So you planned a city trip to Rome? They say a lifetime isn’t enough to see all of the Eternal City. What are the absolute must-sees and how do you prevent from getting stuck in tourist crowds all weekend without seeing the ‘real Rome’? Let us guide you with this itinerary of things to do in Rome in 3 days.
Rome is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, filled with ancient ruins, remains from the Roman empire, the most important churches in the world – and of course the best pizza and most delicious pasta you’ll ever eat! Obviously, a weekend is not enough to see it all. So our advice? Don’t try, because the best thing to do in The Eternal City is to get lost in its narrow alleys and beautiful piazzas without a plan.
Make your pick of sights that you absolutely want to see and be flexible about the rest. Rome is so much more than the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, and the Vatican Museums. It’s also filled with undiscovered neighborhoods that boast the coolest street art and the yummiest food, smaller museums that will surprise you and lush parks that offer all kinds of cool activities.
Day 1: Ancient Rome
Of course, you want to dedicate one of your 3 days in Rome to the remnants of the Roman Empire. Start your city walk at the Colosseum, probably Rome’s most-visited tourist site, along with the Fori Imperiali and Circo Massimo located next to it.
If you’re really into Roman history and gladiators, you can buy a ticket to see the Colosseum on the inside (buy them beforehand on the website to avoid the line). Otherwise, you can also walk around it and save your time to see something else. There’s not that much more to see once you are inside, unless you take a guided tour that will actually give you some context information.
The same goes for the Fori Imperiali: walking around the grounds, you can actually see a lot of the ruins already without buying a ticket. If you do want to go inside (which you will definitely need at least a few hours for), booking a guided tour will give you a much better understanding of what you’re looking at.
Most people walk from Piazza Venezia, along the Via dei Fori Imperiali, up to the Colosseum and then around the Fori Imperiali. But if you arrive from the side of Circo Massimo, follow Via di S. Teodoro and then take Via Monte Tarpeo up the Palatine hill. You’ll have a beautiful view from higher up over the ruins and Colosseum.
Also, don’t forget to visit the Ghetto Ebraico, one of the oldest Jewish ghettos in the world and home to a beautiful synagogue, kosher bakeries and typical Jewish-Roman trattorias. Have lunch at one of the many restaurants in Via del Portico d’Ottavia. The typical specialty here is carciofi alla giudia, delicious fried artichokes.
Cross the street, take the Ponte Fabricio and visit the Isola Tiberina – the only island on the Tiber river. The tiny island houses a hospital, bar and a restaurant. If you take Ponte Cestio on the other side to cross the river again, you’ll get to Trastevere, one of Rome’s most characteristic and coziest neighborhoods. Take some time to get lost in its tiny streets and discover the many beautiful piazzas and finish the day with a spritz on the terrace.
Day 2: Must-see sights
Don’t want to go home without having checked off all those amazing sights on your list? In one morning or afternoon, you can see Piazza del Popolo, Villa Borghese, the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. The total walking distance is 3 km, but if you regularly stop along the way you might take up to 2.5 hours to see it all, so you’ll have time for other things the rest of your 3 days in Rome.
Starting at Piazza del Popolo with its impressive obelisk, you can take Via del Corso (one of the main shopping streets and also one of Rome’s busier pedestrian roads) and follow it for about 10 minutes until you reach the Spanish Steps, but with a small detour, you’ll have a beautiful view over the city center. Take the stairs up to Il Pincio, the panoramic platform of Villa Borghese, one of Rome’s most beautiful parks. Keep following Viale della Trinità dei Monti until you get to the top of the Spanish Steps. Descend the stairs and marvel at one of the most beautiful piazzas of Rome, with its Fontana della Barcaccia (literally: the fountain of the ugly boat).
From here, it’s only a five-minute walk to the Trevi Fountain, but be prepared for some crowds. Trevi is always surrounded by an impressive amount of tourists unless you come very early in the morning or late at night. Don’t forget to throw a coin into the fountain – the legend says it means you’ll come back someday.
Next stop? The Pantheon, one of the best-preserved Roman buildings in the world and a very impressive piece of architecture, as it has a central opening (oculus) in its dome, the biggest unsupported dome in the world. Entrance is free and there might be a line but you’re usually inside within twenty minutes.
Before continuing your walk, don’t forget to have a coffee at Sant’Eustachio, who is said to have the best coffee in Rome. Order at the register (gran caffè is the specialty they are so famous for) and drink your coffee standing up at the bar (if you sit down on the terrace and wait to be served, you’ll pay almost double the price). Getting hungry? Be sure to pass by Antico Forno Roscioli before or after you visit the beautiful Piazza Navona with its impressive fountains, take a few pieces of pizza and eat them on the go – just like the Romans do.
If you’re interested in seeing the Vatican Museums keep at least an entire morning or afternoon free in your 3 days in Rome itinerary: the museums and its gardens are so big you could easily spend a whole day there. Be sure to order your tickets online beforehand if you don’t want to stand in line for up to two hours. On the official website of the Vatican Museums, you pay €17 per person for an entrance ticket and €4 extra for the online reservation fee. If you want to see Saint Peter’s Basilica from the inside too, try to go right before closing time: lines tend to get shorter at the end of the day. Don’t fall for “guides” trying to offer you “skip the line”-tickets: visiting the church is for free.
Day 3: Beyond the tourist crowds
Crossed all the must-sees off your list? You’ll have the last day for exploring the less well-known side of Rome. A good place to start is Testaccio, a former working-class neighborhood south of the city center. Start at Tram Depot, a very cute open-air bar where you can stop for a coffee or refreshment. Keep walking straight along Via Galvani until you reach the Jumping Wolf mural by street artist ROA. Just a bit further down the same street, you’ll find Mercato Testaccio, a collection of small street food vendors with the yummiest snacks and sandwiches – a great place to stop for lunch!
Be sure to pass by The Non-Catholic Cemetery of Rome, right next to the pyramid. Yes, Testaccio has a pyramid! It was built by Gaius Cestius, a Roman praetor who was so fascinated by the Egyptian culture. He wanted to be buried like a pharaoh after his death in 12 b.c. Besides being a beautiful, tranquil place where you can pay your respect to the graves of John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, there’s a cat sanctuary attached to it, so while strolling through the cemetery you’ll likely walk into some feline friends.
Another great neighborhood to discover if you love street art, cheap food, and some undiscovered cultural highlights, is Ostiense, south of Testaccio. Just follow the Via delle Conce from the pyramid until you get to Porto Fluviale, a great restaurant in Ostiense surrounded by amazing street art. Be sure to check out the big pelican on the corner of Via del Porto Fluviale and Via delle Conce: it’s made with a type of paint that filters car emissions from the air.
If you’re up for visiting a museum, be sure to go to Centrale Montemartini. This former electricity plant combines old machines and an industrial back-drop with ancient Roman statues, a combination that works surprisingly well. For some reason, the museum usually doesn’t attract many visitors, making it perfect for a relaxed afternoon.
Was Saint Peter too busy to visit but you don’t want to miss out on the experience? Visit the Basilica di San Paolo fuori le mura in Ostiense. This immense church was actually built before Saint Peter and is equally impressive, minus the big tourist crowds. The colorful fresco on the façade, the never-ending line of columns inside the church and the beautifully decorated courtyard of the monastery: everything is equally astonishing.
Still have time and energy left for an aperitivo, dinner and some nightlife? Be sure to take the metro or a taxi to the east side of Rome to the neighborhood of Pigneto. This up and coming area boasts lots of street art, cool bars, cheap osteria’s, vintage boutiques, vegan restaurants and a vibrant nightlife.
Have dinner at Necci, a cozy restaurant with a lush garden, and check out the hidden cocktail bar Spirito next-door. Enter burger restaurant Premiata Panineria, pick up the old telephone in the corner and wait for the secret door to open. Inside, you’ll find a great pick of liquors, wines and beers: the perfect place to finish your day.
A perfect way to fill your evenings after your sightseeing is to take an evening food tour! Check out all of Eating Europe’s award-winning food tours here.
NB: I was asked to attend but all views and opinions are my own. I love a festival, well one where I am with my friends drinking cider in a field and dancing to my favourite tunes into the night. Though I have always vowed that I want to introduce my children to Glastonbury one year, I hadn’t really considered the reality of festivals with children until we decided to take the plunge and go to the Great Wonderfest. Hosted by Dick and Dom, it was not going to be my Glasto replacement but with Jaguar Skills on the line up, I thought it was worth a go. This was the first year of Great Wonderfest, located at Duxmore Farm on the Isle of Wight it isn’t the most accessible location to a lot of people but with family on the island, we knew we had back up or an escape route if the weather wasn’t kind. We arrived at lunchtime on Friday, though some festival goers had arrived on Monday as the site was open to camping for a whole 7 days, should you wish to make the most of it. I had visions of a huge site, crazy […]
I love a good pizza. And this is certainly my go-to spot for one. From the outside, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in the wrong place, in an industrial estate in Tottenham.
And it certainly doesn’t look like a restaurant. A discrete sign outside a closed door just about gives it away, though you have to ring a bell to get in. Once inside, the smells lead you upstairs to the first floor where the restaurant reveals itself with a large, tiled pizza oven.
Trust me when I say the effort to find this place is worth it. The pizzas are Neapolitan-style and cooked to perfection, and come with a selection with both traditional and more experimental toppings made with good quality Italian ingredients. My favourites are the N’duja (spicy soft sausage) or Burrata (topped with creamy cheese and rocket). The desserts, such as the Cannoli, also come highly recommended.
Planning a Trip to Scotland, with Over-Tourism in mind
The summer season has passed and the relative calm of September has taken hold. An extra layer has appeared and the leaves are transitioning towards our most photogenic season. It also means it’s reflection time. Time to give the industry a health check and reflect on the big issues. I’ve been closely observing with interest the bubbling tension surrounding over-tourism here in recent months. I’d go so far as to say it’s currently the most divisive issue in the industry. That bad. Time, then, to get my hands dirty.
Debates have this summer been raging across the globe as some of the world’s most precious attractions are being, at best, diminished in impact by tourist hordes and, at worst, irreparably damaged. I was even on Al Jazeera last month contributing on the Scottish perspective on what is very much a worldwide issue. We are not, in Scotland, dealing with the uncontrollable demand for a Machu Picchu or a Venice. But what we do have are delicate and isolated rural communities and natural wonders that have faced an unprecedented strain in recent years.
Scotland is a fundamentally welcoming place. We take pride in that, it’s who we are. Most of us Scots will be blissfully unaware that over-tourism is even an issue, it’s not on the radar. But there are ever-growing groups at either end of a spectrum that are having increasingly heated discussions on and offline on the subject. I have spent a lot of time listening to both sides in the hope of finding constructive solutions that result in actual progress.
At its worst, here’s what we’re dealing with in the Scottish space:
In one camp you have those that are hyper-aware of over-tourism, particularly those living in the most affected areas. They are furious at the inaction of well, everyone, for the state of some of the most over-run attractions and locations. Actual workable solutions from them seem to be thin on the ground but the overall sentiment seems to be to completely stop promoting Scotland so that they can continue to have it to themselves. I do receive emails along those lines. Their anger has grown into, more or less, an opposition to tourism.
But there is an equally unconstructive group at the other end. Travellers, tourists, holidaymakers whatever you want to call them who give not a half-hearted toss about over-tourism and can’t fathom why on earth anything (literally anything) should get in the way of them having a good time. Environmental considerations, social repercussions, impact on landscapes, wildlife……I’m on my holidays why should I care?
These are just the extremes, mind. But they make things difficult, and frustrating. This is not though, I’m afraid, a topic that can keep getting ignored, just to be re-visited with renewed outrage every July. There needs to be acceptance that tourism is one of the pillars of this economy and a mass employer, just as there needs to be awareness that everything we do as human beings impacts on others, and on the destinations that we love to enjoy. Quite bluntly, the rural places in Scotland we know and love may soon become unrecognisable. Local authorities and tourism bodies must commit their support, just as individuals such as myself must make a conscious effort to push sustainable initiatives through considered marketing practices wherever we can.
A Sustainable Travel Itinerary for Scotland
So, on with it. Here’s my crack at actually dealing with this in a balanced and constructive way. I’ve already identified (please read) some of the key things to consider when it comes to keeping tourism sustainable….how might that look when planning a trip to Scotland though? And how can it shape exactly how an alternative Scotland adventure might look?
The digital world has become flooded with unadventurous and lazy itinerary guides for my homeland. Lots of fluff, little substance. The usual suspects make repeat appearances and, although I’ve always tried very hard to distribute the love nationwide, I’ve even been guilty of fuelling this fire myself.
I had to down half a bottle of the good stuff just to find the courage to click ‘publish’ for this 10-day itinerary. It gives me the heebie jeebies knowing it’s out there with my name on it. It’s that kinda patter that has made me very much part of the problem. I’ll just have to live with it, and provide this counter-balance. I created it because it’s the kind of content that people are searching for and I have to balance demand with creative freedom in this line of work. I can’t constantly write freely about subjects close to my heart, but nor do I intend to become a marketing mercenary, beholden to instructions from social media and Mr Google.
Now that we’re in a relatively guilt-free window of travel and peak over-tourism won’t return until next summer, I provide the below. An alternative itinerary that focuses on areas that have, for whatever reason, never been permitted the same levels of hype as Skye, Loch Ness and the North Coast 500s. They have the ingredients, but have always lived in the shadows. Here is a chance to take advantage of their under-promoted status, while still ticking off some absolute powerhouses and doing your bit to spread the love nationwide. Let summer 2020 be their moment.
Planning Your Scotland Trip
My home city should need no further hype from me. Culture, nightlife and architecture get the biggest thumbs up but it’s the people that set it apart. Find yourself a whisky bar like Oran Mor, The Pot Still or the Ubiquitous Chip and ease yourself warmly into what Scotland does best.
Glasgow’s international airport is a 15-20-minute drive from the city and the train stations of Queen Street and Glasgow Central are in the heart of the action. If you must (and I say this with tongue firmly in cheek) you can still easily visit the much busier Edinburgh as part of a day trip, on public transport of course. There are several trains per hour departing from Queen Street Station (avoid commuter travel times).
The Cowal Peninsula
Departing Glasgow on the road-well-travelled you will pass Loch Lomond (avoid Luss if you’re looking for solitude but consider somewhere like the jaw-dropping Dumbarton Rock en-route instead) and will soon enter Southern Argyll. Your objective is not, though, the Glen Coe/Fort William/Oban roads. No, you’re heading south into this adrift peninsula that is home to botanic gardens, sleepy villages, snaking lochs and deep silence. Seek out the eerie Argyll Mausoleum in Kilmun for the best atmosphere of all.
Catch the very short ferry from Colintraive to Rhubodach on Bute to end the day.
The Isle of Bute
Our west coast islands are rightly on the itineraries of most visitors, with Skye the default option generally followed by Harris/Lewis, Mull and Arran. Hard to argue. But there are dozens of others that can deliver what these favourites are now struggling with in peak season, that sense of total remoteness. Raw solitude.
Which leads me to little Bute. A once-popular Victorian seaside resort it’s now very much in the tourism shadow of neighbouring Arran. Pristine sandy beaches and lonely inland wanders await and you’ll find island road rage at a minimum.
You can stay a second night on Bute but tomorrow covers big distances so best to catch an evening ferry back (Rothesay to Wemyss Bay) to the mainland.
Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway
The south of Scotland is the first place folk think of when it comes to poor tourism distribution. Been that way since as long as I’ve been working in this space, and long before that. For some reason, nobody thinks south. I like to hope my projects and campaigns down below over the years have raised the odd eyebrow and triggered a nosey or two onto Google Maps, but I’m forever aware that more work is needed.
So, begin day 4 by heading south through Ayrshire and into peaceful D&G. Stop at magnificent Culzean Castle and Country Park if the weather is behaving (sinister Dunure Castle if it’s not) before heading to Galloway Forest Park. A 2-3 hour walk along the Glen Trool trail was made for nature seekers and is suited to almost all ability levels. Great spot for a picnic lunch too.
Spend the rest of the afternoon working your way south then east. Cardoness Castle is an obvious stop, while a sunset stroll out to Threave Castle will continue the serenity vibe. There’s a great base at Laggan Outdoors (they have a gigantic zip line for the adventurous) with superb coastal views south.
Dumfries and Galloway and The Scottish Borders
Beat the crowds (for D&G that is) by getting to Caerlaverock Castle early doors, arguably the best castle we’ve got. Visually spectacular and with a ferocious history, it’s in my top three every time.
Heading north, another beauty for the outdoors-folk is Grey Mare’s Tail near Moffat, just at D&G’s ‘border’ with the Scottish Borders. You can grab lunch in Moffat before the ascent, although the waterfall is magnificent from the car park area too if you’re not inclined to hike.
End the day in or around Melrose and be sure to get to the Abbey before closing. Photography fans will enjoy the Leaderfoot Viaduct while walkers can take on the straightforward Eildon Hills that overlook the town.
The Borders and East Lothian
Get to the fabulous Abbotsford for opening, the home of the legendary Sir Walter Scott. Truly one of the best museums in Scotland, this is a beautiful tribute to a man that shaped Scotland in more ways than any individual possibly could today.
Then it’s on to the coast and the spectacular Tantallon Castle. Poke about the ruins for half an hour then head down to Seacliff Beach beneath for, I think, the most dramatic viewpoint in the country outside the Highlands.
Spend the rest of the afternoon in North Berwick, grabbing a lobster supper and an ice cream. Depending on your arrival time, take a boat trip with the outstanding Seabird Centre to the outlying Bass Rock (2 hours duration) or Isle of May (4 hours) to see the riot of seabirds that frequent this strip of the east coast every summer.
For more alternative ideas from the Scottish Borders click here, and for more of East Lothian it’s here.
Dundee and Angus
Bypassing Edinburgh completely (cue horror-stricken emoji) work your way through Fife (Dunfermline Abbey is a great stop off) and arrive in the City of Discovery. Take your pick from numerous cultural attractions – the new V&A, Discovery Point and Verdant Works will not let you down.
It’s down to personal taste at this point. Culture vultures stay where you are and enjoy Dundee, ancient history connoisseurs poke around the Pictish stones at Aberlemno near Forfar or the politically significant ruins of Arbroath Abbey and, for something in between, there’s the regal Glamis Castle.
You’ll complete the full set of my personal top three Scottish castles with a visit to ludicrous Dunnottar on the Aberdeenshire coast. How it has hung on to its precarious perch all these centuries defies belief. If your jaw doesn’t hit the floor, seek help. You’re not well.
You can keep heading north into the Fraserburgh area I recently explored, home of immaculate fishing villages and proud lighthouse legacies. Or head inland to Aberdeenshire’s plethora of castles, taking your pick from Craigievar, Fyvie, Fraser, Huntly, Drum and Crathes.
End your day in the Granite City of Aberdeen by jumping on an evening ferry to Orkney. The crossing takes around 6 hours, arriving very late into Kirkwall.
Ease yourself into a first day on Mainland Orkney with a relaxed introduction to beautiful Kirkwall and historic options including Scara Brae, Maeshowe, the Ring of Brodgar, the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Tomb of the Eagles, Highland Park Distillery and the Italian Chapel. You’ll need a car to get about so either bring one with you from Aberdeen on the ferry (if ferrying/driving back) or hire one in Kirkwall (if flying back).
You can continue to work your way around the above Mainland attractions or jump another ferry to one of the other Orkney islands. Here’s some of those day trip options for you.
Begin return to Glasgow
If restricted to 10 days, you’ll need to fly back to Glasgow from Orkney at this point. With my environmentally friendly hat on I don’t particularly wish to condone short internal flights if I can help it. Ideally you’ll have at least an extra couple of days to play with on this trip. In the latter case, take a shorter ferry from Stromness to Scrabster and work your way by road through Caithness and south.
Planning your Scotland trip – Notes
The above itinerary is for those that hate crowds. Those looking to experience a place in a way that is likely to be completely unique. Those that cringe when they see tourists pile off of buses and take the exact same picture of Glen Coe or Loch Ness. And it’s for those that are particularly conscious about the effects of over-tourism.
I stress again, Scotland as a whole does not suffer from over-tourism. It’s particular regions during July and August that feel the strain. Travel here outwith those times (although parts of Skye, and Edinburgh, are busy year-round) and you’ll likely be absolutely fine. But, if you are required to come in peak season and don’t fancy endless queues, accommodation shortages, severe traffic disruptions and an overall feeling of claustrophobia, the above has been created to help with your Scotland trip planning.
This itinerary is packed, which is deliberate in order to allow plenty of options. It’s merely an outline and I’m not suggesting you do everything within, not at all. It’s diverse, also deliberate, in order to appeal to the various kinds of interests that typically bring people to Scotland. And, it will leave you wanting more.
Although not vegan myself, I was invited to the 100% vegan and not-for-profit Cafe Van Gogh in Southeast London’s Brixton by a friend (a meat eater, I might add!) to sample the weekend brunch on a sunny Saturday.
Located within the pretty grounds of Christ Church, Cafe Van Gogh is cute and quirky; charming brick walls are adorned with colourful works of art and chalkboards.
Sitting out in the charming courtyard area, I tucked into the most scrumptious vegan food I had sampled. The tasty scrambled tofu ‘eggs’ on toast and the spicy jerk plantain were definite highlights – I wholeheartedly recommend! My friend’s butternut squash mac n ‘cheese’ served with crispy onions and jalapenos also looked extremely appealing.
In the colder months, the cosy upper floor area may be a more welcome choice of seating. The ceiling, painted with swirls of cobalt blue and dotted with stars and planets, will make you feel as though you are part of one of Van Gogh’s famous paintings.