As chaotic as it is ancient and beautiful, Rome can overwhelm the unprepared visitor. The city of seven hills might be eternal, but travellers often find themselves longing for the gentler side of Italy after a hectic couple of days in the capital. A visit to Rome should be a treasured memory, not an endurance test. These four one-day itineraries are designed to help you get the most out of your time in Rome, and help you beat some of those high season crowds.
Ancient Icons and Oddities of Rome
The big three sights of ancient Rome are conveniently located mere steps from one another, making an easy itinerary. Start early at the Colosseum, with a pre-booked skip-the-ine ticket. The time saved, particularly in high tourist season, will more than justify the extra cost. After your tour of Rome’s greatest icon, continue its ancient story, exploring Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. While little remains there, you can rest your legs on the now grassy slopes of the Circus Maximus and imagine the chariot races and other events that once thrilled the ancient crowds.
If you can’t get enough of this history (or the weather’s just not on your side), duck into the Capitoline Museums to admire a vast collection of ancient sculptures and Renaissance art. Alternatively, save this for another day and explore some of the area’s more unusual sights. The Altar of the Fatherland doesn’t score points for subtlety, but it does make for an impressive photo, with great views of the city if you don’t mind paying the fee. Test your integrity at the Mouth of Truth, the ancient world’s most famous lie detector. Visit ancient Rome’s largest public Baths at Caracalla, and the Pyramid of Caius Cestius. In the evening, cross the Tiber to Trastevere, or for a livelier night out, explore the bars and clubs of Testaccio to the south.
The Vatican and Trendy Trastevere
Different visitors to Rome will have different feelings about visiting the Vatican on Italy vacations, and that’s okay. Many would argue that a visit here is essential to understanding Rome, and few can dispute the aesthetic wow factor of the Vatican Museums. There are however some tips and strategies for an enjoyable visit. The route through the museums is strictly regulated and linear, and line-ups in high season are long, so it pays to pre-book your ticket. Taking in so much religious art without context or commentary can also be overwhelming, so consider hopping on a tour or booking a private guide to fully appreciate the highlights. There’s more to see here than the famous Sistine Chapel! Once you’re done, take your time exploring the rest of Vatican City, including of course, St Peter’s Basilica.
Stop by the Castel Sant’Angelo to visit Hadrian’s Mausoleum and learn about its sometimes gruesome history. Then clear your head with a walk through Gianicolo Park, where spectacular city views reward the energetic visitor. Then dive into the lively Trastevere neighbourhood. While Trastevere comes alive at night as locals and savvy travellers descend for dinner and drinks, it’s worth wandering in daylight as well, when you can appreciate the district’s colourful street art and imagine what future visitors to The Eternal City will make of it centuries from now.
Borghese Beauty and Roman Holiday Favourites
Your third essential Roman appointment is with the Borghese Gallery and Museum, and of course the Villa Borghese. Let your jaw drop at one of the world’s greatest painting and sculpture galleries, and look for the often missed statue of Lord Byron in the villa’s gardens. After gathering your serenity here, it’s time to enjoy the city of Rome in all its beauty and chaos. Snap your photo at the Spanish Steps, toss your coin into the Trevi Fountain to ensure your return to Rome, and try to find a local eatery for lunch. Our main tip? Avoid eating right in the shadow of the big tourist attractions, and don’t be afraid of untranslated menus. You did brush up on your basic Italian before coming to Rome, right?
One highlight of your afternoon will be the Pantheon, where you can pay your respects to at least one of the artists you were admiring at the Borghese, Raphael. Spend some time wandering the Piazza Navona, and if you’re looking for a more offbeat attraction, double back to the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini, a 17th-century church unusually and somewhat morbidly decorated with the remains of 4,000 friars. If you’re all churched out (it happens, even to the most devout), then head to Trajan’s Column, the Trajan Forum, and Trajan’s Market for the perfect 2nd-century Roman trio.
Taking the Appian Way… Underground
Begin a mostly outdoor day in Rome at the Capitoline Museums if you haven’t explored them already, or at one of the three branches of the National Museum of Rome. If you have a spare hour or so, spend it at the historic Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, arguably the most impressive of Rome’s countless churches outside the Vatican.
Then head to the Appian Way. Part of the Appia Antica Regional Park, this vast park preserves several ancient Roman tombs and villas, along with the famous namesake road. Spend your afternoon diving into the historic Catacombs and ancient tunnels that dot the park. These vary in both age and faith. The catacombs of Saint Sebastian and Saint Callixtus are favourites, but you’re unlikely to leave disappointed regardless of who you choose to visit.
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