With so much to see and do in a city that has ancient sights on every corner, it can be difficult to know where to start. Here are some of the highlights that you could easily see on a five night stay in this glorious city.
Making your plans on what to do on a day to day basis will determine on how much you want to walk, how much you want to relax or how much time you spend just sipping coffee underneath some of the world's most recognised landmarks. Because of this, I've not put together this guide in any particular order but just picked some of the highlights that you could see over a five night stay.
The Roman Forum and Colosseum
The Roman Forum and Colosseum are two sights that are within walking distance of each other and are equally as impressive. The Roman Forum was once the centre of Rome, its main trading and administration hub and the ruins there still give a fabulous impression of what it was like in those times as you walk the main streets.
Just up the road, the Colosseum, is probably the most recognised and thrilling of Rome’s sights. This 50,000 seat amphitheatre once hosted gladiator battles and pitted prisoners against wild animals, much to the delight of the baying public. In fact, the violent scenes you may have seen Russell Crowe battle out in Gladiator were actually toned down compared to the blood sports that happened in real life.
The Vatican and St Peter's Basilica
Vatican City is its own state country and has some of the best museums in the world. The Vatican Museums include the Michaelangelo painted Sistine Chapel, not to mention thousands more paintings and sculptures. The museums are free on the last Sunday of every month.
The downside of this is the size of the crowds it attracts and the queue can seem endless as it snakes all the way around the walls of the city. Don’t be too put off though, it’s worth waiting a couple of hours in line to save the entrance fee and the time soon passes. Don’t even consider squeezing in line or queue jumping, those who do are singled out in no time and are forced to the back of the line by angry Italians! Be prepared to shuffle around through large crowds any day of the week though but just go with the flow and use the slow pace to take in the priceless art and artifacts on display.
St Peter's Basilica is Italy’s biggest and grandest cathedral. There are more works of art on display in here and it’s worth having an audio guide to get more information about the items on display.
The Capitoline Museums are housed inside two mansions and contain some of Italy's best sculptures. Not too far a stroll away from there is the Museo Nazionale Romano, which is filled with fine frescoes.
You can buy combined ticket for the museums and Palantine Hill which is good value.
If you don't speak Latin then the name of this particular sight is a little misleading as there is so much more to Palantine Hill than the hill it's on. Palantine comes from the Latin adjective 'palatinus', meaning 'Palace'. It's one of the most ancient parts of the city and was once home to rich Imperial palaces. It's a large area so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to explore.
The Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps is a good photo spot and is also where the majority of walking tours leave from. There are a number of ‘free’ walking tours. The term ‘free’ is something of a misnomer as a donation is expected at the end but it’s up to you to decide how much you give to your guide. They’re not going to chase after you if you don’t give them anything but you’d have to be quite tight-fisted not to. Strawberry Tours are informative and fun with guides, usually students or aspiring actors, who live in the city. The walking tour finishes near Castel Sant’Angelo. This fortress was originally a mausoleum for Hadrian but was turned into a Papal fortress in the 6th century. It’s worth a look but you’re not missing out if you’re pushed for time or tired out after the walking tour.
The Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain) is worth a quick shuffle around (it’s always packed with tourists). The sculptures and attention to detail make this fountain as famous as it is. It’s nicely lit after dark and you can toss a coin in if you want to stand out as a tourist.
The 2000 year old Pantheon is free to enter and houses a stunning dome roof. It only takes a few minutes to mooch around it although you could stay much longer if you tag on to the end of a tour group and eavesdrop on the guide. From there you could head to one of Rome’s main squares, the Piazza Navona. Ornate fountains, street artists and markets make this one of the city centre’s main hubs. Pass through the square on the way to the Jewish Ghetto.
The Jewish Ghetto is a warren of meandering, atmospheric medieval streets and is a nice change of background to the busy streets of the city’s centre. It’s supposed to be a good place to try kosher and Roman-Jewish food but the plate of food I had in one of the restaurants there was tasteless, sloppy and probably the worst meal I ate in Rome. I don’t remember the name of it but I guess I was just unlucky. There are plenty of places to choose from though if you did want to try some. These are just some of the hundreds of sights to see in Rome. There are so many ruins that some of them aren’t even signed to say what they are and you could spend days getting lost in the museums and galleries. Audio guides are a great way of getting more information on what you’re looking at. There’s a brilliant app by Rick Steve which has lots of comprehensive, free audio guides and commentary to most of the sites in Rome. I found it invaluable and it takes you around the sites at a good pace. Good to know It’s easy to get around Rome on foot but be prepared to do a lot of walking. Not that that’s a bad thing as quite often you’ll happen across ruins or sights you may not have known were there otherwise. If walking gets a bit too much and you find yourself pushed for time, there are frequent and reliable buses, metro, trams and trains which cover the majority of destinations. Tickets are easy to get from machines which are dotted about the city and at the airport. You can choose your preferred language at the machine. Most of the time, tickets will need validating once on board. It’s a safe city but be wary of hawkers around the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain. A common trick is for someone to try to hand or throw something to you. Just ignore them and avoid the instinctive urge to catch anything they throw to you. Once it’s in your hand, they’ll tell you that you have to buy it. They’ll also start with the usual question of “where you from?” in order to grab your attention. Although you may feel rude doing it, ignore them and move on. Only get your tickets from verified places such as the actual attractions or online. Some good combination tickets can be purchased which will give you access to multiple places but do some research online first to decide what you want to see to make sure you’re actually saving money. The combined Colosseum and Roman Forum ticket is good value and you can do one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Unless you want some serious sunshine, the middle of summer is not the best time to go. You’ll be fighting huge crowds as well as the heat. Instead, the winter months are pleasant and still mainly sunny without the huge crowds. I went in January and it was 20c and sunny although that’s not always the case. Go for spring or autumn if you don’t want to take a chance with the weather. Find side street restaurants that are off the main squares, they’re cheaper there, and eat plenty of pizza and pasta! I’d also advise not to rush around to see absolutely everything. You’ll burn yourself out and still won’t see it all. Instead, make a plan, see what you want to see in detail and then make a plan to return in the future. Rome’s been there rather a long time. It will still be there for another trip!