Layovers are very common while traveling internationally. It is more often than not your flight will take you to one destination for an elongated period of time before arriving to your final destination. These layovers are a big money saver and can be a great opportunity to experience some extra places. While it may seem like the better option to pay that extra $200 and arrive at your final destination 15 hours earlier, I say no. I always think it is in a travelers best interest to save the money and take the layover as an opportunity to explore.
When it comes to Europe, there are a few destinations that can be seen as gateway cities where layovers can become more common. Rome, Italy is one of the more popular gateways as it attracts millions of visitors each year. This is the kind of place you want to stay for an extended period of time exploring every nook and cranny, but what can you do with a short period of time? Here are your best activities to explore, “When in Rome”.
7:00 AM – Vatican City
Capital of the Catholic world and home of the Pope, this gorgeous independent city state will not disappoint. Although it is the smallest state in the world, it attracts around five million visitors per year. Talk about a lot of pushing and shoving to enjoy the views. The only way you can truly enjoy The Vatican is by scheduling a tour and entering first thing in the morning. You won’t be alone, but you will happily miss out on the hoards of tourists whom are sleeping in.
Make sure that you book a tour before visiting. You can pay an entry fee of about 20 €, but a tour will guide you through the historic city with a lot of interesting information. A guide will also take you to see some hidden artifacts that you would’ve had a hard time finding on your own.
You can visit https://theromanguy.com/tours/Vatican for some great tours. The prices range from $90 – $100 and will allow you to enter an hour before general opening. Money well spent.
The Vatican is considered its own country, which means you will have to go through some intense security upon entry as well as follow some different rules and guidelines. Three rules stick out that many people have trouble abiding to. First, you need to wear proper clothing. Cover your shoulders and knees, or better said, wear a nice outfit. St. Peters Basilica is one of the largest churches in the world, you would think most people would know to wear their Sunday church attire, but sadly, they don’t.
Second, no food or drink. I know it’s Italy and you probably want to carry some pizza and wine around. I get it, I do it all the time. However, there is plenty of time after your visit to obliterate some food. Lastly, try not to play with your phone so much, if at all. Cameras are a lot more welcome than phones, and even then you should avoid them as much as possible. So many people enter the Vatican grounds everyday which makes for little space. When you’re not paying attention on your phone you are bound to run into others. Put it away unless you have an emergency.
St. Peter’s Basilica
The walk towards the church will display how big it is, but after entering you can truly appreciate its massive size. St. Peter’s Basilica is the mecca of the Catholic world. The seat of Papal power was built at the height of the Renaissance and designed by no other than the famous artist, Michelangelo. A walk through the church will take you face to face with stunning artwork from floor to ceiling. It is hard to enjoy all of the art work with the small amount of time you will have on a tour, but a guide will point out some of the best pieces. Whatever you do, don’t forget to look up as the ceilings and dome steal the show.
If St. Peter’s isn’t impressive enough, then the Sistine Chapel should do it for you. The entire chapel is engulfed with some of the most stunning artwork you will find. While the chapel is the site for the Papal Conclave, or the election of a new pope, it is most famous for Michelangelo’s depiction of The Last Judgement. If your mouth isn’t stuck wide open in a “wow” face the entire visit, then you’re crazy. The Chapel is incredible, but don’t expect to go home with pictures. You are not allowed to take any shots of this well preserved artwork nor can you make a sound. It is intense, but unforgettable.
St. Peter’s Square
This massive square is perhaps one of the most famous in the world. The positive thing about leaving the beautiful architecture behind from the church is that you will have plenty of space for a breather when walking around. The surrounding scenery displays some beautiful architecture and provides the best view of St. Peter’s Basilica. The square is the perfect place to relax and people watch before exiting Vatican City. It is hard to find too many places in the world that entertain this many people each day.
Other than its incredibly large size, the most striking scenery of this Piazza comes from the surrounding architecture. The area is enclosed by over 200 columns and 140 statues of different Saints created by Bernini in the 1600’s. At the center of the Piazza, sits the Obelisk, which was carried from Egypt to Rome in 1586.
11:00 AM – Lunch
Pizza. Pizza. Pizza. Need I say anything more…?
12:00 PM – Spanish Steps
This set of stairs might just be the most famous and photographed in the world. Lying between Piazza di Spagna and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, these steps dominate the scene. Overlooking the top of the steps, the Trinta dei Monti church is perhaps the most photo worthy piece. These stairs likely became famous to the American public following the 1953 film, Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. Truth be told, I just watched this movie the other night with my dad and can vouch for its incredible cinematography of Rome.
1:00 PM – Trevi Fountain
This famous fountain is one of the most overcrowded places in Rome, but is an essential visit. While the fountain can best be seen early in the morning to avoid crowds, it is not worth switching it out for Vatican City. Located a short 10 minute walk from the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain is easy to get to. The fountain is designed with gorgeous Baroque statues and columns while being nestled between tight streets and colorful buildings.
Make sure you don’t forget your coins to toss into the fountain as this is one of Rome’s top activities. It is said that if you throw a coin into the fountain, you will return to Rome again in the future. Executed properly, the coin must be tossed from your right hand and over your left shoulder while you face the opposite direction from the fountain. I cannot tell you how fun it is to watch people’s faces while throwing their money away. Just this past year, there has been an estimated $1.5 million thrown into the waters. Crazy to know this pool of water makes more money than you.
2:00 PM – Pantheon
Sitting another 10 minute walk away from the Trevi Fountain, is the most preserved building from Ancient Rome, The Pantheon. Once a Roman Temple dedicated to the Pagan Gods, this structure is now used as a Catholic church and tourist hot spot. The structure was built by Emperor Hadrian around 120 A.D and can give you a glimpse of Roman architecture at its best. It is pretty amazing to know that this building has been in use for almost 2000 years. Don’t expect to be the only one marveling in this amazing history as it attracts about 6 million visitors yearly.
3:00 PM – Colosseum
Jaw dropping, inspiring, stunning, miraculous, extraordinary and breath taking are just a few of the words that come to my mind when I think of the Colosseum. Never in my life have I been as blown away by history or architecture as when I first walked into the Colosseum. Seeing it from the outside is one thing, but the feeling upon entry is entirely different.
Although two-thirds of this ancient amphitheater have been destroyed over time, what is left is something to marvel in. Surrounded by history in every direction, it is hard to not think back in time. Climbing the steep steps will take you to the venues in which some 50,000 spectators were seated for the Ancient Roman Spectacle. This will also give you one of the best views through out the Colosseum.
Standing on the stage of the amphitheater is where the show took place. It is hard to overcome the feeling knowing that you are standing on the grounds of which thousands of men stood before you. This is one of the initial spots that created sports as we know them. A spot where men fought each other in Gladiator battles and fierce animals were unleashed to challenge one another in combat. You have to think, “How many people died here?” “How many warriors were cheered and applauded for?” If I could take a time machine back in time, I think I would be a spectator in the Colosseum.
However, while most people believe that every battle was a fight to the death, the majority of these fights were put on as a show for the thousands of spectators. There were definitely fights of this ultimatum, but they were rare. The Gladiators were seen as professionals and would engage in battles to put on a show. Think of boxing, wrestling, MMA and even sports like football. These brave warriors and slaves became legends and heroes through out the Roman Empire. It was not the best decision to have them killed off. It was more likely that one of the men would die in battle rather than fight to the death. You can’t believe in everything you see in Hollywood.
DO NOT go to Rome without visiting the Colosseum and booking a full tour. Everything else in Rome is incredible as well, but I don’t think anything else compares to this. Booking a tour will give you the opportunity to see every facet of the amphitheater, most importantly the floor level and stage. General admission will not give you this opportunity. The extra cash is worth every penny.
5:00 PM – Roman Forum
Sitting in back of the Colosseum is the Roman Forum. This impressive landscape is scattered with Ancient ruins from the ever so powerful Roman Empire. It was originally developed in the 7th century B.C and developed into the main social and political hub for the Romans.
While some artifacts amongst The Forum are almost completely destroyed, others are still standing as they are very well preserved. Many of the buildings were used for government and Roman Law while others were often used as churches where Romans would gather for worship. The Temple of Antonius Pius is one of the best known buildings as its structure remains almost entirely intact.
Just like its neighbor, The Colosseum, the Roman Forum is a place that will genuinely take you back in time and have your mind spinning with history. There are truly not as many places as historic in the same way The Forum is. It is an incredible feeling to become immersed with a place that once ruled the world.
7:00 PM – Dinner
A day in Rome can not be complete without delicious Italian dinner. During your adventures through out the day, it is easy to find one of the hundreds of spectacular restaurants to return to for dinner. Pastas, pizzas, meats, Caprese salads, seafood and more, you really can’t go wrong. Just make sure to drink a ton of wine instead of water, It’s Italy. “When in Rome”, right?
There may be too much to explore with such limited time, but a lot of it can be seen with some good planning. Take advantage of every second you have in Rome to marvel in some of the greatest history and architecture known to man.
Have you ever been to Rome? Do you have anything to add or take away from my 12 hour itinerary? I know there is a lot to do in Rome, and it is better to spend a longer period of time, but a lot can be done in this short period of time! If you have any other questions or want more recommendations, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Instagram @travelingle and @egtrotters =D