The city of Rome is an enchanting fusion of ancient and modern. High speed trains whiz by 2,000 year old ruins, and a population of almost 3 million people harmoniously live side by side with artifacts like the Colosseum and the Pantheon. With such a rich historical presence, it’s easy to focus on the ancient when you visit Rome, but try to incorporate some modern experiences into your itinerary to create a balance and don’t get stuck in the past!
At first sight of the Colosseum you will not believe that it was constructed around 80 AD. That’s over 1,900 years ago for those of you who don’t have that many fingers or toes! Tour the inside to be even more impressed by the ingenuity of the Romans with the tunnel and elevator system under the raised floor of the arena. This stadium was built for the enjoyment of 50,000 spectators, and even though two thirds of the structure has been destroyed through time, earthquakes and scavengers, it is still magnificent.
2.) The Vatican Museum
Step out of Rome and into the Holy See, one of the few countries within a country. Since this museum holds the Sistine Chapel, which can be argued as one of the greatest, or at least most recognized artworks in the world, the Vatican Museum itself is underappreciated as most people storm through just to get to the chapel at the end. Stop to enjoy the collection gathered by all popes that includes collections from Raphael, ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, a map gallery and a tapestry gallery.
3.) St. Peter’s Basilica
Also within the Holy See is St. Peter’s Basilica. This basilica was built next to the site of St. Peter’s crucifixion, and his tomb lies below the main altar. It is the largest church in the world, and as you approach the altar there are plaques in the floor to show the size of other major churches throughout the world, and illustrate how St. Peter’s dwarfs them all. In addition to marveling at the structure, there are beautiful works of art all over the church, but the most famous are Michelangelo’s Pieta and Bernini’s Baldachin. Climb to the top of St. Peter’s dome to get a great view of St. Peter’s Square and Rome.
The Pantheon is one of the best preserved Roman structures because it has been continually used as a church since its construction in 120 AD. Its dome is a display of some very impressive engineering, even by today’s standards, and it inspired the domes of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Duomo in Florence, and even the Capitol Building in Washington DC. One interesting thing about the history of Rome is that it has been built on top of itself for thousands of years. There are layers and layers of history built upon each other and the Pantheon is a great example of this. Two thousand years ago, Romans looked up to the Pantheon. Today it is on the same level as the rest of the neighborhood.
5.) Saint John Lateran and the Holy Stairs
Whether or not you are Catholic, you will still be able to appreciate the dozens and dozens of churches and basilicas all more beautiful than the last. One of my favorites was the stunning San Giovanni in Laterano (Saint John Lateran) that holds the papal chair. The pope doesn’t technically become the pope until sitting upon this chair. Right next door are the Scala Sancta (Holy Stairs) that were walked up by Jesus as he was on his way to trial in Jerusalem. Constantine’s mother, Saint Helena, brought these stairs to Rome around 300 AD, and ascending the stairs on your knees is an awe-inspiring experience.
6.) Passeggiata/Spanish Steps
One of the most enjoyable experiences I found in Rome was participating in an evening ritual of the locals. Each evening before dinner Italians all over the country go out in the streets to socialize, see who’s wearing what and who is with whom. In some areas the streets are closed to traffic so you can freely stroll. Dress like you want to be seen, grab a gelato and wander the streets, participating in the passeggiata. A great place to end your passeggiata is on the Spanish Steps. Find a spot to sit and watch the world go by.
7.) Trevi Fountain
Day or night, the Trevi Fountain is full of romance. As you slowly approach, you can hear the gushing waters before you see it, and then you are thrust into a piazza full of people. There are so many fountains throughout Rome, but this one was made the most famous by the movies. It’s the largest Baroque fountain in Rome, at over 80 feet tall and 160 feet wide. Bring a few coins, and depending on your situation, toss some from your right hand over your left shoulder into the fountain. One coin means you will return to Rome, two coins means you will fall in love with a Roman, and three means you will marry a Roman!
8.) Roman Forum
The Forum was the center of public life for the ancient Romans. Elections, trials, speeches and much more were performed in this five acre complex. It was gradually built and expanded from about 800 BC to 300 AD. You can still see evidence of many ancient structures like the Temple of Vestal Virgins, the Temple of Saturn, or the Temple of Caesar, while there are other structures that are more complete like the Arch of Septimius Severus, the Arch of Titus, or the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine. Walk down the Via Sacra, ancient Rome’s main street that is still intact, and pretend you are Roman for the day.
9.) Capitoline Museums
Walk up the interesting stairs designed by Michelangelo to get to the Capitoline Museums on top of Capitoline Hill. The museum was opened in 1734 and is considered to be the first museum in the world. View the bronze statue of the twin brothers of Romulus and Remus founded Rome in 700 BC, a grand collection of Roman, Greek, and Egyptian sculpture and artifacts, and the Conservator’s Apartment, which is like a royally furnished suite within the museum.
10.) Eat Like a Local
When in Rome, do as the Romans do, right? Well, that includes going off the beaten track and eating dinner at restaurants that print or write their menu in Italian and don’t cater to tourists with English everywhere and pictures on their menus. Drink a glass of house wine with your meal and you will feel like you’re getting a real authentic dining experience. Also, drink un café (similar to a shot of espresso) while standing at a bar. If you’re on the go, standing at the bar is faster and cheaper than paying for the coffee and a seat to sit down. And please don’t order a cappuccino after 10am!
I enjoyed Rome so much that I have literally created a list of reasons I want to go back. The locals are so friendly that only knowing English wasn’t a burden, and it enhanced my experience because I wasn’t afraid to communicate with them. From the delicious free flowing water in the fountains, to the balance of ancient and modern, to just plain not getting to see everything, I really would like to return some day.
If you enjoyed this article please take a look at my Italy page. There you will find more Italy top ten lists and suggested itineraries.
Would you like to see a more romantic side of Rome? Then be sure to read this article from my friends at the Romantic Travel Report.
Is there something different on your Rome top ten list? Please comment and let me know what you would add. Grazie!
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