One of my first “adventures” was a family trip in 2010 visiting my brother in Rome during his study abroad semester. While my personal travel style has changed significantly, we successfully completed the tourist loop. I know from my brother’s time in Rome that another layer below the tourism is there to be discovered. In the future, one trip will take us back to Rome when I hope to do a proper DESKRIB! Until then, here are some tips for the must see tourist attractions.
If you are doing a drive by through Rome as a part of a bigger trip, it is possible to see all the sights in two days if you are efficient. There are some lovely day trips from Rome that could benefit an additional day to your itinerary as well.
Like many major cities in Europe with historic attractions, Rome has a city pass that offers free or reduced entry tickets and the one includes public transport. Once you have the attractions you want outlined, check if the Roma Pass makes sense for you.
Most likely the top attraction people associate with visiting Rome is The Colosseum and it is certainly worthy of that recognition. To be in the presence of something so enormous with depth of history it is hard not to be amazed. How on earth did they do it? We did a self guided audio tour and visited the accompanied museum showcasing artifacts.
It is best to get here first thing in the morning to avoid crowds and purchasing tickets online helps avoid the line as well. And skip the gladiators in the front posing as if it was NYC Times Square.
The Vatican City – St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums
One could spend multiple days sifting through all the attractions in the Vatican City. Depending on your interest level, dedicating half a day should suffice for the major attractions- St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums.
Start out by visiting the Vatican Museums where the famous Sistine Chapel is located. Snag advanced tickets to ensure you are one of the first allowed in as the entrance line frequently wraps several blocks. Once inside, there are many, many, many rooms of artwork – eighteen in total! Every few rooms, a sign indicating “Cappella Sistina” with an arrow, motivates you through the next set of rooms until you see another sign.
It takes a very long time to finally reach the end of the museum where the Sistine Chapel is located. For those that are on a time crunch, politely walk through the museum rooms without stopping at all the exhibits. You can easily spent hours examining and admiring all the artwork on display. When you finally reach the chapel, you enter an enormous room full of paintings from floor to ceiling. Photography is not permitted and they have several employees patrolling the crowds for rule breakers. It is certainly an amazing sight to see for yourself.
Then head over to the St Peter’s Basilica. The square in it of itself is artfully choreographed full of sculptures and fountains. The Basilica is incredibly enormous- there are lines in the floor of where the largest churches in the world would fit into the Basilica. It is staggering to walk in and stare into the massiveness- the Basilica can accommodate 20,000 people!
Famous artwork, such as Michelangelo’s Pieta, is scattered among the chapels and gaudy finishings. Entrance to the Basilica is free and an additional fee if you want to climb the 551 steps to the top of the Dome.
Roman Forum and other ruins
Not far from the Colosseum is the Roman Forum. It makes sense that all the historic ruins are in close proximity! This is such a fun place to explore as these areas tell the story of twenty centuries ago. One of the fascinating aspects I recall was the drainage system. Entry fee is required but a combo tickets is available with the Colosseum to save a few euro.
There are so many fountains throughout Rome – almost one for every piazza! Some famous ones include the Trevi Fountain and Fumi Fountain. The Trevi Fountain, found in Piazza di Trevi, is the largest and probably most famous fountain in Rome. The story goes if you throw a coin into the fountain (right hand over your left shoulder), you will return to Rome.
There are thousands of tourists rushing to grab their photo of this tradition. Fortunately, the money is donated but unfortunately, the area is full of people trying to take your photo for money (just politely say no!). I think it is actually more beautiful at night as the lighting wonderfully highlights the fountain beautifully.
Travel to Piazza Navona for three more fountains- Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, del Moro, and del Nettuno. Bernini’s Fiumi Fountain (“Four Rivers”) is very iconic, representing the four rivers that aided the spread of Christianity- the Nile, Danube, the Ganges and Rio de la Plata.
One attraction that tourists may not associate with a fountain is the Spanish Steps at Piazza di Spagna. At the base of the famous staircase is another Bernini Fountain- Fontana della Barcaccia (“Fountain of the ugly boat”).
Take some time to climb the 135 stairs that will undoubtedly be mobbed with tourist and people trying to sell you something. This area gets more crowded as the day progresses since people like to sit here in the evening.
Built in 126 A.D, the Pantheon is the most well preserved historic site in Rome. An architectural masterpiece having the same diameter and height, I remember being amazed that water does not get into the building through the opening (ha!). There are a few works of art and tombs inside. Entrance here is free!
Villa Borghese is the Central Park of Rome taking guests through nature and art. The park itself is dense with flower gardens, trees, shrubbery, as well as fountains and sculptures. Many people go beyond the park and enter the Galleria Borghese. While entrance to the park is free, a small fee is required for the Galleria and advanced purchase is a must for the high demand attraction since tickets are limited each day. The Galleria hosts many famous artists including Raphael (“Woman with the Unicorn”), Caravaggio (“Boy with a Basket of Fruit”), and Bernini (“David”), and is often sited as one of the best museum collections in the world. This is high on my list on a return trip to Rome as it is the only thing I regretfully missed.
Rome Itinerary: Attractions Only
|Day 1||Morning||Vatican Museums|
|Afternoon||St Peter’s Basilica|
|Afternoon||Fountains and Piazzas|
|Day 3||Day Trip!|
There are many options for day trips from Rome. Distance you are willing to travel is the major factor in picking a location. Many people go to Pompeii from Rome but the jounrey is over two hours one way. In my opinion, anything over an hour away should be the next destination on your trip (unless you are opposed to moving around). I cannot image making Florence a day trip from Rome! For the popular spots under an hour away, Orveito and Ostia Antica are lovely preserved towns and Tivoli has Villa d’Este Italian Gardens, which is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Under 1 Hour
|1 -2 Hours||Over 2 Hours|
I know there is an entire food scene waiting to be explored and I look forward to indulging in the future. Keep the typical mantras in mind, especially avoiding places near the tourist destinations. As you head south through Italy, pizza gains popularity and with such proximity to Naples, it is worth your time to find a place that does it right. There are plenty of bloggers with tips on where to eat in Rome so do some homework if you beat me to it.
I hope this was helpful in planning your trip to Rome- I certainly look forward to my return, thanks to Trevi!