• Berni

Best guide for visiting Rome, what you should see in the Eternal City

Rome is the Eternal City that everyone must see at least once in a lifetime.

Visiting Rome is a real time-travel. Despite the city’s large size and nearly 3 million inhabitants, walking along the ruins of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum makes you feel like you’re walking through the cobbled streets of an ancient small town. Wherever you look, there is a monument, ruin, church, ancient building, sidewalk, ...


The atmosphere of Rome is quite special, because the big-city life feeling didn't take over the magic of the ancient city, and they really make sure, that the preservation of memories and ancient sites is the most important. Therefore, there are no large skyscrapers, high buildings, but the memories of antiquity, the cobblestone streets, sculptures, ornate columns, churches characterize the appearance of the entire city center.

But also further away from the city center, the two-storey buildings dominate which are characterized by ornate facade statues and large, beautifully crafted doors. Rome, I think, is a relatively green city, with lots of parks and wooded areas on the streets.

The most special to me, though, were the small drinking fountains on almost every corner (with a little exaggeration, of course) that ensure that no one is thirsty. Rome has an excellent network of drinking fountains. They show up in completely unexpected places, whether in a park or at a statue carved into the wall of a building, or just simply by the sidewalk. What’s special is that most of them can’t even be turned off, they don’t have a tap on them, they just run non-stop. The water quality is very good and not only quenches the thirst of tired tourists but also stands out as a cool refreshment on a warm summer day.


You can enjoy the Italian sense of life completely, while strolling through the small cobbled alleys, where you are invited to friendly restaurants on every corner for a good Italian pizza / pasta / gnocchi. It is normally very crowded on the streets because the restaurants and cafes have their own small seating areas outside as well, full of both locals and tourists. These places are typically furnished according to the motto "many good people can fit in a small place".

Most of the restaurants have their own ovens, where they bake their very tasty pizzas (often right in front of the guests).


How to get to Rome:

There are several budget flights to Rome every day. If you arrive by plane, you will arrive at either Leonardo da Vinci - Fiumicino Airport or Ciampino Airport. The former one is Rome’s major international airport at the coast, 30 km from the city. The second is only 16 km from the city, but there are fewer types of transport there. Some low-cost airlines have flights arriving at late night, around midnight, when public transport is no longer available. Then a taxi is the only solution. From Fiumicino Airport (upon reservation), taxis can be booked for ~45-50 Euros. Although Ciampino Airport is much closer, this price is only 1-2 Euros cheaper (if at all cheaper). However, transport is much easier during the day. Then there are trains, buses that take you to the city from as little as 6,5 Euros per person.


Public transport:

Due to heavy traffic, public transport buses do not usually arrive on time. The subway is the fastest way to get from point A to point B, but from there you can see nothing but the inside of the old subway trains. By the way, I recommend walking instead of public transport if someone is fit enough. A public transport ticket costs 1,5 Euros, and they are valid for 100 minutes from the start of the validation. It’s not worth cheating because there are a lot of ticket inspectors and they come in groups (under police supervision). In case of on-site payment, the fine is ~50 Euros, but in case of later payment it is double. It’s worth organizing a day where you travel long distances and have a lot of public transportation trips because of it. For this day, it is worth buying a 24-hour ticket for 7 Euros.


Accommodation:

There is plenty of affordable accommodation around Termini Central Train Station. It is also very ideal for transport and it is within walking distance of the city center. I can personally recommend Hotel GIUGIU'. This is a simple hotel run by a lovely little family. Fair accommodation can already be found close to Termini for 50 Euros/night, but of course the limit is the starry sky. At each accommodation in Rome a city tax is charged on top, which is 3,5-4 Euross/person/night.


So now that you are familiar with all the basic information, it is time to go through the sights for which it is worth visiting Rome:


Colosseum

The Colosseum, originally known as the Amphitheatrum Flavium, is Rome's most iconic building and symbol. The construction of the Colosseum began by Vespasian in 69 AD and was completed in 80 AD during the reign of his son.

The Colosseum held mainly gladiatorial fights and other "games." Due to its colossal size, according to estimations, it was able to accommodate approximately 50-60.000 people. It had 80 entrances, the winners and the deads were taken through separate entrances, and the senators and the priesthood, the rich and the poor, could also enter and exit through separate gates.

The Colosseum has more storeys, and the richer somebody was he could take a seat closer to the battlefield. And the poorer people and the women were on the top level, the furthest away from the battlefield. What visitors couldn’t see at the time was the basement level below the battlefield. This was the level where the gladiators stayed before the fights. Also, the wild animals were pulled up from here through secret trapdoors to the battlefield, where they became visible for the audience.


The ancient amphitheater was built with such engineering precision that it was also suitable for holding water battles in it. The battlefield could be filled with water and instead of gladiator fights, spectators could watch the clashes of battleships.

Unfortunately, if we think about it, it is quite sad that the Colosseum served the purpose of having tens of thousands of spectators watching the deaths of hundreds and thousands of people and animals just to entertain the audience. The famous medieval historian Beda Venerabilis said: “As long as the Coliseum stands, Rome shall stand; when the Coliseum falls, Rome will fall; when Rome falls, the whole world will fall.”


Tickets at the Colosseum have not been sold since Covid started. Therefore, it is best to buy in advance online. (Where, btw a handling fee of 2 Euros is charged per ticket, for a ticket which costs 16 Euros anyway.) This basic ticket entitles you to a single entry to the Colosseum and a single entry to the Roman Forum, the site of the archeological excavations and the Palatine Hill. You have 24 hours for these 2 visits, so you can visit them on separate days, but within 24 hours. It is important to keep in mind that it is not possible to enter after 16:30 during the wintertime, so in this case, you might take advantage of the 24-hour ticket.


This type of ticket is the cheapest. With this you can visit the Colosseum, however if you also want to go the basement level and the battlefield level, then you can purchase a more expensive ticket. But in my opinion, you can see it quite well from the higher levels.

I think it’s better to go to the Colosseum first when the sun is still high and it illuminates the whole interior of the amphitheater. Then afterward, the Roman Forum, the Palatine, which offers a beautiful panoramic view of the ancient ruins, which is extra beautiful at sunset.


Forum Romanum, Palatine Hill

From the Colosseum to the entrance to the Roman Forum, you can walk on an ancient large-stones road, which gives you a tiny insight into a piece of the nearly two-thousand-year-old historical road. The biggest part of the Roman Forum is beautifully visible from the Via dei Fori Imperiali, but still it feels completely different to look at it from the outside or to walk directly among the ruins, churches, columns and the arches of triumph, where everything has a history that is hard to imagine.

You shouldn't miss the Palatine Hill either because it offers an amazing panoramic view of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum.


Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain is most likely the second place after the Colosseum that pops up in everyone's mind when thinking of Rome. The Baroque fountain, which is more than 26 meters high and 49 meters wide, has been adorning the city since the 18th century. Its name comes from the Latin word Trivium, which means the intersection of three roads, and it is really situated like that. The virgin in the group of statues on the facade preserves the memory of the legend that the virgin helped the engineers to find the source of water, which then fed the plumbing.

Today, however, there is a much better-known legend associated with the Trevi Fountain, which is that if one throws a coin into the Fountain while looking back over the shoulder, then that person will surely return to Rome, to the Eternal City. I can confirm that the prediction turned out to be true for me ... :)


It is said that about the value of 3000 Euros is collected daily from the Trevi Fountain. In the past, a few homeless people got really rich from this, but now the city of Rome is entitled to this money, and they use it for charity.


Pantheon

The Pantheon was built in 27. BC by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, in honor of the gods of Rome. The Pantheon is perhaps one of the most outstanding works of the ancient architecture, because even after two thousand years the dome of the Pantheon is still the largest unreinforced concrete ceiling in the world. Because of the 9-meter diameter hole on the dome, doesn't matter if it rains or snows, there is nothing between the inside of the building and the outside world. But at the same time, the sunlight illuminates the inside of the cassette dome throughout the day. Since the roof of the building is practically "perforated", it was necessary to ensure proper drainage inside the building. However, when one walks inside and admires the beautiful interior of the building, s/he sees no trace of the drainage system, but it works properly.


Inside the Pantheon a 43,3 meters diameter sphere would fit exactly, which also shows the perfection of the building.

The huge portico, the front hall of the building - covered with a roof, cannot be neglected either. The roof is held by 16 ornate Corinthian granite columns. The columns are originally from Egypt and they are almost 12 meters high and weigh 60 tons each. So it also shows how amazing human creation this building is, especially considering that it was built almost 2,000 years ago when there weren’t any high-tech machines as today, but only raw human power.


Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps are the longest and widest outdoor stairs in Europe. This huge staircase of 138 steps has been a popular gathering place for travelers, foreigners, and artists for a long time.

Thanks to its central location, many people visit it and enjoy the Roman sense of life with street musicians' lovely melodies in the background. The stairs connect Piazza di Spagna (the square of the Spanish Embassy) with the Trinita dei Monti church above, with the huge Egyptian Obelisk in front of it.

At the bottom of the stairs is the Fontana di Barcaccia fountain, which may be interesting at first sight, why a sunken ship was depicted at a fountain, but there is an explanation for that. This is because the pressure in the aqueduct supplying the water didn't have enough pressure, so it was not possible to create something, where the water would sprinkle high, so the whole sculptural composition of the fountain was made according to this limitation.


Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona has no longer had the problem above, as there are three large fountains adorning the large square. The middle of which is the famous "Fountain of the Four Rivers", which symbolizes the main rivers of four continents: the Danube from Europe, the Nile from Africa, the Ganges from Asia, and the Río de la Plata from America. Piazza Navona has a Baroque architectural style, as it is well visible on the 17th-century church of Sant'Agnese in Agone on the square.

It is very cozy to walk around in Piazza Navona. There is often live music and small cozy restaurants and cafes waiting for tourists to come in. However, if you go a little further through the small streets, more restaurants will try to invite you in for a delicious, real Italian pizza or pasta. In Rome, the average restaurant usually serves pizza between 8-15 Euros, and pasta dishes are similarly in this price range. But you can find quite affordable menu offers, where in the menu you get a soup / appetizer, a main course (pizza or some kind of pasta) and a little dessert or a drink --> and all of this for around 15 Euros, but of course not all restaurants have a menu option on offer.


Villa Borghese

Villa Borghese is a beautiful park just a few minutes' walk from the top of the Spanish Steps. To stroll around the park on foot, you need at least 1-2 hours, but it is possible to rent an (electric-assisted) 4-wheel bike, which costs 12 Euros per hour for two people. I think it's definitely worth it, it is a very nice program to discover the park with this 4-wheel bike.

There is a small lake where you can rent a boat, a mini zoo, a puppet theater, a cinema and small carousel-kind of games for the children.


Victor Emmanuel II. National Monument

This huge building is adorning Piazza Venezia since the early 1900s. The monument was built in honor of Victor Emmanuel II., who was the first king of the united Italy.

Admission is free (only the highest level, which is accessible by elevator, has an entrance fee). But even from the free part, there is a very nice view of Rome in all directions. The interior of the building is not that outstanding, but for the view of the outside terraces, it is definitely worth visiting!


Via Appia Antica, 195-187

Via Appia Antica was the most important road in the ancient Roman Empire. Appius Claudius Caecus (Roman censor) began to build it in the 300s BC, and after extensions, its total length reached 563 km. Initially made for military purposes, because thanks to Via Appia Antica they were able to secure the supply of armies, but it was also very important because this road connected the ancient Rome with the Greek and Eastern world. There are still old ancient stones in some parts of the road today, which is amazing to think about, that those stones have been there for more than 2,.000 years. Can you imagine that how many people stepped on those stones?


Of course, as of today's persons, we have to pay close attention and look at our feet, because it is made of huge, completely irregular, differently sized stones, between which there are smaller depressions. So with today’s eyes, it doesn’t seem a convenient solution to walk hundreds of miles on such a road and not even for cart rides. But back then, it was a huge help, because that way people didn't have to go through mud, and thanks to the width of the road, which was more than 4 meters wide, 2 carts could fit side by side.

Nowadays these large original stones are only in some parts of the road, in other parts it is now covered with "modern" cobblestones or might even be paved. Therefore, if you want to be sure, I recommend that you tap Via Appia Antica, 195-187, into Google Maps, and there is a few hundred meters of the original stony section.

If you don’t rent a car, it’s worth taking a bus. You can get there by bus number 118 from the Colosseum (it doesn’t go as often). I suggest you get off at the Appia Pignatelli / Caetana stop and cross the part between the Via Appia Antica and the bus stop on foot. Don't worry, Google Maps writes a 1-hour, 45-minute pedestrian detour because it shows that you can't cross the small street a little back from the bus stop, but you can actually cross it, so it's only a 5-10 minute walk up on a steep narrow street and then you arrive right there on Via Appia Antica.

The Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica

The Vatican is the world's smallest and most populous country in the world. It is only 0,44 km2 big and has about 800 inhabitants. The Vatican was established on February 11, 1929, as a result of the Lateran Convention, as the legal successor of the papal state. The Vatican is the center of power of the Catholic Church and the residence of the Pope.

The Vatican City Wall surrounds St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican Museums and the Pope's residence. If someone is visiting Rome, be sure to include the Vatican in your itinerary. It is obvious that you'll walk through St. Peter's Square, admiring the basilica from the outside, but the basilica from the inside is a "must-see" place as well.

Its colossal size and rich decoration reflect that this is not just an ordinary basilica, but the number one holy church in the Christian world! To get into the basilica, we have to go through a screening. "In normal times" - I'm thinking of the pre-Covid period- you can expect huge queues, several hours of waiting to enter, so it's a good idea to get up very early and go there before the others. In Covid's time, however the waiting time everywhere is only a fraction of the "original" waiting hours.


Admission to the basilica is free, but you can also go up to its dome, for which you have to pay. There are two options:

  1. Going up through 551 steps costs 8 Euros per person,

  2. On the other hand, you can choose a combination of elevator+stairs for 10 Euros. Here the first stair-part you can skip with the elevator, but the last 230 steps you will also have to climb. Which is no wonder, because the section is so narrow (and a bit curved as it follows the shape of the dome), that not just an elevator wouldn't have enough place, but even a bigger person could have difficulties while going up on foot.

For those who are claustrophobic, I do not recommend going up to the dome because the last section is really very tight. However, I highly recommend it to everyone else, because it is not an everyday experience to admire the dome of the second-largest Christian church in the world from the inside, and from the outside to admire the entire Vatican, St. Peter's Square, the Pope's residence, and Rome in the background.

Many people get confused, BUT this should never happen to you! The dome of St. Peter's Basilica is not the same as the Sistine Chapel! Both are in the Vatican, both are world-famous, but the Sistine Chapel is in the Vatican Museum.

The ceiling fresco in the Sistine Chapel was painted by Michelangelo. Among the several biblical scenes, the painting of the Creation of Adam is the best known. The chapel’s ceiling fresco is the world’s largest contiguous fresco (540 m2), visited by millions of people every year.

As I mentioned, the chapel is part of the Vatican Museum, there the ticket costs 17 Euros. However, it entitles you not only to see the Sistine Chapel but also to see the entire Vatican Museums, which is home to a huge collection of paintings, statues, books, Roman artefacts, ... accumulated over the centuries by the Roman Catholic Church and the papacy.


Castle of the Angels, Tevere, Trastevere

Tevere (in Latin: River Tiber) is the river that crosses Rome with many bridges over it. Perhaps the most beautiful of all these bridges is the St. Angelo Pedestrian Bridge, which is decorated with angels and is right in front of the Castel Sant'Angelo.

Castel Sant’Angelo, the site of the tomb of Emperor Hadrian, had different functions across the history, it was a fortress, a prison and today it is a museum.

At the same level of the ancient Roman city center, just across the river is the Trastevere district, with its cute little cobbled streets and cozy little restaurants, as well worth a walk.


Campo de' Fiori

Campo de 'Fiori is Rome's oldest market square. Unfortunately, there were not always positive things happening on this square, as the Italian philosopher and monk, Giordano Bruno was executed here in 1600. Today, fortunately, it only functions as a market.

You can choose from a wide range of fresh vegetables, fruits, cheeses, flowers, and different kinds of pasta packaged as souvenirs.

The coolest in the entire market was a vendor who did an incredible show around himself. He sold small kitchen utensils such as peelers, spirals-makers, and lemon taps, and thanks to his "stunts," he sold his gadgets to by far more people than if the utensils had just been loaded on the counter - without the show. He had a large compartment full of vegetables and showed what these devices were capable of while joking around, and making a lot of fun and interacting with the people. He created such a great atmosphere around himself, that I really think all the people in the market, sooner or later, stopped by at his counter. He definitely made our market visit memorable for a lifetime.


Knights of Malta Keyhole

If someone is in Rome for more than 3 days and knows that s/he will have some time after visiting all the main attractions, a cute little curiosity on the Aventino Hill is the Knights of Malta Keyhole. If we look into this small 1,5-centimeter keyhole, we can see the dome of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican at the end of the bush corridor.

You can't take a good picture of it with an older phone, but with a phone with a more advanced camera, you can take good pictures. If you visit it in the morning, it is advisable to go to the statue of the Mouth of Truth after. However, on the way down from the hill there are still a few smaller parks with wonderful views of the city.


The Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verità)

This large carved stone disk is now located in the portico of the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. It has a legend that if a liar places his hand into the mouth of the Mouth of Truth, then the statue will bite it off.

The legend has been confirmed here as well because we have the same number of hands as before our trip to Rome .. :)


Capitol/Campidoglio and the statue of Romulus and Remus

Of the seven hills in Rome, besides the Palatine Hill, the Capitol is the other most famous one. No wonder, as we walk through the main square of the Capitol, the Piazza del Campidoglio, we get to a beautiful viewpoint. We can see the whole Roman Forum, with the Colosseum in the background.

The Piazza del Campidoglio is also special because it is entirely the work of Michelangelo, not only the square but also the surrounding buildings.

And in addition, we can even find the wolf statue of Romulus and Remus. (Btw, we can find another statue of Romulus and Remus on the wall of the municipal building near the Mouth of the Truth.)

Ostia

Ostia is a small seaside suburb of Rome. If you are arriving at Fiumicino Airport at night, it is a good idea to spend the night there. Although it is much closer to the airport than Rome, it is only 8 km away. (Airport taxis, on the other hand, charge a ridiculously high price of up to 60-70 Euros, so a horror amount for this 8 km trip, but at night there is no public transport...)

The next morning, a walk along the beach and a little scramble in downtown Ostia is the right start to an adventure in Rome. And since Ostia still belongs to Rome, you can get to Rome with a simple train ticket for 2 Euros.


You can see that there are plenty of wonderful sights in Rome and I think it’s the perfect idea for a long weekend getaway. You will need 4-5 days to visit the main attractions listed above.


I hope you enjoyed my summary and found many helpful tips that will help you during your trip to Rome!


Have a nice day!

Berni