Italy for the Independent Traveler

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Essential Rome


Day 1 - Ancient Rome

artmuseum rome

Rome has more than 2,500 years of history. In order to discover its beauty and fascination, it's a great idea to begin your visit with the magnificent remains of Ancient Rome. They can be found in various areas of the city, with the main core centering around the Colosseum and Roman Forum. These are the most visited sights of the capital (book your tickets to avoid the long lines!). Rome's historical city center is one of the largest in Europe, and moving from one area to another can be hard on foot. We recommend you choose the attractions you want to visit in advance – and this itinerary will help you with your choice. Don't forget to get a map and highlight the subway stops and bus lines you want to use. You can purchase the BIG ticket (valid on public transportation for 24 hours after validation until midnight) or BTI (3 days validity on public transportation). Taxis are safe, but not cheap. Try the City Sightseeing open top double-decker buses: 2 lines take you to the main sights from 9:00am to 6:00pm, allowing you to hop on and off all day long!

Another fun way of getting around Rome and changing your point of view is the Bus ‘n Boat Ticket – a package deal combining two of the most pleasurable and comfortable means for exploring Rome's attractions – bus and boat. Move freely through the city, enjoy the multi-lingual commentary, and save! Navigate the fascinating Tiber river and see Rome from the water, and enjoy the sights of Rome as you criss-cross the city on the comfortable double-decker bus. Both your bus and your boat tickets are valid for 48 hours from your first use, and allow you to hop on and off as you please.

The most famous symbol of the city is the Colosseum (or Flavian Amphitheater), surely a most impressive piece of evidence of Ancient Rome. Our itinerary starts here. Getting to the Colosseum is easy: the subway has a dedicated stop, just 50 meters away from the entrance. The amphitheater was built to glorify the Roman power and to satisfy the people's appetite for entertainment. The games were often violent and included fights among gladiators and wild animals, sometimes even naval combats! The Colosseum could host up to 50,000 people, and the opening games lasted 3 months, involving about 2,000 gladiators and 9,000 animals. Don't visit Rome without admiring it! Considering the perennial line at the entrance, we advise booking your tickets in advance. The tickets give you access to the whole Forum complex, including the Colosseum, and are valid for 2 days. Consider expanding your Colosseum experience with the Visit to the Third Level and the Underground, where you will gain access to the remains of Ancient Rome and understand the operation of the Amphitheater, a true masterpiece of engineering.

rome secret tour
Taking a photo of the Arch of Constantine, next to the Colosseum is a tradition – but beware the "centurions" offering to pose with you, they will ask for money! Head to the interior of the Forum, the commercial, political, judiciary, and religious core of the Imperial city. The area had several Basilicas, dedicated to political and business activities, religious temples, and as commemorative monuments of war victories. The Colosseum ticket allows you to visit both sites (Colosseum and Forum), as well as the Palatine Museum, placed at the top of the homonym hill next to the Colosseum, with works found on the Palatine Hill from Augustus' times to the late imperial period. If you love history, the Private Guided Tour of Imperial Rome is your best option – you'll get your private introduction to one of the most fascinating sites reflecting human history.

Ready for a light lunch? There are plenty of stands offering pizza and sandwiches, with the most traditional kind filled with porchetta (slices of delicious boneless pork roast). If you prefer a sit-down lunch, head to Il Bocconcino at number 23 of Via Ostilla. This trattoria is 500 meters away from the Colosseum, close to the intersection between Via Ostilla and Via Capo d'Africa. Enjoy traditional dishes such as bucatini all'amatriciana (pasta with spicy bacon and tomato sauce) or tonnarelli cacio e pepe (square spaghetti with cheese and pepper), with fast service and honest prices. Buon appetito!

 

national rome museum

Your itinerary continues along Via San Gregorio – you'll reach the Circus Maximus after just 5 minutes of walking. The Circus Maximus was originally dedicated to horse and chariot races, and later also to religious festivities. Walk on the south side of the Circus Maximus towards the Tiber river - you will find the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, where the famous Mouth of Truth is located. “La Bocca della Verità” is a marble mask which since the Middle Ages was believed to know truth from falsehood – the hand of a liar would be bitten by it. The Mouth of Truth was made famous to English-speaking audiences by the Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck movie “Roman Holiday”. A picture with your hand inside the mouth is a must... did you know it may once have been a manhole cover and probably represents the god of the Tiber river?

If you're still feeling energetic, return to the opposite side of the Circus Maximus. You will find the Baths of Caracalla on the left, one of the best preserved Roman thermal baths, with the largest mithraeum (or Temple of Mithra) of the Roman Empire. With a 1,500 people capacity, the baths were famous for their opulent decorations. The arrival of the Goths started their decline and many works went to the Farnese collection in Naples and to the Vatican Museum. Take the Classic Rome Tour, and your private guide will show you the wonders of the Caracalla Baths, as well as the Massenzio Residence and Circus, and the spectacular Tomb of Caecilia Metella (a Roman noblewoman) which overlooks the Appian Way.

You'll be closest to the subway stop “Circo Massimo” if you wish to return to your hotel at the this point, but we advise you to end your day discovering the folklore of the Trastevere district. Cross the Isola Tiberina (Tiber Island), and enter the most popular neighborhood of Rome, heart of the night life. This is where restaurants and popular trattorie, pubs and ice cream parlors throb with life for much of the day and night. It's not easy to recommend just one particular place, but one of the most renowned is the Parolaccia (meaning “the swear word,” as the waiters use them on purpose) at Vicolo del Cinque 3, or the Taverna Trilussa (Via del Politeama), which is often frequented by sports champions and actors. Try the spaghetti alla gricia (with cured pork and pecorino romano), amatriciana (spicy bacon and tomato sauce) or carbonara (eggs, cheese, bacon, and black pepper sauce). Equally delicious are the coda alla vaccinara (veal tail with vegetables), or the artichokes alla romana (prepared with parsley, mint, and white wine), accompanied by wine from the Castelli Romani area.

Longing to experience Rome by night? The Eternal City is never more beautiful – join the Illuminated Rome Tour and live the Dolce Vita as you glide past the magically illuminated monuments such as the Fountain of Trevi!

 

Day 2 – Baroque Rome

national rome museum

During the Middle Ages, after the invasion by the barbarians, Rome lived through much upheaval. It was reborn in the 16th century thanks to the Vatican, which gave it the magnificent Baroque style. The Baroque is still defining the city’s architectural appearance today.

Begin your discovery of Baroque Rome departing from the Borghese Gallery, the museum with many works of art from the period. Placed at the northeast end of the Villa Borghese garden, the Gallery can best be reached by bus (lines 88, 95, 490, and 495, among others) or by subway (Spagna stop, at the foot of the gardens, a little more than half a mile to walk). Hosted in a splendid villa from the 17th century, the Borghese Gallery displays hundreds of invaluable works of art, including pieces by masters such as Raphael, Rubens, and Titian. The Borghese Gallery is also home to the largest and most important collection of sculptures by Bernini and paintings by Caravaggio. Book the entrance to the museum and you'll be amazed! Secure the richest experience of the gallery and its garden by booking yourself a guided visit. Once outside the museum, you can have a break tasting a delicious pizza just 300 meters away at the Pizzeria Gaudi (Via Giovannelli 8, off of Via Pinciana). Otherwise, dive into the Baroque heart of the city by wandering through the Villa Borghese park. The elegant gardens are cool in summer and full of magnificent statues, and include the Lake Garden with the Aesculapius Temple.

You can easily reach the spectacular Pincio Terrace (Terrazza del Pincio) at the southern end of the gardens by renting a bike or taking the electric bus 116. Enjoy the spectacular panorama over Piazza del Popolo – Baroque Rome is at your feet. The area to visit is large and rich with often hidden masterpieces. Your best bet for discovering them is taking the Private Guided Visit of the Baroque Districts – you'll have your personal expert in art and history ready to reveal the secrets and the beauty of this magnificent aspect of the capital to you.

If instead you prefer to venture by yourself, you have two options for getting from Terrazza del Pincio to the famous area of the Spanish Steps. Your first is to descend to Piazza del Popolo, take in the large open spaces and the twin churches of Santa Maria in Montesano and Santa Maria dei Miracoli, and then take Via del Babuino until you reach the Spanish Steps.

Alternately, you can choose to walk through Viale della Trinità dei Monti, where you'll have the best views of Rome from above. Then descend through the stunning Spanish Steps towards Piazza di Spagna. In springtime, they are beautifully adorned by floral arrangements. Keep to the right of the Keats-Shelley house (which is open to visitors). After admiring the Fountain of the Barcaccia (the “Fountain of the Old Boat” at the foot of the Spanish steps), take the Via dei Condotti, the luxury shopping street and enjoy the glamorous windows and shoppers. Then, turn to the right onto Via del Corso - 500 meters later you will reach Piazza del Popolo.

If you have not had lunch yet, try the tasty local cuisine – for example at the Taverna del Corso (Via del Corso 515). The family environment, rustic furniture, and traditional dishes will charm you. Try the fried meat, the artichokes, or the pasta all'amatriciana. For a smart and delicious way to enjoy the delights of Rome, try the Wine and Cheese Tasting at a historical and centrally located wine bar where you can learn about regional cheeses, the highest quality cold cuts, and a choice of homemade dishes, with wine from the Lazio region – and taste it all.

rome private guided tour
After lunch, take the Via del Corso in the opposite direction. The side streets have many hidden architectural gems waiting to be discovered and photographed by you. Once in Piazza Colonna, take a quick detour to the left onto Via dei Sabini. You'll will find the splendid Trevi Fountain, the Pearl of Baroque Rome, just 300 meters away. It is of course most famous for its appearance in Fellini's movie La Dolce Vita! Back in Piazza Colonna, you will find the Montecitorio (the Parliament building). Continue on the Via in Aquiro up to the Pantheon, an ancient temple from Augustus' era. Have a visit of the inside (you can learn more about it with the audio guide) and discover what is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. It has a distinctive oculus (the circular window at the top) to give light to the structure. The oculus has always been open to wind and weather. Though legend tells that it stops rain from entering, this is not true, and the rain water is carried away by drains in the building. The Pantheon hosts the tombs of important personalities such as Raphael and the kings of Italy Vittorio Emmanuele II and Umberto I.

Make your way back to Via del Corso, and visit the magnificent Chiesa del Gesù on the homonym street. If instead you prefer to lose yourself among the shops, continue for about 1 kilometer up to Piazza Venezia, overlooked by the Vittoriano, an imposing marble monument built at the end of the 19th century. You'll find great shopping opportunities all along the way.

Otherwise, to continue your discovery of Baroque Rome after your visit to the Pantheon, turn to the right (looking at the temple) and go ahead for 300 meters, up to the oblong Piazza Navona, true pride of the Roman Baroque thanks to masters such as Bernini who created the Quattro Fiumi fountain (the fountain of the four rivers). If you love music, you won't want to miss Music in Bernini's Rome: discover the music, art, and architecture of Bernini's time in the Church of Sant'Agnese, right in Piazza Navona, with live Baroque music.

The Piazza Navona also offers a local market and is always full of artists and rich with night life. End your day here, in one of the best trattorie of the city center, at the intimate and refined Cantina e Cucina (Via del Governo Vecchio 87) where traditional dishes of pasta and meat (for example the saltimbocca alla romana – veal lined or topped with prosciutto and sage) await you at fair prices! You'll be sure to spend a memorable evening in this cozy and authentic “Hosteria & Pizzeria.”

Day 3 - Papal Rome

ancient classical architecture rome

Much of Rome's fame (and power) is founded on its history as seat of the Vatican, See of the Pope and independent state located in the heart of the city. The image of the Basilica of Saint Peter is one of the most classic postcards of Rome. Regardless of your religious belief, a visit to the geographical center of the Roman Catholic Church is a must, as Saint Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museums hold some of the greatest artistic riches of mankind.

The Basilica you see today was built during over a century from 1506. Pope Julius II gave the directive to build it above the pre-existent early Christian Basilica, where legend locates Saint Peter's place of burial after his crucifixion. Michelangelo's dome stands over it, as well as the extraordinary square designed by Bernini, surrounded by 284 columns. Lavishly decorated on the inside, the church has a staggering floor area of 15,160 square meters, or 163,181 square feet. Among the many masterpieces, don't miss the Michelangelo's Pietà, an early work impressive for its harmony and marvelous simplicity. To make sure you don't miss the rich details and beauty of this important complex, we recommend you take the Guided Visit to Saint Peter's Basilica, the Vatican Museums, and the Sistine Chapel.

You'll find the access to the Vatican Museums located at the back of the Basilica. The Vatican Museum Complex is the most visited museum in Italy (it is closed on Sundays, except the last of the month) - so make sure you book your admission ahead of time to avoid the long lines that form throughout the year. The Vatican Museums hold one of the largest art collections in the world, with masterpieces accumulated by popes over the centuries. Just as Saint Peter's Basilica, the Vatican Museums were founded by Pope Julius II in the 16th century.

christian museum tour rome
The over twenty museums hold precious collections from ancient to modern art, including the Middle Ages and Renaissance. We highly recommend the beautiful Gallery of Maps, as well as the Gallery of Statues and the Round Room. The museum complex is enormous – if you don't choose a guided tour, you can follow the “Art and Faith” itinerary with guide, in order not to miss a single masterpiece. Don't spend too much time in the first rooms, as you'll want to conserve some of your energy for the two highlights of your Rome visit awaiting you towards the end – the Papal Apartments frescoed by Raphael and the Sistine Chapel hosting Michelangelo's breathtaking fresco of the Final Judgment, one of the world greatest masterpieces. The Sistine Chapel is still in use for the conclave and other official papal ceremonies.

The Museums have such a large number of works that we highly recommend a guided tour to prevent overwhelm. You'll enjoy the Guided Tour to the Vatican Gardens, which you can follow with a free, self-guided visit of the Vatican Museums. The Vatican Gardens, rich with statues and other architectonic and landscaping elements, will offer you the same peaceful, green welcome as they have done for generations of popes who have used it as a preferred meditation place.

You'll need a full day to visit the Vatican and include the most important museums. If you are interested in the history of Christianity, the perfect completion of your day is the Christian Rome Tour – learn more about the trials and tribulations of the Catholic faith in Rome.

Otherwise, take Via della Conciliazione (full of souvenir shops) from Piazza San Pietro. After a short walk, you'll reach the Tiber where you can admire Castel Sant'Angelo. Built during the Roman Period as mausoleum for the Emperor Adrian, it has been much modified – from defense fort of the Aurelian Walls to nowadays being a museum with temporary exhibits. Enjoy the beautiful view from the homonym bridge. It is now solely pedestrian and guarded by statues of ten angels, by Bernini and others – a handsome backdrop for your photo op!

End your day and your visit to Rome with the best panorama from the heights of the city! From the Vatican, climb the Gianicolo hill between the Vatican and the Trastevere neighborhood. A fantastic view over the Eternal City awaits you, especially at night, perhaps after a rich dinner in a trattoria. We recommend, among others, the close-by Carpe Diem at Via San Pancrazio 3. You'll find it at the top of the Gianicolo Gardens (Parco Gianicolense). Enjoy your final Roman dinner of traditional cuisine - great grilled meats, but also focaccia, pizza, and pasta, all in a home-like atmosphere. Looking for a special and romantic alternative? Try the Cruise with Dinner on the Tiber River (April to October), departing from Ponte Sant'Angelo. You'll see the Eternal City from the water while enjoying outstanding Italian cuisine. A magical way to say “so long” to the beautiful capital of Italy!

Itineraries Essential Rome

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