Forget everything you’ve read because Rome is Incredible
I had read so many negative things online about Rome that I honestly had an aversion to visiting the city. People will tell you that it is a big and dirty city, that the transport is bad and that highlights are spread out and hard to see on a short visit. They’ll say that it’s packed with tourists, that locals are unfriendly and the food horrible. So when Lissette mentioned she’d like to visit the city – mainly to see St. Peter’s Basilica – I found myself making all kinds of excuses why we shouldn’t go.
We ended up going, spending what amounted to about 2 full days in Rome. During that time we saw most of the highlights and were so impressed that we’ll be back one day for more. I also came to the realization that many people have it all wrong when it comes to Rome – and that most of that is due to lack of planning.
A quick video showing off Rome’s highlights
The first myth (or general misconception) debunked: you CAN walk between the main sights in Rome very easily. Central Rome is not spread out, it’s actually very manageable. The map below shows the main tourist sites and what we walked (with many stops along the way). Day 2 (in blue) was our only full day in Rome and we covered a lot of distance and saw tons. Really easy. I’ll have a few tips further below.
Our Weekend Itinerary
Day 1 (half day) – Train from Padova, arrived in Rome at 1pm, Took the metro and checked in to our hotel near the Vatican before 2pm. Unpacked, had a lunch nearby then took a tour of St. Peter’s Square and St. Peter’s Basilica. From there it is a short walk to Castel Sant’Angelo.
Day 2 – Took the metro to the Colosseum (Colosseo Metro) visited the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, then the Colosseum (I’ll explain why to do it in this order below). Then walking up the Via Fori Imperiale (large pedestrian boulevard with ancient ruins on both sides including Trajan’s Forum) to the Vittoriano. Lunch break. Continue through side streets to the Pantheon. 10 minutes away is Piazza Navona. 15 minute walk to the Trevi Fountain then another 10 to the Spanish Steps (which was under construction). Easy metro ride from there back home.
Day 3 (half day) – Checked out of the apartment, took the metro to Manzoni metro where we walked to the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano. Walked towards the train station, passing the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. Took the train at 11am, we were back in Padova at 2pm.
Accommodation in Rome
A few recommendations: Pantheon Luxury House (luxury apartment, good price, near main sites), Colosseum Street (nice apartment, right next to Colosseum so you can get an early start), Bella Nonna (another apartment right by the Big 3). All surprisingly affordable considering this is Rome.
Day 1 (half day) – St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Peter’s Square, Castel Sant’Angelo
St. Peter’s Basilica
Seeing that St. Peter’s Basilica (in Vatican City) was the principal reason we were visiting Rome. Since I had only planned an afternoon to see the Basilica and St. Peter’s Square, I booked a “Skip the Line Vatican Tour“ . We received a 3 hour guided tour and as the title says, skipped the hordes lining up to buy tickets. Whether you’re religious or not, it is a wonder of the world.
Construction of the basilica started in 1506 and was completed 120 years later, in 1626. That’s pretty unbelievable.
St. Peter’s Square
Outside the Basilica is St. Peter’s Square. It is immense and especially beautiful in the late afternoon light.
A 10 minute walk down the road brings you to Castel Sant’Angelo. Originally built as a mausoleum on the Tiber River for Roman Emperor Hadrian (in 134 AD) it was later used by popes as a castle, a fortress, then as a prison.
Day 2 – Central Rome
A. Navigating Rome
It’s true that the Center of Rome isn’t well covered by the metro system. But several of the key sights are located right next to metro stations and should be used as starting/ending points. From our base near Vatican City we had a metro station 5 minutes away (Ottaviano). From there we took the metro to Termini (the central hub, where the train station is located) and switched to the Blue Line going to the Colosseo metro station. When you get there, you are directly in front of the Colosseum with both the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill steps away. Door-to-door, it took us about 25 minutes. I had planned our day so that we would finish our walking itinerary at the Spanish Steps, where Spagna metro station is located. From there it was about 10 minutes by metro back to Ottaviano. Overall we found getting around by metro easy.
TIP: instead of buying your tickets at a vending machine (I hate fighting with vending machines), buy a strip of tickets at a Tobacco Shop. We did that at Termini (there’s a shop close to the metro gates) and the guy even gave us a map.
B. Highlights of Central Rome
The Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill rank at the top of the “must-sees” sites in Rome. They’re all located right next to each other steps away from the Colosseo metro stop.
TIP: You can buy a ticket covering these 3 highlights either at the Colosseum or about 100m away at the Roman Forum ticket office. Since lines are largest at the Colosseum, you’ll save time buying your tickets at the former. But the best thing to do is to book this “Skip the line“package that covers all 3 highlights. Start with the Roman Forum, go up Palatine Hill, then go to the Colosseum.
The Roman Forum is where the center of Rome was located in ancient times. Some of the monuments date back to 700-800 years before Jesus (7-8 AD). That blows my mind. There is so much to see that you can easily spend a few hours here. A few photos below.
See here for an extensive guide of the Roman Forum.
Just a little up the hill from the Roman Forum is Palatine hill which has gardens and the ruins of the palaces of some of Rome’s richest families. The grounds are huge. The highlight for us were the incredible views of the Roman Forum (directly below) and the Colosseum.
More on Palatine Hill.
The Colosseum was our last of the sights in the immediate area. I’ve heard many people complain about the number of tourists and the “letdown” of actually entering the Colosseum. Despite having our pre-bought tickets (mentioned above) the line still took about 45 minutes, the delay mostly due to the metal detectors everyone has to go through. We were in Mid-April, I can only imagine what it would be like in mid-summer (I’ve heard of 3 hour lines!)
But for me the Colosseum was totally worth it. Maybe that’s because when I look down I can just envisage the gladiators, slaves and wild animals in the tunnels below the arena floor. I can only imagine the terror. And imagine, the Colosseum dates back to 80 AD, more than 2000 years ago. Again, that just blows my mind. So maybe the trick to appreciating the Colosseum is a bit of imagination. All I know is that when we got back to the apartment that evening I told Lissette that I wanted to watch Gladiator.
Leaving the Colosseum, we walked down the Via Fori Imperiale, a large pedestrian only avenue that runs along the Roman Forum on one side and a multitude of other forums and ruins on the other. A few photos:
A 10-15 minute walk down the Via Fori Imperiale takes you to a huge monument named the Vittoriano. It was built in 1885 to celebrate the achievement of Italian Unity in 1870.
You’ll most likely have spent about 4 hours between the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, Colosseum, and the sights along the way to the Vittoriano. After a lunch break, we walked through a maze of small streets to one of Rome’s most popular sites: the Pantheon.
The Pantheon dates back to 126 AD and is considered the best preserved monument of Roman antiquity. A temple, it was dedicated to the planetary gods.
10 minutes away, through more small streets (this part of Rome is all small streets) is Piazza Navano. A huge Baroque square, it was built for festivals and horse races in the Middle Ages. Besides a beautiful church (Sant’Agnese – which you can enter) the square is most known for its fountain (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi) which was designed in 1651 and which represents River Gods on 4 continents of the world.
Coming back, past the Pantheon, and heading towards the Trevi Fountain, we saw these ruins. Suddenly coming up on columns and temples like this in Rome seems commonplace.
A 15 minute walk brought us to the Trevi Fountain.
Built in 1732-1762, it is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome and one of the most famous fountains in the world. Even in mid-April, it was swarmed with tourists (see the video at the top, you’ll be amazed). In fact, if you’re short like Lissette this might be the only angle you get:
Our last destination of the day was also our most disappointing. The famous Spanish Steps, portrayed in almost every movie ever shot in Rome, was under renovations. Our best photo:
Related: Venice, Rome or Bologna – which should you Visit?
Day 3 (half day) – Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano & Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
We had an 11 am train but wanted to fill in a couple of hours with sightseeing. After checking out of the hotel, we took the underground to Manzoni metro station. From there it was an easy walk to Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, Rome’s oldest church.
Being another beautiful day, we decided to walk to the train station, seeing along the way at least 5 churches (including Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore) that would be noteworthy in any other city. In Rome they are just another church, another incredible architectural sight.
Rome–Fiumicino International Airport “Leonardo da Vinci” is the main airport in Rome (Airport code: FCO). The airport is 35 km (22 miles) from Central Rome – the best way into the center is taking the Leonardo Express train that takes you non-stop to Termini station in Central Rome in 30 minutes.
If there are a few closing thoughts on Rome that I can leave with you:
1) Rome is very impressive and it’s sights some of the most ancient that you’ll see anywhere in the world. Don’t be biased (like I was) from visiting.
2) Rome is not hard to navigate. But plan out your itinerary, making best use of the metro system as beginning and ending points. And wear good walking shoes.
3) Plan ahead and smartly. Pre-buy those tickets at the Vatican, as well as the package for the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. You’ll save a LOT of time.
4) Rome gets a crazy amount of tourists, even in April we saw a lot. The most important tip I have is to avoid the summer months. Tourist hordes and heat are the major reasons Rome leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths.
What’s your experience visiting Rome?
Related: Trieste. And remembering the things we don’t like about Italy
Related: 3 Days in Florence
Related: Travel guide to the most beautiful city in Italy’s Puglia region: Lecce
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This was one of my favorite historical places in Rome. We went on a tour that came through the Roman Forum. It is truly amazing to see how people lived thousands of years ago.
Thanks Stephanie. Totally agree (and we found the Roman Forum really amazing as well!)
That’s a lotta Rome in two days. You must have been running.
Ha! Just a little…
Second Charge Loans
Rome is a great city and Italy a great country.
Aodhan. waste management
I am so keen to visit Rome. literally so many layers of history to explore.
Rome is beautiful place to visit.Its building architecture is very amazing,I really like it.I also like its musseum,parks and Borghese gallery.Its true Rome is a heart of Italy.
Thanks,for sharing this great information.
Thank you for your comment. Somebody else mentioned the Borguese gallery – we for sure have to go there next time.
I love Rome, it’s so full of history and the food is amazing! I’m returning to Italy in August and will be making a quick pitstop in Rome, so this has really gotten me in the mood!
Thanks for the comment Amy. Happy to hear you enjoyed it enough to go back. We’re planning to do the same at some point, we were also very impressed.
All of these places look absolutely amazing! Rome is an incredible destination to visit with anyone you love. Every spot on every corner is gorgeous, and the city has so much to offer for everyone. These pictures are stunning and really reflect the beauty of the city. Very well done! Thanks so much for sharing your adventure!
Thank you very much 🙂
Frank, great as always, pictures and comments, we love Italy and Rome is a wonderful city full of history and beautiful places. I think I mentioned earlier that we will be doing Italy in August and September for the third time, the second time we did not get to see St Peter’s Cathedral because of the extra-huge line (vacation time) but with “Skip the Line Vatican Tour” did you get to skip the line to get into the cathedral or just to the museums? last time the museums were not a problem even though we didn’t have tickets in advance. This time we are taking with us a friend couple that is their first time and of course we want to see St. Peters Cathedral.
We skipped the lines just to get into the Basilica but don’t worry, they try to upsell you to get into the museums too 🙂
We took it with Viator and if you want the museums included this is probably the one you want.
Good to plan ahead that time of year!
Hope you enjoy.
Thank you, Frank
The first time we went (1984) the entrance to the museums and to the Sistine Chapel were separated, two years ago you could not get into the chapel without going through the museums now paying for both, I think that one time is enough to see the museums, I could repeat the Chapel, but I am sure our friends would like to see both. were you able to see St Peter’s and the Sistine or you did not visit the chapel?
We didn’t visit the Sistine Chapel this time around and honestly have heard so many people comment on what a sardine-fest it is in there (and no photos) that it doesn’t inspire me. Maybe one day, but we’ve been feeling museum-ed out and also crowd-a-phobic…
Roma! What an incredible, history soaked place! Queues were diabolical at the Vatican back when I was last there in 1999. I would dearly love to go back, I’d really love to explore Italy at a slow pace with loads of cash so I could dine out every night. BUT so many countries and places on my list. Not for quite a few years methinks. great post as always Frank.
Thanks so much Andy!
I didn’t know about negative comments online. Maybe they went peak season and crowds at tourist sites got to them. The Vatican is incredible.
Google “I hate Rome” and you’ll come up with a lot of stuff and many different reasons. Totally agree with you, the Vatican great…so many beautiful things in Rome.
Sarah (JetSetting Fools)
This is a fantastic itinerary! Splitting the sightseeing between Day 1 Vatican/Day 2 Ruins is an ideal way to see Rome.
I’ve stood in the long line to enter St. Peter’s twice (both times I was visiting in October) and thought it moved at a decent pace considering the length of it. I did not, however, join a tour and I think I would have actually liked one. The church has so many interesting details, sculptures and art and I’m sure I missed some of the great stories. The first time I was there, I did endure the very long wait to hike to the top of the copula. While the views were impressive, my claustrophobia and acrophobia were kicked into high gear, thus I skipped it the second time around.
Also, great tip about not buying the Combo Ticket at the Colosseum. Again, both times I have been in Rome, I purchased my Combo Ticket at the Palatine Hill entrance (off Via di San Gregorio) and had almost zero wait time (only about 4 people in front of me both times). Then I worked my way up from Palatine Hill to the Forum and then the Colosseum.
What I really like about Rome is the neighborhoods and family-run cafes. I think the food is fabulous (but I could pretty much live on pizza, so that works in my favor!). Once outside of the tourist zones, crowds quickly fade and it’s a lovely place to wander.
Thanks for the great comment Sarah!
Roma not Rome but yes a great city. Best in Italy.
Depends on the language used 🙂
Great, another positive vote for Rome!
You don’t have to convince me, I would love to visit Rome and all that it entails. What a fascinating place of history. And, I agree, the guards uniforms are a bit silly, but I’m guessing they are seeped in centuries of tradition. Thanks for posting such an in-depth article. Now I have a source for when the day comes! 🙂
Question: I have read many articles about Rome and our son has visited. The common thread seems to be crowds. Other than the dead of winter, is there a better time to visit when the crowds are a bit thinner?
Thanks Patti. I think Mark above has it right “Late March to the end of May and early September to mid October”, ie. avoid June, July, August.
I have been to Rome twice and would go again in a heartbeat. My last visit was with my sisters and we had an amazing time. Your pictures are great and Rome is an incredible photogenic city.
That’s fantastic, nice to hear Gilda!
Great posting Frank . It takes a good and great character to admit prejudices and (pre) judgements about places and people… And we all seem to have them about someplace/s, somewhere, wherever …. Its a pity your trip to Roma was so short though, and so museum/ site intensive . As one of the great touchstone centres and foundations of our very ‘civilisation’ it warrants a “slow travel” all of its own – and the time to just soak up its unique , wonderful lifestyle and ambiance of the city and its people. But 2 days is a lot lot better than none, for sure.
It might be glib, but we have a few famous sayings that are right on target for the ‘next time’ ….
” No place is nearly as bad as everyone tells you it is ” or ” To travel is to discover that everyone is totally wrong about other countries ” –
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness ” – Mark Twain,
but undoubtedly (and here, as an African, I am prejudiced….although you will well understand,) the best is :-
” The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it” – Rudyard Kipling
Very good about the quotes, all applicable. I’ve been to too many places that people don’t consider (that end up being great) or others that people rave about (that have disappointed me). I had had heard all these things about Rome but when I actually sat down to read about/plan it it didn’t seem so complicated. I didn’t understand what people get so flummoxed about. In the end ended up being an interesting visit and we will be back. So we got something out of it 🙂
Agnieszka (Wandering Owls)
Great photos – I love the baby’s reflection in the sunglasses, very appropriate shot 🙂
We went to Rome for a 4-day break two years ago, and as much as we loved the city itself, I was left with mixed feelings about our visit. Firstly, the crowds were crazy (mid-May), most of the time I felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of people. Luckily we managed to find a couple of quiet spaces away from the main sights (Isla Tiberina and the Tortoise Fountain were our favourites), where we could rest a little bit and enjoy pizza and gelato :). We bought the Rome Pass and booked the tickets for Vatican online, so we didn’t wait in any queue for longer than 10 minutes. The pass can also be used for public transport, which was great as our hotel was quite a distance from the city centre. When in the centre, we mainly walked. I loved the Palatine Hill, by far my favourite place in Rome. The greatest disappointment was the Sistine Chapel – the crowd was very thick and the security guards wouldn’t even let us stop and look at frescoes, we were rushed through like cattle and I only managed to catch a glimpse of the Creation of Adam fresco, which I really wanted to see (and which is surprisingly small). The Vatican Museums were fantastic, wish we had a bit more time for exploring these.
Unfortunately we made a very bad choice of the hotel… I had to seek medical help upon our return home, following some seriously nasty bites from what apparently was a swarm of hungry fleas. Not quite what one would expect from a 4-star hotel 😉 Next time it’s definitely an Airbnb for us (and there will be a next time, I’m not done with Rome just yet).
Great tips Agnieszka, I’ll make sure to look into all of them our next time in Rome. And good to hear about the Sistine Chapel which we missed on this trip – we’re a little museum-ed out plus we had to prioritize. But I’ll plan that carefully next time.
That’s terrible about the hotel. Yes, we’re Airbnb fans, trust individuals more than hotel staff. Lucky for us we’ve never had fleas – did they give you the flea shampoo treatment they give kids in school?
These photos are AMAZING! I loved Rome in spite of the hordes and the heat! We went in July 2014. I’m jealous that you got to see the Trevi Fountain. It was covered in scaffolding when we were there, which may or may not have been the cause of a tear or two on my part when I realized there would be no throwing a coin over my shoulder. Oh, well, I think I’ll make it back to Rome one day in spite of that!
Thank you so much Katrina. But you got to see the Spanish steps which we didn’t – I guess evens out in the end 🙂
I went to Rome without any bias expecting to be completely wow’d. And while I was definitely wow’d by all of the rich history and sites, I left Rome feeling a bit underwhelmed. We were only there for about two days as well, and I’ve been told that we have to go back and explore more of the city’s neighborhoods to truly appreciate it. On our one full day of sightseeing, we booked an early morning tour of the Vatican (to beat the crazy crowds), and an afternoon tour of the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and surrounding areas. Fortunately, our hotel was a block or so away from the Spanish Steps, so we passed them quite frequently. All in all, I believe in second chances, and Rome is definitely a city I’d love to return to.
Thanks for feedback Dana 🙂
‘The most important tip I have is to avoid the summer months’ – this is bang on the money. There is no need to be in Europe at the high of the summer (or the depths of the winter for that matter!). Late March to the end of May and early September to mid October are the best times to visit in my opinion – it’s not so hot, it’s easier to get rooms and most importantly, there aren’t as many tourists. We are in Europe at the moment but will be leaving it for dust by early June, that’s for sure. However, there is one place that will be fine in the height of summer tourist-numbers-wise and that’s Belarus – we have just left this unusual country and didn’t see many people that we recognised as ‘tourists’ and I doubt if the height of summer would be much different! We will keep all the above in mind if we decide to visit Rome in the future – thanks for the update.
Belarus – most people probably don’t even where that is. I know because my favorite hockey team (the Montreal Canadiens) had 2 brothers from Belarus (the Kostisyn brothers).
But yes, you are absolutely correct. We’ll be in Europe but will mostly be lying low. Depending on how it goes though, this might be our last summer in Europe…
Funny you mention ice hockey – being a Brit, I know absolutely nothing about the game really but I wanted to go and see the Minsk Arena while we were there but ran out of time. Check it out on Google, it’s a beast of a building and apparently where all the major ice hockey games are played. Belarusians are big into their ice hockey from what I understand but I guess you know that, given you can name two Belarusian players – that’s one more than me (*).
(*) one more because Alexander Lukashenko, the president (dictator??) plays regularly and I know his name!
Holy cow, you are right – it’s a huge building and ultra-modern. Actually, I see the seating is small considering its size (15,000 – I find that strange). But so beautiful. I see they play KHL games here (Russian Hockey league).
Interesting, thanks for sharing that Mark.
I really liked Rome. Full of amazing ancient monuments and architecture, it’s not a cold city, it’s a city with a soul. I presume that reasons you found many negative opinions about Rome is because it’s so popular – and there is no such a thing that would satisfy every single person. That’s why, I suppose, there are many bad reviews about this ancient city. I’m glad that you enjoyed it! I’m in Milan at the moment and to be honest I don’t like it at all. Tomorrow I’m traveling to Venice 🙂
I think you’re exactly right Tom. I’m sure it can be overwhelming, especially if staying a bit longer. Same for Venice though, for different reasons.
Hope you enjoy Venice. Morning and evening best time to sightsee, best light and least number of tourists around. A magical city 🙂
Food! Food! Food! Lovely roundup of Rome. It does get a bad rap from travelers, and you’re right, a little proper planning goes a long way. That being said, l am lucky to have my own personal guide even though l am slightly dreading the visit in July. Since we have the car here with us in Seville, we have to ..gasp..take public transportation 🙂 .
You’ve probably been a bunch of times with Federico, right Kemkem?
Ouch, July plus public transport. Yes, that might suck 🙂
I have been in Rome not so long time ago – it is amazing. Make a huge impression on me. 😀 love the photos!
Great! Good to hear Bogusia! 🙂
I think the problem that Rome suffers is it’s reputation. Everyone goes expecting such great things which just leaves it wide open for disappointment. I’m personally kinda on the fence about Rome. On the one hand nowhere else in the world can compete with the greatness of this historic city, in many ways the centre of the ancient world, yet on the other, it’s still just a city, and a big noisy one at that. As you know I’m one of the ones who was disappointed with the colosseum, probably because I’ve seen others less well preserved where it was easy to imagine the gladiators of old. I just didn’t get that vibe in Rome. Maybe I just lack imagination! We loved the Forum and Palatine Hill though, somewhere you really can feel the history behind every stone. Glad you enjoyed it, perhaps because you went with low expectations?!
Maybe low expectations helped 🙂 But I expected a congested historic center and, based on what I heard, difficulties in reaching the major sights. Instead I saw that most of ancient Rome was very walkable (the area from the Colosseum to the Vittoriano is just made for pedestrians) and that the rest of the sites- though the streets a bit of a maze – were within easy walking distance.
We’ve seen 3 arenas in the last month: the Colosseum in Rome, the Arena in Verona, and the Amphitheatre in Pula. Verona came in last for me, I found there were too many modern installations and the arena floor was covered with some kind of red covering. The Amphitheatre in Pula is gorgeous from the outside but really hollowed out and empty on the inside. For me it was the Colosseum that was the most authentic only because there weren’t many modern installations and you can see the tunnels that would have been under the arena floor. For me that was the most incredible thing.
Anyway, we all have our opinions and often they are shaped by the weather on a given day. I don’t have great memories of Verona, but that may be because it was rainy and miserable…And sometimes we have days when we just don’t “feel” it.
I totally agree that Rome is fantastic. We purchased our joint tickets for the THREE at Palatine and started there. We spent 5 full days in Rome (arrived and departed from there) and would love to go back.
Good to hear Jan! We feel we just really saw the tip of the iceberg and really want to make it back.
Yes, exactly about the ticket. Saves time for sure
I’m happy to hear from someone who shares our opinion on Rome 🙂
Another great wrap up! Love the attention to detail. Enjoyed the pics. Makes me want to go back again. Thanks for sharing.