Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it is possible to discover a sampling of what the ancient city has to offer in two.
Landing in Rome on a Saturday morning, we set out on a 48 hour caffeine-fueled adventure, determined to visit as many of Rome’s treasures as possible, while also setting aside a bit of time to soak in the history and culture of such a beautiful city.
Travel tip: Taxis in Rome
The taxis in Rome are white, clearly marked and are exceptionally clean. At the airport, fend off the people that ask if you need a taxi – they are private cars offering a private ride at a much higher rate (for example, 95 euro for a private ride compared to the standard taxi fare of 48 euro into the city). Instead, head to the clearly-marked taxi line just outside the terminal.
Grabbing a taxi at the airport, we headed into Rome, dropped our bags at the hotel and set out on foot walking to our first the destination, the Colosseum area.
Rome is a very walkable city. Armed with a map purchased at a kiosk, you can easily navigate the city, with most of the major attractions located about a mile apart. A second economical option for getting around is a hop on/hop off bus. Typically for a flat fee (daily or for multiple days), the bus stops at all the major sights and offers a recorded guided tour in multiple languages heard over disposable earbuds as you wind through the city.
Rome: The Colosseum area
Once home to gladiator battles and, as legend has it, lions dining on Christians, the Colosseum (Il Colosseo) was constructed between 72 A.D. and 80 A.D. with a seating capacity of over 50,000.
Today, it is one of the most visited sites in Rome. Vendors selling souvenirs, sodas and selfie sticks abound and long lines form early for tour tickets. We wondered if the crowds ever left – so we came back in the middle of the night. The answer is no. Granted there were are far fewer people, but apparently the Colosseum attracts some of its annual five million visitors around the clock, even at 2:00 am.
The Arch of Constantine (Arco di Constantino), built in 315 A.D, is located just adjacent to the Colosseum and is the largest Roman arch still standing. Numerous historical sites are also located near the Colosseum including Circus Maximus, Palantine Hill and The National Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, better known as the Vittoriano, which is a located across from the Piazza Venezia.
Ancient ruins provide a glimpse into life in ancient Rome at the Roman Forum (Forum Romanum). The former center of activity in Rome, the Forum is home to remnants of temples, government buildings, and basilicas.
Paninis, pizza, pasta and markets
Rome on a summer weekend is a flurry of activity. The city is filled with tourists and locals alike, all looking to spend time enjoying the culture, shopping, markets and the food.
Campo di Fiori and other markets can be found throughout the city on the weekend offering antiques, art work and a bounty of fruit for a healthy snack.
It’s been said that you can’t get a bad meal in Rome.
Perhaps an exaggeration, but it is easy to find some tasty options ranging from a panini made with high-quality ingredients for lunch to a relaxing evening dinner at a one of the countless sidewalk cafes and restaurants lining the streets of Rome.
Spot the best restaurants away from tourist attractions and head down the side streets, many of which don’t open until 7:30 or 8:00 in the evening, catering to the local’s habit of dining later in the evening.
Take some time to relax
While it’s tempting to rush from one attraction to the next, the laid-back Italian charm of the city beckons frequent stops for a coffee or glass of wine.
Give in to the urge.
Rome is more than a bunch of cool, old buildings.
Most people working at restaurants and hotels in the historic district speak some English and are very friendly and helpful. Take time to start a conversation with them and you can learn more about the area than a guide book will ever tell you.
So yes, even if you only have two days, sacrifice that one other tourist spot to spend some time relaxing, chatting with the locals, and simply enjoying the Italian experience.
It is estimated that over 4 million people visit the Vatican each year, which is home to St. Peters Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Gardens, the Vatican Museum, a population of 800 people and, of course, the Pope.
For those hoping for a Pope sighting, the schedule for events presided over by Pope Francis is listed on the Vatican website.
Which leads us to what prompted us to rise at 4:30 am. The pope was scheduled to go to Turin and leave the Vatican at 6:30am. So we (one us anyway) thought it would be a great idea to go to the Vatican in hopes of a Pope Francis sighting.
The splendid result is that Rome is asleep at 5:00 am. After a two mile stroll through the Prati, we arrived at St Peters Basilica just before sunrise and with no one around. In 15 minutes, the sun began to rise warming the Basilica in its splendor.
A bit after 6:00 am about a dozen photographers began to congregate near the gate to the right of the Basilica. Unfortunately, about 20 minutes later one received word that the Pope would not be leaving. The Italian photographers left and we returned to Piazza San Pietro (St Peter’s Basilica square).
Around 7:00am people began to enter the cathedral. We took our last shots and left.
We would return twice later in the day – once around noon, when thousands were gathered in front of the cathedral and at sunset. Closing out the weekend, we found our way to the bridges over the Tiber for a final view of St Peter’s Basilica and Castel Sant’Angelo.
Where we stayed
For this trip to Rome, we stayed at the Hotel Valadier near the Piazza del Popolo.
The Hotel Valadier is lovely hotel with a friendly, English-speaking staff. We had a small suite with a sitting room. The location is on a quiet street within walking distance to major attractions and in the middle of the major shopping district.
The Hotel Valadier has two street-side restaurants (the mushroom pizza is superb), a ground-level bar and a roof-top restaurant.