Though Rome certainly was not built in a day, Rome can be greatly enjoyed in a day. Prior to coming to Rome, I looked online for brief guides to making a one day visit to Rome a gift rather than a tiring and overwhelming experience. Here’s a brief guide to spending 24 delightful hours in the Eternal City.
Stay at least two nights and walk Rome. For a brief stay in Rome, try to book an apartment near the Vatican and St. Peter’s (S. Pietro) either through airbnb.com or www.monasterystays.com. We booked (through Airbnb) a lovely and spacious fifth floor apartment with two terraces, including one terrace looking out to the dome of Saint Peter. One our first evening in Rome, we walked to the Borghese Gallery from our apartment, a distance of five miles round trip. On our full-day in Rome we walked an estimated 10-12 miles. Walking in Rome allows you to connect with different neighborhoods, including the music and culinary smells wafting out local windows. In our 36 hours in Rome, we took in sights, sounds, people-pulse, and local culture from many districts simply by walking.
Visit the Borghese Gallery. Thanks to my brother Mike in Italy, we experienced the amazing Borghese Gallery. He told me a few weeks before our time in Rome, “if there is only one place to go in all of Rome, don’t miss the Borghese Gallery.” We pre-booked tickets online for the Borghese Gallery. They only allow a limited number of visitors in each hour, and it often sells out. We picked up our tickets at the ticket office for our 5pm appointment. The Borghese Gallery is situated in the northeast corner of Villa Borghese, a huge park in Rome. The Borghese Gallery includes some of Bernini’s finest sculptures (David, Proserpina, Apollo and Daphne), as well as paintings by Caraveggio, Peter Paul Ruebens, Raphael, and others. This gallery is a sumptuous feast of world-class art and architecture.
Watch people in Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter’s). This famous square, designed by Bernini features a pair of colonnades reaching out like Saint Peter’s arms to embrace the world. This expansive square can hold a quarter million people. We wanted to go within Saint Peter’s Cathedral for prayer, but the line was running nearly a mile long. So we pushed on into the city, returning later in the day at 6pm, only to find out the church had closed. Instead, we took in the beautiful sunset in lavender and pink over St. Peter’s Square.
Walk among angels on Ponte San Angelo. This bridge over the Tiber River, built in 134AD, lined with ten grand statues of angels, allows for excellent views of Saint Peter’s Cathedral and Castel San Angelo. Easiest way to located Ponte San Angelo is to look for Michael the archangel soaring above Castel San Angelo, a circular fortress, originally built as a mausoleum or Emperor Hadrian in the early 2nd century, but later used as a fortress safe place for important city leaders, such as the pope, in times of distress in Rome.
Stroll through Piazza Navona. Enjoy Bernini’s luscious fountain sculptures. Street musicians often perform here. We heard an accordion player at one end and a jazz quartet at the other. This piazza used to be the charioteer racetrack of Rome in ancient days. Today, it is a gathering place for locals and tourists to soak in the sites and sun.
Offer a prayer within the Pantheon. Built and dedicated in 126AD as a Temple to Minerva, the Pantheon was later converted into a Christian church in the 7th The dome within this church is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. There is a circular “oculus” opening in the roof of this church, allowing a spotlight of sun to come through, hitting different sides of the interior of the dome at different times of day.
Light a candle at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. This church building is serviced by the Dominican order, and is the burial place for Saint Catherine of Siena (1347-1380). The interior is the only Gothic designed sanctuary in Rome with elegant rose windows and celestial ceilings.
Visit Trajan’s Column, Trajan’s Market, and Roman ruins. Ancient Roman ruins may be viewed for free by walking alongside the Roman Forum area, and peering into the twenty-feet deep excavated areas of ancient Rome, including the first shopping mall in the world known as Trajan’s Market. The Astoria Column up on the hill overlooking Astoria, Oregon, near where we live in Cannon Beach was designed after Trajan’s Column. We enjoyed a lunch at a restaurant overlooking the ruins of Trajan’s Market.
Encircle the Colosseum. You can pay to go inside and tour the ruins of this ancient arena, finished in 80AD, with a capacity of 80,000, where spectators watched gladiators fought each other to the death, and also where early Christians were fed to wild beasts. But with only one day in Rome, we walked around the Colosseum, to see the sunlight playing upon the archways at different angles. In so doing, we walked past two historic arches, including the Arch of Titus, erected in 71AD to commemorate the victory of Rome over Jerusalem the year before; and the Arch of Constantine, built in the 4th century in honor of the first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine for one of his victories.
Hang out with Moses and see Peter’s Chains. Just a few blocks north of the Colosseum is the Church of Saint Peter in Chains, featuring the chains that bound St. Peter while he was imprisoned in Rome before he was martyred for Christ. This church is also where you’ll find the marble tomb of Pope Julius II, designed and sculpted by Michelangelo, with his radiant, larger than life statue of Moses after he received the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai.
Gelato time! Like most Italian cities, Rome has gelaterias in every neighborhood, shops that specialize in dozens of flavors of Italian ice-cream, known as “gelato”. By early afternoon, on a sunny October day, there is nothing quite like a double-scoop of gelato. My choice was Lemon-Basil (1st scoop), and Mango (2nd scoop). Oh yeah!
Walk by Italy’s “White House”. We walked past the massive building known as the Palazzo del Quiranale, which houses the Italian president, the equivalent of our White House. Each arched portal into this building was surrounded by armed guards and gates. The interior of this building is a large garden. We have our Rose Garden on the outside; the Italians put theirs as a huge courtyard surrounded by official buildings.
Make a splash at Trevi Fountain. One of the favorite public fountains in all of Rome, the Trevi Fountain was also designed and sculpted by the fabulous genius sculptor, Bernini. Cascading down the side of a large marble building, the Trevi Fountain is pure white marble, shining brightly in the afternoon sun. The day we visited though it was being cleaned, and no water was splashing around the fountain.
Worship with Bernini’s Angels. The map we used told us about Bernini’s large angels found within the Church of Santa Maria Dell Fratte, just a block north of the Trevi Fountain. A worship service was underway when we arrived, so we sat in pews next to these 15 foot tall, white marble angels, and offered our hearts to God in worship. Don’t overlook the beautiful cloister garden just off the church, which once was the site of a medieval monastery.
Lounge about the Spanish Steps. Another favorite place for out-of-towners like ourselves, the Spanish Steps, featured in the movie 1953 Roman Holiday, offers locals and tourists a beautiful gathering place, a crossroads for people watching. Of note for English Romantic poetry loves like myself, here is where one of England’s finest poets, John Keats died of tuberculosis at the age of 25. A museum dedicated to Keats and Shelley can be found at the base of the Spanish Steps.
Feast on Italian cuisine. Both nights we stayed in Rome, we dined out in the neighborhood where we were living, finding local trattorias featuring local food and wine. Italians love to cook, love to eat, and love to take time over dinner, which often last several hours. Italian menus begin with Antipasta (appetizers), then come Primi (pasta dishes), then Secundi (meat/fish course), then Contorni (side dishes such as veggies or salads), and finally Dolce (desserts). Our brief time in Rome was such a multi-course feast.
After two nights in Rome, with one full day taking in the eternal city, we caught the 8am airport shuttle bus (which picks up at Rome Termini Train Station and near the Vatican), to head westward, homeward after three months pilgrimage across the wonders, surprises, challenges, and joys of Europe.