Continued from A Weekend In Rome: Part One…
I’m going to start with the obvious, but hopefully provide you with some tips to help you make the most out of your time in Rome.
The Pantheon is not controlled via ticketing unlike many other attractions, so makes a great place to start. The building emerges like a giant in between so many smaller, more modern, buildings in the Piazza. It attracts crowds, but due to its extremely large doors and interior, the crowds rarely form in to queues. Take a moment (or more) to look up at the ceiling and the large hole at its centre. You will hear many stories swirling around you about the purpose of this architectural choice; however as a Roman historian I can tell you that the most supported explanation is that it was constructed to illuminate the entrance using the directed sun light at the exact moment the emperor would enter the dome.
The interior of the Pantheon is cool due to its marble flooring and remains a well – used place of worship. You are often reminded indoors to respect those that are worshiping inside, but the chances are that the beauty of the works of art within will have naturally silenced you anyway.
The Colosseum is the well-known iconic ancient Roman gladiatorial arena that once housed fights to the death between gladiators or between man and beast. The Colosseum was so much more than a ‘sports’ arena, it paved the way for the assent of many Emperors, who bought the Roman people’s affection with extravagant games and was also a building that from time to time provided a political, or even tyrannical, platform. Many tour guides will offer guided tours around the Colloseum and a queue jump. This is entirely a personal choice, however if you have pre – paid tickets, you will find that the headphone guides provided by the Colosseum are just as informative and a lot cheaper.
The Forum is the ancient centre of Rome and exquisitely excavated. Do not consider the Forum to simply be fields of rubble; gardens still grow with beautiful flora and water features.
The Forum contains many of Rome’s hidden secrets and the buildings give the most accurate timeline of events. The more desperate the Roman rulers became for support, the more extravagant the buildings became. The further you venture in to the Forum, towards the Museo Palatino, you will realise that you have left the crowds behind and can wander, almost peacefully, through the orange groves which have grown in between the ruins.
I cannot stress enough the importance of purchasing your tickets from the Colosseum and Forum before you arrive in Rome. The queues for the Colossuem, on occasion, can be hours long. Pre – paid tickets allow for quick access to both sites.
Tickets can be purchased here.
The ‘Altare della Patria’ (Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emmanuele II), or the ‘Wedding Cake’, is a monument built in memory of its namesake – King Vittorio Emmanuele II. It houses the Central Museum of Risorgimento which hosts various temporary art and history exhibitions. For €7 per person, you can access a glass elevator to the roof which will allow you a 360 degree view of the Forum, Colosseum, Piazza Venezia and beyond.
The Spanish Steps provide a monumental resting place for your weary feet. Although extremely busy at peak times, you can normally find a step to rest and take in the views around and below. There are viewing platforms at the top of the steps and at the half way point. Artists normally linger on the steps and once at the top, you will understand why. The top of the Spanish Steps provide a beautiful view of the skyline of Rome and I would recommend a sunset visit. The 135 Spanish Steps are the bridge between the Piazza di Spagna at the bottom and Piazza Trinita dei Monti at the top. Built in 1723 – 1725 with the funds of French diplomat Etienne Gueffier, the steps provided a link between the Bourbon Spanish Embassy and Trinita dei Monti Church at the top, with the Holy See in Palazzo Monaldeschi below.
If you are tempted to embark on a shopping spree whilst in Rome, it will be at this point. At the bottom of the Spanish Steps the streets are lined with designer shops including Chanel, Gucci and YSL.
At the top of the Spanish Steps, turn left and carry on up the road to the Villa Borghese Gardens. The gardens provide a large tranquil resting place in Rome with beautiful coffee shops and plenty of activities. I would highly recommend a trip to the beautiful boating lake and for a small price, hiring a rowing boat for a trip around the lake. There are also Segways and trolley buses for hire to take you around the park. In the centre of the Gardens is the Villa Borghese gallery which houses many of the spectacular Bernini sculptures. Tickets must be booked in advance here.
The Trevi Fountain attracts many visitors in its tiny surrounding Piazza, be prepared to push to the front for your chance to make a wish and throw your coin into the fountain. However, you will then have guaranteed yourself another visit to Rome! The fountain is beautiful day or night and if you are not a crowd surfer, it is probably better for you to visit at dusk. The white marble is lit up in the evening creating a beautiful backdrop for any picture.
St Peter’s Basilica attracts hundreds of tourists per day and a visit in the morning will present you with an extremely long line of people stretching and winding their way across the archway flanked St Peter’s Square. My advice is to return half an hour before closing time (normally 6.30pm although this can change) and you will encounter a very small queue. No tickets are needed for the Basilica, but please remember in any church to cover arms and legs. Security at St Peter’s Basilica is very strict. This late Renaissance church within the Vatican City provides breath taking frescoes, sculptures and a slightly ethereal atmosphere. Preserved bodies of former Pope’s are on display within the Basilica and are normally the topic of heated conversations debating their authenticity.
If you wish to visit the Vatican museums, please remember to cover up here also. Again, the museum attracts long queues and pre – paid tickets are highly recommended. A guide book, tape or guided tour is suggested for this vast museum. The notes explaining the particular work of art do not contain much information, and some not in English. Most of the sculptures and pieces of art easily speak for itself, however for more in depth information, a guide of some format is recommended. The very well-manicured Vatican Gardens also provide a beautiful view of St Peter’s Basilica and a peaceful break from the crowds. Set aside an afternoon for the museums, the walls and structure of the museum are pieces of art in their own right and equally deserve your attention.
The route to the Sistine Chapel is located within the museum and security monitors the crowds entering and exiting the premises, so please be prepared for some queueing at this stage. The frescoes within are protected by dull lighting, but are still visible. The frescoes cannot be described justifiably by my words, I can only encourage you to visit the timeless beauty housed within the chapel. Be prepared for a sore neck after visiting!
Castel Sant’Angelo is a short walking distance along the river from the Vatican and provides a stark contrast to the colours and beauty of the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica. It is a reminder of Rome’s turbulent past and its need for fortification. Castel Sant’Angelo also hosts collections of beautifully crafted furniture and paintings in Renaissance apartments.
The Key Hole View is a beautiful, perfect view of the Vatican from the Aventine Hill meeting place of the Knights of Malta in the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, opposite the Spanish Embassy. This is a unique tourist destination in Rome, and not well known. It is a walk off the beaten track, so a taxi ride is recommended. The breath taking view makes the extra effort completely worth it. A visit is recommended day or night.
Where to eat
It is a well-known fact that the closer you are sat to any popular monument, the more expensive your dinner becomes. The Piazza Navona is home to many fantastic restaurants, and many narrow cobbled streets heading towards the Pantheon also house many fabulous eateries. Depending on where you are staying, it is advised that you request a recommendation at your reception. This is because of the sheer number of restaurants you have to choose from. It is best to pay attention to the menus outside the restaurants as you walk throughout the day and listen out for any Italians dining at those particular restaurants. If the locals support the restaurant, chances are you can expect to receive authentic, well cooked food.
Food available depends on the season, however vegetables such as artichokes, courgette and tomatoes take precedence and lamb or beef is normally the most popular meat. The menus normally appear in English and Italian, I have put two helpful phrases below for ordering – the Italians appreciate anyone who will try their language! And please, return the bread basket if you do not want to pay the bread charge on the bill.
‘vorrei..’ – I’ll have…
‘per me…’ – for me…
So, ‘ vorrei la pasta di manzo per favore’ is ‘I’ll have the beef pasta please.’
And if you’re going round the table – ‘per me’ is a good way of distinguishing your order from the rest. ‘Per me, l’insalata caprese per favore’ is ‘For me, the caprese salad please’.
For the weekend, be prepared to pay above the odds. Even for the most price – savvy person Rome can become expensive. It is an exquisite, beautiful honeycomb filled with incredible sights that cannot be found elsewhere on earth. A weekend visit, or more, is highly recommended.
The guest posts ‘A Weekend In Rome’, were written by Kristina Goodwin