After many late night discussions about where to go for an early Easter break with the family, we all finally settled on Rome. If I am honest, I was a little dubious – being the home of the Catholic Church, the city attracts thousands of visitors over the Easter weekend. However, I pleasantly surprised by how uncrowded the city was – and my recent trip confirmed that Rome is by far my favourite city in the world.
Arriving in Rome – an afternoon in Vatican City
I’ve stayed in a few locations around Rome – this time round we chose the Piazza Navona area. As we were this side of the city, we made our first stop Vatican City. Vatican City is its own country within Rome – make sure you go to the post office there (you’ll find it in St. Peter’s Square) and send a postcard home as you will get an official stamp from the Vatican City. We had explored the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel on a previous trip so opted out this time. If you have never been, it is definitely something that should be at the top of your Rome must-do list. Don’t rush, the square is the perfect place to simply admire the vast Basilica– and once you get inside, the interior is absolutely stunning.
If you are in the Vatican area at around 10am on a Wednesday, if the Pope is in, he tends to come out onto the famous balcony of St. Peter’s and wave to the crowd. Unfortunately, we weren’t there for this time – but little did we know, that wasn’t our only opportunity to catch a glimpse of the Pope…
Day one – Gladiators and Gelato
On our first full day, we headed straight for the famous Colosseum. I visited the arena many years ago, and it was just as moving as I remembered. I am only a little embarrassed to say I shed a tear! However, this time around, I was old enough to appreciate the guided headphones we purchased for just 6 euros – the commentary was informative and fascinating.
Over a period of 400 years, more than 700,000 people lost their lives to ‘entertainment’, as they called back in Ancient Rome. There is no denying the Romans were not only incredibly clever (you only have to look at the masterpieces, palaces and churches that they built), but they were rather blood-thirsty, too. People fought to the death as the Emperor, politicians and a crowd of cheering locals looked on.
Without spoiling your visit too much, inside the Colosseums walls, you can marvel at the marble of the seats belonging to the senators of Rome, the underground tunnels where the gladiators, slaves and animals were kept before they faced their fate, and, of course, the sheer size of the arena (it had a capacity of 50-80,000 people). Today, it is still easy to picture what it would have been like back in its heyday. Don’t miss the Gladiator school, located just opposite the Colosseum (opposite side to the Forum), where you can view the remains of where gladiators and slaves were taught to fight.
The best place to purchase your Colosseum ticket is from their official website. You can get a combined ticket, which allows entrance to the Colosseum, Palatine and the Roman Forum over the space of two days (only one entrance into each site). The tickets cost 12 euros (plus 2 euros booking fee), and will ensure a shorter queue when you get there.
To end the day, we stopped for a gelato – I recommend teaming a chocolate scoop with pistachio.
Day two – Ancient Rome
With your purchased tickets you are able to come back and visit the Forum on another day. We took advantage of this and decided to break it up. We were so glad we did, as the sun was shining brightly on our second day.
The Forum area was very much the heart of Rome back in the day, housing palaces, temples and government buildings, and would be the place important politicians came to meet. The ruins are truly impressive and gave you a real sense of Ancient Rome. Again, much like the Colosseum, it was easy to imagine what it used to be like in its prime. Our highlight (for my dad in particular, who couldn’t take enough photos), was seeing the site where Caesar was cremated. When we visited about eight years ago, many of the signs explaining the ruins and sites were just in Italian, making it difficult for us to really connect with what we were seeing. (I have been brushing up on my Italian the last few months, but it’s nowhere near good enough to understand the signs!) Now, a lot of them are in English, which was fantastic.
Day three – The Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps
Our final day and night in Rome was a special one. It was Good Friday and Rome’s main sites were getting ready for the main event of the evening – the Pope’s Easter Procession. The Colosseum and St. Peter’s Basilica stopped letting visitors in around midday, so for those wanting to squeeze in one last look, there was time.
Today was the first day of the trip where the city was noticeably busier. We had already done our explorations of the Colosseum and St. Peter’s Basilica, so today was our day to visit some of Rome’s other famous spots – the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain. The Spanish Steps (currently undergoing a renovation) which led up to the Trinita dei Monti Church are mostly renowned for their starring role in the film Roman Holiday. The Trevi Fountain is, in my opinion, one of Rome’s most impressive monuments. Surprisingly, it doesn’t sit in the heart of a piazza, but is actually built into the wall of a palazzo. Unfortunately, like most busy tourist areas, there are pickpockets and a few individuals trying to scam money from you, but if you have your wits about you, you should be fine.
An Audience with the Pope
Five o’clock hit and we weren’t sure how Good Friday evening was going to go – would restaurants be open? Could we get anywhere near the Colosseum and Forum for the Pope’s Good Friday procession (a candlelit procession from the Colosseum to Palatine Hill) We crossed our fingers and headed to the Colosseum. As we’d expected, the main road leading up to it and the surrounding high roads were blocked off, but we tried our luck from the other side, walking past the Circus Maximum (what used to be the old chariot race site back in Ancient Rome). To our surprise, we found ourselves in a queue leading up to the Colosseum. After a few security checks and a surprisingly quick queueing time, we were outside the Colosseum and a mere 100 metres from the stage and the Via Crucis (a giant cross lit up by candles).
I had hoped we would catch a glimpse of the Pope during our trip (it was Easter, after all) but never in a million years did I expect to be a part of the procession. We were each handed a prayer book and candles as we waited for the Pope’s arrival. Whether you are religious or not, it was a moving experience and one of the most amazing things I have been lucky enough to be a part of.
What’s on the menu?
Rome has a little bit of a reputation for being an expensive city. Yes, sure, there are many places where you are looking at London prices – but to find more reasonably priced eateries, you just need to know where to look. We ate many evenings near the Piazza Navona (10 minutes from our apartment). There are some gorgeous restaurants that line the piazza, but as you can imagine, you’re paying extra for the view. If you wander down the cobbled side streets leading off the square, there are some fantastic restaurants, all reasonably priced. In my opinion, the atmosphere was just as lively and gave off more of a local feel. We were lucky to be able to sit outside every night (with the help of patio heaters), which is one of my favourite parts about being on holiday in Italy.
For an after dinner treat, there are plenty of bars in the area, and (of course) gelaterias.
Lunch times were spent grabbing a giant slice of pizza (normally around 3 euros) from hole-in-the-wall pizzerias. We would walk with our pizza and continue our explorations of Rome.
- Public transport around Rome is easy – you can get bus tickets from local convenience stores. However, if you can, just walk! Walk a lot! It’s the best way to get a feel of the city and stumble across things you might not have done on a bus or metro.
- Head up to some of Rome’s vantage points – the highest point of the Roman Forum and up to the top of the Vittorio Emanuele Il are great photo opportunities.
- For film buffs, have a movie night with Angels and Demons – the perfect pre-Italy holiday research. We actually watched it the evening we returned home – it was just as exciting spotting all the places we walked with a gelato and took family selfies.
- And don’t avoid Rome around Easter time – it was a wonderful trip.