Rome wasn’t built in a day, but certainly can be explored in a few. I would call it “a deep dive into history” or even “an episode of time travel”. Rome has truly withstood the test of time and leaving behind proof of all that endurance. Honestly, I remember being completely overwhelmed by a list of too many things to do, too many places to see because there really is a lot to Rome. Now that I’ve seen it all, I can safely recommend you some of my favorites. It would take all your life to see everything Rome has to offer. But I know you don’t spend all of it in one city. Don’t go chasing every fontana, every piazza and every Basilica out there. Take my advice and see the best stuff.
Go with “history” in your mind and your comfiest sneakers on your feet. You have a long walk ahead. Read through a little bit about Roman empires to truly appreciate the grandeur of Rome and why they say it wasn’t built it a day. Take audio guides wherever available because you can’t just guess the importance of the artifacts on display.
I recommend buying at least a public transportation pass if not any other because Rome is a huge city that has a lot of cobbled streets. Some places are on hilltop, others go round and round. No blaming me for sore achy feet later.
Quite rightly a man-made wonder of the world, the Colosseum is a landmark, not just in Rome, but also in world history. The gigantic ampitheatre was built for deadly gladiator games back in Roman era. Palatine hill is an archaeological site, an open museum, in the backyard of Colosseum, full of ruins from different civilizations and empires from Roman history.
The best time to see the Colosseum is early morning. The night before, check bus/metro timing for ‘Colosseo’ line. Keep at least 4-5 hours to see the Colosseum and Palatine hill, carrying along some snacks, water bottles, hats, sunglasses and sunblock in your day pack. Get there as early as 7:30am and you’ll be the first few in queue. If you have a Roma pass or online ticket, you won’t have to wait in ticket queue. I bought a 48-hours Roma pass for €28 from Roma Termini Visitor Information center, which is a legitimate and official place to buy the pass. I won’t recommend buying elsewhere. Get an audio guide or you’ll be staring at rocks the whole time without a clue of it’s significance. Read a little about Roman history or watch Gladiator movies to really get the full effect of the monument.
FONTANA DI TREVI
A majestic fountain, the Trevi! Definitely a must see, but how? Have you seen those viral pictures that show a ridiculous number of people flocked around the fountain resulting in a stampede? If that doesn’t sound like something you would enjoy, then your only option is to wake up super early, leave the kids in bed under supervision and head out to see the fountain in all it’s glory, no later than 6 AM. That’s right! Even at 6 AM, you’ll find people taking pictures, changing costumes, setting tripods but that’s bearable. This way you’ll be able to really appreciate the art, sculptures and history behind the fountain.
The world’s largest Christian Basilica – Basilica di San Pietro or St Peter’s Basilica is located in Vatican City. The main structure is flanked by courtyards and a single central atrium where the worshippers gather to visit St Peter’s tomb, hear the Pope, celebrate festivals and join parades. Get ready to drop your jaws upon entering the Basilica. Holy Jesus is it beautiful! The tinted glass art, the numerous sculptures, the paintings, the scriptures. All I want to do is go back in time and appreciate the artists who painted, sculpted and built the Basilica with their own bare hands. One of those artists would be Michelangelo. There’s no way anyone can take in that amount of grandeur in one go. It’s too much!
After seeing the cathedral inside out, I recommend walking across Via della Conciliazone towards Castle of St Angelo and stand at the very start of Lungotevere Castello during sunset. Turn around and get the full blown view of Vatican city with a backdrop of pink skies and a brilliant sunset. I promise you won’t regret it.
CASTEL SANT’ANGELO AND ST ANGELO BRIDGE
Castel Sant’Angelo is a 2-nd century castle displaying art work in Renaissance-style museum. There’s a ticket of €7 to see the castle. I skipped it, instead I listened to an artist playing the harp while watching the sun gradually set on St Angelo Bridge. If you think that sounds boring, may be you should give it a try. Summer evenings in Rome are incredibly romantic and unforgettable.
Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi
Another famous fountain in Rome, Fontana dei Quattro Fumi is equally gorgeous. And yes, equally crowded! It’s ineffable why I liked this fountain and piazza so much but the only word I could express for it is ‘vibrant’. The entire square was jam packed yet, there were beautiful street side restaurants, vendors selling souvenirs, there were artists painting, some performing, others being wonderful spectators. It was perfectly ‘Italian’ in every way.
I love how the Italians have unearthed and preserved every little thing from their past. I wonder how proud they are of their ancestors, for blessing them with so much culture, art and history. The Pantheon is an iconic temple in Rome built with a dome and typical Renaissance tomb, like the one in Paris. I went there on the wrong day and wrong time (on a Sunday after 5pm). So I couldn’t go inside. Frankly I had seen so many churches and cathedrals by that time that I don’t think I would’ve done justice to this one.
Piazza Spagna = Spanish square, home to the crowd-favorite baroque stairways called Spanish steps that lead to Obelisco Sallustiano (which is not a spell from Harry Potter, I checked). There’s nothing too special about these steps other than the fact that the piazza looks like a fun place to hangout and spend an hour one fine evening. Just like the steps at Times Square in New York, you sit by it, chat, eat, look around and have a good time.
OTHER PLACES TO SEE
Rome is a paradise for art and history lovers. The entire city is dotted with museums. Buy a museum pass and have the time of your life exploring Borghese Museum, National Roman Museum, Capitoline Museum.
Piazza Venezia is a square is a magnificent square that can be admired while on a bus ride across the city. Walking all around it will tire you out. The Piazza is lined by a beautiful marble monument – Altar of the Fatherland, Equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II, a tomb, a museum, all in one complex. At the top of the museum complex is an open terrace, Terrazza delle Quadrighe, where you’ll get to see the most stunning 360 degree views of the city.
Michelangelo himself designed Capitoline Steps & Campidoglia hilltop square. People stroll around for better views of the entire neighborhood. I’d go to any lengths to witness Michelangelo’s works. As you reach to the top, you admire the structure and sculptures lined along the head of the stairs. On a sunny day, it’s quite exhausting really.
Largo di Torre Argentina is an archaeological site in the city and a sanctuary for stray cats. The park is full of adorable kitties sprawled in every corner sunbathing carelessly, waiting to be pampered by visitors. Cat lovers in this direction please!
Catacombs of Priscilla is the stuff of my nightmares, to be honest. It’s an underground cemetery with skulls and skeletons sticking out of walls. Some are intrigued by the concept so they go traipsing right in. I’m not one of those. If you are, check out this site before visiting.
You don’t have to check out all of these places. Pick the ones you absolutely want to see and skip the rest. No matter what, you’re going to love it in Rome. Thank me later!