Rome, the eternal city! Every year travellers from all over the world travel here to admire the art, architecture and historic treasures. With ancient treasures like the Colosseum, Pantheon and Sistine Chapel, Rome is one of Europe’s most visited cities. Yes, the sights to see are endless and one can easily spend more than a week exploring! But that doesn’t mean you can’t get a mind-boggling overview of the many layers of this Roman cake in just 24 hours! Read on for an expert tour leader’s tips on what you can see, both on and off the beaten track in Italy’s capital…
“Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning.” – Giotto di Bondone
Getting around in Rome
It’s definitely worth remembering that, as it stands, Rome only has two metro lines (the red A and the blue B). Neither of the metro lines run through the ancient heart of the city. We wouldn’t want to be dismantling thousands of years of history now, would we? Once in the centre, many of the main sights are within walking distance. Rather than buying an all-day pass, save yourself a few euros and grab yourself a one-way in and a one-way out pass instead. The best way to see Rome is without a doubt by foot! For most of the year good weather is a definite and you can find hidden gems as you stroll the streets of Rome.
What to see
The attractions and places to see in Rome are endless! Of course the main attractions of Rome is without a doubt sites like the Trevi Fountain, Colosseum and the Vatican, but
Make sure you get to the Pantheon – Piazza della Rotonda, 00186
There are a whopping 900 churches in Rome, and that’s not taking into account the ruins of the old pagan temples. If, aside from St Peter’s in the Vatican city, you want to see one religious building, make it the Pantheon. Literally meaning the temple of many Gods, this was one of the most important places of worship for the Ancient Romans. It is the burial site of both King Vittorio Emmanuel II and Renaissance painter Raphael. It also plays host to some simply unbelievable architecture for a building nearly 1,900 years old. You’d be crazy not to visit. Get there nice and early to avoid the crowds.
(For Catholic churches, my top pick would be the Basilica of St Paul Outside The Walls… a stunning church, founded in the 4th Century. This church was built over the burial place of St Paul following his martyrdom under the Emperor Nero.)
Get outdoors and take a walk in the Villa Borghese Gardens. Enter via Piazzale Flaminio or Porta Pinciana
Much like the Pantheon, Villa Borghese is hardly off-the-beaten-track, but, as is usually the case with these things, there is good reason for that. The largest public park in Rome has a little something for everyone. It is full of museums offering everything from Etruscan artefacts, to Italian modern art and sculptures by Italian titans like Bernini and Canova. Botanical gardens, Roman ruins and pan-European pavilions abound, but hey, if you just want to stretch out on a blanket with wine and stare up at the endlessly blue Roman skies in glorious natural surroundings, we won’t judge you. You need at least one hour to browse these beautiful landscape gardens.
Wine and dine in the Jewish Quarter – a short walk from the Pantheon
The Jewish Quarter of Rome had the dubious distinction of being one of the last remaining ghettos of Europe, until they were reintroduced by the Nazis during WW2. Today, it is now a fascinating place to take a self-guided lunch food tour if you’ve had your fill of pizza and pasta. If you fancy a taste of some truly original Jewish food with a Roman twist, get off the ‘eaten track’ and down to Via del Portico d’Ottavia for zucchini flowers with mozzarella, pasta dishes with salt beef standing in for pork, and, of course, the deep fried artichokes.
See more ancient Roman ruins – Ostia Antica, Viale dei Romagnoli 717
While virtually everybody has heard of the infamous ruined city of Pompeii, there’s a perfectly preserved throwback to thousands of years ago much closer to home… or Rome, as the case may be. Ostia Antica is a 4th Century BC harbour town, so beautifully preserved and devoid of modern views that you’ll feel that you visited by time machine rather than boat or train. Well worth a look if you have a passion for Ancient Rome, you’ll find it located a mere 20 miles north of the city.
Get the chills as you stop by the Capuchin Crypt, underneath the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione, Via Veneto 27, 00187
Described by Fodor’s guide as “one of the most horrifying images in all of Christendom”, this description is not far off. Containing the artfully arranged bones of over 4,000 Capuchin monks, if that doesn’t send a chill down your spine, the sign reminding you that ‘What You Are, We Once Were. What We Are, You Someday Will Be’ is sure to. It costs 6 euros for entrance to both the crypt and the museum and remember, no photos!
(If macabre is your thing, it might also be worth checking out Profondo Rosso – an incredibly claustrophobic shop and (using the term loosely) museum paying homage to the grisly yet iconic Italian horror director Dario Argento.)
Get trained at a Gladiator Training School, Via Appia Antica 18
So, you’ve visited the Colosseum, you’ve delved into the history of the Gladiators and you think you got what it takes, eh? Well fear not, comrades in savage combat, this might just be the experience for you. Located on the old Appian Way, the execution site of Spartacus’ army of slaves, the Scuola Gladiatori di Roma, is working hard to preserve ancient Roman customs. You can learn how to get the upper hand if you ever find yourself dressed in a tunic and sandals battling a lion. It only takes two hours of your day, but remember to book in advance online through viator.com!
Explore a 19th century disused fort – Forte Prenestino, Via Federico Delpino
If you’re a fan of taking a good, long hard look at a city’s counter-cultural underbelly, then strain your eyes no further. This disused 19th Century fort was occupied by left-wing students in the 80s, and now plays host to a wide range of artistic and musical events, including a jazz festival, farmer’s markets, a tea room and pub. You even have to enter through a drawbridge… how cool is that?
Go to Cinecitta’ World, via Di Castel Romano
If you opt for this, there’s not going to be time for much else, but, for the young (or indeed, young at heart) who love a good theme park, look no further than Rome’s very own movie inspired playground, Cinecitta World. Ok… it’s no Universal Studios, but if you’ve ever wondered what a ride inspired by Dante’s ‘Inferno’ would look like, it’s a strangely satisfying experience.
Take the evening Cooking Class with Nonna (book via eatingitalyfoodtours.com)
Some people come to Rome for the history, some for the culture, and many for the churches. But, a great number arrive every year looking to delve into Italy’s most famous export: its food. Forget paying for somebody else to prepare your meal at a trattoria – get yourself into an actual Roman apartment with a lovely Italian grandmother, and learn to cook it yourself. This evening class will see you take home the skills to concoct the perfect pasta dish, antipasti, secondis and desserts. Best thing? When it’s all done, you get to sit down with your new buddies and savour the meal with some proper Italian wine. Win.
Experience the Nightlife of Trastevere
Starting at the Piazza Santa Maria, Trastevere is THE place to be all year round, for music, craft beers and to really experience ‘La Dolce Vita’. Located by the River Tiber, and packed with bars and discos, you’ll be partying with locals and tourists alike. Also, to my knowledge, this is the only place in the city where you can find people selling an interesting array of handmade crafts past midnight. For the chance to relax with a cheap Peroni, on a lively terrace, with Romans from all walks of life, the back-to-basics Bar San Calisto is highly recommended.
by Shabby-Eliot Flanders