DAY ONE –
Start the day by visiting the Colosseum, Rome’s greatest architectural wonder. Book online to skip the line, otherwise, be at the gate by 7:30am, one hour before it’s opening time of 8.30am, to be at the head of the queue. Revisit the Colosseum at night for that mind-blowing view!
The ticket covers two days so you can spread your exploration over two days as ambling around all the ruins in just a day can be very exhausting.
After the Colosseum, head to the Roman Forum, by this time you should have a Roman Forum map handy for a better understanding of the ruins . Then continue walking up to Capitoline Hill where you will find the Piazza del Campidoglio designed by Michelangelo. At the back of the Piazza’s central building which is the City Hall, you will find a good view of the Forum with the Palatine Hill and the Colosseum as a backdrop.
See the magnificent Trevi fountain,one of the most famous landmarks of Rome and probably the most famous fountain in the world. Legend goes that if you throw a coin over your shoulder into the fountain, you will return to Rome.
By this time, you must reward yourself with a gelato break at San Crispino at via Panetteria near the fountain.
The Pantheon. Designed by Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century, it is the only well-preserved Roman temple in the world and one of the engineering marvels of the ancient world – how its enormous concrete dome manages to hold up under its own weight remained a mystery until the masters of the Renaissance unlocked its secrets over 1,300 years later. The Italian kings Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I as well as the famous Renaissance painter Raphael and his fiancée are buried in the Pantheon.
DAY TWO –
Head to the Vatican Museums early to beat the crowds. The Museums and Sistine Chapel open at 9am so, unless you have booked online, it’s wise to be by the gate one hour early. The Sistine Chapel is a Holy Place so both men and women are requested to cover the shoulders and knees.
Proceed to the magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica, marvel at the sculptures particularly Michelangelo’s Pieta .
If you plan ahead, you can get an audience with the Pope. For more information, visit the virtual Holy See at www.vatican.va.
At St Peter’s Square, find a Swiss Guard for a souvenir photo then head to the Post Office to mail a postcard from the world’s smallest country.
After lunch, go to Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel), a towering cylindrical building in Parco Adriano built in the 2nd century as tomb of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and his family. The building was later used by the popes as a fortress and castle, and is now a museum. Entrance to the Castel is one of the most beautiful bridges over the Tiber in Rome, the angel statue-lined Ponte Sant’Angelo.
Piazza Navona, considered as Rome’s loveliest piazza. Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers is the central one of the three fountains, a masterpiece of baroque. It has the shape of a Roman stadium as it was built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian in the 1st century AD, dominated by the three fountains, the central one, the Fontana dei Fiume was built by Bernini. Opposite this fountain is the church, Sant’Agnese in Agone, designed by Borromini and is is one of the most famous baroque masterpieces of Rome.
Piazza di Spagna. Head to the Spanish Steps either very early or late at night as it can get very crowded . This 138-step stairs are not Spanish at all, they were built by the French to lead the pious from the lower Piazza di Spagna up to the 16th century twin-towered French church of Trinita dei Monti. It is the best place to meet up with friends, covered with beautiful azaleas in spring, At the Piazza di Spagna below is the sinking-ship-shaped “Fontana della Barcaccia” built by Pietro Bernini.
DAY THREE –
Piazza del Popolo. Head to the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo and be awed by the staggering beauty of Italy’s Renaissance and early Baroque art in the form of paintings, architecture, frescoes, sculpture, mosaics, and stained-glass. Look for the paintings of Caravaggio located at the left side of the altar, and that of Bernini.
After marvelling at the sculptures around Piazza del Popolo, walk along the main shopping street, Via dei Corso, passing thru Piazza Venezia, the Forum and the Colosseum. At Piazza Venezia, look for the monument of the first King of United Italy, Vittorio Emmanuel II, and the Mussolini balcony.
Trastevere. This former ghetto is filled with small, inexpensive shops, eclectic restaurants, and great gelato places with plenty of entertainment afterwards. It has the largest concentration of restaurants in Rome.
– Get a tourist map from your hotel.
– Buy 1-day ticket for 24-hour unlimited rides to the metro, bus and tram. Rome is a big city and not easy to walk on the cobbled streets.
– If you are visiting in the summer, Rome could be a burner so wear light clothing, a hat and water bottle. No problem repleneshing it as free drinking fountains are virtually everywhere in the city.
– Avoid the Termini station late at night as it will be occupied by undesirables.
Read my Rome experience: What I saw in Rome
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If you are spending more than 3 days in Rome, you can do a sidetrip to both Pisa and Florence in a day!
Leave for Pisa early in the morning, from Rome, fast train to Pisa is 2.5 hours. Pisa is a small town and it takes only two hours to explore the Leaning Tower.
Back to Pisa train station and catch the train to Florence. It takes only one hour by fast train. At Florence, you can spend the rest of the day catching the last train back to Rome. The trip to Rome takes 2 – 3 hours depending on the train.
Important sites to visit (all these are in the Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles):
1. The leaning tower or Torre Pendente
2. Duomo di Pisa….Pisa Cathedral
4. Campo Santo Monumentale (Cemetery) ….a huge cemetery building with lots of interesting art, including a collection of ancient Roman sarcophagi and splendid medieval frescoes by the “Master of the Triumph of Death”.
Read my Pisa experience: Smug shots of the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Cultural, artistic and architectural gem, birthplace of the Italian Rennaissance. Opera was invented in Florence.
Important Places to visit:
1: Florence Cathedral……or the DUOMO…..real name: Catedral di Santa Maria del Fiore…..the symbol of the city..
This is one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen! Its dome is the first ever dome built in Europe.
Next to it is Giotto’s Tower and the Baptistery
2. Piazza della Signoria, this most important square in Florence is an open air museum. It’s a most mindblowing moment just gaping at the very impressive Palazzo Vecchio, the imitation statue of Michaelangelo’s David, Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women, Ammannati’s Fountain of Neptune, etc.
3. Walk through the long alley of the Uffizzi Gallery and be awed at the statues of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Leonardo da Vinci and all others.
4. Ponte Vecchio, the oldest and most famous bridge over the Arno; the only Florentine bridge to survive World War 2. The Ponte Vecchio (literally “old bridge”) is lined with shops, traditionally mostly jewellers since the days of the Medici. Vasari’s elevated walkway crosses the Arno over the Ponte Vecchio, connecting the Uffizi to the old Medici palace.
5. Santa Croce church which contains the monumental tombs of Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Dante…
Read my Florence experience: Why I fell in love with Florence