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ROME 101: Everything you need to know for your first time

When visiting Rome for the first time it can be a little daunting; how could you possibly make a decision on what to see and what to skip in a city that is almost literally completely made out of ancient landmarks and special sites? Apart from the Colosseum you have no idea how to organise your itinerary. Do not worry my dear friend, I am here to help! A few weeks ago me and my sister visited Rome, it was her first time and my second. I tried to create an itinerary in which we could see as many of the ‘must-sees’ of the city of marble as possible in four days. I succeeded quite fabulously, if I may say so myself. Let me share my list of sites to visit and some recommendations along the way to avoid queues, get discount and more. I ordered the sites in groups, these are based on location and are therefore also suggestions for your day to day itinerary.

1. The Colosseum, Forum Romanum and Palatine Hill & Monument Victor Emannuel II

What to see in Rome on your first visit

What to see in Rome on your first visit Colosseum

Let’s start with the most famous one, the Colosseum: the massive amphitheatre that has become the symbol of Rome. Luckily enough, it is situated right next to two other stunning landmarks: the Roman Forum (its Latin name is Forum Romanum) and Palatine Hill. The Roman Forum is a massive landmark made up of ruins of important ancient governmental and religious buildings. Some may consider it a massive heap of stones (which it kind of is, haha) but nonetheless it is a breathtaking place. It is not hard to imagine how the ancient Romans must have strolled on the forum! The Palatine Hill The Palatine is the hill on which, according to the legend, Romulus built the city. It offers great views over the rest of the centre. Lastly, just around the corner we’ve got the Monument Victor Emannuel II, which is quite a pompous and grotesque building, but definitely worth a quick visit.

Tips:

  • Queues can be ridiculously long for the Colosseum; you don’t want to wait hours and hours in the often burning sun. By default, you buy a combination ticket for these three locations. My recommendation is therefore to start at the least popular location, the Palatine. There won’t be a massive queue here, and you’ll immediately have your ticket for the other two sites.
  • What’s more, if you’re a European citizen between 18-25 you’ll get a massive discount. Don’t forget your ID card and if you have one, your student card.

 

2. The Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Piazza Navona

What to see in Rome on your first visit Trevi fountain

What to see in Rome on your first visit Pantheon

The Pantheon literally means: all (pan) the gods (theon) in Greek, because it was erected in honour of all the Roman gods. It is circular and has a massive hole in the ceiling. After the decline of the Roman empire it served as a Catholic church. A must on your to-see list! It is located near Piazza Navona, a lovely square with many (overpriced) restaurants and live painters, and the amazing Trevi Fountain which you will have probably also heard about already. Toss a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder into the fountain, and legend has it you will return to Rome again!

Tips:

  • If you feel like seeing a lot of landmarks in the city centre within two hours, join a free city tour. Trip Advisor recommends New Rome Free Tour as the best one that is offered.
  • Fell in love with the Trevi fountain? Make sure to see it in the evening too, when it is getting dark. The illumination makes it look even more majestic.
  • Disappointed by the massive crowd in the Pantheon? Plan your visit about an hour to half an hour before it closes. It will be a lot quieter.

 

3. St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican

What to see in Rome on your first visit St Peter's Basilica

What to see in Rome on your first visit Vatican Museum

What to see in Rome on your first visit St Peter's Basilica

For most people, the St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums are the highlight of their trip. There is, in my humble opinion, no Catholic Church greater, mightier, and more beautiful than the St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. As soon as you’ll enter the church, you’ll have no idea where to look first – literally every square centimetre of this massive cathedral has been decorated in luxurious marble, imposing statues and delicate paintings. The Vatican Museums are another story of supernatural beauty and impressive architecture; don’t worry about it too much, you won’t have time to see everything in it. Make sure to visit the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo and see the School of Athens, two very important things to see. Enjoy the rest of the amazing collection at the museums!

Tips:

  • As soon as you’ve booked your trip to Rome, book your tickets to visit the Vatican online! This will allow you to skip the queue (a small extra fee of 2 euros is required). Trust me, it is worth it.
  • Queues for the Basilica can be absolutely massive. There is no way to avoid these, other than arriving very early right before it opens, or very late (about one to one and a half hour before it closes).
  • Definitely climb up the basilica too! It is worth the 500 steps (it sounds a lot more than it eventually feels like) because it offers without a doubt the best view over Rome.

 

4. Spanish steps and Castle Sant’Angelo

What to see in Rome on your first visit Castle Sant'Angelo

The Spanish steps are a monumental stairway, owing their name to the Spanish Embassy that was located there when it was built. It has appeared in quite a few Hollywood films, and is still a beloved place for anyone that desires a rest from all the walking in the city. Beware, it is not allowed to eat or drink on the steps! Nearby we have the Castle Sant’Angelo, a mausoleum-turned-into-a-fortress, which has had secret passageways to the Vatican for a long time. The castle doesn’t showcase a lot of interior, however the structure itself and the views over the river make it a worthwhile visit.

Other tips:

  • Some people buy a Roma pass; for about 35 euros you can visit three sites (in two days) and get around Rome for free. I do not recommend this unless you are sure you’ll be using public transport a lot and/or you don’t want to buy individual tickets. I found the list of sites quite limited, and because Rome is such a walkable city, me and my sister only took the metro twice (1.50 per journey).
  • It is not custom to tip (a lot). Often, a service charge is already included in the price. Tip however you like, but you definitely don’t have to go crazy.
  • At a lot of sites, short shorts and tank tops are not allowed! Make sure you’ve got a cardigan, thin jumper or shawl with you to cover up any inappropriate bits.

What to see in Rome on your first visit

What to see in Rome on your first visit Vatican

What to see in Rome on your first visit Sistine Chapel

We managed to squeeze in two more sites, but I am saving these for a second blog post about Rome 🙂

Have fun in the city of marble!

Hi! My name is Roos (pronounced as "Rose"), and I am a creative dreamer, passionate traveller and a bit of a geek. Travelling is the thing I love to do most, but apart from exploring the world I also enjoy obsessing over films and tv shows, books, and history. Escapism is real! My goal in life is to see as much of the world as possible, through culture, nature and adventure.

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