Planning Sight-Seeing in Rome
The sheer abundance of sights in Rome can get quite overwhelming for first time visitors to the City of the Seven Hills. The most popular landmarks, including the Colosseum and the Sistine Chapel in the St. Peters Dom at the Vatican can require a lot of patience, queuing and waiting time even with pre-booked tickets. The queuing has recently become even worse due to increased security checks at these monuments. Visiting therefore can become a nerve-racking experience for everyone, but it is even more so for children. Especially younger kids would rather be having fun at a playground or enjoying themselves with other activities than visiting yet another old building like the Pantheon or Castel Sant Angelo.
Uncovering Rome’s Sights Stress Free
My advice, if you plan on exploring some of these ancient sites, is to choose carefully, prioritise according to your must see destinations and plan in enough breaks and child friendly moments for little ones. Try to uncover Rome’s sights during off-season and ideally avoid weekends. Even during October, when we visited the queues were horrendous and we were glad to just enjoy these historic monuments from the outside rather than waiting ages to observe them from inside. In fact with a family in tow, or for a short visit, it is perhaps worth doing as we did and take in the sites from outside whilst mixing in a wander through the streets and exploring the other fascinating things that the City has to offer from hidden cafes, to small shops, parks and gardens.
Lunch at Restaurant Vero Sera
Having started our weekend away in Rome with a visit to the Colosseum and then winding our way through the streets past the Trevi Fountain and the jaw-dropping Pantheon we were then in desperate need of a break and some food. A few blocks from the Pantheon we stumbled upon a farmers market at Campo de Fiori and in the corner we came across the quaint restaurant Verso Sera, with a few tables outside facing the square, cosy alcoves inside, plus a large selection of wine and some of the best pasta in Rome it was a treat. They also seemed quite happy to adjust Jerome’s order to his liking – gnocci pomodoro with mozzarella.
Italian Farmer’s Market
After lunch we briefly browsed the Italian farmer’s market in the square at Campo di Fiori, there were plenty of goodies to be taken home for those wishing to by gifts and souvenirs. Everything from homemade pasta, cheese and other local delicacies were on offer at the market stands.
Browsing Small Shops in Via dei Cappelliari
Moving on we enjoyed strolling through the narrow alleyway Via dei Cappelliari with its treasure trove of independent small shops, including many peculiar antique shops stuffed with anything from musty old furniture to Jesus statues and expensive looking period paintings. There also was a decent toyshop where little ones, and not so little ones too, can find themselves in retail heaven and spend hours browsing for new playthings. I loved the Pinocchio puppets and wooden toys, a reminder of childhood and stories.
More Side Street Discoveries
A store with handmade baskets and furniture took my fancy, and I could have happily spent a few Euros there if my hand luggage would have allowed it. Dad gazed at intricately made cufflinks for a while, even though he wears them for work less often these days. Jerome, however was fascinated by the vintage cars we encountered on the streets, there was an original “washing machine on wheels”, a Fiat 500 and an old Mini to mention just a couple.
Castel Sant Angelo
Turning the corner at Largo Ottavio Tassoni, we were suddenly hit by the sight of the dramatic Castel Sant Angelo. The approach to the castle on the bridge, Pont Aelius, leads across the river Tiber and provides visitors with an impressive walk, especially at sunrise, or sunset, as it was in our case. The sun rays gave the castle a golden glow and the riverside looked rather inviting for a stroll to escape the tourist crowds. The baroque statues on the bridge add to the atmosphere and the angels amongst them gave the castle its name. The castle was built during the 1st century by the Roman emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his immediate family. It has therefore also been nicknamed Hadrians Mole and the ruler’s ashes plus those of his wife and son were buried deep in the building. It is hard to fathom that someone would build such a large grave during his lifetime… The monument was then later used as a resting place for the succeeding emperors and eventually turned into a military fortress for popes and now houses a museum.
The Museum Inside Hadrian’s Mole
The views from the top of the Castel Sant Angelo must provide visitors with a stunning panorama of the surrounding area, the Vatican with St Peters Basilica and beyond over the seven hills. The museum inside Hadrian’s Mole shows an array of sculptures, paintings, historical artefact that were unearthed inside the castle’s grounds and some extensive frescos but this maybe something to bypass with children in our party. Again we skipped the museum and only peeked into the inside of the Castel Sant Angelo briefly from the entrance gate. There were no queues, so obviously most tourists must skip this impressive landmark on their way to the Vatican.
The Vatican and Sistine Chapel
The prominent cupola of the St Peters Dome towers over the roofs of the Borgo district and we had already spotted if on our walk across the Tiber. The St Peters Square is easily reached from the Castel Sant Angelo by foot, walking along a wide avenue that runs straight to the home of the Catholic Church, the Vatican. Upon the approach we could see a long queue snaking across the cobbled St Peters Square, the masses waiting hours to enter the famous Sistine Chapel inside the St Peters Basilica to wonder at the artistic masterpieces and treasures. Again we found the queue completely off-putting and discouraging but it did not surprise us as we had heard from friends that a visit to the Sistine Chapel was mostly a disappointment, being worse than the metro during the rush hours in Tokyo. Purchasing pre booked tickets online is definitely advisable, especially if you want to avoid the harassment of ticket sellers in front of the square.
The Smallest Country in the World
Despite this Jerome was happy to have set foot onto yet another country, albeit a rather special one, not only the smallest in the world but also located inside the boundaries of another large capital city. He would have loved to receive a stamp in his passport but there are no passport controls to enter the mini state. The Vatican not only attracts art lovers or architecture aficionados, religious groups make regular pilgrimages to the home of the pope, especially on Sundays, when he might show his face at lunchtime to offer his blessings to the crowds. As we wandered over the stones of the square the sun was just setting behind the St Peters Basilica, creating star shaped light effects onto the ancient walls. Some might interpret them as a heavenly sign from God above?
Dinner at Restaurant Joseph
Following some nuns along the street we decided to return to the hotel for a break after our long day exploring amongst the major sights of Rome. We were glad to retreat to another wonderfully yummy dinner of classic homemade Italian dishes at Restaurant Joseph.
Discover the Charming Travestere
For Sunday we planned to get away to lesser-frequented corners of the city and discover the scenic parks and palazzos in the charming Travestere district.
2 thoughts on “Rome, Italy | Visiting the Dramatic Castel Sant Angelo and the Vatican”
Vatican City must have a strange vibe. I’d love to visit… so long as I could get back to the rest of the world pretty easily. It looks beautiful though and I have a strong curiosity what a place with that much old world energy concentrated would feel like..