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Everything You Should See In Rome On Your First Visit

From the windy lanes of Trastevere to the monumental beauty of the Trevi Fountain, there are just some things you can’t miss in the eternal city. Rome simply isn’t Rome without the frescoed ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or the majesty of the Colosseum. 

It’s not easy to come up with a list of everything you should see in Rome on your first visit. The city is bursting with awe-inspiring historical treasures. After studying art history there for a year and living there for several more, I’ve come up with a list of the absolute must-sees for your first time in the Italian capital.

For each of Rome’s amazing famous sights, there’s an equal number of amazing secret spots!

Want to see some hidden corners of Rome on your visit, too? I’ve got you covered!

In the same way that Rome isn’t Rome without the Vatican or the Colosseum, she isn’t herself without carbonara and cacio e pepe, either! Want tips on where to get some of the best food in the city? I’ve got you covered, too!

Are you ready to discover everything you should see on your first visit to Rome? Andiamo!

1. St. Peter’s Basilica

Built over the course of 120 years by some of Italy’s most famous architects, including Bramante, Raphael, and Michelangelo, St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest Catholic church in the world. You can visit the crypts underneath, the church itself, and climb the dome on top.

2. The Vatican Museums

People have been visiting the Vatican Museums since the 16th century, and rightly so. With 54 galleries (called sale in Italian) and thousands of works of art that span the centuries, it’s a true treasure trove for lovers of art and art history. The final sala that visitors pass through is undoubtedly the museum’s most famous: the Sistine Chapel.

Beat The Crowds At The Vatican

There are both early morning and after-hours tours of St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museums! If you want a less crowded visit, go for one of these off-peak tours.

3. Trastevere

After visiting the Vatican, head over to Trastevere, which is on the same side of the Tiber river. Get lost in the narrow streets, take pictures of laundry drying in the sun, and just enjoy one of Rome’s most picturesque neighborhoods. 

Trastevere Food Tip

Trastevere has some great pizza places. Seu Pizza Illuminati, Pizzeria ai Marmi, Dar Poeta, and Ivo a Trastevere are regarded as some of the city’s best pizzerie. Try one to get some of the good stuff!

4. The Colosseum and the Ancient City

The Colosseum is the largest amphitheater that was constructed during the Roman empire. It was commissioned by the emperor Vespasian and opened by his son, Titus, in 80 AD. Famous for gladiatorial matches and animal fights, the Colosseum is the symbol of the eternal city.

A ticket to the Colosseum gets you into the adjacent Palatine Hill. Legend has it that Romulus and Remus, the founders Rome, were raised by a wolf in a cave there, which is the most central of the city’s seven hills. It later became an area inhabited by Rome’s elite, including some of the emperors. You can visit the ruins of many of the remaining structures today, along with the small museum there, and get great views of the Roman forum as well as the Circus Maximus.

The Roman forum was once the hub of the city’s public life, containing a host of temples, basilicas, and other public structures. Visit the forum and then walk down Via dei Fori Imperiali, where you’ll be able to see the fora and markets constructed by different emperors.

Pro Tip For Visiting The Ancient City

Don’t do this part of Rome without a guide! Whether it be a person, a book, or a blog post, the ancient city can be confusing (and can sometimes seem meaningless) if you don’t know what you’re looking at.

Secret Spot In The Ancient City

Ready for a break from the crowds? If you loved the ancient city and want more, head to the Celio hill behind the Colosseum, and visit Le Case Romane del Celio. Twenty rooms decorated with frescoes dating from between the second and fourth centuries unfold beneath the Basilica of Saints John and Paul and culminate in a small gallery displaying objects that were recovered during the excavation of the site. You’ll probably be one of a handful of visitors exploring this underground gem. If you love ancient Rome, don’t miss this secret spot!

5. The Jewish Ghetto 

Located in the city center, the Roman Jewish Ghetto was historically home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe. You can visit the Jewish Museum of Rome in order to gain an understanding of the history of the area, and see the Synagogue, which is thought to be the largest in Italy. Other sights in the area include the Theater of Marcellus and the Bocca della Verità.

The Roman Jewish Ghetto also has some signature foods, like carciofi alla giudia (grilled artichokes) and pizza ebraica, which is actually a sweet!

6. Piazza Navona

Designed by famous Roman artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Piazza Navona is home to one of the city’s most spectacular fountains. Depicting the great rivers of the time, the four figures represent the Nile, the Ganges, the Rio de la Plata, and the Danube. The church of Sant’Agnese in Agone and the Palazzo Pamphilj (which is the current Brazilian embassy) are also both located in Piazza Navona.  

7. Campo de’ Fiori

Campo de’ Fiori was developed around 1456 by Pope Callixtus III. In the morning, the piazza comes alive thanks to its bustling market, and in the evening, it transforms into an evening hot-spot popular with tourists and foreign students. The central statue in the piazza depicts Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake for heresy in 1600.

Secret Spot Near Campo de’ Fiori

Exit the piazza onto via del Pellegrino and turn left at Arco degli Acetari. You’ll end up in a tiny little courtyard that doesn’t have any major sights, but is a great little spot for taking pictures!

Where To Eat Bear Campo de’ Fiori

There are two excellent spots to get pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice) in this area. One is in Campo de’ Fiori itself. In the left corner of the piazza, if you’re facing the same way as Giordano Bruno, there’s a sign that says FORNO, which means oven in Italian. Some say that they have the best pizza bianca in the city. They also offer sandwiches and other baked goods.

Just outside of Campo de’ Fiori at Via dei Chiavari 34 is Roscioli Forno, which has the best pizza margherita al taglio that I’ve ever had. Order a few different slices – last time I was there we sampled the margherita, a slice with mushrooms, one with roasted potatoes, and another thick-crusted one with burrata and pesto that was delicious. 

Neither of these places have seating, so be prepared to munch your slices standing up.

8. The Pantheon

The first Pantheon in Rome was destroyed by a fire in the same year that the Colosseum opened, 80AD. In 118, the emperor Hadrian commissioned a new Pantheon, which is the structure that you can visit today. The Pantheon is considered to be the best-preserved ancient building in Rome and its dome is the largest unsupported dome in the world. Its oculus is 8 meters across, which is about 25 feet. You can visit the tomb of Raphael inside.

Beat The Crowds At The Pantheon

Despite some discussion about charging admission in the last few years, the Pantheon remains free to visit. For this reason, it’s a very popular sight. If you want to beat the crowd, visit when it opens at 8:30 am. 

9. The Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain is the combination of two designs, one by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and one by Nicola Salvi. Completed in 1762, the fountain is an example of Roman baroque architecture. Legend has it that if you throw a coin into the fountain backwards over your left shoulder, you’ll return to Rome someday, if you throw two in, you’ll find a Roman romance, and if you throw in three, you’ll get married!

Beat The Crowds At The Trevi Fountain

Visiting the Trevi Fountain at peak times is pretty miserable, if I’m being honest. I highly recommend heading there while the city is still sleeping – around 7am, if you can. You’ll have a much better experience without the crowds! If you’re not a morning person, head there late at night to have a similar, crowd-free visit. 

10. The Spanish Steps

Named for the Spanish embassy to the Vatican, which is located in the square below, the Spanish Steps are another Roman icon. They were originally built to connect the church above to the piazza. There’s another famous fountain in the square called La Barcaccia, which was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s father, Pietro. 

A recent law was passed that prohibits sitting on the Spanish Steps, so you’ll have to take your pictures standing up! If you want to beat the crowds, head from the Trevi Fountain straight to the Spanish Steps on your early morning tour. 

Secret Spot Bear The Spanish Steps

Ready for another hidden corner of Rome? Walk down Via Margutta, which is very close to Piazza di Spagna. Made famous from the film Roman Holiday, Via Margutta has been home to a long line of artists and filmmakers and still has several art galleries on it. You can see a tribute to these artists in the form of a bucket of paint brushes atop a little fountain.

11. Monti

There’s nothing particular to see in Monti, but like Trastevere, it’s a great little neighborhood to wander around and get lost in. Located near the Colosseum, Monti is a hip little area full of second hand shops, cute cafés, and chic restaurants. 

12. Testaccio

Known commonly for its nightlife, Testaccio actually has some of the best food in the eternal city. If you want to try Roman street food, head to the Mercato di Testaccio, which is open from 7am to 3pm every day except Sunday. You can do your shopping and eat at the communal tables in the center of the market. Try supplì, carciofi alla guidia, or any of the other delights that look good to you. Looking for a sit-down meal? Book a table at Flavio al Velavevodetto, Felice a Testaccio, or Da Oio a Casa Mia for some traditional Roman fare.

So, there you have your list of everything you need to see in Rome on your first visit! If you’re spending more than just a few days there, don’t be afraid to explore beyond the city center. Rome is a series of layers, and each one you peel back reveals another treasure.

Europe Guides

Insider’s Guide To Slovenia

I am sitting in a high-rise condo in Bangkok, Thailand today. It is 98 degrees Fahrenheit and the city skyline is robed in a dense, dreamlike haze. As much as I love Southeast Asia, my mind keeps wandering to my favorite fall spent exploring Slovenia. In 2013, my husband and I sold all of our belongings and hit the road with three young children and 5 carry-on bags. Slovenia was 20 countries ago but time does nothing to diminish its beauty. As a matter of fact, the more I toss and turn over the autumnal flavors, colors, and landscapes we experienced in Slovenia, the more I “fall” in love yet again.

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Food Guides Hotels Insider Tips Latin America

Dame Traveler Insider Guide: Baños, Ecuador

Baños is a small town in the eastern Tungurahua Province in central Ecuador. It is well known as a booming tourist centre full of hostels, and adventure style activities such as canyoning and white water rafting. It is also known as “the Gateway to the Northern Amazon” as it is the last big city before reaching the Amazon basin, making jungle getaways very easy from the city. The city sits in the foothills of Volcano Tungurahua which you can see on a good day at 1,802 meters elevation. Whether you are into adventurous activities like bungee jumping, hiking the trails or prefer a more sedate and relaxing time at spas and hot springs, the mountain town of Baños is a great place to be.

Where to Stay

La Floresta Hotel
This is a mid-range priced hotel 2 blocks from the plaza. It is located near the artisan market, the food market, and between the two plazas. The hotel is clean and comfortable, the showers always have hot water and the wi-fi is good. There is always clean water nearby and breakfast is included. If you are looking for a break from hostels and need something nice but not overly expensive, this is your place; clean, cool, and comfortable

Hostel Eruption
The location of this hostel could not be more perfect, it’s situated on the corner of the main square and comes with 24 hour security. You can expect your standard dorm room here as well as some private rooms. The furniture is ok, showers are almost always hot, the wi-fi is really good and the hostel itself is quite comfortable. Breakfast is not included here, however you can purchase it for a reasonable price in the restaurant which is part of the hostel. The owner of the hostel is incredibly helpful and this can make all the difference in the world. As a backpacker this is a great place to meet people to spend your time in Baños with.

Where to Eat

The Market
Only one block away from the plaza, the market is THE place to eat in Baños. It is only open for breakfast and lunch so make sure you get there on time! Just sit down at one of the little plastic tables in front of any “booth” and enjoy. The most popular meal is called “llapingachos” which consists of chorizo, friend eggs, salad, rice, and Ecuadorian tortillas (like a mashed potato). Other choices available are tripe soups like Yaguarloro, tripe rice dishes called Librillo, and delicious smoothies. You can expect to pay under 5 dollars on your trip to the market.

Try Cuy (Guinea Pig)
This is the place to try Cuy (every traveller to this area should enjoy the novelty of eating Guinea Pig). You can purchase Cuy on the outside of the market, 20 dollars for the whole pig and 5 dollars for a portion along with salad and papas. Cheaper than many other places and good sized pigs, these little guys will be roasting all afternoon.

Melcocha (Sugar Cane Toffee)
This is Ecuador’s mountain specialty and best kept secret. Due to the abundance of sugar cane in the area, this candy is made from boiled raw cane syrup and you can see the Ecuadorians pulling at the toffee on wooden sticks in their doorways. Made by hand, you can watch the traditional technique used to create the toffee, in many stores all day long. If you want to try it, give the toffee maker 25 cents and he will rip a piece off for you.

Amarelo Coffee Shop
More expensive than the market but this restaurant in the square serves good Italian food as well as delicious coffee. If you are looking for good coffee, lattes, coffee with alcohol, basically anything coffee, come here, sit on the patio and enjoy, you won’t be disappointed.

Bambu Steakhouse
Good steak for a decent price. If you’re looking to sit down in a trendy restaurant for a while with a nice ambience and pretty decent prices then Bambu is great, and gringo friendly, as long as you want steak.

Swiss Bistro Baños
This restaurant is one of the more expensive places to eat in Baños but it is also extremely popular because of its delicious Swiss Fondue. It is a top restaurant so expect top service, top prices, and some of the best food in Baños.

Drinks

Leprechaun
The most popular bar in Baños for travelers and locals alike. The bar is spacious and trendy with a big bonfire in the middle which is comfortable to sit around. The dance floor here is also always packed with people dancing to reggae-ton, electronic, and even American hits. Enjoy it!

Where to Shop
Like every South American city, there is an artisan market selling bracelets, purses and woven goods. It is located beside the food market. There is also a number of stores selling alpaca sweaters and Andean pants on the main streets but in all honesty, shopping for these items is not particularly amazing in Baños.

Local Art
Unique to Baños is the availability of Tagua Nut art. The Tagua nut is edible when it is soft but after 6 months hardens to a point where the shell can be removed and the seed can be carved into ivory like art. The Tagua creates a similar product to plastic and is hand carved into buttons, jewelry, and miniature sculptures. Tagua grows all over Ecuador and was originally exported to Europe as the organic button commonly used before plastic. Baños has a few shops where one is able to purchase Tagua Nut art.

 

What to Do

Casa de Arbol and the swing at the end of the world
Situated high up on a valleys edge about a 45 min drive from the city is the one and only Casa de Arbol swing. This is where you get to take that cool picture swinging off the end of the world. Originally this space was used to monitor the volcanic activity in the area but is now a top tourist attraction. You can take a tour up here but it is better to take the public bus for $1, it leaves 3 times a day; 6am, 11am, and 2pm and takes you to the swing where it costs $1 to enter. The bus returns to town 2 hours later at 8am, 1pm and 4pm, alternatively, for 3 hours each way you can walk from town.

Rafting
There are a number of tour companies in the city that offer white water rafting tours down the nearby Pastaza River. Here the rapids range from class 2-5 and a half day tour costs about 25 dollars. If you’re lucky you will get a guide who really likes swimming and they can make the journey just that much better.

Bridge Swing
Bridge swinging is one reason many people come to Baños. Where else can you just walk up to a 100meter bridge, give a guy 20 bucks, be harnessed in with very good equipment, and take the plunge. The equipment is very good, you have 2 harnesses, and the people who run it make you feel very secure. Remember this is not a bungee jump, you fall forwards and flip and swing under the bridge. You can also get your photos taken for 5 dollars. If the big bridge, called San Francisco, is too much for you, they do the same 15 minutes’ drive out of town on a smaller bridge.


Paraglide
Baños is blessed with good winds for flying. For 60 dollars you can grab a tour from any agency in town (who all book with the same main Pilot, Edgar), be taken to the launch site outside of town and then have a solid 25 minutes in the clouds.

Canopy
You won’t have trouble finding tour operators for canopying (zip-lining). These lines can cost between 10-15 dollars per ride and some even have you in superman position!

Canyoning
Similar to canopy and rafting, there are dozens of tour operators in town offering canyoning tours. This involves things like rappelling down waterfalls, cliff jumping, and falling, swimming, and walking through rapids. The tours can cost about $30 for a half day and $60 for a full day.

Hotsprings
The full name for the city of Baños is “Baños de Agua Santa” because of its healing mineral hot springs flowing from nearby volcanic activity. There are 2 very accessible options for thermals in Baños. ‘Las Piscinas de la Virgen’ are thermal pools located about 5 minutes’ walk from the Church and right next to the Virgin’s Hair waterfall and ‘El Salado Hot Springs’, which are slightly less busy are 1.5km from town.

Massage
Along with its healing baths, the city of Baños comes with everything spa-inclusive. This is a great place to kick back, relax and enjoy cheap spa treatments. Everything from hot-rock massages to deep tissue massages, to mud rubs, facials and mani-pedis are available here. Numerous spa operators run throughout the city, just ask your hostel or take a walk down town and enjoy.

Waterfall tour
The Ruta de las Cascadas is something one can take via bus tour, by bicycle, or by rented ATV and includes many of the waterfalls which surround the town of Baños. Stop at a zip-line along the way, or just enjoy the ride/drive and see some of the large, small, and sometimes double waterfalls of this mountainous area.

 

 

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Europe Guides Insider Tips Photography

The Best of Croatia: Insider Guide

Croatia is a magical place. From walled medieval cities to the sparkling Dalmatian coastline, Eastern Europe’s crown jewel is the epitome of wanderlust – a perfect mix of history, adventure and natural beauty. I’ve traveled all over the globe for Bucket List Bums, and Croatia is one of the few places I would return to. It really does cast a spell, and I wanted to share a few favorites from my travels through the vibrant country. Enjoy, lovelies! ♥

General_Croatia
Favorite City – Dubrovnik

It’s tough to pick a favorite city in Croatia – everywhere I visited was so special! But Dubrovnik was particularly epic to me. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, I fell in love with the sweeping walled city that so many have fondly come to know as “King’s Landing.” I tucked my map away in Dubrovnik, and let myself get lost in the picturesque maze of streets, plazas and alleyways dotted with churches, markets, fountains and the most adorable doorways.

A little secret for anyone traveling to Dubrovnik during high season: hit the streets at sunrise every morning. I loved the energy of the summer crowds, but I cherished my two hours alone with the city in the early hours. Mornings were my only chance to have the marble wonderland to myself, and experience a bit of quiet with the city still asleep.

Dubrovnik_Croatia

Favorite Beach – Banje Beach, Dubrovnik

While in Dubrovnik, I left the city walls behind and strolled south where I spent an afternoon soaking in the sun on Banje Beach. The location was incredible. I perched myself high atop the turquoise gem, overlooking picturesque Croatian scenes of the dazzling Dalmatian coast, and epic views of the walled city. Typically, I like empty stretches of sand, but the good vibes and contagious energy of this crowded paradise were irresistible.

Banje_Beach_Croatia

Favorite Bar – Buza Bar, Dubrovnik

A drink at cliffside Buza Bar is a MUST for anyone visiting Dubrovnik. Built up the rocks along the city walls, the vibrant bar is the perfect spot to chill out after a long day of sightseeing. Nab a table, order a few beers and watch (or partake!) as the adventurous cliff jumpers plunge into the crashing waves below.

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Favorite Island – Hvar

Rarely would I recommend traveling somewhere during high season, but summer in Hvar oozes with an irresistible energy fused by the warm weather, beautiful people and lively bars. From 7 AM to 7 PM, the rocky coastline is dotted with sunbathers along waters so pristine that I could jump in just about anywhere (and I did!).

Hvar Town itself is a medieval little wonder. I braved the summer heat and let myself get lost in the maze of cobbled alleyways and side streets lined with restaurant corridors, tiny shops and wine bars. While I loved the energy, it was best to explore in the early morning when I had the streets to myself for a few hours.

Hvar_Croatia

Favorite Daytrip – Proizd Island

Croatia’s Adriatic coast was a wealth of island gems and glistening beaches. And in the months leading up to our travels, I made it my mission to find the country’s prettiest, off-the-beaten-path paradise. I must have sifted through hundreds of island photos, and read dozens of articles, before coming across Proizd, a little Croatian wonder located just off the Vela Luka tip of Korcula.

From Old Town Korcula, I rented a car for the day, and drove across the island to the west end’s sleepy Vela Luka waterfront where I caught the first water taxi over to Proizd. The 40-minute journey was cold and bumpy, but all that discomfort melted away when I disembarked in Proizd’s warm, idyllic paradise ringed with the clearest turquoise shallows.

Proizd_Croatia

Favorite Eats – Gelato

Croatia was a blur of tasty eats. Seafood and Italian restaurants lined the streets, and the aroma of fresh cooked mussels, sea bass and John Dory guided me through every city. But when I think back to Croatia, it’s gelato that pops into my mind. Ice cream is my favorite treat when we travel, and I was eating it two to three times a day in Croatia. Make note to do the same!

Gelatto_Croatia

Favorite Natural Wonder – Plitvice Lakes

It was 10 years ago that I’d first seen a photo of Croatia, a little country in Eastern Europe that sounded vaguely familiar, but I knew little about. The imagery depicted more than a dozen cascading white waterfalls feeding into tiered pools of vibrant turquoise, in what looked like a mythical forest of lush greenery. At first, I thought it was a painting – somewhere too magical to actually exist, like the setting of a JRR Tolkien novel. But the caption swore it to be a real place … Plitvice Lakes National Park, in Croatia.

I arrived to find Plitvice just as epic as the photos I had seen. It rained during my visit, creating a dreamy wonderland of lush greenery as I hiked from lake to lake and waterfall to waterfall. Crowds were non-existent at 7 AM when the park opened, so I recommend an early start.

Plitvice_Croatia

Favorite Adventure – Adriatic Sea Caves

There are several sea caves hidden throughout the Mediterranean, but Croatia’s Blue Grotto and Monk Seal Cave are two of my favorites. Hidden in the rocks of Bisevo, the Blue Grotto is reachable by little rowboats that fit through the tiniest of openings in the island cliffs. As we floated in, I was in awe of the dark cavern lit by a surreal blue glow, and crystal clear water dotted with silvery rocks just below the surface.

Monk Seal Cave was another little gem. The tiny cave was hardly visible from our boat, and we could only get into the mouth via an underwater swim. I jumped from the boat, and in choppy waters, took a deep breath diving down and then up into the sea cavern’s interior that radiated with a brilliant turquoise glow.

For travelers staying on Hvar, daytrips to both caves can be booked on the island’s waterfront with a local guide or tour company.

Adriatic_Caves_Croatia

 

 

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