Rome wasn’t built in a day… and you don’t have a hope of seeing the whole place in a day… So we tried to do it in two days, which is quite a challenge, but we did pretty well!
It feels like no matter how long you walk around Rome for, there is always something new to discover. The history is intense! its everywhere, even for someone like me who grew up in Europe, surrounded by history, Rome is the next level, where many of the sites you visit are over 2000 years old!
Day one of our adventure begins, like many, at the central railway station, and takes a route mostly on foot (bring comfy shoes!) to many iconic landmarks such as the Colosseum, Pantheon, Trevi fountain and the Spanish Steps, amongst others.
UPDATED: Feb 2019 – Better Interactive Tourist Map
Day two is focused on the Vatican, which is a massive site and really deserves a full day, and then as evening approaches we head back into the city to throw a penny in the Trevi fountain…
Sometimes we are limited on time, on those occasions we want to see EVERYTHING and have to rush things. Its not ideal, but life isn’t always ideal. We did some planning before arriving, and we also stumbled upon some awesome things by accident, thats the fun, right!?
Anyway, the pace was always going to be frantic, and thats how it happened. If you want to do Rome in 2 days you need to keep moving, this is no casual stroll. So lets get going…
Walking Map Of Rome Tourist Attractions
DAY 1 – Rome Highlights
1 – Central station and to the Colosseum (Opens 8.30am)
The central station in Rome is massive! I mean HUGE! And a little confusing… so just try and follow the signs for the metro and hope you don’t get lost. We jumped on the metro to the Colosseum to save some time rather than walking. Going to the Colosseum first is advisable because the lines get long very quickly in the morning, especially during the summer. We got there just after 9am and so didn’t have to queue for too long but the line behind us grew very quickly. Also, arriving early meant we got to see the sun rising above the arches (Blog Title Photo), which was cool. In summer though you’d have to be there at stupid-o-clock to see that, this was November.
Construction of the Colosseum began around 70AD and many fun events were held there over the years including the odd christian being eaten by lions, the practice of which has been wildly exaggerated in popular culture apparently – Thanks QI for the facts. Either way, the history and architecture surrounding this enigmatic building makes it a must see for any visitor to Rome, thats for sure!
The entry ticket is about $15 (pretty good for a great wonder of the world!) and also gets you into The Forum across the road (Thats not a pub btw). The Colosseum is big, and takes quite a while to go all the way around and to the top. Its also possible to lose each other in there, a lot of crowds and some “one way” staircases… You need at least an hour, but if you are on a time limit like us then not much more than that is viable. Its enough time, just about.
2. The Forum & Palatine hill
The Forum, or Meeting place, is a central square where really important stuff happened. See, I’ve wowed you with my historical speak! Wanna know more? Thats what wikipedia is for. The point is, you’ve seen the movies, now come and see the ruins! It was here where it all went down: the political alliances, espionage, deception – Roman style! This ancient site is genuinely enormous, which seems to be how I’ve described everything so far, but its just a coincidence that we started with all the big stuff!
As well as the forum, there are temples and churches, many very well preserved, and also a few museums and areas where they are still excavating. If Ruins are your thing then this is the place for you. The guide-leaflet we got for free states 31 points of interest in total. Thats a lot. And we are in a hurry. We managed to get round almost everything in under 2 hours, which involved skim reading in the museum.
On the way out (south exit) you pass the house of Augustus with its Palace, private residence, Baths & Stadium. If you have time, after exiting the site, you can head round to the right to the Circus Maximus, where they used to have the Chariot racing. There is not much there but grass, so we gave it a miss as we were on a tight schedule!
Got more time? Why not consider getting insider knowledge of Rome and Italy on an Intrepid tour. We love how they have 3 different travel styles to choose from.
3 – Monument to the Unknown Soldier
The monument was not a planned part of the trip at all. From first arriving at the colosseum we could see a massive white building shining in the distance. No idea what it was, and our map was in Italian. I managed to translate “Monumento” as meaning monument, but a monument to what? Later as we walked towards the Pantheon, we came around the side of the monument to the front to be greeted by what I can only describe as the most ostentatious monument I have ever seen! If there is one word that captures the spirit of Roman architecture “Ostentatious” is it. Its over the top on a grand scale, and you see these grand designs all around the city. But the Monument to the unknown soldier is the winner!
It was at that moment and at the next moment shortly to come that I realised I loved Rome. How can you not. Its the history, the architecture and the overall vibe. Its the perfect balance of culture and excitement that seeps from every street corner. From then on, everything that happened just made me love Rome more, I was hooked.
The “next moment” that I am referring to is the Pantheon, the current incarnation of which was built only about 50 years after the colosseum (126AD). Unlike the colosseum, the Pantheon is in spectacular condition. Upon first seeing the building my assumption was that it was a little more modern than all the ruins we’d been looking at. It barely is. That is the shocker. When you go inside and look at the dome, all the art, and even when you are outside, you have to ask yourself “Where else in the world can I visit a building almost 2000 years old that looks like it might only have been built 100 years ago?
Its free to get in, and it is definitely a MUST SEE when in Rome.
6 – Trevi Fountain and some lunch!
We didn’t realise at the time, but we’d be back at the Trevi fountain again very soon. The story goes that you have to throw a penny in the fountain if you want to return to Rome. I threw one in and obviously it worked, as I was back again in no time at all.
After spending some time pushing through the crazy mass of tourists (how can i complain, I was being very touristy too!), we realised it was well past lunch time… what could we possibly eat in Rome…
…Pizza! of course. We headed toward the Spanish Steps and stopped off close to the Fountain of Tritone. After visiting the Trevi fountain you are unlikely to be impressed by Tritone, but being a musician I figured the “Tri-tone” may be in some way a musical fountain, but alas, I saw (and heard) no connection. Still, my belly much appreciated pizza time! I’ve had better, but it did the job.
Hostaria Romana http://www.hostariaromana.it/menu.php
7 – Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps or Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti in Italian (yeah, I don’t think that is a direct translation at all!), are apparently the widest steps in Europe, although the article on wikipedia that is referenced to prove this was written in 1972… I doubt they are still the widest. I AM cynical today, lol. Once again this is a major tourist spot, but I guess the whole of central Rome is a massive tourist spot because the shear quantity (and quality) of attractions is mind-boggling.
Many a love story and movie seems to be associated with the steps… Famous poet John Keats died there, broken hearted apparently. Hopefully when you visit, your story will be a little happier than his!
8. Terrazza del Pincio / Piazza del Popolo
Views Of Rome over Piazza del Popolo from Terrazza del Pincio – possibly a sunset, depending on the time.
Back to the train station and our hotel and then onto Day 2!
Check out our Best Rome Hotels Article HERE
DAY 2 Rome Highlight: Vatican & More
1. St Peter’s Basilica and Vatican square
Rome once again does not disappoint in terms of grandness! The Vatican is sort of independent from Italy. We had to go through a security check on entering Vatican city, but they didn’t ask me for a passport… So I guess I’m still in Italy. Seems pretty Italian to me, people drinking Espresso and lots of old buildings. Nice.
This was the original site of a christian church built at the time of Constantine (4th C AD) back when he was telling the pagans that he had seen the light and had a new book for them to read. From then on the Vatican has seen many faces, and many popes (they are all buried there! lots of them! you can go through the crypt). Love ’em or hate ’em they don’t seem to be going anywhere and they have a really nice collection of stuff to look at.
The Basillica was completed in 1626, and of course, its epic! Prices vary depending on what bits you want to see, most churches in the world run on donations, not this one! The home of Catholicism is also the home of religious commercialism… There goes my cynicism again! Its easy to be cynical when you discover the pope is hogging a lot of the worlds greatest masterpieces!
We opted to go up to the top of the dome. Well worth it, you get views from the gallery inside, and also head out onto the roof to view the whole of Vatican City (and Rome!!!). We then headed into the main hall (yes, its massive!) where people do all the usual religion stuff like praying etc. And to the crypt to find out about all the dead popes. Lovely.
2. The Vatican Museum & Sistine Chapel
Ok, you’ve heard of this place, obviously. Here are a few points to mention before you walk through the door…
1. The “door” is not in the main Vatican complex, you have to walk out around the walls to the back, takes about 10 minutes and is not immediately obvious to find.
2. The sistine chapel is just one relatively small chapel out of the many
3. The famous painting of David is up on the roof and is actually tiny! It takes some finding.
4. NO PHOTOS in the chapel and this is strictly enforced. I got a clandestine photo, as such it was crap.
Those are the annoying bits dealt with. Its about $20 to get into the Vatican Museum, where the chapel is located. Is it worth it?? YES. The thing is, retrospectively the Sistine Chapel was not the only draw, it was just an element of what is a massive history of art experience. Every Corridor you walk through is coated in artwork by many a famous painter. Every new room you enter is so amazing you ask, “is THIS the sistine chapel?” Its the place everyone talks about and it’s sad that the myriad of other works are often underrated.
This one piece (left) on the ceiling of yet another room (The whole room painted by famous ninja turtle Raphael, I believe) simply captivated me, the perspective is executed perfectly! Its like looking into another room, but on the roof!
After walking through the endless hallways and eventually reaching the Sistine chapel (Which you can reach quicker using the bypass route, But I recommend getting your money’s worth and seeing the whole complex) you then walk though yet more hallways of history, sculptures and art until reaching the awesome exit stairs!
I suggest at least one hour for the Vatican Museum, but really 2 – 3 hours if you want to get more out of it. The Vatican experience is really a full day thing in itself, the quantity of content is astonishing!
3. Castel Sant’Angelo
4 – The Church of Santa Maria (S. Maria in Trastevere)
We took a walk south along the river and stopped off in some side streets filled with cafes and bars. A drink and some dinner as the sun went down. We’d managed to get through all of the major attractions we’d intended to see, so taking a look at the map we thought we would pass by a few points of interest to see what else Rome had in store.
Closest was “S. Maria in Trastevere”. Visiting attractions like this at night brings yet another dimension to the Rome experience. I have no interest in the religious aspect but the others around you investing their souls definitely strikes a chord and creates an atmosphere, and an old church lit by candle light and filled with fantastic works of art will certainly leave an impression even on the most militant atheist. I’m lucky we dropped by this place, its an experience I think i will never forget, not only because of the unexpected nature of the visit, but also because of that incredible ambiance.
For me this was like the “unseen Sistine Chapel”. Make an effort to go somewhere the tourists don’t and often you will be rewarded. We reaped our reward and moved on…
5. Area Sacra (Largo di Torre Argentina)
We decided we would end the day by heading to the Trevi Fountain to throw another Penny in the fountain – Maybe yesterday’s penny would not be enough, we wanted to guarantee our return to Rome! This time we grabbed a bus to save on some shoe leather!
Another experience of Rome is seeing how the modern city is so openly shared with its ancient history!
The Area Sacra is a great example of this. The centre of the square is filled with the ancient ruins of building which date back as far as the 4th century BC. Apparently this site is filled with cats! we saw a few, but that is pretty normal in Europe, so didn’t think anything of it at the time. Surrounding the square are all the modern buildings – I say modern, but most still a good 500 years old. And the busy street bustles with cars, scooters (of course! Its Italy!) and busses!
6. Piazza Navona
7. The Trevi Fountain – one last time, At Night!
I will miss Rome more than any other European capital city I think. Maybe our visit being so fleeting adds to my feelings of regret to have to say goodbye. The Trevi fountain at night seems as busy as in the day time, I guess this must be because everyone who visits Rome wants to return some day, and this is the place the legends say will make that dream a reality… Or maybe the city just makes $1000’s of dollars in loose change every week by perpetuating that myth…
Either way, I’m willing to buy in to the story, Goodbye Rome! See you again soon I hope.
48 hrs in Rome – Where to Stay
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