I had the pleasure of visiting the Eternal City of Rome recently. The city is buzzing with energy, there is not a corner you turn into where you don’t walk into a group of tourists from a faraway corner of the world or a local on a Vespa or a Lambretta rushing to work or university. From the narrow streets, to the scooters, to the bridges I couldn’t help but see the similarities between this cities layout and that of Amsterdam (read more about my visit here). Like the Dam, the city has managed to achieve an equilibrium between attracting tourists, with a record of 48.3 million visiting between June and August 2017 alone, and at the same time keeping the locals around, creating a multi-cultural, charming Italian super city.
If you’re a first-time visitor you can follow the same old tourist trail as millions of others each year, or you can do things slightly differently and get a much better understanding of how real Romans live in the city without missing out on the standard tourist attractions. If you’re looking to do the latter of the two, here are 5 key tips that will allow you to maximise your return on investment when visiting Rome for the first time.
Key attractions are free, saving you ££!
The best and most surprising thing about Rome is that some of the city’s top attractions such as the Patheon, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain and St Peters Basilica are completely free. You can thus save your self some serious pounds/dollar/euros and redirect this cash to other activities for your stay. Although this is great, my business mind couldn’t help but feel that an opportunity has been missed by the local authorities to generate at least some revenue that could contribute to the maintenance of the many glorious monuments Rome has to offer for future generations.
The early bird catches the good shots. So, go out early.
Rome is full of tourists and it is difficult to find a good spot if you’re serious about your photography and love to document your trips. If you can wake up early and avoid the groups of tourist it is definitely worth doing!
The Eternal City or the Obelisk city?
When in the Eternal city it is easy to get lost in the fantastic relics of ancient Rome and it is easy to forget that the city hosts hidden gems from another ancient civilisation – the Egyptians. Obelisks were used by ancient Egyptians to make important statements using hieroglyphic and were regularly placed on either side of the entrances to their temples. Centuries ago various Roman emperors imported these obelisks and positioned them in key locations throughout their capital city. Over the years quite a few of these obelisks went missing and when rediscovered they were often broken and dirty. Several Popes invested heavily in repairing them and adding further detail and symbolic messages, mainly Christian symbols such as the addition of crosses at the top. You will find that they’re now positioned in front of churches and other important building. Did you know that there were once also ancient Roman and Ethiopian obelisks dotted across the city?
Visit the Pantheon
You must simply visit the Pantheon. The thousand year old former Roman temple has been converted to a magnificent church by one of Rome’s many Popes. The internal architecture is as impressive as the external. The width and height of the inside of the building (approx. 43 meters high and wide) together with the light peaking through the hole in the dome is simply breath-taking.
Tour with a local!
I had the pleasure of having a friend that is a native to Rome and knowing basic Italian but visiting parts of this magnificent city outside of the central town was still a massive cultural education. From the local pizzeria to the elderly locals coming out of their high-rise flats to walk their dogs at night, I really enjoyed seeing the daily lives of Romans. It is only when you go out of the tourist-dominated city center that you appreciate that English is not very widely spoke compared to say Amsterdam. This is especially the case among the older generations. The more Italian you know the more enjoyable the interaction will be for you and everyone around you.
If travelling by air take into the account that both the airports closest to Rome are quite far away, so be prepared for a long taxi ride. Also be aware that Rome can get really, really hot so make sure to bring plenty of fluids as you’ll be walking to key attractions! If you want to have a drink in or want to eat in they have different prices (usually higher), so be aware and take away where possible.