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Day 0 – Arrival
We arrived in Rome at 6:30pm. After walking to the hotel, checking in, and dropping off our bags, we headed off to dinner. Eating in Italy was just as important as seeing the city, so I’ll be posting a full food review soon… ohhhh how I miss the gelato already!
If you find yourself needing to kill some time before resting up for your first full day in Rome, I highly suggest making your way over to the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine. There is something very serene about seeing these monuments at night when there aren’t a lot of crowds around and you can walk around without being harassed to buy a tour. Maybe it’s the American in me, but something about seeing militarized police with large rifles made me feel quite safe as we walked around at night.
- ROMAN FORUM AND PALATINE HILL The entrance ticket includes access to both, plus the Colosseum. Although the Roma Pass covered our entrance fee, if you opt to purchase your tickets day-of, I highly suggest you do so at the Roman Forum. The lines to purchase tickets were incredibly short and there was no wait to enter, unlike the super packed Colosseum.
We spent about two and a half hours there. The Forum is a real labyrinth, having served as the center of Roman life, so definitely plot a route on a map before starting to explore; otherwise, there’ll be plenty you’ll miss. When we entered, we started to the left (to avoid some tour groups), went in a large counterclockwise circle and finished at The Temple of Venus. This area gives you a spectacular view of the Colosseum, great for taking lots of pictures.
- COLOSSEUM Once we were ready to make our way to the Colosseum, we used the exit behind the Arch of Titus, not the exit next to the entrance. The route drops you off right by the Groups Entrance of the Colosseum with the Arch of Constantine on your right. There are numerous tour operators outside selling their services, or you can purchase an audio guide inside. After being hassled by a few salesman, Julen and I pretended to only speak Euskera (it didn’t work, we got the whole sale pitch in Spanish anyway).
After going through the security checkpoint, we made our way inside spending about an hour and a half exploring.
- ARCH OF CONSTANTINE After exiting, we made our way to the Arch of Constantine, a beautifully detailed arch constructed in 315 AD dedicated to Constantine I’s victory over Maxentius. We rested our feet and people watched for about 15 minutes and were on our way.
- BUS 51 TO CORSO We were about 50 meters from the bus stop when I noticed the bus was pulling up. I yelled at Julen and we ran for it, trying to avoid oncoming traffic and quickly jumping on just as the doors closed. In the rush we forgot to scan our Roma Passes (oops!) and got off on the wrong bus stop, but it made for a great afternoon.We walked down Via del Corso and made a right onto a narrow side street. The cute shops and cafes still had Christmas decorations out and while we stopped to look, a Canadian maître d’ showed us the affordable special menu for Habana Café. Chuckling at the strange mix of nationalities, we decided to have lunch before continuing.
- PANTHEON It turned out the restaurant was just a few steps from the Pantheon. Entrance is free but you’ll once again find a number of tour operators. One tour operator became quite irritated when we opted to do the Pantheon on our own, so much so that he realized he’d become irate and apologized.
- GETTING LOST Our streak of good sense of direction fizzled out in the afternoon. After leaving the Pantheon, a few wrong turns left us walking past Altare della Patria, an impressive monument built in honor of Victor Emanuel II. We kept walking, trying to get a sense of where we were, and walked straight into a protest about taxes (this seems to be an ongoing theme for us; we walked into a huge separationists protest in Barcelona too). Finally, after walking, turning around, looking at the map, searching for a sign (or miracle, either one), walking again, stopping and proceeding in the opposite direction, we made it to the Quirinal Palace… which would’ve been great and all, but we were trying to get to the Trevi Fountain. We rested a bit, took some pictures, and looked at the map some more.
- TREVI FOUNTAIN Luckily, we were a 10 minute walk and when we arrived, the twists and turns were all worthwhile. The Trevi Fountain was my absolute FAVORITE place in Rome. Maybe it’s became Audrey Hepburn’s Roman Holiday is one of my favorite movies, but this place was the single most romantic location I’ve ever been to. Sure, you’re sharing this romantic spot with HUNDREDS of other tourists, but the pure magic in this place is worth it. Don’t forget to toss a coin to guarantee your return (my cheap ass brought two 1-cent coins, so I’m sure our return will be on a budget, again).
- PIAZZA DI SPAGNA & SPANISH STEPS This last place was a must for me, as it’s an iconic scene from Roman Holiday. Also, it’s right next to the metro stop – win win! The gelato selection isn’t great in this area (it’s where most of the high end shops are), so buy your bucket cup near the Trevi Fountain before heading to Piazza di Spagna.
- METRO LINE A, SPAGNA TO TERMINI After eating, walking around and finding a bathroom for Julen’s baby bladder, we headed home on the metro. Spagna’s station is just two stops from Termini, making the trip back to the hotel nice and short.
- METRO LINE A, TERMINI TO OTTAVIANO After breakfast, we headed out toward Vatican City. This was possibly the most crowded I’d seen the metro all trip. Try to get on a train car near either of the ends, they’re a tiny bit less packed than the rest.
- VATICAN CITY As I mentioned before here [link to tips guide], the Roma Pass doesn’t cover the cost of the Vatican Museums. Purchase your tickets online to save you time. When buying your ticket online, you’ll select a time to enter the museum – I picked 10am. Honestly, I don’t think it matters what time you go, this place was so incredibly packed with people, it made the whole experience less than enjoyable. There are guided tours and audio tours available for purchase, but again with a solid guidebook, you could do this on your own (or eavesdrop on an English-speaking group, either one works!)
We spent about three hours here, looking at all the sculptures, impressive art and trying not to get caught taking pictures of taking it the Sistine Chapel (I did get caught taking pictures, but damn it, it was worth it!)
- PETER’S BASILICA History in High Heels claims you can “sneak” into St. Peter’s Basilica by using the door in the back right corner of the Sistine Chapel instead of the door on the left. I unfortunately forgot this bit of info until AFTER we left the Sistine Chapel and I think Julen would’ve divorced me if I asked him to go through the whole Sistine Chapel route again. Instead, we left the Vatican Museum and exited right. We circled the walled city and finally arrived at the plaza right outside of St. Peter’s Basilica. I really wanted to get a glimpse of where the Pope does his thing, so we headed off to stand in line. Once through security, there are certain areas that require payment for access, including the Dome. But after standing in lines and seeing a million fresco paintings, the last thing we wanted to do was climb 500+ steps.
- CASTLE SANT’ANGELO Another short walk puts you right at Castle Sant’Angelo. Once one of the tallest buildings in Rome, it’s now a museum. We didn’t care to go inside, we wanted to just see the architecture, the St. Angelo Bridge and experience the area.
- BUS 40 TO TERMINI I really loved the bus stops in Rome. Each had a sign displaying the buses that stop there, plus all the stops in each route. We had worked up quite an appetite, but we were nowhere near a metro station. Not wanting to concede to a taxi, I ran across Piazza Adriana (the street next to the Castle), checked the boards, and found a bus that would leave us in Termini. If I ever find the Latin translation for, “when in doubt, look for Termini”, it’ll be my next tattoo. It was quite a lengthy bus ride, but it was a welcome rest.
- TREVI FOUNTAIN Yes, you read right – after a much needed pizza lunch and two hour siesta (I mean, we do live in Spain after all… #siestalife) we returned to the Trevi Fountain at night. Sure, there are plenty of other places you could go, and I’ve included some additional sites in the itinerary download, but there is something to be said about this place at night. There are considerably less people and seeing the fountain lit up makes it even MORE romantic, although I initially thought that was impossible. We took some pictures, met a wonderful group of people from Croatia and then grabbed some gelato and listened to the super relaxing sound of the fountain.
- METRO LINE A, SPAGNA TO TERMINI It didn’t hurt that our route home took us through Piazza di Spagna once again.
Day 2 may sound like we didn’t do much, but I promise you, the Vatican Museums & St. Peter’s Basicilia is A LOT of walking and after doing so much on Day 1, we were quite tired. Plus, on Day 3 we set out on an 8am train for a day trip to Pompeii (stay tuned for that post!)
Have any questions? Happy I finally shut up about Rome and want to tell me all about it? Drop me a line here.