If Rome can be described as the city of ancient wonders then Florence is certainly the city of medieval marvels. Known as the cradle of Renaissance, Florence is also the birthplace of the most famous Italian poet - Dante Alighieri and the city where Leonardo da Vinci underwent his apprenticeship. But what amazed me is how underrated Florence is as a tourist destination. Whereas Rome is a pretty hyped up city, Florence is more of a hidden gem. It does not get the same glory as Rome but is certainly no less glorious. To use a cricket analogy, if Rome can be called Sachin Tendulkar then Florence is definitely Rahul Dravid.We chose to begin our sightseeing in Florence with Palazzo Vecchio as it was open till 7 pm which gave us sufficient time to explore it. This medieval palace cum fortress, originally built to host the members of city council and later used as a residence by dukes of Florence, currently serves as the town hall and contains mayor's office and other municipal offices.
Best Time To Visit
Best time to visit Rome is from March to June
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The ancient ruins of Rome are again full of opposites, they tell the story of a time when democracy was born and people gathered to be heard at Forums, but also a time when people visited the Colosseum to see shows of people fighting other people and animals and dying in brutal deaths- all for fun. Being there makes you realize the past never stayed in the past, it just kept repeating itself in different forms to this day.
After spending a couple of hours getting awed by all the history that lay before us, we exited the Forum and walked towards the Pantheon. It was huge but a plain structure. After that we walked to the Trevi Fountain. We were really looking forward to see it but as luck would have it, the fountain was under renovation. Well it just took two double scoop Gelatos to lift our mood and end our first day in Rome on a happy note.
With incredibly talented graffiti artists, gifted yet hugely unrewarded local musicians, levitating saints from an exotic land (who are invariably trying to dupe you) and art experts willing to create your personal caricatures for a small price, the Piazza Navona is like a party sans the finery and expensive attires. Three elaborate, beautiful fountains adorn Rome's most popular public square. And so do the many cafes and baroque mansions bordering the same. Go early in the evening and spend a few happy hours. Getting there: The Piazza Navona is 450 metres from the Pantheon so it is advisable you see both on the same day. You could take a bus from the Termini station or hop on to the metro. Tickets come for about 1.5 Euros and can be bought from the several machines or ticketing counters at the station. Your stop is 'Spagna' along the A Line and the Piazza is a bit of a walk, about 1.5 kilometres from the station. Watch out for the pickpockets on the train.
St. Peter's Basilica
The entire interior of St. Peter's is lavishly decorated with marble, reliefs, architectural sculpture and gilding. The Basilica contains a large number of tombs of Popes and other notable people, many of which are considered outstanding artworks. There are also a number of sculptures in niches of the chapel including Michelangelo’s Pieta. The dome is the most outstanding feature of the Basilica. Not only is the art inside the Basilica overwhelming, but also the pure size and grandeur is tremendous. The beauty is indescribable. No photograph can ever capture it; you have to be there to experience it and believe it. It is the perfect blend of art and religion. Even though I am a staunch atheist, I felt a certain spirituality in the air. There was reverence in the eyes of the believers. There was devotion for Christ and there was admiration for the art and architecture. It was like two worlds were coalescing.
Right beside the site of the Colosseum, towards the west lies the remains of the Roman Forum. While it’s one of the oldest yet has exceedingly become the most significant historical as well as architectural landmarks of ancient Rome. Structurally, it’s a rectangular plaza, perimetered with ruins of the most important state and government buildings. As you visit this historic heritage site, you’ll realize how the ever-spoken political public life ran in a day in Rome. And it’s very walls and pillars speak aloud of the origins of present day political thoughts and ideologies of liberalism, democracy, state, and even citizenship! Having been an important part of the popular public life, it stood testimony especially to processions, trails, meetings, speeches, elections and gladiator matches. It is also known to have enshrined Roman Gods & Goddesses, alongside the house of The Senate of Roman city states, which eventually gave birth to the Republican government in Rome. Although visibly in ruins, the Roman Forum resonates the architectural marvels, debatable political past and grandeur culture that ancient Rome was.
Who would have thought that a mere flight of steps could be turned into an extremely popular (and absolutely free) tourist attraction? Possibly the most famous marble steps in the world, the Spanish steps form a heaven for people watchers, bookworms and those looking to spend time with friends and a few bottles of beer. The fuchsia flowers scattered all around the staircase provide an even prettier background to the Piazza Di Spagna and the 'Sinking Boat Fountain' at the foot of the steps. The multitude of branded stores and gelaterias dotting the piazza stand in stark contrast to this 18th Century beauty. Go early in the evening and spend a few good hours there. Getting there: If in case you are not living near the Tridente/Trevi area which is walking distance from the steps, taking the underground metro is the best idea because it is faster and cheaper. The tickets come for about 1.5 Euros and can be bought from the several machines or ticketing counters at the station. Your stop is 'Spagna' along the A Line and the Piazza is less than 200 metres from the station. Beware of pickpockets on the train.
The site where the Papal Conclave meets in order to elect the Pope, this 15th Century Chapel is probably the most popular attraction in Vatican City. Home to Michelangelo's masterpiece 'The Last Judgement' and several ceiling frescoes, you get into this house of wonder after a long walk through the galleries of the museums and a dozen security guards will work hard to keep you from clicking any pictures. The nine frescoes depict God's Creation, the tale of Adam and Eve, the Fall and the plight of Noah. The Last Judgement (Giudizio Universale) on the west wall illustrating Christ passing his sentence over dead souls stands out in every way possible. And no, Michelangelo did not paint the ceiling while lying on his back. That is merely a myth. Interestingly, there are stories about how Michelangelo was an artist who refused to conform to the norms of his time. When the Papal officials complained about the existence of nudity in the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo painted the Gates of Hell behind the pulpit where the Pope delivers his Mass and portrayed several saints as foolish and in compromising positions. Now that's some form of revenge. Getting there: The Sistine Chapel is located inside the Vatican Museums and the entry comes for about 16 Euros. They are open from 9am to 6pm with 4pm being the last admission. Additionally, entry is free on the last Sunday of the month. The queues can be long so book your tickets online if you are in a bit of a hurry. There are several galleries to see in the museums with the Chapel being the final stop, after which you proceed to St. Peter's Basilica. Photography, as mentioned above, is prohibited, but nobody can stop you from gazing at the ceiling in amazement for as long as you like, although the crowd could be a bit of a deterrent. You could take the Metro to 'Ottaviano-San Pietro' which is on the A Line of the Rome Metropolitan and your journey to the Vatican and back should cost you 3 Euros. Beware of pickpockets. The museums are located 900 metres from the station and noon is the best time to visit.
Trastevere patiently keeps you company while you get lost. Now it will show you a charming vine-decked house. You will feel like climbing up and stay back. Then it will show you faces. One from a torn poster, another, a graffiti, looking at you with faces that rhyme with each other.
Villa Borghese is not just an exceptionally beautiful park, it is also about 80 hectares of galleries and museums. Loved by joggers, families having a little picnic of their own and lovers alike, this park is all the more popular because it houses the best art gallery in Rome, the Museo e Galleria Borghese. This spectacular place is home to the works of Bernini, Raphael, Caravaggio and Botticelli among others and requires pre-booking in order to prevent itself from getting too crowded. Tickets inclusive of the booking fee come for about 11 Euros and the museum is open till 7pm from Tuesdays to Sundays. Entry to the park however, is free and you could go with some food of your own. Getting there: The best way to get to the Villa Borghese is by taking the underground metro because it is faster, cheaper and your station 'Flaminio' along the A line is about 500 metres. The tickets come for about 1.5 Euros and can be bought from the several machines or ticketing counters at the station. Beware of pickpockets.
As history goes, the Colosseum was a place where gladiators fought and people as well as royalties thronged. Now, centuries later its fate has not really changed. It still draws people from across the world. Within the monumental building you have a museum that displays excavation findings of the Colosseum. These findings tell you that it was a place where men and women gathered to enjoy gladiator games making it sort of like a picnic. Information about how it was built, its architecture and seating arrangements are available there. If you have enough patience to read, these historical findings will tell you much more than that. They show you what it was like to be there during 80 AD when gladiators fought each other to death.When you enter into the seating area of the Colosseum that overlooks the grand centre stage, forget the crowd and just close your eyes. You could hear shouts and cheers of close to 50,000 people on stands. Their tension is palpable even centuries later. When you open your eyes, sometimes you are left with an illusion of what you just imagined and come out with goosebumps. That is the Colosseum for you.
After I visited Colosseum, the Roman Ruins was next on my list. It was around 2 p.m. when I entered the ruins of imperial Rome. If a glimpse of the ruins fascinated you, it was nothing compared to when you actually enter the ruined imperial Roman town to sight see. A google search will tell you that the ruins amidst the Piazza Venezia and mount of Campidoglio was a business centre of ancient Rome. It was where the royals resided amidst the Farnese gardens that spanned acres, priest quarters, churches, vineyards and small villages.
Vatican Museums & the Sistine Chapel
These museums within the Vatican are a much envied store house of the most treasured artistic works such as paintings and sculptures, dating back to the Renaissance. Having being founded in the early 16th century, the Vatican museums along with the 64 galleries are more than 500 years old. Not only thousands, but millions of tourists visit these museums each year, in reverence and aww of such artistic excellence. The Sistine Chapel, famously known for its ceiling having been painted by Michelangelo, is undoubtedly the most renowned living memory of Renaissance Art across the world. Besides this, Raphael’s Stanza Della Segnatura is also quite popular here. This visit truly marks the quintessence of art in Rome.
The world might not be a wish granting factory but if legends and a million other travellers are to be believed, the Trevi Fountain definitely is. A brilliant example of the Baroque style of architecture, the mythical figures on the fountain are magnificent. The name 'Trevi' indicates the three roads that meet at the fountain which has found place in dozens of popular films. As much as I wanted to throw a coin into the water in order to ensure a second trip to Rome, the restoration work initiated by the fashion house Fendi prevented me from doing so and all that I got to see were scaffolds and glass barriers. Therefore, find out the status well in advance, the evening is the best time to visit and there is no ticket that you need to purchase. Getting there: If in case you are not living near the Tridente area which is walking distance (albeit long) from the fountain, taking the underground metro is the best idea because it is faster and cheaper. The tickets come for about 1.5 Euros and can be bought from the several machines or ticketing counters at the station. Your stop is 'Barberini' along the A Line and Trevi is about 600 metres from the metro station. Beware of pickpockets on the train.
This is the official residence of the Pope. I assure you that the beauty of art work on the ceilings and walls of Sistine Chapel will remain in your heart forever. Tourists are not allowed to take photographs inside Sistine Chapel. The prohibition against photography is in place to prevent the flashing of cameras from affecting the art. Sistine Chapel showcases Michelangelo’s greatest artwork in form of beautiful frescoes that tends to come as a surprise to first-time guests. It is said that Michelangelo painted the ceiling all by himself, all the time lying on his back resulting in him getting nearly blind. Vatican City will surely quench your thirst for spirituality and will give fresh perspective of art, history and architecture. Visiting this place is like food for the traveler’s soul. There is no right or wrong way of visiting the Vatican City, but lack of planning can surely ruin your experience . How was your trip to Vatican City? Let me know in the comments. If you need any more info, leave me a message and I will be happy to help. Thank you for stopping by :) .
Piazza S. Pietro
Right next to the Basilica is the St. Peter's Square. With an imposing Obelisk in the center and fountains on the axis which was relocated from Egypt, the square looks particularly delightful in the night with the light playing on the water as well as dancing through the columns of the Basilica.
From Vatican we walked a short distance to Castel Sant’Angelo. This building located next to river Tiber has a unique cylindrical design. It was originally built as a mausoleum for a Roman emperor but was later used as a castle. Since it was a Monday the building was closed but the atmosphere outside it was very romantic. Musicians were playing soft music and a man was blowing soap bubbles in the air with children playing around it. We spent some time sitting in front of the Castle with the river behind us.
Palatino / Palatine Hill
Rome was built on seven hills and Palatino or the Palatine Hill happens to lie in the centre. Legend has it that the founder of Rome, Romulus and his twin brother Remus were saved by a wolf right here and it probably is the presence of such tales that make Palatino all the more interesting. With impressive ruins and the greenest of trees and bushes, Palatino leaves you with majestic views. It once used to be a posh Roman neighbourhood, home to emperors and wealthy families. Palatino is now majorly covered by ruins which once formed Emperor Domitian's Imperial Palace. The walk is long and beautiful and for those interested, there is also a museum (Museo Palatino) the admission to which is included in your ticket. Getting There: The Palatine Hill is a 2 minute walk from the Colosseo metro station which is on Line B of the Rome metro system and the tickets for the train which runs every few minutes come for 1.5 Euros. They can be bought from the several machines or the ticketing counters at the station. Make sure you have a map of the otherwise complicated underground transport system which runs from 5:30 am to 11:30 pm with you and watch out for the pickpockets. The tickets for Colosseum include the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill and will cost you 12 Euros. It is advisable to buy the tickets from the Palatine Hill entrance on Via Di San Gregorio (From the metro station, walk south past the Arch of Constantine and continue down the aforementioned street) because you will find no queues unlike the ticket counters at Colosseum and Roman Forum. See the Palatino first, followed by the Roman Forum and save Colosseum for the end. Visit before noon so that you are done with everything by evening.
Piazza del Popolo
Guarded by a giant obelisk in the centre and flanked by churches, gardens and the artist Bernini's works, the spectacular Piazza Del Popolo is supposed to be the entrance to the North of Rome. This 'square of the people' was initially used for public executions but is now frequented by young Romans looking for a good time. This place is all the more important because three streets (Via di Ripetta, Via del Corso, Via del Babuino) form a 'Tridente' by emanating from the piazza. There are cafes on the piazza that would gladly welcome you if you are looking for beverages or a light, authentic Italian dinner. Getting there: The best way to get to the Piazza del Popolo is by taking the underground metro because it is faster, cheaper and your station 'Flaminio' along the A line is directly across the street. The tickets come for about 1.5 Euros and can be bought from the several machines or ticketing counters at the station. Beware of pickpockets.
Santa Maria In Trastevere
An excellent example of Romanesque architecture, the Santa Maria Church situated in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches in Rome. Designed by architect Carlo Fonatna, this church was originally founded in the 3rd century by Pope Callixtus. Some of the best 13th century mosaics are found here, including Pietro Cavallini's Life of the Virgin. It was the first church in which Mass was celebrated openly. There is a tall column near the church which marks an ancient legend that the day Christ was born a river of oil flowed down to earth. The pillar is built on that supposed spot.
Galleria Alberto Sordi
Built in 1914 after the actor of the same name, this building is a shopping arcade, and a grand structure. It is a shopping arcade with numerous small boutiques, this apart, the interiors are quite beautiful and elegant and even if one chooses not to shop here, just walking around indoors is quite a serene experience.
Piazza del Popolo
This huge square also called as the "People's Square" used to be the gateway into Rome. In ancient times the Via Flaminia was one of the important road links to Rome and gave the visitors a direct entry into the Piazza Del Popolo. Assuming the place's significance and as a show of Roman greatness to the visitor's that would enter pope Pius IV commissioned architect Nanni di Baccio Bigio to build a huge gate called Porta Flaminia. There is also a tall obelisk constructed by Augustus. The square has been a center of many activities in Ancient Rome including public executions.
This baroque church used to previously function as the chapel of the Roman College next to it. It became an independent church after the College moved to another building. Apart from the structure itself, the church has beautiful frescoes inside and has four side chapels.
Museo e Galleria Borghese
This awesome gallery is probably my favorite museum in all of Rome and yes its higher on the list than the Vatican. Why you may ask? Because its not crowded, really ever, because you must reserve tickets and a time slot. But really I think I would go there even if it was crowded. It has six Caravaggio paintings, one is even an apology by Caravaggio to the Pope (who happens to be a Borghese). It has the most beautiful Bernini pieces to be found in Rome and some amazing paintings with great stories behind them (like a Raphael that was taken in the middle of the night by the Pope’s nephew who set up the gallery). So much awesome in the art world is packed into just that one museum.
Campo de' Fiori
Literally translated into the "Field of Flowers" this place was once a meadow. In the Ancient Rome context it lay between the famous theater of Pompey and the Tiber river. It was mainly deserted due to the overflowing of the river. The region populated only a few centuries back though, and now a lively market exists there. There is a huge statue of Giordano Bruno, a philosopher who was burned at stake during the Roman Inquisition. This place has a historical significance and is at the same time a great opportunity to interact with the locals.