If great food, good weather, stunning architecture and amazing history are your things, then look no further…
Rome has always appealed to me, in fact, i’m shocked it’s taken me this long to take the plunge and book a trip. That’s why it made perfect sense making it the destination of my next European city break. After plotting out some tourist attractions on a map I realised there wasn’t really a bad location to be staying. As long as you’re near a metro stop or within one of the main districts it’s pretty easy to get around. I ended up staying near the Spanish Steps in a small boutique hotel called Suite Sistina, it looked a bit different to the standard mainstream hotels which is always a nice touch, especially if you’re trying to experience the local culture as best you can. The area itself is mainly high end shops and some restaurants, this made for a nice atmosphere in the evening; the main attractions in Rome are pretty spread out and this was a great base for the action packed days ahead. The top of the Spanish Steps is also a great place to watch the sunset.
Public transport is great in Rome, right from the moment when you arrive at Rome Fiumicino airport you can easily make your way to the adjoining train station to jump on the Leonardo Express, a direct train from the airport to Termini which is the main station in Rome; from memory this cost about 14 Euros each way, per person. Rome has a very simple but effective underground system as well, only two lines (A and B), both stopping at Termini so you shouldn’t have an issue getting to your hotel. The ticket machines are pretty intuitive and if that isn’t enough you can always switch them to English, then you’ve got no excuses! I love to walk around and explore when I’m travelling and the weather was great most of the time so I chose to walk but the underground was great when wanting to get out to some of the more remote attractions, or when short on time.
The first thing that struck me about Rome is the architecture, the city is absolutely beautiful, although I shouldn’t have been surprised given the city has a couple thousand years of history and has been home to some of the most famous painters and sculptors to ever live. Everything felt so warm, from the wooden shutters to the terracotta tiling.
In terms of my camera gear, I travelled pretty light and only took two lenses in my Manfrotto sling bag. I had my 20mm f/1.8 and my 50mm f/1.4 which is the same combo I took to Paris recently, I also had a spare battery in the bag but didn’t need to call upon it. When it’s not in the bag, my camera is strapped to my wrist using a BlackRapid strap which I absolutely love and after using this consistently for nearly a year I don’t see any reason why I’d move back to the traditional shoulder / neck strap.
You can get a great feel for Rome just by wandering around and dipping in and out some of the churches and various backstreets. A couple of my favourite churches were Sant’Ignazio di Loyola with it’s beautifully painted ceiling and Santa Maria Sopra Minerva with it’s unique gothic architecture and stained glass. Both are very central and easily accessible,
Most of the churches will be free to enter, just make sure you observe the rules and etiquette at all times. One of the best free places to wander into is the Pantheon, a temple dedicated to the worship of all gods, it’s also regarded as being one of the best preserved Roman buildings, it’s famous for the domed concrete roof which has an opening at the top, providing one of the only sources of natural light into the temple. You’ll only need about half an hour to wander around inside and grab some photos, the square outside (Piazza della Rotonda) has plenty of cafes and shops to stop off in, a personal favourite of mine is the nearby Venchi Cioccolato which serves up amazing ice cream and other treats.
The first major attraction I visited was the Colosseum which as I’m sure you’re already aware is an oval shaped amphitheatre built around 2000 years ago, when you stand outside you can truly appreciate that it’s one of the greatest architectural achievements in the world. A venue with capacity for as many as 80,000 people, it played host to a number of events and ceremonies as well as gladiator battles, executions and even naval re-enactments! If you’re travelling on a budget you can just spend time outside the Colosseum and get a really good feel for it without having to pay to go inside. Entry will set you back about 15 euros and with that you’ll be able to wander around and see a number of exhibits, there are different tickets available if you want audio or guided tours or even access to some of the other ‘off limit’ areas, I found the standard ticket was more than enough, the weather wasn’t great but that didn’t stop me grabbing some decent photos.
The Vatican Museums were another major attraction I was really looking forward to visiting although to be honest, they left me a little disappointed. I’m not massively into my art so perhaps that’s why a lot of it was lost on me. It was super busy and whilst it was great to get into the Sistine Chapel to see some of the influential work by Michelangelo, there wasn’t much else on offer, other than the very impressive Modern Bramante Staircase which can be seen at the end of the museums.
After visiting the Vatican Museums I made the short walk round to St Peters Square which sits in front of the Basilica and is framed by rows and rows of huge columns, the central area is open and spacious, designed so that thousands of people are able to witness the Pope giving his blessings, the centre piece being an Egyptian Obelisk which has been in place for hundreds of years. The Basilica itself is very impressive and if you’re feeling energetic you can climb the steps and access the roof, from here you get amazing views out across the square and for miles past that, this was one of my favourite parts of the trip, i love climbing stairs to the top of historical buildings and this brought back memories of similar exploits across Europe.
One of the last places i visited was the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, this is the main cathedral in Rome and is huge, it’s a little further afield than the rest of the attractions so it might be worth jumping on the underground and getting off at San Giovanni, which is only a couple minutes walk. It’s worth noting that it’s not too far from the Colosseum though, so if you’re already in the area it isn’t much further to walk. The first thing i was drawn to here was the construction and the imposing columns and gates outside, the statues on the roof are huge as well. I spent a good hour inside looking at all of the details and architecture, there are also some tombs below the building which you can walk through.
I had an amazing time in Rome and would definitely recommend visiting if you have a chance, I’d happily go back for the food alone…