Whether you’ve had the good fortune to have been to the magnificent city of Rome before, or whether it’s your first trip to the Eternal City, you are in for a treat – even if it’s just for a day! We take every opportunity to extend a layover, add a weekend, or even go out of the way a little, just to spend some time in our favorite city.
The first time I went to Rome, we decided to add it as a layover on our way home from a trip to Malta (the island in the Mediterranean, not the small town in upstate New York folks!). Since my husband had lived in Italy briefly as a child, he had been to Rome many times, but let’s just say it had been a few years, so he would not be of much assistance in the touring department.
We were flying into Rome in the evening on a Friday, had all day Saturday in Rome, and then were flying out around noon on Sunday. So we really only had Saturday to experience Rome. If you’re planning to tour on your own, make sure you pick up a Streetwise Rome map. We get them for any city that we travel to, as they’re laminated, usually have great subway maps, and are a good size. I know you can get apps on your phone these days, but we’ve found they don’t always work the way you need them to. For example, sometimes you need to see more of an area than you can see on your phone. Or sometimes, even though when you downloaded them everything was in English, the actual map is in the language of the country you’re visiting – or English, when you really need it in both languages. The Streetwise Maps can easily be purchased on Amazon.com for under $10.
As we wanted to get the most out of our day, we chose to hire a private tour guide to take us around, which I highly recommend if you are squeezed for time, or even if you’re not. We used Through Eternity Tours, and I cannot say enough good things about our day, our tour, our tour-guide, and the company. http://www.througheternity.com/cities/rome-private-tours-rome
They have many tours to choose from in Rome, but also have tours in Florence, Pompeii, etc. Taking a tour like this also allows you to skip the horrendously long lines at all the sites, like the Vatican, the Forum, the Colosseum, which goes a long way to help you maximize your time. The tours can be pricey, but they are priced per tour, not per person, so the more people you have with you, the more economical they become. Through Eternity also offers small group tours, but you cannot make adjustments to the itinerary and likely won’t get to see as much as you would on a private tour.
We began our day at the Vatican. No, we did not meet the Pope, but you can certainly go on a Wednesday if he’s in Rome to his mass. Just go early so you can get a good seat up front. We did a pretty in-depth walk-through of the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, & St. Peter’s Cathedral – where we even got a glimpse of a young bride and groom, newly married.
The Sistine Chapel, although amazing, was a bit overwhelming. They shove you in like cattle. There’s absolutely no picture taking whatsoever – and there are guards all around, so don’t even try it! And when your time is up, your time is up, and you and the rest of the herd is shuffled out, the doors banging closed behind you. Although the Sistine Chapel is certainly an impressive work by Michelangelo, I felt much more awe and emotion seeing his La Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica. It is a true shame that it has to be protected behind bullet proof glass, because it is just a masterpiece. My husband had to drag me away – I could have stood there, absorbing it for hours. How can someone capture so much emotion in a piece of rock? It’s just crazy!
Then we stopped for lunch with our guide (who was so interesting and personable!) at a really great small place that he recommended.
After lunch, we hopped on the subway to the Colosseum, which we toured at our leisure, and then made our way up the Palatine Hill. This is the center-most of the seven hills of Rome, and boasts the remnants of the palaces of the elite of Ancient Rome. It is just south of the Forum, and has several plateaus from which beautiful view of the city can be seen. If you close your eyes, you can imagine what it might have been like living in such luxury during the height of the great Roman Empire!
We even got to visit the home of Rome’s first emperor, Augustus Caesar, which they had just opened to the public, with only a few people allowed in at a time – it was such a treat! The frescoes were some of the best preserved and most interesting I’ve ever seen anywhere. If this is something that you’re interested in seeing, make sure you check the opening times, as it is often only open for a couple hours a day.
We then wound our way down the Sacre Via, or Sacred Way (a road over 2000 years old) towards the Forum. It’s truly awe inspiring to walk in the same footsteps as the ancient Romans on this incredible road.
After a detailed tour of this area, it was getting late and time to part with our guide. He’d spent at least nine hours with us and although we were dog tired, he pointed us in the direction of the Pantheon, we said our goodbyes, and started on the walk to the Pantheon. The Pantheon apparently has the largest brick dome ceiling in the world – it really is quite impressive. It was originally built by Agrippa during the reign of Augustus, and then re-built a couple of times throughout the years. But it stands as it does today thanks to Emperor Hadrian, who rebuilt it in all it’s current day glory around 126AD.
What a day! We had seen so much. We both felt as though we had truly experienced Rome. And when, on the plane ride home the next day, when my husband asked me what I had thought of Rome, I struggled to find the words, but eventually looked at him and said, “It just felt like….(and here we both filled in the last word together)…home.” I knew our experience had been something beyond special. We had had a magical day in the Eternal City. But then, what isn’t magical about Rome?
Have a great experience in Rome or a great tip for seeing it in a day? Please share in the comments!
If you’re in Rome, your travels are sure to be happy and enlightening, but if you’re traveling anywhere else, may you find the same there!