Traveling to Rome can be a little overwhelming, especially for the first timer, as we were during our trip in late May/early June 2017. Affordable hotels are very sparse, and the ones that are affordable are a little less desirable in my honest opinion, which leaves you with reserving a private apartment – which are plentiful in Rome, however for a family used to staying primarily in hotels, I didn’t have the first clue about reserving a private apartment. This was also the first city we were traveling to internationally where we decided to rely on public transportation instead of driving ourselves around (which we highly prefer). Normally this wouldn’t stress me out that much, however using public transportation in a foreign city with 3 kids tagged along changes that factor a tad. Then was the concern about how to plan it – that is, how to squeeze as much as possible into 2 days? I mean, Rome has A LOT to see – The Colosseum, The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, The Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, The Pantheon, plenty of piazzas, and don’t forget about Vatican City! Reading websites on this very topic, most sites recommended planning to spend 3 to 4 days in Rome. I wanted to do it all in 1½! Why? Because this was just one stop in a gargantuan 18 day European adventure I was planning, so I needed to be as frugal as I could with the timing of everything. So, the challenge was there before me. Now to figure out how to do it.
Where to Stay in Rome
I started by looking for a place to stay which would serve as our home base for the stay in Rome. No use in planning walking routes and looking at transportation maps until I knew where we had to start each day. I looked on various websites with apartment rentals including AirBnB which seemed to be the most talked about on social media and amongst friends who travel, however I found the best deals on VBRO.com which also has a very useful app called HomeAway. (I used this site/app for multiple stays during our entire 18 day trip and it had consistently better choices than AirBnB.) After looking through several places, I stumbled across a very charming looking 2 bedroom apartment that slept up to 7, close to Vatican City for only €108 a night. This price included all taxes, fees, and the cleaning charge which is imposed by most all apartments you can rent for this purpose. The only charge not included was the tourist tax (a.k.a. stay tax) which is imposed by the city of Rome and must be paid on arrival (€3.50 per person per day. Children under 10 are free.).
Mapping out the Itinerary
The next step was to map out how we would get around the city and what we could realistically do in one evening, and one day. I started with researching how long seeing some of the larger sites would take – The Colosseum, and Vatican City. I discovered that the Colosseum could be seen in only a couple of hours, however Vatican City required much more time, depending on what you wanted to see and do. For those less knowledgeable about what Vatican City has to offer, and would like to learn about all the choices available, I plan to write another article dedicated to this list of options, but for the time being I’ll quickly state that the most popular attractions are the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Vatican Museums are a series of Christian and art museums which contain an immense amount of Renaissance period artwork. Included in the museums is the famous Sistine Chapel with its well-known ceiling which was painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512. St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest church building in the world and the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture. Because we didn’t feel like dragging our children through tight crowds staring at about 20,000 various works of art and having to tiptoe through the Sistine Chapel as I read is a “silence required” attraction, we decided to skip the museums on this visit. While I’d like to see the exhibits, and take in the splendor of the Sistine Chapel’s incredible ceiling with my own eyes, we will save that for another visit – one without the kids. We did however plan to see St. Peter’s Basilica, and hoped to do this during our first evening in Rome. I hoped at this time of day, much of the crowds would have died down, and the line for admission wouldn’t be as long. (I was correct – the line at this time of day was incredibly short!)
The 1 full day we planned to spend in Rome would be spent seeing everything else we could manage.
The plan was to knock out the Colosseum first – in the morning, as this was the attraction everyone wanted to see the most, and then spend the rest of the day seeing as much as we could. In order to utilize our time to its greatest efficiency and avoid wasting time, I decided to plan out all of our directions in advance – including public transportation routes and walking routes.
Using Google Maps, I was able to easily route the quickest bus routes from our apartment to the Colosseum. I printed the routes options (which were based on time of departure) and chose the best one the morning we headed out. An example of these maps is shown above. I then planned out our day following the Colosseum by locating all of Rome’s major attractions we wanted to see using Google Maps, and put together a personalized walking map linking all of these locations (shown below). These included The Spanish Steps and Piazza di Spagna, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and Piazza Navona. Using Rome’s transportation maps, I found the fastest route to the start of this walking trek would be to use Rome’s metro (subway) which had stations at the Colosseum and Piazza di Spagna (shown to the left). Would we have enough time to pull this off in 1 day? Only time would tell.
The Plan in Action
We landed in Leonardo da Vinci International Airport located in Fiumicino, Italy on a Wednesday morning after an overnight direct flight from Dallas-Fort Worth (10 hours). After picking up our rental vehicle, we drove about 30 minutes into Rome to our apartment’s location. We parked in a local parking garage where we would leave the car for a couple days. The reason we chose to rent a car prior to our stay in Rome was due to price. It was actually cheaper (and more convenient) to rent the car at the airport and keep it for 2 extra days then rent the car in the city of Rome 2 days later. We met up with the owner of the apartment who showed us the apartment and explained all the rules regarding trash sorting (Europeans sort EVERYTHING), and how to work the Wi-Fi, air-conditioning, etc. The apartment was very nice (pictures shown above in Part I), and the owner was exceptional. She really made sure we had absolutely everything we needed for a comfortable stay, and addressed issues immediately. For example, the apartment’s Wi-Fi wasn’t working and kept going in and out. After immediately calling the company for us and having it fixed (but only temporarily), she then let us borrow her personal Wi-Fi cube so we’d have working internet during our stay. She was also intent on making sure we had cookies and snacks every day. We would definitely stay here again.
After taking a short nap, which we needed to recover from the jet-lag, we put the first part of the plan in action and headed to the bus to take us to Vatican City. As I said earlier, the timing couldn’t have worked out better. We entered Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter’s Square) and headed for the line to enter St. Peter’s Basilica. The line (which I had read can wrap around the entire square) was incredibly short at this time of day. We got on line and were through the security checkpoint and into the Basilica in less than 20 minutes! As expected, the Basilica itself was incredibly beautiful, and huge. Elaborate details could be found almost anywhere you looked – from the ceiling to the floor. We walked through the entire Basilica entering about every chamber. After maybe 30 minutes or so, we left the Basilica and walked around a bit outside and around the Vatican walls.
While Vatican City is inside Rome, it’s strange to think that it’s actually an independent country by itself – the smallest in the world, and the entire country can be traversed in under an hour of walking! After enjoying our walk, we re-entered Italy and headed back towards the apartment deciding to have dinner in – being still tired from the jet-lag. Quite humorously, our first dinner in Italy was actually Chinese food, which was the closest restaurant to the apartment. While I can’t speak for all of Italy regarding Chinese food (or “Cinese” food – the way the Italian’s spell it) – this place was lacking in quality and flavor. The owner of our apartment said this place was excellent, but clearly she never tasted American Chinese food!
The next morning we woke up refreshed and ready for the day’s challenge. When we were all set to go, I looked at my printed bus routes and decided based on the time of day which one would be the best and we set off. Everything went according to plan except for getting screamed at by an Italian bus driver for wanting to actually pay for my ride. This made for a very interesting and comical story which can be found here in its entirety.
We arrived at the Colosseum and got on the line to claim our tickets which we had pre-ordered online. For those planning to visit the Colosseum with children, let me save you a great deal of aggravation in briefly explaining how to purchase tickets in advance (recommended), and how to claim these tickets. Believe me, this will save you a lot of time and frustration.
Colosseum tickets can be purchased in person, or online here. This website is organized very poorly and is extremely confusing, and unclear especially when it comes to purchasing tickets for children – regarding how to purchase these tickets and how to obtain them – very little information is given. I had to discover how it works by reading forums on other websites from visitors complaining of the same thing. Here I save you this trouble in a few short sentences.
For Colosseum tickets: Children under 18 years old are free, however require a ticket for admission. This free ticket cannot be reserved online nor added to the shopping cart when purchasing the adult tickets, but must picked up at the Colosseum box office once in Rome. How does this work? This is how: For example, if you’re a family with 2 adults and children all under age 18 like us, then follow these instructions: Using the website in above paragraph, add 2 “full entrance” tickets to your shopping cart. Upon checking out, you will have an option to print the tickets at home or pickup at the ticket office. Chose pickup at the ticket office. This part is very important and required in order to collect the free children tickets (The website completely fails to mention this). Check-out and pay for your tickets using this option. You will then receive a very poorly worded e-mail (mostly in Italian) that makes little mention that this is your official voucher for your Colosseum tickets. It appears to be just a purchase receipt. It is not – it is your official voucher you will need to pick up your tickets! Print this out and take it with you! Once you arrive in Rome at the Colosseum, you will see a line to pickup tickets at the ticket office. Go on this line with your printed e-mail and have your children with you. They may ask to see proof of the children’s ages (I read this), so bring your passports just in case. In our case, they didn’t ask for this and just provided us with the 2 purchased adult tickets and 3 free children tickets. We were then able to enter the line for ticketed entry to the Colosseum. The tickets are also good for the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill across the plaza, so keep your tickets handy if you decide to explore this next, as we did.
The Colosseum was amazing. It was much more chaotic then I expected, but still enjoyable. I expected to be lead in perhaps by a guide who would audibly explain the history of the Colosseum for all to hear while viewing a relatively empty interior. I couldn’t be more mistaken. I guess I was used to the typical Irish castle tour. This was a far different experience. There was no guided tour unless you paid for a private one in which there are dozens – going at the same time! We walked into the interior to see people walking everywhere. Upstairs and downstairs either self-guided or following various tour guides usually holding an umbrella or a stick with a flag on it to indicate the leader of the pack – they were all over the place. It took away from the experience a little, but we still enjoyed it. The upstairs concourse had several ancient artifacts of the Colosseum and the Roman Empire on display which was very cool.
The Roman Forum
After leaving the Colosseum, we walked across the plaza to the Roman Forum to see a little of it before moving on. The Roman Forum is a very large area consisting of the ruins of several important government buildings of the ancient Roman Empire.
After walking around for a little bit, we decided to move on with our planned walking tour. We entered the metro station and went straight for the train we had previously planned to take. Having this all planned in advance proved to save an enormous amount of time.
The Spanish Steps
We got off at the Piazza di Spagna station and walked right into the piazza where the Spanish Steps were. The entire scene was beautiful with tall palms and a beautiful fountain in the center of the piazza where the large stairway started their climb to the Trinità dei Monti church at the top. We started to follow the path I had laid out and stopped for our first authentic Italian meal in route at a small ristorante named Sugo d’oro.
The restaurant made it’s pasta as fresh as you can get it – right before our eyes! The kids enjoyed watching as the lady was preparing fresh fettuccine. I tried the fettuccine bolognese while Charity tried the lasagna. Mine was excellent, while Charity didn’t care for the lasagna as she said it was way too cheesy for her tastes. The boys both got spaghetti and devoured it! After that they asked for spaghetti practically every day for the full 18 days of the trip!
We walked down narrow Roman streets which were just amazing in themselves. I could tell now what people love about Rome. It was such a pleasant walk. Every street consisted of historic colorful buildings which on street level had various shops, quaint little restaurants and of course a gelateria (gelato shop). Before long we arrived at the Trevi Fountain.
The Trevi Fountain is unlike any fountain I’ve ever seen. It’s the city’s largest Baroque fountain and by far the most beautiful in the world. The fountain dates back to ancient Roman times (19 B.C.) when the Aqua Virgo Aqueduct was constructed in order to provide water to the Roman baths and the fountains of central Rome. The fountain was at the end of this aqueduct at the joining of “three streets” (“tre vie” in Italian), and hence how the fountain got its name. The current structure you see before you today wasn’t built until the 18th century when Pope Clemens XI commissioned a contest to redesign the fountain in 1730. Architect Nicola Salvi won the rights to the design and oversaw the construction from 1732 to his death in 1751, however the fountain wasn’t completed and inaugurated until 1762. The overall theme of the fountain is “Taming of the waters”. The central figure is Oceanus who according to Greek and Roman mythology is the divine personification of the sea. Tritons who are pulling Oceanus’ shell chariot are shown below taming hippocamps in the water and stonework. There are a lot more interesting facts about this fountain for those interested. Here are a few that are quite remarkable.
1. The fountain is constructed from the same material as the Colosseum, which is mostly constructed from Travertine stone – a mineral made from calcium carbonate which is formed from spring waters found near Rome.
2. The fountain is 85 feet tall and is almost 65 feet wide and spills out about 21,130,971 gallons (79,989,426 liters) of water every day! That is A LOT of water! To put that in perspective – that’s about 32 Olympic sized swimming pools! – DAILY!!!
3. Local tradition states if you toss a coin in the fountain, it will ensure you a return trip to Rome. The fountain collects about $3,400 daily and is estimated to be holding approximately $1.5 million in loose change currently!
.Getting near the fountain was a challenge in itself as hundreds of tourists were camped around it – many with their selfie-sticks trying to capture the best shot of themselves they could. We managed to fight our way to the fountains edge so I could use my own selfie-stick (my arm) to capture a picture of our family with the historic fountain. I forgot to toss a coin in, I guess that doesn’t ensure I’ll go back. Oh well, I don’t believe in those superstitions anyway.
The Pantheon is the one building in Rome that immediately made me feel like I was actually in ancient Rome – even more so than the Colosseum. It has an immediate “awe factor” to it as it stands out from its surroundings as something that has clearly been there a LONG time. The original Pantheon which was built between during the reign of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD) burned down and was reconstructed between 118 – 128 A.D. The same structure remains today – virtually untouched. Looking as it did then gives it a surreal feeling, and mentally transports you through time. It was really amazing to just look at and imagine yourself staring at it almost 2,000 years ago looking the same way!
The Pantheon originally served as a Roman temple, however since the 7th century has been used as a church. Behind the large rectangular vestibule with the massive Corinthian columns is the rotunda – a large circular building with the world’s largest reinforced concrete dome. Yes, that’s right – the world’s largest – and it was built almost 2,000 years ago and it still holds the record!
At the center of the dome is a central opening to the sky called an “oculus”. One interesting fact is that the height from the floor to the oculus is the exact same as the inner diameter of the rotunda – 142 ft.
We made our way to the very center of the room in hopes to take a unique photo with the oculus between us all, but it came out a little blurry and with a blue hue on my face. Oh well, it was worth the try.
While the Piazza Navona is just one of many piazza’s in Rome, it too has a unique ancient history to it. The piazza was built on the site of the ancient Roman Stadium of Domitian (also known as the Circus Agonalis). The stadium was commissioned around 80 AD by the Emperor Titus Flavius Domitianus and given to the people of Rome as a gift. Ancient Romans would come here to watch athletic games of competition. The modern piazza was built to follow the same shape and form of the open stadium. The images below show an artists representation of how the ancient stadium looked, compared to how the piazza looks today. You can actually see the same shape!
The piazza has 3 Baroque Roman fountains – one at the north end, one at the south end, and one in the center. The center one – the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of Four Rivers) dates to 1651 and is centered by a large Egyptian obelisk.
The piazza is a great place to sit down and relax for a while and has many places to grab a bite to eat. We got some great gelato here that I thought was the best we had on the entire trip – and we had a lot!
To finish off our one full day in Rome, we took our time walking back to Vatican City. We chose to walk this instead of taking a bus because the bus routes from this point weren’t as straight as I would have liked, plus being early evening, it was a nice time of day to walk – even though we had been walking all day already. We passed by some beautiful smaller piazzas and crossed a beautiful bridge (Ponte Sant’Angelo) over the River Tiber walking towards the Castel Sant’Angelo which was also just beautiful to look at.
We crossed our way back through Vatican City and to the same bus stop we has used the prior evening which took us back to our apartment. The entire day went according to plan and couldn’t have gone any better. It definitely helped to have everything mapped out and pre-planned in advance as this proved to save us an enormous amount of time, and allowed us to complete so much in such a short time. There are so many things to do in Rome, especially for families!
If you are planning a trip to Rome and have any questions about things we saw or any questions in general, please feel free to leave a comment and ask me. I read a lot of information regarding many different sights and activities, even ones we haven’t personally seen or done. So while I don’t write about everything, I can usually answer much more, or will try to. Thank you for reading my blog!
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