Rome is a city where you are surrounded by stories of the past and I love it! The thought that I could be standing on a spot where Julius Caesar made history, for example, blows my mind. It is impossible to see all the main attractions over a weekend in Rome, but I think that you will be able to see most of these which are my favourites.
Sights to see on your weekend in Rome
1. The Colosseum
This is an iconic sight and you cannot miss visiting it. It was opened in 80 AD and seated more than 50 000 people. Around 5 000 animals were killed at the opening, which I find horrific, but I guess that times were different then.
The ticket office queues are always incredibly long so purchase tickets in advance online or make your way to the Palatine entrance (Via San Gregorio) that is not usually as busy.
2. The Vatican Museum & the Sistine Chapel
The Vatican is the world’s smallest nation and covers around 50 hectares. The museum is spectacular, not only for the works of art but for the architecture as well. There is so much to see that it is overwhelming and I recommend doing a guided tour to get the most out of your visit. I was lucky enough to have an art restorer as my guide and I came away with a fascinating insight into many of the works of art. It made a huge difference to the enjoyment of my visit.
The queues to the ticket office are often very long and it is advisable to book in advance. I have struggled to buy tickets online previously, so book as far in advance as possible to avoid being disappointed.
3. St Peter’s Basilica
Your approach to the Basilica is through the magnificent Piazza San Pietro. The curve of the colonnade represents arms embracing you as you make your way to the church.
As you walk through the square, keep your eyes open for a circular black and white marker inscribed with the words Centro del Colonnato. There is a marker on each side of the square, either between the obelisk and the columns, or the fountain and the columns. Place your feet on the marker and you will see that the columns all line up perfectly so that you only see the first row. The second row is completely hidden. This is known as Bernini’s Illusion.
Entrance to the Basilica is free, but you will have to wait for ages if you arrive later in the day. The Basilica opens every day from 7:00 a.m. and the best way to beat the crowds is to be there early. Remember to dress appropriately with your knees and shoulders covered or else you will not be permitted entry.
Once you are inside the Basilica look to the right for a sign saying “Cupola”. This directs you to the ticket office and a lift which goes up to the dome. To get to the top you can either climb the 551 steps or take a lift and then climb 320 steps for 360-degree views of Rome.
4. The Pantheon
The first Pantheon was built in 27 BC. It was replaced in 118-125 AD by Hadrian’s rotunda. Although it was originally a pagan temple in 609 AD it was turned into a church. It is still a church today and you can attend mass there on Sundays.
Much of the building remains unchanged. There is an altar now, but otherwise, you are in a space that is much like the ancient Romans experienced.
The dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. It is quite dark inside, but the oculus (the hole in the roof) provides light. It also serves another purpose to act as a tensioner around the ring and provides structural support for the dome. I never cease to be amazed at these ancient feats of engineering.
Look out for the tomb of Raphael, who died aged 37, in a plain sarcophagus on the right-hand side. There are a couple of other artists and 2 kings buried here as well.
5. The Trevi Fountain
No weekend in Rome would be complete without a visit to the iconic Trevi Fountain. It dates from 1732 and is crafted onto the back of a palazzo. This masterpiece is the work of the architect Nicola Salvi. Not only is it the largest Baroque fountain in the city, but it is also one of the most famous fountains in the world. It is built of travertine, which is the same material that was used in the building of the Colosseum.
Much of its fame has to do with Hollywood movies. The most popular tradition says that if you face away from the fountain and toss a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder, you will return to Rome one day. I always do this, just for fun, and so far it has worked for me! There are a number of other traditions as well all involving love and marriage. If you would like to read more about these then this is the place for it.
Approximately € 3000 are collected at the end of each day from the fountain and given to charity. Don’t be tempted to drink the water, even though the source is one of the purest in Rome the coins in the water make it undrinkable.
The Trevi is always open and because the water comes from an aqueduct it is never switched off unless it is undergoing repairs.
6. The Spanish Steps and Piazza di Spagna
The Spanish steps were built in 1723-1726 from a design by Francesco de Sanctis and were financed by a French diplomat. Their correct name, in Italian, is Scalinata Della Trinità dei Monti and is named after the church at the top of the stairs.
The hourglass square at the bottom gets its name from the nearby Spanish Embassy.
The 135 steps lead to a whimsical fountain at the bottom created by Bernini. There is very low water pressure at the bottom of the steps so they came up with the design of a leaking boat to solve the problem. That’s why there are none of the usual jets normally associated with fountains.
7. Santa Maria del Popolo
Legend has it that Nero’s ghost, in the form of demon crows, lived in a cursed tree and terrorised the area. Pope Paschal II convinced the locals, in 1099, that a church paid for by the people (Il Popolo) and built on the site of the tree would solve the problem.
The most important change occurred in the 16th century with the renovation of the presbytery and the choir. Bernini made additional changes in the 17th century.This spectacular church has magnificent Renaissance works and Baroque influences.
There are works by Raphael, Caravaggio and Bernini. Look out for Raphael’s Chigi Chapel, which was completed by Bernini nearly 100 years later. The skeleton design in the floor features in Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons.
8. The Roman Forum
The Roman Forum was the heart of the Roman Empire for hundreds of years. It was a collection of temples, monuments, meeting places and markets where most of the commercial undertakings took place. It had its origins around 3000 years ago but started playing a more central role in the 6th century BC. When Augustus was ruler the forum was elevated to a different level. It is said that Augustus turned the city from brick to marble during his reign.
In the Middle Ages, it was called Campo Vaccino (cow field). Much of the marble was stolen over the years. Excavation began in the 18th century.
It is a fascinating area to wander through and watch the archaeologists still uncovering the mysteries of the past.
9. Piazza Navona
This elegant square is a tribute to the glory of Rome. It was built over the 1st century Stadio di Domiziano which was used for racing and paved over in the 15th century. For almost 300 years it was home to the city’s main market.
Pope Innocent X commissioned the refurbishment of the square which was mostly owned by his family. The church was rebuilt and one of the most over the top fountains was created by Bernini called the Fountain of the Four Rivers. It features an Egyptian obelisk and represents the personification of the rivers Nile, Danube, Ganges and Plate.
The Fountain of the Moor (Fontana del Moro) is at the other end of the square. Bernini added the Moor holding a dolphin in the mid 17th century. At the far end of the square is the Fountain of Neptune which shows Neptune, who is surrounded by sea nymphs, fighting with a sea monster
The square is a paradise for pedestrians and is the perfect place to take part in the Italian tradition of passeggiata. To find out a bit more about it here’s the link to a previous post of mine.
This is not so much a single sight, but rather an area and one of my favourite parts of Rome, which is why I have included it. It has a Bohemian feel to it and has still retained its medieval charm. It is packed with restaurants and nightlife, but it is as pretty as a picture in the daytime as well.
Don’t miss Piazza di Santa Maria, in the heart of the district where you will find one of Rome’s oldest churches. The first construction on the sight was in 221 AD. It has become known for the famous 13th-century mosaics.
Take time to “get lost” in the beautiful cobbled streets and ivy and bougainvillaea covered buildings. You have to stop along the way to enjoy la dolce vita with a glass of prosecco, or aperitivo and soak up the atmosphere. It is also a great place for foodies with a huge range of trattorias, wine bars, microbreweries and pizzerias to choose from.
When it comes to the top 10 Rome attractions there are going to be a variety of opinions. These are my top 10 and are a totally subjective choice. If you have a leisurely weekend in Rome then you probably won’t be able to see all of them, but you then have an excuse to come back again. I can’t wait to go back again to delve a little deeper into the Eternal City and uncover more of its secrets.
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