Rome is a city packed so full of amazing history and sights that even with 9 full days to visit we came nowhere near seeing everything on my list. We would just have to pick our “must-see” places and everything else would be a bonus.
We loved this! Although you can arrange private tours and you probably should for a high season visit we took a chance and bought our tickets and booked our tour upon arrival. The tour guides do an amazing job. I can’t explain it, but there is something so moving about being in this place you’ve heard so much about and where so much history took place. It was a very sophisticated structure for its time and it is incredibly well-preserved. You can really imagine what it once was!
The Forum was a disappointment to me. Maybe it had something to do with being there alone with two hungry boys who wanted to be anywhere else but the Forum? I just couldn’t concentrate. Simon and I tried to take the audio tour which you do at your own pace, but the ground is very rough and uneven and it was hard to know where to look when consulting the corresponding map. It’s actually quite a large area to cover up and down some hills and requires a lot of walking. It’s on the way to the Colosseum, so if you have limited time and are with small children a quick look over the rail and down into where it used to be might suffice.
A lovely square with a long history and the beautiful Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi fountain. This is a lovely place to people watch and to grab a bite to eat or a coffee. We visited the Christmas market one evening and had such a lovely time.
No trip to Rome would be complete without a trip to the Vatican and it was especially lovely decorated for the holiday season. While you can arrange guided tours of St. Peter’s we chose to wander at our leisure. Incredibly beautiful and immense inside and out it is hard to really prepare yourself for just how big it truly is. It seems to go on forever, and you’ve only walked halfway down the knave. There is an underground crypt which can be explored, but young children aren’t allowed so we were unable to see it on this trip. Did you know the Vatican is a country? Yep! It has its own postoffice. We sent postcards to our catholic friends back home with Vatican City’s special stamp and postmark.
The Sistine Chapel
No matter the time of year the Sistine Chapel will be packed and the line will be long. Simon and I arrived by taxi at 8:30 am and found the line for those without a pre-booked tour was already three hours long. I highly suggest making guided tour arrangements prior to your arrival. You’ll skip the line! If you do decide to take your chances and just show up, like we did, you will find that there are MANY tour companies out on the sidewalks awaiting your arrival and hoping to draw you in. Knowing which ones are legitimate and if you’re choosing the right one can be difficult especially if you don’t speak Italian. We ended up on a perfectly fine tour, but it was in both English and Spanish which made it quite a bit longer. This wasn’t ideal for a 10-year-old. In hindsight I would have booked this tour in advance and only in english.
On the tour we visited many interior halls and outdoor courtyards of the Vatican Museum before arriving at the Chapel itself. The halls leading to the Sistine Chapel are equal in beauty to the Chapel itself and there is so much to see in the Vatican Museum that one could spend days and not see everything. The tour ended in St. Peters and we didn’t pass up a chance to take another look around!
Everyone goes to the Spanish Steps and if you’re planning a trip to Rome I am sure you will too! Keep in mind It is a very touristy area and you should beware of pickpockets. The view from the top is quite lovely and they are located right near a lot of really good shopping! During the holiday season many of the shopping streets nearby were lined with red carpets and had “crystal chandeliers” hanging the length of them! Very impressive!
The Trevi Fountain is one of the most famous fountains in Europe. It’s been in many movies over the years and is definitely worth taking a look at! It’s huge! We went at dusk and it was beautifully lit. There is a legend that if you throw a coin over your shoulder into the fountain it will ensure a return to Rome. I read that the coins are collected and used to subsidize a supermarket for those less fortunate. Nice!
The Pantheon is amazing! Built in 126 ad it’s absolutely incredible looking inside and out! It’s funny, but for some reason we ended up walking by this place 8 out of 9 nights in Rome. I guess all roads in Rome lead to the Pantheon! The area around it is great with a lot of nice places to eat and fun side streets to wander and shop. There is no need for tickets you can just walk right in. How incredibly fascinating that all of this amazing history is just sitting there unprotected right in the middle of modern-day life! Oh, and there is a good taxi stand around the back side.
If you’re not too squeamish The Capuchin Crypt is quite a fascinating place! Located beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini on the Via Veneto are the skeletal remains of 3700 bodies. But it’s not just the large amount of skeletons that make this place interesting, it’s how they are displayed. The bones are nailed to the walls in various patterns like art and some are even made into light fixtures hanging from the ceiling!
The Rome Zoo
Bioparco di Roma, is a lovely zoo located on the opposite side of the Villa Borghese Gardens. We wandered through the gardens and then around the zoo on Christmas Eve. It was a nice break, especially for the little guy and as far as zoos go, it was a pretty nice one! I’ve visited many…
And the list goes on…
Other sights we found time to see which I highly recommend are: The Basilica de Santa Maria Maggiore, The Jewish Ghetto, the Great Synagogue of Rome, The Jewish Museum, Palatine Hill, and The Arch of Constantine. There were many other places we wanted to see, but we just ran out of time…Good thing we threw that coin into the Trevi Fountain!!
Where to Eat
While there are many restaurants in a Rome, finding places to eat that aren’t too touristy can be difficult. Our family joke is that we can’t sit down for dinner until we’ve wandered the streets lost and starving for at least two hours. I suppose by that time everything tastes good! Anyway, here are a few places we discovered that are worth checking out.
Renato e Luisa was recommended to us by a Roman friend of Tim’s! We don’t speak Italian and they didn’t speak any english, but we were able to ask them to choose our entrees for us and were not disappointed, in fact it was the best meal we had the entire trip.
Gioliti Ice Cream – Located near the pantheon this place is famous for a reason! It’s very good! Elliot LOVED the chocolate and I’m pretty sure we hit this place everyday! You can either have table service or get a cone to go.
Life Pizza – We ate here twice we liked it so much. They take reservations and have a large wine selection!
Ristorante Maccheroni – Don’t show up without a reservation! This place was packed! The staff was very friendly, the food was great and they loved kids! Near the Pantheon!
La Bottega Del Cioccolato – There are many beautiful chocolate shops, but I really liked this one.
We stayed at the Westin Excelsior on the Via Vittorio Veneto which is a great location. I couldn’t believe how big our room was and even with an extra roll-a-way bed for the boys there was room to spare! The hotel had a pool which was nice and because it was Christmas time everything was decorated beautifully.