Not sure if you knew this or not, but Rome is huge. Like, mind-boggling huge. And it has an absolute plethora of things to see and do in the city. The city itself is best described as an open air museum. It is one of the few, if not only, cities in the world to be inhabitant for 3000 years, you can bet there is something exciting around every corner. The problem is, unless you are an expert in Roman history, or really into Italy, a lot of the sites have little meaning without context. And this is where a handy free walking tour (or 3) become invaluable.
We started our first day in Rome off with two different walking tours. After some research, we decided to go with Rome Free Walking Tour. They have two tours every day - one in the morning and one on the afternoon - that follow two different routes. The morning tour starts at the Spanish Steps and leads you past the Column of Marcus Aurelius, stops at the Pantheon, continues on to Piazza Navona, winds through the streets to Castel Sant'Angelo before ending at one of the main visitor entrances to Vatican City. Throughout the course of the tour, the guides provide context to the sites you see, things that I'm sure are in a guidebook somewhere, but, who wants to carry out a guide book to read while in Rome. It's so much easier to have one of the highly qualified guides explain it to you as you walk so that you only have to worry about taking pictures, enjoying Rome, and not losing the group.
Their afternoon tour starts once again at the Spanish Steps. You then walk to Trevi Fountain where you can throw a coin in before continuing on to Piazza Venezia to see a giant horse (fun fact, on it's inaugural night, a dinner for 20 VIPs was hosted INSIDE the horse), two over sized chariots, and the Italian tomb of the unknown soldier. From there, you can see the Colosseum, but before heading there, stops are made at Fiori Imperiali and the Roman Forum.
Both of these tours had fairly large groups. But, that is to be expected. They are free, don't require any sort of pre-registration, but are very high quality. Every tour guide in Rome must have an applicable degree (i.e. anthropology, archaeology, etc.) AND pass an official test from the city before they can officially offer tours. In a city where the main industry is tourism, you have a lot of options. Free Rome Walking Tour is a great way to get the lay of the land, see most of the major sites, and do it for a reasonable cost. While you don't go IN to anything, the guides do give some good tips if you do decide to visit (like, visit the Colosseum in the afternoon when the lines are shorter and the crowds are smaller).
Our second day started early with the Pristine Sistine tour offered by Walks of Italy. This tour covers so much that it gets its own post, so check back to read about it! Afterwards, we grabbed lunch at a small pizza place visited by Anthony Bourdain on his show Layover, and touted as the best pizzeria in Rome - Bonci. Each day they have different pizzas to choose from - from a classic Marguerite to pizza with arugula, cured ham, obscure cheeses, or even sliced prime rib. Many of them had toppings I was completely unfamiliar with and had no idea what they were. Nonetheless, the counter was mouthwatering to look at.
It's a little out of the way, away from the "center" of Rome, but it's really close to the Cipro metro station. If you decide to make a visit to Bonci, here's a quick run down on how it works: you take a numbered ticket and check out the counter to see what you want. Once your number is called, you tell them which pizza(s) you want. Pizzas are ordered, and paid for, by weight, so you get to choose how big of a piece you get. Your order is then warmed and given to you a few minutes later. Grab a glass of the house wine, or some of the awesome craft beer to enjoy with your pizza at the standing tables outside.
That afternoon, after refueling with pizza, we did our third and final walking tour of Rome. We chose the night tour offered by Free Tour Rome and showed us some of the lesser known parts of Rome. The big sites are cool to see, but we really enjoy finding some of the secret, hidden gems in a new city. We met at Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, a beautiful basilica built with the stones from the ancient Roman therme next door. Dismantling and using old Roman buildings to build new structures was a common occurrence hundreds of years ago in Rome. People were not so concerned with preserving historical sites like we are today. We then walked down to Fontana dell'Acqua Felice which shows a pretty impressive Moses parting the Red Sea before heading towards the Quattro Fontane, the Four Fountains. During our tour, we passed by the Defense Ministry where our guide told us the reason for the increased police presence in Rome: aside from the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, it is to protect the Pope. He has chosen to live outside of Vatican City, in a small apartment where he pays his own rent (instead of living in the Papal apartments within the Vatican), and often likes to just venture out on his own, without any of his security personnel, to interact personally with the people of Rome. Sometimes, they don't even know he has left! For this reason, they have found it's just easier to have a scattered police presence all over the city.
The night tour then continues past the Quirinale Palace where the Italian President lives and out onto a large, open veranda with a stunning sunset view of St. Peter's dome. From there, we walked down to Trevi fountain before continuing on and finishing up at Piazza Venezia. While our other two tours had been much more academic in nature, our guide for this tour was very personal. She told us stories of her grandmother standing in Piazza Venezia when she was younger, packed in so tight she couldn't move, to watch Mussolini and Hitler give speeches during the war. She also gave us some excellent recommendations for food and gelato in Rome, and explained that many Romans often meet for Apertiv - a glass of wine, and snacks similar to tapas - after work with friends.
After three walking tours, we felt like we had seen quite a bit of Rome, but the city is enormous and we also felt like we had only scratched the surface. According to my Fitbit, between these three tours, we walked about 20 miles. It's hard to believe that in all that walking, we saw only a small portion of the Eternal City. I guess we will just have to go back!