For many people, Rome is one of those places that they have been dreaming about going to for years. It certainly was for me. But when you think of Rome, one image tends to come to mind straight away – the Colosseum. The ancient Roman wonder of the world. Although the Colosseum is a site to behold and a must-see when visiting Rome, there are plenty of historical sites that are equally worth your time.
The Vatican City
The Vatican City is one of the most amazing sites that you will see while in Rome and it is not even technically in Rome. A lot of people are put off from visiting the Vatican because of its endless lines and high ticket prices, but it is well worth both the time and money. If you get there very early in the morning, you’ll be able to get into St. Peter’s Basilica fairly easily and quickly as you will have beaten the mid-morning queues.
The Basilica itself is utterly breathtaking. It is one of the most beautifully crafted, entirely visually overwhelming places of worship you will ever set your eyes upon, both on an architectural and artistic level. It is only by comparing the crowds of visitors to their surroundings that you can grasp how vast the church is, as they are dwarfed by its towering arches and aisles lavishly decorated by marble, gilding and exquisitely carved sculptures. It is so beautiful that you catch yourself because it seems too detailed to be really crafted by human hands. On my visit, I would have happily lied down on the cold, marble floor and gazed up at its high, painted ceiling for hours, if the Basilica staff had not been lurking around every corner.
St. Peter’s Dome
Apart from the church itself, another part of the Vatican that you have to include on your travel bucket list is venturing up to the top of St. Peter’s Dome. Although the 300 narrow, uneven steps up are a little bit difficult, the trek is well worth it as not only do you get to see the interior of the dome in much more detail but you also get a magnificent view of the church and city below as the whole expanse of Rome is laid before your feet (normally) in wonderful sunshine.
Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
Another must-see site is right next to the Colosseum, its neighbouring site, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. It was here that you’ll find the Roman history you know of really coming alive. When you are looking round this huge site of ruined temples, palaces, shops, and old parliamentary buildings, you can envisage what ancient Rome really looked like as a bustling, growing capital of an empire. The Roman Forum lies in the valley that is overlooked by Palatine Hill, so when you enter the site along Via Sacra, and descend into the valley away from the hustle and bustle surrounding the Colosseum, you do feel like you are being taken back in time. The ruins on Palatine Hill itself, overlooking the valley, are also fascinating as you can really gage how large this cultural hub used to be. As you make your way up the steps, you can envisage the shops that would have been selling textiles, fruit and meat, overlooking the streets below. At the top is now a beautiful garden with an orange orchid, where you get wonderful views of both the valley below and the rest of the city, almost rivalling the views from St. Peter’s Dome.
Another often neglected part of Rome which can really make your trip special is exploring the winding streets of Trastevere, the neighbourhood on the west bank of the Tiber. There you will not only find endless narrow streets with little boutiques but also more trattoria than ristorante restaurants, which definitely does not mean a level down in the quality in the food. It is the other side of the river to the main sites such as the Colosseum, which not only means cheaper food but also more authentic dishes than those found in close proximity to the tourist sites. From my experience, the trattoria restaurants on this side of the river offer much more delicious and flavoursome delicacies for a lower price tag than the ristorante restaurants. Another striking difference is the gelato. Although most gelaterias in Rome make their own gelato themselves, the gelato in Trastevere is packed with much more flavour. If you’re in the neighbourhood, go to the Piazza di Santa Maria to Blue Ice Gelateria. Although it looks more like a standard ice cream shop with its bright neon sign, they serve the most amazing gelato, with real berry pieces in their Berry gelato and actual coconut flakes in their Coconut gelato. Perfect after a day sightseeing in the hot sun!
Looking for some tips and tricks for visiting Rome? Have a read of my top travel tips for visiting R