“All roads lead to Rome”
The eternal city teems with historical wonders at the turn of every corner. Gelato shops dance in front of your inner child eyes, tantalizing you with their vibrant colors and endless flavors. You feel delighted at the sight of people walking around during the heat of late July with their floppy hats and ice cream cones in hand as you smile to yourself thinking, “I’m in Italy…I…am in Italy!!“. You are quickly brought back to reality when you step out onto a cobblestone street that you thought was only a pedestrian footpath and nearly get run over by a Vespa. The loud whiz of mopeds and motorcycles somehow adds to the charm of one of the oldest continually occupied cities in all of Europe.
We flew into Rome from Athens, where we were greeted with beautiful sunny blue skies and weather in the high 30’s C. We spent a total of three nights in Rome, which was barely enough time to scratch the surface of hitting the main sites. We are spending a total of just over four weeks in this beautiful country and since flights are cheap from other EU countries into Rome, this is where we began our trip.
We did not have a rental car in Rome as it is not necessary and a total nightmare to drive in any big city in Italy. (We later rented a car for the rest of our trip through Hertz near the Vatican.) The city’s public transportation system is efficient and relatively easy to understand. We rely on Googlemaps where we simply enter our destination and select the train or bus icon to show the possible routes and bus numbers. One thing you should know about getting around in Rome is that you can purchase your bus ticket at any nearby tobacco shop or small market. A bus ticket for a one-way fare is €1,50 each, which you will need to purchase in advance as there is no way to pay on board.
So, what do you do with three days in one of the most historically significant cities in the world?
Things To Do in Rome
- Visit the Colosseum
Just visiting the area is a bit overwhelming because people on the street will be trying to sell you tours left and right. When I visited Italy for the first time 11 years ago, we did buy a ticket to enter, but that was in May and much less crowded. We decided not to purchase a ticket this time and simply walk around the grounds because it was so hot. If you do prefer a tour, I recommend to purchase tickets online in advance.
2. Visit The Vatican and the Sistine Chapel
Even if religion is not your thing, The Vatican is home to over 10 museums, where you can spend an entire day. And here’s a little trivia for you: did you know that the Vatican City is its own country? The Vatican is actually the smallest country in the whole world, ruled by the Pope. (But don’t worry, you won’t need your passport to enter.)
You will, however, need a ticket. And if you visit in late July like we did, expect the lines to be outrageously long. Timed tickets are offered through their website, where you select a specific date and time. You can go on your own or go with a tour. Since this was one of Sasha’s high interests to visit, we went with a tour. The cost was €37 per person for a three-hour guided tour at 10:30 AM. This turned out to be extremely not worth it for several reasons:
- We found out when we arrived that 10:30 AM is the most crowded time of day.
- The crowds were so intense around the entire Vatican city and within the attractions, that we felt like herded cattle, dampening the experience. (Granted we are here during the peak of tourist season.)
- If you take the guided tour, once you reach the Sistine Chapel, you are given the option to continue on with the guided tour to St. Peter’s Basilica, or leave the tour and explore the museum on your own. Once you leave the Sistine Chapel to visit St. Peter’s Basilica, you are no longer allowed back into the museum.
We were torn. On one hand, we wanted to stay and explore the museum, but on the other hand, though St. Peter’s Basilica is actually free of charge, the lines to get in (as there is crowd control), are several hours long. Since I was already getting hungry and the museum would have taken several hours to explore, we decided to stay with the tour and visit St. Peter’s Basilica to get our moneys worth. St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest church in the world. So I would say that was worth it. 🙂
The photo on the right is a beautiful window made of amber alabaster, which casts a perfectly golden light when the sun shines through. The reason for this installation was so that upon entering the church during sunset, everybody gets their own halo. Below is the balcony where the Pope emerges to address the city.
According to our guide, there are actually five Sistine Chapels. So when someone asks, “oh, did you visit the Sistine Chapel while in Rome?” you can say, “oh, which one are you referring to?” But of course, everybody knows THE Sistine Chapel (no videos or photography is allowed in the Chapel itself.)
Had we done this over again, we would have simply purchased “go on your own” tickets in advance so that we had time to visit the museums. Oh well, lesson learned.
3. Visit the Altar of the Fatherland
This is an impressive building and one that comes to mind when I think of Rome. With an eternal flame burning at the entry, you ascend the steps to the sides of the building where you can see some excellent views. There is no charge for this.
4. Visit the Borghese Museum
Now this museum was well worth the price. The cost is €15 per person, plus an additional €5 for the audio tour, which I highly recommend. Without the audio tour, in our opinion, it wouldn’t be worth it because you wouldn’t understand the story behind the stunning works you are seeing.
This museum contains a great deal of sculptures by the famous Italian sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, a brilliant artist who has a way of capturing raw human emotion and details so fine you can’t believe you’re looking at sculpted marble by nothing but the human hand. Bernini (1598-1680) is the greatest sculptor of the Italian Baroque, and he worked most of his life at the commission of church officials in Rome and at the Vatican.
5. Visit the Pantheon
The Pantheon, meaning “honor all Gods” in Greek, was a former Roman Temple, and now functions as a church. The most fascinating part of the Pantheon is its giant dome with an opening at the top, making it completely exposed to the elements. Until today, it remains the largest unsupported dome in the world, which was an architectural phenomenon at the time of construction. Entry to the Pantheon is free. Ladies should cover their shoulders and knees.
6. Refill your Reusable Bottles!
During the Empire, Rome built many aqueducts to carry fresh water to the city. To this day, Rome still uses these systems, and you will find 2,500 fountains in the city where fresh water either continuously flows, or you push a button and it begins the flow. So is the water safe to drink? After researching this prior to our trip and speaking with plenty of locals, the answer is, YES. And not only is it safe to drink, it actually tastes good! And it’s cold! So forget about paying the €2 for bottled water, save the environment and fill up your own!
7. Eat, Eat, EAT!
You truly can’t go wrong with finding a good restaurant (or gelato!) in Rome, though if you’re trying to save some money, I will state the obvious and say to avoid the restaurants in the main piazza, as prices will be as high as €10 more expensive. The trick is to get lost down a little cobblestone alley, take a look at a menu, and plop down to rest your tired puppies (feet).
Another tip for saving money: if you are staying in an accommodation with a kitchen, then by golly, avoid eating every meal out and COOK yourself! I haven’t been inside a single supermercato in Italy that had poor quality food. Purchase some fresh ingredients and cook yourself a meal for half the price of eating out. You won’t be disappointed.
So far our quota has been two a day, each. Sometimes three, sometimes one, but never none. Gelato is not only a food group here, it’s just a part of people’s daily life. If you are feeling adventurous, head on into this gelateria with 150…that’s right, 150 flavors! It’s near the Pantheon. They give you up to five flavors, so you can try it all!
10. Make a Wish and Kiss your Partner at the Trevi Fountain
Tip: Go at night when the crowds have lessened. Watch your bags as there are always heaps of people.
9. Roam the Streets of Rome and Get Lost
On this particular day, we had blue skies above us with a few clouds in the far distance. It suddenly began to rain and people very confusedly looked above them to figure out where in the world the rain was coming from because it was completely sunny. Perhaps there are Gods in Rome. 😉