If you are walking or cycling the Saint Francis Way or Via Francigena, Camino to Rome we would absolutely recommend you take an extra day to explore the Eternal City before travelling home and re-joining the real world once again. Having cycled section 16 of the Via Francigena from Viterbo to Rome, this is my favourite, not-to-be-missed Rome.
Views from Monte Mario
On the way into Rome, the Via Francigena took us to Monte Mario where you will get fantastic panoramic views of the capital before descending along an ancient Roman road, the Via Triumphale, on the way to the Vatican. As we entered St Peters square around mid-day, I must admit, with the solitude we had experienced over the past few days I was not prepared for the crowds. There was an audience with the Pope the following day, so the capacity of this vast square was reduced by roughly 60% to make way for seating.
St. Peter’s Square is only a short walk to the impressive Castel Sant’Angelo. It was originally constructed as a cylindrical castle by the Roman emperor Hadrian around 130 AD; in the 14th century it was converted into the Papal Fortress to house the Pope in times of unrest. A tour of this beautiful building is highly recommended; you will be surprised by how many of its ancient features are on display, like original red brick internal walls, mosaic floors and wide ramped corridors for horse and cart.
Trastevere at night
The Trastevere quarter is the place to be if you are looking for good food and a lively atmosphere. Trastevere is a warren of cobbled streets, ancient court yards, open air restaurants, street performers, pop up stalls selling leather goods and silk scarves. After dinner, spend the evening wandering these streets, absorbing the buzz; a high point for me was exploring some of the small lesser known, but still exquisite local churches.
Visit the Coliseum early in the morning to skip the major rush, as it is the most popular attraction in Rome after the Vatican. There are plenty of local providers offering guided tours of the monument with a variety of extras. Important questions to ask are:
How many people per tour? Smaller numbers travel quicker and cover more.
What is covered on the tour? Coliseum, Basements, Forum etc.
How long will the tour take? and most importantly how much?
A good option is a tour combining the ground floor, upper floors, forum and ancient city (basement tours need to be booked in advance). Our Coliseum guide Mario was very enthusiastic and informative, he explained the history and construction methods used to make the Coliseum one of the greatest works of Roman engineering and architecture. When we were finished or tour of the Coliseum Mario led us outside where we met Laura, she was going to be our guide for the forum and ancient city. The tour was an hour long and took highlights such as Via Sacra, Imperial Palace, House and Temple of vestals, Palatine Hill and the Roman Senate.
After your tour, you can spend some additional time exploring the ancient city, which is overflowing with history. There is so much to see in such a small area it feels like your senses are being assaulted and overloaded.