We had four days in Rome, and it wasn’t enough. The first day was bizarre, as we hunted endlessly for our Airbnb thanks to an unresponsive host. Even so, we snatched from the poetic city an evening of magic. Watching the baroque figures and the turquoise fountain of Piazza Navona reflected upon the stately Church of Sant’Agnese was mesmerizing to say the least. Day three was a bit of a let-down after the unimaginable splendors that we encountered on day two.
And on our final day in Rome, we decided to visit the Vatican Museums, a treasure trove of artistic marvels that are sure to have been conceived in heaven. All in all, day two was pure perfection. From morning till dusk, every square, monument, and church that we set foot into, amazed us with its eloquent beauty. We also had the ideal end to the day with dinner at a wonderful Indian restaurant. Here’s how you can have a perfect day in Rome, the city of sagacious emperors and fanciful poetry.
In the morning…
In the morning, make a beeline for the Colosseum, one of the wonders of the modern world. Look past the crowds and at the sky, where the ancient brick facade of this erstwhile amphitheater definitely evokes timelessness. It rains often in Rome, and chances are, a puddle on the ground will mirror the jagged contours of the Colosseo. Beware of persistent touts who exhort you to buy a ticket to stand in a winding queue to go inside. Do it if you must, but know that walking around the massive structure is a much more rewarding experience. Imagine the gladiators of yore lancing with their swords as you do so.
Tip: There are two vantage points from which you can get a more holistic view of the Colosseum; one right across from the entrance with a bridge further away, and another at its back, both of which are accessible by stairs.
Turn right from the Colosseum and walk awhile or hop aboard a bus, and prepare to be amazed by the ruins of the Palatine Hill, foremost among which is the Roman Forum. As you walk, you stand side-by-side with centuries-old stones, pillars, and temples, all of whom are spread across vast expanses. The front porch of the Temple of Saturn stands tall among the other ruins of what was once the most important place in Rome. It was at this marketplace that emperors celebrated their victories with raucous processions, trials were held to decide the fortunes of wrongdoers, and gladiators fought for life and fame. Most significantly, it is here that the great Julius Caesar’s remains are to be found.
Tip: There is a fee to enter the Palatine Hill/Roman Forum, but you enjoy a wonderful bird’s eye view of the ruins from many points in the city.
Soon, you will find yourself at the crossroads of two magnificent structures: the domed Chiesa di Santa Maria di Loreto to the right, and the sparkling white Altar of the Fatherland (Il Vittoriano) to the left. Before you ascend the stairs of the Altare della Patria, pause to admire a cascade with a thoughtful Roman statue above it. The monument built in honour of the first king of a unified Italy now houses a defense museum that is free to enter. But more alluring is the view of the Trajan Column from the top of the stairs. The column was erected to commemorate the emperor Trajan’s triumph in the Dacian wars. Later, cross the street to take in the beauty of the majestic structure with a beautiful garden before it.
Tip: Don’t carry a very large bag or any food or water if you’re planning to enter the Altar of the Fatherland. There’s a thorough security check, and you’ll have to leave such items at the desk.
As the sun advances…
Rome is full of artfully designed squares with pastel coloured Neoclassical edifices and beautiful fountains at their midst. Make your way to Piazza del Campidoglio at the top of Capitoline Hill, with a bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius at its center. Beyond, sits the Palazzo Senatorio with a bell tower on top. Beside it is the Palazzo dei Conservatori, where the magistrate used to administer Rome in the 15th century. Michelangelo’s artful strokes can be observed in every facet of this square, at the end of which, a pair of stark naked Roman statues overlook a long flight of stairs.
If the Colosseum was besieged by crowds at the time of your visit, worry not. Rome also hosts a smaller version that is no less magnificent. Called the Theatre of Marcellus, the mini-colosseum will please you with its perfectly preserved stone structure, and surrounding greenery. It was an amphitheatre that hosted music and dance performances, making its history less bloodier than its more famous counterpart.
Fact: While the Colosseum is 188 metres in diameter, the Marcello Theatre measures 111 metres.
Not every tour guide will tell you to visit Circus Maximus but it is the perfect place to be in the early evening. Once a stadium for chariot-racing and other entertainment, it is now a long strip of greenery ensconced between the Aventine and Palatine Hills. As you walk to the ruins at the end, enjoy the breeze ruffling through your hair and the sun swathing the Palatine Hills to the left in a rich bronze glow. Sitting down on the grass and shutting your eyes to imagine yourself living in Ancient Rome wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Tip: Walk whenever you can, and keep your eye out for beautiful little fountains, tempiettos, and statues that aren’t always on the map.
The evening must be spent soaking in unforgettable views of Rome’s rooftops at sunrise but to do that, you must first cross the River Tiber. Quite unlike Europe’s well-known rivers like Seine and Rhine, this one is smaller and wilder, and if you go down to the banks, you might find that you’re the only person there.
In the evening…
We can safely testify that Rome witnesses extraordinarily intense sunsets, as though the sky wanted to bleed to make up for the absence of gladiatorial contests of yore. On your way to Gran Priorato di Roma dell’Ordine di Malta on Aventine Hill (more about that later), you will pass by a couple of sylvan gardens. Walk down to the very end, where you will be able to gaze at breath-taking views of the city from a terrace. Be prepared for superbly energetic wind and the gentle curve of mountains in the distance. With a skyline dominated by church steeples rather than skyscrapers, Rome is a rarity indeed.
Walk ahead to one of Rome’s best-kept secrets: The Aventine Keyhole. You will see a small line of people queued up in front of a nondescript keyhole of the Santa Maria del Priorato. Other than that, the square is a dead end. Line up behind them, for it is worth the wait. From the keyhole, you get a precious view of St. Peter’s Basilica perfectly framed beyond a leafy boulevard. The shadowed path actually leads to the Priory of the Knights of Malta, an ancient association of crusader knights. Take a moment to savour this view of the Vatican City’s precious landmark from what is technically a different country.
The sun is fast descending below the horizon, and your final stop is Tempietto di Bramante on Gianicolo Hill, the highest of Rome’s seven hills. The temple is not that easy to find, enshrined as it is within a courtyard inside a museum. But before you enter, head to the terrace on the opposite side to feast your eyes on the colourful drama unfolding in the Roman sky. You could also enjoy this view from Janiculum Terrace further ahead.
Housed inside San Pietro in Montorio, the Temple of Bramante was built in 1502 to mark the execution site of St. Peter. The circular structure has several pillars and a balustrade, crowned by a dome on top. In the mellow blue light of twilight, it is easy to appreciate this 16th century marvel by an unknown artist. Not too many people visit, and you can have a breather in the quiet open-air courtyard. Further ahead lies the magnificent Fontana dell’Acqua Paola, which bears some resemblance to the Trevi Fountain.
You cannot fight the darkness any more, but you still make your way to Janiculum Terrace to look at this incredible city drenched in the indigo hues of dusk one more time. Yes, Rome has been everything you thought it would be. So why not relive the day’s splendors over a leisurely dinner? We recommend Himalaya Palace at Gianicolense, an unassuming Indian restaurant with heart-warming food, wine, and hospitality.
Tip: Follow this map for your perfect day in Rome
It wouldn’t be fair to say that our third day in Rome was a complete disappointment. Seeing the resting place of Shelley and other poets with thought-provoking verses on death etched on their headstones at the Non-Catholic Cemetery of Rome was an unforgettable experience. But it was a weekend, and crowds dotted the Pantheon and the nearby Trevi Fountain to such an extent that their beauty was slightly lost to us.
However, the evening was magnificent, as we ascended the Spanish Steps and took in a stunning sunset with the deepest hues we’d ever seen at its summit. Later, we circled the city until we reached Piazza del Popolo, enjoying glorious views throughout the way. On this trip, we didn’t manage to see Villa Borghese and St. Peter’s Basilica, for which we really needed another day. Take it from us, you’ll have the trip of a lifetime if you visit Rome from Monday-Friday in any season other than summer. The key is to have enough time (at least five days) and minimum crowds (Jan-Feb or Sep-Oct are ideal).
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