‘Do as the Roman’s do!’, ‘When in Rome…!’, ‘All roads lead back to Rome’.
Roman culture and history is embedded in our language, I found to be impossible to grasp the iconic moments of history that took place in this ancient of ancient cities.
This is a must-visit city in Europe, no questions asked! Whether you know nothing or everything about the Roman forum, gladiators, or Julius Caesar, the city is a feast for the eyes and the stomach. Cars scream their way through the cobbled stone streets, winding between ancient ruins, piazzas, and fountains.
The Vatican’s breath-taking St Peter’s Basilica is my favourite church in the world – and I have been to a lot of them! Be sure to gaze up at Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and head over to Piazza del Popolo to watch the sunset behind the church spires that dot Rome’s skyline.
I strongly suggest staying between four days and a week in Rome – though you could spend weeks getting lost in the maze of streets.
If you can only spare the weekend on a fly-by visit, then be sure to head out early every day to make the most of your time.
WHERE TO STAY?
The sights of Rome are spread across the city so no matter where you stay you will have to do a fair bit of walking or catch public transport.
The most beautiful and central place to stay is around Piazza Navona and the Pantheon. From there you can walk to the Vatican, the Colosseum, and the Trevi fountain in 10–15 minutes in all directions.
There are many hotels near the Roma Termini (train station) and many bus tours depart from the surrounding piazzas. Taxis are always available near the train station.
The east side of the River Tiber is closer to the major sites other than Vatican City and Colosseum.
MY TOP FIVE SIGHTS IN ROME
It is almost unfathomable to believe this great amphitheatre is still standing! Construction began in 72AD under Roman Emperor Vespasian, and was completed by his heir Titus in 80AD – though it has been restored throughout the centuries.
It is estimated to hold between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators who would come to watch the gladiatorial contests, executions, mock battles, and drama performances.
There is so much to learn about this monument so I suggest taking the guided tours offered at the ticket box. There is a separate queue to book in for this and pay for your entry and I have often found it to be much shorter than those lining to pay for entry only.
This iconic Basilica was designed by Michelangelo and built in the Renaissance style. The interior design is astonishing, stupefying, and bewildering! I can’t stress how important it is to wait in the long lines to see the interior of this church, whether you are religious or not.
The Dome is open from 8am, and entrance costs just a couple of euros. The 360 degree panoramic views are worth the 551 steps, there is an elevator that can take you halfway up if the climb is too much for you.
Tip: Head out early in the morning and queue up on the right-hand side of the entrance to St Peter’s Basilica. This opens at 7am daily and is free to enter. There is a strict dress code for men and women – make sure to cover your shoulders and not wear miniskirts or shorts!
The only way to visit the Sistine Chapel is through the Vatican Museum. The Vatican Museum is closed on a Sunday (except for the last Sunday of the month, though beware of crazy long queues on these days). The last tickets sold at 4pm and the Vatican’s dress code applies.
It is the third most visited museum in the world with 54 galleries of Renaissance Art by Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael, as well as countless statues and ancient treasures. The museum’s biggest draw is the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling and the altar wall fresco called ‘The Last Judgment’, both of which were painted by Michelangelo who is frequently referred to as one of the greatest artists of all time.
The Sistine ceiling depicts the nine scenes from the Book of Genesis. It features over 300 individual figures and took four years, being completed in 1512.
The word Pantheon means ‘honour all gods’ in Greek. The building was originally built to be a temple of all gods.
The current building is estimated to have been built around 126AD under Emperor Hadrian’s rule and is the best preserved structure from the ancient Roman period.
The most iconic design of this church is its nine metre central opening in the domed roof known as an ‘oculus’. The original structure holds the title of the ‘world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome’. Entry into the church is free.
If you need a meal or just a coffee stop after all your sight-seeing, the Piazza Della Rotonda is right in front of the Pantheon, the restaurants are on the pricey side due to its incredible view but it is a really nice place to soak up the afternoon sun.
Who could forget this beautiful Baroque fountain, the largest in the city. It is nestled in a tiny piazza and is constantly packed with tourists, which is why I suggest visiting at night when they main masses have moved on.
The fountain is beautifully lit up at night with an aura of luck and legend. It is said that throwing a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder ensures you will return to Rome, though today tourists couple the coin throwing with a wish.
Visit it as many times as you like, the fountain is never closed to the public.
MY BEST ADVICE…
Below are five quick tips for Rome, to view all tips click here.
Be prepared for crowds in Rome and throughout Italy year-round, but be prepared for extreme crowds in the summer! If you can avoid July and August completely you might be much happier. There is great weather in the city outside these prime summer months.
One of the hardest things about travelling is making sure you drink enough water while you are touristing during the day.
Thanks to the advanced engineer-minded ancient Romans, the city’s aqueducts continue to bring fresh and safe drinking water. There are over 2500 free water fountains known as ‘fontanelle’ that provide safe and free water to fill your bottles from.
Every Wednesday mornings when the Pope is in residence at Vatican City, there is a ‘service for papal audiences’. It starts between 10–10:30am though it starts to get busy around 8am. You have to buy a ticket to sit in the main section of the audience in front of the Pope’s chair and St Peter’s Basilica.
Whether you are religious or not I suggest heading there on a Wednesday to watch from the right side of the horse-shoe shaped barricades. Once the religious address has finished the Basilica opens around 12:30pm and I have found myself one of the very first people to enter the church once they open the barricade on the right hand side.
The easiest way to get into the city from the airport is on the Leonardo Express Train, though there are cheaper buses and local trains. I wouldn’t suggest booking a car transfer/shuttle as the traffic can get crazy. However, if you have trouble walking a taxi or car is the best option as there is quite a bit of walking involved in reaching the train station.
The Vatican houses its own postal service that is said to be far more efficient than Italy’s service. As you exit St Peter’s Basilica you will see the post office on your right. Send a postcard home with a papal stamp!
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So who am I…? Hi! My name is India.
I am a nomadic Australian who has wandered the world full time exploring over 60 countries and 5/7 continents.
After ten years on the road, I have launched my own website – Travelling Notebook – to share the knowledge I have gained on the road and the images I have collected over the years with fellow adventurers. Keep reading…
I am a freelance travel writer, photography and videographer, based in London. If you need specific travel advice or would like to collaborate please send an email my way!
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