I have had the great pleasure of visiting some of the finest cities in the world and none have even come close to the wonder that is Rome. Dubbed the ‘Eternal City’, Rome is rich in a history that spans over two thousand years.
As a bit of a history geek, Rome had been a dream holiday destination of mine since I was a child and I was certainly not left disapointed. The taxi-ride from the airport to the hotel was captivating in itself; it was fascinating to drive through a city which is both ancient and modern in equal parts. London has its historic gems scattered across the city such as Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London, but in Rome it seems that you cannot turn a corner without being confronted by some form of ancient architecture that is steeped in history.
A must-see is the Roman Forum and the Colosseum which are walking distance from each other and located in the ancient part of the city. The Roman Forum was at the heart of the city politcally, socially and economically during ancient times. It served as a place for elections, executions, public speeches and trade negotiations. From the ruins it is clear to make out where the government buildings were and the pillars towering up towards the sky still give the forum a sense of grandeur. The Colosseum is not far from the forum and is quite possibly the image that people most identify with Rome. No matter how many times you have seen it in a film or in a travel guide, nothing can prepare you for just how magnificent this structure is and it serves as a fantastic backdrop to the everyday hustle and bustle of the city.
The Vatican is also a place that you must visit when in Rome. Whether you are religious or not, you can’t help but be blown away by the architecture, the art and the sheer history of the world’s smallest independent state. As much as I usually hate being shown around by a tour-guide when on holiday, I would seriously recommend using one whilst visiting the Vatican. The tour-guides are extremely knowledgeable and can ensure that you get the most out of your visit. Adult tickets start at €15 and children’s tickets start at €8. I would also advise buying the tickets for the likes of the Vatican and the Colosseum before you arrive; this allows you to skip the queues, and trust me when I say that some of the queues were very long indeed. You can do this with your travel agent before departing, at the airport and at most hotels in the city. A lot of holiday providers offer you a bundle deal of tickets for various sights which will actually save you money rather than buying them individually and on the day.
After a day of sightseeing you are bound to be hungry, which is perfect as at any point you are never more than a stone’s throw away from a great restaurant. We ate out every single day during our week-long stay, a different place every time, and each restaurant provided us with amazing food at a very reasonable price. Due to my weakness for carbohydrates I was very worried about what this holiday would do to my weight, however, the food is so light and the portion sizes are just right that you never come away feeling bloated or guilty.
Rome has a good public transport system that includes a bus service and underground trains; although not as efficient as the London underground. You can purchase an all-day bus ticket, which allows you to hop on and off any bus in the city, for just €5; however I am proud to say that apart from transport to and from the airport I relied on my feet to take make everywhere during my stay. Rome is a fairly easy city to navigate by foot, and you can plan a perfect route so that there is always plenty of interesting places to see and visit between points A and B. Besides, all that exercise will leave you feeling less guilty about gorging yourself on vast amounts of rich, Italian sorbet ice-cream.
Rome is also very highly regarded in the fashion world; Fendi, Bvlgari and Brioni all have their headquarters located in the city. The Via dei Condotti, located at the foot of the Spanish Steps, is Rome’s answer to Bond Street and here is a list of just some of the designers who have stores located here; Dolce & Gabanna, Chanel, Armani, Prada, Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Gucci.
Here are some essential tips that I believe every first time visitor should be aware of:
- Outside every major tourist attraction you will find men dressed as Roman soldiers who will ask if you want your picture taken with them. Do not say yes as they will charge you around €15 for the privilege, of course they do not tell you until afterwards.
- You will come across a lot of people on the street trying to sell you a fake designer handbag. Not only is it illegal for them to be selling the fakes but it is also illegal for you to purchase one. This is a serious issue in Rome that the police force is very strict about.
- If you are a non-smoker then you should be made aware that the smoking ban doesn’t really hold much weight in Rome. Even in places where it is technically against the law people will still spark up and you would be forgiven for thinking that there isn’t even a ban in place. Zebra crossings don’t seem to mean much either, nor red lights for that matter; basically it is only safe to cross the road when there are no cars in sight.
- Nothing is open on a Sunday. Whilst a day of rest in Britain just means shorter trading hours, in Rome Sundays are actually meant for resting and the vast majority of shops will be closed for the day-including supermarkets and corner shops. This notion completely skipped our minds and it wasn’t until we couldn’t find any shops open to buy some food that we wished we had planned ahead.
- Whilst quality eating out is cheaper in Rome than back home, going for some drinks is certainly more expensive. The price of alcohol seemed to be the same no matter where you went; the house beer was around €3.60 and a regular glass of the house wine was about €4.50. Not only do you have to pay for the drinks but you automatically have a service charge added to your bill which is usually around €7.00 depending on how many of you there are.
- Tossing a coin into the Fontana di Trevi may look cool in the movies when there is hardly anyone else around, but in reality it is absolutely rammed with tourists and is sort of Rome’s equivalent to Trafalgar Square. I was determined to toss a coin into the fountain and make a wish, as is the tradition, however, I was so squished by everybody doing the same thing and became so self-conscious due to people staring at me and willing me to move out of the way that I completely forgot to make a wish…Therefore, I would recommend going early in the morning or late in the evening.
All in all I would definitely recommend Rome as the perfect holiday destination and city break. It has great weather, fantastic shopping and amazing sights to see – what more could you want?
Images courtesy of: italialiving.com; panoramio.com