An epic, monumental city, Rome gets under your skin fast. You'll be smitten by its artistic masterpieces and iconic monuments, operatic piazzas and haunting ruins. Life is lived to the full here, and the city teems with trattorias, street-side bars and glam fashion boutiques.
Make like the locals and souse your senses in the glut of pleasures the city has to offer, from the grandiose thrill of feeling centuries of turbulent history under your feet to the small but potent intoxication of eating chestnut gelati on a hot day.
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What To See
Sightseeing in Rome is exhilarating and exhausting. That it wasn't built in a day is quickly evident when you start exploring the temples, residences, basilicas, churches, palazzi, piazzi, parks, museums and fountains. All this and the Vatican too!
The Roman Forum was ancient Rome's showpiece centre, a grandiose district of marble-clad temples, proud basilicas and vibrant public spaces. Today, its impressive but badly labelled ruins give some hint of this but you'll still have to use your imagination to picture it as it once was. Landmark sights include the Arco di Settimia Severo and the nearby Curia, seat of the Roman senate.
A 2000-year-old temple, now church, the Pantheon is the best preserved of ancient Rome’s great monuments. In its current form it dates to around AD 120 when the emperor Hadrian built over Marcus Agrippa’s original 27 BC temple – note Agrippa's name inscribed on the pediment. The dome, considered the Romans’ greatest architectural achievement, is the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever built.
This fountain almost fills an entire piazza, and is Rome's most famous fountain, its iconic status sealed when Anita Ekberg splashed here in La Dolce Vita. The flamboyant baroque ensemble was designed by Nicola Salvi in 1732 and depicts Neptune's chariot being led by Tritons with sea horses – one wild, one docile – representing the moods of the sea. The water comes from the aqua virgo, a 1st-century-BC underground aqueduct, and the name Trevi refers to the tre vie (three roads) that converge at the fountain. It's traditional to throw a coin into the fountain to ensure your return to the Eternal City. It's usually very busy around the fountain during the day, so it's worth trying to visit later in the evening when you can appreciate its foaming majesty without the hordes.
Museo e Galleria Borghese
If you only have time (or inclination) for one art gallery in Rome, make it this one. Housing the ‘queen of all private art collections’, it boasts paintings by Caravaggio, Botticelli and Raphael, as well as some spectacular sculptures by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. To limit numbers, visitors are admitted at two-hourly intervals, so you'll need to call to pre-book.
Dating to 1471, the Capitoline Museums (Musei Capitolini), the world's oldest national museums, houses one of Italy's finest collections of classical sculpture. Crowdpleasers include the iconic Lupa capitolina (Capitoline Wolf) and the Galata morente, a moving depiction of a dying Gaul warrior. There's also an excellent picture gallery with masterpieces by the likes of Titian, Tintoretto, van Dyck, Rubens and Caravaggio.
Piazza del Campidoglio
Designed by Michelangelo in 1538 and flanked by stately palazzi, this elegant hilltop piazza is one of Rome's most beautiful squares. You can reach it from the Roman Forum, but the most dramatic approach is via the Cordonata>, the graceful staircase that leads up from Piazza d'Ara Coeli.
Rome’s great gladiatorial arena is the most thrilling of the city's ancient sights. Originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, the 50,000-seat Colosseum (Colosseo) was inaugurated in AD 80 and used to stage spectacular gladiatorial games in front of baying, bloodthirsty crowds. Two thousand years on and it's Italy's top tourist attraction, drawing up to five million visitors a year.
Founded by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century and enlarged by successive pontiffs, the Vatican Museums contains one of the world’s greatest art collections, amassed by the popes over the centuries. Exhibits range from Egyptian mummies and Etruscan bronzes to Old Masters and modern paintings, but the main drawcards are the spectacular classical statuary and Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.
Bottega di Marmoraro
A particularly charismatic hole-in-the-wall shop lined with marble carvings, where you can get marble tablets engraved with any inscription you like. Peer inside at lunchtime and you might see the marmoraro cooking a pot of tripe for his lunch on the open log fire.
Ideal for last-minute gift buying, this large paperware and art shop has beautiful printed paper, cards and envelopes that will inspire you to bring back the art of letter writing, plus an amazing choice of notebooks, art stuff and trinkets.
Wilma Silvestre designs elegant clothes with a difference. Choose from the draped, chic, laid-back styles on the rack, and you can have one made up just for you in a day or just a few hours – customise the fabric and the colour. There’s usually one guest designer’s clothes also being sold at the shop, and there are occasional vintage sales downstairs.
Auditorium Parco della Musica
Rome's main concert venue, this state-of-the-art modernist complex combines architectural innovation with perfect acoustics. Designed by Renzo Piano, its three concert halls and 3000-seat open-air arena host everything from classical music concerts to tango exhibitions, book readings and film screenings.
Hidden behind an unmarked workshop door, this is an underground cultural centre, a book-lined old hall that’s all vintage chic and left-leaning punters. The look is bohemian, arty beards are plentiful, and drinks are dirt cheap. There are regular live indie, jazz, reggae and rock gigs, plus jam sessions, particularly from Monday to Thursday. Tuesday is the night for art-house films, documentaries and poetry readings.
During Holy Week (Easter) Catholics from around the world make pilgrimages to Rome's various basilicas and to hear the Pope give his address at the Vatican. On Good Friday there's a procession of the Cross from the Colosseum to Capitoline Hill.
Testaccio is the place to be in summer, when one of Rome's best-preserved areas becomes a stomping ground for the young and hip. A festival of nightclubbery and general coolness goes down every evening from 22:00. There's lots of outdoor concerts over the summer, including atmospheric jazz at the Villa Celimontana.
From June to September, the Estate Romana (Roman Summer), encompasses many summer festivals as Rome comes alive with free concerts, outdoor cinema and much more. Tiberina Island, on the Tiber river, hosts bars, stalls, gigs and open-air films in July and August. Trastevere is filled with street theatre, craft stalls and food booths during the Festa di Noantri (20-28 July). In September the city cranks up on coffee and stays awake all night for the Notte Bianca (white night), when museums, galleries and shops open from 20:00-08:00, with free concerts and happenings all over Rome.
Rome's public holidays include Liberation Day (25 April), Labour Day (1 May), the Feast of the Assumption (15 August), All Saints' Day (1 November), the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (8 December) and the Feast of Santo Stefano (26 December).
Food and Drink
Hosteria del Pesce
One of the capital's hottest seafood restaurants, this place has filled the bellies of Francis Ford Coppola and Giorgio Armani among other megastars. It sports a studiously low-key look of hardwood floors and deep-blue walls, gets packed, and serves unforgettable, ultrafresh food. Squid is fried and served with creamy mash, risotto is dyed jet-black with octopus ink, while sea bream, snapper and turbot are grilled to crispy perfection, all accompanied by white wines only. Booking is advised.
Lemon-yellow and lined in dazzling southern ceramics, this trattoria is sunny in demeanour and colour. It's a great place to sample sumptuous seafood, Sicilian specialities like caponata (browned vegetables, anchovies and capers), and the island's legendary desserts, such as cannoli (fried pastry tubes filled with ricotta) accompanied by pantelleria, the great muscatel.
This is old-school Roman dining at its best. In the basement of Pompey's Theatre, Costanza serves up simple and wonderfully cooked food such as a creamy riso con fiori di zucca (risotto with courgette flowers), perfect ravioli di carciofi (ravioli with artichokes) and a simply delicious filetto di manzo al barolo (fillet of beef with barolo wine sauce). Bookings essential.
Some of the best coffee and cornetti (croissants) in Rome are served up here in old-fashioned style by waistcoat-wearing barristi. There are a few street-side tables, but most customers get their daily fix at the polished bar.
L’Oasi della Birra
Underneath the Palombi bottle shop, this popular cellar bar is exactly what it says it is – an Oasis of Beer. With everything from Teutonic heavyweights to boutique brews, as well as an ample wine list, aperitif buffet (from 5pm) and a menu of cheeses, cold cuts, stews and the like, it’s ideal for an evening of dedicated carousing.
Babette is run by two sisters who used to produce a fashion magazine, which accounts for its effortlessly chic Fried Green Tomatoes-style interior of exposed brick walls and vintage painted signs. You're in for a feast too, as the cooking is delicious, with a sophisticated, creative French twist (think tortiglioni with courgette and pistachio pesto).
Spectacularly set at the back of Palazzo delle Esposizioni, superchef Antonello Colonna’s superb restaurant is tucked onto a mezzanine floor under an extraordinary glass roof. The cuisine is new Roman: innovative takes on traditional dishes, cooked with wit and flair.
A small, snug wine bar, this is run by two knowledgeable brothers who will suggest the best wines from their 300-strong list without making you feel like an ignoramus. There’s a cheap set-dinner menu or you can choose dishes such as bruschettine, crostini and carpacci a la carte. Desserts are homemade, best accompanied by fragrant dessert wines.