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Rome

What's it really like?

Rome is a living museum and Europe's treasure chest, teeming with gems from thousands of years of history.

The city is so rich in art, monuments and religion it attracts millions of tourists, scholars and pilgrims from around the world and even though it's sprawled out over six famous hills, the centre of Rome becomes bustling, especially during the peak months between Easter and August when masses of tourists clash with the city's business workers.

There's such a concentration of architectural masterpieces and classical ruins most visitors let their feet be their guide and they find simply wandering around can lead to some hidden masterpieces. It's best to get a good street map and plan your days, making use of the public transport especially the Metro.

At night, when most other cities slip towards slumber Rome's streets come alive with people-watchers and diners set against the backdrop of its seductively illuminated monuments.

Smoking: Smoking has been banned in all enclosed public places that do not provide smoke extractors.

Disabled: Rome's steep pavements and cobbled streets make life difficult for disabled visitors.

Traffic: Rome is also renowned as the traffic-jam capital of Europe and many roads are a nightmare for drivers. Take advantage of the hop-on, hop-off tourist buses that circle all the best bits, including the Vatican.

Crime: Watch your wallet in crowded places.

Places to visit:

Vatican City - St Peter's Basilica

The largest church in the world with its 218 metre long nave and a dome, designed by Michelangelo is a real treasure with its enormous statues and religious artifacts. The stunning entrance leads to a breathtaking, immense interior decorated by many famous artists and containing many enormous statues and places to worship. Beneath the dome in the centre of the church lies the Tomb of St Peter. Free admittance to the church.

No visit to the Vatican would be complete without a trip into the dome for the fantastic views over Rome.

The lift on the right-hand side of the main entrance only reaches the halfway point and there's an extra charge. The first level provides good views of the the city and an interior view of St Peter's Basilica. The bravest and fittest can then climb more stairs (approximately 20 storeys) which become narrower and quite claustrophobic towards the summit of the dome but the panorama, looking down from the top is quite spectacular.

Vatican City - Museum & Sistine Chapel

Every trip to Rome should include a trip to the Vatican and now visitors can see the tomb of Pope John Paul II

Most of the crowds flock to see the Michelangelo frescoes of the Old testament in the Sistine Chapel which have been restored. Entrance is via the museum which is rammed with statues, busts, relics and breathtaking art work on the ceilings. The Sistine Chapel is the mecca for most art lovers. The room has seating around the edges where visitors can pause and gaze upwards at the brilliance of Michelangelo. The deeper and longer you look, the more incredible the work appears. 

NB: credit cards are not accepted anywhere within the Vatican.

Pantheon

The Pantheon's monumental eight columned entrance is one of the most recognizable structures in the world and was originally built as a Roman temple before it was consecrated as a Catholic Church.

Throughout the day the circular room's marble and granite structure is illuminated with dazzling patterns as the sun enters an unglazed window in the centre of the dome.

The building may be closed for religious services at certain times of the day. There are several restaurants opposite and within the vicinity. Admission is free.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum is the most popular monument in Italy (see photo above left) and every visit begins with a queue. Once through security you will then have to queue again to pay. Some touts will suggest it's quicker from this point to join a guided tour but that isn't always the case.

It wasn't always like that, though. The amphitheatre originally had up to eighty entrances so the crowds could enter and exit quickly. 31 have survived and some have been restored.

The building was designed to hold 50,000 bloodthirsty spectators, eager to see the gladiators fight to the death. Many were slaves or prisoners who were thrown in, sword in hand, to kill another unarmed foe.

The public can only access the ground and first floor areas. The dungeons and cellars are out-of-bounds but can still be seen from above. A section of the floor has been rebuilt to give visitors an idea of how it would have appeared thousands of years ago.

Many parts of the Colosseum can be accessed by people in wheelchairs and there's a lift to the first floor on the northern side.

There are several restaurants close to the Colosseum and a Metro stop.

Note: The men dressed as gladiators outside are not part of the official tours and often charge up to 20 euros to pose for photographs.

Roman Forum

This site is the remains of a city built by Caesar's adopted son and heir after the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra

The Forum became the business area and marketplace of Rome and later grew to include temples and law courts.

Despite being buried and forgotten for centuries many of the columns of the temples have survived along with the arches of Titus Septimius Severus which are in good shape.

In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony made his famous speech in this forum.

Admission is free and there are tours of the area.

Piazza di Spagna

The elegant Spanish Staircase consists of 137 steps over twelve different flights and at busy times they are covered by the bottoms of hundreds of tourists.

A climb to the top is rewarded with the sight of a beautiful French church located on a hill overlooking the small piazza della Trinit� dei Monti. From this square, you have an nice view over Rome.

The steps lead down to Piazza di Spagna which is one of the most popular meeting places in the city and a stone's throw from one of Rome's most fashionable shopping areas with exclusive shops selling genuine Prada, Gucci. etc .

The steps can get crowded at certain times of the day as people like to sit and soak up the atmosphere.

Fontana di Trevi

According to legend, throwing a coin into the water is guarantee of a return to Rome. At times, when there are no police about it also causes a stampede of beggars who frequent this beautiful square and blatantly go fishing for the cash. Otherwise the money is collected and distributed to charities. Be sure to throw your coin over your shoulder as far into the fountain as possible - with your back to it to make a wish.

The calm tranquility of the running water can't always be heard above the hustle and bustle of the crowds during the day. The atmosphere is more relaxing (and romantic) in the evening when the fountain is less busy and beautifully illuminated.

The water's no longer safe to drink. There are several restaurants, shops and ice cream parlors nearby.

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