From its vast stockpile of antiquities along the Via dei Fori Imperiali to the buzzy contemporary-art-meets-performing-arts zone around the Auditorium on the northern Viale Flaminio, Rome’s various districts are a catalogue in stone of two millennia of vibrant city life. Condensing some 2,700 years’ worth of things to do in Rome into a few days of essential experiences would a daunting prospect – follow our recommendations to balance the tourist essentials with glimpses between the Michelangelos into the living, breathing capital of today…
On the Tiber’s eastern bank, the Tridente area houses antique shops and top-name designer stores, plus high street fashion along via del Corso. Nestling in the alleyways of the great ‘Baroque’ bulge in the river are innumerable glorious churches and piazze, such as Campo de’ Fiori with its colourful morning food market, or piazza Mattei in the Ghetto with its graceful turtle fountain.
Further east, medieval Monti is alive with one-off boutiques, artisans’ workshops and eateries. Across the river, Trastevere is meltingly picturesque – the ivy- and washing-festooned Rome of everyone’s imagination. Moving north, narrow Borgo was once the Vatican’s service area; now it’s a good place to pick up a kitsch Pope-related souvenir. In Prati, via Cola di Rienzo hums with exquisite delis and upper-end high-street fashion outlets.
Roman antiquities and attractions
When it comes to sightseeing, the very obvious is a very good place to start. Unless you’re nonchalantly au fait with the Eternal City, don’t overlook its big-name sights: they’ve been famous for centuries for very good reason. The 1st-century AD Colosseum is a monument to ancient engineering and remains the blueprint for stadium construction; the Colosseum ticket covers the Roman Forum and Palatine too.
St Peter’s basilica, centrepiece of the Catholic church worldwide, wows for sheer size, while the Rennaissance splendour – including the Sistine chapel – in the Vatican museums around the corner is superlative: pre-book or you’ll spend hours waiting in line. In pilgrim mode, also worth visiting are San Giovanni in Laterano, the Catholic church’s fourth-century ‘ecumenical mother church’, and Santa Maria della Vittoria, a Baroque church that houses one of Bernini’s most famous sculptures – ‘The Ecstasy of St Teresa’.
The sheer theatricality of Rome – in both its architecture and its inhabitants – is best savoured in its centro storico squares. Piazza Navona, home toyet more superb Bernini sculptures, occupies the site of an ancient race track; Campo de’ Fiori pulsates with life from when the produce market sets up in the morning until the early hours when carousers go home, and piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps rise far above the cliché.
In tiny Piazza di Trevi is the Trevi Fountain, a towering Rococo extravaganza; crowds of visitors lob coins into its waters, wishing, as tradition dictates, for a speedy return to Rome.
Finally, two superb ancient buildings preserved through the ages are must-sees: originally a temple to the Pagan panoply, the Pantheon now houses the tombs of monarchs and greats, including the artist Raphael. And Castel Sant’Angelo, dominating the river Tiber near St Peter’s, was built up over centuries on top of the the mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian; it was from the upper terraces of this fortification that Puccini had Tosca hurl herself to her death in his great Roman opera.
Sights and attractions details
Colosseum, Forum and Palatine Piazza del Colosseo. +39 06 3996 7700. Open daily.
St Peter’s Basilica Piazza San Pietro. +39 06 6988 1662. Open daily.
Vatican Museums Viale del Vaticano. +39 06 6988 3860. Closed Sun.
San Giovanni in Laterano Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano 4. +39 06 6988 6433. Open daily.
Santa Maria della Vittoria Via XX Settembre 17. +39 06 4274 0571. Open daily.
Pantheon Piazza della Rotonda. +39 06 6830 0230. Open daily.
Castel Sant’Angelo Lungotevere Castello 50. +39 06 689 6003. Closed Mon.