For as long as I can remember if anyone asked me what my dream destination was, I would say “Italy!” I imagined creating the perfect Italy itinerary, seeing Ancient Rome, especially the Colosseum, walking down the Appian Way, drinking lots of wine and eating delicious pasta. In my imagination, everyone talked passionately while gesturing with their hands, and lovers kissed in the middle of grand piazzas. What I found in Rome wasn’t far from what I had imagined, and there were so many awesome things to do in Rome. I discovered this wonderful collision of ancient and modern. A place where two worlds seemed to meld seamlessly together to create this interesting fusion that not only works but is perfectly normal. The Rome I found was full of life and passion just like I imagined. A city that engulfs you in history while the modern world continues around it. I found Rome!
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When to Visit
The best time to visit Rome is also the busiest time to visit Rome. The weather is nice April-June and September-October. Of course with the best weather comes the most people and the highest prices! But don’t fret, there are several ways to travel to Rome on a budget. To save some money and some sanity, consider traveling in the off-season. Just note that if you are visiting Rome during the off-season, be sure and check with the attractions you want to see as some might not be open.
Planning Your Time
Surrounded by endless entertainment and amazing sights, you need to plan your time in Rome carefully. It’s easy to get swept up in thinking that you have to see and do everything, but don’t! Make a list of priorities, build in time to have a nice dinner or an afternoon nap, besides, you are on vacation. Think of it this way, “I’m going to toss my coin into the Trevi Fountain and return to Rome, so I don’t have to cram in everything this time.” When planning your trip, be sure to keep track of when attractions are open and when they are the busiest. For example, don’t go to the Vatican on Sunday, they are closed. Don’t day trip to Ostia Antica on Monday, it’s always really crowded. By doing some research and planning out your must-see items, you will save yourself a lot of grief and valuable vacation time. For more tips, read our tips post, 21 Things to Know Before Visiting Rome.
To get acquainted with a new city, Marty always loves to book a hop-on, hop-off tour. This allows us to see the major sights and get our bearings about the layout of the city. To familiarize yourself with Rome, book your Big Bus Tour. After a day on the hop-on, hop-off, we found the most efficient way to get around Rome was either to walk or take the subway. Passes can be purchased for public transportation in increments of one day, three days, a week, or a month. Purchasing a pass is the most economical way to move about Rome. You can buy one at the Metro station or at the tobacco shops. Once you have purchased your pass, don’t forget to validate it. You validate your ticket by sticking it into the Metro turn style or in the machine when boarding the bus. Just watch the people around you and imitate what they do! It will return your ticket with the expiration time printed on it. For more information, visit www.atac.roma.it.
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Touring Ancient Rome: The Colosseum, The Forum, and Palatine Hill
You will need to schedule one full day to see these three ancient sights. Consider buying a guidebook like this one from Rick Steves and allow him to walk you through the history of this area, or book one of the guided tours notated below.
The Colosseum-Getting Colosseum Tickets
The Colosseum, the icon of Rome. I’ll never forget our first glimpse of the Colosseum. After making our way out of the Metro tunnels, we stepped out into the bright sunlight of a beautiful Italian day. Usually, I would be distracted by all of the hustle and bustle going on around me, but not this time. My eyes were locked on this amazing structure standing right across the street from me, the Colosseum! It was one of those surreal moments where you just pause and take a breath to be sure you are still alive. Marty and I probably looked so odd just standing there staring up at this amazing structure. We were frozen in place, well until some guy almost ran over me with his bike. I am assuming he was in awe of this historic building as well.
Skip the Line at the Colosseum
Now friends, take it from us, don’t wait in those long lines outside of the Colosseum. Instead, choose one of the following:
- Go to the entrance of Palatine Hill or the Forum to buy your ticket. The ticket to the Colosseum is a combo ticket that allows you entry into both Palatine Hill and the Colosseum and the lines at Palatine are much shorter. Besides, you really need to visit Palatine Hill and the Forum anyway.
- Buy online at www.coopculture.it.
- Buy a Roma Pass at the tobacco shop in the Metro station.
- Pay for a guided tour.
Head into the Colosseum
Now with a ticket in hand, skip the long line and look for the entrance marked ticket holders or Roma Pass. We smiled nicely at all of the people standing in line thinking, man if they only knew! LOL! Prepare to be amazed! I could imagine thousands of people passing through these corridors to their seats, ready to cheer on their favorite gladiator. The engineering of this masterpiece is still a marvel today. It is said that 50,000 fans could enter and exit the Colosseum in about 15 minutes! Simply incredible!
Marty and I made our way into the stands and looked down into the arena. Now, keep in mind when viewing the arena that you are actually looking at the tunnels that used to run under the floor of the Colosseum. You can take actually go into the tunnels with this private tour. Again, I could just imagine all of the commotions that took place in these passages during a show. I could just picture the gladiators strolling around and warming up while the animals were in their pens being prepared for their appearance. Take your time while touring the Colosseum, look at all the details, including looking through the windows to the area surrounding the Colosseum. This is when I found the perfect example of modern meeting history.
Recommended Colosseum Tours:
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After getting your fill of the Colosseum, head over to Palatine Hill. In order to fully appreciate Palatine Hill, you need to understand some of the history associated with it, and you have to be ready to use your imagination a little. Marty and I found Palatine Hill to be a nice respite from the crowds of the Colosseum, and besides, it’s included in your ticket price so you might as well go.
History of Palatine Hill
Located above the Forum, Palatine Hill is one of the oldest parts of the city and is said to have been inhabited since 1000 B.C. According to legend, there were two brothers, Romulus and Remus, who were raised by a she-wolf in a cave on Palatine Hill. The brothers grew up and decided to start a city by the river, but when they disagreed, Romulus killed Remus and then founded the city of Rome. Thus home Rome got its name. During the Republic, Palatine Hill was regarded as one of the most prestigious neighborhoods in Rome. Palatine Hill was valued for good reason. Palatine allowed the residents to escape the noise and dirt while still being in the center of the city. The remains of these luxury villas, including that of Rome’s first Emporer, Augustus, can still be seen today. Also remaining on Palatine Hill are the houses of Augustus’ wife, Livia, and the homes of several other Roman Emporers and a stadium.
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Exploring Palatine Hill
You are free to walk around at your leisure on Palatine Hill. While visiting you will see the remains of hundreds of buildings that once towered over the city of Rome. While the entire area is impressive, there are a few remains that you should pay careful attention to.
- Domus Flavia: This amazing palace was built in 81 B.C. under the command of Emperor Domitian as a public residence. It was later expanded by Septimius Severus.
- Stadium of Domitian: Part of the Imperial Palace, there is some debate over what this was actually used for. Built in the style of a hippodrome, some say that it held races, others say it was the Emporer’s private garden. Regardless of the use, it is still impressive construction.
- House of Livia: Built in the 1st century B.C., this modest structure was home to the Emporer Augustus’ wife. If the house is open, be sure to go inside and see the mosaics and frescoes painted on the walls and ceiling. If the house is not open, you can still peek in the windows.
- House of Augustus: The private residence of Emperor Octavian Augustus, the house was built on two levels and still has some of the paintings and frescoes intact as well.
- Circus Maximus: Head south of the Palace ruins on the hill overlooking the grassy area. This grassy area was once the great Circus Maximus where the chariot races were once held. For a true realization of the magnitude of Palatine Hill, stand down in the area around the Circus Maximus and look up.
- Palatine Museum: The more modern building that you see on top of the hills in the Palatine Museum. This small museum houses some of the artifacts that archaeologists found while excavating the ruins.
- Farnese Gardens: Over the ruins of the Palace of Tiberius, the Farnese Gardens was designed in the middle of the 16th century and is said to be the first botanical garden in Rome.
- The Views: While visiting Palatine Hill, take note of all of the incredible views of Rome. The Colosseum, the Circus Maximus and of course the Forum.
Roman Forum Tickets
The Roman Forum was the hub of activity during Caesar’s time, housing political, religious, and commercial entities. Still today it is one of the greatest tributes to the splendor of ancient Roman society. Unfortunately, after the fall of the Empire, the Roman Forum was pillaged and then later forgotten. It wasn’t until the 20th century that archaeologists began excavating and uncovering this amazing area, and excavations are still going on today.
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Places of Interest at the Forum
- Arch of Titus: Erected to commemorate the Romans conquering Judea (Israel), notice all of the beautiful reliefs inside of the arch that celebrates the leader, Titus. Try to imagine the arch during the time it was built. It, like most Roman ruins, would have been ornately decorated with colored marble and bronze.
- Via Sacra: The main road leading into the Forum has significant historical value. If a Roman had killed 5,000 enemies and conquered a new territory, he would ride in dressed in full armor and make his way through the arches and the Forum to celebrate his victory. It was a surreal moment to walk down the 2,000-year-old street that Julius Caesar walked on!
- Arch of Septimius Severus: Arch erected to celebrate Septimius Severus’ reign as Emporer. Notice the center, Mars, the god of war!
- Basilica of Constantine: The three huge arches on the hill are what is left of the Basilica of Constantine, the Roman hall of justice. Even though it was mostly destroyed, you can still tell by its size that it was one of the most powerful buildings in Rome.
- Temple of Vesta: The circular hut with the columns surrounding it is the Temple of Vesta. This was said to be a sacred spot for Romans as they believed that as long as the sacred flame burned inside, then Rome would stand. To ensure that the flame burned, priestesses tended the fire 24/7.
- Temple of Castor and Pollux: Notice the three tall columns down the hill. These are what is left of the Temple of Castor and Pollux, one of the city’s oldest temples, built in the 5th century B.C. This ancient temple was so important that the Senate would often meet here.
- Temple of Julius Caesar: You won’t want to leave the Forum without seeing the Temple of Julius Caesar. Look for the metal-roofed structure and crowds of people and head in that direction. It was here on March 15, in 44 B.C., that the famous Emporer was cremated after being stabbed to death. Today little remains of the once imposing structure.
- The Curia (Senate House): Once the site of Rome’s official government and the heart of the Roman Empire, this building was started by Caesar and later finished by his successor, Augustus. During its time, it held more than 300 Senators. As you enter, notice the incredible sight of the ceiling. Also, take note of the precious stone on the floor of the building. It was here that Rome’s decisions affecting the whole Empire took place.
- Temple of Divus Romulus: This Roman structure is a great example of a well-preserved monument. I loved that the bronze door was original still on its original hinges. The temple’s preservation is contributed to the fact that it was turned into a church that still functions today!
Temple of Antoninus and Faustina
The Imperial Forums
Across from the Via Dei Fori Imperiali, is another fascinating forum built as Rome outgrew the Roman Forum that was added onto by many Roman rulers. Most of what you see today can be contributed to Trajan, starting with the huge column erected in his honor. You will recognize it by the bronze statue of Trajan at the top. Fun fact, the column is actually hollow and there is a staircase inside that leads up to the balcony! In this area, you will also find Trajan’s Market, statues of Roman Emporers, and the remains of a medieval tower. Take the time to explore this area as well while you’re in the area.
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