Top 5 Things to See in the Eternal City of Rome

Today’s post was written by Jolene Ejmont of the Wanderlust Storytellers blog. Originally from South Africa, Jolene now lives in Australia, and she is a wife and a mother to two beautiful daughters. Together with her family, she is embarking on a journey towards changing her current, stress-filled life to one that focuses on her dreams and her passion for travel. Wanderlust Storytellers is a family travel blog seeking to inspire families to explore the wonders of the world in a more mindful manner.

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The glorious Eternal City called Rome – a city so incredibly rich in history, from the glutinous Romans and the almighty gladiators to the deep dark secrets of the underground catacombs. A city so magnificent with Roman ruins from an era long ago, scattered around various parts of the city to remind you of the history of where it all began.  A beautiful city where the old is completely intertwined with the modern and the new! There are so many aspects of Rome to explore – so many alleys to get lost in, so many hidden corners to visit – that this city deserves more than just a few visiting days. However if you are short on time, here is our list of the top 5 things you definitely should see in Rome!

1.  The Colosseum & The Roman Forum

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy

The Colosseum should be on the top of your list of things to do see whilst visiting Rome. This ruin truly is magnificent; one of the true wonders of ancient Rome. Built of concrete and sand, it happens to be the largest amphitheatre ever built. The Colosseum was built for the Roman people, to entertain them with 100 days of games, including gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights. It would be beneficial to  join a tour or hire an audio guide to learn about the impressive history behind this architectural marvel!

Tip: The queue for the tickets can be long for this one, so our recommendation is to get there early or later in the afternoon.   We recommend you pre-purchase your tickets on-line so you can skip the longer queue.

Whilst you are exploring the Colosseum grounds, do make sure to take a stroll to see the Arch of Constantine up close!  The Arch of Constantine is a triumphal arch, situated between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill.  This Arch is incredibly impressive in detail and design. I’m guessing you can stand there for a long time if you would like to investigate every aspect of it, the carvings were just incredible to investigate!

Roman Forum in Rome, Italy

And lastly, whilst you are on this side of Rome, it would make sense to visit the Roman Forum as well. The enormity of these ruins really do allow you to marvel at the Roman engineering and architectural designs.   The grounds are extensive here and will take a good few hours to explore, so if you are limited on time, it might be best to get a beautiful view over the Roman Forum grounds from Capitoline Hill.

2.  The Pantheon

Pantheon in Rome, Italy

This building sure demonstrates the wonder of Roman engineering. Try to wrap your head around how a dome, with a hole in the top, can stay put decade after decade without any real support from the building itself. The craftsmanship of this building blew us away.  Every single aspect of the design was impressive! This colossal building is over 1900 years old; a temple dedicated to all the gods of pagan Rome.

Entrance to the Pantheon is free of charge.

Opening times for the Pantheon: Mon – Sat: 9 am – 6.30 pm and Sun: 9 am –1 pm.

There is a gorgeous fountain – Fontana del Pantheon – located in the Piazza in front of the Pantheon, together with a scattering of various cafes around the outer edge of the square!  We enjoyed a simple meal whilst watching the sun set from one of these little cafes.  However, be aware that they charge ‘tourist’ prices due to their location!  For us, it was worth every Euro spent!

For extra fun, visit Gelateria della Palma in the street near the Pantheon; a very popular Gelateria where you have to complete the impossible task of trying to choose from over 150 flavours on offer – talk about tricky!

Pantheon in Rome, Italy

3.  Crypts, Bones and Catacombs

Rome might be beautiful, but its history is not necessarily all that ‘rosy’.  We highly recommend a discovery of every aspect of this darker side to the history, from mysterious practices of the ancient Roman days to crypts, bones and catacombs.  You can either venture into the various sites yourself, or if you are keen to learn more about the history attached to these sites, why not join a tour?  We enjoyed a ‘Walks of Italy Tour’ and it happened to be one of our favourite things that we did whilst in Rome!

The tour started at the Capuchin Crypt. There is a very eerie atmosphere as you view the five successive chambers of this religious chapel, which is decorated with around 4000 bones from Capuchin Friars, destitute Romans and even children. A very chilling visit, to see all the decor made from bone upon bone.

We also ventured out to one of the quieter, more secluded, underground catacomb sites; the Catacomb of Santa Priscilla. This catacomb dates back to 150 years before Christianity was legalized.  As you wander through the tunnels and listen to the history you will find heaps of interesting thought-provoking information, together with the world’s single oldest depiction of the Virgin Mary, seen nursing the infant Jesus.  The sheer size of the underground cemetery with its cold, narrow and windy tunnel will most likely leave a long-lasting impression.

The tour completed at the Basilica San Clemente.  This is not just any ordinary Basilica, this one takes you underground to a 4th century Basilica, and if that is not impressive enough, you can go down even deeper to reach the 1st century secret temple and apartments to find out more about the rituals carried out there.  A very different side to Rome that is for sure!  One that most tourists to this glorious city miss.  So if you are after a more unique experience, do yourself a favour and join a tour to visit these brilliant sites (unfortunately, photography was not allowed in these sites, due to their sacred nature and age, but you can hop over to the Walks of Italy tour site to view some pictures of what you will see!)

4.  The Vatican City and Sistine Chapel

Vatican City in Rome, Italy

It is thanks to the first Apostle Peter, and the first Pope and leader, that this magnificent Christian church was built.  We recommend heading towards the lift (which you can take for a small fee) to head up to a halfway point towards the top of the St Peters Basilica. After this, you must endure climbing lots of steps to reach the very top of the dome.  On your way up, you will also get a close-up look at the interior artwork of the dome itself.

St Peter Basilica, Rome, Italy

Heading a bit further along the staircase, you will be grateful to breathe some fresh air outdoors, where you can get a fabulous 360-degree view over the Vatican grounds and the city of Rome. After your explorations around the very tippy-top of the cupola, head back downstairs and head into the interior of the church.   The interior of this very large basilica will amaze adults and kids alike – the colours, the detail, the artwork, the statues and the incredible designs of the rooftops – WOW!!  If you are lucky, you might even see the Pope too!

Tip:  Wear clothes that cover shoulders and knees, as required when you explore sacred sites in Rome.

Entrance to the Basilica is free.

Opening times:  Oct – March is from 7am till 6pm and from April – September from 7am – 7pm

Vatican in Rome, Italy

After your visit to the Vatican city, be sure to head to the Vatican Museum.  To do the museum justice, you really need to devote around half a day to seeing it in all its glory. We really wanted to see the Sistine Chapel, more than the museum itself. The way to the Sistine Chapel takes patience and time.  I believe we spent around 45 minutes pushing past people to get to the Chapel itself. We stopped multiple times on the way to grab photos of all the incredible artwork found in the hallways of the museum.  Photos inside the Chapel itself are not allowed, but to see the famous roof in the Chapel which was painted by the famous Michelangelo will forever be engraved on my mind! We craned our neck up high to see the almighty famous painting, ‘The Creation of Adam’, where God stretches out his finger to Adam’s.  What a truly incredible painting to see in real life!

5.  Trevi Fountain

I don’t think the Trevi Fountain needs much explanation or introduction. One of the most famous fountains in the world, it also happens to be the largest and most famous Baroque fountain in Rome (standing 25.9m high and 19.8m wide).  Unfortunately, on our visit to Rome the entire fountain was closed for restoration.We do hope to see it in all its renovated glory in the near future, though.

Rome, the glorious Eternal City!  A city whose history stretches over more than 2,500 years; a city where the ancient and modern live side by side, where ruins are scattered like treasure among the alleys of the new. I’m not a city girl by any means or measure, but this city is one that I truly fell head over heels in love with.  The colour, the vibrancy, the rustic walls…. not to mention the ruins and the history.  Throw in some good quality delicious food and some yummy wine! Make sure you dedicate enough time to visit this city in all it magnificence and do make sure you tick off the places on our list of the top 5 things to see in Rome – we promise you won’t regret it!

Looking for somewhere to stay? There are thousands of hotels in Rome – browse through a website like Booking.com or Expedia to find a hotel in your desired area, at your ideal budget.

Have you been to Rome?  What is on your list of top 5 things to see whilst visiting Rome? If you fancy taking a short break from Rome, consider visiting nearby Tivoli for the day or visit Ninfa, said to be the most enchanting garden in the world. 

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