Hey everybody! Welcome back to our 3-part trip report covering our 18-day family vacation to Europe.
Along with a relatively detailed breakdown of our financial strategy, Part 1 focused on our stays in Munich and Verona. Today, we’ll talk about our stay in Rome, including our side trip to Pompeii and Positano. Later, in Part 3, we’ll discuss our time Florence (with a side trip to Cinque Terre) and Switzerland. I’ve also included a list of resources mentioned at the end of each piece.
We’ve got a lot of stuff to cover, so let’s get started.
Recapping Our Financial Strategy
In order to cut costs, our basic financial strategy involved using points and miles whenever possible. We had 5 people on this trip (3 adults, 2 children – ages 6 and 8), and we purchased round-trip flights through Delta for about 50,000 Flying Blue miles per person. (We transferred a combination of American Express Membership Rewards® Points and Chase Ultimate Rewards Points to make this happen.)
Find a list of the best travel credit cards for your trip here.
Additionally, while we used a city pass the last time we visited Rome, this time we opted to purchase most of our tours with points through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. We actually loved using the sightseeing pass last time, but since we had the points, we opted to save money here. We also budgeted about $200 a day for meals and shopping. While in Rome and Florence, we bought a few groceries for breakfasts and snacks, ate cheaply for lunch (sandwiches or pizza on the go), and ultimately came in under budget.
Finally, as I mentioned in the previous piece, we traveled by train between cities and countries. We considered buying a rail pass, but the numbers didn’t make sense for us. In my opinion, if you are slow traveling through Europe without a set itinerary, a Eurail Pass may be a good option. If you have set dates, will be there less than a month, and are willing to plan ahead, reserving your train tickets through Trainline can save you a lot of money. (This is who we always use.)
Rome Day 1: Arrival and Dinner at the Vatican
After boarding a high-speed train from Verona, we arrived at Rome’s Termini Station around 11 A.M. local time. We immediately hopped in a cab and headed toward our condo.
Since we were staying in Rome for 5 nights with 5 people, we decided to book this Airbnb for $134 a night (including cleaning fees). The place wasn’t great, but it was clean and sufficient for our stay. That said, the location was absolutely superb. It is literally a block from the Pantheon and 2 blocks from Piazza Navona. There were two small stores located immediately below the building where we bought coffee, snacks, etc., plus there was a grocery store on the block right behind us. It was awesome! Search thousands of vacation rentals in Rome here.
After getting settled, we embarked on a short walk to get reacquainted with the area. Starting in Piazza Navona, we walked to the Trevi Fountain, making a stop at the Pantheon along the way. The whole walk takes about 20 minutes (one way), and there are plenty of spots to rest if you need it.
That evening, Holly and I went to a special dinner and tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. So, here’s the thing about the Vatican – it is always freakin’ packed. Even when we were there in October, it was super crowded. Billed as a way to avoid the crowds, we thought this would be a great experience.
We were wrong. Don’t waste your time or money on it.
While the dinner was decent, we were still crammed into the museum like sardines. Worse, it was summer and the weather was hot… but they turn off the air conditioning at night! To top it off, the Vatican Museums has 7 miles of hallways. Unfortunately, as I found out twice during this trip, taking a guided tour means you get to walk down just ONE hallway (and through the Raphael rooms). You do, however, get treated to a 20-minute lecture on the Sistine Chapel… while standing in the courtyard looking at pictures of the chapel. (There is no talking allowed in the Sistine Chapel.)
Honestly, we left this tour early because it was so stinking hot and miserable. Here are some pics:
Rome Day 2 & 3: Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Nero’s Palace
Day 2 in Rome saw our first big guided tour with the kids – the Roman Colosseum. It was hot, and we were worried about how they’d handle it… but they came through like champs!
The Colosseum is – quite literally – awesome. We took this 1.5-hour Colosseum Tour with Gladiators’ Entrance and Arena Floor hosted by City Wonders (whose tours ALWAYS seem to be great, BTW). This was definitely one of the highlights of our entire trip, and I can’t recommend this tour enough! Our guide Massimo was fantastic, expertly bringing the stories of the Colosseum to life. My 8-year-old also took notes, having to pass a “quiz” to earn her gelato later. One of my favorite memories was when she asked our guide, “How did Nero kill his mom again?” The guide (and the entire group) cracked up!
By the way, our guide Massimo doesn’t know this, but we learned that he also does private walking tours. While we didn’t take one this time, he was so good that I’d highly recommend checking one out. (We definitely will next time we’re in town.) You can find his tour website listed here!
After the Colosseum tour, we hit the “fast-track entry” line for one of my favorite sites in the entire world, the Roman Forum. Tickets for the Colosseum and Forum are a combo, good for 24 hours, so make sure you don’t pay twice. Here are a few quick pics from the forum and the adjacent National Monument of Victor Emmanuel II:
Day 3 in Rome was pretty laid back. Holly and I were able to experience the relatively new attraction of Nero’s Palace, also known as the “Golden House” or “Domus Aurea.” The palace is still an active (underground) archaeological dig site, so hard hats are required. The tour was very interesting, but the highlight was easily the virtual reality experience inside the palace. The VR made it feel like you were literally walking through the palace before bringing you outside the walls to “experience” Ancient Rome. It was awesome and worth the price of admission alone! You can find complete details of the tour here.
Rome Day 4: Pompeii and Positano
On Day 4, we took the whole family on a side trip to Pompeii and Positano. Hosted by Walks of Italy, this VIP tour lasted the entire day – and it was fantastic! Luca, our group leader, was knowledgeable and helpful. Paolo Damiano, our site guide at Pompeii, was fantastic AND great with the kids. The drive takes about 3 hours from Rome, but you’re treated to super scenic views from a comfortable small coach. Honestly, I can’t recommend this tour enough! Find the details here.
For those who don’t know, Pompeii is an ancient Roman city that was destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mr. Vesuvius in the year 79 A.D. Because it lay buried for over 1,500 years, the site is remarkably well preserved. The city was essentially frozen in time, and it’s unlike any place I’ve ever been. Pompeii is also home to the famous “death casts” as well as the oldest surviving Roman amphitheater that we know of. Here are a few pics:
After Pompeii, we drove down the Amalfi Coast to the town of Positano. Here, we had free time to eat lunch and explore the town. With villages clinging to life on the side of the cliffs, this area of Italy is one of the most beautiful places in the world. The views are incredible, and taking a bad picture is almost impossible. Here are some of my faves:
That night, we ate dinner at a pizza spot called Emma. Apparently, this was a favorite of Ben Stiller while filming Zoolander 2 in Rome. Check it out if you get time!
Rome Day 5: Vatican and Trastevere
On our final day in Rome, Brian and I took the kids on a walking tour of the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica. This 4 hour tour was hot, crowded, and too much for me – much less the kids. As I said earlier, I’d opt for fast-track entry using the Rome & Vatican Pass or through a self-guided tour option. You’ll see more and be able to take it at your own pace. With that said, I was able to snap a few good pics.
The highlight of the day was my youngest losing her first tooth! How many kids can say they lost their first tooth in Rome… and the day before her 6th birthday?
We capped off our time in Rome by taking an evening stroll through the Jewish Ghetto and Trastevere, before sitting down for a meal. Here are a couple quick pics:
Rome: Wrapping Up
Our trip to the Eternal City confirmed once again that Rome is my favorite city in the world. Along with the hustle and bustle, I just can’t get over the amazing ruins and history there. And even though I’ve been there a couple of times, I’ve barely scratched the surface on things to do and see. I love Rome and will keep coming back until my dying days.
Thanks for reading Part 2 of our 18-day European vacation recap. You definitely don’t want to miss Part 3 where we’ll be covering our stays in Florence and Switzerland. Oh, and don’t forget about the resources listed below. Until next time, happy traveling!
- Free Travel Rewards Advice
- Rome and Vatican Sightseeing Pass (Full Review)
- Vacation Rentals in Rome
- Colosseum Tour with Gladiators’ Entrance and Arena Floor
- VIP Pompeii and Positano Tour
- Nero’s Golden House (Domus Aurea) Tour
- Storytelling Rome Tours
- Vatican Museum/Sistine Chapel Evening Tour – Dinner Included
- T-Mobile International Data and Text Plans
- Rail Europe (for booking trains in advance)
- Eurail Global Pass