Rome is the heart of Italy and undoubtedly the city you should visit at least once in your life. It’s glorious, it’s huge, it’s breathtaking. This is the city you can explore endlessly because its historic importance is immeasurable. And no way I intend to cover all the treasures of the Eternal city in one blog.
I’m saying it from my own experience: I’ve been to Rome over thirty times – and still find so many things to see and do! Nevertheless, even if you’re in the city for only one day and ready to walk a lot – by ‘a lot’ I mean really A LOT – well, the itinerary I’m proposing is doable.
I can sincerely tell you that many of my favourite spots are not included – such as Trastevere, Villa Borghese, Villa Farnesina, or Botanical Gardens, but believe me: you can feel the grandeur and splendour of the Eternal City only after visiting these 10 core spots.
Besides that, read about our stay at one of the most prestigious Rome hotels – Rome Cavalieri! And don’t forget to check my article on photoshooting in Rome too.
1. St. Peter’s Basilica
I’d suggest you to start your acquaintance with the Eternal City from St. Peter’s Basilica for several reasons. First one is purely pragmatic: St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums and especially the Sistine Chapel are extremely popular places. To skip the crowds and queues, it’s better to come early.
Secondly, it’s probably one of the most important sights of Rome from the historic point of view. My favorites are still the Roman ruins but never mind me :))
According to Chistian tradition, St Peter, one of apostoles, was executed in Rome under the rule of Emperor Nero and buried exactly on the Vatican Hill in 64 AD. As soon as Roman Empire embraced the Christianity, this place started to get the aura of sacrality. The first basilica was erected right on the spot in 4 century AD.
After over a thousand years the construction of new St. Peter’s Basilica began in 1506 – and its erection took about 120 years! Due to the stretched process of construction, many architects contributed to its construction including Bramante (died in 1514), Raphael (died in 1520), Michelangelo (died in 1564), Giacomo della Porta (died 1602) and Maderno (died in 1629). While exploring the Basilica inside, of course, don’t forget about Michelangelo’s Pieta! If you wish, you can also climb St Peter’s cupola!
Don’t forget about dressing modestly when visiting St. Peter’s Basilica regardless of your religious views – otherwise you won’t be granted an entry!
Interesting: Visiting Rome and ticking one more country off travel list? Easily, because the Vatican is a separate state! It’s also a UNESCO world heritage site.
2. Castel Sant’Angelo
Almost 2000 year history of Castel Sant’Angelo is closely linked to the story of Rome and includes a few impressive metamorphoses in function. Initially it was a massive mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian who died in the 2nd century AD.
Then a fortress to defend the Eternal city from vandal stages. Possibly, the most known stage of it is serving as a residence for Popes with a secret escape route – il Passetto di Borgo – leading to the Vatican. Castel Sant’Angelo was also used a prison, but now it’s a Museum.
Ponte Sant’Angelo over Tiber is gorgeous – isn’t it?
3. Piazza del Popolo
Piazza del Popolo is one of my favorite places in Rome – possibly because it leads to my deeply loved Villa Borghese. You can reach it by walking down any of the so-called Trident of streets: Via del Babuino, Via del Corso and Via di Ripetta.
Initially one of the entrances to the city – Porta Flaminia- was located there. Over time, it changed a few names, Fontana del Trullo was relocated to another place (now it can be found at piazza Nicosia), and the Egyptian obelisk of Ramesses II was moved from Circus Maximus to Piazza Popolo instead in the 16th century.
Two visually twinning churches – Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria di Montesanto – frame it from the sides. The third church is called Santa Maria Del Popolo (the Emperor Nero was told to be buried in this place) – possibly, the name of the square comes from it. The modern look of the Piazza del Popolo dates back to the 19th century when it was redesigned by Giuseppe Valadier.
4. Piazza di Spagna
One of the most touristic, noisy, uncomfortable and … majestic places in Rome? Piazza di Spagna with the gorgeous Church of the Santissima Trinità dei Monti on the top of it is indeed an unforgettable sight! Spanish steps going down from the Church to square are crowded even at night, and notorious vendors of red roses try to push the flowers in everyone’s arms round the clock and yet you keep coming back to it every time you visit.
The fountain on the square is called Fontana della Barcaccia, or Fountain of the Old Boat, and this is a masterpiece of Pietro and Gian Lorenzo Bernini (father and son respectively) opened in 1629. Its reflects the devastating flood of the late 16th century when the boats were the only transport for moving along Rome.
Interesting: Piazza di Spagna has a strong British presence: in 1821 famous poet John Keats died of tuberculosis in a house located near the Spanish steps (26 Piazza di Spagna) aged only 25 years. Now this place is a Keats-Shelley House Museum dedicated to British Romanticism and poets who praised the Eternal City in their works.
Another historic spot in the vicinity is The Antico Caffè Greco on Via dei Condotti which opened its doors in 1760.
Lots of fancy shops like Dior, Valentino, Gucci etc are located in this area – so if you’re interested in shopping, it might be your destination alongside with Corso Vittorio Emanuele II.
5. Fontana di Trevi
Majestic Baroque Fontana di Trevi emerging from the facade of Palazzo Poli is an oda to water and aquatic forces represented by huge statues of Oceanus, Abundance (Agrippa) and Health (Virgo) of its side, tritons and seahorses. Its name originally comes from ‘Tre Vie’ – three roads leading to it: Via De’ Crocicchi, Via Poli, and Via Delle Muratte.
Water is supplied from the Aqua Virgo, one of the eleven aqueducts of ancient Rome which also delivers water to the fountains of Piazza del Popolo (see above) and of Piazza Navona (below). While the fountain itself was completed in 1762, the history behind it makes this location one of the oldest water supplies in Rome. The main architect of Fontana di Trevi was Nicola Salvi but Bernini has contributed to it too.
The best known fountain of Rome received another wave its glory after the 1960’s movie of Frederico Fellini – Dolce Vita with an iconic scene with Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni.
Since then, it became a place of pilgrimage to all the cinema lovers slowly engaging more and more people – up to the point when bloggers wake up at 5am to get a clear crowdless shot of this Baroque masterpiece.
Many tourists throw coins in Fontana di Trevi in hope to strengthen their chances to return – this is believed to partly have roots in Three Coins in the Fountain movie released in 1954. It is said that about 1.5 million euros was extracted from the fountain in 2016, and this budget used to go to the Catholic charity Caritas but the latest news is that it now goes to Rome City Council for cultural heritage and welfare project support.
The Local.IT// Christophe Simon/AFP
Interesting: Fontana di Trevi was involved into civil protests a few times: for instance, Graziano Cecchini, an artist and activist, poured a generous splash of red dye into it twice protesting against the budget put into the Rome film festival and against corruption in Italy.
6. Piazza Navona
Possibly, the quitest of all touristic squares, Piazza Navona is one of my favorite spots in Rome. Located on the top of the 1st century Stadium of Domitian where athletes competed with each other, now Piazza Navona still carries the trace of it as its name comes from Greek ‘in Agones’ meaning the location of the athletic competition.
Now the main attractions of this place are the Baroque church of Sant’Agnese in Agone and three amazing fountains. Fountain of the Moor (Fontana del Moro), Fountain of Neptune, both originally designed by Giacomo della Porta, are located by the sides. Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) in center represents Nile, Ganges, Danube and Rio della Plata and is realized in accordance with Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s plan.
Food lovers would appreciate it too – look for the Tartufo nero, famous black truffle ice cream, in Tre Scalini, it’s iconic and is believed to be the best in Rome!
Pantheon was originally a temple to ‘all the gods’. Original Pantheon was erected around 25-27 BC, and the current version dates back to the Emperor Hadrian’s rule and somewhere around 120 AD. Can you think of many buildings so well preserved?
If you travel around the world, you’ve probably already seen the echoes of Pantheon in Rome incarnated in other buildings. It comes with no surprise because it’s an outstanding building with a unique dome – still the largest unsupported brick one ever built – marked by a 9 metre diameter Oculus at the centre. While inside, don’t miss the Raphael’s grave!
Pantheon marks the spot where, according to a legend Romulus, one of twins nursed by a she-wolf and a founder of Rome, died and ascended to the ancient gods.
8. Il Vittoriano
Although many Italians mock Altar of the Fatherland, or Il Vittoriano, and call it ‘typewriter’ and ‘wedding cake’ at their nicest, I like it a lot! It commemorates Vittorio Emanuele II who died in 1878, the first king of unified Italy since the fall of Roman Empire. An equestrian statue of ‘Father of the Nation’ is hard to miss there.
This monument is located between Piazza Venezia and famous Capitoline Hill. It is also a home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Museo Centrale del Risorgimento, or the Museum of Italian Unification. Piazza Venezia is also the main square of the city and the Christmas tree is located here during the festive winter period.
9. Forum Romano
The Forum located between Palatine and Capitoline hills is a must see when you’re in Rome for the first (second, third…) time even if you’re not really a history geek. Although now it’s in ruins, it’s very easy to walk though it and to imagine how this centre of the social, cultural and religious life of ancient Rome looked like in its prime – centuries ago.
The main street Via Sacra, several arches (of Titus, of Septimius Severus), a few basilicas, multiple temples (of Saturn, of Vesta, of Antoninus and Faustina, of Maxentius and Constantine, Venus, etc), the Curia Julia where Senate met to make the decisions, the Altar of Cesar – it was literally the heart of ancient Rome. Don’t worry, you won’t get lost among the remains of the lost Roman splendor – just embrace the density of artefacts at this area.
Don’t miss Trajan’s Forum (Foro di Traiano) nearby and especially its famous 38 metres high Trajan’s Column depicting the victorious war over Dacia in the early 2nd century.
Well, I’m sure you were thinking: why is she not talking about Colosseum, the most famous amphitheatre in the world and a symbol of Rome? I do now – it is a crown of our itinerary!
Its historic name is Flavius amphitheatre, and it was opened in 80 AD in a splendid and bloody event involved killing animals, human fights and a naval (!) battle as the arena was filled with water for this purpose. The Statue of Emperor Nero located nearby was nicknamed Colossus of Nero due to its scale – and the title is believed to have stuck to amphitheatre.
I would suggest you to pop in, to observe the arena and surrounding marvellous arches from inside and to imagine how it would be like to watch a gladiators’ fight centuries ago with their Ave Cesare morituri te salutant!
Don’t miss the victory Arch of Constantine (Arco di Costantino) built in 315 AD nearby!
Our stay at Rome Cavalieri
We were kindly hosted by a five star Rome Cavalieri Hotel, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, and had the luxury of observing many of the main Rome attractions from the balcony of our room upon waking up and going to sleep. I’m sure you’ve already spotted Il Vittoriano (aka Macchina da scrivere) monument but if you look hard enough, you’ll notice the Colosseum in this panorama too.
No wonder why it’s considered one of the most prestigious hotels in Rome today: our room was a gentle mix of retro and luxury, and I extremely enjoyed the products of Salvatore Ferragamo, one of the most iconic Italian brands.
Other signature features of the hotel are 3-Michelin star rooftop restaurant La Pergola, L’Uliveto restaurant where the breakfasts are served and, of course, its pools and Grand spa! It also surrounds you with a luxury of staying in Mediterranean oasis surrounded by grass and trees. Believe me, nothing is better than spending a few hours near a pool after having spent a day in splendid but boiling hot stones of the Eternal City. In addition, an access to the Imperial Club Lounge would upgrade your stay a little further.
The part I liked the most is Rome Cavalieri’s impressive art collection spread along the whole hotel. It includes statues, paintings, furniture dating from the 16th to the 20th century, – I admired, in particular, pieces of Rudolf Nureyev’s costume!
The easiest way to get to the city centre from Monte Mario where Rome Cavalieri resides is by taxi (as we did) or by a transfer provided by the hotel.
Hope you enjoyed my today’s blog