With the bustle of a large European metropolis and the detritus of a monumental past, Rome delights with a frenetic pace and antiquities lurking innocuously around each bend in the road. Here, history has been built on top of history for thousands of years. Seeing bankers in candy red Alfa Romeos zipping by millenia old ruins frames the endurance of this old city. Each sediment in time is visible and speaks to the ancient tale of decaying empire and modern function. The past is everywhere. You may be taking a stroll to sample some Trippa for a late lunch and accidentally stumble upon the Pantheon. There is a certain beauty to this unplanned chaos, and the overlapping of ages is historical mayhem at its most charming.
Rome is estimated to have been settled over ten thousand years ago. It has been a destination for a very long time. It is said that all roads once lead to this settlement on the Tiber. Thankfully, getting to Rome is inexpensive care of European budget air lines. Easyjet flies to Rome from several European cities such as Paris, London, Berlin, and Amsterdam for under $200 round-trip. Three days is plenty of time to see the highlights of Rome, but budget more time to truly understand this storied destination.
Day 1 – Roam the streets of Old Rome
One of the most amazing qualities of Rome is the integration of the ancient city into the modern metropolis. Most ancient sites beautifully disturb the modern order of things. On an old square, a McDonald’s faces the Pantheon in a worthy example of the strange compromises the present has made with the past. Due to this integration of the historical and the proximity of many Roman landmarks to each other, Rome is a great city for wanderers.
Start at the Colosseum, and take in the crumbling feat of ancient engineering. The queue at the Colosseum can be rather daunting, but booking tickets in advance or purchasing a Roma pass bypasses the line. Here is a great online resource for line skippers. Around the Colosseum, also seek out the Arch of Constantine. It is hard to miss.
From the Colosseum, start heading northwest towards Foro Romano, or the Roman Forum – the ancient seat of Roman government. It is a ruined old structure, and its considerate ambitions can be ascertained by the remnants. The Foro Romano is just east of Palatine Hill – one of the seven hills of Rome. The Circus Maximus, or old chariot racing ground, is just on the other side of the hill.
Continue northwest along Fori Imperiali road and slowly make your way to the heart of Rome. You will pass Foro Traiano, Piazza Campidoglio, and several other breathtaking landmarks. Eventually, if you stay the course, you will arrive at the doorstep of the Pantheon. The Pantheon is such a feat of engineering that it is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. During the renaissance, master architects such as Brunelleschi studied the Pantheon’s construction to reverse engineer advancements in the architectural field. This was 1300 years after the Pantheon’s construction. To call the Pantheon a marvel would be an insult. It stands as a testament to conquering impossibility.
Next the Pantheon, duck into Tazza D’Oro for some caffeine rejuvenation. Tazza is accused of making the best cappuccino in Rome. The place is busy and confusing. Follow someone who looks like they know the lay of the land.
Head north and east to the Trevi fountain, where well wishers toss away an estimated 3000 Euros per day. It is said that if you toss a coin into the Trevi fountain, then you will be guaranteed a return trip to Rome. North of the Trevi fountain is the Spanish Steps – the longest and widest staircase in Europe. Climb from the Piazza di Spagna to the top and cherish the view out over Rome.
For dinner, find a busy restaurant and order a lot of food. Rome is a mecca for food and has multitudes of delicious options. It is difficult to find a bad meal in Rome, so be adventurous. Hostaria Antica Roma on Appian Way is highly recommended.
Day 2 – Vatican City and Sistine Glory
Vatican City is a sovereign city state ruled by the Pope. With a population of less than a thousand, and only 110 acres in total size, the Vatican is considered the smallest country in the world, edging out the micro-state of Monaco. This center of the Catholic world boasts immaculate gardens, a heavenly basilica, and one of the top museums in the world.
The best way to reach the Vatican is on foot by crossing Ponte Sant’Angelo over the Tiber River. Castel Sant’Angelo is framed gloriously between winged angels on both sides of the bridge. The castle is a great first stop of the day, and houses a museum and Hadrian’s tomb. Castel Sant’Angelo has been a tomb, a castle for the popes, a prison, and also figures prominently int the novel Angels and Demons by Dan Brown.
West of Sant’Angelo is Vatican City. Entering on Via della Conciliazione is probably the most dramatic way to approach the holy place. Once in Vatican City, take in the breathtakingly large Piazza di San Pietro (St. Peter’s square) before entering the basilica. The square boasts an obelisk that was relocated from Egypt almost two-thousand years ago.
The height of the Michelangelo designed dome in St. Peter’s Basilica is so lofty that you could fit the entire statue of liberty within the dome with room to spare. The interior of St. Peter’s is a heavenly place, festooned with gold finery and artistic masterpieces. You can climb to the top of the dome for a stunning view out across Rome, or take to the crypts beneath the marbled interior to check on some papal tombs.
If you happen to be in Rome on a Wednesday, then you can be blessed by the Pope himself. He hands out blessings at 10:30am on Wednesdays. Check with your hotel or guesthouse to arrange tickets for the event. The Swiss guard also hands out tickets on Tuesdays from their post near the bronze door. Be sure to check the Pope’s schedule before getting too excited about being blessed. He is a busy man and routinely leaves his Vatican home.
The Vatican Museum is my favorite museum in the world. From entire rooms filled with the works of masters to hallways covered with brightly painted maps of an uncertain world, this place is an unbelievable experience. Budget plenty of time to take it in. The museum is laid out to move you through several gorgeous rooms and immaculate hallways before climaxing at the Sistine Chapel. The museum is free the last Sunday of each month, and is not open any other Sundays. The rest of the week is fair game.
Finish your day with a stroll down the Tiber river just as dusk blankets Rome.
Day 3 – Trastevere and personal interests
With so many options around Rome, pick something personally interesting to do on your last day. Take a cooking class, check out the art at Galleria Borghese, go to a wine tasting, explore catacombs and crypts, check out Florence (only an hour and a half away by fast train), go to a football game, or perhaps just take to some serious shopping.
On your third night in Rome, spend some time in Trastevere. Trastevere is a cool neighborhood on the west bank of the Tiber filled with locals, expats, artists, and college students. It is a great place to sample authentic Roman food, explore, and get inexpensive lodging. The area feels less like a museum than ancient Rome and is a great place to get in touch with the city’s less touristy side.
All photography by Justin Delaney