Rome! It’s not hard to see why Italy’s capital is known as ‘The Eternal City’. There really is history and ancient ruins around every corner of this charismatic city. There is so much to see and do in Rome that it really deserves that old saying “Roma, non basta una vita” – Rome, a lifetime is not enough.
It would take a long time to see, experience (and taste!) everything Rome has to offer, after all, Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither can it be fully explored in a day! But a weekend is a good start.
Here’s how you can recreate my perfect weekend in Rome:
Start getting to know Rome with a free walking tour
Let’s say you arrive on Friday afternoon, get your bearings and start to get a feel for this city with a free walking tour that leaves from the lovely Piazza di Spagna (The Spanish Steps) everyday at 17:30 (reservations are required though) . The tour takes you wandering through some of the treasures of this historical and pretty area of Rome including the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain (although the Trevi Fountain is currently undergoing renovation)
Stroll down by the Tiber River
When in Rome you just have to grab a gelato and in the summer months it is especially nice to stroll down along the banks of the River Tiber.
Stretching from Trastevere to Testaccio the river banks are lined with tents and stalls, restaurants, bars, fairground stalls, cinema performances and loads more events known as the ‘Lungo il Tevere’. This is a perfect, and affordable, way to spend a Summer evening in Rome and join ‘la passeggiata‘ with the Romans.
Visiting the Vatican
The next morning take your coffee like the Romans do – by downing a rich espresso in a crowded bar. Then, visit the world’s smallest country, that houses one of the world’s finest and largest art collections as well as the headquarters of the Catholic Church – The Vatican!
Don’t hang around though, go as early as you can, as the queues stretch down the street and the museum gets unbearably crowded by late morning. I’m glad we skipped the queues and were one of the first groups to get into the museum with our Sistine Chapel Express Tour with City Wonders.
As well as the queue jump, our guide explained the history, meanings and significance behind Michelangelo’s fabulous, world famous frescoes in the Sistine Chapel really well. There is just so much to see in the Vatican museums that we ended up spending several more hours in the museum. Our guide also showed us where to take the shortcut from the Sistine chapel straight to St Peter’s Basilica so we avoided the queues for that too. See more of my Tips for visiting the Vatican.
Get some relief from the crowds and enjoy a rustic lunch at Sorpasso, it’s a nice local place, not too far from the Vatican with delicious platters of flavorsome Italian ham, hearty mains and great local wines and is usually busy with Romans having lunch.
Rome is super touristy, but don’t get too caught up rushing around ‘ticking off the sights’ that you forget to take your time to just wander, lose the crowds, explore the real Rome or just relax in the gorgeous piazzas and soak up the atmosphere of this timeless and charismatic city.
Wander by the Castel Sant’Angelo, built as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian but has also been used as a Papal refuge and has a secret tunnel to the Vatican. Now, there is a museum and cafe which is a nice place to take in the gorgeous views over the bridges, rivers and historic buildings
Rome really is a beautiful city and you won’t notice any modern buildings to spoil the timeless character in the historic center of Rome, apart from one – the Vittorio Emmanuel II Building. This imposing modern building is a little controversial, inside are some museums and exhibitions, but the best part is taking the elevator up to the roof where you have some of the best views and photos of Rome’s skyline.
Later, meander through the lovely cobbled streets and medieval houses of the neighborhood of Trastevere where historic houses mingle with a lively café and bar scene that’s not yet totally overrun with tourists to spoil the authentic atmosphere. Try the popular Osteria Zi Umberto or the authentic Checco er Carettiere serves great rustic Italian classics.
Explore by Vespa!
Sunday mornings are generally quieter on the roads so this is a great time to explore Rome in an awesome new way – on a Vespa Tour! Escape the crowds and explore off the beaten track as you whizz around Rome you will see far more than you ever could just walking. If you are worried about getting lost and you want to actually get an insight into what you’re looking at, I would advise taking a tour with LivItaly. Check out where we went on our vespa tour here.
After the Vespa tour chill out and enjoy lunch in one of Rome’s lovely Piazzas before visiting the most iconic building in Rome – the Colosseum!
Delve into the Colosseum and Ancient Rome
Save the best till last! You can’t visit Rome without visiting the Colosseum, the iconic image of Rome. The Colosseum was built in 80AD, originally it was known as the Flavian Amphitheater and is the most impressive building of the Roman Empire.
It’s so huge it could accommodate 55,000 spectators and is probably best known for bloody tales of gladiators and slaves being fed to the lions, but there is so much more to learn and discover about the ingenious Roman Empire and the important role that this Colosseum played.
Entrance costs €12 which includes admission to the Palentine Hill and Roman Forum too. For me these were the highlights of ancient Rome and it’s definitely worth taking the time to visit them all.
Not surprisingly the Colosseum is very busy and it can take a little of bit of imagination to really appreciate just how amazing this fascinating building is.
To make the most of our visit, get that Gladiator moment, and to really understand the history, the stories and the significance of this amazing monument, we took the Colosseum and Ancient Rome tour with LivItaly. This was the highlight of our trip as our guide Rachel was very knowledgeable and really brought this amazing place to life. We were also able to skip the line and had exclusive access to both underground areas and the top levels which gave us some really great views and photos; it almost felt like a private tour as they limit group sizes to only 6 people. Check out my full review of visiting the Colosseum here.
After the Colosseum make sure to visit the Palantine Hill where the Roman Emperors lived and get an amazing view over Circus Maximus to one side and the Roman Forum, Colosseum and the rest of Rome to the other. Wind your way through the ruins that lie scattered and perch precariously in through the Roman Forum as you realise just how old, and amazing, Rome really is.
By the evening we were pretty exhausted so we just relaxed in our Flipkey apartment, saved some money by cooking up our own pasta and enjoyed watching the world go by with a glass of wine from our balcony. If you want something quick to eat there are loads of places in Rome where you can grab a slice of pizza on the go.
If you are flying out from Fiumicinco Airport take the train out towards the airport and allow some time to explore the ruins at Ostia Antica. While the more famous ruins at Pompeii show how the rich lived and died, Ostia Antica contains the ruins of an important 100,000 year old port city. The best part is that these ruins are usually mercifully less busy than the other historical sites in the centre of Rome.
Most people also don’t realise how close to the coast Rome is, if you have time you could even carry onto the Lido (beach) and chill out a bit there, reflect on a wonderful weekend in Rome and your plans to return.
Where to Stay in Rome
Rome is not a cheap destination by any means but it’s still possible to enjoy on a budget. Many hostels and budget accommodation options are clustered around Rome’s main train station – Roma Termini.
Or, to escape the tourist crowds and see a different side of Rome, rent an apartment. We loved our Flipkey apartment near the Vatican. I liked having heaps of space and all the comforts of home and the chance to stay in a more authentic Roman neighbourhood. It was also so close to the Vatican that we could see the walls from the balcony!
On a budget? Find out how to enjoy Rome for less in my Backpacker’s Guide to Rome
Have you been to Rome? Do you have any more tips for the perfect weekend in Rome?
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