“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” the saying goes, so don’t expect to see it all in a weekend. Rome is more than history, art and culture. The Eternal City, nicknamed during the Roman Empire ‘caput mundi’ (the center of the world) is one of the places on the planet with the most treasures to see and experience. So here is just an overview of the best things to do in Rome.
1. Witness Imperial Grandeur
Rome is an open-air museum full of archaeological wonders and given that the historic center is rather small, you can easily wander from one landmark to another. The crown jewel is the Colosseum, where if you close your eyes it’s easy to imagine roaring lions battling gladiators amidst bloodthirsty crowds. New guided tours descend underground and take you to the ruins of the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and the Arch of Constantine, the heart of ancient Rome. A 10 minute walk away is the Circus Maximus stadium where chariot races were held.
2. Soak up the sun in a picturesque square
The Romans love to pull the breeze on the benches of the beautiful sunny squares. The square is the scene of the social buzz. The most emblematic squares, crowded but still breathtaking, are the baroque Piazza di Spagna with its Spanish steps, Piazza Navona, Piazza della Rotonda, which houses the temple of the Pantheon turned basilica, and Piazza di Trevi where tourists throw coins inside the Renaissance fountain. Quirky and quieter squares include Santa Maria in Trastevere and Campo de Fiori, famous for its farmers market. Then, of course, there’s St. Peter’s Square, which is best avoided on Sundays when the Pope addresses the assembled pilgrims.
3. Get an art shot
It takes a whole day to visit the Vatican Museums – to gaze at Michelangelo’s fascinating Sistine Chapel, admire the Renaissance art of Raffaello and Caravaggio, and stroll through the lush Vatican Gardens. The Capitoline Museums have an extensive collection of masterpieces, including works by Titian, while the marble halls of the Galleria Borghese feature statues by Bernini and Canova. Other must-sees include the Scuderie del Quirinale (former stables of the presidential palace), the lavish Palazzo Barberini, and the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia with artifacts from pre-Roman tribes.
4. Feel the religious vibe on a Vespa
Spirituality is everywhere. If you want to spice it up Tower of the 7 Chiesean ancient pilgrimage route linking seven major churches, hire a Vespa to weave through the narrow cobbled lanes just as Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck did in roman holidays. The majestic St. Peter’s Basilica is worth climbing to the top of the dome for a unique view of the city. The pilgrimage also includes the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran with the Sacred Steps climbed by Jesus during the Passion and a divine Holy Door which is opened every 25 years for the remission of sins.
5. Dine and drink on the Tiber
The ancient Romans transported goods along the Tiber. Now you can navigate it on hop-on hop-off tours that include cocktails and snacks. Stops include the old port of Trajan, the excavations of Ostia, and the mouth of the Tiber at Fiumicino on the coast. Dinner cruises with live music depart at sunset. Alternatively, there are convenient hop-on hop-off buses and guided bike tours along the Appia Road lined with lavish villas and aqueducts.
Websites: turismoroma.it; romebiketour.it
6. Treat yourself panna maritozzi and filetti di baccala
If you’re sightseeing, grab delicious street food to fuel your adventures. The takeaway shops “pizza al taglio” or “pizza alla pala” sell rectangular slices of all kinds. The iconic Roman pizza, nicknamed pina, is thick and plain. Traditional bites include to supplyfried rice balls with tomato and mozzarella sauce, and filetti di baccala, fried cod fillets served in brown paper bags. The sweet tooth can indulge in panna maritozzi (brioche filled with whipped cream) and bomb (literally meaning “bombs”, these are fried cream buns covered in sugar).
Websites: anticofornoroscioli.it; facebook.com/FilettiDiBaccala
7. Meet Skeletons and Ghosts
You will get goosebumps in the Capuchin Crypt lined with thousands of skulls and bones of monks. Get ready for a chilling tour of underground Rome through a maze of catacombs where the early Christians took refuge. The marble bridge Ponte Sant’Angelo is said to be haunted by the ghost of the noblewoman Beatrice Cenci, who was beheaded in the 1500s, while Vicolo del Malpasso is where the condemned walked to meet the executioner. Couples should see the cherished Valentine’s Skull at the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, which also features the Mouth of Truth, a huge face-shaped marble mask believed to bite the hand of liars.
Websites: cappucciniviaveneto.it; visitomasotteranea.it
8. Listen to classical music at the Roman Baths
Located near what looks like a small Colosseum but is called Teatro Marcello, the Temple of Apollo Sosiano regularly hosts classical music concerts, performances and plays. Once a place where pagan rituals took place, the Romans today call it “il tempietto” (the little temple). You can enjoy opera and ballet at the Terme di Caracalle, incredibly well-preserved ancient Roman baths.
9. Jogging at Villa Borghese and Gianicolo
A morning run is a great way to explore Rome’s lush public gardens where businessmen and nannies go for lunch breaks. Gianicolo Park, lined with statues of patriots, has a unique belvedere while Villa Borghese and Villa Sciarra are close to the main archaeological sites. The Il Giardino degli Aranci garden has a romantic panoramic terrace and a small garden door next to it, there is a peephole that perfectly frames the dome of St. Peter.
10. Follow the ristretto trail
Romans are addicted to ristretto, a kind of concentrated espresso. They have it on the go, like a shot, and several times a day. The bars are the temple of coffee and most have tables outside. Must-visit cafes, brimming with local politicians and students, are the historic La Tazza d’Oro and Sant’Eustachio. At Canova Tadolini, a former artist’s studio, sip an espresso surrounded by bronze and marble statues. Caffé Greco, one of the oldest cafés in Europe, was a meeting place for artists and exudes a dreamy and elegant atmosphere.
11. Visit the Porta Portese Flea Market
Surrounded by Via del Corso, Spanish Steps and Via Condotti, this is where the luxury boutiques and major brands are located. If you are looking for less flashy clothes and less busy streets, the Prati and Ottaviano districts are good substitutes. Flea market lovers cannot miss the Porta Portese, the favorite Sunday attraction of the Romans. Here you can buy everything from vintage radios to old scooters. Via Sannio in the San Giovanni district is also home to a popular second-hand clothing market for collectors of jeans and leather jackets.
12. Drive to I Castelli
It’s worth taking a taxi for a day trip to I Castelli, Rome’s rural villages surrounded by olive groves and vineyards. Sleepy and far from the madding crowds, this is where Roman emperors had their lavish villas and where families escape on weekends to unplug and breathe in the fresh air. The towns of Frascati and Ariccia are paradises for gourmands. so called fresh, tiny outdoor tavernas, serve tasty porchetta roast pork inside a panini (sandwich) with a heady red wine. Or drive to one of the charming spots for a day trip from town – we love Tivoli, Castel Gandolfo and Marino.