Last year, we went to Italy for a 10 day vacation, the last 5 days of which were spent in Rome. And we need to talk about Rome. I wanted to write a wonderful piece on how to save money in town, and all the things to do in Rome, a review of the Roma pass and more. But I find that I can’t write that post because there is something that is in the way and its because I didn't like Rome.
This has to be an unpopular opinion and I certainly didn’t expect to have this opinion. I expected to fall in love with Rome. But the truth is that from the first moment we arrived in Rome I wished we had never left Tuscany. I suffered through the 5 days we spent there, trying to make the best of it. But I didn't like it. I want to try to explain why.
What its really like to visit the Vatican
I purposefully picked October because I had heard that going in the summer or near a holiday would cause Rome to be so crowded that you could not enjoy it. October was perfect for the weather, the crowds not so much. I cannot imagine what the crowds are like in the summer or around holidays because everything was so crowded that I felt like I was in a herd of cattle wherever I went. The online boards I read told me to not go on a Wednesday or the weekend, so I went on a Tuesday. They also said to go to the vatican in the afternoon since there are more tour groups in the morning and its supposed to be less crowded. Less crowded by what standards I ask? I have never seen so many people in my life.
My advice is just don't go to the Vatican. I don't see how you can enjoy anything. People ask me about the Sistine Chapel since now I've seen it. My advice? Don't go see it. Its not worth it. The Vatican museum was so full of people that you cannot even walk around full stride without people being EVERYWHERE! And then the Sistine Chapel itself was the worst of it. The entire place was packed to the brim with people standing shoulder to shoulder. There are benches along the walls but since there are so many people you have such a slim chance of getting one of those. Have these people ever heard of fire codes? It cannot be safe to have that many people stuffed into a room. Now the art itself is pretty nice but you soon develop a horrible crank in your neck from trying to stare straight up at the ceiling while passerby step on your toes. You might come prepared with your earbuds to have an audio guide explain the room to you so you know what you are looking at, but good luck hearing it. With that many people in a room the constant murmuring and loud talking of all the Asians who can't read the English signs telling you "No talking! Quiet! Silence!", broken up occasionally by the loud yelling of the Vatican officials yelling "Silence!", good luck hearing that audio guide. To be frank it just wasn't worth it. Italy is filled with elaborately painted ceilings, the Sistine Chapel just isn't that different.
Moving onto St. Peter's Basilica itself…. I personally say that I completely agree with Michelangelo on this one. They shouldn’t have put that baroque facade on the front of St. Peters. It makes the dome less impressive. Even though St. Peter’s is larger than the dome in Florence it doesn't look as impressive since its in the distance being dwarfed by that baroque facade. To actually get into St. Peters you have to wait in a really long line. It wasn’t that bad the day we went and the line was only an hour. Even more annoying than standing in line was the annoying street salesmen who constantly came up to you trying to talk you into buying their overpriced tours! We had to keep asking them to leave us alone! Then there is the actual basilica itself, it is very very big inside. And very beautiful. I can see why people might have a religious experience being in there. But I myself could not have a religious experience. I was too distracted by the hoards of people all over the cathedral to really take in the sanctity of the place. It was beautiful and big but I have to say that there were other cathedrals in Rome that I found just as beautiful that I actually enjoyed way more because I was able to relax and take them in without crowds of people.
There was not actually that much history to be found in Rome
I find the history of Rome to be completely fascinating and I was looking forward to seeing it all where it happened. The political struggles of the ancient Roman empire and the rule of the Vatican are some of the most engaging periods in history and I thought I would learn tons about the ancient world and the church. What greeted me was a sprawling dirty city with periodic ancient ruins. Even though I could go see the ruins and sites that were thousands of years old there was very little information that was given. Even on the tours I went on, I was left learning very little and not understanding the political and social factors around what happened. Everything was presented in a shallow, lighthearted way. An example of this was the Colosseum. I found the way it was presented slightly offensive. It was shown as one huge fun thing and oh! look Gladiators. I personally do not find gladiators to be amusing. I find the amount of death that happened there for amusement to be disturbing and not a lighthearted matter at all.
The city is difficult to navigate
We had maps and we wanted to take public transportation around the city but I found that the metro doesn’t actually go very near a lot of the things that you actually want to see. The metro entrances were sometimes far away and the signs for how to get to the metro were not clear. Granted, some of that may be soon be fixed by them building a third metro line. I also found the city itself often confusing to navigate by walking. One afternoon we spent almost an hour trying to figure out how to enter a garden that just had a huge wall between it and the rest of the city with no identifiable entrances. Anyway I haven’t had the same experience in other cities.
Other general grievances
The bathroom situation there need some serious explaining. About 80% of the toilets I encountered in public had some sort of toilet seat issue going on. Either the toilet seat was broken, removed, or just completely missing. This seemed to happen almost everywhere I went. It seemed to occur in both male and female bathrooms and in free public WCs and in fancy restaurants. Everywhere I went I encountered this strange phenomenon of missing and broken toilet seats. And the fact that there was a small minority of toilets with toilet seats still intact assured me that it wasn’t that toilet seats just aren't a thing there, so I'm perplexed.
But the most annoying part of Rome were the street vendors. Especially the ones around the Colosseum and the Vatican. They were beyond pushy or persistent in trying to sell their crap. At first we were polite with a simple “no, thank you” and trying to walk away from them but over time I became more aggravated by them. Many of these vendors try to act like they are “officials” wearing vests and attempting to order people around. We even had some yelling at us that “We were going the wrong way”, as he tried to bar our way from walking down the sidewalk. I lost my patience and compassion with him since he had no way to know if we were “going the wrong way” since he didn’t know where we were going! These street vendors we encountered that behaved this way were not Italian and they did not speak Italian, they only yelled at us English. I just pretended to not understand them and tried to ignore them. Others on forums suggest to just ignore them, not make eye contact, etc. but those tactics just didn't work on these people. They would literally run after you in the street! It made it difficult to enjoy being out and about.
Finally, a little bit of positivity
Overall, I am glad that I have been to Rome, but I wish that I had spent less time there. It just wasn’t my kind of city. Rome can be overrated if you go where the crowds go and try to tick off some prescribed list on what you have to see. My most interesting and fun times in Rome were when we just wandered around. My advice is to stay somewhere close to the sights, only go see what is important to you and skip the “Must-sees” and also don’t expect too much. After all, it is just a city. And to end this article here is a list of stuff in Rome I did enjoy!
- Castel Sant’Angelo
- Appian way
- The Roman Forum
- Paprika Chips
- Olive Trees
- Beautiful Cathedrals on almost corner
- The sunsets