The bustling and stunning capital of Italy, Rome is both a stunning ground for exploration and a preserved space of ancient history. But where do you even begin? Rome is a place I can wander, explore and get lost in and a place I can return to and still have things to do. And as much as most of us like to get off the beaten track, Rome’s major tourist sights are actually some of the best, and missing them really would mean missing out.
Rome never gets boring, since every turn of a street corner and every main street, sightseeing spot and resting place has action. Whether it’s a stop to grab some decent Italian coffee, or a stroll down a randomly found street, there’s always commotion, local life, or the buzz of something happening.
While the city’s metro and bus systems are fantastic, and easy enough to navigate, I’m a huge fan of walking and there’s no better place than Rome to explore by foot. Especially when there is so much crammed within each of the main areas.
Here’s a list of some of my favourite things to see and do in Rome – a city that’s perfect for a long weekend of exploration, but which deserves more time if you want to explore it’s many other Basilicas, churches, fountains and galleries.
Be Overwhelmed at the Colosseum, the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum
The Colosseum, also known as the Flavan Amphitheare, was one of the main things I was very excited about seeing in Rome and I got there early – around 9am – in order to be one of the first groups of people to be let in. You may have spent most of your childhood hearing about gladiators, then analysing the brutality of the Romans as an adult whilst watching film adaptations, so it’s only likely that you want the Colosseum to live up to its huge and imposing image. And it really does.
Wander with no plan and admire every surface, stone and layer – it’s an architectural feat and a great masterpiece of Roman engineering, you will be surprised how long you’ve spent in there imagining the terrifying spectacles that took place there.
If that wasn’t enough, the grounds next to the Colosseum of Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum house the ruins of the ancient Rome we’ve all heard about, which you could easily spend the best part of a day in. As a history geek, this was my playground for exploration and photography.
Throw a Coin in the Trevi Fountain
It’s cliché but the Trevi Fountain has to be seen, which is even more beautiful at night as it glows in its golden hue. It’s the most photographed fountain in Rome (a city with many fountains) so good luck trying to wrestle yourself into a good position in order to thrown in your coin and get your snap with this famous landmark! All the coins are collected and used for local charitable causes, so you can’t go wrong with throwing one in for that.
Ride a Local Bus
The bus system here is a great way of living like a local and easy to navigate since all bus stops list every destination the bus stops at. Not only will you get to be in the company of the Roman people, and even strike up conversation, but you will get to see areas otherwise missed when travelling underground. Not all of Rome is pretty, but there’s something about the gritty edges of Rome that are still as fascinating. Jump off someplace random for a real adventure (not advisable at night where Rome can get a little…sketchy).
Visit the Catacombs and Rome’s Oldest Road
The Via Appia Antica is one of the first original roads that were built leading to Rome – it’s cobbled stones and uneven surface reflecting it’s ancient feel. The fact that Rome was built in 753 BC (just one of a host of Rome facts you can find here) means that stumbling across anything old and exciting is genuinely exciting. Not only is this a must-see in itself but also these roads are lined with ancient tombs and Christian catacombs (underground burial sites).
Creepy and spooky yet incredibly fascinating, there are three main catacomb sites open for visitors: San Domitilla, San Callisto, and San Sebastiano. To get there I took the 660 bus from the Collo Albani Metro stop, just outside of central Rome.
Survive the Vatican
I’m not going to wax lyrical about the Vatican. Sure, the museum exhibits are some of the world’s best and the end point of the Sistine Chapel, stunningly beautiful. But that’s all this is – a giant museum, heaving with tourists, ALL the time. Not my cup of tea, especially when I wanted to see just a small glimpse of ‘The World’s Smallest City.’ If you love museums however, this will be your paradise.
Eat Gelato and Drink Coffee
I don’t have any favourite places in Rome in particular – I just enjoyed sampling random gelato shops and coffee houses as and when I found them and needed a fix. But if you need a good start you can browse the best Italian coffee shops in Rome here and the best gelato, whether that be traditional or artisanal (complete with a helpful map).
I did random taste tests across Italy too and was rarely disappointed. Be warned, ice cream and coffee at home will NEVER taste the same again when you get home. Nor will wine or pasta.
Rome is a beautiful city that still continues to be a popular European destination, with a huge concentration of sights that are awe-inspiring and a fascinating window into another time and world. My exhausting five days there wasn’t enough to uncover all of the city’s hidden gems, but I will certainly be back. Will you?