Rome is a city that features on most travellers’ bucket-lists. The Eternal City’s big appeal is that you can walk through sections of history and buildings that have been in place since the height of the Roman Empire whilst being in the heart of a vibrant and modern European capital city at the same time.
Anyone visiting Rome will never feel that they have enough time there to do the city justice – to see all that there is to see. But, due to the compact nature of the centre, it’s amazing just how much you can see in a short space of time, and how familiar you’ll feel with the city after only a day or two. The fact that you can easily traverse the centre on foot means that even when you’re travelling from one historic site to another, you’ll be able to take in so much more along the way.
So what sites should you make sure to include on a first trip to Rome? Of course, everyone will have their own priorities, but here are just a few suggestions.
The Colosseum and the Forum
Wherever you visit in Rome, there’ll be a tour to do but many sites, relying on your guidebook will suffice. However, it’s definitely worth taking a guided tour of the Colosseum and Forum, to really bring these amazing places to life. At the Colosseum, make sure to take a tour that includes the third tier (recently restored) and the hypogeum, the underground area, where wild beasts were held and where the gladiators waited and prepared for their combat in the arena. The Forum covers a huge area and can be a little baffling without a guide to explain the different functions of the buildings and how the area would have looked 2,000 years ago.
Of all the buildings from ancient Rome, the Pantheon is the best preserved and one of the most easily accessible. It was completed during the reign of Emperor Hadrian and its amazing dome demonstrates the skill and knowledge that Roman architects had. Today, it’s a church and is free to visit. You’ll find it all of a sudden as you turn a corner of a busy street and it’s amazing to see it alongside the hustle and bustle of daily Roman life.
The Stadio Olimpico
No, it’s not an historic site, but the Stadio Olimpico still holds a special place in many Romans’ hearts. Anyone who follows football will know that Rome is home to two Serie A teams – Lazio and Roma. During their history, both teams have won Serie A, as well as the Coppa Italia. The two teams share a stadium – the Stadio Olimpico – with each team playing there on alternative weekends. Next year, Roma will move stadium to the newly built Stadio della Roma.
If at all possible during your stay, get a ticket to one of the derby matches – the Derby della Capitale – between the two teams, where you can witness the intense rivalry between the two home teams of Rome. Both sets of fans claim to back the ‘authentic’ Roman team, but the banter is generally light-hearted and reflects the passionate nature of Italian football fans. Looking at the Serie A betting odds, Roma are priced at around 5/2 at the time of writing to win the league title, with Lazio further behind in the odds. But on derby match days, nothing but the rivalry between the two teams matters, and gives any visitor a real taste of today’s Rome.
Of course, these few places are just a ‘drop in the bucket’ of what Rome has to offer its visitors. There are hundreds of beautiful churches to visit, as well as galleries and art museums galore. If you don’t have time to see many, then do make time to visit St Peter’s and the Vatican, where for many the highlight is the Sistine Chapel. There’s far more to see in the Vatican Museum than you can realistically manage in one visit, but if you only have time for an afternoon there, it’s still well worth it.
The best plan for a trip to Rome is to book in a couple of guided tours, but also to give yourself plenty of time to simply to wander, to explore and to soak up the incredible atmosphere of this beautiful and atmospheric city.