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When in Rome … Explore!

The old city of Rome is a museum unto itself – a vibrant, friendly, ancient museum. Being many centuries old with cobblestone streets, piazza’s, cathedrals, fountains, ancient buildings, it delivers an endless list of “what to see while in Rome” options. And the benefit of the Roman era existing a few millennia ago – everything was designed close enough to be walkable. So when we were in Rome, we did as the Romans did and walked everywhere.

what to see in Rome highlightsOur suggestion? Park yourself in a hotel in the middle of the old city (like the Hotel Parlamento with its wisteria-wrapped rooftop patio) and walk everywhere. A few blocks away is the Pantheon, a few blocks further are the Spanish Steps – everything is a few blocks. The GoGirlfriend team clocked over 60,000 excited steps as we toured Rome over 3 days – our philosophy was walk more, eat and drink more!

Top 10 “what to do’s” in Rome’s walking distance

Getting around Rome

Viator offers many city toursWhile we advocate walking the streets to ferret out those great “wow” moments as you round a corner, Rome has many taxis to get you from point A to B, numerous Hop-on, Hop-off bus tours to introduce you to the cities sights as an overview, and a great network of trains and subways for outside the area adventures.

GoGirlfriend Tip [GG Tip] – Considering the city’s traffic congestion and “crazy” drivers, we traveled by train from the airport and cruise terminals and the high speed train between cities instead of renting a car. Lots of timing options and clean, comfortable trains. Just watch your platform gate for last minute departure changes!

Pantheon

Rome's Pantheon is impressive ...We began our exploration of Rome with a simple paper map from the hotel, 5 locations circled in a meandering circular walking route – our first stop was the Pantheon. Narrow, cobblestone streets opened up to reveal the impressive, grand structure of the two thousand year old Pantheon. It’s imposing rectangular entry lets you pass into the rotunda that remains the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. With its impressive marble floors and open circular oculus (hole in the roof), now housing the church dedicated to St. Mary and the Martyrs, it’s a well-preserved, beautiful insight into the architectural creativity of the Roman Empire.

GG Tip – Outside the Pantheon is the Piazza della Rotunda with food vendors and patio seating. Take your morning coffee with breakfast at a table front and center steps from the Pantheon – a bucket list item of ours accomplished! And ask what the inscription translates to.

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona's fountains and sculpturesOne of the many – but grandest of the piazza’s in old Rome – this was the original site of the early first century stadium, complete with chariot racing track (now cobblestoned for usage, but still evident). A grand, main central fountain and Egyptian obelisk features striking sculptures in the theme Fountain of the 4 Rivers. Standing guard at each end of the piazza are fountain sculptures, one of the 4 tritons and the other of Pasquino. The middle of the piazza houses art and vendors while the perimeter hosts many, many restaurants and outdoor patios.

GG Tip – Because this is the grandest and one of the most beautiful piazza’s, be cautious of the pricing at the restaurants. We had just arrived in Rome hours earlier and were hungry and dehydrated. Two café Americano’s, a cheese plate and croissants ran us a bill of $52 Euros … but we had lunch on a street patio on the Piazza Navona !!!

Trevi Fountain

While reputed as the largest and grandest Baroque era fountain in the world, it’s currently under restoration (until early 2016). Still a very popular destination, made famous by Fellini’s movie La Dolce Vita, and by the legends that claim throwing a coin into the fountain with your right hand over your left shoulder will guarantee a return to Rome one day. The restoration team has made a section available for you to fulfill your coin-throwing contribution to the legend. While walking around the fountain, many shops and boutiques surround the area if you want to pick up some Italian fashion.

Spanish Steps

a chance to relax on the spanish stepsDeep in the heart of the shopping district (within the centuries old buildings) rich with designer boutiques, restaurants and Italian fashion are the famed Spanish Steps. One hundred thirty five (135) steps join the lower Piazza di Spagna and the upper Piazza Trinita dei Monti and upwards towards the grounds of the Villa Medici. This was our gelato stop, relax and just enjoy the energy of the area for a few moments.

GG Tip – With thousands of people visiting the area and sitting on the famed steps, this is a great photo opportunity to take a “Where’s Waldo” type of photo to post and Facebook and have your friends try to find you!

Vatican City

Papal Audience at St. Peters Square, VaticanWhile this is within easy walking distance of the city core, it’s an entire day’s experience. The beautiful Vatican experience must include St. Peter’s Square (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel (and maybe the Vatican gardens) and behind the scenes opportunities to see deeper into the Vatican, its catacombs and hidden treasures. Truly an amazing area to visit, this is a complete day’s experience.

GG Tip – By checking the Vatican pages for the dates and times of the Papal Audience, schedule your visit when Pope Francis is holding an outdoor audience and have an artifact blessed as he closes out his audience with a blessing.

Churches, Cathedrals and Basilica’s

If the grandeur of the centuries can be captured through its importance in the architecture and design of its churches, Rome has endless opportunities to see gilded sculptures, intricate paintings and other intriguing artistry throughout the city. On your walking adventure, churches of white marble, of black marble and of varying denominations cross your path and are free for the visiting.

GG Tip – Tuck a wrap or sweater in your bag to cover knees and shoulders when entering holy spaces. Some churches are stricter than others in enforcing this, but in respect to the religious traditions, if you’re looking to visit churches along the way, prepare to cover up.

Colosseum

the Colosseum is a must-visit in Rome ...Also known as the Flavian Amphitheater, this architectural wonder is one of the largest amphitheaters ever built. Rumored to be able to hold up to 80,000 spectators, it was the location of gladiator combat, public displays of mock battles and exotic animal shows, as well as executions via lion for slaves and traitors. Although the structure has collapsed on one section from earthquakes, the underground network of tunnels and cages that housed the animals and scene changes are viewable from the stand above – and some tours will allow you to walk through them as well. Amazing to see the architectural wonder created two millennia ago and feel the power and energy of the arena.

GG Tip – Combine the Colosseum and the Forum (directly beside it), pre-book a Skip the Line tour with Viator to guiltily pass the hundreds in long lines while receiving an amazing history detail of the structures, the culture and the importance of the sights you see.

Roman Forum and Palatine Hill

the power of the Roman ForumThe economic and government center of Rome, the Forum houses the remains of important structures once thought necessary to keep Rome bustling and enlarging. Temples, courts and offices surrounded the main square nestled below Palatine Hill (home of Emperor Augustus) during the height of the Roman era. Built in partnership with the Colosseum, this area became the center of the Roman empire for its government and entertainment arenas.

Day trips from Rome

Italy has a wealth of history and many stories to tell. With Rome as a base of operations and combining with the strength of the train network, your ability to tour anywhere in Italy is simple. A short walk takes you to the train station and whether via High Speed Train or standard train, day trips are easy to Venice, Florence, Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast and many, many stops in between.

What was your favorite “When In Rome” stop on your last visit to Rome. We’d love to have you weigh in to the conversation. Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter or drop a comment below. We’d love your input …

Viator

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