Rome city guide
Rome is a city with an unparalleled past. Any visit to Rome will literally have you bumping into almost three thousand years of monumental history. As if iconic ancient Roman sights like the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and the Pantheon weren’t enough, the Roman Catholic Church’s roots in the city have given rise to an abundance of artistic and architectural treasures few other places can rival. With successive popes employing artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael, and Bernini to compete over securing their legacy, the real winner was the city itself. Add a splash of Dolce Vita and the Italian capital has just about every ingredient for an unforgettable vacation.
Rome is a sprawling city, but most of the main sights are clustered around the historical center, with the Vatican (including the Sistine Chapel) and St Peter’s Basilica just across the Tiber. Create your own historical tour of ancient sites around the legendary seven hills of Rome or focus on quirky neighborhoods like the Jewish quarter or the vibrant restaurant district of Trastevere. If you just want to soak up the gorgeous piazzas with a cappuccino, join the evening passeggiata as you window-shop, or throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain, that’s fine too!
What to do and see in Rome
- Villa Borghese – the third largest public park in Rome and once a vineyard, Villa Borghese is a beautifully landscaped green haven. It is also home to the Galleria Borghese, which houses an astonishing collection of artworks by Bernini, Raphael, and Caravaggio.
- Rome has four so-called patriarchal basilicas. Once you’ve marveled at the sheer scale of St Peter’s, why not visit the other three? St John Lateran, the oldest church in Rome, St Paul’s, just outside the old city walls, and Santa Maria Maggiore, home to a treasure trove of art and architecture.
- The church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini on the sophisticated Via Veneto is home to one of the Italian capital’s most surreal sights. The church’s crypt contains the skeletons of 3,700 former members of the Capuchin order, preserved as a reminder that life is fleeting and death comes to us all. Famous previous visitors include the Marquis de Sade and Mark Twain.
- The ruins at Torre Argentina are home to Italy’s most famous cat sanctuary. Open to visitors every afternoon, the shelter survives on donations and some animals are available for at-a-distance adoption.
- The Basilica of San Clemente near the Colosseum is unique because of its archeology. Made up of three layers, the present medieval building sits on top of a Roman house, itself built on the site of a 4th-century Christian basilica. The descent down through the layers and passageways is extremely atmospheric.
- Slightly off the beaten track, the Testaccio neighborhood is the place for food and nightlife. It is also overlooked by the Aventine Hill, which boasts the famous keyhole view of St Peter’s.
Tips & Tricks when visiting Rome
Spring and fall are the all-round best times to visit the Eternal City. The weather will still be warm but the crowds much smaller than during mid-summer, when the heat can sometimes be uncomfortable. High season covers the hot summer months and religious festivals, so prices will be lower outside these periods.
The time zone in Rome is GMT+1 from late October to late March and GMT+2 the rest of the year.
Rome is served by two airports – Fiumicino (officially named after Leonardo da Vinci) to the west of the city and the smaller Ciampino to the south east, served primarily by European budget airlines.
Book your tickets in advance for the major sights wherever possible to allow you to skip the lines. Also, book popular restaurants in advance.
It is illegal to wade into the city’s fountains or sit on the Spanish Steps — you have been warned!
Best ways to visit Rome
- Rome is a great place to visit with kids as the sheer size and splendor of many of the monuments will leave them, like the adults, openmouthed. Italian food is also distinctly kid-friendly, although we’re told it is possible to overdose on pizza and gelato! If all the sightseeing gets too much, head for the Villa Borghese gardens, where you can rent bikes or four-seater rickshaws.
- It may be cheesy, but if you want to recreate Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck’s Roman Holiday then Rome is the perfect destination for a couples trip or honeymoon. Romance lurks around every corner, from breath-taking views to cozy trattorias, watching the sun set from a glamorous hotel rooftop bar, or sharing an aperitivo in an authentic ivy-covered corner of Trastevere.
- Rome may be the capital of Italy, but it also has its own distinctive cuisine. Foodies will love discovering traditional Roman cooking, which is tough and no-nonsense, often using every part of the animal. Hearty local pasta dishes include carbonara, cacio e pepe, and amatriciana. It doesn’t get more Roman than grattachecca—ask around to track down these shaved ice vendors that line the Tiber in summer; some have been around since the early 20th century!