Before our most recent family cruise, there was a lot of discussion about what we should see in Rome. With so many historic places and only one day to explore, how could we decide? To help everyone plan the trip, we gave the family honest descriptions of each popular attraction. This helped our group narrow down the itinerary for a perfect day in The Eternal City.
For your planning convenience, we have bolded the amount of allotted time we spent at each attraction.
Tour of The Vatican and St. Peters Square
Good for art lovers, and Catholics…
We are starting here because many folks consider visiting Vatican City a “must see” in Rome. But if you have no interest in art, especially the Renaissance era, your time may be better spent elsewhere.
However, if you are a fan of Michelangelo and Raphael, or have any sort of religious background, you will be amazed at the treasures this city-state holds. The Vatican takes a lot of time to explore. In fact, it is estimated that to see every piece of art it would take you over four years! Assuming you don’t have this kind of time, you should allocate at least three hours if you plan to visit. We recommend getting a tour guide to keep you on track and to help you bypass some of the lines.
Great for photos and bragging rights…
The Trevi Fountain is beautiful and looks just like it does in photographs. It is also incredibly crowded. If you can make your way toward the fountain we encourage you to do so, but if getting to the piazza prohibits you from seeing other sites, you may want to re-work your itinerary. The great news is that this famous landmark is located pretty centrally. You should be able to stop by it on your way to or from other points of interest. Expect to spend about 15 minutes enjoying the sight. Once you get there, you can toss a coin over your left shoulder and into the fountain. This will ensure you come back to Rome one day (hey, it worked for us!), but you should also visit the “Small Fountain of Lovers” located on the right side. This dual spouted fountain flows with drinkable water from the aqueducts. Legend has it, couples who drink out of the fountain together will remain forever faithful.
Tour of the Colosseum
Good for history buffs and sports fans…
This centerpiece of the Roman skyline is amazing inside and out. If you don’t have time to go on tour you will still feel every bit of majesty and awe walking outside of its walls. If you do plan on going inside, expect to wander for about two hours (not including security lines to get in). Although guided tours are available, the Colosseum is full of signage about its history. This means if you are looking to save money, your self-guided tour will still be informational. You should also listen carefully to the groups around you. Unlike in the Vatican where guides speak softly into radio headsets, the folks here will speak loudly to their groups. You may pick up some interesting facts without having to pay for a tour!
Good for lovers of mythology and architecture…
The former Roman temple is a sight to behold. It is one of the best preserved ancient buildings (not to mention an architectural masterpiece.) The Pantheon is now used as a church and you can even attend mass on Sundays.
When touring Rome you may feel that your brain is switching back and forth between old college classes, never settling between ancient history and reformation. Perhaps this is what makes the Pantheon and the surrounding Piazza della Rotonda so fascinating. It is an unmistakable mash-up of both famous eras. It is an ancient building adorned with papal artwork. In front stands a renaissance commissioned fountain that springs up water from the roman aqueducts. Take at least a half hour to admire the beauty and balance of this unique place.
Great for learning about the history of an empire…
We must admit that we have never been inside the Roman Forum. If you are interested in visiting this historic center of Roman life, your ticket into the Colosseum will include entry here too. The archeological ruins of the Forum include historical pieces from both the Roman Republic and Empire.
But if you are like us, and want to get a view of the plaza without setting aside time for a tour, we recommend climbing Capitoline Hill. This is one of the famous 7 Hills of Rome and served as the home to multiple ancient buildings including the Temple of Jupiter. It also has a spectacular view of the Forum.
You can get to the top of Capitoline Hill by climbing Michelangelo’s steps up to Piazza del Campidoglio. You’ll notice these stairs are wide and slow rising like a ramp. This is because Michelangelo designed them for horses. If you walk through the square to the right side you can look down to see the entire Roman Forum without ever paying for a ticket!
And a Few Other Places Worth a Visit:
The Spanish Steps lead you up a steep hill and to the entrance of the Trinità dei Monti church. You may recognize the stairway from the movie Roman Holiday, staring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. When in Rome, take some time to climb the 135 steps and enjoy the view of the Piazza di Spagna below. At the base of the stairs you can also see the Fontana della Barcavvia. The inspiration behind Bernini’s sculpture was the flooded Tiber River. Legend has it, in 1598 a small boat was swept up by the flood waters and carried into the center of the piazza.
If you are a fan of Dan Brown, you will recognize Piazza Navona as the site of Bernini’s “Fountain of the Four Rivers”. The Piazza was actually built on the site of a Roman stadium before it was turned into a public marketplace. Its open air feel and baroque architecture will make you feel as if you stepped out of time. On sunny days you will see artists lined around the fountains painting the beautiful view.
Trastevere is located across the Tiber River, south of the Vatican. If you are staying in Rome overnight we recommend visiting the restaurants and bars here. The cobblestone streets come alive after sunset. Although Trastevere is not far off the beaten path, the winding narrow streets don’t lend themselves to the large tour busses found in Rome’s city center. If you have the time, be sure to enjoy a drink at a sidewalk cafe in this vibrant neighborhood.
Campo de’ Fiori
The open air market of Campo de’ Fiori is open Monday-Saturday. Vendors sell fresh fruit, bread, flowers, and Italian liquors. You can also buy the same souvenirs offered near major attractions at a much lower price.
Campo de’ Fiori is also the perfect place to stop for a quick lunch. All around Rome you will pay elevated prices for food due to the number of tourists. You will also see a “sitting fee” at many trattorias. If you are looking to avoid these expenses, you can stop by the bakeries surrounding the market where you can buy a delicious panini and glass of wine for less than 15 euros.