There is so much to do and see in the Eternal City and, fortunately for us wheelchair users, many of the most popular sites are indeed wheelchair accessible. In some places, the accessible entrance might be in a place you wouldn’t expect and in others, you might be surprised at just how accessible some of these 2,000 year old sites are indeed.
One of Ancient Rome’s most famous landmarks, the Colosseum, commissioned in AD 70 is accessible for visitors of all types. Whether you want to admire it from the outside or wander its depths, the Colosseum is an amazing structure where you can imagine the gory gladiator fights that once took place there.
As with all the sites in Rome that I will discuss, wheelchair users can skip the long lines and admission is free for them and one extra accompanying person. Technically, admission is only supposed to be free for European Union visitors who provide a “disability card”, but I was immediately given two tickets every time without any questions.
Inside the Colosseum, there is a small area on the main level that is wheelchair accessible; it doesn’t wrap around the whole arena. The second level is completely flat and can be reached by taking the elevator.
2. Baths of Caracalla
These baths are the largest extant ruin of an Ancient Roman bathing establishment. Commissioned in AD 206 by emperor Septimius Severus and completed a decade later by his son, Caracalla, the baths were once the height of luxury with elaborate mosaics and marble, colossal statues, such as the Farnese Bull which has been relocated to Naples’ National Archeological Museum.
The entire area of the baths is flat with a gravel surface and a few bridges that are wheelchair accessible. If your wheelchair can handle gravel then you should be fine to wheel on your own.
When I was booking all of my tickets to visit archeological sites, I was told by Rome and Italy that I would need the Wheely Trekky, but this ended up not being true. My wheelchair could easily have maneuvered the gravel. There is a set of stairs that leads to the underbelly of the baths but it is too steep to safely use the Trekky. My tour guide that day ended up finding an alternative way to get down there which also turned out to be wheelchair accessible.
It was once a Roman temple, but with the advent of Christianity, all the original statues of pagan gods were removed and replaced with Christian symbols. There’s a ramp and the inside of the Pantheon is completely flat.
4. Trevi Fountain
No visit to Rome is complete without visiting the Trevi Fountain. I haven’t yet found a way to get to the lower part of the fountain, nor have I expressly searched for one, but viewing it from the street level is just as good.
5. Villa Borghese
Located in the Villa Borghese, the Borghese Gallery contains famous works of art dating from the Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, and later periods leading up to the eighteenth century.
For this venue, I did buy my tickets beforehand because there is a capacity limit of the number of people who can visit at any one time. The tickets are good for two hours before visitors will be reminded to leave. There is an elevator but it is too small for most wheelchairs to fit in. There is a seat in the elevator that you can transfer into and then have your wheelchair brought up the stairs; however, this is only feasible for manual wheelchair users. If you use a power chair like me, then it would be near impossible to get it brought up the stairs unless you travel with a group of strong people who can carry it up for you. I don’t, so I had the pleasure of absorbing everything the first floor had to offer, which was plenty.
After my trip I found out that there is an accessible bathroom located behind some locked doors and down a ramp in the art school at the front entrance. At the time, I was told by the museum staff that there was no accessible bathroom.
Borghese Gardens and Zoo
I have yet to spend enough time here, but the little I have seen is very beautiful. Between visiting the Gallery and the other museum and the park itself, you could easily spend the better part of the day here.
6. Piazza Navona
Today, Piazza Navona is one of the city’s largest squares which showcases beautiful fountains and Bernini’s famous Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. In Ancient Roman times, it was emperor Domitian’s stadium. Surrounding the square are an array of delectable restaurants and even a small museum (with a accessible bathroom inside! Remember: admission is typically free) tucked into one corner, which has its accessible entrance at the rear. There is a curb cut to ascend the centre of the square where one can get a close-up view of the obelisk and other treasures up there, but the view from four inches down is still great.
7. Trajan’s Market
For an imperial market that’s been around since AD 107-110, this archeological site is remarkably wheelchair accessible. During the reign of Emperor Trajan, this site used to be buzzing with shops and apartment blocks on one end of Trajan’s area in the Imperial Forum.
The physical structure of the market itself is well-preserved today and has been equipped with ramps leading to various rooms which display important pieces left from Trajan’s time as well as videos describing them.
There are two elevators in Trajan’s Market. One goes up to the second and third levels where you can see the other displays and also get a view of the street from above. Another very narrow elevator leads down to the area where you can attempt to roll over the gigantic cobblestones and see a close-up version of the shops and Forum from outside. The elevator can only fit one wheelchair in a very tight space and is operated by one of the museum staff from the main level. Whoever is travelling with you will have to take the stairs and walk around to come and meet you at its base. About five feet out from the elevator is where the ancient cobblestones begin and where you get to decide if you want to tackle them. I tried and failed navigating the massive cobblestones.
On my ascent back up the battery in the elevator died midway and then slowly lowered back down to the ground where I waited a few minutes in the stifling heat before anyone realized that the elevator had stopped working and that I was stuck. They fixed the lift quickly and I was safely back on the main floor in a few minutes. Do I regret going through the whole rigmarole of squeezing into a tiny elevator and then unsuccessfully trying to pass over 2000 year old or more cobblestones and finally getting stuck in an elevator by myself? No. It all adds to the experience and gives me some unique memories.
Rome has an abundance of museums. They’re everywhere. They’re all accessible (at least the ones I visited which were many). They are equipped with ramps, elevators, stair lifts, and spacious accessible bathrooms.
The National Roman Museum which is divided up into four branches: Palazzo Massimo, Thermal Baths of Diocletian, Crypta Balbi, and Palazzo Altemps. A single ticket is good for all four locations and lasts for three days, so there’s no need to get a ticket at each museum. They all have different locations in the city, but Palazzo Massimo and the Baths of Diocletian are across the street and a short walk away from each other. I did not visit Palazzo Altemps or Crypta Balbi, so I’m not sure about accessibility at those locations. Since Crypta Balbi is underground it might not be wheelchair accessible. It’s best to ask at one of the other three museums if it is wheelchair accessible.
Palazzo Massimo houses one of the largest collections of ancient art and artefacts, such as Augustus Pontifex Maximus and the Terme Boxer. I had to visit this museum on both of my trips to Rome because of my love of all things ancient. There’s a great bookstore in this museum with a selection of English works and some neat souvenirs.
The Baths of Diocletian was once as its name suggests, a bath, a thermal bath to be specific, but Michelangelo began converting it into the church it is today which is the Santa Maria degli Angeli. The museum itself though is located behind the church and is accessed by following the sidewalk towards Termini, and making a left at the corner without crossing the street. The museum contains a huge array of ancient artefacts.
Not far from Trajan’s Market are the Capitoline Museums. It houses some of Rome’s most iconic pieces such as the Capitoline Wolf and the Colossus of Constantine.
Since there are stairs at the main entrance, after someone hikes the three steps and gets the tickets for you, you’ll find the accessible entrance around the side of the building where there is a ramp leading up to a locked door. I just rang the bell and someone answered it right away and ushered me into the museum. There is an accessible restroom inside the museum.
The Vatican has to be included on this list even though it is not technically a part of Rome, being its own City State. Most everyone goes with the aim of seeing St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. All three are wheelchair accessible and definitely should not be missed if visiting Rome!
St. Peter’s Basilica
The basilica has ramps that will allow you to see some of history’s most incredible works of art.
The museums are huge and will likely be packed with people, so it’s best to go early in the morning. The lineups are always long and winding, but one of the perks of being in a wheelchair is that you do not need to wait in line; you can skip the line and proceed to get your two complimentary tickets on the main floor at the desk marked for special tickets. There is an accessible restroom on the main floor and another one inside around the cafeteria.
The accessible entrance to the Sistine Chapel happens to be the exit for ambulatory people. There is a set of stairs equipped with a handy stair lift. The stair lift has a weight capacity, but if your chair is about the same size as mine or lighter, you should be fine. There’s no need to worry about finding someone to operate the lift because there is always a Vatican guard who remains there and will guide you on it. It’s fine getting onto the lift, but somewhat tricky to angle getting back on afterwards in so narrow a space.
Pictures and speaking are not allowed in the Chapel which creates an awesome hushed atmosphere considering there are dozens of people surrounding you who are also ogling everything.
On my first trip to Rome I was fortunate enough to have booked a special private after hours tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel with Rome and Italy. There wasn’t a single visitor there besides my small group, the Vatican Guards, and some employees heading home. It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience.
10. The Roman Forum
To a certain extent, the Forum is wheelchair accessible. The Via Sacra, Ancient Rome’s main road leads through part of the Roman Forum today, which makes it a challenge for today’s wheelchair user. Over the years, there have been efforts to make it more accessible, but the huge cobblestones are the biggest hurdle. There is an elevator that leads down to one area of the Forum, which includes Julius Caesar’s burial mound. There are also some ramps placed around the Forum. Because of the cobblestones, not all of the Forum may be accessible for wheelchair users; it depends on ones willingness to struggle over a 2000 year old rough and uneven surface.
On my first trip to Rome, I avoided that struggle by booking an accessible tour with Rome and Italy. They have a device called the Wheely Trekky which is used to traverse archeological sites. I’ve mentioned it in past blog posts, but it is something of a cross between a bike and a wheelbarrow, with one person directing it in the front and another in the back. This way I was able to see the whole Forum without any complications.
There are many other accessible places in Rome, but that would take up an entire book. If you’d like me to write another post about accessible spots in Rome or the particulars of what I did on this most recent trip, let me know! If you’re wondering about accessible transportation to all these sites, be sure to read my previous post about accessible transportation in Rome which you can read here!