For me, Rome was always one of those ‘one day’ destinations. Somewhere that I knew I would visit eventually and a place that I would love when I did but, for whatever reason, it was always pipped to the post by some other destination calling my name. That all changed when I learnt that Ciaran had always wanted to visit the Colosseum and I booked a surprise trip for his 30th birthday. Finally, it was my time to visit The Eternal City.
With so much to see, creating our to-do list for three days in Rome was a daunting affair. We knew that the Colosseum was a definite but we were unsure what else to prioritise. Eventually, we decided that the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill were at the top of our agenda along with must-sees like Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and the Spanish Steps. Add to that the beautiful Villa Borghese, the striking Palazzo Altemps and numerous breathtaking viewpoints and we soon had a very packed schedule. As a result, we made the somewhat controversial decision to skip Vatican City. Out of all the attractions, it seemed the most stressful and the most expensive, and we figured that with so many world-class churches peppered around the city – including The Basilica di Santa Maria minutes from our apartment – we’d be content with utilising our time elsewhere. Plus, it’s always nice to have something to return for.
With so much to cover, everyone is going to have a different opinion on what to see and where to go when in the Italian capital. However, in order to give a little guidance and some inspiration, here is how we spent our three days in Rome.
Day One: Trastevere, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
First on the agenda was our home for the next three days, the bohemian neighbourhood of Trastevere. Despite its growing popularity with tourists, this quaint neighbourhood provides an insight into true Roman life thanks to its ubiquitous market stalls, traditional trattorias, and independent shops and cafes. Its renowned nightlife also provides a taste of the Italian lifestyle with hundreds of locals gathering to drink and socialise in the streets.
Our first point of call was The Basilica di Santa Maria. One of the oldest churches in Rome, the building is a melting pot of architectural styles, bringing together works from different centuries to create a resplendent interior of Ionic columns, colourful 12th-century mosaics and regal gold etchings. Upon entering, I knew immediately that we’d made the right decision skipping Vatican City and its crowds. With only a few fellow tourists to keep us company, we roamed leisurely and peacefully, taking in every little detail of the ornate architecture and decorative touches. The rest of the morning was spent strolling around Trastevere, admiring beautiful fountains, attractive streets and cute restaurants along the way, before crossing the river in search of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
I’d read that it was possible to buy a Super Ticket from the entrance of Palatine Hill that covers the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and the Colosseum across two days, so we hotfooted it there and were pleasantly surprised to find only a handful of other people in the queue. Doing it this way also means that you can visit the Colosseum the next day, arriving first thing in the morning with your ticket already purchased. The Super Ticket costs €18 plus another €7 for an audio guide. These are essentially mobile phones and no headphones are provided, so be sure to bring your own in order to get fully immersed in the content rather than listening to it on loudspeaker along with every other tourist passing your way. We spent a good few hours delving into the ancient history of Rome, imagining the Roman Forum in its varying states and retracing the steps of the city’s most affluent former residents on Palatine Hill.
Having had our history fix for the day, we then ventured back to Trastevere for an evening of feasting on Italian pizza and beer. This was also our first taste of the famed Trastevere nightlife, and it didn’t disappoint. I was aware that the neighbourhood was home to numerous lively bars and popular eateries but I didn’t expect entire streets and squares to be filled to the brim with crowds drinking, laughing and partying. It was quite the spectacle.
Day Two: Colosseum, Altare della Patria and the Pantheon
When we woke on our second morning we had just one thing on our minds: The Colosseum. Too excited to even think about breakfast, we headed straight there, stopping at the Michelangelo-designed Piazza del Campidoglio along the way and passing the Roman Forum for some early morning, crowd-free views. Arriving at the Colosseum by 7.30am – thirty minutes before it even opened – with our tickets already purchased meant that we had plenty of time to get some photos in the beautiful morning light and then have a quick coffee and croissant before getting in the queue. The line for purchasing tickets was already rather long by 8am whereas the one for people with tickets was very manageable. I cannot stress enough how worthwhile it is purchasing your tickets the day before.
Once again, we purchased audio guides and spent a couple of hours exploring, taking in all the incredible stories of the brutality and theatrics that had taken place on this most infamous of stages. From fifty bears being released from a giant mechanical whale to fearless gladiators battling one another to death, it was incomprehensible to imagine such a life all those thousands of years ago.
After indulging in some traditional homemade lasagne at Enoteca Corsi, the afternoon was spent taking in views from the panoramic terrace at Altare della Patria, wandering through countless picturesque streets and squares, and marvelling at the structure of the Pantheon. At nearly 2,000 years old, the magnificent building is the best-preserved structure of ancient Rome and remains just as significant today as when it was first built. Originally created as a temple for the gods, the architectural feat has since become a blueprint for structures all around the world, inspiring and educating to this very day.
Day Three: Trevi Fountain, Villa Borghese, Spanish Steps, Palazzo Altemps and Janiculum Terrace
Keen to see the Trevi Fountain without all the accompanying crowds, we were up early once again on our final day, arriving at the fountain before 8am. A few eager tourists and photographers had beat us to it, but not enough to take away from the majestic beauty of the fountain. With Oceanus, god of waters, taking centre stage of the travertine and marble structure, it’s a powerful creation that’s deserving of its thousands of daily visitors. After taking a few snaps and throwing in our obligatory wishing coins, we headed off for a Sunday stroll through Villa Borghese Gardens, stopping to take a look at Piazza Navona along the way. Entering the park via Piazza del Popolo, we soon came to Terrazza del Pincio, where we enjoyed spectacular views all across Rome, before continuing south on an impressive panoramic walk towards the Spanish Steps. After traversing down the tourist-filled steps we made our way to Via Margutta, one of Rome’s prettiest streets. With a rich history and a number of famous former residents, the street has been used as a filming location in a number of movies – most famously Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn and most recently Red Sparrow with Jennifer Lawrence.
Following a quick coffee and croissant pit stop, we walked back to Piazza del Popolo (in hindsight we should have done this first) to Basilica Parrocchiale Santa Maria del Popolo in the hope of seeing the two Caravaggio masterpieces hiding inside. Instead, we stumbled in on Sunday mass and enjoyed a couple of spine-tingling hymns. Without wanting to intrude for too long, we then left to find Palazzo Altemps. A 15th-century palace that’s home to a vast number of Renaissance artworks and colourful floor-to-ceiling frescoes, it’s one of Rome’s lesser-known museums and I’d hoped to have it pretty much to ourselves. Unfortunately, because it was Sunday, it was free to enter and therefore rather busy. Despite this, it was still undoubtedly impressive and rather mind-blowing to pass numerous thousand-year-old marble statues sitting proudly and unprotected.
Our last stop for the weekend, before one final evening of gorging on hearty Italian dishes, was the Janiculum Terrace. Not one of the city’s famous seven hills, it’s affectionately known as the ‘Eighth Hill of Rome’ and boasts far-reaching views of the entire city. A ten-minute walk from Trastevere, it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re in the neighbourhood and would make for a particularly enjoyable sunset spot.