Rome is simply put – beautiful. It stands proudly, overflowing with magnificence, and is yet, welcoming. It is grand, statuesque, yet approachable. The piazzas are numerous and expansive, the fountains and its statues elegant, yet practical, with churches dotting each street corner. The streets are filled with laughter and families, sweet nothings and couples, from the early morning markets, late into the night. Every corner is filled with activity and oh! so perfect for the romantic stroll and people watching. I fell in love with this city (it was my favorite) and hope to come back someday…
Rome is also known as the city of water, with fresh, clean water available from the majority of its fountains! This stems from the Roman empire, and their famous aqueduct system that started in 300 BC. Each faucet has a hole at the top, so that when the end is blocked, the visitor can have an easily accessible spout of water to drink from.
When in Rome, do as Romans do.
Thus, aside from exploring, my days were happily filled with daily doses of gelato, pasta, and pizza. We arrived in Rome after a flight from Santorini, with an overnight layover in Athens, and were exhausted by the time we arrived. (Airport sleeping, not recommended.) Luckily, Legends hostel, where we stayed, was located right next to Termini Station (and conveniently close to a supermarket!) and was easy to get to. We stayed in the co-ed 6 bed dorm room with our own bathroom.
- We first walked down Nationale and Via Del Corso (one of the main shopping streets), to reach Piazza Del Popolo. There was plenty of unique brands and great quality, street level, store front shopping at affordable prices.
- We then walked down Del Babuino to the Spanish steps for a free walking tour, which was completely free (no tipping needed) and very informative! The sites we visited included: the Fountain de Trevi, the Pantheon (stunning!), Piazza Colonna/Parlimento, and the Galleria (which was the first non-Catholic shopping center). We then continued to walk around to eat at the oldest gelato place, and ended the evening with a stroll through Via Del Tritone and the Quattro Fontane, past Piazza Barberini.
- Today was dedicated to visiting “Old Rome,” and seeing the Colosseum. We first explored the Palatine Hill (some fence jumping may or may not have occurred), through the Farnese gardens, into the Roman Forum, and past the Arch de Constantine, before entering the Colosseum. We skipped all the lines! (Please see the tip section on how to do so).
- It was interesting to contrast how this city integrated its ruins into its city, compared to Athens.
- I also visited a few famous piazzas including: the Piazza Campo do Fiori, famous for its early morning market and food stands, Piazza Navona, famous for its art vendors and artists, and Piazza Cavour, which was so beautiful, I couldn’t help but tear up!
- This was probably THE most memorable day of my trip. I had planned to go to Vatican city and visit St. Peters Basilica early in the morning – but little did I know that because it was a Wednesday, the Pope was present and was going to give a message! There was a huge line at the entrance, but luckily because I was among the wave of very early arrivals I was able to sit in the front section without being checked for a ticket! Later on, they began to check tickets for entering and/or going to the restroom which led to some agony on my end because I was not going to let go of my seat no matter how much I needed to go, haha.
- It was an amazing, unparalleled experience… I can’t even estimate how many thousands of people were present, and how excited the onlookers were! People traveled from all over the world for this pilgrimage, after all, this was the center of Catholicism, and yet – I was there! The Vatican itself is stunning… I was in awe the whole time.
- There were interpreters in every major language, including French, English, German (but no Chinese!). His Holiness focused on one of the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit, on the importance of wisdom. We also received His Holiness’ blessing upon ourselves, children, family, especially with the upcoming Holy Week.
- I went to Vatican museum using a pre-booked ticket at 12 pm, and took two hours (this is without any guides) to the Sistine chapel. I then took the “secret” exit on the right to enter the Basilica, and climb its dome. (See tips section how to do so!)
- I then met up with L, and we winded down the evening in the residential Travastere.
- I think 3 full days in Rome are enough to see all the sites. We were originally going to go to Tivoli, an idyllic city nearby, on our fourth day, but were unfortunately unable to make the trip due to unforeseen circumstances. Instead, we hung out with our newfound friends/hostel-mates and revisited my favorite piazzas.
- The most touching scene was when I came across was a sweet old man carrying bags of cat food, and tenderly feeding all the city cats.
- Overnight layover in Athens airport: very common. We saw quite a few other travelers sleeping in the airport. There is a chapel area/prayer room that is good for sleeping outside the gates, as well as a few arm-rest-less benches inside the gate area. (A few latecomers slept on the floor.) You are only allowed to enter the gates for an early morning flight after 11 pm.
- There are several transportation options from the FCO airport (in Rome) to the city’s central station (Termini Station). The cheapest option, and one I highly recommend, is the Terravision bus that costs 8 euros round trip. This can be bought in the airport, and has a variety of early morning buses departing from Termini as well. The alternate is the high speed rail, or Leonardo Express, which costs 15 euros ONE way, or 30 euros round trip (equiv to 40 usd.)
- Take a free guided tour.
- If you happen to come on a Sunday or Wednesday, you can also hear the pope speak by checking his schedule online and pre-ordering tickets.
Do not fall for any “skip-the-line” guided tours, when it is entirely possible to SKIP the line without paying extra!
- To get to Colosseum without the wait, buy the ticket at the entrance to Palatine Hill/Roman Forum, which is nearby. The ticket will include access to all three sites!
- To get to St. Peters Basilica (and climb the steps) by bypassing the lines, enter through the Sistine Chapel which is the last stop in the Vatican Museums. Take the exit on the RIGHT when exiting the Sistine Chapel (it is supposed to be for tour groups but they rarely check) to enter Basilica! (The left is the individual exit and will lead you to the front entrance in which you came in from.) From there, you can immediately go up on the roof, before going inside. If you want to do the Vatican Museum and the Basilica separately, note that the entrances are on completely opposite sides of the Vatican and will take a 10-15 minute walk. Also, if you get an audio guide for the museum, note that you will have to return to the entrance to return the headset.
- The only site I recommend online pre-booking for is the Vatican Museums, if you are planning to go on a weekend day or a Wednesday. (Most tourists will flock there after seeing the pope.) There is an online 4 euro surcharge. If not, a Monday, Tuesday, or Thursday afternoon visit should have a minimum wait time.