I spent ten years of my life in Rome. From time to time my Irish friends ask me wha are the best things to do and see.
It’s a very hard question to answer. What can one say that has not already been said about the Caput Mundi? The city is huge and its beauty is stunning. It would take a lifetime to see everything.
So, if you go there just for a few days, it would be better to operate a strict selection of the highlights you are more interested in. You also have to be aware that you’ll need to walk a lot, so keep fit and visit the city in spring or autumn when it’s gorgeous and not too hot.
Here you have just some suggestions in a random order. I did not divide them into specific areas. Just choose what you like and put it into your plan according to the areas that you want to see.
ARTISTICAL /HISTORICAL MUST
The Colosseum: were you really thinking of going to Rome and skipping its main symbol and pride? NO WAY!
Trevi Fountain: The recently restored Michelangelo masterpiece. According the tradition, throw the coin in the fountain and you’ll come back in Rome
Ara Coeli Basilica: for those who love archeology. One of the few churches which still maintains the plan of the ancient roman basilica.
Campidoglio Hill: the seat of the mayor’s office and the city council. The square on the top of the stairs was designed by Michelangelo. In the middle of it there’s the bronze statue of emperor Marco Aurelio. It’s a copy. You can see the original if you want in the nearby Palazzo dei Conservatori. On the two sides of Campidoglio (or Capitoline square) you have Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Nuovo. They are both seats of the Capitolini Museums. They are both full of pieces of classical roman art (statues etc.). One special tip: from the campidoglio square, with your back to the statue, if you look at the building in front of you – Palazzo Senatorio – you will see a arch on the right side. Go under that and you will arrive on a terrace with a stunning view of the Roman Forum. The view is especially spectacular at night, but I am not sure if they are switching on the lights at the moment in the forum (they don’t always do it )
Coming back to the Campidoglio Square and going down the stairs you can cross Corso Vittorio Emanuele and reach Piazza Navona. Which of course is another must. Built on an ancient roman stadium, its fountains and buildings are an example of roman baroque. In the middle of it there is the famous “fontana dei quattro fiumi” designed by Gianlorenzo Bernini. In front of it there is the st. Agnese Church designed by another well known baroque architect, Borromini. Borromini and Bernini did not like each other very much. According to a legend, Bernini designed the statues of the fountain in a pose of fear and looking at the Borromini churchas if they were afraid that the church would fall down on them. It’s italian artistic humour!
Near Piazza Navona you cannot miss San Luigi dei Francesi Church, where you can see 3 Caravaggio paintings for free with no queue. What other city in the world can boast something like that?
Crossing Corso Vittorio Emanuele you can reach Piazza Campo dei Fiori. In the morning it hosts a traditional food market, now very touristic. In the middle of the Square you have Giordano Bruno Statue. Ahem… yes… The famous philosopher was burned at the stake by the Church right here in 1600. That’s why this square is now a symbol for freedom of Speech. The bakery in the square is a must for pizza bianca (roman traditional focaccia).
Behind the harshly criticised Altare della Patria (probably the most hated monument by Italian architects) you have the Markets of Trajan and via dei Fori imperiali that runs along the ancient roman forum and brings you to the Colosseum and continues on to the Circo Massimo Square and the Bocca della Verità.I will not spend much time on it because… what can you say about one of the most famous places on the earth?
San Pietro Church: The very center of catholicism was built on what it is traditionally believed to be St Peter’s Tomb. The facade, the colonnade and Michelangelo’s Dome (Cupola) are of great architectural interest. Personally, I don’t like very much the interiors but, anyway, all the long queue is worth to see the wonderful and moving Pietà Statue (from Michelangelo as well). Nearby you also have the Castel sant’Angelo. In Roman times this was emperor Adriano’s Mausoleum (tomb). Then it became the fortress where the pope ran when Rome was attacked by foreign armies. It is connected to San Pietro Basilica through a once secret passage called “il Passetto” that is now open to the visitors only on special occasions. Nowadays the castle is not owned by the Vatican anymore and is a National Museum.
Vatican Museums: like all the well known museums in the world, loooooooooong queue and a lot to see: The Sistine Chapel is in it. But also a lot of greek and roman art. The Vatican Pinacoteque, etruscan pieces and even some Egyptian Mummies. Nice place, but requires motivation and comfy shoes.
Via del Corso/Via Condotti. You can reach it from Piazza Venezia. It was once Rome’s fashion district. Now, sadly, Via del Corso is full of cheap touristy shops. You can get a look to the beautiful Galleria Sordi (with shops and cafè) which still maintains a bit of the ancient atmosphere. Via Condotti, on the other side, is still full of high end fashion boutiques. Everything is super expensive but well… it is a nice stroll, aesthetically speaking, and it will bring you to the wonderful Piazza di Spagna Square. The famous Trinità dei Monti stairway is now undergoing renovation but anyway the square is beautiful and you can get a look at the Bernini fountain in the middle of it. The nearby Galleria Sciarra that hosts nice liberty frescos is not very well known but it’s worth a look.
Coming back in Via del Corso you can reach Piazza del Popolo, one of the most beautiful squares in Rome. Here there is the Santa Maria del Popolo Church another two Caravaggio paintings that you can see for free.
In front of Piazza del Popolo you have the Pincio Hill. If you get to the top of it you will have a stunning view on Rome
On The back of Pincio you have villa Borghese, which is a huge public park with lakes, pieces of garden in Italian style and english style. It hosts the important Galleria Borghese museum (pieces from Bernini, Caravaggio, Tiziano, Raffaello and Canova), the zoo (now called Bioparco) and even a reproduction of the London Globe theatre (The Silvano Toti).
The ancient ghetto of Rome is a special place. The jewish from here says proudly that they are the real romans because they are the only ones who can trace their roots 2000 years back. Here you can see some ancient remains and the Portico d’ottavia square with its small deli and local shops. During the nazi occupation of Rome this was the place where on 23 October 1,035 Jewish men, women and children were arrested and then deported to Auschwitz- Birkenau. If you want to know more about the ghetto I recommend you to visit the jewish museum of Rome the Synagogue with its Jewish Museum of Rome. This is a special place to taste the typical jewish-roman cuisine. NearYou will also find Tiberina Island. A stroll on the Lungotevere (the quays) is particularly romantic in autumn when when the leaves of the plane trees change to orange and red.
Trastevere: In the past it was a very working class and characteristic neighborhood full of affordable and honest small trattorias. Now it is totally gentrified and only american millionaires and VIP can live there. Most of the restaurants are tourist traps. I would not recommend to eat there but for a drink and an evening stroll in its small lanes it’s a nice place because it still has a bit of its ancient character. When I was younger and still hanging around in Rome at night, San Callisto Bar was a fun place for a beer among young/artistic/alternative/penniless roman milieu. I hope it is still preserves its allure.
Pantheon: one of the best preserved buildings from the roman era. Once a temple, then a church, the biggest dome of the ancient times in unreinforced concrete. It is the burial place for many Italian personalities such as past kings and the painter Raffaello Sanzio.
OTHER THINGS AND CURIOSITIES
Gianicolo hill: one of the best locations in Rome for a scenic view of the city centre e with its domes and bell towers. The Janiculum is the site of the 1849 battle between the forces of Garibaldi, defending the revolutionary Roman Republic against French army, who were fighting to restore the temporal power of the Pope over Rome. Several monuments to Garibaldi and to the fallen in the wars of Italian independence are on the Gianicolo. Everyday at noon, a cannon fires once from the hill in the direction of the Tevere river as a time signal.
Villa Ada and Villa Doria Pamphili: two public parks where romans spend their lazy Sundays. They are quite big, a bit far from the city centre and requires a lot to of time to be seen completely, but if you are lucky with the weather and are not in the mood for monuments this provides a very nice alternative.
Catacombs: Just for history nerds like me
Giardino degli Aranci: a small romantic hidden gem with a stunning view. If you look through keyhole of the door you will have a surprise
Capuchin crypt made with human bones (if you like horror stuff)
Rome Municipal Rose Garden : a public garden near the Circo Massimo full of hundreds of roses
The Non Catholic Cemetery: the non catholic resting place for atheists and non catholic personalities in the Caput Mundi. A lot of poets and free thinkers like Antonio Gramsci, John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley are buried here.
Areas for pubs and aperitivo bars and discos which are not tourist traps are not found in the city centre but quite easy to reach with buses or trams or taxi. Testaccio, San Lorenzo and Pigneto are the most popular.
In summer several events and music festivals take place in public parks . Keep up to date by taking a look at Romeing.it
Disclaimer about nightlife areas (but applies to the whole city, especially on buses,metro and trams): as you can imagine in a big metropolis with an overwhelming flow of tourists, tons of young people, alcohol and nightlife comes a certain dose of petty crime. So have fun but keeps your eyes opened and your pockets closed…
After all this walking and cultural sightseeing you will be starving. Isn’t that right? Stay tuned for the next post about what and where to eat in Rome!
Tags: colosseo, guide, rome, skittio's travels, travels