The centre of the Western world for half a millennium, Rome remains a confident, magnetic city that pulses with irresistible energy. Twelve million visitors are wowed by the place each year. They delight in its twenty-seven centuries of art and architecture, its glorious food and shopping, and they watch in envy as the exuberant locals go about the business of daily life with their inimitable style and verve. Few cities offer quite so many riches at once.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Nor can all its wonders be seen in one. Or ten. Or twenty. This city is completely awash with stupendous monuments, museums, churches, fountains, sculptures and palaces. If nothing else, aim to catch these four highlights:
The hulking Colosseum is Rome’s undisputed icon, despite the carnival of slaughter the ancients practised here. Gladiators, slaves, Christians, wild animals – all fought to a gory death in this grand, gilded arena. Plundered and crumbling, it’s still an awesome structure and well-nigh guaranteed to awaken a keen interest in architecture.
A short stroll round the corner lie the glorious ruins of the Roman Forum, a five-acre site littered with ancient columns, capitals, mosaics, statues, temples, shops and public offices – all in various states of collapse and fragmentation. It’s impossible not to be moved by the place and its significance.
Crowded, tacky, but not to be missed, the famed Trevi Fountain is a rococo riot of giddy sea gods and wild-eyed horses frisking in tumbling green water – all tacked onto the back of a Renaissance palace near the centro storico. Join the silly-but-fun tradition and toss in a coin to ensure you’ll come back to Rome one day.
From the ridiculous to the sublime. Expunge your frivolous-pagan-fountain sins by heading across the Tiber to The Vatican for some heavyweight art and Catholicism. Here you’ll find the world’s biggest art collection, biggest church, and the Sistine Chapel too – whew!
Finally, remember that there’s more to Rome than just its monuments and museums. Be sure to leave time for lots of aimless wandering – to drift through the city’s countless beautiful piazzas and atmospheric alleyways, and spy on the beguiling locals going about their colourful urban dolce vita.
You can’t do Rome without some worshipping of its holy trinity: coffee, pizza and ice cream. Top up your caffeine levels at the wonderful Bar Sant’ Eustachio in Piazza Sant’ Eustachio near the Pantheon. They’ve been serving tip-top-quality coffee here for seventy years.
For Rome’s best pizza, make a beeline for Remo at Piazza Santa Maria Liberatrice 44 in the Testaccio district. Thin, flat and blindingly delicious. Eat outside on wobbly tables or join the voluble throng inside.
Slurp the city’s best ice cream at Il Gelato di San Crispino, at Via della Panetteria 42 near the Trevi Fountain. Flavours change according to which fruits are in season. And it’s strictly cups only. No crunchy cones to muddy the flavour-perfection!
For full restaurant dining, try the fabulous Agata e Romeo at Via Carlo Alberto 45 in the Esquilino district – where traditional Roman mamma’s home cooking is refined and elevated to gourmet heights. Or head for the tiny, friendly, and great-value Sora Margherita at Piazza delle Cinque Scole 30 in the old Ghetto area of the centro storico.
Multi-taskers can combine dinner with sightseeing by taking a two-hour dinner cruise along the River Tiber. Beautiful waterside views of illuminated buildings spool past while you munch through four courses of fine Italian fare. Mmmm. Bookable through greenbee.com for £49 pp.
Rome now has its fair share of dull, cut-price outlet malls on the city periphery, but for truly stimulating shopping in picturesque streets you should stick firmly to the centro storico or old centre of the city.
The Monti district offers all sorts of quirky and original items, the Prati neighbourhood is particularly good for sumptuous food-shopping, and the Tridente area is great for just about everything else. Big-name designer clothing boutiques cluster on Piazza Spagna and Via Condotti, and you should definitely explore the pretty side streets round here. Via Maria de’ Fiori and Via Bocca di Leone are especially good for one-off, unfamous boutiques.
For super-stylish and well-priced shoes, be sure to check out the wonderfully chaotic Borini at Via dei Pettinari 86-87 in the Ghetto and Campo district. For chocolate prezzies to thrill the folks back home, go to Moriondo e Gariglio at Via del Piè di Marmo 21 near the Pantheon – a fairytale shop with luscious gift-boxes.
Cool bars in atmospheric old alleys abound in Trastevere, and increasingly in Testaccio. Late-night clubbers can find plenty of pumping action round Via Libetta in Testaccio or Via della Pace in the centro storico.
For cocktails and early evening nibbles in a unique setting, head to Trastevere’s hip Freni e Frizioni (“Brakes and Clutches”) at Via Politeama 4-6. This former garage lays on epic free buffets from 7pm, to the delight of the art students, industry creatives and media types who form its switched-on clientele. The big apertivo-buffet is a great new tradition in Roman bars, and another cool venue to enjoy it is Sociétié Lutèce at Piazza di Montevecchio 17 in the centro storico.
You could decamp from here to the centro storico’s sleek Salotto 42 at Piazza di Pietra 42 – where gorgeous cocktails, great music and super-comfy seats might just keep you for the rest of the night. Unless the dance clubs beckon...
You’ll find unbeatable value-for-money at the Hotel Grifo. Friendly and well-run, it enjoys a superb central location near Termini station, the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain. Heart-melting views of Rome’s picturesque medieval streets unfurl from its leafy roof terrace.
The charming Hotel Santa Maria is an oasis of calm in the trendy Trastevere district. Converted from a 16th-century convent, the hotel’s rooms all lead onto a cloistered courtyard festooned with orange trees. A romantic and relaxing place to unwind from Rome’s manic hustle-bustle.
For super-slick accommodation in the heart of Rome’s designer shopping area, check into the Hotel Art. The vast lobby sports a vaulted frescoed ceiling, while the translucent citric corridors look like something from a Stanley Kubrick film.
Seeking absolute luxury? Head for the Exedra – a breathtaking Neoclassical pile with high-ceilinged rooms decorated in opulent marble, floral brocades and crocodile leather. Ancient mosaics glitter through the hotel’s glass floor, and a stunning pool graces its rooftop garden.
● Rome teems with visitors year-round, so book your accommodation in advance if possible. The only ‘quiet’ periods are November-February and sweltering August.
● Most museums close on a Monday, and most non-food shops on Monday mornings.
● Visiting the Vatican or other major churches? You’ll be turned away if skimpy clothes expose too much thigh, shoulder, cleavage or midriff.