Venice with its gondolas and canals, is without a doubt what started my wanderlust for romantic destinations! It was absolutely THE destination I wanted to travel to most of all since my dream of traveling the world began. There's so much more to Italy though, below are our suggestions for things to see and do based on some of the highlights from our own trip in October 2014. Note: There's so many wonderful historical facts to discover about these stunning attractions but to keep this blog more compact, I've only provided short insights and linked the names of the attractions to more information that you can refer to.
Explore Romantic Rome
Left: Entrance to our hotel Relais Palazzo Taverna. Right: We recommend taking a stroll through the beautiful streets of Rome.
We stayed in a budget hotel named Relais Palazzo Taverna during our time in Rome. We loved it because it was in a great location - right in the historical centre. I've read that it can be even cheaper to stay outside of the city but we feel that you would then have to spend more time and money walking or taking a taxi to these wonderful attractions that were close to our hotel:
The Piazza Navona
~ The Piazza Navona - said to be one of the grandest and most vibrant outdoor hubs in Rome. It's where you will find the work of renowned Italian sculptor and architect Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers which was designed in 1651. It is believed to be one of the most astonishing fountains ever created and we could see why! Having an artistic background, I'm very aware how much hard work it would have been to make detailed sculptures such as these and Bernini is one of the best sculptors in history! Reading up about the process in how these are made will really give you even more of an appreciation for this wonderful art!
Inside The Pantheon
~The Pantheon - now a church but it used to be a Roman temple. This travel gem represents unique Roman architectural elements with its pediment and a concrete dome that has a central opening to the sky. According to Wikipedia, the Pantheon's dome is still the world's largest concrete dome that has not been reinforced. Such a perfect dome without supports in the centre is still an architectural wonder!
The Castel Sant'Angelo
~ The Castel Sant'Angelo - a castle which was once the tallest building in Rome. It was originally commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as mausoleum for himself and his family. Later on it was used by the popes as a fortress and a castle but nowadays it is a museum. The bridge that leads to it runs over a river and is decorated beautifully with statues to marvel at!
Left: We waited in the queue of The Vatican for over two hours. Right: Incredible detail on a section of the roof of The Vatican.
~ San Peter's square (the Vatican City State) - It's really fascinating that you can visit Italy and then by going to the Vatican City State you are entering another country which is located in the city of Rome - a country within a country! That's crossing off 2 countries from your bucket list in one trip :P There's a million reasons to visit this majestic wonder, but I was especially excited to visit the Vatican to see the painting named The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo. It was at the very end of this massive building, on the roof of the Sistine Chapel). I'm really thankful now that I had to walk through so much of the Vatican to see it as I discovered so many other wonderful things such as The Gallery of Maps. Unfortunately at the time we visited, no one was allowed to take photos in the Sistine Chapel. We booked a skip the line private tour of the Vatican Museums through Viator.com which was cancelled unfortunately and we only found that out on the day which was a pain. We couldn't reschedule our tour as we had it booked for our last day in Rome. Due to this unfortunate incident we had to stand in the very long, slow moving queue for over two hours which was awful because people kept pushing in. We highly recommend booking a skip the line tour and hope yours works out on the day to avoid getting so frustrated with queue jumpers that you want to swear at them in front of one of the most holiest of places in the world!
The Trevi Fountain
~ The Trevi Fountain - I had seen photos of it before going there but I had no idea just how magnificent this fountain actually is until we went there! For starters, it's a lot bigger than it looks in photos! Following the sweet tradition, my partner and I also stood with our backs towards the fountain and threw coins with our right hand over our left shoulders hoping it will mean that we will return to Rome one day!
We often stopped at the Mariotti cafe close to our hotel for affordable and basic meals. My favourite was the spinach and cheese on toasted bread. We took a taxi to The Colosseum and enjoyed this wonderful skip the line Ancient Rome and Colosseum Tour that we booked through Viator.com.
The outside of The Colosseum
The Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre ever built - it is where Roman Gladiators (armed combatants) used to fight against each other and wild animals as entertainment for audiences of the Roman Empire. Our tour included the underground chambers, arena and upper tier.
The underground chambers of The Colosseum
It was incredible to be able to walk in the underground chambers where the wild animals used in the were caged and gladiators prepared, step into the arena where the battles occurred and seeing the Colosseum in full view from the upper tier.
The view of the inside of The Colosseum from the upper tier.
Included in the tour was a look at the Roman Forum, once the political heart of the city.
A glimpse of the Roman Forum
The large pillars were amazing but I personally didn't love this part of the tour or Rome. It's where I learnt that I'm not a big fan of ruins that are too ruined - a lot of the site had large rocks laying around loose that just didn't do it for me personally. Authentic Italian Cuisine with the Best View in Rome
It doesn't get better than an authentic Italian meal with the view of the Colosseum!
Tip for the romantic travellers: We highly recommend having an authentic Italian meal at the restaurants right in front of the Colosseum - having a meal with the one you love while sharing the full view of this amazing site was one of our top experiences!
The Arch of Constantine
Close to the Colosseum is another famous landmark with incredible details carved in the stone - the Arch of Constantine, the largest Roman triumphal arch. Emperors would walk under it when they entered the city in triumph all those years ago.
Climbing The Holy Stairs on your knees was an extremely humbling and touching experience for me.
One of the main highlights for me personally during our visit to Rome was climbing the Holy Stairs ("Scala Sancta). According to the ancient Christian tradition, the mother of Constantine (Saint Helena) had the stairs transported from the palace of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem to Rome. It is believed that Jesus climbed these very stairs several times on the day he was sentenced to death. It is marble stairs covered in wood with see through openings here and there that is said to be in the areas where the blood of Jesus had fallen. Like many, I climbed these stairs on my knees (you are required to do so and not allowed to walk on them as you would on a normal set of stairs), one step at a time and felt incredibly close to God when doing so. I still get goosebumps thinking about how I felt in that moment, it was an extremely spiritual and touching experience that I will never forget.
Exquisite details from inside the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran.
A short walk from the Holy Stairs,is the glorious Archbasilica of St. John Lateran - definitely one of the most beautiful churches we've been blessed to visit! It is said that as the Cathedral of the Pope que Bishop of Rome, it ranks superior to all other churches of the Roman Catholic Church which is why it is also the only one titled "Archbasilica" among all other basilicas. z
Tip for the romantic travellers: While wandering the streets of romantic Rome, more than a few sellers of roses will approach you! It's a wonderful gesture and treat when your partner buys you one the first time this happens but it can become quite awkward after a while when they keep approaching you! You might want to have an adult discussion about it before being approached to spare yourselves the awkwardness that can come with it when your partner might feel he's letting you down if he doesn't get you 50 roses :D
We also booked a weird and wonderful tour through Viator named Skip the line: Crypts and Roman Catacombs Small-Group Walking Tour. It was exactly what we'd hoped for - absolutely unique and fascinating - especially as it included a visit to tiny chapels named the Capuchin Crypt that is decorated with thousands of actual human bones! This may sound disturbing but as it was explained to us by our tour guide, the display is not meant to be morbid but rather a silent reminder that life is short and we are mere mortals. Unfortunately no one is allowed to take photos during the tour so I have none to show you. It's definitely worth seeing if you are in Rome - life is short after all, we should see the world as much as we can while we can :P
Travel tip: All of the attractions mentioned here are extremely popular tourist spots and unfortunately we need to recommend that you take extra care of your belongings while visiting these spots as the areas are prone to pickpockets.
Learn to fight each other like Gladiators!
We laughed so much learning to fight each other like Gladiators!
One of the most fun things you can do together as a couple in Rome is go to Gladiator School at Gruppo Storico Romano. We learnt real gladiator fighting techniques while even wearing the relevant clothing for the task and then had to fight each other which was hilarious! As you can see, our Italian trip was off to a great start! Next we travelled from Rome to Verona and later from Verona to Venice by train - keep an eye out for the next chapter of this two-part blog post coming soon :)
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Sources: 1. Wikipedia 2. WalksOfItaly.com