This is it, the Active Backpacker guide about what to do in Rome. We explored the city and this is our list of things to do, from the big name stuff to the smaller gems we unearthed during our time amongst this epically historical place.
No matter where you walk in Rome, you’re roaming in the footsteps of grand history. Ancient Roman stories and culture permeate so many facets of our lives that it’s incredible really, we’re taught about them in school and we watch movies and TV shows about them (I still love watching Gladiator, and you can’t go past the tacky awesomeness of Spartacus: Blood & Sand). I mean, the dudes invented concrete, roads, they came up with the aqueducts and we won’t even get into the literature, theatre, art and of course the latin language!
So is Rome a city worth seeing on your European backpacking adventure? You bet your sweet bitty it is!
EVERYONE knows about the Colosseum… it’s epic, it’s huge, it’s colossal and it was the sports stadium to the ancient Romans, where captured slaves slaughtering each other on the sands and African animals tearing each other apart was commonplace. Sounds pretty nasty hey? Oh well, that’s history for you.
I’ve always wanted to see it and when we were in Rome I finally got the chance!
It was fantastic to see – sure it was touristy (that was expected) but it was still cool. Let your imagination bring some battles to life on the sands below you as you gaze out upon this incredible amphitheatre. Don’t worry, if you’re wandering around in Rome – you won’t miss it.
The huge rocks of travertine that make up the outer wall tower above you and it’s truly a wonder how they were set into place. Chunks of rock appear to be “missing”, but in fact the stones were set without mortar and the missing sections indicate where over 300 tons of iron clamps were in place to help hold the structure together.
Fact #1: It was built in 9 years. Whaaaat? (60,000 Jewish slaves may have helped here).
Fact #2: Sometimes they would FLOOD the Colosseum to turn it into a little lake where miniature naval battles could take place.
Fact #3: The Colosseum could seat over 50,000 people – that’s still bigger than a lot of stadiums to this day!
Fact #4: They believe the games held here amounted to the loss of over 500,000 human lives and over a million wild animals.
Fact #5: The battles on the sands of the Colosseum ended around 432AD, not because it was the right thing to do but because obtaining the amount of gladiators and wild animals needed was becoming increasingly difficult.
We actually left this wonderful monument to the last day. And you know what? It was fantastic! Definitely in the top 3 sights to see in Rome in my ‘ole backpacker opinion.
What I find so interesting about these structures is how the catholic church simply took over the religious sites of the older Roman gods and made it their own. Marks of the older gods are clearly visible in the Roman build of the structure and it’s a weird mishmash of the two.
Gratuitous jumping “I believe I can fly” photo.
The huge columns rise up from the ground, ever so Roman, and at first sight you simply stare at them, camera dangling loosely as you stand in the Piazza della Rotonda. As you walk under the towering columns and into the Pantheon you gaze up at the oculus, a circular opening allowing in sunlight. The building is smoothly domed and plays host to the tomes of the artist Raphael and several Italian kings.
This is the official home of the Pope. It’s located right near the heart of Rome and it’s incredible to think that it is considered it’s own state and almost an independent country in it’s own right.
The wealth that oozes from this 110 acre place (with a population of only 1000 people) is incredible. This is Roman Catholicism whether you love it or hate it. It’s also a UNESCO heritage listed site to boot.
So what is there to do in the Vatican city?
Well – just entering the main square (you know where the Pope comes out and stands on the balcony) is impressive and picture-worthy in itself, with St. Peter’s Basilica looming in the background (go in and have a look). There’s also The Vatican Museum which houses the world famous Sistine Chapel, the fresco painted by Michelangelo himself!
There’s also an absolute treasure trove of other priceless artefacts (those crusades must have paid off nicely) to investigate in the pristine halls.
There’s lots of other fun things to do, nab a picture of the infamous Swiss Guards (they have pretty funny costumes) or do a tour of Castel Sant’ Angelo which “guards” Vatican City.
Whilst not religious myself I appreciated seeing all the sights at the Vatican city and the educational merits they present. Although I do wonder if so much of the wealth accumulated could be put to better use.
Located a short stroll from The Pantheon, this church is definitely worth seeing. It sports a wondrously detailed fresco (painting) across it’s roof – one which, dare I say it, is even better than the one at the Sistine Chapel! Andrea Pozzo (the Italian artist) really went out guns-a-blazing for this fresco!
If you’re interested in more history on this building and what I’m talking about, read it here.
Thanks to my Dutch mate Kevin Oxter for this one! He provided us a with a bunch of personal and useful Rome tips, including the fact that we must visit Sant’Ignazio!
No visit to Rome is complete without sampling the delectable range of dairy and fruit gelati. In the smouldering heat of the Italian summer, nothing is better than a gelato a day (it keeps the doctor away!).
It’s not hard to find, there is one on almost every corner! Everyone, after visiting Rome, claims to have found the “best” gelati place there is. Take recommendations onboard, but what you can really do is find your own special spot. Try at least 4 different gelati shops whilst in Rome and then make an executive decision on which is the best! It’ll be a fun experiment at least!
One of our favourites was near The Pantheon, I can’t even remember the place. It doesn’t matter though, don’t choose the gelati, let the gelati choose you, Padawan.
Located just next to the Colosseum, this place – the Roman Forum, was the heart of Ancient Rome. This is where it all went down.
As we walked through the crumbling ruins, it was easy to tell this place was once truly amazing, especially considering the year in which it was built. I felt a little let down in the sense that I really wanted to see it how it once was, not how it is (who wouldn’t?). But that’s just day-dreaming – your brain has to do a bit of work here to fill in the gaps and give you a breathtaking idea of just how epic this place was in its heyday.
All the marble that is ever-so-Roman has long since been stripped away by the Catholics to grace the halls of their Churches and all that remains is brick. A couple of huge columns remain and other semblances that give you a flash back to the former glory of Ancient Rome. Look through the Arch of Septimius Severus (and see the Arch of Titus in the distance). Anyway – it’s definitely worth a visit!
This huge Baroque fountain gushes in soft lighting, tourists may mill about with cameras hanging from their necks but it does not detract from the sculpted beauty that is Fontana di Trevi.
The sea god, Neptune, rides proudly in the fountain, mounted on his shell shaped chariot drawn by seahorses. It’s certainly a fountain worthy of a grand city.
These ancient steps, built around 1723 has a history of attracting artists, poets and lovers as its patronage. A fun turn of events inspired this spot as the meeting place it is today. The artists attracted the models, the models brought the richer Romans and travellers, which ended up making the steps a meeting spot for people of all different backgrounds.
At the end of the stairs, discover the Fontana della Barcaccia, or in English, “Fountain of the Old Boat”. It resembles a sinking ship that is apparently based on Folk Legend – that a similar fishing boat was carried all the way here by the Tiber River flood in the 16th century.
Travelling couples & lovers come here to sit on the steps and breathe in Rome.
No “to-do” list can really give Rome the justice it deserves. Turning every corner you run into another ancient Roman ruin, historical church, grand bubbling fountain or buzzing restaurant. Welcome to Rome.