I have wanted to visit Rome ever since I saw Audrey Hepburn zoom around in a vespa in the classic Hollywood movie ‘The Roman Holiday’. There is history, art and architecture, fashion,food to be explored and experienced in the Italian capital which makes it a dream tourist destination. We stayed for 3 days in Rome and by the end of it we were exhausted from all our sight seeing and pizza binging because Rome is truly a one of a kind place – there is a wonderful blend of culture with modernity and every monument has a story to tell. There is so much to see and do in Rome that I thought it would be good to share our Roman adventure in this post to give an idea of the places one should not miss when in the Eternal City.Some things to keep in mind when visiting Rome
- Book guided tours for the major attractions because not only does that let you skip long queues but also helps you gain insight into Rome’s wonderful history. [I would highly recommend “Real Rome Tours” from where we booked two guided group tours. They have English speaking guides and provide efficient audio systems that help you listen to all the information clearly whilst still exploring the places the way you want to]
- If you are planning to visit some attractions on your own it is wise to book entrance tickets for the same online to avoid queuing up. There are separate entrances for people with online reservations. No matter what season you are going in, Rome is always crowded, so it is better to avoid long lines to make optimum use of your time.
- Always carry a scarf or cover-up with you in your bag because churches in Rome are strict about bare arms and skirts/dresses/shorts above the knee are not allowed.
- Wear sport shoes or flat soled footwear no matter how much you want to dress up in heels. There is a lot of walking and standing in Rome, the streets are cobbled in parts and it tends to get hot in the afternoon – so comfort is the biggest priority.
- There are fountains at every street corner in Rome that dispense clean, cool water. Unless you are travelling with kids or are particular about bottled water, we would recommend filling up your bottles at these fountains. All the locals and most tourists do the same.
- The best way to travel in Rome is through the Metro. Buy a day pass that lets you travel on any of the metro lines – these are available at most newspaper stands or shops near the metro stations. The ticket machines inside the metro accept only certain denominations and there were times when we could not get tickets because we did not have coins. Avoid these hassles by buying a day pass.
- Most important: Keep the Rome City map handy with you at all times. All the main tourist spots are marked on the map as well as the metro stations. You can obtain a map from your hotel lobby. Here is an image of the map that we used
We stayed at a hotel near the Termini which was a blessing because travelling became a lot easier and we could come back to the hotel easily if we wanted a break or needed to freshen up. There are four major basilica in Rome. These four churches are usually not covered in tours but we would highly recommend visiting them. More information about these churches can be found here : Major Basilica in Rome
Here’s our guide for spending 3 days in Rome
Day 1: First Impressions of Rome, Exploring the city center We arrived in Rome by train from Venice on board the very convenient Italotreno. We caught a train from the Roma Tb. terminal to the main Rome station from which our hotel was just a walk away. Having used the metros in Japan and Singapore, my first reaction on seeing the trains in Rome was that of shock. Painted with graffiti and equipped with non functional air cons, the trains were a far departure from what I pictured. Even the stations seemed old and worn out with non working escalators, dingy lighting and unfriendly station employees. It was not the perfect start to our Rome trip but that is why travelling is so important. Seeing pictures of a place is so different to actually visiting a place and experiencing all facets of it. But, I digress. We made out way to the hotel and after resting for a bit set out to see the city on foot. The first place we visited was the Santa Maria Maggiore, a church dedicated to Virgin Mary and one of the four major basilica. It is a beautiful church with high ceilings and stunning artwork. Despite the presence of tourists the atmosphere inside is serene with worshipers lighting candles and saying their prayers. There is a beautiful Borghese Chapel inside the church which took our breath away.
As we walked along the roads we stumbled upon another beautiful church called Santa Maria degil Angeli. We went inside the church and were greeted by stunning gold frescoes. We later learnt that this was the great artist Michelangelo’s last commissioned work and all I can say is what a way to end an illustrious career. There is a meridian line that runs right through the church which makes visiting the place even more special.
We then decided to visit the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain since it was nearing sunset. Unfortunately, both these places are under renovation and we were especially disappointed at not being able to see Trevi in all its glory. From what we read these restoration works will go on for a couple more years which is truly a shame but that is also a reason to visit Rome again 🙂
Day 2: We covered a lot of ground on our second day in Rome. We woke up early to avoid the crowds before our “Best of Rome – Half Day tour”. This allowed us to take some beautiful pictures of the city. In fact, covering the outdoor attractions before noon is a good idea because the sun gets quite strong during most seasons as the day progresses.
Part 1:Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, Pantheon and Piazza Navona
It is hard not to be awed by the majestic presence of the Colosseum. A marvel of Roman engineering, it served as an amphitheater for years where gladiators fought bravely and animals were slaughtered in the name of public entertainment. Over time the use for the Colosseum changed depending on who was ruling Rome. The sad history of violence that the Colosseum was a part of is something that our tour guide kept bringing up to remind us of how times have changed. As you walk inside the giant structure you can see why it is regarded as a modern day wonder. The sheer scale of construction, the changing color of the stone as the sun changes direction and the story behind the building is very compelling.
The Palatine Hill is situated right beside the Colosseum overlooking the Roman Forum. History states that it is here that Rome’s founder and first ruler Romulus was born. From Julius Caesar to Hercules, the ruins in the forum have been witness to history that changed the course of the Roman empire. The Roman Forum served as a site of important government buildings and victory celebrations. While only pillars and stones remain today, it is easy to imagine how splendid the structures might have been in their heyday. Did you know that the place where Julius Caesar was buried can still be found in the Roman Forum? [I felt a strong urge to read my Shakespeare after visiting the Roman Forum]
We were then led by our guide across the city center towards our next set of attractions. We saw some beautiful fountains on our way and herein lie Rome’s real charms. Even in the narrow alleys and streets away from the center, there is something to be found and experienced.
Now there are structures and then there is the Pantheon. One of the most well preserved pieces in Rome, the Pantheon was built in 126 AD which makes it more than 1800 years old. It has survived earthquakes, fires and wars and still stands strong. As you enter the Pantheon the first thing to catch your eye is the giant oculus or eye at the center of the dome. The authorities have kept the oculus open which lets in rain and sunshine inside the main structure which is amazing considering how old the structure is. There is also a shrine dedicated to Mary inside the Pantheon where people can worship but the atmosphere inside was quite loud and frantic considering the sheer volume of tourists that visit the place every day.
The last part of our tour was a visit to Piazza Navona. It is a popular city square and contains numerous restaurants and gelateria, throbbing with tourists at all times of the day. One of the major attractions here is the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or the fountain of four rivers – a tribute to Nile, Ganges, Danube and Rio de la Plata, each representing a continent. It is easy to spend hours at the square, watching kids run around, sipping on some wine and taking in the sights of the beautiful white palace and fountains spewing cold water. We ended our tour here and had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the square.
Part 2: Considering how jam packed the first half of our day was, we decided to take a breather and venture out in the evening. Also, we gorged on so much cheese and pasta during our lunch that a nap was inevitable! Later in the day we decided to cover two more churches of the major basilica – San Giovanni Laterano (the Archbasilica of St. John) and San Paolo fuori le Mura (Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the walls). Both these churches are easily accessible via the metro and hence should definitely be visited. I was awestruck by how beautiful the church of St. John was. Inside you can find statues dedicated to each of the twelve saints of the Christian faith and the detail, delicacy of these marble sculptures took my breath away. Did you know apart from being one of the oldest churches in the world, it also ranks higher than any other church in the Catholic belief system (even higher than St. Peter’s Basilica)?
Our next stop was the church dedicated to St.Paul. Situated farther from the city than any of the other churches, this place of worship has a beautiful garden in its corridor and is less frequented by tourists which allows you to explore the interiors of the cathedral for hours. It contains the tomb of St.Paul which is regarded as a very holy place by Catholics and you can see people throwing coins at the tomb as a sign of respect.
Day 3: Vatican, Sistine Chapel, St.Peter’s Basilica
After a while, most churches seem to blend into one another when you are visiting Rome. But, the St.Peter’s Basilica is really special. We took another guided tour for this part of our trip purely because we wanted to know the history and story behind the Vatican. We reached the Vatican via metro around noon and strolled through the lanes and shops outside the Vatican city walls before joining our tour guide. We were able to cut through the long queue and made our way into the Vatican museum. Nothing can prepare you for the Vatican – it is huge, it is magnificent, it is spectacular and it is crowded! So crowded that I felt like I was in one of Mumbai’s local trains jostling for space and air. But, it is still awesome! Rooms after rooms filled with painting from Raphael and Michelangelo greet you as you make your way to the Sistine Chapel.
After a couple of hours of exploring the museum, we finally made our way to the Sistine Chapel. Photography is strictly prohibited inside the chapel which makes sense because the beauty of the paintings on the ceilings and wall, made by legendary artist and sculptor Michelangelo almost 500 years ago, needs to be seen through the naked eye. Michelangelo was initially skeptical about painting since he was primarily a sculptor so isn’t it ironical that he is the reason why millions of people have visited the chapel over the years? Apart from the obvious stories of Last Judgement painted on the walls, there are several more interesting tales behind each depiction and why Michelangelo chose to paint a certain way. We were fascinated by the chapel beyond words and Michelangelo’s sense of humor behind some of the specific parts of the paintings will both bring a smile to your face and surprise you!We then made our way to St.Peter’s Basilica – an instance of gorgeous Renaissance architecture and one the most important places of worship in the world. The tomb of St.Peter, who was also the first Pope, is believed to be below the altar of the basilica. Adorned with paintings, frescoes and sculptures from Michelangelo, Bernini, Maderno and many others, St.Peter’s Basilica and the square outside the church are stunning beyond measure. The world famous sculpture of Mary with Jesus in her arms can also be found here.
As we ended our tour and retired to our hotel for the day we felt a sense of accomplishment for having covered almost everything we wanted to in a span of three days. Rome is a marvelous city – the sheer number of attractions it offers coupled with the wonderful Italian food and wine makes it one of the best cities in the world to visit. It has rich history, stunning architecture, works from the greatest artists of Renaissance and a perfect blend of modern and old. In short, we loved our Roman Holiday!