Monday, December 28, 2015

Rome in 5 Days - Planning Your Time in Rome

Rome is called "The Eternal City" for a reason. Once the center of the Roman Republic, then the Roman Empire, it later became the capital of the Christian world. Today’s Rome, rich in cultural, social, and economic life, remains one of the most popular destinations for tourists from all around the world. There is so much to see and do in Rome, that touring the city may feel overwhelming at times. However, Rome shouldn’t just be about going to museums, but also about walking through small streets and history. Not only the sights are beautiful, but the people are friendly, and the food is delicious. The city of Rome is a wonderful place with magnificent piazzas surrounded by inspiring architecture and art.

Piazza Trinità dei Monti

Day 1: The Most Beautiful Roman Squares

The Spanish Steps
The Piazza di Spagna (the Spanish Square) is one of the best-known monuments of the Roman Baroque style. From here, the Spanish Steps descend toward the Piazza Trinità dei Monti and its magnificent church. According to the World Site Guides, the Spanish Steps have a storied history as a gathering place. The site’s beauty has always attracted artists, musicians, poets, and young women hoping to become their muses. This, in turn, drew rich businessmen and travelers who were looking for a wife or a mistress. The Steps remain to attract people from all around the World till today. Once you get here you just have to sit down and enjoy the atmosphere.

Spanish Square

Many people in the area of Spanish Steps attracts beggars.

The Trevi Fountain
The Spanish Steps are located only a short walk away from the beautiful Piazza Navona (one of the main urban spaces in the historic center of the city), featuring the Baroque Church of Sant'Agnese in Agone and three fountains, including the Trevi Fountain. This fountain is the largest in the city and is considered by many to be one of the world’s most beautiful. No wonder it was featured in movies like  La Dolce Vita and many others. Tourists are likely to believe that if they throw a coin into the fountain, they are guaranteed a return to Rome—the coins are collected every night and given to an Italian charity. What many people don’t know is that the Trevi Fountain is one of the oldest water sources in Rome.

Italian Pizza
On our first day in Rome, we had a taste for a true Italian pizza. We found what we wanted at the Berzitello Pizzeria. The restaurant offers many different meals and types of homemade pizza for both lunch and dinner. Be aware that, during the day, some restaurants sell only pizza al taglio—cooked in a regular oven and sold by the slice. This kind of pizza is great for an on-the-go snack, but if you want a real Italian pizza, you may need to wait until 7 p.m. Luckily to us, at the Berzitello Restaurant you can get tasty, crisp pizza from a wood-fired oven all day long!

Day 2: Ancient Rome

The Colosseum
You can expect a long line to enter the Colosseum even with a Roma Pass (admission from 8:30 a.m. to 6:15 p.m.). If you are visiting during the summer, try to be there as early as possible. There is no shade for those standing in the admissions’ line, so you want to limit wait time to a minimum. While walking through this famous amphitheater, you will be exposed to the sun for much of the time as well—how wonderful its original Roman shades would be! Yes, in ancient times the audience could enjoy shows in the shade of an enormous cloth called the velarium, that had ropes and pulleys which extended or retracted according to the position of the sun.

The Colosseum Arena

The Roman Forum
The Roman Forum—the heart of the ancient city’s public and political life—is situated near the Colosseum. It’s a large area with little shade, so summer months are far too hot to fully appreciate this beautiful place steeped in history.

The Roman Forum

Panoramic views of the Roman Forum

The Piazza Venezia and The Piazza del Campidoglio
If visiting Rome in the summer, I would suggest skipping the walk through the Roman Forum in favor of spending more time at the Piazza del Campidoglio, which offers panoramic views of the Forum. This designed by Michelangelo hilltop square is located atop Capitol Hill and near the Piazza Venezia.

The Piazza Venezia From Far Away (Image source:

Gelateria Brasile
Gelaterie Brasile is located right on the corner of the Piazza Venezia, a place we found entirely by accident. Its homemade gelato was a pleasant, delicious surprise. We didn’t eat at the gelateria’s bar area, walking instead to the nearby Doria Pamphilj Gallery where we sat to enjoy some shade. It was the perfect refreshment after many long hours of sightseeing.

The Pantheon
Situated at the Piazza della Rotonda, the Pantheon is where an eagle seized the dead founder of Rome—Romulus—and took him into the skies to be with the gods. According to, this ancient temple honored pagan gods. Today, this magnificent monument serves as a Christian church and still inspires architects and artists. Due to its beauty, many couples choose the Pantheon for w wedding ceremony. 

An Affordable Restaurant near the Pantheon
Our last stop of the day was at the Cul de Sac authentic Italian Restaurant  which offers pizza, pasta, and meat and cheese platters. The air conditioning did little to cool us down, but the ravioli was delicious, and the location was convenient.

Cul de Sac

Day 3: Vatican City

The Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel
Nothing ruins a trip more than failing to plan and, as a result, missing a sold-out attraction. Don’t let that happen to you: If visiting the Vatican, book tickets to the Vatican Museums well ahead of time. While it is possible to buy tickets on site, doing so requires waiting in line—in the full sun—for as much as three hours. Instead, skip the queue and buy tickets online through the Official Vatican Museums website (16,00€ + 4,00€ pre-sales fee). The Vatican Museums house some of the world’s most beautiful and culturally significant art, along with unbelievably beautiful Sistine Chapel—featuring Michelangelo’s frescoes—where conclave gathering to elect popes take place.

View from the Vatican Museum Window

Sistine Chapel

A Secret Passage from the Sistine Chapel to St. Peter’s Basilica
The main entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica is through St. Peter's Square, but there is a secret passage (on the back right site) in the Sistine Chapel through which you can reach St. Peter’s Basilica without standing in line. Technically, this hidden passage is reserved only for licensed tour guides, but we didn’t have any problem using it

The Interior of St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica and the Dome Climb 
Built in the fifteenth century, St. Peter’s Basilica (free to enter) is one of the largest Renaissance-style churches in the world. The basilica contains many tombs and sculptures, including John Paul II tomb and Michelangelo's Pietà, but to me, the most fascinating feature was the giant dome overhead. The entry to the copula costs either 7€ or 5€, depending on whether you choose to avoid 221 steps with a short elevator ride or climb all 551 steps to the top. Whatever you choose, the view is well worth the effort. However, skip this attraction, if you don’t feel well in small spaces—corridor gets very narrow as you reach to the top. 

Panoramic View of Vatican Gardens Seen from the St. Peters Copula

St. Peter's Square

Day 4: Civita Di Bagnoregio

Rome is such a mesmerizing city that you could spend an entire month there and still not see everything—but don’t forget the many spectacular options outside the city. Easily reached by train are Ostia Antica, Assisi, Castel Gandolfo, and Orvieto. We rented a car at Termini Station (Rome’s central train station) and drove two hours to the less well-known Civita di Bagnoregio.


This breathtaking medieval town in central Italy is actually two separate towns. Civita lies on a hill and is accessible only by a long bridge that begins at the end of the road leading from neighboring Bagnoregio. Founded by the Etruscans in the sixth century BC, the town was then an important city connected to a network of trade routes. Civita is now considered a dying town as erosion eats away at its edges. However, the town is not abandoned. Depending on your budget, there are many hotels and restaurants from which to choose.

For more information about how to reach the Civita di Bagnoregio by public transportation, or and where to stay and eat there, please see Civita di Bagnoregio by Tourist by Chance.

In Civita, the population of cats outnumbers humans and have become something of an attraction themselves.

An Etruscan tomb turned into a chapel in the Medieval period.

Bridge Connecting Civita and di Bagnoregio

Day 5: Rome at Night 

(Image source:

On our last day, we walked from the Piazza Navona to the Ponte Sisto bridge and to Trastevere, a picturesque medieval area located on the West bank of the Tiber River. The central part of Trastevere is the Piazza di Santa Maria. During the day streets of Trastevere may seem depopulated. It’s best to visit here during the evening when the restaurants and bars are open. Summer nights in Rome are warm, so eating outside is a real pleasure.

Gelateria dei Gracchi
Our favorite part of Trastevere was eating delicious, fresh gelato at Gelateria dei Gracchi—the best seasonal gelato flavors I’ve ever tried.

Ponte Sisto Bridge (Image source:

The Colosseum after Dark 
Rome’s atmosphere in the moonlight is incredible. Ancient ruins look even more magical and mysterious at night. My favorite part of our evenings in Rome was walking through the Via dei Fori Imperiali Road that connects Piazza Venezia to the Colosseum. Walking in the glow of the Colosseum while listening to live music and watching street artists was a perfect way to end our trip to Rome.

Good to Know...

While there are many places to stay in Rome, it’s almost impossible to find a nice and affordable hotel in the city center. The truth is that most of the old hotels by Termini Station or near the Colosseum are low quality or overpriced. Many tourists do pay exorbitantly to stay in the ancient part of Rome, but our decision to stay elsewhere worked out well. We found a nice, spacious 4-star hotel with excellent air conditioning and friendly staff in a very good price east of the ancient city—about ten minutes by bus from Termini Station. Our room was pleasant and the bed was comfortable. The bathroom was great—and the hairdryer, incidentally, worked well, indeed!

Adjacent to the hotel is a promenade featuring many restaurants. After a long day of sightseeing, it was convenient to simply step outside for a true Italian meal. The area around the hotel may seem sketchy at first, but we felt perfectly safe there. In a way, it felt calming at the end of a day to leave the busy center of Rome with its tourist hordes and return to the quieter Pigneto and its many traditional small restaurants, markets, and shops. Once an industrial area that was home to the working class, in recent years, the neighborhood has become a trendy nightlife destination for locals, by New Yorkers called "the Williamsburg of Rome."

*Tourist Pass
The Roma Pass (for 36€) gives you three full days of public transportation along with entrance to two major tourist sites of your choice. You can buy this card at most museums, historical sites, and all Tourist Information Points (TIP) located at most major train stations and tourist sites.

The Roma 48H Ticket (12,50€) is a two-day integrated ticket for public transportation only that is valid for forty-eight hours from its first use.

*A great source of tourist information on Rome and Italy
My favorite source of information about Rome is Tourist by Chance. Valter reveals the secrets of Italy that can’t be found in mainstream guidebooks. Be sure to check out his The Eternal City blog post to learn about the many hidden treasures of Rome.

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