What can you do when you have just some hours to spend in one of the most interesting cities of the world? Stay cooped up in a hotel room or in the airport waiting for the next flight? I have a better idea.
Here I’ll guide you on a quick, yet rewarding tour which won’t cost you much more than physical energy to walk a total of 6 km in the beautiful historical center of Rome.
All you need to carry is your passport, a few euros, your camera and a city map, in case you have one. Everything else is dispensable or can be found anytime on your way – such as bottles of water and things to eat. Until 2006, when I was still residing in Rome, the city was full of pickpockets, so watch your belonging and don’t even let innocent-looking children or mothers carrying babies get much close to your pockets or bags.
Once you are in the huge Termini Station, find the Nazionale Street (Via Nazionale) and walk along it heading to Venezia Square (Piazza Venezia). You’ll gradually assimilate the chaotic rhythm of the city and within 15 minutes you’ll have reached the square.
The first landmark of our tour is an imposing white building on your left. It’s called monument to Vittorio Emanuele II (or Vittoriano) and is the symbol of the Italian unification.
This is the geographic center of Rome and an area where, many centuries ago, the inhabitants of the Roman Empire used to walk around. The ruins right behind the Vittoriano will convince you I’m telling the truth. I’m talking about the Foro Romano (Roman Forum), the cultural, economic and political centre of the Roman Empire.
It’s hard not to get hypnotized by this place, but remember there are still a lot of wonders awaiting you. So walk by the ruins and cross the Forum following a path which will lead you to what you’ve always dreamed about seeing in Italy: The Coliseum.
The first break
Here you can rest a little bit. Admire the view, drink some water and take lots of pictures. Tick tack… Can we move on?
Go back to Piazza Venezia, walking a bit faster along the Via dei Fuori Imperiali this time. In the middle of the way, there’s a great spot to take pictures with the Forum in the background that you can’t miss!
Once you find yourself again in front of the stairs of the Vittoriano, cross the square and take left onto Via delle Botteghe Oscure. Walk two short blocks and turn right to reach, on the corner, the Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II. Then go on to your left.
Within a short walk, you’ll find, on your right side, the big Italian bookstore Feltrinelli. Opposite, there’s a peculiar square called Area Sacra del Largo Torre Argentina, where you can see not only ruins from around the 2nd century b.C., but also really a lot of cats (maybe more than a hundred!).
About 100 meters ahead on Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II, you’ll notice many people crossing the street. Follow the crowd going right, throw a narrow path, and you’ll enter the magic world of Piazza Navona, a popular gathering place for Romans and personally my favorite place in the Italian capital.
Time to eat
In the middle of the Navona Square, you’ll find 3 fountains and various street artists. Several restaurants and cafes in the surrounding pedestrian area offer innumerous options of pasta and other tasty dishes, as well as coffee and other drinks. So take some time for a second break here and don’t forget to try the delicious ice cream before continuing your tour.
After eating, you may feel like not walking anymore. That’s fine. Enjoy the happy atmosphere and improvise until your time is over.
Heading to the Vatican
If you still want to see more, ask for directions and get in 5 minutes to the Tiber River. On the other side of the Umberto I Bridge, you’ll see another beautiful white building, which is called Palazzo di Giustizia (Justice Palace). While crossing the bridge, keep watching the scenery at your left. The breathtaking view might be inspiring enough to make you hurry.
Once you get to the other side of the river, take left and walk along the river towards the Castel Sant’Angelo, a round castle dating back to the 2nd century. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to come in, unless you want to miss the grande finale: the Vatican.
Leaving the castle behind, you’ll automatically enter the Vatican City, the seat of the Catholic religion and home of the Pope. Walking along the large Via della Concilliazione, there are just 5 blocks between the castle and the magnificent Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter Square) and the Basilica di San Pietro (St. Peter’s Basilica).
You won’t get the chance to get inside the Sistine Chapel to see the superfamous ceiling frescoes painted by Michelangelo, but at least you won’t have to line up for maybe hours either!
Now I’m sorry for asking, but what time did you have to catch your train or plane again? If you didn’t miss it already, take a cab and good luck! And the next time you come back, do it with more time, because there’s still a lot to be seen in Rome…