First-time visitors to Rome usually have one common goal: to see the Colosseum. The epic monument is recognized across the world; the place of ancient bloody battles and screaming crowds of spectators. Think of it as the original sports stadium.
Dan and I visited the Colosseum on our third and final full day in Rome. We’d visited many of the other “must-sees” on our first day in the city, and we had saved the best for last.
We woke up mid-morning and began our walk to the Colosseum. When booking our accommodation near Piazza Navona, the Colosseum had seemed pretty far out of the way. We were relieved to see that it was just a twenty minute walk away; a walk that took us along crowded city streets and past some of Rome’s best-known museums. We couldn’t help but laugh at how hectic the street crossings were, nuns and scammers alike stepping boldly in front of oncoming traffic, daring drivers to hit them. Scooters zipped through any gap in pedestrian traffic, while those confined to cars tapped on the gas pedal and encouraged tourists like myself to move a little more quickly.
After our disastrous non-visit to the Vatican City the day before, Dan and I had been careful to look up how and where to buy tickets to the Colosseum. We learned that the most efficient way to get in was to buy tickets at the nearby Roman Forum. The ticket for the Colosseum includes entry to both sites, and by buying our tickets at the Forum, we could skip the potentially long lines at Rome’s most popular tourist attraction.
The only problem was finding the Roman Forum. The Forum and Palatine Hill covers a massive area, with multiple entrances. The directions we followed from Google Maps took us to the perimeter of the Forum, with no entrance in sight, and shut off with a cheerful “You have arrived!” We wound up climbing uphill, past the Forum, and all the way to the Capitoline Museums with no ticket booth in sight.
Here is a reference map to help out my fellow lost tourists. Just search for “Biglietteria Foro Romano,” located at Largo della Salara Vecchia. We only waited about ten minutes for our tickets, and also opted to rent a couple of audio guides. We were told to bring our receipt to the audio guide window at the Colosseum for exchange. Then it was time to head on down the road and marvel at the Colosseum at last.
We were grateful to have our tickets in hand as we approached the massive structure and its sea of independent tour operators. Where we had floundered the day before, we now strode confidently onward to the base of the Colosseum and into the much shorter line for visitors who already had tickets. It only took 10-15 minutes to get through the line, pass through metal detectors, and pick up our audio guides and maps on the bottom floor. We followed the recommended path for our audio guides, climbing the steep, ancient steps to the upper level.
This level of the Colosseum had a very interesting exhibit on its history, including artifacts and detailed pieces on what it was like to visit the Colosseum.
One sign detailed what a day here was like, beginning with staged animal hunts and culminating in the epic gladiator battles, while another sign detailed what it was like for everyday common people to attend the games. I was amazed to know that entry was free, and food, drinks and more were generally free to all those in attendance as well!
Stepping into the center of the Colosseum was the oddest feeling. It was almost familiar, like the thrill of stepping out into a football stadium. Immediately, I could imagine all those people rushing to fill the seats, talking excitedly about everything to come. Just like modern day sporting events, I’m sure people had their favorite competitors and made (or lost) plenty of money betting on the outcome of the games. One thing is for sure, I don’t envy them having to climb all those steps to the upper levels. Since the games were free to attend, seating was determined by social class, with the poorest and “lowest” of Roman society way up in the cheap seats. Women also sat up in the higher seats, away from the men. The richer and more powerful the person, the better the seat! The emperor and senators held designated seats at the very edge of the pit, as close to the action as possible.
As we walked around the upper level of the Colosseum, we marveled at its size and tried to put ourselves in the sandals of ancient Roman citizens attending the games. There were six stopping points for the audio guide. The information provided was brief but interesting. My only complaint is that I wanted to know more! Six short stops is not nearly enough time to learn all I wanted about the Colosseum…but that’s what Google exists for, I guess.
Here are some of my favorite photos from our visit.
Please let me know if you would like to see more photos from the Colosseum. I’ve been toying with the idea of a photo essay post, so please speak up if you would be interested in seeing more!
We spent an hour or two wandering around the Colosseum, which Dan deemed his favorite part of our visit to Rome, and then we were off in search of food. We had foolishly skipped breakfast that morning, thinking we could find a place to grab a bite near the site, but were distracted from our original plan when looking for the Roman Forum ticketing booth. We had lunch at a pizza and pasta place nearby, the kind of place that displays yellowing newspaper articles from 2008 declaring them the best restaurant in Rome. The food here was not very memorable. Pizza lover that I am, it is likely that we just ordered pizza and espresso before making our way to the Roman Forum.
We snagged some gelato on our way back, marking the first time in our entire vacation that we had to get more cash from an ATM. Up until then, we’d survived off of cash and credit, and were feeling pretty damn good about how we’d spent our money. Lots of food, wine, and even a little shopping had made for an unusually luxe break from our regular lives. We ate our gelato just outside the Roman Forum with the bittersweet knowledge that this was our last full day in Rome. It had been an incredible two weeks, even with the occasional illness, sore feet, and petty arguments over where and when to eat. There was a certain sadness in knowing it was almost over, sweetened by the thought of going home to cuddle our cat and spent an entire day resting in our own bed.
It’s a good thing we visited the Forum on our last day in Rome, because knowing we would be on our way home the next day enabled us to keep going despite feeling sore and a little sluggish. The Roman Forum was absolutely incredible; without a doubt my favorite part of our stay in the city. It was the Rome I’d always imagined, full of crumbling old columns, ancient arches, and statues of philosophers and politicians alike. Here were the temples, the Roman gods, and the cobbled streets overgrown with greenery.
The Roman Forum provided an escape into a world long-forgotten, an impression made even stronger by the lack of people trying to shove worthless selfie sticks and knockoff purses in our faces. It was wonderful to see the Rome of my dreams, devoid of any of the things that had annoyed me on our trip thus far. Sure, the main square was crowded with school groups and independent tours, but the sheer size of the site meant we were able to get away and spend a good chunk of the visit wandering from place to place on our own.
Considering how much I loved the Forum and how many pictures we took here, there will definitely be a stand-alone post dedicated to this gorgeous place soon! For now, here are a few pictures to pique your interest.
Oh man, you have no idea how much I am dying to write more about the Forum right now. I know I have a tendency to write super long posts, and I’ll never apologize for it. I will, however, save the details here for a special dedicated post. We stayed much longer than I had expected to, leaving only when our feet were throbbing and our shoes had a nice coating of dust.
We made our way back to the hotel, where we rested up a bit and looked up a place to eat dinner. After having it recommended to us over and over again, we had decided to dine in Trastevere, a trendy little neighborhood on the other side of the river. I found a spot with excellent reviews, a cozy little pasta and wine bar called Ombre Rosse.
Well…it did serve wine and pasta, but it was not what I had expected from the reviews. The cute little restaurant was covered in kitschy posters and knick-knacks, served water in jumbo Absolut bottles, and featured an extensive cocktail menu in addition to the wine list. Dan joked that we’d managed to find a Roman TGI Fridays. The restaurant may not have been what we’d expected, but we had a fun time just hanging out and eating delicious food, celebrating our final night in Rome.
We ordered rosemary flatbread to start, which I’m happy to say was much better than the one we’d had at Bernini the previous evening, and a charcuterie platter to share. Considering how many bottles of wine we’d shared over the last two weeks, we decided to embrace the American vibe of the restaurant and order a couple of cocktails. For the mains, I ordered pasta with pesto sauce, and Dan finally enjoyed his favorite meal, a tasty chicken parm. Our waitress was fun and friendly, the service was quick and efficient, and the food was delicious. My only small complaint was that we were seated right next to the stage, and could barely hear each other over the live musicians, who played and sang well-known songs from U.S. artists.
The dinner might not have been the ultra-romantic Italian escape I’d imagined, but we had a great time anyway. Besides, wasn’t this whole trip a romantic Italian escape?
We stepped back out into the charming streets of Trastevere, merrily walking along past the beautiful doors and buildings that we had become so accustomed to seeing all over the place. We ended up next to the river, which we followed back to Castel Sant’Angelo and towards our hotel.
After a little more exploring and basking in the beauty of Rome, we grabbed some gelato by the Pantheon and called it a night. Rome, you are beautiful.
The following day, we checked out of our hotel, leaving our luggage with the very friendly front desk employees while we set out for a half day of exploration. The hotel staff arranged for a car to pick us up just outside the front door, a service which cost about five euros more than a regular cab, and saved us the stress of waiting around to hail a cab on our own and get to the airport on time. This small kindness helped us to relax and be in the moment as we enjoyed our final hours in the city.
We ordered cappuccinos and not one, not two, but three pastries from a yummy little bakery, and brought the treats back to Piazza Navona for our final breakfast in Rome. Can you tell we were already feeling nostalgic?
As we ate, we enjoyed the sunlit square, the beautiful buildings and even the crowds of people milling about, reflecting on the vacation of a lifetime and already planning future trips with our kids. Those vendors selling junk and the high school tour groups glued to their phones didn’t seem nearly as annoying now that our trip was drawing to a close.
With a few hours to kill, we decided to check out a couple more churches, relax by the river, and maybe even visit the Castel Sant’Angelo just down the street. We visited the lovely church at Piazza Navona, where I gave my remaining vacation change to a man begging outside the door. There was no photography allowed inside the church, and the seats were occupied by art or architecture students sketching their favorite parts of the interior. I’ve always loved taking photos, even more so now that I blog about my travels, but being forced to keep my camera in my bag was kind of nice. It’s things like that that allow me to be more present and encourage me to appreciate and remember all the little details without the aid of a camera.
We visited a couple more churches, including one that supposedly held the actual foot of Mary Magdalene, encased in gold and displayed in its own little shrine. I thought that was the oddest thing, but as I giggled to myself at the magical foot, a family came up and paid their respects. You better believe I stopped laughing and felt ashamed at once.
Dan and I crossed the river to check out the Castel Sant’Angelo. We had passed it nearly every day of our trip, and had no idea what the monument meant or what was hidden inside.
With just an hour or two to kill, and a fee to enter the site, we opted not to go inside. Instead, we spent some time walking around the outside and relaxing in the adjacent park. It was wonderful to rest our feet and just close our eyes, relaxing in the sun and counting our blessings.
An old beggar woman came around asking everyone in the vicinity for money. We did not have any, since I’d given all of my remaining cash to the man in Piazza Navona, but the woman persisted in her advances, getting angry when we continued to tell her no. When she came back to pester us a second time, we realized why we had enjoyed our relaxing spot in the park so much. It was one of the few places in the city where no one was trying to invade our space and get something out of us.
Our peace disturbed, we left the park and enjoyed some time by the river, where Dan noticed the most peculiar and beautiful rainbow streaking through the clouds.
Then it was back to Piazza Navona, where we soaked up the atmosphere until it was time to meet our driver and catch our flight back to Paris. If only we could have stayed in Paris once we arrived! Still, we were happy to head back home. Two weeks in Europe was the perfect amount of time to see family, do plenty of sightseeing, relax, drink wine, and generally enjoy ourselves. While there were plenty of things we did not see this time around, like the majority of the gardens at Versailles, or the Vatican City here in Italy, we left satisfied that we had maintained a good balance of relaxation and typical sightseeing activities. And now, with sore feet and tired bodies, we were actually eager to go home and return to our familiar apartment and friends, snuggle with the cat, watch some Netflix…you get the idea. With all that we had seen and done, we were ready to return to reality.
This trip turned out so much better than we had imagined when booking our flights and hotels, thanks in large part to the generosity of my grandparents. I will forever be grateful to them for offering to fly us out, host us in Chaumont, and pay for several things once we arrived. Mamie and Papy, thank you for elevating our trip from a penny-pinching getaway into a truly luxurious vacation experience. I love you both!