5 Fabulous days in Rome – by Ishwari Thopte
(Tips on getting around the long queues and planning your itinerary)
I was back in the historic city after exactly 7 years 7 months, and yet it felt the same. The same smell of strong coffee, the familiar historic sites around every corner, the mouth water gelato displays and random examples of architectural beauties strewn across the city’s piazzas. It was as if I’d never left!
This time, I was meeting up with some friends from across the world. Catch up with my high school bff visiting all the way from San Francisco! This was her first time in Europe so it called for the best food and drink experience along with some sightseeing highlights. As the designated travel enthusiast of the group, I was in charge of planning everything – from accommodation to planning activities and breakfast, lunch and dinner for every day of the week. Here are some top tips on planning your itinerary and jumping those long queues:
- Book your accommodation well in advance. Rome is one of the most popular holiday destinations throughout the year so places get booked up quick. We travelled during 1st week of March which is a relatively quiet time (compared to my first trip in July which was absolutely packed!) so found a lovely little Airbnb flat near Piazza Navona. Best areas to stay in Rome in order to discover it on foot: Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo, around Via Del Corso or Piazza di Monte Citorio.
- Don’t get tricked into buying a 3-day or weekly travel pass for the metro. Central Rome is quite small, and the best way to take in all the sights is on foot. Buy a carnet of 10 one way tickets and those should be enough for the one off bus or metro journeys you might take during your week long stay.
- No one escapes the traditional sightseeing spots, no matter how hard you try or pretend not to be interested, you will be dragged along. So the best way to see them is by planning your visit a little ahead of time and jumping queues in style.
The holy trinity – The longest queues I encountered the first time I visited Rome were at the Colosseum and St. Peter’s Basilica. Determined not to make the same mistake twice, this time I consulted with some of my local friends on tips for jumping the queues. The easiest one was Colosseum – 1 ticket, gives you entry to 3 attractions – The Roman forum, Palentine Hill and the Colosseum for 2 days! People are so excited to see the Colosseum, they often forget that there are ticket windows at the other two attractions as well! It took us 2 mins to buy our tickets at the Roman Forum entrance (no queue), 1 hour to cover the ruins, another 3 mins to walk to the Colosseum and then we literally walked past a 1.5 km long queue like VIPs to get into the colosseum through a special entrance for those that already hold a ticket.
- Another way is to book your ticket online, especially if you like guided tours and want to experience the view from the third floor gallery (opened very recently) and walk through the underground cages where the gladiators waited for their turns. This lovely tour organised by the archaeological and maintenance team at the Colosseum is quite cheap and well worth your time: COLOSSEUM, UNDERGROUND AND THIRD RING
Before heading to the Colosseum or the Roman Forum, a view from Piazza Venezia and Altar of the Fatherland (Altare della Patria) is a must.
For St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican museums, buy the ‘skip the line’ ticket for the Vatican museums online and choose the time you want to enter. For an art buff, you need atleast 2-3 hrs in the Vatican museums. For others who just want to walk through, 1 hr is enough. Enter the Sistine chapel by going down the stairs at the end of the ‘Hall of Maps’. The Chapel is always crowded but you will need atleast 15-20 minutes to take the beauty of the ceiling in. Try to listen into one of the English guides and then follow a random group heading towards St Peter’s Basilica. Guides have a special exit from the Sistine chapel that gives them quick and free entry into the Basilica without having to queue for hours.
- Apart from the usual attractions, here are some walks & strolls I recommend to make the most of your holiday:
Free walking tour of Rome: http://www.newromefreetour.com/
They cover the coolest attractions that have free entry or can be seen from outside. Best to do this on your first evening in Rome so you get well oriented with the city centre.
Walk 1: Walk from Piazza Navona to the north bank, along the river to Piazza del Popolo and then up to Villa Borghese for amazing views of the Vatican and the river as well as stroll through lovely gardens. Then walk down Via del Corso for some shopping time.
Walk 2: From Piazza Navona to Piazza Venezzia, up to the Altar of the Fatherland, down to the Roman Forum and then back up the Palentine Hill to get beautiful views of Rome.
Walk 3: From Santa Sabina to Piazza Cavalieri di Malta for a panaromic view of Rome through a keyhole. End at Cimitero Acattolico di Roma (the only Non-Catholic cemetery in Rome) and walk amongst legends like Keats, Shelley & Gramasci.
Walk 4: Commence a pub/bar crawl from the Jewish ghetto (north of Tiber river) into Trastevere through all the coolest pubs and bars and end it at Big Mama’s on a sat night for some amazing live Jazz.
Walk 5: Take bus 118 from Colosseum to Appia Antica- Travicella and then walk all the way down the dreamy Appian Way – one of the earliest and strategically most important Roman roads of the ancient republic. It is home to Catacombs of San Sebastian and San Calisto which are also worth a visit if you want to cool off on a hot summer day.
Hope these few tips and walk suggestions come in handy, when you visit Rome the next time around. I can’t wait for another Roman trip, yet again.
Don’t forget to read my another post on “Best places to eat, in Rome”