Welcome back to the streets of Rome! Picking you up, right where we left in my last blog “The Unparalleled Rome, Part I – A Quick guide“, assuming that you have already arrived in Rome (or soon planning to). We would now talk about what all you can do in Rome and truly, there are no limits!
Quick Note –
- Local Language – Italian
- Local Currency – Euro
- Best time to Visit – April to mid-June or October. Summer starts from mid-June to September and are much scorching & crowded.
My first visit in the City Center felt like I was in a carnival. The moment you enter the city you’d be greeted by sheer cheerfulness. Wandering through the colorful streets you would find plenty of roadside bars and food joints where you can sit, relax and fill your energy up while enjoying live street music. If you are lucky, you could experience some real Italian out-of-the-world street opera too. The local restaurants offer plentiful choices of food including the famous over-sized thin crust pizzas, bountiful options of pastas and what not! You get food options for everyone in Rome – vegan or omnivore. Try the classic Italian rosy wines and definitely drink the famous local beer “Peroni”.
Rome offers a wide variety of accommodations all over the city starting from hotels, hostels, apart-hotels, apartments, guest houses and many more. Price range varies based upon the location and star categories and you’d get plenty of options based on your budget. It is always better to pre-book your stay because Rome is always crowded, and especially in the high season it would be difficult for you to find an affordable place. For budget travellers there are many hostels those offer bed & breakfast and there are apartments. I myself always prefer apartments for my stay. Choosing a home-stay would always be cheaper and would let you experience the real essence of the city. You would get a chance to interact with your host and know the neighbourhood far better than you could if you have stayed in a hotel. A lot of people prefer to stay near Termini station, for obvious reasons! It is the center and commute is really easy. But the rate per night can rise up during the tourist season. Instead, you can always choose your stay in other parts of the city with an easy metro access. If you are choosing a hotel, guesthouse or hostel then prefer those which offer complementary breakfast. A filling breakfast from a restaurant in Rome can be expensive. Or else, simply choose an apartment that comes with a kitchen and make your own breakfast every morning. You have to buy food from local grocery stores and believe me, you’d get enough mouthwatering options for your breakfast under 10 Euros. This way you could save more on your daily budget and rather spend that money on something else that is more important to you. May be a guided tour, a good bottle of wine or a lavish romantic dinner by the Tiber river 🙂
There are innumerable must visits in Rome and if you are traveling for just a few days, you must plan your list well before. Plan your day keeping the map of the city with you, so that you don’t waste your time travelling north to south. Of course, if you have at least one week or more, you can easily cover most of the sites. I would suggest a minimum of 4 days, less than that doesn’t do justice! If you are visiting in summer, do not forget your sunglasses and sunscreen lotion. Wear light cotton materials and definitely keep a hat!
Day 1 :
The Colosseum – This colossal amphitheater was built by the Flavian emperors and is the largest amphitheater ever constructed in history. It is said that the Colosseum could accommodate approximately 80,000 spectators at a time. You can marvel the architecture from outside, and if you are interested to see the interiors, you have to buy a tour. You may have to wait in the queue even if you buy “skip-the-line” tickets. But nevertheless, the wait is justified as you enter and there would not be a single moment when you’d stop awing. There is a museum inside where you can find out more about the gladiators and collect souvenirs.
Roman Forum and Palentine Hill – From Colosseum take the exit towards the Arch of Constantine. Take a few minutes to marvel this triumphal architecture and then walk through Via Sacra – the sacred, unscathed and very ancient street of the Roman Forum, that Julius Caesar himself once walked along. It carries evidences of history since 10th Century BC. Here you can take some time to explore the many beautiful ruins – the Arch of Titus, Temple of Vesta, Temple of Romulus, Antiquarium Forense, Casa delle Vestali and the Column of Phocus. You can then hike up to the Palentine Hill, that used to be the residential district of the Roman Emperors, noblemen and all other political big shots. Here get a close look of the ancient villas, fountains and gardens and from the top of the hill you would get a spectacular view of the Roman Forum.
Capitoline Hill – Climb up to Piazza del Campidoglio, the square which was designed by none other than the great master Michelangelo. Enjoy the many classic renaissance style palaces turned into museums and monuments. If you can reach there before sunset you would get a beautiful view of the Forum and the Colosseum along with the setting sun.
Piazza Venezia – This is one of the prime landmark and an important junction of Rome. There is a beautiful Victorian monument called Palazzo Venezia, which is also a museum full of intricate sculptures and artworks. This can be your last spot of the day, and you would get easy transportation from Piazza Venezia to travel back to your hotel or to any place else that you’d want to go for dinner.
Day 2 :
Spanish steps – Take a metro to Spagna and visit the iconic Spanish steps. There is a Baroque style fountain here called Fontana della Barcaccia. There are a lot of shops around this place, and you can stroll around to collect souvenirs, window shop or simply walk and take colorful photographs.
Trevi Fountain – Take a short walk to Fountana di Trevi next to admire the beautiful Baroque style sculptures adorning the fountain, and throw a coin into the water using your right hand over your left shoulder – as per the legend that ensures your return to Rome 🙂 By the way, it was under renovation when I visited! It is said that the Trevi at night is even more beautiful because of the many lighting arrangements around the fountain.
The Pantheon – Within a short walking distance visit this ancient Roman temple with a stunning architecture. The entrance of the Pantheon has tall columns under a triangular pediment and once you are inside the construction is circular with a high ceiling and a dome on top of it.
Piazza Navona – From Pantheon, visit the neighboring vibrant square called Piazza Navona. This junction is one of the most colorful and crowded spot in Rome. There is a lovely fountain here surrounded by locals entertaining the tourists in various ways. You would find awe-inspiring street musicians, singers, magicians, artists and dancers all around and you would be able to see tourists from all over the world here. There are plenty of restaurants and pizzerias here for having lunch.
Villa Borghese – take a local bus or if you are not very tired, walk towards Villa Medici, the classical renaissance style palace, that belonged to the famous Medici family of Italy. It is turned into a museum now and you have to buy a tour to enter the palace. If you are not interested to see inside, simply walk across to Villa Borghese which is a large open landscape with beautifully manicured antique garden, stunning ancient buildings and monuments. A perfect spot to relax!
Piazza Del Popolo – This is the “people’s square” and if you have time, enter the Basilica of Santa Maria. Here you can see 2 original paintings by the famous Baroque painter Caravaggio. Museo Leonardo Da Vinci is right next to the Basilica. You have to buy tickets to enter this museum to experience the Maestro’s lifelong researches and preserved scribbling and drawings.
Dinner by the Tiber – You surely would be tired enough after all these tours! So next, you can walk towards the Tiber river, select a spot among the many outdoor dining places and chill along the riverside with the spectacular view of Tiber and the glistening reflection of Rome on it.
Day 3 :
The Vatican – You need a full day to experience the Vatican City. The Vatican is the world’s smallest sovereign state and is the home to the Pope, walled off from the rest of Rome. You may take a metro or a bus to reach the Vatican city. This is on the other side of the Tiber River. To avoid the rush and a jam-packed entrance, we have bought Skip-the-Line tickets online that came with an audio-guide device + entry permit to the museum, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. There are many websites that provide Skip-the-Line tickets, but the most authentic is the official one http://www.museivaticani.va.
Be aware, if you are standing in the queue to enter, you could be approached by the local travel agents who would offer you complete guided tours against 50 to 80 Euros per head (or more). They may try to convince that you wouldn’t be able to enter the museum at all without a valid guided tour ticket. Do not worry, if you pre-book an online Skip-the-Line ticket you can enter easily. Just collect your audio-guide device from the counter inside. This audio-guide device helps you to explore the museum freely and spend time on whatever you are interested to see. You can buy the guided tours, but you would be then stuck with your group and guide and cannot explore the museum at your pleasure.
There is a dress code to enter the Vatican. Both men and women must have their shoulders and knees covered. Once you enter, you’d have to go through a x-ray checking process. Make sure that you don’t carry large bags and keep a water bottle handy because there would be a lot of strolling around inside.
It is impossible to cover the entire Vatican Museums in a single day. Best is to collect a map of the museum from the entrance or download one and then decide which of the many galleries you would want to cover first. If you have time, you can check out the others. Don’t miss the famous sculptures – Laocoon, The Porphyry Basin, The sculpture of Apollo Belvedere, the Tapestry Room crafted by the Raphael School, The Hall of Maps, The Pope’s Palace followed by the paintings of the great artist from high renaissance – Raphael.
Of course, your trip to Vatican would not be completed without visiting the Sistine Chapel and the marvelous creations of Michelangelo Bounarotti. The entire ceiling of Sistine Chapel depicts 9 scenes from the book of Genesis, including the famous “Creation of Adam”. There is a vast wall right where the hall ends and that’s where you could marvel at the masterpiece “Last Judgement”. This hall has dim lights and here you are not allowed to click photographs or talk aloud. After Sistine Chapel, pay a visit to the divine Papal Basilica of San Pietro (St. Peter’s Basilica).
Janiculum Terrace – Considering you are still on the other side of the Tiber river, you could climb up the Janiculum Terrace, a lovely hilltop alongside the Botanical garden park of Rome. This is not a very crowded tourist spot but a lovely place to be during sunset. Only make sure that you are geared up for a good 30 minutes hike, up the hill. From the Janiculum Terrace you would be able to get a spectacular sweeping view of the city. Here we have found locals spending time with friends and family, sweethearts strolling around hand in hand and a few just married couples posing on the hilltop to get that perfect frame of thematic “Roman Wedding”. This place was suggested to us by a local restaurant owner, a cheerful man whom we met on our way to the Vatican. He also informed us a very important fact which helped us greatly when we explored Rome by walk and you would not be able to find this trick in any guide books.
Useful Tip: If you are lost in Rome without a compass or internet connection and you need to find which way is the North, simply look for a building with a TV antenna on it’s roof top. All antennas are south faced hence the opposite would be North 🙂
Trastevere – From the hilltop walk down towards Gianicolo Bus stop around the corner of the Botanical garden. From here you can take a nice 20 minutes walk or a 10 minutes bus ride to reach Trastevere. We preferred walking just to find a perfect Ice cream parlor called “Gelataria Fatamorgana” and satisfied our cravings for real Gelato Italiano. Trastevere is a medieval neighborhood of Rome with cobblestone streets, old squares and buildings with Bohemian influences. Visit the Basilica di Santa Maria and experience the beautiful mosaic works on the Church’s ceiling, walls and floor. Trastevere is famous for it’s lively nightlife and traditional Roman cuisines. You would find live music, vibrant young crowds, craft shops and plenty of pizzerias to find beer, wine and dine in a much cheaper price than anywhere else in Rome.
Day 4 :
Campo de Fiori – After 3 active days of too many sight seeing, keep it slow on Day 4. Visit the colorful Campo de Fiori. Be there during the morning to see the fresh vegetable market accompanied by various other colorful open air shops. Spend some time here to take vibrant photographs or collect your travel souvenirs. If you are lucky you may experience the hilarious sales pitch of Mustafa Porta Portese, selling vegetable cutters 🙂
Largo di Torre Argentina – Just across Campo de Fiori there is an ancient monument of huge importance, not just because Julius Caesar was killed there, but also because how thoughtfully the Romans have preserved it! You would understand the most interesting part only once you enter, especially if you are a Feline fan. Largo di Torre Argentina is also a Cat Sanctuary and here you would get a chance to be friends with more than a hundred friendly felines napping and purring all over the place and of course guarding the ruins of this sacred temple. This place was one of my personal favourites in Rome!
Circo Massimo – From Torre Argentina take a bus to Circo Massimo or the Circus Maximus. It is a huge ancient Roman chariot racing stadium. In ancient times public games were conducted here and it is preserved very well for the tourists now.
Take a detour – You can spend the rest of your day relaxing in the city center or simply take a detour and walk through the city’s old alleyways. There are archaeological remains, small or big, in every corners of the city and you can visit another hundred of them if you have time.
Rome will constantly surprise you with dynamic visual diversity. In a few minute’s difference you would walk by a huge historical architecture, and right next to it you would find a very modern building with jazzy shops. It all mingles very well!