Unique Souvenirs in Rome

Prior to going on any trip, I search out videos to watch about the place we plan to visit. YouTube is my go-to place but I happened to view “Bobby and Giada in Italy” on the Food Network to prepare for our trip to Rome. On one of the episodes, Giada visits an artist right around the corner from her mother’s apartment in Rome to find a gift for Bobby. This cool shop, La Bottega del Marmoraro, is her favorite place to go (and now mine!) to get personalized gifts from Sandro Fiorentina, a marble craftsman and true Italian artisan.

For a truly unique souvenir, I highly recommend you take a stroll to 53 Via Margutta and order a handmade one-of-a-kind marble plaque to bring home for yourself and others. Entering this artisan’s workshop filled with treasures is an experience you won’t forget. Be prepared with your order on a piece of paper in Italian-any translator app will do this for you. Sandro doesn’t speak very much English, so I researched in advance what I wanted on my customized marble signs: “sisters” in Italian for my sisters who visited Italy with me on a Girls Trip the prior year and “Goditi il Viaggio” aka “Enjoy the Journey” for myself because that is the motto I strive to live by.

Using some hand gestures to indicate the size of the sign I wanted, we settled on a date I would come back to get the finished products. Order your treasures early in your Rome stay to allow time for them to be custom made. My order took two days to complete but perhaps Sandro won’t be so busy when you visit, and it will take less time. The price was very reasonable for such a unique gift. If you don’t have time for a custom order, Sandro does have a vast assortment of signs already made with common sayings that you can purchase. So, get your translator app out and find a souvenir with a saying on it that speaks to you to take home immediately.

As with any trip, always leave room in your luggage for souvenirs to take home! I tried shipping wine/olive oil home from Italy on a previous trip, and it took months and there was damage enroute so I wouldn’t recommend that approach. My favorite souvenir for myself, besides Sandro’s sign, is jewelry (from local artisans if possible). It’s lightweight and easy to pack. I got an amazing necklace for $25euros at a little boutique by our hotel in Rome. Don’t be afraid to get off the tourist trail and seek out hidden gems. You won’t regret it. Enjoy the journey!

Piazza Navona and Pantheon, Rome

The key to seeing all the incredible sights in Rome is to carefully craft your itinerary to visit sights that are near each other. Not that I don’t love walking 20,000 steps a day but that takes time and when you only have a few days in one of the most amazing cities in the world, you have to be strategic.

We walked from our hotel to the Piazza Navona, a “must see” site in Rome that is a Baroque period square that played a starring role in the Angels & Demons movie (2000). Of course, we had to watch this movie again just before visiting in order to refresh our memories. The square was fairly quiet when we visited in the morning-no attempted murders happening like in the movie. Bernini’s Fountain of Rivers created in the 1600’s is the centerpiece of this site and rightly so-it’s beautiful. We walked around enjoying the details from every angle, as did several nuns who were out and about early like us. While you are there, also check out the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone in Piazza Navona. We tend to walk into any church that will let us. They are all beautiful.

Walk from one side of the Piazza to the other and keep on walking for about 5 minutes to the Pantheon. Another free historical site that shouldn’t be missed. You may have to queue up (we waited maybe 15 minutes) to get in and there is the usual church dress code to maintain (no bare shoulders). I had forgotten and had worn a sleeveless shirt over a tank, so I improvised and took off the outer shirt and wrapped it around my shoulders-it worked! The Pantheon is a Catholic church and mass is celebrated on Sundays and holy days of obligations. I imagine attending a service would be a great memory, as would getting a guided tour with a guide who can share all the history.

Entering the Pantheon, you should immediately look up. The rotunda with the massive, coffered concrete dome ceiling with a central opening aka oculus to the sky is the showpiece.  Amazing architecture and engineering built how many years ago?? Fun fact from wikipedia: Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.

After the Pantheon, we wandered around and stumbled upon yet another fabulous church nearby that was open for exploring. Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva is stunning (see photos below). Definitely worth a stop in to see and appreciate the gorgeous ceilings.

Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill-Rome

Millions visit every year to marvel at the Colosseum in Rome. While I’m glad we saw it up close and personal on our visit, I’m not going to lie-while I appreciated the amazing architecture, hearing the history of the brutality to humans and animals in this place was both interesting and disturbing.

First, just the tip of the iceberg of historical facts: the Colosseum is the largest ancient amphitheater ever built and is still the largest standing building of its kind in the world. Wow! If you travel across Europe, you will see LOTS of amphitheaters but none of this magnitude. Construction began under the Roman emperor Vespasian between 70 and 72 CE and, while its still standing, renovations are constant and expensive. There was lots of scaffolding up when we were there, and our guide told us that this is the usual state with ongoing work being done.

Just like the Vatican, we felt that a guided tour was in order so that we could absorb the history, as harsh as it is, while gazing upon the ruins. Skipping the lines in front of the hordes waiting to get in and entering through the VIP entrance through the back door of the Colosseum was a tour perk too. Cool experience, great picture taking and well worth the money!

Our guide not only shared historical facts but really brought it to life with lots of great stories. Like all the ancient structures, thousands of slaves built it and who knows how many died doing it. Not surprisingly, the seating was tiered based on who/what you were-the best seats reserved for the male Roman politicians, next the wealthy Roman men and, in the cheap seats up top were women/slaves/poor folks. Animals fared no better than the slaves who built it-they were imported, fought and were killed whether they won or not. All type of animals were imported-tigers, elephants, etc.

Our tickets included not only the guided tour of the Colosseum but also entry to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. However, we were worn out after tramping all over the Colosseum, so we didn’t really have the energy to do these sights justice. If I had to do it over again, I would have planned all day for this experience and brought more snacks/water to rest in between seeing everything. The Roman Forum is an open-air museum that is on the same site as Palatine Hill and the Colosseum, though they have separate entrances. Palatine Hill sits above the Roman Forum and is believed to be the birthplace of Rome. The Palatine Museum features treasures from this huge excavation site. So much to see!


If you don’t want to take a tour, you can go on the official website Visiting the Colosseum – The Colosseum and get single entry tickets in advance. Colosseum tickets typically include an entry to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill and these sites can be seen in any order you choose.

You DO NOT want to just show up and try to get tickets on site to get in the day of your visit. The Italian government restricts the number of visitors every day, so they sell out well in advance. While you can usually book your tickets at least a month in advance online, during non-peak seasons the demand for Colosseum admission tickets is less and you can book much further in advance. I would recommend reviewing all your options (guided tour vs. self-guided), price out the various choices as they vary widely depending on time/date/features, and then book those tickets as soon as you can. Early entry is only for those with a pre-booked guided tour, so book online before you travel in order to skip the queues and the crowd. We booked this tour Ultimate Colosseum Arena Small Group Tour. The Colosseum can close for special events, construction, weather issues, etc. so be flexible and don’t be surprised if your plans are forced to change. It’s a really, really old structure that is mainly an outside tour.


We took the bus to and from the Colosseum but there are also Metro lines close by. We were not always successful using taxi apps in Italy and Uber service is very limited and expensive in Rome. The bus stop is right outside the Colosseum and seemed to be the transportation choice of most people. Get your ticket in advance at any metro station, news-stand (called a Tabac) or convenience store. You must remember to validate your ticket in the machine as you enter the bus, or you could be forced to pay a fine.


  • Water and snacks
  • Comfy shoes to walk miles, climb hundreds of steps and walk over large stone pathways (see example pictured above-very uneven and hard to walk on)
  • Hat, sunscreen and/or an umbrella depending on the weather
  • Do not bring backpacks-they are not allowed through security
  • A sense of humor and lots of patience to navigate the crowds

Jewish Ghetto and Pons Fabricius, Rome

What does a perfect evening in Rome look like? Perhaps seeing an amazing sunset from the oldest bridge in the city followed by Jewish-Roman cuisine that you will be talking about long after you go home?

This past October, we strolled along the Tiber River (street level not down by the water) to get to Rome’s oldest bridge, Pons Fabricius aka Ponte dei Quattro Capi, arriving just before sunset. Built in 62 BCE, this bridge stands in its original location and its original state. Seriously, how is that even possible??? It stretches from the eastern side of the Tiber (the one with the Colosseum) to Tiber Island in the middle of the river, which is fun to walk around and serves as a great backdrop for photos. The Latin name “quattro capi” means “four heads” and refers to two pillars that each depict the two-faced Roman god Janus. (see picture below) Those statues weren’t on the original bridge but were moved there in the 14th century. Rome truly is one big outdoors art museum.

After you get tired of all the beauty of the bridge and island as the sun sets, you can take a quick walk to the Jewish Ghetto and experience amazing food. Ba Ghetto Oldest Jewish Restaurant In Rome | Kosher Cuisine Rome is where we grabbed a patio table after wandering around and seeing some of the area’s historic sites. While we were feasting on artichokes alla giudía aka fried artichokes, pasta with pine nuts, and lamb stew, we heard someone call out my husband’s name. Lo and behold a guy he went to high school with just happened to be walking by and recognized Thom. What! They had a totally unplanned and happy reunion. They hadn’t seen each other since 1974. But back to the artichokes. They were SO delicious. We are going to Milan in a few months and Ba Ghetto has a restaurant there. I’m building my Milan itinerary around getting more artichokes. Yum!

Needless to say, the Jewish Ghetto should be on every visitor’s list to experience. By the way, ghetto is a name given to a location where people were forced to live. This particular ghetto is among the oldest in the world. We didn’t have time, but I would have liked to have taken a walking tour with an experienced guide to learn more about the history of this area in Rome. Next time!

Trastevere Neighborhood in Rome

One of my favorite Rome experiences was wandering the Trastevere neighborhood. Meaning “beyond the Tiber”, Trastevere is located on the south side of the river away from the normal Rome tourist sites. While there are definitely tourists here, there are also locals eating and enjoying the social life. So be adventurous and immerse yourself in this pocket of charm, entertainment, shopping and food when you visit Rome. Take the back streets, admire the faded Renaissance buildings, towering Roman pines, and enjoy an aperitif at a café on the piazza while the music flows from street entertainers.

I had done some research on this area and found THE coolest shop, Elvis Lives. Two graphic designers create and stock Elvis Lives with kitschy merch featuring Elvis and branded items featuring the Italian term “Daje” (meaning Come On!). We bought lots of unique souvenirs to bring home, especially for an Elvis-loving friend. We also happened upon a pop-up gallery of artists selling jewelry, prints, etc. in a loft space. You just never know what you will find! My travel advice is to not over plan your itinerary and to leave time daily for walking around and absorbing the local culture.

We ended up stumbling upon a fabulous restaurant that had an open table. Nannarella: Nannarella – Locanda in Trastevere – Dal 1930 (nannarellaroma.it) has a great outside patio. The pasta was amazing, and we enjoyed the people watching while we ate. Probably best to make a reservation so you can enjoy Nannarella-we got lucky as it seemed very popular. After dinner, we walked a few miles back to the hotel enjoying the evening and happy that we got to explore the unforgettable Trastevere neighborhood.

Vatican City

The Vatican Museums that are part of Vatican City are among the most crowded in the world, sometimes having as many as 20,000 visitors in a day and recently I was one of them! Go early and don’t plan any other activities the day of your visit except aperitifs and dinner afterward. You will end your day tired and hungry but appreciative of all the beautiful art and history you have experienced. Vatican City is definitely a “must see” when in Rome.

Our early morning tour began on the street nearest the main entrance to the Vatican Museums. Our tour guide Fabi was so knowledgeable and fun. She really brought the history of the Vatican to life. I would highly suggest taking the first tour of the day even though it is an early call at 8 am to meet the group. Don’t be late or you will be left behind. Trust me, it gets crazy crowded later. While it’s busy in the morning hours with booked tours getting in early, it’s still manageable. Fabi guided us through the various museum galleries including the Room of the Candelabra, Hall of Tapestries, and Gallery of the Maps. It was nice for Fabi to offer to take pictures of us. We don’t have many pictures of us together other than selfies.

Before reaching the Sistine Chapel, you will receive a reference map you can use once inside, which is a useful resource since visitors to the chapel are expected to be silent as they observe Michelangelo’s masterpieces. Do NOT take pictures in the Sistine Chapel. And don’t use your wife (talking to you Thom!) to screen your efforts to try to take a picture without alerting the very visible security guards who are monitoring everyone’s movements.

After exiting the Sistine Chapel from a side door, we headed straight to the St. Peter’s Basilica, skipping the lines. Fabi took us to see the baroque Baldacchino, La Pieta, and other masterworks. You can go underneath the main floor of the basilica, where hundreds of Popes are buried. We finished our tour in front of the Basilica.

It’s huge-Vatican City consists of :

1) St. Peter’s Basilica – the massive cathedral

2) St. Peter’s Square – the large plaza open space in front of the Basilica. This is where the Pope will come out on Wednesdays and ride around in his Pope cart around the temporary seats that they set up. I wish we had taken the time to experience this, but we were just too tired after our Tuesday tour and our tour guide told us you had to get there very early in the morning to grab a seat. Next time!

3) Vatican Museums – a very large museum complex with many galleries hence called ” museums “. At the very furthest end of Vatican Museums is the Sistine Chapel, the interior of which represents the pinnacle of the Renaissance. The Sistine Chapel is part of Vatican Museums.

4) Vatican Gardens – the vast green park behind the Basilica which makes up the remainder of Vatican City. These green spaces covers the largest area of the city. You may be too tired to walk the gardens. We were.

Take time to check out the Vatican Post Office-Anyone can walk in and mail a post card here. It’s on the left side of St. Peter’s Square. This is also where the public bathrooms are located. Be prepared for a line.


Vatican Museums – Official Website (museivaticani.va)-if you don’t want to take a tour, you can go on the official website and get entry tickets 60 days in advance of when you want to visit.

Early entry is only for those with a pre-booked Vatican guided tour, so book online before you travel in order to skip the queues and the crowds in the Vatican Museums. We booked this tour https://www.tripadvisor.com/AttractionProductReview-g187791-d12631026-Rome_Vatican_Sistine_Chapel_and_St_Peter_s_Basilica_Early_Morning_Express_Tour-Rom.html


Ladies:  You MUST cover your shoulders and knees.

Men: Same as the ladies. No hats.

VISIT TIPS: Bring water and snacks! Wear comfortable shoes as you will walk miles. There are hardly any places to sit down and rest. By the end of our tour, I was tired, dehydrated and ended up squatting along a wall in St. Peter’s Basilica and the security guard asked me to move, which we did directly to the nearest place that sold water.

Borghese Gallery and Gardens, Rome

One of my favorite experiences in Rome was our day spent exploring the Borghese Gallery and Gardens. Located in the middle of Villa Borghese Park (the third largest public park in Rome with 198 acres), the Gallery is relatively small compared to the other Italian museums we saw on our trip and two hours or so is enough to take it all. Then, take the rest of your day to discover the gardens. We got a combo pass to get into the museum and then took a guided golf cart ride around the huge park. What fun! The views of Rome are impressive (the gardens are high up on a hill) and the Roman pines are stunning.

Just because the Gallery is small doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time. Their collection is well curated and features many paintings and sculptures from Gian Lorenzo Bernini including his intrepretation of David. There are small intimate rooms, some even have benches (!) where you can sit and reflect on the beautiful art by Raphael, Botticelli, Caravaggio, and Rubens. Most museums don’t have anywhere to sit so I really appreciated this convenience at the Borghese Gallery. While I love all the “famous” art, I also appreciated the little unknown art that seemed to pop up everywhere in the quirky rooms-over doorways, on the ceilings, etc.

Our hotel was within walking distance (at least for us-a mile or two away) and we enjoyed walking down the hill after our visit and exploring the Piazza del Popolo (People’s Square) and having an aperitif at one of the many cafes. If you have time check out the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, in the northeast corner of the Piazza. I can’t get enough of all the beautiful churches in Italy-each one no matter how big or small is spectacular and unique.


There is timed and restricted entry to keep the Borghese Gallery free of crowds so enjoy wandering through the spectacular collection of Renaissance and Baroque artwork without the typical tourist crush.

Buy your timed entry tickets to the Gallery online in advance: https://borghese.gallery/tickets/. You can also get guided tours of the gallery. We took the timed entry/skip-the-line plus a guided golf cart tour of the gardens (they are massive-too big for even us to walk around and see it all!) This is the tour we enjoyed: Rome: Borghese Gallery Skip-the-Line Ticket & Golf Cart Ride | GetYourGuide.