Don’t go to the Imperial Forum. I repeat: if you come to Rome, don’t go to the Imperial Forum. I know that statement is completely contrary to what your guidebook is telling you, but trust me, don’t bother. Now let me back up: It’s been a while since I’ve done much Rome-conquering. As a refresher: I made a list of all the sights in my Lonely Planet Rome guide that I hadn’t seen, and I’m slowly working my way down it. A bit surprisingly considering its centrality, I had never gone in the Markets of Trajan.
The Markets house the Museo dei Fori Imperiali, which mostly consist of explaining the origins of the various fori and great bits of sculpture fragments, including these gems:
And if you’ve ever taken an art history survey, you might remember the Markets because they’re the classic example of those exciting innovations in Roman architecture: barrel and groin vaults: oooooOOOooohhhhh:
But what is especially appealing about the Markets: you’re right in the think of the Forum, you have unreal views, and there’s hardly anybody in there. I stood behind two people to get my ticket. Multiply that by about 100 and you’ll have the current lines to get in the Imperial Forums. Which, let me tell you a little secret: unless you have a genuinely knowledgable guide (and I could recommend reputable tour companies to you, because I can’t tell you how many times I have heard guides telling their groups things that are just plain wrong: ie Michelangelo died while painting the Sistine Ceiling and his son finished it for him. In fact, we don’t know of Michelangelo having any children and he lived another 50+ years after finishing the ceiling and painted the altar wall of the same room about 20 years later!). A lot of the guides here have no idea what they’re talking about, and without someone legitimately well informed, the Imperial Forum is a huge spread of undifferentiated ruins that all look the same.
You’re much better off skipping the Imperial Forum, for the smaller, cheaper, still impressive Markets and just looking at the Imperial Forum from the outside, because here’s another fun fact: you can see a ton of the Forum by walking along the outside, for which you don’t have to pay a cent. You can walk around nearly the entire perimeter of the Forum, see a ton of it, and if you feel like you’re missing out on undifferentiated ruins, go down to Ostia Antica instead, which is even better, cheaper, and is a whole city, which means that even if the same number of tourists went there as to the Forum, you wouldn’t be able to tell because it’s so big and wonderful. Seriously. Don’t go to the Imperial Forum, because isn’t this great (and ruin-y) enough?: