How can anyone sum up in Rome in a few sentences? Centre of one of the greatest empires ever seen, home of the gladiators, stunning architecture on every turn, the Vatican City and food that is eaten the world over. A gorgeous city at any time of year I was lucky enough to visit during winter when the crowds are sparse and the heat isn’t oppressive. Here are my top five experiences and sights for the Eternal City.
1. The Colosseum and Forum
The unmissable sight of Rome. The largest amphitheatre in the world, holding 50,000 people in its heyday. An incredible building and at 2,000 years old it still dominates the centre of Rome. From 80 ad to 523 ad it hosted everything from circuses and plays to the famous gladiator bouts and man versus beast showdowns. All sections of Roman society would be present with emperors, aristos and Vestal Virgins down the front and plebs, slaves and all the other women up the top.
It doesn’t take much imagination to think what it would be like 2,000 years ago. You can walk all the way round the base of the the Colosseum and then right up to the third tier as well. The views are stunning from every angle.
The Roman Forum and surrounding ruins are almost as impressive and you can see all of it from the road and surrounding paths. This was the centre of Roman administration for centuries, the seat of government and hosted celebrations for victories in far away lands.
2. The Pantheon
One of the best preserved buildings from ancient Rome. A temple to the Roman gods, the biggest brick dome in history. According to legend, it is the place where the founder of Rome, Romulus, at his death was seized by an eagle and taken off into the skies with the Gods. I didn’t see any eagles, or Romulus, during my visit but the building looked spectacular at dusk.
3. The River Tiber
The Tiber snakes through the city going past castles, restaurants, The Vatican city and under ancient bridges. Walking along it is a great way to explore the city and see some of the sights not listed in the guide book.
4. St Peter’s Basilica
Without doubt my favourite building in Rome. I was awestruck by it. The size of the structure, with the dome on top, can be seen from all over the city and the attention to detail borders on the insane. It would be easy to spend a whole day exploring and soaking up the reverent atmosphere inside. One of the best reasons to visit is that tourists are allowed to climb to the very top of the dome and look down across the city and inside the basilica from all angles. It should be noted that the steps to the top are not easy for tall people!
The attached museums are really interesting too and although the Sistine Chapel is beautiful it was packed full of tourists and it was hard to move. I wore my most religious jumper in case I bumped in to the Pope on my visit.
5. Eating and drinking
I’ve saved the best until last. The food and drink, unsurprisingly, is fantastic in Rome. Pizza and pasta hasn’t tasted the same since being back in London. It’s clear that all Romans take real pride in their cooking and the choice of restaurants is so vast that the standard remains incredibly high where ever you chose to eat. The house wine was always more than adequate and the lunchtime cappuccino gave the perfect caffeine high for site seeing in the afternoon. The best part of all of this is that the food is incredibly well priced. Never more than 10 Euros for a pizza, a carafe of house wine was 3 Euros (cheaper than the water in some restaurants!) and 1 Euro for an espresso.
My one recommendation for an authentic Italian experience would be Dino and Tony’s, a ten minute walk from the Vatican City. Not a word of English was spoken, we were shouted at the whole time we were there but wonderful food, wine and coffee arrived at our table. It was fantastic.
Have I missed anything? Where are your favourite places in Rome?