Romantic things to do in Rome: big city breakdown

Romantic things to do in Rome: big city breakdown

Cobbled streets and an amore attitude: Rome is the city of romance. Alexandra Gregg shows couples and newlyweds how to make the most of a short break

Rome has been a tourist hub for centuries. With its mix of tasty coffee, gelato and cuisine - not to mention enough culture to make any history buff rejoice - it is one of the busiest and most beautiful cities in the world. While crowds mixed in with the Italian heat aren't the most romantic combo, there's a lot on offer for couples and newlyweds looking to explore this ancient metropolis…

To capture all the must-see destinations and mind-blowing art collections in one trip, we recommend three full days in the city. Pair that with a sturdy pair of walking shoes (those cobbles can be hard on your delicate tootsies and you may need a foot massage from your belle or beau after a day of walking!) and you're good to go.

Day one

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First get your bearings. Italy's capital is full to the brim with things to see, so it's important to arm yourself with a map (street and metro). Once you and your partner have familiarised yourself with the area around your hotel, the perfect place to begin is by tackling the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. The former is probably the most memorable of Rome's abundant travel icons and the location for many a-movie: from Ridley Scott's Gladiator to Jumper.

Once you've taken photos of the impressive exterior, head inside where you can either self-guide, pay for an audio device or join a tour. For the first option, there is signage in English all around the archaeological marvel - which was completed around 80AD. If you'd rather hear the tales, turn right just after the entry turnstiles and there's a box office where you can book onto 45-minute English tours for just €5pp (£4.10).

When you've had your fill of gladiator combat and animal fights, head across to the adjacent Roman Forum and Palatine Hill - also included in your ticket price (€12p/p on the door). Shaded by umbrella pine trees and hidden groves, with a blanket of purple flora and fauna and abundant basilicas below, a tour of this ancient site is one of the most relaxing activities in the city. Stroll hand-in-hand around the ruined temples of the forum, excavated just three centuries ago, before heading up the hill for breathtaking city vistas and views of the Colosseum. From the Palatine balconies, you can get the perfect photo of you and your partner embracing, with the World Wonder as your backdrop.

Day two

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Eight miles outside of the city centre, the sovereign state of the Vatican City is the grandest site in Rome. The great dome of St Peter's Basilica dwarfs the pristine square below and the nearby papal palaces, which are filled with some of the world's most-renowned pieces of art, including Michelangelo's Creation of Adam. Visit these museums - specifically the Sistine Chapel - first to see a series of Classical and Renaissance masterpieces, as well as Greek and Roman antiquities. Entry is €16p/p (£13.20).

Next, head back outside and follow the walls of the Vatican around to the right, where you'll find the oft-televised St Peter's Square. The columned site draws pilgrims from around the globe, rewarding them with sumptuous décor and walls adorned with gold inside the church itself. If you're religious, visit on Sundays, when the Pope blesses the crowds from his balcony above the square. Beware though: it gets packed!

No visit to this tiny Pope-ruled nation is complete without tackling the 551 steps of the dome of the basilica. You'll both battle with vertigo and claustrophobia in the slanting staircases of this cupola but it's worth that (and the €5 fee) to get a panoramic view of Rome. There's no better way to get an aerial outlook over this heart-stopping city.

Day three

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The third day will give you time to explore everything else that Rome has to offer, so pull on your walking boots, grab that map, and start wandering. Or, if your calves can't take the burn, use the metro (€1.50 for 100 minutes of travel) or hop aboard one of the many city bus tours. These range from €11-18p/p and give you a two-hour circuit of the capital's main sights, with several drop-off points along the way.

Be sure to visit the Pantheon, with its confounding concrete dome, an awe-inspiring symbol of the Roman Empire. Get sweeping views of the city from Trinita dei Monti, the double bell-towered church atop the famous Spanish Steps, and make a wish at the Trevi Fountain. A fairly new creation (c. 1762) compared to the rest of Rome, the Fontana di Trevi is still a magnificent icon, its unruly seahorses only out-done by the coin-filled basin below. It is effortlessly romantic and, despite the crowds, the sound of the water is peaceful and calming in contrast to the hustle and bustle of the rest. The Villa Borghese area, to the north of the city, is also particularly beautiful, offering tree-lined streets and majestic arches aplenty.

Finish your day with a touch of La Dolce Vita (the sweet life) by enjoying some delicious Italian gnocchi and a glass of wine al fresco.

Ready to go? Check out these top tips first…

1. Book in advance. This goes for any big attractions, the Colosseum and the Vatican Museums in particular. It's a bit pricier if you buy tickets online beforehand, but it's worth it if you can avoid the queues. Even at 9:30am the line to get into the Vatican Museums often winds around two lengths of wall - and that's if you're lucky!

2. Start early. Being out of sync with everyone else will pay dividends. For example, when you visit the Vatican Museums, go straight to the Sistine Chapel and the preceding art galleries first thing (8:30-10am). From lunchtime onwards you'll be packed in like sardines. The same goes for the Colosseum. You may want to be close to your loved one, but if you don't follow this tip you'll be squashed up against a load of strangers too.

3. Avoid street touts. Touts outside St Peter's Square will point at the long queue into the basilica and offer you 'jump the queue' tickets for a "bargain price". The fact is however; this is one of the few lines that actually goes very quickly. Even if you're queuing around the square, it doesn't take long to get in - plus you get the chance to take pictures while you wait. Beware queue jumpers though!!

Round the city centre, street vendors will often offer you roses "for free", then cheekily collar you for some cash afterwards. Just say no and walk away. Unless your partner is feeling generous, that is.

4. Take a pedometer. If you're a fitness fanatic, or just want to brag about all the hard work you and your partner put in while you were away, take a pedometer with you to see how many steps/miles you can stack up during your trip. This writer did 12,000+ steps just going round the Vatican City!

5. Look out for hidden charges. Some restaurants will include service (servizio) on your bill already, so check you receipt carefully to see whether or not you need to tip (10-15% will suffice) and aso i& aly other mystery items have appeared on there.

6. Travel out of season. April-June and September-October are the busiest and most expensive months. Book for March and you'll grab a bargain and the weather will be relatively mild (around 20°C). July-August can be just as cheap, but the heat may be unbearable (28-30°C).

7. Watch your bags. Just like in any city - like London or Paris - crowded areas in Rome are the perfect place for pickpockets.

8. Take spares. We're talking batteries and SD cards. There's nothing more frustrating then being told 'memory full' when you're about to take a selfie with your loved one in front of the Colosseum.

9. Pizza and ice cream. Rome has both of these in abundance and they are incredible. There are several reasonably-priced eateries in the area around Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II (near Vittorio Emanuele metro station), where you can expect to pay €8 (£6.60) or less for a pizza of your choice.

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How to get there? Flights from London Gatwick to Rome's Fiumicino Airport (FCO) start from £34.49 one-way with easyJet. From the airport, you can get the bus shuttle (bus stop three) for €11p/p (£9.10) return: these run every 20-30 minutes and will drop you off in Travestere or at Termini station. Alternatively, a taxi straight to your hotel (provided it's in the city centre and no further) will costs a fixed fee of €48 (£39.70) each way.

Where to stay? For a touch of true romance, you can stay in the dusty pink house once occupied by English poet John Keats: Piazza di Spagna. Overlooking the Spanish Steps, the views are unparalleled and a stay costs from £70.38p/p/p/n (based on four people sharing).

A glut of budget hotels exists in the Termini/Esquilino district, however the area is best avoided after dark. Other good areas include Travestere and Campitelli.

Photos courtesy of Alexandra Gregg / Bradley Cronin.

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