Italy

Facts about Italy

Table of Contents

Italy is a very diverse and big country, located in Southern Europe.

You will find magnificent mountains in the North, beautiful beaches in the South, the most picturesque coastline in the East , stunning landscapes and rolling hills rising all throughout Italy.

Impressive architectural masterpieces, fashion and artistic works show off proudly in Italy. They exist besides ancient cities and a very rich and tumultuous history that shines through all in Italy.

Italian cities and villages have  character , almost a personality.

In general Italians are warm-hearted and generous people and their cuisine is delicious and universally loved.

It should not surprise anyone, Italy is in the third most visited country in the world . According to the The Italian Government Tourist Board, Italy welcomes 94 million tourists a year (2019). The most favourite places to visit are Milan, Rome, Pisa, Florence, Lake Como.

 

 

 

 

Here are some fun facts about Italy:

  1. Italy is world’s largest wine producer and one of the world’s largest wine exporters.
  2. Europe’s three active volcanoes are in Italy: the Vesuvius, the Etna and the Stromboli.
  3. Vatican city in Rome is world’s smallest country.
  4. Almost one-fifth of Italy’s population is over 65 years old and they have a low birth rate.
  5.  There is a free wine fountain in Caldari di Ortona in Italy. (We really should have written this blog post before going to Italy and not afterwards!)
  6. The first pizza with a tomato base was prepared in 1860 in Naples, Italy.
  7. With 55 UNESCO World Heritage sites, Italy has more World Heritage sites than any other country in the world.
  8. Italians started preparing pasta since the 4th century BC.
  9. Rome was founded 753 BC. The Kingdom of Italy we know nowadays, was founded in 1861.
  10. More than half of Italy’s males between 24 yrs and 35 yrs still live with their parents.
  11. Pinocchio was written by an Italian.

 

 

 

 

We planned a roadtrip throughout Italy during 3 weeks and we assumed we would have plenty of time to see the country and to understand culture and history.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Too many stories, too many ancient and historical sites, too many museums and amazing landscapes.

Even a year would not be sufficient to truly understand Italy!

We went to Italy by car in Summer 2021. The SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant flourished as never before and infected cases rose exponentially. In the week before we left, cases multiplied 50 times!! It was only a matter of time before the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control would color the Netherlands red. This would result in countless cancelled holidays for most people since they get 2 to 3 weeks off of work and being quarantined during a holiday is not an attractive option.Get Out of the Netherlands as Soon as Possible. This was what we kept in mind. We had been looking at possible trips around Europe for weeks and were confused. The rules were different per country and changed continuously! The timespan in which antigen tests were considered valid, the minimum age for which a test was required, the costs of tests, whether we would have to be quarantined or not upon arrival…
We decided to go to only one country: Italy and keep things simple. We would visit beaches, mountains, great ancient cities and historical sites.That Friday at 3.00 am, Rakesh passed his European exam to fly the DJI air 2S after a few hours of studying. At 3.00 am I was packing, cleaning and busy with our next IGTV. Have you read our blog post about ‘ how to plan travels with kids’; click here. You can obviously trust our advice, since we are experts in knowing How Not to Prepare! Our kids attended their last school day. The antigen test for all of us except our two youngest, was scheduled at 3 pm. We received the negative test results by email at 4.30 pm and planned to leave home at 7 pm.We still needed to pack, to have dinner and clean up. Suddenly our second son lost his phone, which was found an hour later but caused extra stress.
When we left hours later than planned at 10 pm, we did not have an itinerary or accommodation yet. We only knew we were heading to Italy.5 days later, on July 15th, the Netherlands colored red on the European Corona cases map. The news popped up on our phones when we were driving through an apple orchard on our way to Venice. We had been so lucky !!
 
Milan is regarded as one of the Fashion Capitals of the world and the economic heart of Italy. It is the capital of Lombardy and known as Italy’s second-most populous city. The wider Milan metropolitan area has a population of over 8 million people. Milan has very stylish and modern looks nowadays and a very rich and tumultuous history.
 
Milan was first settled by the Celtics around 400 BC and conquered by the Romans 200 yrs later. In the next centuries, Milan was defeated and under rule of the Lombards, the Franks and the Germans. During the Middle Ages Milan flourished with great financial power and the church had a strong political role. In 1450 Francesco Sforza conquered the city. This was the time of the Renaissance and many buildings in Milan were erected or restored which still stand today; the Ospedale Maggiore, the Palazzo dell’Arengo and the Naviglio d’Adda. Francesco’s fourth son Ludovico invited Leonardo da Vinci and other artists to decorate Milan’s structures and produce great artistic works. Leonardo’s most famous work from his time in Milan is ‘The Last Supper’; a huge mural painting representing the scene of Jesus’ last supper.
The following centuries, dominion over Milan was under French, Swiss, and Spain control before it was restored to the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. Milan progressed as one of the leading financial centres in Italy. During the First and Second World War, Milan suffered great financial loss and severe bombing. Countless Italian soldiers never returned from the battle fields. Italian forces managed to rebuilt Milan after the devastating wars. Milan became a prosperous industrial city. In March 2020, the majority of Italy’s cases of COVID-19 was in Lombardy, with the highest rate of death worldwide. Nowadays Milan is Italy’s main industrial, financial and commercial centre. Milan is also Europe’s fashion and design capital, along with Paris.

In Milan nowadays you will find  impressive architectural design along with great historical sites, excellent cuisines and luxurious shops. Milan is one of the must-see places in Italy.

We only stayed two nights in Milan, but we wished we had stayed a bit longer. Our youngest fell ill and we could not visit all the places we had in mind.If you want a lively impression of our time in Milan, watch: our Reel on Instagram.

I compiled an itinerary for Milan which is not complete, but will give you an overview of some main sites of interest and also some less known nice places in Milan.

Here are some great tips on what to see and do in Milan in one day:

 

Duomo di Milano
The Milan Cathedral is the world’s third-largest catholic cathedral and the biggest in Italy. There are more statues on this church than on any other building in the world: 3400 statues, 135 gargoyles and 700 figures decorate the magnificent cathedral.

The construction of the Duomo di Milano started in 1386 and it took more than 6 centuries to complete. The remains of ancient basilica’s are still visible in the archaeological area of the Duomo. It is a gothic style designed cathedral. Sculptors, architects and engineers from all over Europe contributed to the splendid looks of the cathedral.

In the Middle Ages Pope Martin V declared the church’s high altar to be sacred. Leonardo da Vinci designed the tiburium (the architectural element that encloses the dome in its interior) at the end of the 15th century.

In 1774 Giuseppe Perego sculpted the golden copper statue known as Madonnina, and it was placed on the highest spire of the cathedral. This became a symbol of Milan. The gigantic stained glass windows in the Cathedral are considered the tallest worlwide.

Construction is still ongoing and in 2016 the dome and tiburium were restored.

When you visit the Cathedral you will find a very accurate sundial on the floor placed by astronomers in 1768.

You can climb the stairs or take the lift to the roof top for great views of Milan.
Above the altar there is a spot where one of the nails of Jesus crucifixion is placed and always lit by a small red light.

Once a year in September, the archbishop of Milan is lifted all the way up to retrieve the nail in a beautifully decorated basket representing a cloud with angels. Subsequently, the nail is exhibited at the altar for a few days.

We walked around the Cathedral only once to observe the many statues. It would have been great to spend more time observing the Cathedral, however, this was not possible in the burning sun in summer with many kids. We took the photo that everyone takes in front of the Cathedral.

A click that grants a moment of the Cathedral to keep, and the story that beholds the click’s value is different to everyone.

Our story? We were so glad we finally reached our destination! This was after a 12 hrs drive in the car and stress about the continuously changing COVID-19 regulations.

 

Piazza Del Duomo
This is the square in the centre of Milan, where you can find many important buildings and places of interest.

Upon entering the square, we were immediately deeply impressed by the majestic grandeur of the Cathedral. The Palazzo dei Portici Settentrionale and the Palazzo Reale di Milano are fascinating too to observe. In the middle of the square there is a statue of Italy’s first King.

You can find many restaurants, cafees and bars and there is always a very lively sphere. It is nice to spend some time here, looking around and watching Italians and tourists.
This square is also a great place to take photos.

If you want to know how I photographed my fourth son in front of the Duomo di Milano and amidst the pigeons, see:  here.

 

Sempione Park
The Sempione Park is a large urban park in the centre of Milan and perfect to escape the busy city vibes for a while.
It is a great park to visit with kids and to relax and enjoy the greenery. Aside from that, it also houses some places worth visiting: a public aquarium, la Triennale, the Arco della Pace, the Arena Civica, and the Acuario Cívico de Milán.
Located in Sempione Park, this public aquarium is one of the largest and oldest in Italy and worth a visit. There are 36 pools filled with more than 100 species of fish. Native Italian fish are well presented.
There are some beautiful sculptures of mythological creatures and Neptune’s statue guards the aquarium outside.

 

Sforzesco Castle
Adjacent to Sempione Park is the Sforzesco Castle. This iconic  15th century castle belonged to the wealthy Sforza family that ruled Milan during the Renaissance.
Many famous artists decorated the castle, the most famous among the artists was Leonardo da Vinci. He designed several parts and frescoes in the Castle. He also lived in the castle for 16 years. During this period , he created masterpieces such as the Last Supper, Madonna of the Rocks, and Lady with an Ermine.
After the renaissance, the castle was damaged by Italian, French and German troops and in the 16th century the French blew it up with mines.

Nowadays the Castle is restored and houses seven museums and art galleries focused on Milan’s history and art. Collections range from prehistorical ages to great artistic works from the Renaissance and later on. There is also an Egyptian archeological museum. The last work of Michelangelo: Pietà Rondanini is exhibited in the castle. Michelangelo died at 89 yrs and was not able to finish it. The castle is free to enter, but the musea have entry fees. There is a large courtyard outside.

 

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
In honor of King Vittorio Emanuele II, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II was built in 1877. It is one of the oldest shopping centres in the world.


The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

The shopping arcade was designed and constructed by architect Guiseppe Mengoni. Once inside, you will surely take some time marveling at the splendid iron-and-glass roof. Besides its impressive architecture and historic value, you can visit this place for its luxurious cafés and shops. The leading fashion brands are extensively displayed in this shopping centre.

Santa Maria delle Grazie
Another popular landmark in Milan is the Santa Maria delle Grazie. It is a church and a UNESCO World Heritage Site with outstanding Renaissance and Gothic architectural style. This church houses Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic “The Last Supper.”
Santa Maria delle Grazie was bombarded during World War II, which destroyed a large part of the refectory. Fortunately, The Last Supper survived and was preserved until today.

 

Sanctuario di San Bernardino alle Ossa

This chuch was built adjacent to a cemetery. The small chapel is decorated with human skulls and bones. A very impressive site with human remains displayed in an artistic way.

 

Pinacoteca di Brera
One of the most visited art galleries in Milan is the Pinacoteca di Brera. It houses some marvelous Italian paintings and masterpieces. Pinacoteca di Brera originated from Empress Maria Theresa of Austria.  Emperor Napoleon I of France later expanded her collection for the Academy of Fine Arts of Milan. This marked the beginning of Pinacoteca di Brera as a public museum. Brera is a beautiful neighborhood to walk around in Milan with many shops and restaurants.

 

Gae Aulenti Square
At the Gae Aulenti Square you will find impressive skyscrapers, great architectural designs and other establishments. Additionally, there are fountains, shops, and parks, where you can hang out any time of the day.
This square was dedicated to the Italian architect Gae Aulenti, known for her projects, such as the Palazzo Grassi’s restoration and the Asian Art Museum.

 

Navigli
A district that features the historic canal system, including the Naviglio Grande and Naviglio Pavese. The district resembles Venice. With boutiques, restaurants, and clubs, alongside the canals, you can visit this area to eat, hang out, take pictures of the sunset and do some shopping.

 

Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology
The Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology in Milan is Italy’s largest science and technology museum. It is an expansive museum dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci. Most of his inventions are included in this exhibit, along with other Italian inventors. Not only that, you can view various multimedia exhibitions, locomotives, interactive collections and laboratories. It’s free, and you can spend hours exploring the museum. If you are traveling with kids, keep in mind the walks can be long with limited resting spots.

 

Lake Como

You can visit Lake Como, Lugano, and Bellagio in just one day in a trip from Milan. Lake Como is situated in the middle of the Italian Alps and is a popular and beautiful destination.

We stopped at the side of Lake Como that borders Switserland on our way to Milan. We left home the night before at 10 pm. The kids fell asleep around midnight and woke up at 4.00 am for a very early breakfast with pasta in paper boxes from a gas station. Early morning we arrived at Lake Como where we stopped for a few hours to walk around, have lunch and enjoy breathtaking views.

Click  here for more information about Milan:

You can find accomodation easily through http://www.booking.com.We usually book hotels at this website.

This time we left our home, jumped in our car with packed suitcases and bags and no other place to stay. We took a break in Switzerland, and decided to stay in Milan for two nights. Milan looked great on Google, it was a 9 hrs drive from home and close to Switzerland.  Then we continued our journey to Italy and arrived in Milan in the afternoon after being stuck in traffic for two long hours.

We had booked at Novotel Milano Nord Ca’Granda at booking.com. This hotel was still available and reasonably priced.

Grandmother had packed us delicious roti wraps which were the best dinner after such an exhausting trip. We slept well and deep that night!

Breakfast was good at Novotel. It was not very extensive with freshly fried eggs and baked waffles for example, but it was reasonably varied.

The rooms were reasonably clean, the carpet on the floor looked a bit dirty.

Staff was friendly, but not more than necessary.

The hotel had a parking garage and we drove to Milan centre next morning.

We stayed in Milan for only one day. The city has a variety of restaurants to choose from, very cheap restaurants as well as the most expensive ones.

In general, you will find  better value for your money the further you wander off the touristic sites.

For general information and reviews, I would suggest to have a look at Tripadvisor.

We had dinner at Giro’s Ristorante Pizzeria Milano,  not after extensive research but just because it was dinner time and we were hungry.

The personnel was friendly and the food was fresh and good. We had a great time eating all these Italian dishes we had been looking forward to!

 

If you are looking for ice cream, not just the regular ice cream, but the best of the best: Milan is the place to be!

When we were in Milan, best rated icecream parlors according to Gambero Rosso were:

  1. Lo Gnomo
  2. Giacco
  3. Artico
  4. Gusto
  5. Gelato Giusto
  6. Latte Neve
  7. Orso
  8. Paganelli

We had already left Milan when a dear family member told us about the best icecream in Milan, sadly enough.

Our kids had enjoyed slushies, to them this was one of the most memorable moments in Milan. Not seeing the cathedral, not marveling at touristic sites, but simply the red and blue colored tongues made the most impression!

Watch the slushie fun here.

If you are thinking of going to Milan, then you should plan is your way of getting around the city.

Public transportation

Azienda Trasporti Milanesi, simply called ATM, is the city’s primary public transportation system. This network includes the operation of buses, trams, and the metro. click.  It operates through a ticketing system, allowing passengers to hop on and off the metro, buses, and trams using one validated ticket. You should validate every ticket you purchased for the metro, trams, or buses. For more information about ATM and its services, clickhere.

 

By Train
If you want to go to Milan’s suburbs,  transport by train is an option. The network operates on a ticketing system as well, with well developed route connections.

For more information, click here.

 

By Taxi
Hailing a cab from the street is not allowed in Milan. It’s either you stop by a taxi stand or call a taxi cooperative. The taxi meter starts upon receiving your call. Taxiblu is one of the most recommended taxi services in Milan.

Uber is available in Milan, but it costs relatively higher than in other cities.

 

By Car Rental
You can book cars in advance to avoid delays. Keep in mind parking spots are limited and expensive, furthermore other drivers behavior can be quite reckless.

 

By Bike
One of the best ways to enjoy Milan’s beauty is to ride a bicycle. Milan’s primary bike sharing system is the BikeMi.  All you need to do is register for an account, search for an available bike, pick it up, ride it, then return the bike to the station. For more information, click here.

 

By Foot
Exploring Milan walking is a great option, however in summer it might be too hot. Always remember to wear something comfy when opting to explore Milan on foot.

Milan has a distinct beauty that sets it apart from the rest of Italy.

 

Safety
Milan is generally safe for travelers, but like other places in the world, there are still areas in the city that are prone to pickpockets and car robberies. Be mindful of your belongings in crowded or public places.

 

Drivers’ behaviour

Be cautious at all times when crossing the streets of Milan. Many drivers do not observe the pedestrian lanes unless there’s a red light on traffic signals.

 

Weather
One of the factors you need to consider when visiting Milan is the weather. Your activities may vary depending on which season you visit the city.  It is said that spring is the best time to go to Milan. We visited Milan during summer, and it was very hot, making it challenging to walk for hours with kids.

 

Expenses
Living in Milan is more expensive than other places in Italy, but as a tourist you can find cheap places to eat and stay. What’s essential is you plan your trip ahead of time to maximize your resources.

 

Language Barrier
Italian is the official language of Milan, but locals still speak other languages in the city, such as English, French, and German. You are not likely to experience issues with communication when in Milan. Locals in this area know and speak English.

 

Book in advance
You can book online in advance for reservations for many sites of interest and museums. It is recommendable you book online beforehand so you will not have to wait in long queues. Also, be aware many sites of interest are closed during one or some weekdays.

Although our trip to Milan was short, we definitely enjoyed our stay in this unique city.

If you are inspired to visit Milan, I would love to know! Please leave a comment below.
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Best things to do in Rome

St. Peter's Basilica

Rome, the capital of Italy, is a city everyone should visit at least once in their life. It is a city like no other city, one of the oldest cities in the world. With ancient, UNESCO heritage listed sites everywhere beholding up to 3000 years in history, Rome feels like a dazzling open air museum. Walking in Rome, makes one mesmerize about past and glorious times, with only the busy crowds of many tourists bringing back reality.

Rome is beautiful, impressive, loud, a wealth of history, and crowded!

Rome has a population of 2.8 million people. The city was founded on top of seven hills, and the centre of the Roman Empire used to be around Palatine Hill and Capitoline Hill.

The Colosseum

It is not possible to experience the Colosseum and not be awestruck. Did you know the Colosseum is the largest ancient amphitheatre ever built? It shouldn’t surprise anyone this is one of the seven world wonders. It was built a very long time ago, 2100 years ago, and still standing! Construction of the magnificent Colloseum was finished in the year 80 during the rule of the emperor Titus. Can you imagine it is still standing? The Colosseum can fit about 65000 people. They gathered together to enjoy cruel fights between wild animals and gladiators. It is hard to imagine that the people used to get excited at such bloody events. An estimated 400,000 gladiators were killed here. When Christianity became more and more important, the cruel games were eventually forbidden by emperor Honorius in 404 AD. Over 6 million people visit the Colosseum every year. If you like to see a short impression of our visit, click here

There are several tours available to see the Colosseum and its advisable to book tickets in advance. There are several tours available. You can take a tour to walk below the arena floor where the wild animals used to stay, and the gladiators rested and waited to get into their battles.

If you want to purchase tickets in advance, click here

You can also purchase the Rome tourist card which gives you access to several highlights; click here. 

Another option is purchasing the Roma pass; click here.

It is really nice to go inside and experience the Colosseum. We went twice to the Colosseum, the first time in 2010 when our two eldest kids were a baby and a toddler. Back then, we did not take many photos so I don’t have anything to visualize the inside now.

The second time was in summer 2021 with our six kids, and it was extremely hot and just one day after our car accident in Rome. This had been such an unfortunate and stressful event for our whole family, so we decided to take it easy. We didn’t want to do anything the kids wouldn’t like, and we just wandered around at a very slow pace and marveled at the magnificent Colloseum. If you walk opposite of the Colosseum in the direction of Palatine Hill, you will see many more ruins. We also came across a picturesque church in a nice, ancient setting.

2.Travel back in time at the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill 

Most tickets to enter the Colosseum will give access to the huge archeological site of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill as well. This site was founded around 500 B.C and grew under the reign of Julius Caesar and several more emperors.

Roman Forum

The Roman Forum once used to be the centre of Roman public life, political gatherings, religion and trading. Many of the temples and other structures are still standing today. Walking through this ancient site, will transport you back in time when you imagine how busy life must have been here. You’ll see famous structures including Trajan’s Column, the Circus Maximus, the temples of Saturn, Titus and Vesta, and the Arch of Severus.  

I would advise to take a guided tour if you want to understand more about the many important ruins and what it used to be like.  

Next to Forum Romanum, you will find Palatine Hill. The Palatine Hill is the most central of Rome’s seven hills (the six other hills are the Capitoline Hill, the Esquiline Hill, the Aventine Hill, the Caelian Hill, the Quirinal Hill and the Viminal Hill).

Palatine Hill is one of the most ancient areas in Rome. This hill was inhabited probably the 10th century BC. The name Palatine Hill, meaning Palace Hill, derived when Octavianus in 44 BC decided to live here. He became the emperor Augustus.

The wealthiest Roman citizens built their impressive homes on this Hills, and this used to be a very prestigious area.

Standing on the Palastine Hill gives you a great viewing point of Rome. There are many monuments to see here, like: the Baths of Septimius Severus, the Palace of Domitian, the stadium, the Domus Flavia, and the Houses of Livia and Augustus (Villa Livia)

3.Arch of Constantine

Walking to the Arch of Constantine

The Arch of Constantine next to the Colosseum was built in 315 AD and dedicated to the great Emperor Constantine to celebrate his victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge. This arch is one of the oldest structures in Rome, standing at 21 m high.

When you pass the Arch, make sure to take a moment to observe the several scenes and sculptures displayed on the Arch, many represent scenes of war.

4.St Peter’s square 

The St. Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro) is located in the Vatican City. The Vatican is a small country in Rome, an independent state ruled by the Pope and one of the most important religious sites in the world. Vatican City is only 44 hectare and a population of 825 with its own security: the Swiss Guards.

St. Peter's square
St. Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro) in the Vatican City, adjoins St Peter’s Basilica.
The pope presides liturgies throughout the year within the basilica or from the balcony of the basilica overlooking the St. Peter’s Square. On such days, there are audiences present numbering from 15,000 to over 80,000 people. The square can house approximately 300,000 people. 

St. Peter’s Square is framed by a large colonnade that extends from the basilica. The colonnade is made up of 284 columns and 88 pilasters. 
The square was designed by Bernini under supervision of Pope Alexander XII. Bernini worked on the construction from 1656 to 1667. The design of this square made it possible for the greatest number of people to see the Pope conducting the ceremonies. Bernini’s work continued after 1667, his pupils added 140 statues above the columns in 1670. There
is a huge obelisk in the centre of the square which was taken from Nero’s Circus.

We were at St. Peter’s square on a rainy day, and late in the afternoon. To our surprise, there were no crowds and St. Peter’s square was almost empty. Two rainbows appeared on a cloudy sky, while our children were playing, jumping and twirling freely.
Watch our short video at St. Peter’s square:

Watch here a short impression of our time at St. Peter’s square.

5.visit St Peter’s Basilique

St. Peter’s Basilica is referred to as the greatest and the holiest of Catholic Churches, located adjacent to St. Peter’s Square. St Peter’s Basilica was built between 1506 and 1626 above another church that dates from 324. This church was designed primarily by Donato Bramante, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Michelangelo, and Carlo Maderno.

St. Peter's Basilique

The interior of this famous pilgrimage destination is amazing, with marble and many great artworks including paintings, sculptures, and many artifacts.

It is believed that the basilica is the burial site of Saint Peter, chief among Jesus’s apostles and also the first Bishop of Rome. Saint Peter’s tomb is below the high altar of the basilica. Many popes are buried here as well.
Only a small number of people daily can visit the tiny area with the remains of Saint Peter. 


When you plan to visit the basilica, make sure to wear appropriate clothes. Shoulders and knees should be covered and even slippers are not advised. Visiting the basilica is free, but waiting time can be very long! It’s strongly advised to purchase online tickets before arrival.
You can book tickets in advance here.
If you want to climb to the top of the dome with a great view of St. Peter’s square, click here for tickets.

You can purchase combined tickets to give entrance to the Colosseum, Forum Romanum, St Peter’s Basilica, and the Sistine chapel.

6.Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel

 

The Vatican Museums
There are 54 Vatican museums located in Vatican City with 1400 rooms that exhibit a marvelous and endless collection of art throughout centuries dating back over 3000 years. These museums are amongst the biggest in the world.

A week would not be enough to properly see the artworks varying from sculptures to objects, relics and paintings showcased in beautifully painted and decorated rooms.  There are treasures from Roman and Egyptian times and there is also a wide selection of modern art displayed. Founded by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century, the museums contain nowadays roughly 70,000 works, of which approximately 20,000 are on display.

 

The Sistine Chapel is one of the most well-known and beautifully painted religious chapels in the world. The Sistine Chapel was built between 1477 and 1480 by Pope Sixtus IV and also named after him. The most prominent fresco is the ceiling, created by Michelangelo.  Michelangelo built himself a scaffold to reach the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and painted nine stories of Genesis, the creation and the fall of man, the flood and the story of Noah. You will also find frescos that depict the lives of Moses and Christ that were created by other Renaissance painters such as Botticelli, Perugino, Pinturicchio, Ghirlandaio, and Rosselli. The Last Judgement by Michelangelo covers the entire wall behind the altar and is also a very famous work of art in the Sistine Chapel. The Last Judgement represents the coming of Christ on the Day of Judgment.

Access to the Sistine Chapel is included with the Vatican Museum tickets. When you visit the Vatican Museums and its 54 galleries, the Sistine Chapel will be the last room to enter, so be prepared to walk a lot! We were mot allowed to take photos inside, but I managed to get a photo of the ceiling from a friend who was allowed to take a photo in a private tour.

Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

The Spiral staircase, a beautiful and wide staircase was designed by Italian architect Giuseppe Momo in 1932.

The Spiral Staircase is beautiful from above

The Gregorian Etruscan Museum consists of 8 galleries with Etruscan artworks. The Egyptian Museum displays a great collections from ancient Egypt such as mummified animals and the Book of the Dead.

The Gallery of Geographical Maps is one of the brightest rooms in the Vatican Museums. In this gallery you will see Italy on one side on the Ligurian and Thyrrenian coasts and on the other side on the Adriatic coast.

 

Watch our short video of our time in the Vatican Museums here.

Walking through a thousand galleries,
Endless painted ceilings,
Countless masterpiece flaunting from the walls.
A sea of artistic impressions, 
drowning since absorbing is not possible.

A thousands signs
pointing towards the Sistine chapel,
one sign leading to the other, 
untill we finally reach the magnificent chapel.
Painted by the magical hands of Michelangelo, 
those four years on his back.

Camera’s off! Phones off! Not allowed to materialise the memory,
as if images could comprise and share a complete experience
to the extent that no one would want to visit.
Such a disappointment after walking through a thousand galleries.

To our simple souls, the Sistine chapel was magnificent, but not more impressive compared other artworks in Vatican Museum ( which we were allowed to photograph luckily).

Since the Vatican museums are very popular, it is highly recommended to reserve tickets beforehand. To visit both the Sistine Chapel and the museums, get the Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel Entrance Ticket.

You should wear appropriate clothing and shoes; knees and shoulders need to be covered.

7.Piazza del Popolo

Piazza del Popolo is a well-known square in Rome. The name means ‘People’s Square’, but it was actually derived from the poplars that surrounded the oval square. This square was designed between 1811 and 1822 to welcome visitors from the north.

On this square , there are some remarkable structures:

  • Two identical churches Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto lie opposite each other.
  • The church of Santa Maria del Popolo has a stunning interior and is home to two of Caravaggio’s masterpieces: the Crucifixion of Saint Peter and the Conversion of Saint Paul.
  • The city gate, next to the church, the ‘Porta del Popolo’. The city gate was built in 1561 and years later decorated by Bernini.
  • There are fountains on both sides of the square. The Fontana del Nettuno shows Neptune accompanied by tritons. The Fontana della dea di Roma shows the goddess of Rome with the founders of Rome; Remus and Romulus.
  • A very remarkable sight on the square is the 36-metre high Egyptian obelisk. The obelisk from 1300 BC came from the Sun Temple of Heliopolis.
  • For an amazing view, climb Pincio hill. At the top, you will have a superb view of the square and Rome.

8.Trevi Fountain

You can not visit Rome and skip the Trevi Fountain. Thé Trevi fountain is 26 metres high and 49 metres wide. This is one of the most lavishly decorated and sculptured fountains in the world. Trevi fountain was constructed in 1762 by Nicola Salvi, and displays Oceanus riding his chariot pulled by Tritons while taming several Hippocamps. Did you know this fountain was built on top of one of Rome’s ancient natural water sources? It is said that when you throw a coin into the water over your shoulder, you will return to Rome. Almost $1.7 million is collected every year from the fountain and given to a Catholic charity to help the poor and homeless. 

 

You should know, the Trevi Fountain is busy. Those photos of people in front of the Trevi fountain without others? We don’t know how or when they were taken, or to what extent they photoshopped others out of the photo, but the Trevi Fountain is always busy. It was 9 pm when we arrived and the square in front of the fountain was still populated with a thick, impenetrable, immobile hedge of people. 
Somehow we we managed to stand right in front of the Trevi fountain, but not without a naughty trick our kids invented. We did not feel like wading through the crowd during the Corona pandemic, so we suggested to enjoy the fountains from a distance. However, our kids insisted to get closer since they were very impressed by the Trevi Fountain. After some thoughts, we let them go closer to the fountain and upon their return, the crowd miraculously moved. Suddenly we were able to reach the fountain effortlessly! Afterwards, our kids confessed they had coughed us a way through, and everyone moved, afraid for Corona. It was naughty, but this time very funny and helpful!

We reached the front with a naughty trick!

9.Piazza Navona

This popular square was built in the 15th century, and is located close to the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain. It is a large and lively square with many artists, street vendors, restaurants, gelaterias, and souvenir shops.

Remarkable structures at the square include Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi with extensively carved sculptures, the Palazzo Braschi, the Palazzo Pamphilj and the Saint Agnese in Agone church.

10.Spanish steps

The 135 Spanish Steps, constructed in 1725, are located between two popular squares; the Piazza di Spagna and the Piazza Trinita dei Monti. When you climb the Spanish stairs, you can admire the piazza and Bernini’s  fountain from above.

The Piazza di Spagna at the bottom of the steps is home to the city’s fanciest boutiques on Via dei Condotti, Rome’s famous shopping street.

View from the Spanish stairs
At the top of the steps you will find a large crucifix obelisk with inscriptions and the Trinita dei Monti church.
High above the Spanish stairs

11.The pantheon

The mighty Pantheon was constructed in 118 AD by emperor Hadrian and is one of the best preserved ancient Roman buildings in the world. The Pantheon is the burial place of Rome’s kings and more prominent people.  The interior features a magnificent dome and when inside, you should look up and see the open oculus in the dome through which sunlight passes.

12.Galleria & Villa Borghese

Villa Borghese Gardens

We went to visit what is said to be the largest and most beautiful park in Rome. The garden of Galleria & Villa Borghese is the third largest park in Rome. The gardens are almost 200 acres and contain the Borghese Gallery and the Gallery of National Modern Art. Villa Borghese is located in the garden too with  sculptures by Bernini.

This estate used to belong to the very wealthy cardinal Scipione Borghese. Nowadays it is a public park in the possession of the municipality of Rome. There are many trails troughout the garden.

However, we were disappointed. The park is very large indeed, but not particularly beautiful. If you think about it… it must be quite a challenge to make a garden that can impress visitors after seeing the enormous treasures in Rome… before we went, we saw several photos on Google of a small lake with a statue in the garden. Upon arrival it was not appealing in any way to us, how could it be after we had just been to Trevi Fountain..  We even did not feel like taking a family photo there.

We did take a family photo in front of these statues. Can you see we tried to replicate the pose?  

Trying to pose like the statues

Obviously, we are not trying to convince anyone here about whether to like or dislike the Borghese gardens and everyone is entitled to having their own opinion about this park.

What we did like, was driving in a small car around the property, having ice-cream and wandering around a bit.

The Galleria Borghese situated in the Borghese Villa complex,  is an important art museum that contains many paintings, sculptures and antiques.The gallery contains sculptures and paintings by artists such as Caravaggio, Rubens, Bernini and Leonardo da Vinci. You can book tickets in advance here.

13.Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

The Basilica Major it is one of the largest churches in Rome and is located in the Piazza of the same name. This church on the Esquiline hill dates from the 5th century and there are still many authentic artefacts. The interior is decorated with a lot of gold and beautiful paintings on the walls and ceiling. It is believed that there are pieces of wood from the crib of Jesus under the altar.

14.Altar of the Fatherland

This large monument is located close to the Colosseum and the Pantheon. The Altar of the Fatherland is dedicated to King Victor Emmanuel who was the first king of unified Italy.

At the front of the monument stands a large statue of Emmanuel and other sculptures. There is also a museum here about the unification of Italy.

Things to consider before visiting Rome

Keep in mind, Rome is busy and crowded, always. There are often crowds at every site of interest, sometimes making it impossible to get close. There are less tourists in Rome during shoulder season, (April-May and September- October) and yhe weather is pleasant.When we visited, the Trevi Fountain was impossible to reach. Our kids invented a naughty trick while in the pandemic, they started coughing and everyone stepped aside wo that we could pass. They told me afterwards, it was naughty but also hilarious! We saw most interesting sites in Rome and we explored also at night when the crowds were less.

 

Do not underestimate the temperature in summer!! We went in July and it was very hot, making it difficult and quite stressful to explore the city with 6 kids. There were also huge crowds everywhere. Rome is still beautiful and impressive, but it would have been a better experience in spring or autumn.

 

With police stationed on every corner nowadays, pick pocketers do not get the chances they used to have 10 years ago, still you need to be aware when in Rome streets or public transport. Ten years ago, we were almost robbed in the metro when we visited Rome with two kids. A mother started playing in a rude way with our little Shail in the stroller in an attempt to distract us , and at the same time a little girl tried to rob my husband’s wallet out of his pocket. Rakesh however felt it and told her to stop. Such a sad thing little children are raised to steal…

 

This time, on our way from Venice to Rome, something unpleasant happened. We stopped at a supermarket and Rakesh and our eldest son Eashan went shopping for some groceries. Meanwhile, Anjali stayed in the car with other children watching our suitcases. We did not know we were being observed… probably looking like an easy target; mum with 5 kids. A man knocked on the door and started talking to me, he had to check out our car. Anjali replied with everything was ok and we did not need a check. Suddenly we heard our car trunk being opened. Anjali got out and saw in disgust how the man opened the trunk. She knew right away she was about to get robbed and started screaming and calling the man names, while telling the kids to watch the belongings in the car in case there was another thief working together with the man. The man quickly run off and then we saw he was not alone indeed. This was not a nice experience! From then on we decided either Eashan or dad would stay in our car with suitcases when we were travelling from one accommodation to another, since thieves would be more impressed by the tallest two in our family!

 

While Italians are very sweet and kind to children when you meet them face to face, in traffic something weird happens. Obviously this is not the case for all Italians, but in general we experienced no kindness nor patience in traffic. We were almost run over by cars a few times when halfway across a crosswalk and this was with kids!

 

The restaurants surrounding sites of interest usually serve low-quality and tasteless food. Usually better restaurants are not in the immediate environment of touristic places.

 

To truly experience Romes’ vibes, a few days in this magnificent city is not enough. You can rush from site to site in a few days, but you will not experience the local people, culture and true vibes of Rome in such a hurried way. I would definitely recommend staying at least a week if possible.

 

 

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