This article may contain references to some of our advertising partners. Should you click on these links, we may be compensated. For more about our advertising policies, read our full disclosure statement here.
It’s been almost two years – two long, difficult, pandemic-filled years – since our family last visited Europe. The coronavirus shut down European travel and ruined vacation plans for millions of us. Thankfully, nearly all of Europe has reopened and is eagerly awaiting American tourists to return.
For us, this means we are finally back on the road…and we couldn’t be happier! Plus, our trip reports are back! Hallelujah!!!
Italy was the last European country we visited before the pandemic. Since it is our favorite country to visit, we decided Italy should also be the first European destination we’d visit in the post-lockdown world.
In this trip review, I’ll show you where we went, where we stayed, and how we paid. I’ll also provide tips and tricks on how you can save money on your trip to Italy. And, of course, there will be plenty of trip photos (and some videos) for you to enjoy.
Because this was a 16-day trip, including a stop in New York City, I’ve broken the review down into three separate articles. In this piece, I’ll cover our stay in Rome and our day trip to Orvieto. The second part focuses on our time in Florence and Assisi. Finally, the third article covers our experience in Verona, Lake Garda, and Varenna/Lake Como.
We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get started!!!
(Don’t forget, you can also follow our trips in real time by joining our Frugal Travel Facebook Group here.)
Getting to Italy and COVID-19 Requirements
First things first – let’s look at how we got to Italy without breaking the bank.
When you’re taking four people on an international trip, flying gets expensive – even if you are just booking economy. So, of course we tried to keep our flight costs down in any way we could.
Prior to leaving for Italy, we stayed a few nights in New York City (more on that in Part 3). So, for our flights from JFK to Rome, we used several Delta vouchers that we had leftover from flights which were cancelled during the pandemic.
The vouchers pretty much paid for all of our flights, although Holly and I did splurge a little bit. We grabbed a great deal on two Delta One business class seats which cost just a few hundred dollars each. Our kids, age 12 and 10, were relegated to economy while we enjoyed the comfortable flat-bed seats on our overnight flight.
To get home, we booked four economy seats with United that we paid for with points. We earned the points with our Chase Sapphire Reserve Card and transferred them to United from our Chase Ultimate Rewards account. (Remember, if you’re planning a similar strategy, you can earn Chase points using a number of different cards and those points transfer to Chase’s travel partners at a 1:1 ratio.)
At the time of our trip (October 2021), Italy had several COVID-related travel requirements that we needed to meet prior to entering the country. Some of these included proof of vaccination, proof of a negative COVID test within 72 hours of arrival and more.
If you’re considering a trip to Italy, don’t let these minor hoops scare you. Fulfilling the requirements sounds like more work than it actually was. You can learn more about Italy’s COVID-19 requirements for travel here.
Alright, let’s talk about the trip!!!
We arrived in Rome about noon on our first day. After clearing immigration and grabbing our bags, we met our driver right outside of the airport. Again, we used Chase points to book a private transfer to our apartment in the city center.
Where We Stayed
Speaking of our apartment, we used Airbnb to rent an awesome spot about a two minute walk from the Pantheon and five minutes from the Trevi Fountain. We stayed here for three nights, and it was amazing.
Personally, we love staying near the Pantheon and try to book something here every time we visit. You can walk to several of Rome’s biggest sights in less than 10 minutes, and – if you’re up for a bit of a hike – you can even reach the Colosseum or Vatican City in about 20 minutes. Most importantly, you’re right in the heart of the action so there are tons of places to eat, see, and drink.
We’ve been to Rome several times, so this was less of a sightseeing vacation for us and more of an experience trip. (You can read about some of our other Rome trips here and here.) Our goal was to soak up the atmosphere, eat great food, and just enjoy being back in Italy.
That’s not to say that we didn’t do any sightseeing – we did.
One of our favorite things to do is walk around the city and enjoy the sights. Sometimes we wander past famous monuments, sometimes we turn a corner and walk into a small but incredibly beautiful church we never knew existed.
A favorite route of ours brings you past some of the most famous sights in Rome. Beginning in Piazza Navona and ending at the Spanish Steps, the walk takes about 20 minutes – depending, of course, on how often you stop. Here’s a look at some of our photos from this trip.
We also spent a few hours having lunch and wandering through the market at Campo de’ Fiori. Located a short walk south of Piazza Navona, the “Field of Flowers” was once an unused meadow. It eventually evolved into a marketplace and unplanned neighborhood square on the Via Papale (Pope’s Road), and it has remained a market for centuries. Along with some lively crowds, these days, you’ll find plenty of fresh produce, homemade pasta, and some yummy restaurants.
Campo de’ Fiori was also a place where public executions were held. In the center of the square stands a statue of Giordano Bruno, an Italian monk, mathematician, and philosopher. He was convicted of heresy for claiming that stars were distant suns with their own planets and that the universe was infinite so there could be no center. The monument marks the spot where Bruno was burned at the stake on February 17th, 1600.
Of course, we couldn’t come to Rome without visiting one of our favorite sights – the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. No matter how many times I visit, I am completely awestruck every time I wander between the massive ruins of the Forum. And, the view of Ancient Rome from Palatine Hill is absolutely breathtaking.
You can enter the Colosseum and the Roman Forum/Palatine Hill on the same ticket. Since we’ve been here several times before, we decided to book “skip the line” tickets for only the Forum/Palatine Hill using the Chase portal.
With that said, if you’re planning your first trip to Rome, I’d suggest a few alternatives. “Walks of Italy” offers some wonderful tours of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum/Palatine Hill. The tours aren’t the cheapest option, but they are worth it.
The Rome and Vatican Pass is also a great way to save money on many of the best sights in Rome and Vatican City.
One of the best parts of an Italian vacation is always the food. Now, I don’t claim to be a food writer or a food photographer, but I do want to touch on a few meals we had in Rome.
Along with lots of great salads and pizza for lunch, we had three dinners in Rome. Our first night, we visited Rome’s beautiful Jewish Ghetto neighborhood to eat at Nonna Betta. This quaint restaurant serves up some delicious Kosher food, including some of the best artichokes I’ve ever had.
Our second dinner brought us to my favorite restaurant in Rome – Ristorante Pietro Valentini. This restaurant is tucked away on a small street just a few blocks north of busy Piazza Navona, and a meal here feels like you’re eating in a home kitchen.
The founder’s daughter-in-law, Simona, is a welcome host. She is easy with a smile and heavy with the truffles – which is a huge plus. I never miss an opportunity to eat here and highly recommend it.
Our final dinner in Rome was at Armando al Pantheon. This restaurant is highly rated and comes highly recommended by many visitors.
We’ve tried to eat here several times, but reservations are required – typically months in advance. Now that we’ve been, I’d say that the experience was good but a little bit underwhelming.
We don’t eat steak or beef, so we didn’t find a ton on the menu for us. For the price and the hype, I thought it was good but not great.
Read More: How to Travel for (Almost) Free
On several of our past trips, we’ve spent a lot of time in Rome. So, we decided to hop a train and take a day trip to Orvieto.
Located between Rome and Florence, this Umbrian hill town is famous for its three “C’s” – its cathedral, ceramics, and Classico wine. It is also known for its Etruscan ruins and underground caves.
Orvieto’s stately “Old Town” sits about 1,000 feet above the valley below. The striking cliffs provide some seriously dramatic views of the area – both of the valley from above and the city from below.
Getting to Orvieto is easy. As I mentioned, we took a train from Rome’s Termini Station, and the trip lasted a little over 90 minutes. (Hot Tip: You can typically book train tickets about 12 weeks in advance by using Trainline.) You can also arrive by car.
If you arrive by train, the best way to get to the top is to take the funicular. After exiting the train station, simply cross the street and purchase a ticket at the funicular station. The funicular runs every 10 minutes and tickets cost just €1.30 per person (€2.60 round-trip). Once you reach the top, it is still about a 10 minute walk (uphill) to reach the city center.
As I mentioned, Orvieto is famous for its cathedral. In fact, many people believe that the cathedral’s facade is the most beautiful in all of Italy. That is a high bar to cross, but it is hard to argue.
Just a few minutes stroll from the duomo, you’ll find the Piazza della Repubblica, City Hall, and more. Also be sure to head over to the ramparts for some incredible views of the valley below.
We really enjoyed our day in Orvieto and think it is definitely worth a visit.
That wraps up the first leg of our trip to Italy. Coming soon, I’ll be writing about our stops in Florence and Assisi, as well as our time in Verona and Varenna (Lake Como) – so be on the lookout for that. You can also find a list of the resources I mentioned in the piece below.
Until next time, happy traveling!