Empires may have risen and fallen, but this ancient city has stood the test of time. One of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, Rome has it all – from history, art, culture and good food.
Steeped with thousands of years of history, Rome is beautiful chaos. Hailed as the ‘Capital of the World,’ traces of this city’s mighty history are seen everywhere – from the haunting ruins, to the awe-inspiring monuments, to opulent basilicas.
As a repository of some of Europe’s finest architecture and art, the biggest problem you’ll face in Italy’s capital is deciding just what to see and do. There’s a famous Italian saying, ‘Roma, non basta una vita’ – a lifetime isn’t enough to see Rome. But one can certainly try!
Top Roman Attractions
So where do you start? If it’s your first time to the Eternal city, here are some of the city’s most iconic attractions.
First stop? Head to the historic centre to see the monuments from Rome’s golden age, like the Colosseum, where gladiators fought till the death. Next, make your way to the neighboring Roman Forum, which holds the remains of what used to be the centre of the ancient world. Just a stone throw’s away are the Capitoline Museums, that showcase some of Italy’s finest collection of classic art and sculpture.
For a glimpse of the Rome you’ve seen in movies and books – with its cobblestones, Renaissance palaces, baroque churches, and breathtaking piazzas – explore the Centro Storico area. Here’s where you’ll find the Pantheon, the 2000-year old temple. After gaping at its marble exterior, you can head inside to see famous tombs such as that of the artist Raphael. Another star attraction is this area is Piazza Navone – an open-air public square that is filled with gorgeous fountains, churches and palazzos (palaces).
Fans of the Audrey Hepburn classic Roman Holiday, must visit the iconic marble Spanish Steps, which is located in Piazza di Spagna, right around Rome’s premium shopping centre. Sit awhile on the steps to catch your breath, take in the view, or grab a cup of gelato from one of the neighboring cafes.
You’ll also want to see the Trevi Fountain, Rome’s largest and most popular fountain. This baroque beauty depicts a mythological scene, with Neptune, the sea god. Don’t forget to throw a coin – over your shoulder – in the fountain! According to tradition, this ensures that’ll you return to Rome.
Finally, you can’t leave Rome without visiting the Vatican City, the world’s smallest sovereign state. Plan to spend some time at the Vatican Museums, one of the world’s greatest collections of art and artifacts. Possibly the most well-visited of all is Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, with those iconic ceiling frescos.
After you’ve had your fill of the museum, take a leisurely walk down to Castel Sant’Angelo, this castle provides a lovely panoramic view of Rome. After exploring this papal fortress, cross the river Tiber, back into central Rome by the Ponte Sant’ Angelo, a bridge decorated with gorgeous angel sculptures, that is right outside the castle.
Off the Beaten Path
If you’ve been to Rome before or want to get off the beaten path, check out these more unusual attractions. Enjoy history? You can go and see an “Egyptian” Pyramid of Cestius in Rome that was built around 18-12 BC in the height of their ‘Eyptomania’. Just around the corner is the Protestant Cemetery, which is the resting place for a number of world-famous names, such as English poets John Keats and Shelley.
For a truly bizarre experience, visit the Convento dei Cappuccini. This church tells the story of the Capuchin order of monks and you’ll get to visit the Capuchin crypt. Here you’ll find rooms where everything – from the lamps to the picture frames are made from the bones of the departed monks. It was a symbolic reminder of the transience of life.
The surrounding region of Lazio is another great way to escape the crowds. Located to the east of Rome, Tivoli is accessible by bus or car and is home to Villa Adriana – the grand summer estate of the emperor Hadrian. Nearby is Villa d’Este – with its beautiful fountains!
7 Insider Travel Tips
• Get the Roma Pass if you’ll be in Rome for three days. You’ll enjoy free admission to your first two attractions, unlimited city transport, and various other discounts.
• Most of the churches in Rome are free to enter, so be sure to check out a few. You’ll be amazed by the opulent art and architecture.
• Sign up online for a free walking tour in Rome. It’s a great way to get your bearings and soak in some of the local history.
• Finding authentic Italian food in Rome can be challenge, thanks to the prevalence of tourist traps. For an authentic meal, avoid any restaurant that has pictures of its food in the menu. Head to Trastevere and Testaccio neighborhoods for great food.
• Be sure to try these specialties of Rome: Carbonara, Roman pizza, and Fritti (fried rice balls).
• Rome has drinking fountains almost everywhere, which can be a godsend in the hotter months. Keep an eye out for these free-flowing taps of water, which are usually located near major tourist attractions.
• Watch your valuables. While Rome is safe city for the most part, pickpockets are rampant – especially in the peak summer season. Don’t keep anything you’d want to lose in your pockets, especially around the major tourist attractions like the Colosseum.
Photos: Tarana Rana, Creative Commons, istock