Walking in Rome is like travelling back in time, from over 2000 years ago in the Roman occupied Italy to 500 years ago in the arms of Renaissance. It is like roaming in an open air museum. You don’t necessarily need to enter a world heritage site or museum to see the ancient ruins, Rome beholds it’s history in every nook and corner quite literally and some even remains still unearthed.
You can imagine the joy it brought to history buffs like us when we visited Rome. So here is an elaborate guide we put together based on our experiences to help you all. For more travel tips on Italy read our blog here.
Gregory Peck might very well have charmed his lady love, Audrey Hepburn, in the classic movie Roman Holiday but you will have to go visit Rome yourself to be enamored by the charms of this city.
TRANSPORTATION IN AND OUT OF ROME
BUS: Within Rome, I also ask you to explore the option of taking the metro buses especially if you have google map’s assistance to find the appropriate bus numbers. Riding on the metro buses provided us with a sneak peak of lot more of Rome that we would have missed otherwise being in the trains or would have to pay extra for a tour bus.
WALK: Be ready for a lot of walking but its always good to mix up some local transportation with walking to give your poor feet some solace.
TAXIS: Taxis are readily available on streets but given the haphazard traffic and many one way lanes in Rome be prepared for higher fares. We are guilty of cabbing it up a couple of times when our feet and patience on local transportation gave up.
TIP: All local transportation (trains + buses) are included in the Roma Pass.
TOP 10 THINGS TO SEE IN ROME
If you are taking a guided tour of the city then you are golden but if not then the below guide should help you explore Rome at your own pace. TIP: We highly recommend using a map when exploring Rome, you can ask for it at any visitor center, your hotel or B&B if you don’t already have it. One of the reasons we recommend carrying a map is because of the poor city organization with no signboards, directions or descriptions on the streets to help identify all the ancient historic sites. So if not for anything, just carry it to spot the many important ruins you might stroll by on the streets of Rome. For e.g. the ruins across the streets from the enigmatic Colosseum arena were actually the housing where once the Gladiators lived and ceremonially entered the arena from.
If this map is any indication you can easily spend a lifetime exploring Rome but if you have to pick and choose your options then we would say anywhere between 3-5 days is required to give this incredible city its due justice. Listed below are the top 10 things to see in Rome according to us. TIP: You can click on each of the pictures we took below to enlarge and watch them as a slideshow.
One of the most enigmatic structures ever built by humans (after the Pyramids of Giza ofcourse) and to have done that almost 2000 years ago (80 AD) is a proof of the architectural excellence of that era. Magnanimity of the Colosseum can only be generously appreciated when you experience it with your own eyes. If you really want to learn the intriguing history and the grueling stories then we definitely recommend going for a guided tour and now there is even an underground guided tour available. You could also just buy an audio guide at the time of general ticket purchase, however the audio tour wasn’t very detailed in our experience. In full disclosure, we did not take the guided tour because my husband had me covered with his hundreds of hours of watching documentaries and reading books on Colosseum’s history. For those of you who have watched the movie “Gladiator”, you will remember these famous words by Maximus (Russell Crowe) standing right in the middle of the Colosseum – “Father to a murdered son. Husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next”. TIP: Do yourself a favor and buy the kind of ticket that allows you to escape the never ending entrance lines (a guided tour or getting Roma pass helps here).
2. Roman Forum & PalAtine hill
Forum was once the heart of city of Rome, a market place and meeting spot for the Romans under the Capitoline hill. Today you will find here the ruins of several important historical government buildings from centuries ago. FUN FACT: Much before it became a market place, the forum was a garbage disposal ground for the ancient Romans living in the Palatine and Aventine hills.
TIP: These three major tourist attractions i.e. Colosseum, Roman Forum & Paletine hill can be easily done on the same day especially since there is just one entrance ticket for all three sites and their entrances are so close to each other. However, you are allowed to cover any of these 3 sites in a span of 3 days with the same ticket.
3. Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona boasts the three famous fountains in Rome and is also a bustling plaza with tourists and street artists alike. In the center of Piazza Navona is the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers), on the southern end is Fontana del Moro (Moor Fountain) and at the northern end is Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune). FUN FACT: Originally built by ancient Romans as a competitive games arena (much like Circus Maxima). You will find several gifted painters creating beautiful artwork here while also selling their work as well as regular street vendors selling artworks of other artists. TIP: Beware of some of these artists and vendors, you get what you pay for.. i.e. fake art, some of these are just prints with a few stroke of brushes on top of it.
This best preserved ancient Roman (and Greek) monument which miraculously managed to survive the barbarian raids in Rome. FUN FACT: Pantheon’s dome was the inspiration for the then budding architect Brunelleschi to create the now famous Duomo in Florence. Almost 2000 years after it was build Pantheon’s dome is the still the largest unsupported concrete dome in the world. FUN FACT: The famous Renaissance painter Raphael is buried at the Pantheon.
5. Trevi Fountain
This one turned out to be much grander yet space constrained than we had imagined. The beautifully carved baroque style fountain is the largest in Rome and aptly featured in several movies due to it’s magnificent beauty. TIP: We recommend visiting Trevi fountain at day time as well as in the evening to experience the beautiful lit up effect.
6. Spanish steps
Spanish steps were built to connect the Trinità dei Monti church on top to the Spanish square below. At the bottom of these steps is Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Old Boat). The steps were under renovation when we visited it.
TIP: The above four attraction i.e. Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Trevi fountain and Spanish steps are free of charge to all and can be easily seen on a pleasant walk (just get a map!) in the city which we like to call “A classic Roman walk”. Crowd alert if you are going in peak tourist season such as Summer and Autumn.
7. The Vatican City
The Vatican is the smallest country in the world but what many people don’t know is that the Vatican consists of a working church i.e. St. Peter’s Basilica, the famous Sistine chapel and is home to an array of museums adoring various priced artwork commissioned by the church over several centuries. TIP: Photography is not allowed inside the Sistine Chapel and if the guards see you sneak a picture while you are not discreet enough, they will take your camera and erase the picture themselves.. True story. When you buy your tickets you are actually going to start walking through the assorted collections displayed in the many museum halls until you make your way to the Sistine chapel. Once you exit from here, you are free to go visit St. Peter’s basilica. TIP: We took a private guided tour of the Vatican and would highly recommend it to anyone who likes to delve deeper and darker into history. We booked from a company called Walks of Italy but we are not associated with them in anyway, infact we would urge you to find a tour that best fits your needs but watch out for their reviews.
8. Capitoline Museum
Located on top of the Capitoline Hill, one of seven sacred hills of Rome, is the world class Capitoline museum displaying a vast array of Roman and Greek artifacts. FUN FACT: In ancient times, Capitoline hill was the heart of Roman empire where stood the temple of Jupiter and it was in this temple that Brutus and other assassins hid after brutally murdering the mighty Julius Ceaser.
TIP: Whether or not you decide to visit this museum (totally get it, its very easy to get overwhelmed by museums in Italy), certainly take a stroll through the top of this hill and enjoy the panoramic views of Rome from up here. Also next to this hill is Rome’s National Monument, Altare della Patria, also goes by the nickname ‘the wedding cake’ building. Its fairly a new construction from the 20th century given Rome’s history and it happens to be a short walk from the Colosseum.
9. Galleria Borghese
Another museum.. I know!! But then we didn’t want you to not know about this popular spot either and in all honesty, we personally were not able to visit this museum given the time we had in hand. We picked Capitoline Museum over this instead. But by all means, if you have the time and energy do go visit this famous galleria built by Borghese family of Rome. There are plenty of great things to see around Villa Borghese such as Piazza del Popolo. TIP: Both these museums are included as one of the attractions in the Roma Pass but Galleria Borghese requires you to call and make a time slot reservation in advance (no charge for this service) whereas Capitoline accepts walk-ins.
10. Mouth of the Truth (Bocca della Verità)
I wanted to add this attraction in another article I am working on titled the hidden gems of Rome but since we started off with Roman Holiday, the movie, how could I not have mentioned this church here. And if you have not watched this classic movie yet.. what are you doing?! Mouth of the truth marble mask stands on the portico of the Basilica of Saint Mary in Cosmedin. FUN FACT: The Basilica of St. Mary in Cosmedin houses the relic of famous Roman Saint Valentine who is commemorated on February 14 which the world now celebrates as the day of love. All you lovers out there, now you have another reason to head down here 😉
To end this long post in a cliché – ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’..
.. so no matter how long it takes, you must visit Rome once in your lifetime. Hope this extensive guide we put together helps you plan an amazing trip to Rome. If this isn’t sufficient then I recommend you head to the Master of Europe’s trip planning Rick Steve’s website. I digged all his videos!
As always we love hearing from you so please leave us your comments 🙂