perspective, keep you learning and active, and create memories that last a lifetime. However, a big journey can be daunting without help. We want to be that help, making sure you don’t miss a thing while you’re exploring this wide world we call home. Throughout this series, we’ll offer you tips on where to stay, what to see, and what to try, as well as answer some important questions. All opinions and facts in this article are through extensive research and personal experience. We have not received sponsorships or remuneration for our support or opinions.
Rome, the Eternal City. Once the centerpiece in an empire that straddled atop the Western world, it remains one of the top tourist destinations on the planet. This makes complete sense. Where else in the world could you see over 3,000 years of history in a single piazza (Italian for “plaza”). With so much to see and do, though, it could be easy to allow something big to fall through the cracks. Allow us to allay some of those fears. You’re going to miss something. You could stay in Rome for years and still find new things that take your breath away.
With that in mind, if you have a week in this ancient city, what are some things you should know? Medicareful Travel has the answers to make your time in Rome fit for an emperor.
Why Rome is a Perfect Trip for Seniors
If you’re looking for a great location to journey on in your retirement, Rome needs to be near the top of your list. History buffs will love the sightseeing and living antiquity that surrounds you as you walk the ancient cobblestones streets. Food lovers will get a new appreciation for foods they thought they knew well and pick up some new favorites. Art lovers will have access to some of the most legendary galleries and museums on the planet. Seniors looking to make a religious pilgrimage will find countless beautiful churches, including some of the most significant in Christianity, in Rome.
While these are not uniquely attractive to seniors, there are a few things that will really pique your interest. Rome is an incredibly walkable city, but there are many places to stop and rest should you get tired. If you’re not up for walking, Rome has great public transportation, from taxis and Uber to a metro and buses. The relaxed pace of the culture also allows you to enjoy your vacation at your own pace, so you don’t feel the need to be on the move all the time. Sit back and enjoy la dulce vita!
Where to Stay
Where you stay in Rome, or anywhere for that matter, can make or break your vacation. You should find a hotel or rental (like VRBO or Airbnb) where you can feel safe, secure, and comfortable (air conditioning isn’t always a given) after a long day of exploring. It should also be within your budget. Finally, it should fit your needs. Do you prefer something on the outskirts of an area, giving you a quiet retreat, or something right in the middle of the action? These are important decisions to make when choosing a location to stay at.
Favorite Areas to Stay
Now that we have those decisions out of the way, let’s talk some actual locations. If you want to be in the middle of storybook Rome, look no further than Centro Storico. While the Centro Storico officially refers to the parts of Rome that fall on the Eastern side of the Tiber River, it colloquially refers to the area between the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and Piazza Navona. While the hotels may be a bit pricier, you’ll be in the middle of some of the most recognizable spots in Rome.
If you’re looking for something a little different, a bit less touristy (though it’s not the secret it once was), Trastevere (pronounced trahs-TEH-vair-eh) is the way to go. Taken from the Latin trans Tiberim (literally across the Tiber or Tevere in Italian), Trastevere is south of Centro Storico and has long been a bohemian hideout from Central Rome. What Trastevere lacks in world famous sites it makes up for in authentic, lived-in Italian life and some of the best shopping and nightlife in Rome. For an offbeat flavor and a breath of fresh air, Trastevere is an excellent option.
An Alcove in the Middle of Ancient Rome
While the two above are some of the most popular places to stay in Rome, we’ve got a secret favorite that has an excellent mix of the both. In a tiny piazza not far north of the Jewish Ghetto and not far west of the Colosseum is Piazza Margana. Using that piazza as a center point, draw a 1,500-2,000 foot diameter circle on map.
This area, while a mix of several different districts, is within walking distance of almost all the major sites, especially ancient Rome and the Jewish section of town. Piazza Margana is a quiet cozy little nook that is close to a bus stop (perfect for seniors getting around) and literally across the street from the Capitoline Hill. The piazza feels right in the middle of everything but still feels authentically Italian.
What to See
Rome is filled with one-of-a-kind sites that can, and will, take your breath away. So many, in fact, that it can be difficult to know where to start. To help group the must-see’s together, we sorted them into three different groups.
The Glory of Rome
It would be impossible to go to Rome and not see remnants of the empire that emerged from the seven hills scattered around the city. Literally, you’re more likely to stumble upon some ruins while walking around the city than not. To experience the full grandeur of what this ancient civilization was, there are a few places you have to see. Namely, the Capitoline Museums, which as an amazing collection of artifacts from the empire; the Colosseum, where gladiators and prisoners would fight to the death before cheering crowds; and the excavated Roman Forum, where you can walk in the footsteps of Scipio Africanus, Pompey Magnus, and of course, Julius Caesar.
All closely located to each other, you can probably see all three in a single day, if you speed through. We suggest you take your time, first seeing the Capitoline Museums and its Michaelangelo-designed square before heading ruins the next day. This can help you to better picture what Rome was like in its full glory. If you want to take it a step further, attend a Viaggio Nei Fori show one night, which brings Rome to life with lights and sounds. Don’t miss out on the Pantheon and the Piazza della Rotonda, which is the piazza with over 3,000 years of history we mentioned earlier. (The Pantheon was built between 29-19 BCE and rebuilt in 126 CE, the obelisk in the piazza is from the time of Rameses II or 1279 to 1213 BCE, and there are modern and medieval buildings surrounding.)
La Dolce Vita
In Italy, they live la dolce vita (loosely “the good life,” literally “the sweet life”). While there are thousands of pizza or Italian restaurants in the United States that use this name, you don’t truly understand it until you spend some time and really absorb la dolce vita in Italy. This means relaxing, taking a stroll, and not worrying about the calories. So, while you’re in Rome, do as the Romans do. Eat later in the evening (dinner can start as late as 9PM or later) and take a passagiata, a leisurely after-dinner stroll. Fall in love with aperitivo, similar to our happy hour. The big difference is that, usually, as long as you’re enjoying a drink or glass of wine, they’ll keep bringing you small amounts of food or give you access to the aperitivo buffet. This tradition is not to be missed!
Grab a gelato and people watch at magnificent Piazza Navona before making the 12-minute walk to the Trevi Fountain. Marvel at the beauty of the fountain and get a drink from the Fountain of Lovers with your sweetheart. It’s said that when two people in love share a drink from the double-streamed fountain, they will remain in love and faithful forever. Don’t forget to throw a coin over your shoulder into the Trevi Fountain before leaving (and don’t look back!). Legend states that throwing a coin over your shoulder and not looking back will ensure a safe return to Rome is in your future! The Trevi Fountain, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Spanish Steps, perfect for people watching and resting after your long walk! Stroll down the nearby boutique streets like Via dei Condotti and Via Borgognona for some high-end shopping.
The Vatican – More Than Catholicism
A trip to Vatican City is a must for the religious and art-lovers alike. A guided tour of the city may be the best way to take it all in, but don’t write off a self-guided tour, either. Even if you’re not particularly religious or not Christian, Vatican City has something to offer. The Vatican Museum is awash in history and has one of the finest collections of art that you could get lost in for hours. The beautiful Vatican Gardens can also add a little green to the marble you’re likely growing accustomed to.
Any trip to Vatican City has to center around the world-famous Saint Peter’s Basilica and the adjoining Sistine Chapel. While you need a ticket to see the Sistine Chapel (though a guided tour is probably the easiest way to see it), it’s completely worth the €16, even if you’re not allowed to take photos. Michelangelo’s legendary paintings decorate the chapel’s ceiling. The highlight of the trip, however, is the Basilica, which is nothing short of awe-inspiring. While you’re fighting crowds to see Michelangelo’s other Roman masterpiece, the Pietà, marvel at the architecture, the history, and splendor of the center of the Catholic church.
What to Eat
Rome, and Italy in general, is one of the food capitols of the world. You’d be remiss not to try and eat everything (even the gas station food is better than some restaurants in the States). With that in mind, it’s difficult to go too wrong when you’re picking a place to eat. Instead of giving you outright suggestions (though Armando al Pantheon, Piperno, L’Orso 80, and Edoardro II are worth a shout-out), we’ll share how to find the good places and avoid the bad ones.
When scoping out a restaurant, look for signs that it’s authentic. If a restaurant has a chalkboard as a menu in all Italian, give it a try. This usually means the dishes are made fresh daily, based on what they got from the market that day. Even if there’s a regular printed menu, look for a few traditional Roman dishes, like carbonara, cacio e pepe, or trippa alla Romana (the sign you’re in an authentically Roman restaurant). If you’re near the Jewish Ghetto, get some authentic Carciofi all Guidia. You can thank us later.
On the flipside, it’s pretty easy to spot a tourist restaurant. If the menu is only in English and has pictures of the dish, avoid it. That’s a clear sign it’s an overpriced tourist menu. Also, if you see a menu with dishes like spaghetti and meatballs or Alfredo sauce, you’ve got another tourist menu. None of these dishes are super authentic Italian, since pasta and meat are two separate courses and many Italians don’t have a high opinion of Alfredo sauce. Finally, if there’s someone outside the restaurant trying to entice you inside, especially around tourist sites, back away. In Italy, the food speaks for itself, it doesn’t need someone grabbing your attention. If you ever need help, you can always ask the concierge desk at your hotel for suggestions. Locals tend to know the best places for authentic Italian meals.
Even though there are so many things to do in Rome, you may want to get out and see the rest of Italy. Just imagine, if there’s a lot in Rome, imagine how much there is spread out throughout the rest of the country! Using Rome as a basecamp, you can easily visit some incredible locations for a day trip or a multi-day visit. Luckily, there are many day trips from Rome for you to choose from!
The center of the Renaissance, Florence is a can’t-miss jewel in the crown of Tuscany. Only an hour and a half train ride from Rome, Florence is easily accessible for a day trip, though you may want more time to see everything.
If you get there early enough in the day, we highly suggest you take the Florence for Foodies tour. Your guide, Nat, takes you through L’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the David, before setting off to try the best food that Florence has to offer. Art lovers won’t want to miss the Uffizi, while the Duomo (the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore) and the nearby Piazza della Signoria are iconic attractions.
Naples & Pompeii
Another train ride day trip from Rome is Naples, birthplace of the modern pizza. Naples is also home to the National Archaeological Museum, which houses many of the original artifacts found in Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum. You can also check out the Naples Underground, which features ancient Roman and Greek ruins. Naples isn’t just a city of the dead, though, and there’s a lot to see and eat that can be found simply by wandering!
Less than a half hour away is one of the most famous sets of ruins in the world, Pompeii. Destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE, the around 20 feet of ashes and debris covered the ruins, preserving them until they were discovered hundreds of years later. Excavations continue to this day, with much of the city still hidden. When visiting, make sure you go with a tour guide. On your own, there’s almost an overwhelming amount to see. It’s difficult to get closer to how ancient people lived than these incredible ruins, though.
You don’t have to be fluent, but Italians (and locals of most countries) really appreciate the effort. To help you get started, here are a few key phrases that you can use while visiting Italy. We do suggest you learn a little more of the language, since it can be really helpful, but this should be enough to show you’ve made an effort at least.
|The Italian||Pronunciation||The English|
|Per favore||pair fa-vor-ay||Please|
|Parla inglese?||Par-lah in-glay-say||Do you speak English?|
|Dove il bagno?||Doh-vay eel banyo||Where is the bathroom?|
|Dove il Pantheon?||Doh-vay eel Pan-thee-on||Where is the Pantheon?|
|Posso avere il conto, per favore?||Poh-soh ah-vair-ay eel con-toh, pair fa-vor-ay||May I have the check please?|