Day 12 – Rome: Pantheon, Victor Emmanuel II Monument and the Vatican Museum

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

This was technically Day 3 in Rome! If you back up to Day 11 (see here), you’ll remember that the previous day was full and long. So, our morning on Day 3 was a little slow moving. That’s okay! We are often not the quickest moving family in the mornings on vacation.

However, Wednesday was a bit of a mental conundrum for me. You see, Pope Francis does what is called the papal audience on Wednesdays, whenever he is in town. This is where he comes out into St. Peter’s Square and addresses the crowd and gives a little speech, says some prayers, and offers blessings. This sounded like a very cool thing to witness, so part of me really wanted to go.

The time can vary, but according to the schedule, this Wednesday’s papal audience would be at 9 a.m. Now, that’s not particularly early, but we figured it’s also not exactly the type of thing where you saunter up at 8:57, pull up a chair and high five the Pope. Obviously, we’d need to get there EARLY to try to even get any kind of spot to sit or stand, because this is, you know, St. Peter’s Square- one of the most visited places in the world.

So, it would require a very early trek over, then a lot of waiting around…. to hopefully be able to see the Pope standing up on the stage, where he would then probably look about “yay big” (picture me holding my thumb and index finger a tiny distance apart). We could listen to his speech, but we also figured that well over 50% or more would be in Italian or Latin or another language that we don’t speak.

Couple all of that with our very busy and full day + late Tuesday evening, and we ultimately decided to SCRATCH the Pope. Sorry Francis! I really did want to see you. It was just one of those things that would be really cool to be like, I saw the Pope in person!! But alas, we didn’t. 😦

So, we slept in a little instead, leisurely got ready for the day, and finally headed out around 9:30.

9:30 a.m.

Our first stop was to do a quick self-guided tour of a beautiful basilica just steps around the corner from our hotel: Basilica di Sant’Andrea Della Valle.

Okay, this place was amazing!! And, get this- it was not even in my guide book! Just goes to show you how many spectacular churches and basilicas there are in Rome, that this gem didn’t even seem to make the short list.

From the outside, we couldn’t even really tell that there was much to see:

We spent around 30 minutes or less here, and then walked several blocks towards the Pantheon.

10:00 a.m.

We knew we wanted to return to the Pantheon first. (We had already seen it by night, but wanted to tour it yet and see it by day, too.) We planned to find some breakfast somewhere near there.

Look at that beautiful blue sky!!

We moseyed around a while looking for a breakfast spot. Turns out, we were in a huge tourist hub (ha!) and things appeared either busy or overpriced, etc.

We ended up just embracing the touristy venues and went with a small cafe directly in front of the Pantheon. It had a limited menu, but sometimes atmosphere > food.

Could there BE a view that screams “Italy!” more than this one?? I feel that this picture could go in a Rick Steves Rome book. 😉

The sun felt so warm- almost hot- and this was wonderful.

We had tea/ coffee and croissants and just enjoyed the view.

And a timer shot with phone propped up on another table, to get Ivan in there, too. 🙂

After our little breakfast, we headed across the plaza to get in line to enter the Pantheon.

We again used the free Rick Steves audio guides and our AirPods to do the tour. The Pantheon really isn’t very large at all- it’s just basically one room! So it doesn’t take a long time to go through.

The history of this place is fascinating though. It’s a must do if you’re in Rome.

We all took our time listening to the various stations on the audio guide and marveling at the various architectural wonders of the place.

My cute boys in the Pantheon!

11:30 a.m.

By around 11:30 we were finished and headed on to our next stop: the Victor Emmanuel II Monument. It was a maybe 10-15 minute walk away. This was a place that we had walked by multiple times, but didn’t actually enter on our first trip to Rome in 2017. I really wanted to do it this time.

Just walking around, the streets feel so charming!

This monument, also known as the Vittoriano, is a national monument that was built to honor Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of Italy.

It’s HUGE. It’s also located on the very busy and bustling Piazza Venezia– a main traffic plaza. (Seriously, watch yourself here!! There are cars that seem to come from all different directions. It’s a huge roundabout.)

We went through the entrance checkpoint, and then up the stairs:

Looking out at the plaza was cool, too:

Eventually we made our way inside and around to the back, where we paid the fee to ride the elevator up to the very top of the monument. (This was the part we hadn’t done before. I really wanted to see the views of Rome from way up top!)

The views from the lower back balcony, even before we took the elevator up, were great- it looked out to the Forum and the Colosseum.

❤️❤️ Note the Colosseum behind us!

We took a glass elevator up, and up above, the views were amazing!!! I LOVED this and am so, so glad we fit this into the trip. Highly recommend. This was a highlight for me!

(This got tricky to narrow down photos, because there were 360 degree views, and they were all incredible.)

The dome in the distance toward the left of the photo is St. Peter’s Basilica

Looking down to Piazza Venetia:

The plaza looking surprisingly empty, actually!

The boys used those binocular machines to check things out. They had labeled maps pointing out the various landmarks.

It was not even busy up there. Seriously, go here! From what I read, the views from here are even better than from the top of St. Peter’s. (We opted to not go to the top of St. Peter’s, in part due to time constraints, but also because I figured we only needed to do one rooftop experience, and I preferred to try this one.)

A few posed shots of us:

And, I LOVE this picture:

Could this not be the cover of a guidebook?!

I’d say we spent over an hour or more at the monument in total. We really just lingered on the rooftop, walking from side to side, taking in the views. It’s nice that they don’t restrict your time at all. It was such a gorgeous day, too!

Finally, time to go.

1:25 p.m.

Back downstairs, we made our way to Capitoline Hill. (It’s literally just directly behind the monument- only a couple minutes away.)

Capitoline Hill is one of the famous “seven hills of Rome”, and was designed by Michelangelo. It is now the home of the famous Capitoline Museum (which we didn’t visit- maybe next time!).

We mostly just walked up the hill to look around.

The big building straight ahead is the Senatorial Palace.
In the middle is a statue of Marcus Aurelius.

Took a few photos, then back down. 🙂

It was now probably 1:40 or so. Our morning croissants were long gone! So, time for lunch.

We had 3:30 tickets for the Vatican Museums, so we started making our way toward Vatican City. It was a bit of a hike- at least a good 30 minutes by foot, if not a bit more. (It’s not so far to St. Peter’s, but the actual Vatican Museums are located way on the back side of the complex.) I considered just taking some kind of public transport or a taxi, but, it was a nice day, and why not walk some more??! Haha.

Anyway, we planned to stop for lunch halfway somewhere.

2:00 p.m.

By 2 pm we had checked out a few restaurants as we walked, and found a cute place tucked away in an alleyway. We had…. pizza. Of course.

Oh, correction. Dad and I had pizza- others had pasta!

And I love this picture. This was such a cute little place!

3:00 p.m.

By around 3:00 we had finished a relaxing lunch and a refuel, and we made our way to the Vatican Museum.

Back past the Tiber River and Castel Sant’Angelo by day
Vatican City walls

It is highly recommended to purchase tickets in advance, which we had. We still had to go through a security line, but it was quick and then we were in.

Last time we were here Ivan and I did a guided tour of the Vatican Museums. I have to say- I do not recommend that!! Yes, I’m sure we learned more, but it was so long, and honestly got boring, and my back started to hurt from just standing in place so much, and I had a very hard time understanding our guide’s heavy accent! I definitely did not want to do that again.

So, Rick Steves to the rescue yet again. We went with the free audio guide and a map for a self guided tour.

Ethan firing up the audio guide

I won’t get into too much detail about this museum, mostly because I can’t remember any of the names of the art work or many specifics. 😆 But this place is MASSIVE. Definitely needs hours of time to really see it and even remotely do it justice.

The Rick Steves audio guide certainly doesn’t cover every nook and cranny of the museum, but it does hit many high points and gives a nice overview of a majority of the key pieces. It is designed to take just over 2 hours, I think. We typically are “slow” in museums- we like to really look at things, read the placards, etc.- but this museum is enormous. Also, our level of “art history appreciation and knowledge” is probably moderate to low, so a more introductory visit was sufficient for us. If you are a serious art, history or religious buff, you may want more time or the guided option.

Here are some photos:

There was certainly no shortage of art to look at!! Paintings, sculptures, tapestries, metal, stone, etc…. each item with such history and every one with a story and meaning.

One of my favorite areas was the “Golden Hallway”:

Look at that ceiling!!

Eventually we made it to the special entrance to the Sistine Chapel. I think many people don’t realize that the Sistine Chapel is actually inside the Vatican Museums- you can’t see it without going through the museums.

It is also a “no photo” zone.

Waiting to enter the chapel

Now, about what I’m going to say next- you’ll just have to take my word for it. I did NOT intend to take any photos inside the Sistine Chapel, because the sign clearly stated “no photos”. HOWEVER, as I was putting my phone away in my purse, I think it accidentally went off, because I somehow ended up with this photo on my camera roll:

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Darn phone! I just have no idea how that happened. 😜 (Shhhhh.)

The Sistine Chapel is… incredible! It is also kind of hard to really take in, because the ceiling just has so much going on up there that it’s almost hard to see. Also, you get a serious crick in your neck trying to study it. I really wanted to just lay down on the floor and gaze up. But I think the guards may have frowned on that.

Regardless, it’s pretty amazing to say you saw THE Sistine Chapel with your very own eyes!!!

They started getting ready to close the museum as it approached 6 p.m., so we ended up getting ushered out of the chapel after a while.

We passed through a few other areas of the museum on our way toward the exit.

Just look at this! Can you imagine painting this???

After a gift shop stop, where Asher bought a magnet for his Religion teacher :), we were outside by ~6:35 p.m.

6:35 p.m.:

We were treated to yet another viewing of the beautiful St. Peter’s Square at dusk. I am convinced that this is the most spectacular time of day to view the square!! So lucky that we saw it twice with this magical lighting.

We slowly made our way back to the hotel.

7:25 p.m.

By 7:25 p.m., we were taking a break! It had been another full day. I made some tea and I think posted a very quick blog post check in. Pretty sure the boys just sprawled on the bed with their phones to play some games for a bit and just relax.

The little “common area”/ breakfast nook in our cozy central Rome hotel. I loved our hotel choice!! The location and everything was just perfect.

But it was our last night in Rome! We were definitely not going to go to bed at 7 p.m.

Around 8:30, we headed out for one last Italian dinner.

Our feet were tired of walking, though, and it was chilly out. Fortunately, our hotel was just a block away from Campo de’Fiori, where there are a bunch of restaurants.

Our little street
Campo de’Fiori

We browsed a few menus but decided not to belabor things and just picked a casual and cozy looking place on the corner.

8:45 p.m.

By 8:45 p.m. we were seated at a table! Ready to toast to our awesome days in Rome.

I actually decided to NOT get pizza or pasta this time (I know, weird…). I was in the mood for something really warm on that crisp evening, so I went with minestrone soup.

I was definitely due for some vegetables.

One last group shot!!

It was hard to believe our whirlwind days in Rome were coming to an end. We saw and did so much!! It was like a dream. 🙂

The kids loved Rome sooooo much! They were great ages for it. (I really wouldn’t recommend Rome for younger kids, honestly! Between the crazy traffic as pedestrians and all the immense history that would go over a little one’s head, it’s really a destination best suited for probably at least middle school and up, in my opinion.)

10:30 p.m.

On the way back to the hotel, the boys made a plea for one last gelato stop. But of course! When in Rome. 😉

Happy. 🙂

Our flight back to Dublin, Ireland would be the next morning, but at least not super early.

We were thrilled to experience the wonders of Rome not only with our boys for their first time, but it was also my parents’ first trip to Rome.

And the trip wasn’t quite over yet! We still had two days of exploring Dublin to go before heading back to the U.S. Stay tuned!

2 thoughts on “Day 12 – Rome: Pantheon, Victor Emmanuel II Monument and the Vatican Museum”

  1. St. Peter’s square at dusk looks so magical! You made good use of your time and saw so much of the city! I have never been to Rome. I think Phil went when he studied abroad in Spain. I think I would like to go but it’s not super high on my list which surprises Phil. I have a really low attention span for museums, though! Like I would struggle to spend hours in one! I have little to no knowledge about art so after a certain point, things start to all look the same, which I know is awful to say! I’ve been to Paris several times and they have this awesome Paris museum pass that gives you access to a ton of museums and monuments. I loved using that because then I could pop in and see what I wanted – like the water lilies circular painting in L’Orangerie. And then I could leave without feeling guilty about not seeing more/wasting money on the admission fee. But I know there is more to see besides museums in Rome! The Rick Steve’s audio guides sound great! And the food looks so good!!!


  2. Wow, you really had an incredible trip. The photos – cityscape and family – are all amazing. A trip of a lifetime! I hope Asher and Ethan will have great memories when they look back at all the amazing travel you did when they were young 🙂


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