Romantic, majestic and utterly captivating, there is nowhere on earth quite like Rome. If a city were to boast of having it all, that city could easily be Rome. From food to culture, from nightlife to shopping, from architecture to history and, of course, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, Vatican City and on and on – a city bathed in sun and literally dotted with gobsmackingly gorgeous ruins and sights.
But that’s enough eulogising about this sprawling capital of Italy – if you haven’t heard of Rome before, you’ve probably been hiding under a rock since primary school. You know Rome, it’s famous – but what to do when you have two (maybe three) days in the city? Here’s our mini guide to help 🙂
The essentials – top five
- Colosseum – This awe inspiring monumental ruin is all that remains of the famous 3-tiered Roman amphitheater, once used for bloodthirsty gladiatorial games. The largest amphitheatre ever built, it was 88m long and 156m wide with room for 55,000 spectators. Just outside the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine, a 25m high monument built in AD315 to mark the victory of Constantine over Maxentius at Pons Milvius. The Colosseum is open from 8.30am to 3.30pm daily and expect queues (go early if possible)
- Pantheon – A former Roman temple dedicated to all the gods of pagan Rome, now a church, the Pantheon was built and dedicated between AD 118 and 125. It is extremely well preserved and boasts a dome as well as Renaissance tombs, including that of Italian kings Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I as well as the famous Renaissance painter Raphael and his fiancée. Free, which is always a bonus in expensive Rome, and particularly lovely early in the morning or in the evening when the crowds dissipate.
- Trevi Fountain – An aqueduct-fed rococo fountain and one of the oldest water sources in the city, this stunning fountain is home to a series of white stone, sculpted figures. It stands at an impressive 85 feet tall and almost 65 feet wide, spilling roughly 2,824,800 cubic feet of water every day. And, hey, it’s free!
- St Peter’s Basilica – An Italian Renaissance church in Vatican City, the papal enclave within the city. Its famous dome was designed by Michelangelo and yes you can go all the way to the top where you can enjoy 360 degree views of the city. You can also go downwards – the underground crypt beneath houses the tombs of scores of popes, including the tomb of John Paul II which is in the grottoes below the floor of the Basilica and is free to enter. When the current pope is in residence, he usually appears at his window above St Peter’s Square on Sundays at noon to pray and bless the crowd.
- Sistine Chapel – This famous chapel is based in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope in Vatican City. It is the chapel’s Renaissance frescos which have earned it worldwide fame, particularly the Sistine Chapel ceiling and The Last Judgment by Michelangelo.
Not to be missed (if you have time)
- The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill – Located in the same archaeological area, the Forum and the Palatine Hill are adjacent to each other (two birds with one stone). While it may look like a confusing sprawl of ruins, the Forum was actually a centre of political and social activity, including the city’s marketplace, business district and civic centre. Landmark sights include the Arco di Settimio Severo, the Curia, and the Casa delle Vestali; however, it may be worth investing in a tour or guide book to help you navigate your way. The nearby Palatine Hill is the centremost of the seven hills on which Rome was built and, as well as being one of the most ancient parts of the city, was home to aristocrats and emperors back in its heyday,
- Spanish steps – A set of 138 steps in an irregular butterfly design, linking the lower Piazza di Spagna with the upper piazza Trinita dei Monti and its twin tower Trinità dei Monti church. A traditional meeting place, this area is always buzzing with people and activity. Close by you will find the house where English poet John Keats lived and died; it is now a museum dedicated to his memory.
- Catacombs and crypts – There are at least forty of these ancient, underground burial places, so it can be difficult to choose which to visit. However, the Catacombs of Domitilla (the only catacombs still containing human remains) and the Catacombs of Callixtus are probably the most popular. The Capuchin Crypts are also a must see, offering a Caravaggio painting (St Francis in Meditation) and a chapel made entirely out of human bones!
The Budget or Broke Recommendation (i.e. free)
Via Vittorio Veneto (or simply Via Vittorio Veneto) – A symbol of the La Dolce Vita, this was once one of the most famous, elegant and expensive streets in the city and it is still thronged with exclusive hotels, bars and cafes. Take a stroll along and visit the ancient gate, the Porta Pinciana, and the large, city centre Piazza Barberini if you have time (and energy).
Italy! Pizza, pasta, ice cream = trousers with an elasticated wasitband! Cheap and oh so tasty, try the pizza bianca (foccacia style pizza bread) from a local bakery or grab some delicious suppli (fried rice balls).
Depending on your budget, everything from an Italian silk scarf to freshly-made chocolates and hey, if those purse strings are tightening, just remember – what mum wouldn’t love a cheap and cheerful Colosseum ornament for her mantlepiece?