Rome: a famous city full of history, yet it was never my first choice in the past years when it came to booking a city trip. The reasons why? Probably too touristic, crowded and expensive – which is why other places like Lisbon, Porto, Valencia or Madrid got considered before Italy’s capital in my book.
Fact: Rome is really beautiful and something you have to see once in your life, but you’ll (pretty much always) have to face the crowds to do so. Even though I liked Rome, there really wasn’t a full blown love affair going on between me and this city. Maybe it felt a bit too touristic at times, which goes hand in hand with a feeling that there’s a lack of authenticity. When there are too many tourist traps to avoid & too many lines to face, I guess a city loses a bit of its charm for me. However, I wouldn’t advise against going or anything – I just want to give my honest opinion of my experience.
We were there for six nights so we had plenty of time, four days definitely is more than enough to see all the well-known monuments and get a good feel of the city. It’s realistic to explore Rome by foot, but taking the subway every now and then will certainly be welcomed by your feet. The subway system is super easy (only two lines), so it’s a good way to save some time getting to different places. Here’s a summary of what we visited each day and some advice along the way.
Day one: Spanish steps – Villa Borghese – Piaza del Popollo – Trevi fountain
Our first day was only a half day (since we had to take the train and get to the hotel first), so we decided to take it easy to begin the trip. The Spanish Steps are currently being renovated (like a lot of things in Rome), so be warned that this spoils the normal sight you would expect. The neighborhood around is all about upscale brands – so if you fancy some expensive shopping, this is where to go. If you go up the stairs, and walk left towards Villa Borghese (a big park) you’ll have a nice first view over the city. Explore the park when it’s nice weather, or enjoy the view on Piazza del Popollo from above. You can go down the stairs here, and walk in the direction of the Trevi fountain through the shopping streets (with more affordable brands). The Trevi fountain is pretty and impressive, but attracts a huge crowd every day and night.
Day two: Roman Forum – Colosseum
Visiting this big, historic site will take some time out of your day, so make sure to have a big breakfast before you go and pack some snacks and water for when you’re inside. To give you an idea, you can easily spend two to three hours exploring the Roman Forum (p.s., it’s all outside and the Colosseum is right next to it). Afterwards, I’d recommend to find a nice place for lunch a little bit out of this area and then come back later in the day for a closing visit to the Colosseum. We bought our ticket beforehand for these two online (it’s combined) to avoid the lines, but it turned out the line for people with a ticket at the Colosseum was fifty times longer than the other one at the moment we were there, so I’m not sure that was worth the effort. All in all, the waiting time wasn’t too long – but it turned out we could have just tried our luck in the other line since the first point you go through is a security check where they don’t ask your ticket yet. This happens afterwards, where the two lines collide. Good to know if you would find yourself in the same situation!
Day three: Circus Maximus – Rome’s keyhole – hanging out in Trastevere
This was what we defined as our “chill” day, so we didn’t have too much planned besides hanging out in the more charming Trastevere a bit. Since the subway doesn’t go there, we got off at a stop that was close enough and near some things we hadn’t seen yet. We stopped at Circus Maximus and admired it from the outside, checked out the rose garden nearby, took a peak through Rome’s famous keyhole (a short, but fun stop) and wandered over the water and into Trastevere. This is a lively, colorful neighborhood with lots of little shops, gelaterias, cafes and restaurants – it’s also known as the student area and is (apparently) the place to be for nightlife. While you’re there, make sure to check out the beautiful Basilica di Santa Maria (also free). Other than that I suggest you just roam around in the cute streets and eat your way through the neighborhood.
Day four: Pantheon – Piazza Navona – The Vatican Museums – St. Peter’s Basilica
When in Rome, go to Vatican City. Or at least, that’s what we heard. We decided to put it on our list, but I’m not sure I would do it again – or at least not under the same circumstances. First of all, it can be a bit confusing to figure the logistics and different aspects of the visit. The Vatican equals a visit to the Vatican Museums (which includes the famous Sistine Chapel). You pay an entry price here, and you’ll have to face a huge crowd – whenever you go. Again, we purchased our ticket beforehand online – which went smoothly here and I would recommend. Just make sure to go to the front with your ticket and don’t wait in the line (it’s not always marked so clear, but there should be some people standing around who you can ask for more info).
In retrospect, I would have probably skipped the Museums and opted for the (free) visit to the Basilica instead. After an hour or two at the Vatican Museums, everything starts blending in and you can’t really tell the difference between statue 1 and 2 anymore (even though I’d still like to emphasize that there are a lot of impressive things to see here, before you think I’m a total philistine). If you’re really interested in the history behind everything, I’d advise to take at least a whole day for this and book a guide (’cause this place is huge). And in my defense, it didn’t help that it was the hottest, sunniest day of the trip on the day we went here (of course I’d rather be outside instead of crammed between hundreds of people inside that move very slowly). Basically, I would have preferred this visit on a cloudy, rainy day without so many people around – but that’s quite impossible unless you’re named the pope.
The St. Peter’s Basilica is ginormous and very impressive to see. You can get in free, so that’s an added plus. Also good to know: the entrance to the Vatican Museums and Basilica aren’t right next to each other, it’s a bit of a walk (let’s say 15 minutes). When your last stop at the Museums is the Sistine chapel, take the exit on the right (for tour groups – but usually they let you pass) – it saves you time getting to the Basilica and you can go up the dome from here. It’s nice to get the view over the city from here, but I think the price to get up there is a bit of a rip-off (8 euros when you take the elevator and stairs, 6 euros when you take all the stairs).
Day five: Pantheon – hanging around in the area near Piazza Navona
Our last day was left wide open, but we basically did all of the things we wanted to do during the previous day so we decided just to take it easy and wander some more through the charming streets a bit. We needed to get back in the afternoon to go to the airport anyway, so there was no need for big excursions that day. We had visited the Pantheon the day before, and this was truly my favorite monument to see. When you’re approaching it, and see it in its full glory for the first time, it feels quite surreal to see these impressive, (very) old remains just casually standing in a city. It’s still in very good condition considering its age, and I mostly enjoyed admiring from the outside (but don’t miss the inside of course, it’s free to go in). The streets behind Piazza Navona are all very charming (actually, pretty much every street in Rome is), so you can head on over there for some casual strolling and lunch options afterwards.
Ciao Rome – maybe we’ll meet again one day.