Rome’s history spans more than two and a half thousand years, making it one of the oldest continuously occupied sites in Europe. Many regard Rome as one of the birthplaces of Western civilisation. There is so much I could write here that I could not contain within ten blog posts, but perhaps the best testimony to the passing of time is reflected in the city’s architecture. From the grand designs of the ancient Roman Empire to Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassic styles, every building has a story to tell.
Walking the streets of Rome, it feels like being in an open air museum. A very crowded museum. The city is vibrant with life, people swarming in the piazzas, going in or out of cafes and trattorias, or just rushing away on their Vespas. At every corner, there are extraordinary works of art belonging to Michelangelo, Raphael or Bernini, just waiting to be discovered and admired.
The food is great, the ice-cream delicious, and let’s not forget the Italian wines or the smell of fresh-ground coffee that accompanies you almost everywhere.
When visiting Rome I highly recommend that you spend at least one week in the Eternal City. But if you are like me, travelling from one place to another, here is what you can do in only three days.
Take the subway towards Colosseo station. Here you will start your day with a visit at the famous Colosseum, the biggest and most imposing in all the Roman world, dating back to the year 80 AD. At the time of completion it was covered in white travertine stone and could hold up to 70.000 spectators. The open ceremony lasted 100 days of shows, gladiator fights, animal combat and even sea battles, as the arena was filled with water for one of the most grandiose events ever held in Roman time.
Just outside the Colosseum there is the Arch of Constantine, a triumphal arch to celebrate the Emperor’s victories.
Continue your tour by walking up the Via dei Fori Imperiali and reach the Mercati di Traiano and then the Foro di Traiano. Inside this forum there is an impressive column engraved with the details of the wars that the emperor Traian fought with the Dacians north of the Danube (modern day Romania). The Dacians proved very clever and hard to conquer, so in the end a truce was reached with the Romans.
From here you should be able to see the grand building of the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland). Climb the steps and take the elevator for a panoramic view of the city.
Stop for lunch before going to the Foro Romano. This is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. In ancient times, this part of the city was home to markets and shops, a place for people to meet and socialise, discuss politics, listen to orators or attend trials. The Roman Senate was also hosted in a building nearby, now only some small ruins remain.
Just above the forum area there is the Palatine Hill. Only the rich used to live here, in sumptuous villas with mosaics, frescoes and colonnades, far from the crowds of the common people. Later the hill became the home of Emperors, slowly developing into a single palace complex.
Exiting the Palatine area you should be back near the Colosseo subway station. End your day in style with a lovely meal at a local restaurant overlooking the Colosseum.
Prepare to spend most of the day inside the Vatican, (Ottaviano subway station). I strongly recommend booking the 3 h tour that will take you through the Vatican museums, the Sistine Chapel and then San Pietro, one of the largest churches in the world. Be sure to book well in advance (2-3 weeks) to get a spot on the desired tour and avoid waiting in the ticket line.
The Vatican Museums tour includes: the Pio Clementino Museum (classical antiquity), the Gallery of the Candelabras, the Gallery of the Tapestries and the Gallery, the Geographical Maps (Renaissance Art) and the Raphael Rooms. You will find here the perfect combination between history and art and will probably recognise many of the world-renown masterpieces. As you reach the Sistine Chapel you will immediately see why it is so famed for its frescoes, most particularly the ceiling and the Last Judgement scene, both painted by Michelangelo.
The tour ends in the Saint Peter’s Basilica, which is probably the most renowned work of the Renaissance. Designed by Bramante, Maderno, Michelangelo and Bernini, this site is famous as a place of pilgrimage for the Catholic world. It is said that below the altar lies the tomb of Saint Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Christ, who is considered to be the first pope of the Catholic Church.
After your visit at the Vatican stop for lunch and continue your day with the Castel Sant’Angelo. Since you already spent most of the day indoors, I suggest you admire the castle from the outside and walk across the Ponte Sant’Angelo to further admire the angel statues and the Tiber river. Continue towards Ponte Umberto I, and make sure you take some pictures of the Vatican from this bridge.
Take the subway to Circo Massimo, where chariot races were held in ancient times, and enjoy a better view towards the Paltine Hill from here. Cross the street and visit the Terme di Caracalla (The baths of Caracalla), with their impressive tall archways and mosaic floors. Travel by subway to Barberini station and then walk towards another main attraction, the Fontana di Trevi.
The area around the Trevi Fountain is usually very crowded so you really need to ‘fight’ your way through to reach the water. Make sure you have a coin ready. It is said that if you throw a coin over your shoulder into the fountain, then you will surely one day return to Rome.
From this famous baroque wonder, head now towards the Chiesa di Sant’ Ignazio di Loyola. It is a small church that has one interesting particularity: the ceiling is painted in a 3D technique, making the angels come to life just as you look up towards them. A marble disk set into the middle of the nave floor marks the ideal spot from which observers might fully experience the illusion. It is interesting how this beautiful ceiling came to be; funds to build a dome for the church were lacking, so it was decided that only the illusion of a dome should be painted, in order to to make any observer see a huge and lofty cupola.
Within a short walking distance, the Pantheon stands in the place where, according to legend, the founder of Rome, Romulus, was taken by an eagle after his death and flown into the skies to sit with the gods. Originally, the Pantheon was a small temple dedicated to all Roman gods and was destroyed and restored several times until Emperor Hadrian rebuilt it in its present shape.
From the Pantheon go to Piazza Navona, a charming place in the heart of Rome. Admire the fountains that adorn the piazza and spend a relaxing evening at one of the cafes. If you are patient enough to wait for nightfall, you can return to the Trevi Fountain and see it in a a whole new light. The tourists are fewer and the feeling is magical.
I highly recommend purchasing the Roma Pass that allows you to freely use all urban public transport, skip the line to all attractions and includes free entry to the first 2 museum/sites you visit.
Try to book your accommodation close to some of the central subway stations, like Repubblica or Barberini. This will help a lot with moving around the city.
Best time to visit Rome: April, May, October.