This month on American Nomad we’re exploring The Eternal City – Rome.
Founded nearly 2800 years ago, Rome is a city of myth and majesty. In its height it was the center of The Roman Empire – with all roads leading to Rome. Though it fell to invaders in 476 AD, Rome continued to persist as a city living in the ruins, but defiant in hope.
It has remained a major pilgrimage site since the early Middle Ages to present day and a history lovers dream.
From wonderful food, arts and culture, history and more Rome continues to enchant visitors today.
When I visited Rome in January 2023, I quickly realized that it is impossible to get to every ‘road’ aka tourist destination in one short visit. Rome is so steeped in history and culture that it could take a lifetime to truly see and experience all the magnificent city has to offer.
That being said, I still saw a lot in three days including:
- The Colosseum
- Vatican highlights
- Spanish Steps and Parthenon
- St. Paul’s Basilica
- The Christian Catacombs
- Piazza Navona
- Trevi Fountain.
If you are short on time it might be helpful to hire a local tour guide. We took a walking tour around The Spanish Steps to Piazza Navona and in three hours learned a ton about the interconnected neighborhoods and history of the area.
Rome is not super compact – it is walkable within neighborhoods and you don’t need a car, but you will need to take advantage of the Metro or Uber/Taxi to get from one area to the other. Part of this is because areas like The Vatican and St. Paul’s Basilica were built outside of the original city gates and therefore are not centrally located.
Also you need to remember that even as an ancient city, Rome had a population of 1 million around the 1st Century AD, which is akin to Wake Country in the Raleigh metro area.
In theory I thought it would be great to stay by a major site like The Colosseum, but quickly realized you are better of booking a room in a central commercial district near a Metro line. We ended up staying at The Mercure Piazza Bologna near the University District. This area had tons of restaurants and was fairly affordable.
- Also keep in mind that ‘all roads lead to Rome,’ and in addition to city wonders within Rome (Roma in Italian) you can also take easy day trips via train or with a tour guide to spots like Naples and Pompeii.
We cannot cover all the ‘Must See in Rome’ in one post, but I hope this list gives you a bit of inspiration.
- Pro Tip: When planning your own ‘Must See in Rome’ list, consider what interests you and your travel priorities.
- Ex: If you like history, then you will want to make sure that you include additional historical sites outside of just The Colosseum…make sure to visit The Parthenon, Baths of Carcalla, Catacombs, etc…
- There are so many beautiful churches in Rome and each have a unique history and character. Many also include wonderful works of art by the likes of Michelangelo and Caravaggio. It canhelp to research artistic works located in specific churches and plan your visit around those sites…
Must See in Rome:
The Colosseum: A must see for any traveler to Rome. This engineering marvel from Ancient Rome, was built after Nero’s death, around 70-72 AD by The Flavian emperors as a gift to the Roman people. It’s location ws on top of Nero’s old estate, The Domus Aurea, which featured an artificial lake and 98-foot bronze statue of himself, the Colossus of Nero. The Colosseum actually takes it’s name from it’s original proximity to The Colossus of Nero.
- Nero was despised for his general despotic and tyrannical ways, so his successor, Emperor Vespasian hoped the Colosseum would show Roman citizens an act of good faith by government to quell any rebellions.
- The Colosseum was built by slave labor (mostly Jewish slaves, which is sad, but Rome used active slavery for many building projects sadly)
- It took eight years to build
- When completed it measured 620 feet by 513 feet, towered four stories high and included eighty entrances to the arena. Two of those were specifically for the emperor to use
- Admission to events was free to the public and the Colosseum could hold more than 50,000 spectators
- Women were not allowed unless they were nobility or a Vestal Virgin (according to our tour guide at the Colosseum)
- Gladitorial games, animal hunts and naval battles were staged in the arena.
- It was mostly destroyed by an earthquake in the Middle Ages.
- The Colosseum has a brutal history, but today unites the city’s past and present
- Pope Benedict XIII consecrated the Colosseum in the 1700s by the Blood of Christian martyrs and it is now the site of the annual Good Friday procession in Rome.
Just beside The Colosseum you can meander the ancient ruins of what used to be the center of Roman political and social life – the historic Forum…As I stepped foot in The Forum I had to pinch myself because I’ve read about it so many times in history books and seen it in movies and documentaries. This is a place where Julius Caesar and others walked so many years ago.
If you are interested in a great (and FREE) Audio Tour – I recommend Rick Steves Forum Tour. Click here to listen and learn.
The Vatican is the smallest country in the world, a country surrounded by Rome and truly a part of its spirit. No trip to Rome is complete without a stop in The Vatican.
The seat of the Roman Catholic Church for nearly 2000 years and a pilgrimmage site for faithful around the world, The Vatican is more than just the administrative center of Catholicism…it is a spiritual destination and place of learning for people of all walks of life. Since the era of Julius II in The Renaissance, The Vatican has had a museum to house artworks and artifacts. It was opened officially to the public in the mid-1800s.
Today The Vatican has 54 museums from Egyptian and Etruscan history to numerous art galleries as well as Christian history museums and of course historical dwellings of popes and The Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica.
We’ll be doing an in-depth series on The Vatican soon, but a few highlights.
- I recommend signing up for a guided tour, and also having free time to wander on your own. Arguably this is the world’s largest museum (nine-miles if you consider all the circular walking from point a to b) with 70,000 works of art.
- You must see The Sistine Chapel, which includes Michelangelo’s famed frescoes as well as works by masters like Botticelli, but…don’t forget to carve out time for other spots like The Raphael Rooms which feature Raphael’s glorious papal apartment paintings including The School of Athens.
- St. Peter’s will astound you in size and spiritual depth. It is built on the burial site of St. Peter.
For more Vatican facts click here.
An architectural marvel and best preserved Roman ruin (it’s not really even a ruin it is in such great condition) in the city.
The Pantheon was originally built as a temple for all Roman Gods, but became (and remains) a Christian church since the reign of Emperor Constantine (circa 313 AD)
The architecture inspired master of the Renaissance, Brunelleschi to create the legendary Duomo in Florence.
The famed oculus in the Pantheon allows light to filter in and bring ‘heaven’ into the building.
Learn more about The Pantheon here.
The Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps have been featured in movies like 1953’s smash Hepburn-Peck film Roman Holiday, but the magic of this area goes deeper than the silver screen.
It is just a gorgeous spot with some interesting history. The steps are at the base of a French church and end at what used to be the Spanish Embassy. Today it is the heart of the high-end shopping district and a good spot for people watching.
- If you want to climb the stairs – it is 135 steps up/down. The stairs were designed by Francesco de Sanctis and completed after two years in 1725
- The steps are dedicated to the Holy Trinity – with three tiers of steps: Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Fontana di Trevi is an 18th-century Baroque style fountain in the Trevi district of Rome that was designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi and completed by Giuseppe Pannini and others. It is 86 feet high and one of the most beautiful fountains in Rome.
It gained fame from films like Roman Holiday (1953), Three Coins in the Fountain (1954) and La Dolce Vita (1960), but people continue to flock here because it is so unique and is a image of Rome’s ‘sweet life.’
Legend has it if you throw a coin in the fountain you’ll return to Rome (I hope that is true – I’m waiting on my return trip)
One of the prettiest piazzas in the city it is defined by it’s gorgeous Bernini statue of The Four Rivers
The ancient Romans used this area of Piazza Navona to watch the ‘agones’ (games) – interesting that the word agony actually means contest/battle.
St. Paul’s Basilica (St. Paul’s Outside the Walls)
I was blessed to visit this Basilica on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul and was blown away. Built on the burial site of St. Paul the Apostle, who was martyred nearby, this is as been an important pilgrimage site for years. The original basilica was sadly destroyed by fire in the 1800s, but people rallied to rebuilt the beloved basilica. It was reconsecrated in 1854 – unlike other ‘rebuilt’ churches, St. Paul’s was built exactly as it looked before the fire, with the exception of a few mosaic additions (they add mosaics of newly elected popes.)
I loved St. Peter’s but honestly if you want a quieter and more contemplative experience, St. Pauls is a wonderful place for beauty, prayer and spiritual pilgrimage. They have a nice cafe on site too, making it a perfect place to grab lunch before or after your tour.
Historically The Romans did not allow anyone (except the emperor or nobles) to be buried inside the city walls. This was a practical decision given the threat of disease (like plague) – so Romans created catacombs as burial sites, underground (or above) to bury the dead.
Today you can visit the Christian catacombs of the earliest Christian’s -martyrs as well as early Christian communities after Christianity was legalized.
My friend and I were interested (as faithful), but didn’t realize this would be the highlight of our trip to Rome. I highly recommend for any Christian or history buff.
Keep in mind the catacombs will not be like those in Paris with bones.
The premier art gallery in Rome with works by masters like Titian, Caravaggio, Raphael, Corregio, Reni, Bernini and more.
Located in the beautiful Borghese park (kind of like a mini Central Park)
Learn more here.
Art, history and archaeology collide in this AMAZING Roman museum! Click here to plan a visit
Churches of Rome – The city has over 900 beautiful churches, so while it would take a lifetime to see them all (each filled with art and history), you can enjoy highlights of a few of the Must-See Churches like:
- Basilica of St. Mary Major
- Santa Maria Populo – a must visit for ART Lovers, Bernini architecture and gorgeous prayerful paintings
- The legend of the founding of this church is that it was near an area Nero haunted and to exorcise him from the site they built the church.
- Arch Basilica of St. John Lateranhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archbasilica_of_Saint_John_Lateran
- Santa Maria del Travestere (Travestere is a neighborhood across The Tiber River)
We’ll be discovering even more Roma in the coming weeks – Don’t forget to subscribe below for updates and ‘like’ us on Facebook