Rome – top 10 tips to an active long weekend and walking tour map
Back in school I loved history and felt intrigued by the ancient Egypt, Greek and Roman cultures. As long as I remember, I’ve had visiting Rome in my travel goals and finally it was time to make it happen. Traveling to Rome in the beginning of March had its pros and cons – just a couple of days earlier it had snowed for the first time in 5 years and it continued to be cold and rainy. On the positive side in low season the crowds are bearable so it’s possible to take advantage of the free museum access to for example Colosseum (only available the first Sunday of the month).
Pack along your best walking shoes, you’ll need them in Rome! I was amazed with how easy it was to walk from one key sight to another. Here’s an itinerary of a 6 kilometer / 4 mile walking tour of the main sights you don’t want to miss: the Colosseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Piazza di Navona and the Spanish steps.
If you only stop for taking some quick photos the tour could be completed in about 2 hours but of course you’ll get much more out of it if you visit Pantheon and Colosseum from the inside. I saved the Colosseum tour for another day as I didn’t start off till the afternoon for my first exploration of the eternal city.
Colosseum, Palatine hill and Roman forum
The Colosseum is massive, similar size as stadiums today – it could fit 50 000 people and had marble seating for the best spots reserved to the most prestigious visitors while slaves, women and children were only allowed to access the top floor with wooden structures. However, after the fall of the Roman empire the monuments were not cared for and during the medieval times people recycled whatever could be removed and burned the marble!
Expect long lines to the Colosseum around the year and especially on the first Sunday of the month when the access is free (otherwise it costs 12 euros for adults) to access the first and second floors. I strongly recommend to buy your ticket in advance to benefit from the shorter line. The ticket includes access to Palatine hill and Roman forum in addition to the Colosseum and it’s valid for two consecutive days. Even on a free Sunday, you need a free ticket that you can most likely get with a shorter wait at the Palatine hill and Roman forum entrances.
For an extra fee you can purchase a guided tour (~40 minutes) or an audio guide. Luckily a guided tour in English was starting shortly and cost just 5 euros so I decided to sign up for it. Our tour guide Laura, archaeologist, shared interesting historical facts and useful insights that were not all included in guidebooks. It was a nice quick tour and worth the small price for sure. However, next time I would book a longer tour that would go around also the underground and the third floor as well. Check out this Guide To Visiting The Colosseum for further details. If you’re interested in seeing even more ancient Roman ruins see this must-see list of Roman ruins in Rome.
From the Colosseum the walk continues to Fontana di Trevi where tourists flock to take photos of the gorgeous Trevi Fountain and throw coins there. According to the legend, you should throw a coin over your right shoulder to the fountain to secure your return to Rome one day. I didn’t want to jinx this one!
Spanish steps (and shopping)
From here the walk continues to the Spanish steps which is a popular place for people to gather and sit down – nice break for taking a sip from your water bottle. Some nice shopping streets are located in this area including very high-end stores but also a wide range of brands and I found some good deals at GAP and Desigual stores.
On the way back, you can pass by Piazza di Navona which is one of the most beautiful Baroque squares in Rome.
Next stop is Pantheon which is free to access. The dome is open from the middle and it’s quite amazing how rain falls in and trough small holes on the floor – an example of the brilliant engineering expertise of the ancient Romans!
Altare della Patria and Trajan Forum
From the Pantheon the walk continues to Plaza Venezia where you can admire the Altare della Patria – a palace honoring first king of Italy and WWI soldiers – and the Trajan Forum ruins before you arrive back at the Colosseum.
Renting a bicycle
Renting a bicycle was a great way to explore places a bit further away, although due to the traffic it can be a bit adventurous – especially if it starts raining! I rented a bicycle at a bike shop just outside the Colosseum station (4€ per hour or 10€ for a day). Beware that they ask to leave some form of photo ID for the duration of the rental so it would be a good idea to bring something in addition to a passport. I loved the feeling of freedom on the bike and having some pedaling after all that walking felt so good! If the River Tiber isn’t overflowing like during my visit to Rome you could even bicycle along its banks.
Trastevere and Monteverde
Trastevere is a nice hip neighborhood on the west side of the River Tiber from the historical center of Rome, south from Vatican. It’s nice to stroll along the narrow cobblestone roads, visit the Basilica of Santa Maria and dine at one of the excellent restaurants available in this area.
Monteverde is a lovely neighborhood next to Trastevere. It was a bit of hills for bicycling and quite many stairs too that my maps app didn’t recognize. Saw some nice street art though and enjoyed a fantastic lunch.
Food, wine and coffee
Finding a quality but reasonably priced restaurant can be a challenge in the historical center of Rome from the middle of so many overpriced tourist traps. I stumbled upon this little place Prosciutteria Cantina Dei Papi that’s actually more of a shop than a restaurant (they don’t have restaurant license so they can’t serve or set tables but offer plastic cutlery. They can also only sell drinks only by the bottle (luckily also small wine bottles, beer, soft drinks) and tap water is freely available. I recommend the mixed platter that comes in 3 sizes (5/10/15 euros). I was so hungry that I couldn’t help but to choose the big one.
Restaurant Panattoni was highly recommended for paper-thin pizzas. After having already a bit too carbs I was craving for something light and found the smoked salmon salad at Buff excellent and free wifi was nice too.
Close by to Piazza Navona is Circus Café which is ideal for a relaxing break with a nice cup of chai latte with almond milk and freshly made juice or smoothie.
For ideas where to eat in one of Rome’s trendiest neighborhoods check out this Trastevere Food Guide.
Yoga in Rome
After a long day of walking and aching feet, Yoga class in Rome was the perfect end for the day. Zem Yoga’s hot Vinyasa community class of Friday evening (13€ + 2€ for renting a mat) instructed by Amity was incredible! She created such a warm-hearted atmosphere and asked the participants to introduce each other the closest people in the room which brought a very nice social aspect to a solo traveler’s day. The class was quite physically demanding and indeed hot – I should have brought a bigger water bottle! In the end on the 90-minute class I was feeling superbly relaxed – what a better way to unwind after a long day of sightseeing!
Finding the perfect place to stay
Rome has a huge number of hotels for all budgets. Based on reading some reviews it seems that in many places the rooms can be very small. Airbnb has an extensive offering in Rome and I found a modern 1-bedroom apartment with a roof terrace with an amazing location in the city and just across the bridge from Vatican. There was a small grocery story close by and I was very happy that I had a kitchen to cook healthy breakfasts and suppers to stay energized for the long days exploring the city. If you are new to Airbnb you can use this promo code link for 35€ travel credit.
Beyond the eternal city
Visiting Vatican is something you don’t want to miss when in Rome – read more about the Top 5 highlights of Vatican and how to skip the lines and avoid crowds. If you have a bot more time to spend in Italy why not head south to Naples or the Salento region in Puglia. Or you could head north to the mountains for fresh air and some amazing views – check out this Perfect 4 Day Dolomites itinerary. Another great option would be to hop on a train and visit for example Venice, Florence or Cinque Terre as well – see this Ultimate 2 week itinerary for Italy for inspiration.
I took the Italo train from Roma Termini station to Milan Centrale and it was a comfortable as well as super convenient way to travel between these cities in just 3 hours and under 50 euros. There were some nice countryside views along the way and quite a bit of snow! There would be plenty of sights to see in Milan, the capital of fashion and design but I’ll need to return another time.
Still wondering how Rome in snow looked like? Check it out here.
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