Rome, the Great?

Rome, the Great?

There it is. Rome. The fifth best city in the world according to Travel +Leisure’s 2014 World’s Best Awards.

I’m not too sure how I feel about that. I mentioned before that I didn’t spend enough time in Rome to form a substantial opinion of the city. Still, perhaps because I didn’t fall head over heels for Rome, I’m kind of surprised that it ranks so high on Travel +Leisure’s list. Awards like this make me think about what factors go into making these kinds of decisions and who decides which cities make the final cut. So now I’m wondering, in general…

…what makes a city great?



Is it accessibility? If so, there’s no disputing that Rome, Italy’s capital, which was once at the heart of the Roman Empire, is one of the most accessible cities in the world. Sitting smack in the middle of Italy near the coast, whether you’re traveling to/from Rome by plane, train, or ship, transport in and out of the city is a breeze. And while we didn’t have the chance to test out Rome’s public transit, it’s definitely a viable way to get around, especially considering that Rome gets its fair share of traffic jams which actually had me feeling like I was back home in Los Angeles.


Is it its history? If history is the determining factor of a city’s greatness, then Rome checks that box too. Commonly referred to as “The Eternal City,” Rome’s been making history since 753 BC, establishing it as the oldest city in Europe that’s been continuously inhabited. I have to say that it was surreal to visit sites like the Colosseum where gladiators once battled and where Christians were thrown to the lions. And as we wandered through the ruins of the Roman Forum and past the former Temple of Caesar where Julius Caesar was buried, I was in awe. There’s no denying that Rome will forever have a significant place in the history books.

A statue of twin brothers Romulus & Remus, Rome's founders (according to myth/legend), being nursed by the Capitoline Wolf
A statue of twin brothers Romulus & Remus, Rome’s founders (according to myth/legend), being nursed by the Capitoline Wolf








Maybe it’s the food? While the bread in Rome didn’t at all measure up to the bread in France, no one goes to Rome for the bread. It’s all about the pasta! I definitely ate my fair share of pasta and other Italian dishes for the short time we were there, and I didn’t have a single bad bite. Not one.

The perfect plate of Bucatini all'Amatriciana
The perfect plate of Bucatini all’Amatriciana


Best plate of meatballs ever.
Best plate of meatballs ever


Perhaps it’s the people? Maybe we didn’t interact with enough locals while in Rome, but the ones we did meet seemed okay, I suppose. We didn’t find Romans to be particularly warm. Most of the Romans we encountered reminded me of locals in any other big city in that they seem to be in a hurry and somewhat standoffish – another reminder of home. In my opinion, if Rome is great, it’s not because of the warmth of its people.


Could it be the diversions on offer? With such a rich history, it’s no wonder that historical points of interest are the main draw to Rome. Walking through the streets of Rome, we were always aware that we were literally walking through history. But apart from the historical sites, like most other major cities, Rome offers a plethora of things to do that can satiate every interest whether it’s shopping, restaurants, music, theatre, and even outdoorsy activities.

At the Spanish Steps
At the Spanish Steps


Maybe it’s its beauty? There’s no doubt that Rome is a beautiful city. With its juxtaposition of ruins and modern structures; narrow roads; an architectural mix of classical, Romanesque, Renaissance, and Baroque styles; random fountains; and charming neighborhoods, Rome’s beauty can’t be denied.


Trevi Fountain
Trevi Fountain


Maybe what makes a city truly great is purely subjective. Despite everything that Rome has going in its favor that typically makes a city great, and despite its obvious popularity with world travelers and the writers and editors of publications like Travel + Leisure, when it comes to me forming a concrete opinion of Rome, the jury’s still out. To offer my fair opinion of whether Rome is a great city, I guess I’ll just have to prioritize a return trip.



Have you been to Rome? If so, do you think it’s one of the world’s great cities?

  • Laura Hewitt

    After reading the article (as well as all the comments), my impression is that many people have spent no time in Rome.
    A day? Two days? Three..?
    One must realize that in order to take in such huge city, a person must actually see it – and to see Rome it takes much walking.
    You should google-image TRASTEVERE, and then you will know why people adore Rome above all other cities. Check out the JEWISH GHETTO or the COPPEDE’ QUARTER. Take a look at the MAXXI MUSEUM or the GIANICOLO.
    Visiting the usual 5 squares+the Colisseum+St.Peter’s will give you nothing but some already-seen postcards.

    You all need to spend 10 days there, and then you’ll see what all others see.


  • Dana, I have the exact same feeling about Rome! It has everything it could possibly need to be fantastic, yet I sort of shrug my shoulders when I think back of my time there. I have no idea why. Maybe we had had too many expectations? I went during high season and I remember I couldn’t connect why the city because there were so many tourists all over the place. It had a Disneyland quality to it. I liked Rome, but… Like you say, perhaps going back is the way to go.

    • Dana Carmel

      Maybe you’re right about expecting too much of Rome. We’ll definitely have to return, and hopefully, we’ll feel more assured about Rome’s greatness.

  • Hmm, interesting question. We went to Rome this summer (2nd time for me). I liked it well enough, but I didn’t fall in love with it like I did with Paris the previous year. Soon afterwards, I visited my friend in California who says that if all her trips are to Rome for the rest of her life, she’d be perfectly happy. She’s already been 3 times. What she loves about it is getting lost and just wandering. I think when I was there, our time was so short that we could only do very efficient sightseeing. Plus, I had my kids with me, and they have a low tolerance for aimless wandering when it’s that hot outside.

    • Dana Carmel

      I know that part of the reason I didn’t fall in love with Rome is that we didn’t spend enough time there. The next time I go, I want to have time to wander and roam like your friend. I think that makes a huge difference when discovering a place!

  • Hi Dana, I felt the same way the very first time I visited Rome in late 90’s. I appreciated all its historical offerings but didn’t fall in love with it as a city and didn’t have any thirst to return. Few years ago, Keith twisted my arms to go during our Italy trip. I agreed but only for 3 days tops. I then had a complete change of heart – I fell in love with the city and wished we stayed longer. I found the city polished most of its rough edges and much more agreeable. Maybe we went beyond the tourist route that time and got to discover its hidden charsm and being with Keith I got to appreciate its romance. Few months ago, I went back to take my Mom for a week for her 70th birthday. We did the usual tourist stuff but I did still enjoy it. We enjoyed traveling all over the city like locals using the efficient transpos. There’s a lot going for it that makes it a great city. I hope you give it a second chance.

    • Dana Carmel

      I think you hit the nail on the head – you went beyond the tourist route. I really think that can make all the difference when it comes to fully appreciating a destination. I think it’s great that you took your mom to Rome, too!

  • We were in Rome a few years ago and really enjoyed our visit there. Although, I’m more of a Venice fan. I found the traffic and overcrowded attractions a bit standoffish but loved the history and architecture and of course, the food. I looked at that T&L list too and wondered why some cities were on that list and why some great ones were left off. We weren’t there with our kids, so maybe I need to bring the kids for a different perspective too like Monique did 😉

    • Dana Carmel

      I have yet to visit Venice, but the next time I’m in Italy, I plan on exploring the country (and of course, Rome) more thoroughly!

  • Rome was definitely NOT my favorite city in Italy (and definitely not my favorite European city;-) I much preferred Florence and its quaint charm and warm locals. Like you, I think “best cities” is a pretty subjective at best;-) But you did a great job of capturing all the great parts about Rome!!!

    • Dana Carmel

      Thanks, Jess! I have yet to visit Florence but from what I’ve read about it, I think I’d prefer it over Rome as well. It’s funny – the older I get, the more I value quaint charm than fast-paced, hectic cities.

  • Thanks for these candid observations, Dana. I’ve always wondered how these lists were created and why some are regarded with such authority while others aren’t. I guess the bottomline is that we should all keep an open mind and not rely too much on other people’s lists as they’re all so subjective. Great post!

    • Dana Carmel

      Thank’s Marcia. It’s definitely important to remain open minded when traveling because sometimes the most unexpected places provide the greatest experiences!

  • I think because everyone speaks so highly of places like Rome, Paris etc, we have such great expectations. As you know, my hubby was born and bred in Rome, so l get to see more of the everyday life and people. The landlord that brings home made wine, the neighbourhood pizza places, the big get togethers (when there’s harmony 🙂 ), the food, food and more food. The history everywhere. That said, he couldn’t wait to leave, and still doesn’t want to live there. I don’t either, crazy traffic and way too expensive. I do love it though.

    • Dana Carmel

      Ok…so next time we go to Rome, we obviously need to go when you guys are in town so we can get a taste of local life and insight from your husband. That would be an awesome experience! 🙂 I always think that it’s much easier to fall in love with a place when you can get a true sense of local life.

  • Well shoot, sorry that Rome was less than epic for you guys, Dana! Btw…the picture with Jave…he looks very hungry 🙂 I have my house decorated in wolf stuff, so that Capitoline Wolf statue is very cool! Once again I’m (trying to) make mental notes of your review here like I do everywhere you go. I absolutely want to see all of the historical stuff and MOST definitely the food! But, as I’ve mentioned before I’m not into crowds. Though I know you world traveler folks have taught me that it comes with the territory so to speak. It’s a shame that locals don’t “get it” on appreciating their own city and the joy of being able to see it through a foreigners eyes. I love talking to folks (from anywhere in the world) here in Reno when I cross paths with them. As far as enjoying or not enjoying a city or place from person to person…maybe it just comes down to different strokes for different folks? Hey, that first picture…what is that building and what are those cool looking dual horse statues on top of each side of it??? Enjoyed your post, our friend! 🙂

    • Dana Carmel

      Now we have the perfect excuse to go back to Rome, Mike – we need a do over! 😉 The building in the pic you mentioned is Il Vittoriano which was built to honor unified Italy’s first king, Victor Emmanuel. And you think Jave looks hungry in that pic?! Lol! I think we did go eat right after this tour, so maybe you’re right. And I definitely agree with your “different strokes for different folks” assessment. What makes a city great is in large part subjective.

  • Excellent post. We visited Rome last month, and I wasn’t particularly taken with it either, which was all the more disappointing since I’d been dreaming of a Roman holiday since middle school! I had more of a culture shock visiting Rome than I did visiting Uganda! However, I didn’t *dislike* it either. I would say that it should number among the great cultural cities of the world, but they definitely need to improve some things to be an all-around great city. I’ll definitely return one day (either one more trip before kids or with them), and maybe it’ll impress me more a second time around.

    • Dana Carmel

      Thanks, Katrina! It’s definitely saying a lot that Rome was more of a shock to your system than Uganda. I guess we feel the same in that we’re not really sure yet how we feel about Rome. I’m also hoping to be wow’d the next time around. It’s funny that you mentioned kids because one of my other readers suggested that I return with kids. So Rome is going back on my list!

  • I absolutely love Rome, for me it’s the history, the food, the people, the atmosphere … and lots more. I think you need to take more time in Rome to avoid having to rush from here to there the entire time but just to enjoy the city. Sit down with a glass of wine and enjoy …

    • Dana Carmel

      You’re right, Freya. I definitely need to return and spend more time there. A glass of red, a bowl of pasta, Jave, and I’m all set! 😉

  • Great post, Dana. Definitely, the Roman history/architecture and art, especially sculptural art, attract tourists to Rome. Photography-wise, Rome is the best place in the world (IMHO).
    I also had bad experience with restaurants, standing in endless lines, finding public restrooms, etc. But, that’s what you get in touristy cities.

    • Dana Carmel

      Thanks, Alex! Rome is definitely a great place for photography since it offers a wide range of subjects and great vantage points. Now I’m curious to look up Rome pics on your blog. 😉

  • Rome is in the top 5 of my bucket list. I hear a lot of beautiful things about Rome but also about the crazy touts, the insane scams, and the dirty toilets. But I always feel that until I see a destination for myself, I can never make an opinon so I am still wanting to go. But what you felt about Rome is what I feel about India. I read all sorts of articles where people speak about incredible India, I don’t feel that way about it. In fact when I thought I had to give it another chance and revisited, every place I went too dissapointed me except Manali. I don’t know how long I will take to give it another chance. For now, its the last thing on my mind.

    • Dana Carmel

      That’s so true, Rosemarie. It’s always important to see and experience destinations for ourselves before making judgments about them which is why I know that I have to return to Rome to be able to make a better assessment of how I feel about the city. I have yet to visit India, but based on your recommendation, I’m adding Manali to my list.

  • I did love Rome but it’s a hectic city and I definitely prefer more peaceful places in Italy.

    • Dana Carmel

      I’m looking forward to returning to Rome someday but I’d also love to visit some of the more peaceful parts of Italy.

  • I was last in Rome in 2004. It was typical of my style and was a trip within a trip. We had about 48 hours total spread across three days, and we only walked or took the subway. I’ve been known to put in 30+ miles on a 4 day city trip, and this felt about the same..just shorter duration.

    We kept forgetting to get subway tickets (at the time you could only buy them outside of the station) and the subway attendants kept just letting us pass thru instead of having to deal with us. We were also staying in a relatively residential section of the city behind the main train station and there were morning grocer stalls people seemed friendly enough. Granted, I live in downtown Chicago and have lived in downtown DC and Cambridge, MA, so maybe what I think of as friendly is skewed. 😉 At the time I also had some Italian language skills that have since faded.

    We also didn’t get a bad meal there.

    The one thing that I can say is – Don’t set a goal to eat five separate “due palline di gelato”. We thought we could do it. Breakfast – Gelato – Lunch – Gelato – Dinner – Gelato – walking-around-gelato – nightcap-gelato
    We actually failed.

    • Dana Carmel

      Lol – that’s so funny, Nisah! I also went to Rome with every intention of trying every gelato shop within easy walking distance, but we also failed. Miserably. 😉

      I lived in Chicago too – in Lincoln Park not far from downtown. I actually think Chicagoans are relatively friendly compared to someplace like L.A.

      I can also relate to your trip-within-a-trip travel style. In fact, I think most Americans can – we’re usually so pressed for time. I envy Europeans and people with flexible schedules who have plenty of time to travel and enjoy life.

  • I really really loved Rome. I spent four days there and did nothing but walk around. My Couchsurfing host didn’t live in the center (who does?) so I also got to enjoy taking the trains in Roma Termini every day. Wish I can go back!

    • Dana Carmel

      When I go back, I’d love to explore more of Rome’s residential areas. It’s great that you got to experience that side of the city!

  • You have very good points about Rome and I guess I felt the same way on my first visit. I’ve always heard so many “oh that city is amazing” comments, but when I first went there I didn’t quite see it. My second visit to Rome was ten years after my first one (last year) and I was able to appreciate it a little more. On this second trip to Rome, it was my daughter’s first trip there and I was able to look at it from a different perspective.

    Maybe plan for your second trip when you have a little one to show you the city 😉

    • Dana Carmel

      That’s such a good idea, Monique. We definitely want to start a family sometime soon, and we definitely want to show them the world. It would be amazing to see the world through their eyes.


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