When in Rome: Advice for a short stay in the City of the Seven Hills
Whether strolling through the ruins of an ancient civilization or simply people watching in a piazza designed by a Renaissance master, Rome's romantic landscape provides the ideal backdrop for a leisurely vacation. But even if your time in the Eternal City is limited to just a few days, you can still devote plenty of attention to Rome’s most beloved and historic attractions with some careful planning and these handy tips.
Explore ancient ruins
No trip to Rome is complete without a visit to the Colosseum and the adjacent Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, ancient Rome’s city center that now features the excavated ruins of government buildings, temples and palaces. While tourists fill the Colosseum year-round, the ancient Roman amphitheater gets its biggest crowds in April, May, June, September, October and December, plus weekends and holidays. Throngs of tourists visit the Forum and Palatine Hill in the afternoon, and all three sites are packed the first Sunday of the month when admission is free. Tickets, which can be purchased online, include admission to all three landmarks and are valid for two consecutive days. Roma Passes are also available for purchase online and provide free access to the three sites and Rome's public transportation system. Wobbly paths and little shade make good walking shoes and water a must for your visit.
Explore the Pantheon, a second-century temple with a 140-foot-tall dome and a nearly 30-foot oculus, or a circular opening in the roof, which serves as the building’s only source of light. The attraction gets particularly busy during the summer, but it’s less crowded right before it opens at 8:30 a.m. or closes at 7:30 p.m., 6 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is free, and guided tours are available every day except Saturday, but you must make reservations in advance by phone, online or in person. Cash payments are required the day of your tour. The Pantheon’s app provides a 30-minute tour available in multiple languages and a map with specific listening points. The best natural lighting for photographs occurs around noon, when the sun shines through the oculus. Beware of slippery floors on rainy days, as water falls straight through the oculus.
Toss a coin in Trevi fountain
Made of travertine and marble and featuring grand depictions of Oceanus, the Titan lord of the sea, the majestic Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in the world. Local legend states that tossing a coin into the fountain means you'll someday return to Rome. As an added bonus, your monetary contribution is collected by city officials each evening and used to fund social programs and help the needy. While you may find yourself tempted to cool off in the fountain's inviting waters, it’s strictly forbidden, and you’ll face a stiff fine for such an infraction. Keep a close eye on your belongings, as pickpockets use the cramped spaces as an opportunity for stealing wallets and personal items.
Visit Castel Sant'Angelo: Tomb, prison, pope's home, museum
Built as a tomb for Emperor Hadrian during the second century, Castel Sant'Angelo has served as a fortress, prison and papal residence over the years. The cylindrical building is now a museum, showcasing everything from military memorabilia to Renaissance paintings. Tickets for admission and guided tours may be purchased online, but be aware that prices sometimes increase due to special exhibits. The museum is free to the public the first Sunday of every month, which draws crowds. Make sure you visit the top floor, where an outdoor terrace offers sweeping panoramas of Rome and Vatican City.
Avoid the Vatican crowds
While the enormous Vatican Museums feature revered works of art, the galleries are often overcrowded, with tourists herded like cattle into popular areas like the Sistine Chapel. Instead, visit the Galleria Borghese, the renowned art gallery that specializes in Renaissance sculptures, mosaics and paintings, including works by Raphael and Titian. Make certain to book your tickets ahead of time online, as reservations typically fill up weeks in advance. Guided tours can also be booked online for an added fee. Visitors are admitted to the museum in small groups and are given an ample two hours to explore the compact space. Tickets are distributed based on two-hour intervals from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., except for Mondays when the museum is closed. The Galleria Borghese is one of the museums eligible for selection on the Roma Pass.
Find a more private public space
The Spanish Steps, an ornate 18th-century stairway that leads to the Trinita dei Monti church, might be one of Rome’s most popular gathering spots, but it’s frequently cramped and surrounded by kitschy souvenir vendors. For a more authentic Italian experience, make your way to the Piazza del Campidoglio atop Capitoline Hill. Designed by Michelangelo, the piazza features the Capitoline Museums (Musei Capitolini), filled with archaeological treasures, and the Palazzo Senatorio, Rome’s city hall. Although the space is crowded during the day, the piazza usually clears out in the evening, particularly after dinner. Make your way to the landing directly behind the Palazzo Senatorio and enjoy panoramic views of the Roman Forum down below and the Colosseum in the background.