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Rome is a popular layover spot, as well as one of the world’s top tourist destinations. While there is enough to see and do to keep you busy for weeks if not months, two days is plenty of time to take in many of its highlights. The secret is to know where to experience it, and in some cases, when.
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Tour the Roman Colosseum
Rome’s most famous recognized symbol is something you won’t want to miss, but to save time, take a tour after dark to avoid waiting in long lines and take it in illuminated against the backdrop of the night’s sky. This classical ruin was inaugurated in the 1st century AD, with an audience of over 50,000 watching the brutal fights between man and beast. The last battle occurred in 523, and despite centuries of neglect, including its time as a quarry all the way through the 18th century, it has remained remarkably intact for the most part.
Wander Through the Roman Forum
The Forum was the center of life in ancient Rome, where it played host to festivals and celebrations as well as rituals and funerals. It dates back to 500 BC, but was expanded by Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, Domitian, and Trajan. Stepping into this vast archeological site and strolling through the ruins, it’s easy to imagine the ancient Romans walking the cobbled streets – and even bringing sacrifices to the temples. Small group tours are available to take visitors into areas usually closed to the public where you can admire it all in relative silence.
Toss a Coin in Trevi Fountain
One of Rome’s most popular attractions, visiting Trevi Fountain won’t take much time, though you may have to battle a few crowds unless you visit late at night or very early in the morning. This Baroque masterpiece showcases a marble statue of Neptune at its center, surrounded by Tritons. Legend says there are multiple benefits that come from throwing three coins into the fountain, ranging from finding your true love to having the opportunity to return to Rome. Fortunately, all those coins are thrown in, a total of which averages $3,500 a day, go to a good cause, supporting food programs for the poor in the city.
Visit the Vatican Museum
You may be able to manage two after-dark tours here with a little careful planning. The Vatican Museum is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, holding some of the world’s most important art collections. It includes an extensive array of ancient sculptures and Renaissance works as well as the magnificent Sistine Chapel and its Michelangelo frescoes. Other highlights here include the Raphael Rooms and St. Peter’s Basilica – in a place known for its beautiful churches, none can hold a candle to St. Peter’s, the largest, richest and most stunning basilica in all of Italy. Built upon an earlier 4th-century church, it was completed in 1626 – 120 years after construction began. Book an after-dark tour directly through the Musei Vaticani or through one of many tour operators.
Explore the Galleria Borghese
There may be no other place on the planet where you can marvel at such an impressive collection of Baroque art then Galleria Borghese. Located in the northeast corner of Villa Borghese Park, set within a grand 17th-century villa and spread throughout 20 rooms, the villa itself makes it worth a visit. This breathtaking masterpiece was commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese to house his remarkable treasures, like Apollo and Daphne, and the sculpture of Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister as Venus Victrix. As it can only be explored by reservation, you won’t have to worry about thick crowds or long lines.
Rent a Vespa and Scoot Around the City
With such a limited amount of time, by renting a vespa you can scoot around the charming streets and through the elegant piazzas, taking in a lot more than you would on foot. A Scooteroma tour is a great option too, with a variety of options available, from the street art tour through local neighborhoods to the cinema tour that provides a look at iconic filming locations.
Climb the Spanish Steps
One of the longest and widest staircases in Europe, the Spanish Steps lead from Piazza di Spagna up to the Trinita dei Monti Church. Make the climb and you’ll be able to admire the piazza and the Barcaccia bubbling fountain which sits at the foot of the staircase, all from above. Constructed in Roman Baroque style in a graceful series of ramps with 138 steps, it’s an ideal spot for people watching, with everyone weaving in and out of the upscale shops, boutiques and eateries. If you’re up for a bigger challenging, keep climbing to Villa Medici where you’ll enjoy awe-inspiring views of the Centro Storico.
Indulge in Gelato
Italy is famous for its gelato and sampling some of the best on Earth is a must when in Rome. It’s not just an Italian word for ice cream – it has a distinct flavor and texture from what you’re used to back home. Avoid the type that looks like puffy clouds or comes in particularly bright colors, indicating lots of artificial junk as it’s not the authentic stuff. Many say that the famous Giolitti, sandwiched between the Pantheon and Italian Parliament is the very best. Gelateria dei Gracchi, is also consistently rated as one of the top gelato spots with its flavors that follow the seasons, ranging from rum-spiked chocolate to sweet melone. You might try one from both to decide on your own favorite.
Take in the View From Il Vittoriano
Not only is Giuseppe Sacconi’s white marble masterpiece Il Vittoriano on Piazza Venezia a stunner to look at, built as a monument to Italy’s first king, but you can take in one of the best views around from its viewing platform. Gaze out at nearly the entire city without this structure to interrupt it, and you’ll witness a sea of terracotta rooftops punctuated by large domes and long boulevards. This vast monument serves as an important focal point in the city, constructed between 1885 and 1911 to celebrate the uniting of Italy as a nation.