4th July 1:43pm Day 68: “Yesterday I arrived in Bologna. Stepping off the train I was hit by a hot sweaty odour, the streets were dirty and felt unsafe in the darkness. I was a bit scared…”
The first lines in my diary don’t start off too well, but I ended up really enjoying my short time in Bologna. The tourist centre is really small, so you’ll be able to walk from one side to the other of this beautiful student city in about twenty minutes.
The leaning towers: Torre degli Asinelli e della Garisenda – Forget spending €30 going up the leaning tower of Pisa, the shorter tower Asinelli costs you €5 to climb and has an overhang of 3 meters. The Asinelli tower used to be 20ft taller, but as the earth gave way underneath and it started to lean they had to shorten it. Click here for more info on the towers and a love story.
Piazza Maggiore and the unfinished Basilica San Petronio – The beautiful main square and neo-gothic church in the centre of Bologna. Free entry, panoramic views from the top of the church to see the famous red roofs from above €3.
The Archiginnasio – My favourite visit. Part of the University of Bologna, the oldest university in Europe, where they held anatomy classes with live dissections. The room had to be completely rebuilt after it was destroyed in World War 2, scavenging all the remaining pieces from the rubble. Look out for two skinless statues, the textbooks of Galenus and a statue of a famous nasoplasty surgeon. €3.
Giardini Margherita – Public park, deafening with the noise of grasshoppers, check out the terrapins in the pond. Free entry.
Pinacoteca di Bologna – There is a huge amount to see in this art gallery, but do your research beforehand as there is little or no information about the different parts when you’re there. Entry €3.
The seven secrets of Bologna
A sort of treasure hunt of fun things to see following the myths and legends around the city. Details on this website. From checking out the phallic fun of the fountain in Piazza Nettuno, to catching a glimpse of Bologna’s secret canal past, this tour is so much fun to do. Bologna used to have an internal canal system to transport goods around the city, now only visible from one point. Seeing the canal was so surreal, even if you don’t do all of the secrets definitely check that one out.
Bologna is well known for its food, but as a poor student I didn’t really have the money to taste any. For a cheap way into Bologna’s food, I was told that a piadina is a local bread. Its sort of like a larger thinner pitta bread. I had one from Sfarina Piadina in the Mercato delle Erbe.
At night, get your drinks in a plastic cup and go and sit in the university area, where you’ll find all the students doing the same. Such a nice atmosphere and key to feeling part of this student city.
A very cheap place to visit, with all attractions at €3 (even the food didn’t feel too tourist-pricey). There is a lot more to Bologna than what I’ve included here, but I was only there very briefly and this is all I could fit in.
If you have any comments/feedback or more suggestions, or if you managed to find the hidden one of the seven secrets leave a comment below!
An alternative tour of Rome, the less well-known activities and day trips from Rome.
Rome is an amazing city, but it’s charm can be lost amongst the swarms of tourists that clutter its streets. However, there is so much more to Rome than just the main attractions that everyone sees. These are my ideas of what you can do either for your second visit, or if you want a more unique experience.
1. In my first post about Rome, which is a more traditional itinerary I suggested doing an obelisk treasure hunt. I still think this is a fun idea, it costs no money and it’s a good way to travel all over the city. Here is the list of obelisks, some Egyptian, some Roman and some more modern. Rome has the most obelisks out of any city in the world, more than any Egyptian city, so there’s a lot to keep you occupied. If you don’t want to do all of them my top two are both atop Bernini statues: the Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona (pictured), and the charming elephant in Piazza della Minerva right by the Pantheon.
2. Discover the city through an artist. Romeing.it have some great suggestions for this. For me personally, Rome is the city of Caravaggio and Bernini. These are the two artists who I felt shaped my experience of Rome. Caravaggio tour here, and Bernini here. Warning, some of their recommendations do include pieces that are in museums, which will charge for entry. If you prefer cinema to art, do the Pasolini or Fellini tour, and if you prefer street art, explore this map of artwork by Space Invader.
3. Alternatively, make your own art tour. I’m currently working on a list of Films to Watch Before You Go To Rome, which I will link when I complete it. Find your favourite films and follow their traces through this monumental city. (Films will include Roman Holiday, and Angels and Demons).
4. Rome through its day-trips. If you really want to experience Rome like a local, that means you gotta leave Rome! You can bet your ass that when the temperature starts hitting that 30° mark, the Italians are not going to be staying in that sweaty city.
Tivoli’s Villa D’Este is about an hour outside of Rome (train tickets from €5 return), its a beautiful renaissance water garden, with the most amazing fountains you’ve ever seen. All the fountains work without electricity, using the pumps and pressure to power them. Entrance from €4. Also try nearby Hadrian’s Villa.
Swim in a volcanic lake in Bracciano. Black sand beach, wooded sloping sides, you are guaranteed to be the only non-Italian bathing here, and when else are you going to be able to say you’ve swam in a volcanic crater! Whilst you’re there check out the town’s medieval castle, where Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes got married. Train return from €6.
The beach! There are a lot of beaches that are reachable from Rome. I only ever made it to Santa Marinella, but you can also try Anzio and Ostia. During the peak season at weekends you might find that they become paid-only beaches, but normally if you keep walking along there should be a free section. Alternatively, go on a week day. Trains €7-10.
6. If you’re not up for a full alternative tour, and just want to add a little extra to your trip, try the following activities:
Cycle along the Appian Way (118 bus from Colosseum). The first road ever built, certainly a bumpy ride!
Napoleonic Museum. A part of Italian history we often ignore, this museum is free entry and has so much information, located between Piazza Navona and the Palace of Justice.
San Giovanni in Laternano is the official papal church of Rome. If you don’t want to queue for hours for St. Peter’s Basilica, go here instead. An incredible church, I don’t know why no one visits. Free entry.
Use the Catacombs as a way to escape from the heat, many different ones to choose from. Prices vary.
Visit the Cats that run the ancient ruins. A section of roman ruins is cordoned off and only cats are allowed entry. Run by Torre Argentina Roman Cat Sanctuary, to home Rome’s strays, if you’re lucky they’ll show you round and let you pet some of the lovely kitties. Buy something from their gift shop or adopt a cat to support this wonderful charity.
Ponte Milvio, the original lock bridge. Way before the Parisians were doing it, lovers were sealing their love by putting a padlock on Ponte Milvio. Site of a famous Roman battle, the area is frequented by Italian youth drinking in hip bars and on the street at night.
Ok, so those are just a few of the wonderful things you can do in Rome, there a literally so many more. If anyone has suggestions or comments please leave them below!
This summer I spent two months in Rome, so these are my recommendations for a short stay.
Firstly, the tourist centre of Rome is pretty small, so it’s definitely possible to get a really good feel of the city in a few short days. You’ll find you can get most places on foot, and that everything you want to see will be sandwiched between the bank of the river Tiber and a thirty minute walk from there. I’ve marked the area on this map I stole from google images (I have never been to hotel Marghera, and I am not affiliated in any way), and also given an idea of how long it takes to walk between places, eg. from the Spanish Steps to la Fontana di Trevi it takes about ten minutes.
Top 10 things to do in Rome:
Il Colosseo (the Colosseum) – It’s the most famous landmark, you’ve got to go. You can get tickets for the colosseum, palatine hill and the roman forum inclusive from €7.50 for EU students. (More on cost saving and ways to get in free in a bit).
Fontana di Trevi (The Trevi fountain) – Amazing, and free.
Piazza Venezia – Probably the centre of touristic Rome, halfway between the Colosseum and the Spanish Steps. Here you’ll find the Altare della Patria. Huge and impressive. Free up til the first terrace, or €7 to go to the top.
The Spanish Steps – my favourite place in Rome, great views down via dei Condotti, located in the upmarket shopping area. Free.
Piazza Navona – Three fountains in a massive square, with an interesting history. Home to the famous Bernini fountain. Free.
St Peter’s Basilica – MassiveChurch inVatican city, expect ridiculous queues (40 mins+), but it’s free entry. Optional: The Vatican museums. The museum is terribly organised and super crowded, but it is worth it to see Michelangelo’s The Sistine Chapel. From €8.
Musei Capitolini (Capitoline Museums) – I avoided doing this for so long, because it’s really pricey, but it is genuinely the best museum to go to and if you’re interested in history it’s very much unmissable. Probably worth the €13 (students) considering how huge they are.
Pantheon – The most amazing piece of architecture you will see in Rome, built around 100AD. Free entry.
Piazza del popolo – Huge square, where you’ll find lot’s going on, public festivals are often held here (check Romeing for info whilst you’re there). Go into Santa Maria del Popolo an unassuming church at the north side of the square to see three amazing Caravaggio paintings for free. They’re tucked away in a corner, you might have to pay €1 into the machine to turn the lights on (Italy is weird), but if you wait long enough someone else will probably do it.
Villa Borghese and (optional) Galleria Borghese – A free public park shaped like a heart right in the north, perfect for picnic-ing (The whole of Rome will be there on a Saints day) and a museum with the most amazing sculptures by Bernini. Tickets start from €8 for students, book ahead., they will sell out. The museum doesn’t have any information in English, but if you like art I recommend anyway.
Tips for Rome and when to go:
The Italian government has put a lot of effort into making museums and galleries accessible for everyone. State museums are free on the first Sunday of the month!!! Plan your trip around this, if you want to visit the the more expensive sites e.g The Colosseum, Capitoline museums, make sure you’re there the first Sunday. Arrive early and expect to queue, but if you plan well you can save a lot of money.
The Vatican museums and St. Peter’s Basilica are free the last Sunday of the month!!! You can save so much money if you just research all the schemes on offer in Italy. Google before you go. Yes, you’ll have to queue for an extra 20 minutes, but think of the extra money you’ll have to spend on gelato.
Beware of pick pockets: This applies to any big city, an it goes without saying. Keep your bags on your front and dont flash your cash around.
Guided tours: When you are queueing for the attractions you are going to be approached by people offering you skip the line and guided tours. They are going to lie to you about how long you can expect to wait, because they want your money. If they say it’s going to take you an hour and a half, expect to wait forty minutes. I’m sure the tours are great, but if you don’t have €25+ to spend, thank them and politely decline.
Google is your best friend. Italian museums do not always give you enough information for you to really enjoy your visit (exceptions: Capitoline museums, the Colosseum). I recommend you google some information before you go: when it was built, fun facts. I especially recommend this for the Roman Forum, because there is literally no information about what that pile of rocks used to be, and without it you just aren’t going to enjoy. Triposo lets you access information offline if you download it in advance.
If you go in the Summer, you are going to struggle with the heat. Bring a water bottle with you and fill it up at the nasone (water fountains) all around Rome. They use the original water systems built by the Ancient Romans. The water is cool and clean, and it’s going to save you from paying €2 every ten minutes. This app will help you find them. Also, start your day early because midday sun will spoil your enjoyment.
You are not allowed to eat or drink on Rome’s monuments. They are very strict about this. Every monument has guards patrolling and they will shout at you. They do this so that they don’t have to fence the monuments off and so you can still walk all over and interact with them.
Aperitivo! The best thing about Italy. Full stop. Between 7pm and 10pm most bars will offer Aperitivo. This means you pay a little bit extra for a drink and they bring you a load of food to share for your table. The food will range from snacks (€5-7) to a full-on meal buffet (€7-10), depending on where you go. Try Monti or Trastevere areas. The best deal we found if you’re willing to go a little out the way is Momart. You can’t book ahead for aperitivo, but if you wait twenty minutes to be seated, you’ll get a cocktail/beer/wine plus unlimited luxury buffet, including freshly stone-baked pizzas for €10. Turn up at 7 to avoid the queue.
Because everything is open on Sunday, Museums close on Mondays! If you’re coming for just a few days avoid coming on a Monday, or make alternative plans for that day.
Itinerary (3 Days):
Its nice to get a feel of a city before you start exploring further, so take a walk. This is my favourite route, I’ve included walking times in bold:
The route should help you get your bearings in the city, as well as getting through 6/10 of my top 10 things to do. It’s quite a walk to do, but you can always take a gelato break halfway, or just do half the route.
Start at Piazza del Popolo metro stop (Flaminio),admire the Caravaggio paintings in Santa Maria del Popolo and the spectacular fountain and obelisk in the centre of the square. Fun fact: Rome has more obelisks than any other city, including any Egyptian city. A fun alternative tour, or to add onto this one, would be trying to see all of them. Find the list on this wikipedia article.
Walking south take the leftmost fork in the road down to the Spanish Steps (10 mins) and climb to the top. There are some really nice views of Rome from there, and in the church at the top (Trinità dei Monti, free entry) there’s an annunciation fresco based on one by Michelagelo (I think, I’m no art expert). Note the boat fountain by Bernini at the bottom of the steps with footsteps that you’re allowed to walk on to fill up your bottle.
Keep heading in the same direction for about 10 minutes down to The Trevi Fountain, it’ll be just tucked round a corner ahead of you. You’ll be bombarded by crowds, but it’s worth a visit. If you walk to the front left side there’s a water fountain , so you can say you’ve officially drunk from the Trevi fountain. Do not attempt to swim Lizzie Mcguire style, or dip your feet in, you will be arrested. Also, do not get your photo taken by the men that hang around there, they will charge you €5 and then mess the photo up and force you to get another one.
Keep walking in your previous direction onto via del Corso, the road that joins Piazza del Popolo to Piazza Venzia. It’s probably the main street in Rome. Just as you turn onto the road, you’ll see a gelato shop called Venchi. It has a real flowing chocolate fountain wall and it smells amazing. It’s not the best ice cream in Rome, but I recommend poking your nose in.
A five minute walk down via del Corso, brings you onto Piazza Venezia. Admire the amazing Altare della Patria, in all its white marble glory and go up to the fist viewing terrace for free, for a view back towards Piazza del Popolo.
Follow signs to the Pantheon and Piazza Navona,(15 minutes). When you’re in Piazza Navona look at Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers. It’s said that the man throwing is head back in disgust is a reaction to Bernini’s rival’s church (a nice church with free entry) next to it. Legends aren’t always true, but have a google to find out more. Take a north exit out the square and you should find the back of the museum of the Stadio di Domiziano. You can see its lower level from the street, exposing what used to be there, a roman amphitheatre predating the colosseum.
(If you reach this point before 2pm, head to Campo Dei Fiori (5 minutes). As the name suggests it’s an old flower market, that still runs everyday. It’s a little bit touristy, and by night is full of either underage Italian youth, or Americans. Still a nice place to go.)
From Piazza Navona, walk towards the river (5mins) for a view across to either the Palace of Justice, or Castello Sant’Angelo. Castello Sant’Angelo is a medival fort that was then used by popes during times of siege. Expensive to go into, but lovely views from the top, and free on first Sunday of the month.
This route could take between 3-5 hours depending on how long you spend in each location and whether you stop for food on the way. You will be exhausted by the end, but you’ll have a great idea of what Rome is like, without spending any money getting into places.
A lot of people don’t bother going into the Colosseum, because it is expensive and it’s very impressive from the outside anyway, but the museum inside has lots of really interesting information about it that you wont otherwise find out. Either buy tickets in advance, or if you’re buying on the day get the tickets from the Roman Forum because the queue will be shorter. I also recommend starting with the Forum in the morning, because there is NO shade once you’re inside and you will not want to be walking around it once the sun is fully up. Prep yourself with a map of the forum and some info about it. I like this site, but there’s still more to learn so do your own research too (try googling death of Julius Caeser, Roman Forum).
Once in the forum walk up Palatine Hill for an aerial view of the forum.
This visit will probably take about 3-5 hours, if you really look around. If you’re still super enthused about Ancient Rome, extend the day and visit Circus Maximus, just behind the Forum, or take a bike ride along the first road ever built at Appia Antica.
More recent history. Choose between Galleria Borghese, the Vatican Museums and Saint Peter’s Basilica, or the stick to ancient history and do Capitoline Museums. I think 2 museums in a day is probably as much as a sane person can handle, so choose wisely. GalleriaBorghese for art, Capitoline for history and the Vatican museums for a mix of both.
Watch the sun go down from the river and then head to Trastevere for nightlife and aperitivo.
Rome only has two metro lines, meaning they are always incredibly busy. Due to construction being halted by archeological finds there is no metro in the tourist area. Buses are a possibility, but again they are crowded, with no air-con. It’s much better, and entirely possible, to walk everywhere. If you do need to use public transport, tickets are €1.50 and allow you to travel on all transport anywhere for 90 minutes. Make sure you validate your ticket on buses.
There are a lot of great things to do in Rome, way more than I’ve included here. If you follow this suggested – and it is just a suggested – itinerary, you’ll probably spend about €30 on attractions. Average meal eating out will be €10 for lunch, and €15-20 for dinner, without drinks. Food is not cheap.
I hope this was helpful, if you have any hints/tips/corrections please leave a comment. I would love some (kind) constructive feedback.