Rome is a vibrant, lively city where you will encounter history at each and every turn. Walking through the city, you can regale yourselves at amazing piazzas, get lost in the art and history of innumerable museums, feel spiritual in the numerous churches or just admire the beauty of its ancient but well preserved buildings and fountains. The city is a living, breathing monument to the architectural genius of the people from the Great Roman Empire. It also boasts many fine restaurants, cafes, and a good nightlife too. Although Rome is a huge city, its historic center is small, making it easy to walk.
With stunning architecture, cobblestone streets lined with cafes, and a plethora of historical monuments, Rome is a photographer’s paradise.
Where to stay
In general, the best areas to stay while visiting Rome as a tourist are the Piazza Navona, Campo de’ Fiori, Pantheon areas that are lively and the center of old Rome. If you enjoy walking, look into staying at the Trastevere area across the Tiber River that has more of a neighborhood feel with great restaurants, piazzas, churches, museums and shops. Prati (Vatican area) is quieter in the evenings if you prefer a slower pace neighborhood. There are several hotels near Stazione Termini (the main train station in Rome), which may be cheaper and near public transportation to see all of the sights. Monti, which used to be the red light district in ancient Roman times, is now a hip neighborhood with cool bars, one-off boutiques and great restaurants.
We stayed in an airbnb in Monti district and it worked out to be perfect for our stay. It was a 5-minute walk to the train/ bus stations and less than 15 minutes walk to the Colosseum.
Transport in Rome
Rome’s subway – Lines A and B can take you to basically everywhere of interest. If you intend to take the train frequently during your stay, you can purchase Rome metro card, which is available at kiosks within every station in 2 day and 3 day denominations at prices of € 28 and € 38.5 respectively. The card permits you unlimited use of the Metro and the buses that run through the city.
Things to see/ do
Even if you have little time to see the Roman sites, the Colosseum is one you shouldn’t miss. It is such an impressive site right in the middle of a big city. The Colosseum was used for bullfights, gladiator fights, chariot races, official events and for various other forms of public entertainment. The capacity of the arena allowed for 50,000 to 80,000 spectators. During its period of use, people were seated based on the very strict caste system which separated the royalty and senators from the common man as well as the rich from the poor.
Since we wanted to learn more about the Colosseum, we booked ourselves a guided tour of the Colosseum, including the dungeons and third tier (which are generally not accessible in the non-guided tours), Palantine Hill and the Forum. The Colosseum is the focal point of visit on any tourist’s list; so most guided tours are sold out months in advance. If you really intend to do one, book your tour beforehand. The prices for the extensive guided tours (covering all areas of the Colosseum, Palantine and Forun) tend to vary by company but expect to pay around € 75 – € 110 per person.
Even if you do not intend to do a guided tour, please buy your tickets in advance. Once you reach the Colosseum, there will be one line for people who need to buy a ticket and a separate line for those who already have a ticket.
The guided tour enabled us to access the areas (dungeons and the third tier) which are otherwise not accessible by general public. Make sure to spend some time peeking through the arches on the second floor; there are some spectacular views from up there!
You will need to go through security (again) to gain access to Palatine Hill and the Forum – once you are in, head left to go up towards Palatine Hill. The views from the hill are absolutely astounding.
Finally make your way to the Roman Forum, the center of city life in ancient Rome, and center for festivals, celebrations, funerals and rituals. Although much of the Forum is now in ruins, you can see the remains and imagine the glory of the former temples and arches.
Touring the Colosseum, Palantine Hill and Roman Forum involves a lot of walking, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes.
Regardless of whether or not you are Catholic, a visit to the Vatican City is a must for anyone visiting Rome. However, due to its popularity, a lot of tourists flock to the Vatican on their trip to Rome. My husband was keen on getting a guided tour and knowing more of the details, so we booked ourselves on a guided tour. There are some tour companies which offer guided tours as early as 7.30 am almost 2 hours before the place opens to the general public (of course they are a tad bit more expensive than the ones offered at regular timings).
Our guided tour started at around 10 am, but as we were walking through, we saw the serpentine queue of people lining up for tickets. And this was not even the start of summer! So even if you do not intend to do a guided tour, please buy tickets in advance. The last thing you want to do is waste your time standing in hour-long queues.
We were left spellbound by the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s Pietà, and the other amazing sights inside the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. If you are on a guided tour, you will get to know so much of the history! While the guided tour is expensive, it is totally worth it. The museums are so vast it is impossible to know what is important to look at and what isn’t (unless you are a history buff). Plus, knowing the context of what you are looking at makes it so much more meaningful.
Entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica is free but there is security check, which again had a long queue. We were so glad we got to skip the lines – hallelujah guided tours! A little extra money for the guided tours saves you so much time!
Once you are done with St Peter’s Basilica, if you have time, plan to climb to the top to witness the spectacular views of the city. You can purchase tickets to ride an elevator part way up (leaving you with just 320 steps instead of 551). The climb takes approximately 1 hour but the panoramic views of Rome are more than worth it! Since we were there on a cloudy day, we decided to skip this.
Lastly, do not forget to dress modestly; there is a strict dress code in place so no miniskirts, shorts, or bare shoulders (for men, too).
On our way back into Rome, we walked over the Ponte St. Angelo bridge, past Castel St. Angelo. The views of Vatican from this vantage point are simply spectacular.
Other points of interest
- Pantheon, the best-preserved building of ancient Rome, has a spectacular dome and free admission. There may be a queue to get in, but its mostly fast moving. Remember to keep your voice down while visiting since it is a church. After visiting the Pantheon, grab a drink in the Pantheon’s lively Piazza di Rotonda.
- Steps away from Pantheon, is one of the oldest and most famous cappuccino and espresso shops in Rome, Caffe Sant’Eustacho, where you will find authentic, Italian coffee like Monachella, Moretto, etc. The portions may be smaller, but oh boy, so much stronger than your usual stuff. Caffe Sant’Eustacho is an institution in itself and no trip to Rome would be complete without visiting this coffee shop. You will see locals just arriving and sipping their coffee away in two minutes while the tourists are baffled by the variety of coffee.
- As you keep walking, make your way to Rome’s famous Piazza Navona where you will encounter fountains, cafes, street performers and lots of people! No matter what time it is, this piazza is always a hub of activity and people. It is a great place to people watch and enjoy your daily gelato.
- Walk down the winding streets and you will find yourself at the Trevi Fountain. Don’t forget to make a wish and throw a coin! Legend has it that throwing one, two or three coins into the fountain (with your right hand over your left shoulder) ensures that (a) you will return to Rome (b) you will fall in love with a Roman and (c) you will marry that Roman.
- About 5-7 minutes away from the Spanish steps, is this absolutely gorgeous street, Via Margutta. Via Margutta is a short street with a long history, three blocks going back 2,000 years. Mostly residential, lined with ivy, cobblestones and window boxes, art galleries and artists’ studios, it is one of the most charming little street in Rome. Via Margutta runs parallel with one of the streets that lead from Piazza di Spagna to Piazza del Popolo. It is a peaceful oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the main streets. It is such a charming street to walk along and is full of little shops and studios. Definitely worth taking the short detour to walk along it and soak up the atmosphere.
- The Victor Emmanuel Monument is a massive white marble monument, which was built to honor King Victor Emmanuel, whom was the first king of a unified Italy. The interior of the Victor Emmanuel Monument is free to walk through (and a great way to escape the heat for a few minutes!)
- In terms of neighborhoods, Trastevere, is a bohemian neighborhood located south of the Vatican city, which should not be missed. Head towards Piazza di Santa Maria, take Via del Moro, with its many shops and cafes, then divert into the quiet cobblestoned side streets lined with crumbling buildings with faded paintwork. When you reach the piazza, join the locals and tourists and take a seat on the steps of the fountain – a great spot for people-watching. As you lose yourself down the winding cobblestone streets, you will realise why everyone falls in love with this magnificent neighborhood. From romantic winding alleyways and cobblestone streets to magestic churches and splendid piazzas, there is plenty to keep tourists busy in the neck of the woods! One of the best parts about Trastevere is the amazing array of food choices that one has in this neighborhood. The area is filled with pizzeria, cafès, mom and pop trattorie, dance clubs, sidewalk vendors, and pubs and is an ideal way to begin or end the day.
We first went to Trastevere for dinner on our first night in Rome. But we loved the neighborhood so much that we had to go back the next morning to see the neighborhood in broad daylight. Needless to say, Trastevere is a photographer’s delight!
We highly recommend exploring the city by night. Marvel at the glow of the Colosseum and the enchanting ruins of the Forum. Have a drink as you watch the crowds of Italians stroll and shop at Piazza del Popo, Piazza Campo dei Fiori and the famous steps of Piazza di Spagna that are packed with people day and night. Do visit Trevi fountain, Spanish Steps and Piazza Navona during the day and the evening when the buildings and fountains are beautifully lit up!
- The Roma Pass is valid for 48 or 72 hours and allows unlimited transportation in the city, plus discounts at various sights, shops and restaurants.
- Entrance is free to all major attractions (such as the Colosseum, Forum, Palantine Hill, National Museum of Castel Sant’Angelo, etc.) on the first Sunday of the month. AVOID THIS DAY AT ALL COSTS.
- While you may want to have a perfect Italian meal at one of the high-end restaurants, pizza by the slice at one of the many bakeries or “fornos” that line the periphery, along with the cafés and gelaterias, is equally yummy and always makes for the perfect snack!
- If you intend to do a guided tour of the Colosseum and/ or Vatican, book your tickets in advance. Note that we booked our tour of the Vatican a month in advance.
*All prices mentioned are as of April 2017.