Way back in 1998, when I was practically a kid, a girlfriend and I took a 3 month backpacking trip around Europe. One of our absolute favorite cities during the entire trip was Rome, Italy. So much to see and eat and explore and eat, oh I guess I said that already.
Rome is a vibrant and large city but has a great subway system and even though neither one of us spoke a word of Italian we had no problem getting around. Nearly every area you enter you will be amazed by some kind of deep historical monument or ruin. I think my kids would get sick of it over a week or 2 like they did of all the temples in Thailand. But this trip was pre kids and I never tire of these types of things so I explored it all.
So after you find a place to stay and get over your jet lag get exploring by starting with my favorite must see list. I could go on and on about all the things to do and see in Rome but start with these gems and add on more if you can spare more time!
I know it seems cliche but the Roman Colosseum really is one of the coolest things I saw on the entire trip. We paid extra to be able to get down on the ground level and explore the cages underneath but even without that it was historically very touching.
The Colosseum is ancient Rome's amphitheater that could hold up to 55,000 people. Common use of the theater was for animal and gladiatorial battle. It was built in AD 80 by Emperor Vaspasian and due to age alone it was quite an amazing feeling. Knowing you were standing at the site of so many battles and ancient events while at the same time realizing how very young my own country was really made the whole day very special.
Tip: Head over towards the Parco Di Traiano for some great viewing areas and lovely green hills for resting in between all the sightseeing. Buy tickets online if you can to save line time and go on Sunday if schedule allows. The road around the Colosseum is closed making exploration much nicer.
Saint Peter's Basilica
I am not one for religion but this area was absolutely stunning. The entire area of the Vatican city, home of the Pope and the center of Christianity, really is worth visiting. The piazza with all its columns, the pincio gardens near the Spanish Steps, the Sistine chapel, and even the buildings themselves are an architectural wonder.
It did leave me wondering about all the gold and marble and how exactly that translates into humbleness and charity but that may be for a different post. No matter, it was stunning. Amazing photo opportunities, and as usual in Rome, the area gave a real sense of history along with absolute awe in regards to the building capabilities and detail from long ago. Give yourself at least a 1/2 of a day to explore, it covers a huge area.
Tip: Of all the spots we took photos I think the best pics came when we walked over to the Ponte Umberto located on the Tiber River. Also photos were not allowed in the Sistine chapel but if you duck down low and turn off the flash no one will know. Shhh, you didn't get that idea from me!
Again there will be no shortage of tourists here but it is worth it anyway. Even if just for the photos alone. The fountain was built in 1762 and made of travertine, the same substance used to build the Colosseum. The statues inside however are marble. It is 85 feet high and every day spills over 2.8 million cubic feet of water. Its size is most impressive.
Trevi is an imposing fountain that was built as a display of an ancient Roman aqueduct. It has been refurbished in the past and another one is planned for 2013 at some point. It is often times over crowded so some people dislike it. We were in Italy during the winter and so it was not that crowded or dirty as some people complain about.
Legend dictates that you should throw a coin in the fountain in order to ensure you will return to Rome in the future. Use your right hand and throw it over your left shoulder. No idea if it really works but it is estimated that 3000 Euro is thrown in each day with the revenue going to help subsidize food for the needy. In my view that makes it more than worth it. Help the needy and help the Universe get you back to Italy, win-win!
Tip: Be sure to visit day and night as the fountain lit up may be even more picturesque than it is during the day. Also close to Via Del Corse for shopping.
The Genius of Leonardo Da Vinci
A interactive exhibit fun for kids and adults, the genius of Leonardo Da Vinci is an off the beaten path discovery. Located at the base of the the steps to the Borghese gardens, this spot is not heavily visited by tourists. Using the Da Vinci Code this museum of sorts put together many of Da Vinci's inventions and showcases it in a way that helps kids of all ages reach a deeper level of understanding.
Tip: Head outside and enjoy the Piazza Popolo. It is located just outside the museum and is bordered by 3 lovely churches, small fountains, and a beautiful 73 foot Obelisk. I like to do some relaxing in between the big sites and this is a nice spot for that. We spent over a hour just lazing around the square. There may have also been some gelato involved...
Baths of Caracalla
No visit to Rome would be complete without viewing one of the old baths. Commonly used in ancient Rome they can be found throughout the city. Many are heavily trafficked though so I went on the hunt for one a bit less traveled and was not disappointed when I arrived at the Caracalla baths.
The baths are a short walk from the Circus Maximus ruins (also worth seeing in my opinion). Emperor Caracalla built these massive baths which still leave visitors with a idea of the scale of ancient Rome. What I loved most were the original mosaics still in tact. With a good imagination you could really see just how large and beautiful the baths were.
Tip: If you visit during the summer Teatro dell'Opera puts on performances which in this setting are incredibly atmospheric.
We stumbled upon this structure during a period of being completely and utterly lost. What a fabulous surprise it was The Castel was built by Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for his family around 120 AD. Over the years it has been a fortress, a castle, a prison, and now a museum. Interestingly there were many executions while it was a prison and the decapitated heads were hung along the bridge to serve as a warning. Yikes, I know I would stay out.
I cannot say enough good things about this spot. There are amazing statues, a beautiful ponte, views, and the castle itself is an architectural site in its own right. It may have been our favorite overall place we visited in Rome! Very unique.
Tip: The Castel is linked to Saint Peter's by a bridge so this is a good spot to visit on the day you head to the Vatican City. That is if you have any time left over.
I cannot discuss Rome or any part of Italy without at least touching on the subject of food. As we traveled through Europe we both lost weight due to the weight of our packs and all the walking around. But once we got to Italy we put that weight back on and then some. Amazing pastries, luscious and rich pastas, pizza ad so much more.
Be sure to try:
- Bruscetta Del Pomodoro- basically bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil. Add more garlic a little cheese and tomato slices and it is deliciously sinful!
- Carciofi Alla Romana- These are artichokes that are slow cooked in butter and soft. Alla Giudia is a deep fried artichoke. Both are amazing!
- Pizza- The pizza in Italy is always wood cooked and thin and crispy. Oh and amazingly delish, don't forget that!
- Fiori Di Zucca- fried zucchini flowers. I am a vegetarian but even if you think it sounds gross try it!
- Pasta alla Carbonara- pasta with no cream but rather egg, pecorino cheese, and guanciale.
- Crostata di ricotta- Basically a cheesecake made with ricotta. Tirimisu is my favorite but this is a close second.
All photos courtesy of Wiki commons. It was so long ago that I went that there were no digital cameras. All my pics are similar but on paper only!