I had a 3 weeks holiday for my Christmas break. Knowing this, I started planning my holiday back in October. After considering both Paris and Rome, I decided to go with Rome. I have always wanted to visit the Eternal City and see for myself the marvels of Roman architecture. The basic details of my trip are below:

  • Duration: 5 days 4 nights (19th Dec to 23rd Dec 2011)
  • Accommodation: Hotel Madrid, GBP242 per person for 4 nights
  • Flight: Easyjet, GBP157 (return flight from Bristol to Rome)
  • Season/Temperature: Winter, average 0 to 2 degrees Celsius

Note: click on images to enlarge and click on links for further info.

DK Eyewitness Rome
DK Eyewitness Rome

Prior to coming to Rome, I bought the DK Eyewitness Travel book for Rome (~£12 on Amazon). I used it to plan my trip to maximise our stay there. I highly recommend it. One of its unique features is the “suggested itinerary” which I modified to meet our interest. Our planned itinerary is listed below.

For further details on what we did, please continue reading (this post is separated by days below)

Day 1 – 19 December 2011 (available below)

    1. Spanish Steps – evening view
    2. Trevi Fountain – evening view

Day 2 – 20 December 2011 (available below)

    1. Colosseum
    2. Palatine Hill
    3. Roman Forum
    4. Capitol Hill
    5. Pantheon
    6. Piazza Navona & Christmas Market

Day 3 – 21 December 2011 (link here)

    1. Vatican City
    2. St Peter’s Basilica
    3. Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel

Day 4 – 22 December 2011 (link here)

    1. Trevi Fountain – day view
    2. Spanish Steps – day view
    3. Shopping at Via dei Condotti
    4. Villa Borghese
    5. Circus Maximus
    6. Baths of Caracalla
    7. Piazza del Popolo – evening view

Day 5 – 23 December 2011 (link here)

    1. Mausoleum of Augustus
    2. Palace of Justice
    3. Hadrian’s Mausoleum
    4. Piazza del Popolo – day view
    5. Fly back to UK

If you’re interested in seeing the photos I took in Rome, it is available in my Flickr page here.

Day 1 (19 December 2011)

Leonardo Express
Leonardo Express

We arrived in Rome Fiumicino airport around 4PM. From there, we took the Leonardo Express train to Termini (the central train station in the city). The Leonardo Express was €16 and the trip took us 30 minutes. From Termini, we took the Metro to Spagna, the district where our hotel is located. I was quite shocked to see the sad state of these Metro stations. Although it provides efficient and timely service, in general the Metro stations looks very old and dirty. Wires dangling, trash, vandalisms etc.

When we arrived in Spagna, we exited right next to the Spanish Steps. I was quite pleased to know that our hotel, Hotel Madrid, was very near the Spanish Steps and the famous shopping district, Via dei Condotti. As for the hotel, I find the guy at the counter quite friendly. In terms of facilities, it’s your average Rome hotel. I find the small old lift amusing. The rooms were OK, but the bathroom really surprised us. It’s obvious they had put some effort into upgrading the bathrooms. It was very nice. Our room had a very nice view of the small streets beneath (we were on the 3rd floor).

Hotel Madrid
Hotel Madrid

After settling in, it was around 6PM (sunset is around 5PM). We took out our map and went out exploring the city. We went to the famous Via dei Condotti where all the fancy brands are located. From there, we walked south towards Trevi Fountain. I was surprised to find the distances between locations were quite near (I guess things tend to look far from each other on a map).

Trevi Fountain
Trevi Fountain

The Trevi fountain was absolutely gorgeous. The lightings under the water and around the scultures made everything looked surreal. We sat beside the fountain for a while, admiring the designs. After taking photos, we had dinner at a nice cosy Italian restaurant nearby. After that, we walked back along the small alleys in the city to explore the shops.

Day 2 (20 December 2011)

Breakfast at Hotel Madrid
Breakfast at Hotel Madrid

We woke up early that day. The breakfast offered at the hotel was just average, but what I was really impressed with is the coffee. I am well aware that Italy is famous for their great coffee. However, I have to say that from my stay here, the cappuccino at the hotel I stayed (Hotel Madrid), was definitely one of the best.

After breakfast, we took the Metro from Spagna to Colosseo station (Italian for Colosseum). We arrived around 9:30AM. The moment we exited the Colosseo station, the Colosseum (built: 70AD) was right in front of us. I was in awe to see its massive structure. The citadel of ancient Rome, right in front of my eyes. Amazing. Simply amazing.

Colosseum
Colosseum

One of the best thing about coming to Rome in winter is that the crowd is at its minimum. Since we arrived early in the morning, the crowd was even less. We only queued for 10 minutes to get our tickets. We collected the audio guide after that we were off exploring the Colosseum.

The Colosseum is actually not its original name. Back in ancient Rome it was known as the Flavian Amphitheatre. This is because it was built by emperors of the Flavian dynasty. The word Colosseo was probably derived from a colossal statue of Nero nearby at the time.

Inside the Colosseum
Inside the Colosseum

I know that Rome was sacked by the Goths and over the years Roman structures were pillaged by people. But what really shocked me was that back in the 1600s, the Pope made the Colosseum as a quarry for Renaissance projects. That essentially stripped all remaining marble from the Colosseum. A big chunk of its marble and stone have been converted to other structures in the Vatican and around Rome. The most evident is the steps in front of St Peter’s Basilica.

Arch of Constantine
Arch of Constantine

From the Colosseum, we went to inspect the Arch of Constantine, (built: 315AD) situated right next to amphitheater.

Ancient Romans
Ancient Romans

Outside the Colosseum, we saw a number of people dressed as ancient Roman soldiers and officials. They would try to convince you to take photos with them. This is a tourist trap. Rome is full with con-mans. I’ve heard many stories of people being conned into this. The honest ones would say their price and you can negotiate. Some would force you to take photos with them without announcing the price, and suddenly, after the photo shoot, they would ask for something like 30 Euros. Be careful. Make sure to negotiate the price beforehand. (Read about my conman experience in Rome here)

Palatine Hill
Palatine Hill

After admiring the architecture and history of the Arch of Constantine,, we went on to Palatine Hill, the ancient residence of the Caesars. There were a number of structures still standing, notably the residence of Augustus and emperors from the Flavian dynasty. There were even remains on an aqueduct going into Palatine Hill. I’ve always been amazed at the technology of the aqueduct. It’s the ancient equivalent of modern-day piping.

Some spots from Palatine Hill gave us an amazing view of the city. The emperors had a fantastic view of the city. I would imagine they would be very proud to be surrounded by such marvels, while most parts of the world are still living in the jungle.

Roman Forum
Roman Forum

From Palatine Hill, we went to the Roman Forum. The main buildings of the forum are no longer standing. However, some smaller temples survived. We visited the Temple of Romulus (in the Forum) that was built in 4th century and explored the remains of the pillars. One particular Arch that caught my attention was the Arch of Septimus Severus (erected in 203AD).

Arch of Septimus Severus
Arch of Septimus Severus
Capitoline Hill
Capitoline Hill

From there, we went on to Capitoline Hill, one of the citadels of the earliest Romans. We explored the area and admired Michelangelo’s cordonata (wide-ramped stair). After that we had teatime at the Capitoline cafeteria. It was a nice rooftop cafe overlooking the south-west of the city. After feeling rejuvenated from the excellent cappuccino served at the Capitoline, we went to the Pantheon. The walk from Capitoline Hill to the Pantheon took us around 10-15 minutes.

Pantheon
Pantheon

The Pantheon (126AD) is the best preserved Roman temple as it was converted into a church in 609AD. It is interesting to note that the famous painter Raphael is buried in the Pantheon. His tomb is clearly marked in the Pantheon.

Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona

With little sunlight remaining, we walked to Piazza Navona for teatime and to explore the Christmas market. The distance between Pantheon and Piazza Navona is less than 10 minutes by foot. We had a nice teatime at one of the cafes. After that we explored the market and the 2 famous fountains which are the landmark of Piazza Navona. Piazza Navona is located on the ancient site of Stadium of Domitian (80AD), similar in size to the Circus Maximus but used to held foot-based games (rather than chariot-based games).

It was a full day of exploring ancient Rome. I had finally relieved my teenage dream, to see the wonders of the Roman Empire. The next day is set for exploring Christian Rome, the Vatican!

Related posts: Rome Day 1 & 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5