For me, Rome is one of the greatest cities in the world and one of my favourites. Filled with culture, history and art, it is like a massive outdoor museum. Once the heart of the Roman Empire, this Eternal City became the centre of the Christian world. It also left a profound impact on the modern world. There are many reasons why you should visit Rome at least once, and here I will give you mine.
Rome is a large city and as a popular tourist attraction, it’s a busy one. It can understandably be overwhelming for many first time visitors. Between the crowds, lineups and all the garbage left behind, it can be off-putting. The way I see it, Rome has the same type of challenges as any other large city. Understanding that will go a long way with setting expectations for anyone wishing to visit Rome.
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My first visit to Rome was as a history student. Having just finished school for the year, I arrived wide-eyed and full of excitement. All set for exploring everything I have learned about the Eternal City in university. I was riding on a wave of tales of glory, betrayal, war, survival and perseverance.
We saw all the touristy things you must see when in Rome. We walked the Roman Forum, visited the Colosseum, the Vatican, Trajan’s market and every ruin we could access. It was marvellous, but it wasn’t a place that I loved above others as I had imagined I would. It turned out that I actually liked Florence a whole lot more.
Our second time in Rome was a total letdown. We stayed in the city for few days, once again stopping by few key spots. At the time, the city was overrun with newly displaced immigrants, desperate to survive. They didn’t seem to have anywhere to go and haven’t yet found their place in their new home. This Rome was dirty, crowded and right out unfriendly. I decided then that I had my fill of Rome and haven’t really wanted to go back.
Third time the charm
Our third trip, over a decade later, was very different. I liked this Rome a lot. It was so much better than I remembered and it felt like home. With every subsequent visit, Rome started to feel so familiar to us. Eventually, we stopped feeing like tourists.
There is so much more to visiting Rome than just the touristy spots. You can find amazing treasures just by veering off the major tourist paths. There are restaurants and patios everywhere. I loved sitting there, people watching. Some passed by with noses in their maps. Others had cameras in hand, taking photos of everything just like I have done on my previous trips. It was nice to just simply be there and savour that moment in time.
Once you don’t have to stay in massive lineups to see Rome’s major attractions, you actually start to enjoy the city. You don’t have to rush from one place to the next or battle crowds for a good spot at the Trevi Fountain. By absorbing the energy around you and stopping to enjoy the moment, you can fully embrace the essence that is Rome.
Why is Rome called the Eternal City?
You might have heard this term before and wondered where the name comes from. So, why is Rome called the Eternal City? Well, Romans were a bloodthirsty bunch with a high opinion of their empire. They referred to Rome as the Eternal City because they believed that it would always be here, no matter what happened in the world.
The Roman Empire ruled over much of the ancient world and for a very long time. Romans were innovators, builders, engineers, traders and soldiers. They built glorious monuments, temples and arenas that glorified their empire. Even after so many centuries, their impact can still be seen across Europe and the Middle East. So as you visit Rome and walk around, it’s easy to see that glory still here. In a way, it really is an Eternal City.
Why visit Rome?
As the cradle of the Roman Empire and then the heart of the Catholic Church, Rome is full of history, culture, art and amazing food. Here you’ll find layers of history. Different centuries stacked like layers of a cake. Part of the fun is exploring all these layers and enjoying them for what they are.
Visit Rome for the history
Going back nearly 3,000 years, Rome is an old city. Its history is as fascinating as Rome itself, steeped in myths and legends. For me, this alone makes this place so amazing. Everywhere you go, there are pieces of history unlike any other place in the world.
As the tale goes, twin boys of royal lineage – Remus and Romulus – were left for dead by the Tiber river. Nursed by a she-wolf, they eventually grew up and decided to build their own city. After an argument, Romulus killed his brother and went on to rule the newly founded city, named after him. There are numerous disagreements whether this story is true. Nonetheless, the Romans took the myth to heart. After all, it does have a certain flair.
The Romans went on to create their own history and built the Rome we know today. For centuries, this was the heart of the Roman Empire and as they said, all roads led here.
After the eventual fall of the Empire, Rome’s new masters, made their own mark on the city. As the centre of the Catholic Church, Rome experienced a renewed golden age. The popes spent lavishly on their seat of power and today we can admire their efforts.
Visit Rome for the art
The Eternal City is full of art. You can find priceless collections of artworks in the many museums, galleries, private residences, churches and palaces. Even the fountains in Rome are like artworks, designed by the masters.
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Rome is a paradise for culture lovers. From popular places like the Vatican Museums to less crowded Palazzo Doria Pamphilj there is something for everyone. The art you find here is also top notch. Rome was the place where masters made their names and those already well-known came to create their masterpieces. From Caravaggio, Michelangelo and Bernini to many others, Rome is where the art is.
Visit Rome for the architecture
You don’t have to look far to find a cross-section of architectural styles. From Etruscan, Classical Greek and Roman styles to Renaissance, Baroque and even Egyptian obelisks, Rome is a feast for the eyes. Augustus famously said that he found Rome a city made of bricks and left it a city of marble. In its glory, it must have been spectacular.
Rome is a photographer’s dream, especially one that loves architecture. I literally could spend days admiring the variety of columns, cupolas, reliefs, porticos and stairs. Not to mention the statues, fountains and doors. Even the cobble stone streets have a certain charm to them. For me, the architecture in Rome is just as fabulous as the city itself. I don’t think you can find as many architectural styles anywhere else.
Visit Rome for the Roman ruins
The Roman ruins we see today pale in comparison to their original versions. Romans were known for their engineering and architectural prowess. Their approach to building roads, aqueducts, large scale buildings and temples has profoundly influenced building practices. For centuries, people have been using Roman techniques and styles as inspiration all over the world.
Romans were masters in modifying existing styles (think Greek, Etruscan, Egyptian) and adapting them to their needs. They introduced concrete and arches to create some of the most impressive structures in the world. Think the Colosseum, largest amphitheater in the world. Or the Pantheon with the largest unsupported dome in the world. These extraordinary feats of engineering are almost 2,000 years old. That in itself is impressive.
The history nerd in me absolutely loves the Roman ruins. While you can see Roman ruins all over Italy, Rome has the highest concentration of them. Considering that so many still stand today proves just how brilliant the Roman builders were. It also speaks to the longevity of their creations. When you visit Rome, take a moment to simply enjoy these glimpses into the ancient past. The Eternal City still stands. Maybe the Romans were on to something after all.
Tips for visiting the Eternal City
Rome is a great place to visit all year round. However, during the shoulder seasons, you’ll find less crowds, milder weather and shorter lineups. Summer months, especially August, can be really hot and humid, which makes standing in lines painful. Not only is it hot, it’s overrun with tourists and as many locals take off on holidays.
Rome has two international airports – Leonardo da Vinci Airport, known as Fiumicino and the Rome-Ciampino Airport. There is also the Termini Station, for those arriving by train. You can also get to Rome by bus or car. Another option is to hire a car service at the airport or prior to arrival.
Depending on where you stay in the city, there are a number of public transit options. For us, the best way to see Rome is still on foot. We always opt to park the car and then spend the rest of the time wandering around.
Most of the restaurants in Rome already include the tip and taxes in your bill so additional tipping is not required. There is usually a “cover charge” that is automatically added to your bill. It covers things like bread, served at the beginning of your meal. Most of the breads are really tasty so that’s just an added bonus.
You can safely drink water from any fountain in Rome. That is thanks to the Romans who built extensive network of aqueducts that to this day supply fresh water to the city. This is particularly handy when you’re walking around in heat. We would bring a small water bottle with us and would fill it up from multiple fountains are all over Rome. There are some where the water is carbonated, but most of them are flat.
The biggest annoyance for me were the endless street vendors trying to sell you something. It usually was a) bottled water, b) hats or c) selfie sticks. They follow you around and really get in your face, but are generally harmless and move on once you say “no thanks.” Another quite common approach was vendors who will try to “give” you something for free. Be that a few roses or some trinket, they try to get you to take the item and once you do, they will want you to pay them. It’s always easier to walk away unless you totally want whatever they are selling. This could also be different off-season, but I don’t think it totally goes away.
Rome is a very safe city and the streets always seem packed with people. However, you should always exercise caution just like any other place. Don’t leave your belongings unattended or flash your expensive jewellery or camera equipment around. Pickpockets and scammers are always on a lookout for those they deem easy targets.
Final thoughts on why you should visit Rome, the Eternal City
There are so many things to love about Rome. It’s unlike any other city I have ever been to and one that has so much to offer. While not everyone has to love it as much as I do, I think everyone should visit Rome at least once. All of the things I mentioned – the art, culture, history – have all profoundly influenced our world today. It’s only fitting to go to the source and see it for yourself.