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11 Days in Rome June 2023

We just got back from 11 days in Rome, June 5 -15. Although I’ve been to Europe many times, this was my first trip to Italy. We had originally planned to do this trip in April of 2021 along with Tuscany, but that obviously didn’t happen.

The trip was designed around ancient Rome, and everything else I considered extras. 11 days still didn’t seem like enough. To prepare for the trip we had the RS Rome guide, and I watched a course from Yale on Roman architecture and art, along with Mary Beard’s 3-part documentary on Rome. You can find all those on youtube if that kind of deep dive interests you.
We stayed near Termini Train station (less than 10 minute walk) at the Hotel Britania, a smaller, but nice place. Our thinking was we wanted to be near rail connections for easy transport, and so we wouldn’t have to take a cab to our hotel. (The stories about cabbies gave us pause)

Day 1 - Exploring
We took the day leisurely and walked around most of the old part, seeing things that were neither museums nor major sights, with one exception. We saw the Victory Emmanuelle monument, Theater of Marcelus, House of Livia, Tempilo di Portuno and Temple of Hercules Victor, Largo di Torre Argentina, and the Plaza Navona, the Peace Altar, and the Pantheon. It was a nice introduction to the area and a good way to recover from a long flight. The Pantheon was impressive and completely worth it, but the crowds outside were anything but interesting. So many people. One of four places that just has too many people. (The others: Vatican Museum, Trevi Fountain, Colosseum) Fortunately, the line moved very quickly.

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Day 2 – Breakfast at the Vatican Museum

We bought breakfast tickets for the Vatican Museum. When I tried to buy tickets (they go on sale midnight Rome time) I could see their server was overloaded instantly. Maybe I could’ve gotten a standard admission. But I noticed the breakfast tickets didn’t sell out right away, and you could buy them even farther in advance. I decided it would be much easier just to pay the difference. I read a review on some site and they mentioned they had early access to the museum with few people. We had to eat (we didn’t buy breakfast at the hotel) anyway, so the 18 euro price, even if it seemed steep, was at least 10 euros in food and so I was paying a bit of a premium for early access.

This was the best decision of the trip. The breakfast was a lot of food, and good. There weren’t too many people at the restaurant; perhaps, it was 3/5ths full. The little, open-air, roofed, restaurant sits in the square with the pinecone. It was a pleasant morning, perfect for eating in the open air. After we finished eating around 8 or 8:15 we went into the museum. There was hardly anyone in the museum. We walked relatively leisurely through the Roman art works, then through the map and tapestry rooms, and on into the Raphael rooms. There was never more than a handful of people. In the Sistine Chapel, there were maybe 30 people plus the guards. We sat on one side, then on the other, took out the RS guide and read the information about the paintings. Then stood in the back for different views. It was quiet and calm the whole time. We were there somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes. We then walked through the rest of the museum. We have many photos of us in the museum with only a couple people in the corridors.

Once we were through the museum, I thought we could loop back and see something we missed. You can, but all the groups were in and it was shoulder to shoulder and you can’t really see anything. I think I would skip the museum if I had to do that. It was worse than Versailles, which was my previous personal low in mass tourism. We left the museum. It was around 11.
If you are going to splurge on one thing in Rome, I would do it here. And an extra 18 euros added to the ticket isn’t the biggest splurge one can make.

After this we went to St. Peters. A decent length line. But the line to get to the roof was so we skipped it. The crowd around the Pieta reminded me of the Mona Lisa. But it is certainly worth seeing it all. I will say it isn’t my favorite church, but certainly a must see.

Then on to Travestere for a look around. We had finished the Vatican so quickly we had quite a bit of free time. My wife had been to Travestere 25 years ago, and was surprised how touristed it had become. We didn’t stay there very long, although we did visit several churches which were well worth it.

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Day 3 - Forum, Palatine Hill, Colosseum (Super Pass)
This was a long day. We had a 3:15 tour at the Colosseum, so we did the Forum first. It was quite sunny, and was probably going to get in the mid 80s so we opted to go to Palatine Hill first. There is even less shade up there, and I wanted to avoid climbing the hill in warmer parts of the day. Thoroughly enjoyed it. The Yale series really helped here. We had the Super Pass so we went into all the little museums on the hill. I enjoyed them, but if you are pressed for time, you won’t feel like you missed anything.

Same with the forum, the yale course, and having RS’s book were enough here. The old church that was part of Domitian’s covered walkway up to the Palatine hill was the best of the Super Pass, especially if you are interested in architecture since it is a huge building. We also walked through the Julian Forum and the Imperial Forum and parts of Trajan’s forum on the other side of the Via Imperiali. It wasn’t obvious that you could do that, but it’s well worth it if you have the time.

The Colosseum ticket was the hardest to get when using the official website. I didn’t really consider third party tours. I’m rather independent. The tickets go on sale online, 30 days before the entry, at the time of the entry. They sell out instantly. If you don’t know what time the entries are for, you’ll think they are always sold out or don’t have any. I could’ve skipped the Colosseum but I wanted the Super Pass, but as far as I could tell you can only get that with the Colosseum. So, I chose a guided tour in Spanish of the subterranean portions of the Colosseum. Fortunately, we speak Spanish and those tickets don’t sell out as fast (a matter of hours rather than seconds). Italian sells out even slower. English is probably achievable, but I had given up on it. At some point in the tour the guide said the tickets are hard to get. That is quite true. The tour was quite good and goes into detail on everything you would expect. It gives you great access. After the tour you can walk around the rest of the Colosseum.

The area around the Colosseum is a zoo. There are so many tourists. And I can see how the metro station would be perfect for pickpockets. It was jam packed at the entrance (we didn’t ride it, but walked back to the hotel).

After that we slept 12 hours.

Day 4 - Borghese Gallery & Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels and Martyrs
We walked over to Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels and Martyrs. If you are interested in ancient Rome, this is a must. The former Baths of Diocletian, it is now a church, but much of the original columns and marble decorations remain. It’s a huge building and gives you such a great sense of what a Roman building in it’s prime might’ve looked like.

I wasn’t sure about the Borghese Gallery. It was in the RS book as a must. I would certainly agree with that. The Bernini statues are amazing. There is plenty of other art that will fill the better part of your allotted two hours. Due to the entry times, and limited number of tickets, of all the big attractions (Colosseum, Vatican, Pantheon, Trevi fountain) it is the most comfortable. The park outside is a pleasant place and worth a stroll if you have time.

We walked down the Via Veneto and then to the Trevi Fountain. I can do without it. Sadly, too many people.

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Day 5 – Etruscan Museum & National Museum of Rome
The Etruscan museum was wonderful and expansive. Well worth the visit. It was such a nice change from the big sites: quiet. There are some beautiful finds there.

The National Museum of Rome Palazzo Massimo. The statues were great, but I think the real treat were the frescos on the second floor. That is what I remember most and it is what differentiates it from the Capitoline Museum.

Day 6 - Galleria Colonna, Trajan’s Market, Capitoline Museum
Galleria Colonna Museo is a privately held palace that lets visitors in a few times a week. There is a lot of art, but none of it is by any name I recognize. Nevertheless, it is a delightful place. The staff were very friendly. They asked us and others if we had questions about the palace. I’ve never seen that before. There is also a garden that is built into the hill behind which is beautiful and surprising how much garden they were able to fit into such a small place. The views from the top of the garden are great. It looks out at the Victor Emmanuel Monument. If you extra time it is nice, but I wouldn’t make it a priority.

Up the block is Trajan’s Market. There was hardly anyone there, which is a shame since it is an impressive complex built into the hill. You can also access parts of Trajan’s forum you can’t from the Imperial forum. And there are some great views across the Imperial and Julian Forum. We were there an hour or so.

After lunch to the Capitoline Museum. This is a must, although from the number of people there, not everyone thinks so. It is a huge place with two buildings. The statues are second to none. And the views of Rome from the rooftop café and of the Roman forum were great. We were there 4 hours. I could’ve spent even more time there.

Day 7 – National Museum of Rome Baths of Diocletian and Palazzo Altemps

I bought the combined ticket at the National Museum of Rome. It is just a few euros more. I wanted to see more of the baths of Diocletian. You can definitely see more, so if you are really interested in architecture might be worth it. The museum they have in the old cloister wasn’t interesting and we just walked through it. However, they were also having a special exhibition and they had some masterworks of Roman art, such as the bronze athletes from Herculaneum, so it turned out to be a great experience. It was the only museum where I felt like it was mostly Italian’s looking at the exhibition.

It was Sunday, so we had a long lunch. But we had time to go to Palazzo Altemps. This museum certainly isn’t as good as the other National Museum of Rome or the Capitoline Museum, but the building is beautiful, and there are some good statues. What I found fascinating was that most statues came with an explanatory plaque that had a drawing of the statue and a highlight of what had been restored. That changed my appreciation of the statues for the remaining part of the journey.

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Day 8 – Naples: Herculaneum and Naples Archeology Museum
We took the first Italo high speed train(7:30 ish). I picked Italo of Traintina because the fares were a little better as were the times. It was a great service. The ride through the countryside was quite nice.

Once in Naples, we bought a ticket to go to Ercolano. This was one of the few real mistakes I made in the trip. I didn’t realize there were two stations. One is the port and one is near the scavi. I picked the port by accident and when we got off I knew we were in the wrong spot. I looked at google maps and it was a 25 minute walk. I didn’t want to do that. Luckily there was a taxi, so with a “sacavi di Ercolonano” we settled on 15 euros and we were there in five minutes or so. I will say the route was through the most run down part of Italy we saw. It could’ve been out of a 1950’s neo realist film.

Herculaneum didn’t disappoint. I picked it over Pompeii because I wanted to go to the have time for the Archaeology Museum and I knew Pompeii would be too tempting to see everything. And all the great frescos and mosaics are in the museum. (I also wanted to avoid the crowds a bit) We were there 2.5 hours and saw it all in a leisurely pace. The art, wood, and buildings that are there are impressive, and you can really get a sense of what it was like in that town.

We took the train back to the Naples train station, then took the metro to the Archeology Museum. We ate lunch at the museum, then went through the collection. It has such impressive statues, mosaics, and frescos. The fresco room is huge. We did not go into the Magnus Grecia exhibit for questions of time. It would be hard to pick a favorite museum but this one ranks with the Capitoline and the National Museum.

The train back was uneventful.

Day 9 – Churches

  • Santa Maria Maggiore
  • San Giovanni in Luttero – A little too big for my liking.
  • Basilica di Santo Stefano Rotando al Celio – an early church that has a mosaic and some old frescos.
  • Basilica of Saint Praxedes – Beautiful mosaics. A must. Much more restrained than some of the baroque giants. Bring a euro coin to light the mosaics. It is worth it.

It also rained like I’ve never seen in my life. Due to the humidity and the heat we encountered several days of thunder storms. More than once I saw lightning bolts.

Day 10 – Ostia Antica, EUR, Basilica of San Clemente, and Case Romane del Celio
First to Basilica of San Clemente where we had reservations of the underground portions of the building, which include an early church and a Roman home and temple. The whole place was fascinating and worth the visit.

Then to Case Romane del Celio which is a 4th century Roman home with wall frescos. Another interesting side trip into Roman life.
We took the train to Ostia Antica. It is a huge place and you can get lost in there for hours. It is a nice respite from the bustle of Rome. The theater and the marketplace behind are amazing. The mosaics in front of the various guild offices are quite delightful. I highly recommend it.

On the way back we stopped at the EUR. It’s a quick visit, maybe 45 minutes, but an interesting place and worth a quick look around.

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Day 11 – St Peter in Chains, the Villa Farnesina, and Santa Maria del Popolo
This was a bonus day. I though I had bought a flight to Barcelona at 9:45 AM, but it was PM. None of these sites were on my agenda, and if I’d had more time in Rome I would’ve picked Tivoli over these.

That said, both St Peter in Chains and Santa Maria del Popolo did not disappoint. I am glad we saw them. They are worth the visit.

The Villa Farnesina frescos are impressive, but for the price if I had to pick, I’d choose Galleria Colonna. The art isn’t as great at Colonna, but there is a little more to see. However, there was a staircase that was painted as if it were from Pompeii and after seeing so many frescos, this jumped out at us for its vibrance.

We then took the train to the airport. Very quick and easy from where we stayed in Termini.

A great trip, but pretty tiring at times.

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What a great report! I’ve bookmarked it for future reference. We would love to do a similar trip. Thanks!!!

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Lovely trip report. Rome has so much to offer. We did the early access tour to the Vatican Museum, next time I’ll take your advice to book the breakfast. We spent 8 days in Rome and never even made any day trips, too much to see. So many churches and museums and palaces. I would love to return but there’s just too many other places to visit. Reading your report helps to relive our trip.

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Thank you, jpaulptr. I, also, am bookmarking. We spent about a week in Rome last year, but of course couldn't see everything we wanted to, so another trip is in our future!

And we will definitely book the Vatican Museum breakfast. Such an amazing museum, and so hard to enjoy it with the massive crowds.

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What an interesting and helpful trip report! And thanks, too, for the YouTube suggestions. I’m returning to Rome in the fall for a couple of weeks and look forward to seeing some of your top picks.