A holiday in January is the perfect way to beat the blues.

Rome is somewhere that’s been on my list for a really long time.

And Mark’s favourite type of food is Italian (that guy could happily eat for pizza for every meal!), I’m pretty surprised he hasn’t been before! Our friends, one of who is actually Italian, were spending the whole month of January in Rome. The perfect excuse for us to spend some time with them as well as sightseeing.

Photo of the Trevi Fountain in Rome
Trevi Fountain

Flight details: Edinburgh – Ciampino | Accommodation: A Peace of Rome, Via Fabio Massimo

We had four full days to spend exploring the city, and a list of all the tourist things we wanted to check off our list. And a few that maybe wouldn’t be on the normal must see list for Rome.

We did the biggest chunk of the tourist stuff on day 3 – walking a whopping 17 miles!! But I would seriously suggest spreading stuff out a bit more if you have the time. Google maps is great for mapping out a route and making sure you hit all the spots you want to see.

Photo of the front of the Pantheon
Pantheon

Pantheon

One of the most amazing things about Rome is the ancient Roman buildings (and sometimes ruins) you still see around the city. The buildings that are not ruins are amazingly maintained.

The Pantheon wasn’t the easiest to find. It’s hidden away down small, narrow streets, and then suddenly it’s there. It’s a former Roman temple which is now used as a church.

Fun fact: the dome of the Pantheon is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.

It’s really impressive inside, and the dome has a hole in the middle of it. Meaning if it rains the rain would actually come inside the building.

Entry cost: Free

Vatican City / St Peter’s Square

Despite not being at all religious, Vatican City was one of the places I was most looking forward to. I expected it to be really grand and it was exactly that. The Christmas tree and nativity scene (which was made out of sand) were still in the middle of St Peter’s Square. Although within Rome, Vatican City is its own state ruled by the pope.

Not a huge amount to see unless you go into the museum or St Peter’s Basilica but still worth a visit just to see.

St Peter’s Basilica

During peak tourist season you would be queuing to get inside here for a long time, not something I would fancy in the heat! In January we were queuing for about 30 minutes. Inside St Peter’s is spectacular – beautiful and opulent with so much marble.

Photo of the ceiling of St Peter's Basilica
St Peter’s Basilica

St Peter’s is still a functioning church, so expect there to be times when you might not be able to get into certain parts as mass will be on. You can also visit the tombs of the popes beneath the basilica. As morbid as this sounds, it was really interesting to see and there were plaques with information about each pope buried there.

Top tip: As St Peter’s Basilica is a functioning church, you have to be dressed modestly to get in. This means not too much leg or bare shoulders on show. Ladies, if you’re wearing shorts/dresses/skirts carry a scarf that you can wrap round your legs if needed.

Entry cost: Free

Castel Sant’Angelo

Another ancient Roman building in the city. Originally buil for the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum and later used as a castle for the pope. Castel Sant’Angelo is filled with works of art, frescos and a collection of pretty horrific looking weapons! Climb to the top of the building for spectacular views of the city.

Entry cost: €15,00

Vatican Museum & Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel is probably on most people’s hit list while visiting Rome, but in order to see it you have to go into the Vatican Museum. The museum was interesting, again fantastic works of art and sculptures throughout. There was also an Ancient Egyptian exhibition and some impressive tapestries.

I enjoyed the museum and I’m glad I went, but the Sistine Chapel left me a bit underwhelmed (much like the Mona Lisa did when I saw it in Paris years ago). It really is just a room with a very impressive painted ceiling and too many people in it at any one time. You’re expected to be quiet while inside (which nobody was) and you’re not allowed to take photos. Hugely disappointing for someone who likes to take photos of everything! I think the reason photos aren’t allowed is because the gift shops (which are dotted throughout the museum) sell so much with the very famous touching fingers from the ‘Creation of Adam’ painting on the ceiling.

Top tip: Book your Vatican Museum ticket online and pick a specific time (as soon as it opens is a good time) to save queuing. If you get in first thing visit the Sistine Chapel before you go through the museum – it will probably be quieter.

Entry cost: €17,00 (plus €4,00 booking fee if buying tickets online)

Photo of the outside of the Colosseum on a bright day with blue skies,
Colosseum

Colosseum

You can’t really visit Rome and not go to the Colosseum, it’s one of the most iconic tourist spots in the city. I expected it to be completely open to the elements on the inside but there are areas that are undercover. Including the area you queue to get in – ideal if it’s raining on scorching heat! Admittedly there isn’t a whole lot to see inside (although there were two interesting exhibitions on the first level), and you can’t get into all of it as there are still parts being excavated, and the ticket that can be bought on the day only gets you to the first level. Despite this, it’s still 100% worth visiting.

Top tip: Buy your ticket in advance online to get access to the higher levels.

Entry cost: €12,00 (this also gets you entry to the Roman Forum)

Roman Forum & Forum of Nerva

The Roman Forum is on a hill across from the Colosseum. A walk to the top of the hill through the gardens will give you a great view over Rome. Again expect to see more Roman ruins (and possibly quite a few cats) while walking round here.

Top tip: Check the times that this is open depending on when you go. We could have easily spent more time in the Roman Forum but it closed at 4:30pm.

Forum of Nerva is across the road from where you exit the Roman Forum. Similar in that it is Roman ruins but still cool to see.

Trevi Fountain

This was by far the busiest tourist spot we went to! Much like the Pantheon, you’re walking down wee streets and then suddenly it’s there. Take a coin to throw in.

Top tip: Try and fit in a visit to this at night as well as during the day. It looks awesome lit up, and it’s quieter.

Spanish Steps

I was very underwhelmed with the Spanish Steps. They really are just a set of big steps that lead from one part of the street to another. I’ve heard that they are a better sight during the spring, so maybe still worth visiting.

Altar of the Fatherland

Photo of Altar of the Fatherland in Rome - a large building with Roman style columns and horse statues on top of the building.
Altar of the Fatherland

We passed this the night we arrived in Rome and it’s a stunning building! You can also see it from loads of points throughout the city – it stands out pretty well. The museum inside the building is all about the unification of Italy. A monument (which has the tomb of the unknown soldier in it) and an eternal flame can be seen at the top of the steps.

Fun fact: although it looks really old, the construction of this building only finished in 1935. It’s modelled on a neoclassical design interpreting the Roman Forum.

Entry cost: Free to get into the building and museum, €7,00 for the panoramic lift

Trastevere

Not necessarily one of the tourist spots in Rome, but well worth a visit. The buildings are stunning, with plenty of street art, fountains and churches. The streets are super Instagramable! There are some shops here, and it’s great to see during the day, but definitely venture back at night. The streets come alive and there are plenty of restaurants and bars to pick from.

Temple of Hercules Victor

Another piece of Ancient Rome in the middle of the city. We had to make do with just seeing this from the outside, it’s only open on certain days of the month.

Villa Borghese Gardens

A lovely big public park with a boating pond in the middle. It was chucking it down when we went, but during the summer this park would be even nicer. You can get to the gardens by climbing up the Spanish Steps or via Piazza del Popolo.

So there you have it, how to cram a whole lot of sightseeing into four days in Rome. I really loved this city. So much history and so much nice food! I’m so glad I’ve ticked Rome off my list.

Have you visited Rome, is there anything you would add to my list?

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Photo of an arch with a view of buildings in Rome and the words 'Wanderlust: How to Spend Four Days in Rome' in black cursive font.
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Picture of orange brick double decker bridge, Oberbaumbrücke in Berlin over water.

Our main activity for day three was the East Side Gallery.

Although Mark discovered that there was a beer festival on the weekend we were there, and conveniently it was on the way to the East Side Gallery!

The longest beer festival in the world, it was a mile long and had 2,400 brands of beer and 344 breweries. We even had Scotland represented with Brewdog. We bought a tiny (0.2l) stein each and set off to sample some beers. I mostly stuck to the fruity ones but did try some of the German beers too. I don’t think we were even half way down before I started feeling a bit tipsy! Thankfully there were plenty of food places so we got some currywurst to share before we headed for more beer.

It seems that Germans love unicorns as much as me, there was a lot of unicorn stuff in shops and there was even a unicorn beer! And it was freakin’ delicious!

Part of the Berlin Wall, the East Side Gallery. Colourful, unrealistic looking faces

Once we got to the end of the beer festival we were on the way to the main attraction of the day. The East Side Gallery is the longest remaining part of the Berlin Wall at over 1300 metres long. It’s covered in over 100 paintings, the most famous probably being the kissing scene of Brezhner and Honecker (unsurprisingly it was super busy here, so I didn’t manage to get a good photo of this). We also saw Oberbaumbrücke, the double-deck bridge which was near the start of the East Side Gallery (the one you can see in the photo at the top of the post). This bridge was closed after WW2 because it connected east and west Berlin.

I think day four was my favourite day. We went to the Berlin Wall Memorial and Berlin Underworlds Museum. We headed to the Underworlds Museum first thing and booked onto one of the English tours of the bunker under the train station. Tickets purchased, we were back on the train to the Berlin Wall Memorial. This was such an interesting museum, partly outside, there were photos of escapes across the border and plaques on the ground to show where people had dug tunnels to get east to west. There was also a part of the wall set up as it would have been, with no man’s land in between the two sides and the watchtower. The part of the museum that was inside was more about the wall going up, it was put up overnight and the people of Berlin woke up unable to get from side to the other, families were separated, people couldn’t get to work. It’s so weird to imagine that when I was born the wall was still up!

We got back to the Underworlds Museum for our tour and it was so cool. We entered the bunker through a huge door half way down the stairs into the station. The bunker consisted of lots of different rooms and would have been able to accommodate 1000 people in the event of a raid. When we went into the bunker we were told not to touch the walls, and the reason why was demonstrated to us – the paint glows in the dark, and still does all these years later! Pretty sure that means there is some harmful stuff in that paint!? Although it had space for 1000 people in reality there would be more than that in it when it was in use, candles were used to monitor the amount of oxygen in the bunker. We weren’t allowed to take photos in here as some of the items on display weren’t allowed to be photographed.

Our last full day in Berlin started with a visit to the Olympiastadion – the venue for the 1936 Olympics. To get into the actual stadium you had to pay but we decided against this as you still got some pretty cool views without actually going in and we still had other sights to see!

Entrance to the Olympic stadium in Berlin. The five olympic rings suspended between two stone pillars. Blue sky and fluffy white clouds.

The other thing on the list for day five was Topography of Terror which is on the site of what was the Gestapo headquarters. This museum was really tough going. It’s all about the horrible things the Nazis did during their time in power, both in the lead up and during WW2. The whole museum was made up of large info boards that gave details of the horrors inflicted on people. I’m a total history geek but there was only so much I could read and the photos were truly awful. I ended up sitting out about the last quarter of the museum.

Our flight home on the Tuesday was around 1pm but we managed to get booked onto a tour of the glass dome on top of the Reichstag. You are able to do a tour of the whole building but this has to be booked well in advance and by the time we booked our trip there were no slots left. The glass dome was cool and the views across the city were amazing! Plus we were up so early we managed to see the Brandenburg Gate with no tourists in front of it.

And then it was time to head to the airport and get back to sunny Scotland.

Berlin was such a great city and we had a great time. If you’re planning a trip my must see places would be the Berlin Wall Memorial, the Berlin Underworlds Museum, Checkpoint Charlie and the East Side Gallery. The fact that the Germans don’t shy away from their history amazes me! Our hotel (Park Inn by Radisson) was in a great location, the rooms were a good size and the bed was comfy. Everything you need in a hotel on a city break. The only weird thing about it was the fact that the shower cubicle was pretty much in the bedroom, as in you could see it from the bed!

I definitely think walking around a new city is the best way to explore it but the public transport was great and you can buy a ticket thats lets you use the train, tram and bus. Also, when in Germany you need to try ALL the food! Currywurst is super tasty, and is great washed down with a beer. Also German mac n’ cheese – käsespätzle – is amazing!

Have you visited Berlin? What were your favourite things about the city?

You can read pt.1 of our Berlin trip here.

 

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Photographs taken by me & M Richardson

 

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Picture of Berlin Wall with colourful graffiti on it

Not all who wander are lost.

In August Mark and I headed off on a much needed holiday! Although Mark took the time off and I knew I would be off (due to the job quitting thing!) we actually didn’t decide on where we were going until the week before we left!

Berlin was somewhere we were both keen on and although each of us had been to Germany before, Berlin was a first for both of us. We flew out of Edinburgh on 3rd August, thankfully it wasn’t too early a flight but I still slept pretty much the whole way! I woke up way earlier than I needed to – must have been the excitement!

The flight took just over an hour and as we only took hand luggage it took us no time to get out of the airport and to the train. We were staying at the Park Inn by Radisson at Alexanderplatz, a convenient two minute walk from the train station. We got our choice of floor between nine and thirty! As I’m not the biggest fan of heights I opted for floor nineteen and we still had great views.

After ditching our bags and freshening up a bit we headed out to explore a bit of the city and grab some lunch. There were plenty of food places in the station so we just grabbed sandwiches and sat in the sun while deciding where to go and people watched.

Picture of windows surrounded by green leaves with red roses

We set off for a walk around the city. I’ll be honest, I pretty much follow Mark when we’re away anywhere. My sense of direction is so bad! One of the places on our list was Clärchens Ballhaus which is apparently considered an institution in the city. It originally opened in 1913 as a ballroom and is now a restaurant and nightclub. It’s meant to be really cool inside but we didn’t manage to get in so just had to admire it from the outside.

Picture of old building surrounded by green trees and hanging lights

You can’t be in Germany and not visit a beer hall. Our first visit dinner was at Hofbräu Berlin. The guys were wearing lederhosen and the women were wearing dirndl, and the beer steins were HUGE!

Picture of hand holding a pretzel with a water fountain behind it

Day two we were up nice early and ready for a packed day of sightseeing. We started our day with breakfast – I couldn’t get enough of the pretzels! We found what seemed to be the German equivalent of Greggs, this was our breakfast place of choice for the trip. After we had eaten and got a little bit soaked by the fountain we sat in front of we set off for the Brandenburg Gate. It was unsurprisingly really busy and mobbed with tourists!

Picture of Brandenburg gate, it has six stone pillars and a green statue on top with four horses

From here we walked to the Memorial of the Murdered Jews and then onto probably the most famous car park in Berlin. The car park was once the site of the Führerbunker, used by Hitler during WW2. Day two was by far our busiest day and we saw so much because we walked everywhere! It’s such a good way to see everything, the Bauhaus Archive/Museum of Design was next up. Pretty cool if you’re into art and design and the tiny houses out front were pretty cool.

During our wander through the city we walked through Potsdamer Platz and this was the first we saw of a bit of the remaining Berlin Wall. We had lots of wee breaks throughout the day, we needed to make sure that we drank as much beer as possible! This kept us going until we hit Hard Rock Cafe for dinner, then we did even more walking! On the way back to the hotel we went via Checkpoint Charlie, they’ve kept the checkpoint hut and the signs telling you you were leaving/entering another part of Berlin. Even much later on in the day it was still mobbed with tourists, and by this point me and my wee feet had well and truly had enough! It was a really hot day we’d clocked up an unbelievable 13 miles (over 30k steps!) and I was wearing Converse…

I’m going to leave it there for now and I will be back with pt.2 in a few days.

 

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