One of the most ancient cities in Europe, Rome was the one city I have always wanted to visit since I was young. With its influential art, fascinating history, and a once glorious empire of world power, Rome has always piqued my interest.
I've always imagined myself walking around classical ruins, admiring Renaissance architecture and Baroque fountains, getting espresso from a local cafe... the list goes on and we did just so! Dexter and I spent four beautiful (rainy) days in Rome. A majority of Rome's iconic spots are on the east bank of the River Tiber (The Colosseum, Pantheon, Spanish Steps) while on the west bank are The Vatican and Trastevere. So this was how we mapped out our itinerary, spending more time in the east bank, then a day in the west side.
Here's our Top 10 list on things you shouldn't miss while in Rome, Italy.
1. Start off the Roman holiday with a free walking tour.
We take advantage of free walking tours because first of all it’s free (yet we tip so generously!) and it’s a great way to find our bearings around the city. We booked with Rome Free Walking Tour and did a 4 PM Colosseum Tour. It covered the following locations:
Basilica di Sant'Andrea delle Fratte
In 3 hours we managed to hit a lot of iconic spots with enough time to take pictures! And yes, all of the locations were very close to each other. It's very easy to go around the city on foot!
2. Visit the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and St Peter’s Basilica.
Through Expedia we booked a guided tour in these 3 locations. It was a 10 AM tour that lasted more than 3 hours and covered so much history and background on Roman art and architecture. We skipped the long queues. Prepare for a neck-breaking experience as you’ll spend more than half of this tour looking up at ceilings.
Tip: If you're choosing between a morning or an afternoon guided tour - go for the earlier one! There are afternoon church ceremonies, so tour may be cut short. There are also exclusive tours that start at 7 when the Museums aren't yet open to the public.
Photography isn’t allowed at the Sistine Chapel and security will call you out on the microphone when you do.
St Peter's Basilica
Get your cameras ready as you enter St Peter’s Basilica - it’s overwhelmingly massive. We were given time to explore the Basilica at our own pace since this was where our guided tour ended. Every corner, every turn was so surreal considering how intricate and ornate the designs were. Art enthusiasts will most likely spend a few hours here!
Tip: You’ll be asked to leave your big bags at the Vatican Museum lockers. If you’re carrying a buggy/stroller, you’re only allowed in certain (but most) areas of the tour. Stairs. A lot of them.
3. Climb the dome of St Peter’s Basilica.
Designed by Michelangelo, the dome (cupola) of St Peter's Basilica is a must-climb. There's 551 steps to climb all the way for €6. We opted to take the lift for €8 yet it we didn't realise we still had to take 320 steps! We felt so betrayed since it was a long, narrow, endless climb but it was worth it! The 360 view was gorgeous and you can stay as long as you want. If you’re in Rome during summer (and doing this climb), make sure you stay hydrated.
4. Then come back at night for a majestic view of Castel Sant’Angelo.
If you plan to do some night photography, the bridges nearby and Castel Sant’Angelo are all brightly lit perfect for pictures!
A view of the basilica will also make stunning captures from St Peter’s Square.
5. Enjoy the friendly atmosphere and winding cobblestone streets in Trastevere.
Lined with cafes and restaurants, Trastevere is apparently Rome’s most charming neighborhood. There are churches, piazzas, and funky boutiques. We even happened to pass by a really cool art studio!
6. Indulge in more of Bernini’s artwork at the Borghese Gallery.
Borghese Gallery houses a precious collection of classical antiquities and Baroque sculptures. Famous sculptures include Bernini’s Rape of Proserpine, Apollo and Daphne, and David. Outside the gallery is also a large garden! The €20 entrance fee (and an additional fee for an audio guide) was worth it. We booked our tickets online for 9 AM tour which was just the perfect time since crowds started flocking in at noontime! So it's best too get an early slot!
Tip: Big bags like back packs including cameras (I know!) are not allowed inside the museum. Locker rooms are available.
After taking a quick shot of the Rape of Proserpine using my phone, we were reminded photography isn't allowed. Oops!
7. Are you not entertained? Spend an afternoon at the Colosseum.
We booked our tickets through Coop Culture for €14. The passes included access to the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill. It was quite a good deal and we can use the passes for 2 days! Entry is only allowed once per location.
Also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, the Colosseum can hold an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 spectators. We spent 2 hours at the Colosseum until it closed late afternoon. It was awe inspiring to be somewhere so old, once full of life (and death) with staged battles, hunts, gladiatorial shows.
8. More ancient ruins at the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
We had access to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill as part of our tickets alongside Colosseum. We spent a good amount of time here taking pictures, exploring what's left of Rome’s earliest shrines, temples, and royal residence - the very beating heart of Ancient Rome.
9. Walk from one piazza (public square) to another and enter any church you happen to pass by!
One way to explore the city is to walk your way around it. You'll be surprised by how much monuments, obelisks, columns, water fountains, and churches you'll stumble upon. There's always one right around the corner and it's definitely worth knowing its history and its designer.
Pantheon at Piazza della Rotonda
Temple of Hadrian at Piazza di Pietra
Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi at Piazza Navona
10. Admit that all you really wanted is authentic Italian pizza and pasta.
It’s true what you’ve heard or read, avoid those tourist trap restaurants that are located very central and their menu reads in four different languages. But we won’t judge you if you do - you’re still in Italy! Your pepperoni pizza won’t be so awful. Read our food and restaurant reviews in an upcoming article!
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