We spent 4 days in Rome in spring 2015. There’s so much to do that you could easily spend a few weeks in Rome but 4 days gives you enough time to hit the main sights and activities and revisit anything that you particularly like (as we did with St Peters). Here are my top tips:
Rome is easy to navigate either by foot or by metro (and reasonably priced too) which gives you some flexibility on the location of your accomodation. We stayed at B&B Julius Caesar which was a lot cheaper than many of the B&Bs and hotels available (at approx £250 for 2 people for 4 nights) and it was ideally situated near the Vatican (a 5 minute walk away). Many of the religious sites were within an easy 10-15 minute walk and there’s a metro stop (Ottaviano) about 1 minute’s walk away for jaunts to the Colosseum (we chose to get the metro there and walk back, via the Spanish steps and other sites). I was travelling with my mother who has back problems, and she managed it all.
The accomodation itself was basic but comfortable and the landlady was incredibly helpful, giving us a virtual tour of the city on a map and tipping us off about a fabulous restaurant directly across the road which served the tastiest food at a reasonable price (very rare for Rome). The accomodation also had a small kitchen, so you can fix yourself a sandwich lunch or picnic (which we did to save costs). There is a small supermarket around the corner where you can stock up on provisions. However, the breakfast was of a poor quality (croissant out of a plastic wrapper, a cheap yogurt and cold rubbery toast) and the hot water was temperamental (although the landlady tried her hardest to sort this out for us). Given that we were travelling on a budget, I thought that the accomodation was a good choice and I was prepared to put up with a little cold water and rubbery breakfast.
“Must see” Top Sights (in order of preference!)
Colosseum, Palatino and Roman Forum
In my opinion, these are the top sights in Rome – a heady combination of ancient (and often gory) history and incredible architecture. Even the crowds and extensive scaffolding on the Colosseum won’t put you off. Be prepared for it not to look like it does in photographs. In May 2015 the Colosseum was covered in extensive scaffolding and from what I have heard this is fairly common (understandable given the site is over 2000 years old!). The site is easy to find, it is directly opposite the entrance to the metro station.
The sites are packed with tourists and the queues for both purchasing tickets and getting in to the Colosseum are long, so I strongly recommend that you buy your combined ticket for the Colosseum and Forum online in advance. Adult tickets are €12 plus €2 booking fees. You do not buy your ticket for a specific day, they are valid from the date of purchase to the end of the calendar year. The ticket website is very helpful, giving directions and opening times etc.
The sites open at 8.30am and close an hour before sunset. I think that you could easily spend a whole day wandering around the Colosseum and exhibits (a grisly sporting arena), the Forum (essentially the ruins of ancient Rome’s city centre) and Palatino (or Palatine Hill, a set of ruins with great views over the Forum) but if you were pressed for time, you could do a whistle-stop half day trip. I recommend swotting up on the sights before you go, as it will increase your enjoyment of the day, particularly of Palatine Hill and the Forum which have less tourist information signs than the Colosseum. I found the Lonely Planet Rome guide really helpful and kept it in my backpack to refer to, but you could easily find the same information through google. If you do buy a travel guide, I would recommend ebay and Amazon for cheapness but do check the latest publication dates to ensure you are buying the latest copy.
A visit to the Vatican is a must. While I found the interior a little grandiose and obscenely lavish, the Raphael Rooms and Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel are worth the pilgrimage. If the weather is good, there is also a lovely courtyard to walk around which used to be an orange tree garden for guests of Pope Julius II.
The queues (both to buy tickets and get in) are horrendous so I would purchase your tickets in advance online. Adult tickets are €14 but entrance is free on the last Sunday of the month. The site opens at 9am and closes at 6pm (Mon-Sat) and I think that Sunday opening times are much more restrictive, especially if the Pope is in town. We had the opportunity to hear the Pope speaking on a Sunday from St Peter’s square and it was certainly atmospheric – I would recommend checking his itinerary in advance and you may find this website helpful for general information about audiences with the Pope and services given by him.
If you only visit one church in Rome, this has to be it. Around the corner from the entrance to the Vatican, St Peter’s is amazing. If you follow the Vatican wall from its entrance, you will arrive at the piazza after a few minutes’s walk. The church is open from 7am-7pm (til 6pm Oct-March) but the queue to get into the church is enormous. The best times to avoid some of the crowds are early morning or late afternoon. However, if you would like to walk up to Michelangelo’s dome (which is breathtaking), then ensure you leave enough time as entry to the dome is only available from 8am-6pm (til 5pm Oct-March). Although admission to the church is free, you have to pay to get into the dome (€5 or €7, depending on whether you climb the stairs or take the lift) and to St Peter’s tomb (€13 by reservation only). The views from the dome are amazing and it is well worth the climb (which is an experience in an of itself, though if you are claustrophobic proceed with caution as the steps are steep and narrow). There is also a lovely hole-in-the-wall ice cream shop almost opposite the piazza..
This was originally a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian but was then used as a Papal Fortress (complete with a secret escape route to/from the Vatican). The fortress is great to explore for an hour or so and has stupendous views over the river and the city. From recollection, it was less than €10 to enter.
This monument is a free site and awe inspiring inside.
Sites to visit if you have time….
Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps
Both of these sites are iconic and worth the trip if you are walking in the area. However, during our visit the fountain was covered in scaffolding and as of November 2015, a friend told me it was still there – I would recommend checking before you go.
Of course, this blog refers to only the most famous sites in Rome. There are numerous piazzas, churches, museums, gardens, forts to visit – the list goes on and on and you will absorb the atmosphere of Rome just by walking around. But unless you have a serious interest in churches or art (particularly ecclesiastical art), I would concentrate on visiting the sites I have mentioned above – and I don’t think you will be disappointed
Thanks for reading!