Frommer's Italy (2015)
Rome’s Trevi Fountain.
Once it ruled the Western World, and even the partial, scattered ruins of that awesome empire, of which Rome was capital, are today among the most powerful sights on earth. To walk the Roman Forum, to view the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the Appian Way—these are among the most memorable, instructive, and chilling experiences in all of travel. To see evidence of a once-great civilization that no longer exists is a humbling experience that everyone should have.
Thrilling, too, are the sights of Christian Rome, which speak to the long and complex domination by this city of one of the world’s major religions. As a visitor to Rome, you will be constantly reminded of this extraordinary history.
But it’s important to remember that Rome is not just a place of the past, but one that lives and breathes and buzzes with Vespas in the here and now. So take the time to get away from the tourist hordes to explore the intimate piazzas and lesser basilicas in the backstreets of Trastevere and the centro storico. Indulge in eno-gastronomic pursuits and stuff your days with cappuccinos, trattorias, wine bars, street food, and gelato. Have a picnic in Villa Borghese, take a vigorous walk along the Gianicolo, or nap in the grass against a fallen granite column at the Baths of Caracalla. Rome is so compact that without even planning too much you’ll end up enjoying both its monuments and its simpler pleasures.
Walk the streets of Rome, and the city will be yours.
BY PLANE Most flights arrive at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci International Airport (www.adr.it; 06-65951), popularly known as Fiumicino, 30km (19 miles) from the city center. (If you’re arriving from other European cities, you might land at Ciampino Airport, discussed below.) A tourist information office is at the airport’s Terminal B, International arrivals; it’s open daily from 9am to 6:30pm.
A cambio (money exchange) operates daily from 7:30am to 11pm, offering surprisingly good rates, and there are ATMs in the airport.
There’s a train station in the airport. To get into the city, follow the signs marked TRENI for the 31-minute shuttle to Rome’s main station, Stazione Termini. The shuttle (the Leonardo Express) runs from 5:52am to 11:36pm, every 30 minutes, for 14€ one-way. On the way, you’ll pass a machine dispensing tickets, or you can buy them at the ticket booth near the tracks if you do not have small bills on you. Tip: When you arrive at Termini, get out of the train quickly and grab a baggage cart: It’s a long schlep from the track to the exit or to other train connections, and baggage carts can be scarce.
A taxi from da Vinci airport to the city costs a flat-rate 48€ for the 1-hour trip, depending on traffic (hotels tend to charge 50€-60€ for pick-up service). The expense might be worth it if you have a lot of luggage. Note that the flat rate is applicable from the airport to central Rome and vice versa, but only if your central Rome location is inside the Aurelian Walls (most hotels are). Otherwise, standard metered rates apply, which can bump the fare to 75€ or higher.
If you arrive at Ciampino Airport (www.adr.it/ciampino; 06-65951), you can take a Terravision bus (www.terravision.eu; 06-4880086) to Stazione Termini. Trip time is about 45 minutes and costs 4€. A taxi from here cost a flat rate of 30€, provided you’re going to a destination within the old Aurelian Walls. Otherwise, you’ll pay the metered fare, but the trip is shorter (about 40 min.).
BY TRAIN OR BUS Trains and buses (including trains from the airport) arrive in the center of old Rome at Stazione Termini, Piazza dei Cinquecento. This is the train, bus, and subway transportation hub for all Rome, and it is surrounded by many hotels, especially budget ones.
If you’re taking the Metropolitana (subway), follow the illuminated red-and-white M signs. To catch a bus, go straight through the outer hall and enter the sprawling bus lot of Piazza dei Cinquecento. You will also find a line of taxis parked out front.
The station is filled with services. There is an exchange window close to the end of platform 14 where you can change money, and an ATM at the end of platform 24. Informazioni Ferroviarie (in the outer hall) dispenses information on rail travel to other parts of Italy. There are also a tourist information booth, baggage services, newsstands, clean public toilets, and snack bars.
BY CAR From the north, the main access route is the Autostrada del Sole (A1). Called “Motorway of the Sun,” the highway links Milan with Naples via Bologna, Florence, and Rome. At 754km (469 miles), it is the longest Italian autostrada and is the “spinal cord” of Italy’s road network. All the autostrade join with the Grande Raccordo Anulare, a ring road encircling Rome, channeling traffic into the congested city. Tip: Long before you reach this road, you should study a map carefully to see what part of Rome you plan to enter and mark your route accordingly. Route markings along the ring road tend to be confusing.
Warning: Return your rental car immediately on arrival, or at least get yourself to your hotel, park your car, and leave it there until you leave Rome. Think twice before driving in Rome—the traffic can be nightmarish. In any case, most of central Rome is a ZTL (Zone Traffico Limitato), off limits to nonresidents (hotels can issue temporary permits), and rigorously enforced by cameras. You will almost certainly be fined.
Information, Internet, maps, and the Roma Pass (see below) are available at “Tourist Information Points” maintained by Roma Capitale (www.turismoroma.it) at various sites around the city. They’re staffed daily from 9:30am to 7pm, except the one at Termini (daily 8am-7:30pm), which is located in “Centro Diagnostico” hall (Building F) next to platform 24; there’s often a long line at this one, so if you’re staying near others listed here, skip it. Additional offices are at Lungotevere Vaticano (Piazza Pia) near the Castel Sant’Angelo; Via Nazionale 183, near the Palazzo delle Esposizioni; on Piazza delle Cinque Lune, near Piazza Navona; on Via dei Fori Imperiali (for the Forum); at Via Santa Maria del Pianto 1, in the old Ghetto district; and on Via Marco Minghetti, near Via del Corso. All phone calls for Roma Capitale are directed through a centralized number: 06-060608 (www.060608.it). Call daily between 9am and 9pm.
If you plan to do serious sightseeing in Rome (and why else would you be here?), the Roma Pass (www.romapass.it) is worth considering. For 34€ per card, valid for 3 days, you get free entry to the first 2 museums or archaeological sites you visit; free admission to Museo della Repubblica Romana, Museo Bilotti, Museo Canonica, Museo delle Mura, Museo Napoleonico, and Villa di Massenzio; discounted entry to all other museums and sites; free use of the city’s public transport network (bus, Metro, and railway lines; airport transfers not included); express entry to the Colosseum; a free map; and free access to a special smartphone app. Those going outside the city should opt for the Roma&Più Pass, which offers the same benefits plus access to sites and transport in parts of the province of Rome (such as the Tivoli villas). Note however, that the Roma&Più Pass is limited to around 5,000 sales per year, and often sells out by June. Note also that the Vatican Museums are not part of either pass plan. Buy those passes online and pick them up at one of the Tourist Information Points (see above).
An alternative is the Archaeologia Card, which for 24.50€ (or 25€ online at www.ticketclic.it) grants admission to 9 sites for up to 7 days: the Colosseum, Palatine Museum and Roman Forum, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Palazzo Altemps, Crypta Balbi, Baths of Diocletian, Cecilia Metella, Villa dei Quintili, and Baths of Caracalla. Here transport is not included, so if you plan to do a lot of sightseeing, the Roma Pass is much better value.
Finally, if you are a return visitor or have an interest in Rome’s well-stocked niche archaeological museums, the Museo Nazionale Romano combo ticket is the one to buy, as it covers entry to the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Palazzo Altemps, Crypta Balbi, and Baths of Diocletian for just 7€ for 3 days (plus 3€ when special exhibitions are on). You can buy online at www.coopculture.it, but it’s just as easy to buy in the first museum of the four you enter.
Local travel agency Enjoy Rome, Via Marghera 8a, 3 blocks north of Termini (www.enjoyrome.com; 06-4451843; Mon-Fri 9am-5:30pm and Sat 8:30-2pm), is also helpful, dispensing information and finding hotel rooms, with no service charge (in anything from a hostel to a three-star hotel).
The bulk of what you’ll want to visit—ancient, Renaissance, and baroque Rome (as well as the train station)—lies on the east side of the Tiber River (Fiume Tevere), which meanders through town. However, several important landmarks are on the other side: St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican, the Castel Sant’Angelo, and the colorful Trastevere neighborhood. With the exception of those last sights, I think it’s fair to say that Rome has the most compact and walkable city center in Europe.
That doesn’t mean you won’t get lost from time to time (most newcomers do). Arm yourself with a detailed street map of Rome (or a smartphone with a hefty data plan). Most hotels hand out a pretty good version.
One of Rome’s many markets.
The Neighborhoods in Brief
This section will give you some idea of where you might want to stay and where the major attractions are. Street address in Rome can be frustrating. Numbers usually run consecutively, with odd numbers on one side of the street, evens on the other. However, in the old districts the numbers sometimes run up one side and then run back in the opposite direction on the other side (so, no. 50 could be potentially opposite no. 308). Also note that much of the historic core of Rome does not fall under easy or distinct neighborhood classifications. Instead, most people’s frame of reference, when describing a location within the centro, is the name of the nearest large monument or square, like St. Peter’s or Piazza di Spagna.
VATICAN CITY & THE PRATI Vatican City is technically a sovereign state, although in practice it is just another part of Rome. The Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s, and the Vatican Gardens take up most of the land area, and the popes have lived here for 6 centuries. The neighborhood north of the Vatican—called “Borgo Pio”—contains some good hotels (and several bad ones), but it is removed from the more happening scene of ancient and Renaissance Rome, and getting to and from those areas can be time-consuming. Borgo Pio is also rather dull at night and contains few, if any, of Rome’s finest restaurants. The white collar Prati district, a middle-class suburb just east of the Vatican, is possibly a better choice, thanks to its smattering of affordable hotels, its shopping streets, and the fact that it boasts some excellent places to eat.
CENTRO STORICO & THE PANTHEON One of the most desirable (and busiest) areas of Rome, the Centro Storico (“Historic Center”) is a maze of narrow streets and cobbled alleys dating from the Middle Ages and filled with churches and palaces built during the Renaissance and baroque eras. The only way to explore it is on foot. Its heart is Piazza Navona, built over Emperor Domitian’s stadium and bustling with sidewalk cafes, palazzi, street artists, musicians, and pickpockets.
Rivaling Piazza Navona—in general activity, the cafe scene, and the nightlife—is the area around the Pantheon, which remains from ancient Roman times and is surrounded by a district built much later. South of Corso Vittorio Emanuele and centered on Piazza Farnese and the square of Campo de’ Fiori, many buildings in this area were constructed in Renaissance times as private homes. West of Via Arenula lies one of the city’s most intriguing districts, the old Jewish Ghetto, where the increasingly fashionable dining options far outnumber the hotels.
ANCIENT ROME, MONTI & CELIO Although no longer the heart of the city, this is where Rome began, with the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, Imperial Forums, and Circus Maximus. This area offers only a few hotels—most of them inexpensive to moderate in price—and not a lot of great restaurants. Many restaurant owners have their eyes on the cash register and the tour-bus crowd, whose passengers are often herded in and out of these restaurants so fast that they don’t know whether the food is any good. Just beyond the Circus Maximus is the Aventine Hill, south of the Palatine and close to the Tiber, now a leafy and rather posh residential quarter—with great city views. You will get much more of a neighborhood feel if you stay in Monti (Rome’s oldest rione, or quarter) or Celio. Both also have good dining, aimed at locals as well as visitors, and Monti, especially, has plenty of life from aperitivo o’clock and into the wee hours.
TRIDENTE & THE SPANISH STEPS The northern part of Rome’s center is sometimes known as the Tridente, so-called for the trident shape of the roads leading down from the apex of Piazza del Popolo—Via di Ripetta, Via del Corso, and Via del Babuino. The star here is unquestionably Piazza di Spagna, which attracts Romans and tourists alike to idly sit on its celebrated Spanish Steps. Some of Rome’s most upscale shopping streets fan out from here, including Via Condotti. In fact, this is the most upscale part of Rome, full of expensive hotels, designer boutiques, and chic restaurants.
VIA VENETO & PIAZZA BARBERINI In the 1950s and early 1960s, Via Veneto was the swinging place to be, celebrities of la Dolce Vita paraded along the tree-lined boulevard to the delight of the paparazzi. The street is still the site of luxury hotels, cafes, and restaurants, although it’s no longer as happening and the restaurants are mostly overpriced and overcrowded tourist traps.
To the south, Via Veneto comes to an end at Piazza Barberini, and the magnificent Palazzo Barberini, begun in 1623 by Carlo Maderno and later completed by Bernini and Borromini.
VILLA BORGHESE & PARIOLI We would call Parioli an area for connoisseurs, attracting those who shun the Spanish Steps and the overly commercialized Via Veneto. It is, in short, Rome’s most elegant residential section, a setting for some of the city’s finest restaurants, hotels, and public parks. Geographically, Parioli is in fact framed by the green spaces of the Villa Borghese to the south and the Villa Glori and Villa Ada to the north. It lies adjacent to Prati but across the Tiber to the east; it’s considered one of the safest districts in the city. All that being said, Parioli is not exactly central, so it can be a hassle as a base if you’re dependent on public transportation.
AROUND STAZIONE TERMINI The main train station adjoins Piazza della Repubblica, and is for many visitors their first introduction to Rome. Much of the area is seedy and filled with gas fumes from all the buses and cars, plus a fair share of weirdos. If you stay here, you might not score the typical Rome charm, but you’ll have a lot of affordable options and a convenient location, near the city’s transportation hub and not far from ancient Rome. There is a fair amount to see here, including the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, the artifacts at Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, and the Baths of Diocletian.
The neighborhoods on either side of Termini (Esquilino and Tiburtino) have been slowly cleaning up, and some streets are now attractive. Most budget hotels on the Via Marsala side occupy a floor or more of a palazzo (palace); many of their entryways are drab, although upstairs they are often charming or at least clean and livable. In the area to the left of the station as you exit, the streets are wider, the traffic is heavier, and the noise level is higher. The area requires you to take just a little caution late at night.
TRASTEVERE In a Roman shift of the Latin Trans Tiber, Trastevere means “across the Tiber.” For visitors arriving in Rome decades ago, it might as well have meant Siberia, but all that’s changed. This once medieval working-class district has been gentrified and is now overrun with visitors from all over the world. It started to transform in the 1970s when expats and other bohemians discovered its rough charm. Since then Trastevere has been filling up with tour buses, dance clubs, offbeat shops, sidewalk vendors, pubs, and little trattorie with English menus. There are even places to stay, but so far it hasn’t burgeoned into a major hotel district. There are excellent restaurants and bars here, too.
The area centers on the ancient churches of Santa Cecilia and Santa Maria, and remains one of Rome’s most colorful quarters, even if a bit overrun.
TESTACCIO & SOUTHERN ROME In A.D. 55, Emperor Nero ordered that Rome’s thousands of broken amphorae and terracotta roof tiles be stacked in a pile to the east of the Tiber, just west of today’s Ostiense Railway Station. Over the centuries, the mound grew to a height of around 61m (200 ft.) and then was compacted to form the centerpiece for one of the city’s most unusual working-class neighborhoods, Testaccio. Houses were built on the perimeter of the terracotta mound and caves were dug into its mass to store wine and foodstuffs. Once home to slaughterhouses and Rome’s former port on the Tiber, Testaccio is now known for its authentic Roman restaurants. It’s also one of Rome’s liveliest areas after dark.
Further south and east, the Via Appia Antica is a 2,300-year-old road that has witnessed much of the history of the ancient world. By 190 B.C., it extended from Rome to Brindisi on the southeast coast. Its most famous sights are the Catacombs, the graveyards of early Christians and patrician families (despite what it says in “Quo Vadis,” they weren’t used as a place for Christians to hide while fleeing persecution). This is one of the most historically rich areas of Rome, great for a daytrip but not a good place to stay.
Central Rome is perfect for exploring on foot, with sites of interest often clustered together. Much of the inner core is traffic-free, so you will need to walk whether you like it or not. However, in many parts of the city walking may be uncomfortable because of the crowds, uneven cobblestones, heavy traffic, and narrow sidewalks. The hectic crush of urban Rome is considerably less during August, when many Romans leave town for vacation (but many restaurants and businesses close).
BY SUBWAY The Metropolitana (or Metro; www.romametropolitane.it; 06-454640100), is the fastest way to get around, operating 5:30am to 11:30pm Sunday to Thursday, and until 1:30am on Friday and Saturday. A big red m indicates the entrance to the subway. If your destination is close to a Metro stop, hop on, as your journey will be much faster than by taking the bus. There are currently two lines: Line A (orange) runs southeast to northwest via Termini, Barberini, Spagna and several stations in Prati near the Vatican; and Line B (blue), running north to south via Termini and stops in Ancient Rome. A third line, Line C (green) is currently under construction and should be open by 2016, running from Monte Compatri in the southeast to San Giovanni (on Line A).
Tickets are 1.50€ and are available from tabacchi (tobacco shops), many newsstands, and vending machines at all stations. Booklets of tickets are available at tabacchi and in some terminals. You can also buy a pass on either a daily or a weekly basis (see “By Bus & Tram,” below). To open the subway barrier, insert your ticket. If you have a Roma Pass (p. 57), touch it against the yellow dot and the gates will open. See the Metro map on the tear-out map in this guide.
BY BUS & TRAM Roman buses and trams are operated by ATAC (Agenzia del Trasporto Autoferrotranviario del Comune di Roma; www.atac.roma.it; 06-57003). Wi-Fi is gradually being rolled out across the public transport network: Look for the “Atac WiFi” sticker on the tram/subway doors. To access the service, connect to the “AtacWiFi” network and select “free navigation”; you can then register for free on the RomaWireless website. You only get 1 hour of surfing, but access to transport help websites like www.muoversiaroma.it is unlimited.
For 1.50€ you can ride to most parts of Rome on buses or trams, although it can be slow going in all that traffic, and the buses are often very crowded. A ticket is valid for 100 minutes, and you can get on many buses and trams (plus one run on the Metro) during that time by using the same ticket. Tickets are sold in tabacchi and at bus stops, but there are very few ticket-issuing machines on the vehicles themselves.
At Stazione Termini, you can buy special timed passes: BIG (biglietto giornaliero or 1-day ticket) costs 6€, and a CIS (carta settimanale) is 24€ for 1 week. The BTI (bigiletto turistico, or “tourist ticket”) is 16.50€ for 3 days. If you plan to ride public transportation a lot—and if you are skipping between the centro storico, Roman ruins, and Vatican, as you likely will—these passes save time and hassle over buying a new ticket every time you ride. Purchase the appropriate pass for your length of stay in Rome. All the passes allow you to ride on the ATAC network, and are also valid on the Metro (subway). On the first bus you board, place your ticket in a small machine, which prints the day and hour you boarded, and then withdraw it. Do the same on the last bus you take during the valid period of the ticket. One-day and weekly tickets are also available at tabacchi, many newsstands, and at vending machines at all stations. If you plan to do a lot of sightseeing, however, the Roma Pass (p. 57) is a smarter choice.
Rome’s Key Bus Routes
Although routes may change, a few reliable bus routes have remained valid for years in Rome:
40 (Express): Stazione Termini to the Vatican via Via Nazionale, Piazza Venezia and Piazza Pia, by the Castel Sant’Angelo.
64: The “tourist route” from Termini, along Via Nazionale and through Piazza Venezia and along Via Argentina to Piazza San Pietro in the Vatican. (Head’s up: It’s also known as the Pickpocket Express.)
75: Stazione Termini to the Colosseum.
H: Stazione Termini via Piazza Venezia and the Ghetto to Trastevere via Ponte Garibaldi.
Two Bus Warnings
Any map of the Roman bus system will likely be outdated before it’s printed. Many buses listed on the “latest” map no longer exist; others are enjoying a much-needed rest, and new buses suddenly appear without warning. There’s always talk of renumbering the whole system, so be aware that the route numbers we’ve listed might have changed by the time you travel.
Take extreme caution when riding Rome’s overcrowded buses—pickpockets abound! This is particularly true on bus no. 64, a favorite of visitors because of its route through the historic districts and thus also a favorite of Rome’s pickpocketing community. This bus has earned various nicknames, including the “Pickpocket Express” and “Wallet Eater.”
Buses and trams stop at areas marked fermata. At most of these, a yellow or white sign will display the numbers of the buses that stop there and a list of all the stops along each bus’s route, making it easier to scope out your destination. Generally, they run daily from 5am to midnight. From midnight until dawn, you can ride on special night buses (they have an “n” in front of their bus number), which run only on main routes. It’s best to take a taxi in the wee hours—if you can find one. In a pinch call for one (see “By Taxi,” below). Bus information booths at Piazza dei Cinquecento, in front of Stazione Termini, offer advice on routes.
BY TAXI Don’t count on hailing a taxi on the street or even getting one at a minor stand. If you’re going out, have your hotel call one. At a restaurant, ask the waiter or cashier to dial for you. If you want to phone for yourself, try the city taxi service at 06-0609 (which will redirect to the nearest taxi rank, but you have to state the name of your location, and since you’ll be speaking to a robot, correct pronunciation is key), or one of these radio taxi numbers: 06-6645, 06-3570, or 06-4994. Taxis on call incur a surcharge of 3.50€.
The meter begins at 3€ (Mon-Fri 6am-10pm) for the first 3km (13⁄4 miles) and then rises 1.10€ per kilometer. The first suitcase is free. Every additional piece of luggage costs 1€. On Saturday and Sunday between 6am and 10pm the meter starts at 4.50€; from 10pm to 6am every day the meter starts at 6.50€. Trips from Termini incur a 2€ surcharge. Avoid paying your fare with large bills; invariably, taxi drivers claim that they don’t have change, hoping for a bigger tip. In reality, a small tip is fine, but not necessary: Italians don’t tip taxi drivers like Americans and, at most, will simply round up to the nearest euro. If the driver is really helpful a tip of 1€ to 2€ is sufficient.
BY CAR All roads might lead to Rome, but you don’t want to drive once you get here. Because the reception desks of most Roman hotels have at least one English-speaking person, call ahead to find out the best route into Rome from wherever you are starting out. You will want to get rid of your rental car as soon as possible, or park in a garage.
If you want to rent a car to explore the countryside around Rome or drive to another city, you will save the most money if you reserve before leaving home (see chapter 13). If you decide to book a car here, Hertz is at Via Giovanni Giolitti 34 (www.hertz.com; 06-4740389; Metro: Termini), and Avis is at Stazione Termini (www.avis.com; 06-4814373; Metro: Termini). Maggiore, an Italian company, has an office at Stazione Termini (www.maggiore.it; 06-4880049; Metro: Termini). Major agencies also have offices at the airport.
BY BIKE Other than walking, the best way to get through the medieval alleys and small piazzas of Rome is perched on the seat of a bicycle. Despite being hilly, the heart of ancient Rome is riddled with bicycle lanes to get you through the murderous traffic. The most convenient place to rent a bike is Bici & Baci, Via del Viminale 5 (www.bicibaci.com; 06-4828443), 2 blocks west of Stazione Termini. Prices start at 4€ per hour or 11€ per day.
Banks In general, banks are open Monday to Friday 8:30am to 1:30pm and 3 to 4pm, but some banks keep afternoon hours from 2:45 to 3:45pm.
Dentists American Dental Arts Rome, Via del Governo Vecchio 73 (www.adadentistsrome.com; 06-6832613; Bus: 41, 44, or 46B), uses the latest technology, including laser dental techniques.
Doctors Call the U.S. Embassy at 06-46741 for a list of English-speaking doctors. All big hospitals have a 24-hour first-aid service (go to the emergency room, pronto soccorso). You’ll find English-speaking doctors at the privately run Salvator Mundi International Hospital, Viale delle Mura Gianicolensi 67 (www.salvatormundi.it; 06-588961; Bus: 75). For medical assistance, the International Medical Center is on 24-hour duty at Via Firenze 47 (www.imc84.com; 06-4882371; Metro: Repubblica). You could also contact the Rome American Hospital, Via Emilio Longoni 69 (www.hcitalia.it/romeamericanhospital; 06-22551), with English-speaking doctors on duty 24 hours. A more personalized service is provided 24 hours by Medi-Call Italia, Via Cremera 8 (www.medi-call.it; 06-8840113; Bus: 86), which can arrange for a qualified doctor to make a house call at your hotel or anywhere in Rome. In most cases, the doctor will be a general practitioner who can refer you to a specialist if needed. Fees begin at around 100€ per visit and can go higher if a specialist or specialized treatments are necessary.
Embassies & Consulates See chapter 13.
Emergencies To call the police, dial 113; for an ambulance 118; for a fire 115.
Internet Access Wi-Fi is standard in nearly all Rome hotels, and is available for free in many cafes and information points. If you need a terminal try Internet Train, Via dei Marrucini 12 (www.internetcafe.it; 06-4454953; Bus: 3, 71, or 492; Mon-Fri 9:30am-1am, Sat 3pm-1am, Sun 2pm-midnight); you’ll get 30 minutes for 1.50€.
Mail You can buy special stamps at the Vatican City Post Office, adjacent to the information office in St. Peter’s Square (Mon-Fri 8:30am-7pm, Sat until 6pm). Convenient post offices in the old city include Via Monterone 1 (near the Pantheon); Via Cavour 277; Via Marsala 29 (on the north side of Termini); and Via Molise 2, near Piazza Barberini. Most are open Monday to Friday 8:30am to 3:30pm, with the Termini branch open Monday to Friday 8:20am to 7:05pm and Saturday 8:20am to 12:35pm.
Newspapers & Magazines You can buy major publications including the “International New York Times” and the “London Times” at most newsstands. The expat magazine (in English), “Wanted in Rome” (www.wantedinrome.com) comes out every 2 weeks and lists current events and shows. If you want to try your hand at reading Italian, “Time Out” has a Rome edition.
Pharmacies A reliable pharmacy is Farmacia Internazionale, Piazza Barberini 49 (www.farmint.it; 06-4825456; Metro: Barberini), open 24 hours. Most pharmacies are open from 8:30am to 1pm and 4 to 7:30pm. In general, pharmacies follow a rotation system, so several are always open on Sunday.
Police Dial 113.
Safety Pickpocketing is the most common problem. Men should keep their wallets in their front pocket or inside jacket pocket. Purse snatching also happens on occasion, by young men speeding by on Vespas. To avoid trouble, stay away from the curb and keep your purse on the wall side of your body and place the strap across your chest. Don’t lay anything valuable on al fresco tables or chairs, where it can be grabbed up. Groups of child pickpockets have long been a particular menace, although the problem isn’t as severe as in years past. They might approach you with pieces of cardboard hiding their stealing hands. Just keep repeating a firm “No!”
WHERE TO STAY
Rome’s standard hotels are notoriously overpriced. So, when you stay here, unusual solutions—rental apartments, B&Bs, even convents and monasteries—have two great virtues: They’re cheaper than standard facilities and, often, more memorable.
Breakfast in all but the highest echelon of hotels is often a buffet with coffee, fruit, rolls, and cheese. It’s not always included in the rate, so check the listing carefully. If you are budgeting and breakfast is a payable extra, skip it and go to a nearby cafe-bar. It will likely be much cheaper.
Nearly all hotels are heated in the cooler months, but not all are air-conditioned in summer, which can be vitally important during a stifling July or August. The deluxe and first-class properties usually are, but after that, it’s a tossup. Be sure to check before you book if it’s important to you.
Anyone looking to get into the local swing of things should stay in a short-term rental apartment. A centrally located, “economical” double room in a Rome hotel goes for about 120€ per night. It may be cramped and dark, with few amenities. For the same price or less, you could have your own spacious one-bedroom apartment with a terrace, washing machine, A/C, and a fridge to keep your wine in. Properties of all sizes and styles, in every price range, are available for stays of 3 nights to several weeks.
Nearly every rental apartment in Rome is owned and maintained by a third party (that is, not the rental agency). That means that the decor and flavor of the apartments, even in the same price range and neighborhood, can vary widely. Every reputable agency, however, puts multiple photos of each property they handle on its website, so that you’ll have a sense of what you’re getting into. The photos should be accompanied by a list of amenities, so if A/C and a washing machine are important to you, but you can live without Wi-Fi, be sure to check for those features. Note also that www.airbnb.com, the platform that allows individuals to rent their own apartments to guests, covers Rome.
It’s standard practice for local rental agencies to collect 30% of the total rental amount upfront to secure a booking. When you get to Rome and check in, the balance of your rental fee is often payable in cash only. Upon booking, the agency should provide you with detailed “check-in” procedures. Sometimes, you’re expected to call a cell or office phone when you arrive, and then the keyholder will meet you at the front door of the property at the agreed-upon time. Tip: Before the keyholder disappears, make sure you have a few numbers to call in case of an emergency. Otherwise, most apartments come with information sheets that list neighborhood shops and services. Beyond that, you’re on your own, which is what makes an apartment stay such a great way to do as the Romans do.
Cross Pollinate (www.cross-pollinate.com; 06-99369799), a multi-destination agency with a decent roster of apartments and B&Bs in Rome, was created by the American owners of the Beehive Hotel in Rome. Each property is inspected before it gets listed. GowithOh (www.gowithoh.com; 800/567-2927 in the U.S.) is a hip rental agency that covers 12 European cities, Rome among them. The website is fun to navigate and has sections on how to save money as well as over 400 apartments for rent in the city. Eats & Sheets (www.eatsandsheets.com; 06-83515971) is a small boutique collective comprising two B&Bs (near the Vatican and Colosseum), and 11 beautiful apartments for rent, most in the centro storico. Roman Reference (www.romanreference.com; 06-48903612) offers no-surprises property descriptions (with helpful and diplomatic tags like “better for young people”) and even includes the “eco-footprint” for each apartment. You can expect transparency and responsiveness from the plain-dealing staff. Rental in Rome (www.rentalinrome.com; 06-69905533) has an alluring website—with videoclips of the apartments—and the widest selection of midrange and luxury apartments in the prime centro storico zone (there are less expensive ones, too). Bed & Breakfast Association of Rome (www.b-b.rm.it) handles both self-catering apartments and rooms for rent within private apartments, some of which charge as little as 30€.
MONASTERIES & CONVENTS
Staying in a convent or a monastery can be a great bargain. But remember, these are religious houses, which means that the decor is most often stark, and the rules extensive. Cohabitating is almost always frowned upon—though marriage licenses are rarely required—and unruly behavior is not tolerated (so, no staggering in after too much limoncello at dinner). Plus, there’s usually a curfew. Most rooms in convents and monasteries do not have private bathrooms, but ask when making your reservation in case some are available. However, if you’re planning a mellow, “contemplative” trip to Rome, and you can live with these parameters, convents and monasteries are an affordable and fascinating option. The place to start is www.monasterystays.com, which lays out all your monastic options for the Eternal City and can make all the bookings for you.
Around Vatican City & Prati
For most visitors, this is a rather dull area to be based. It’s well removed from the ancient sites, and not a great restaurant neighborhood. But if the main purpose of your visit centers on the Vatican, you’ll be fine here, and you will be joined by thousands of other pilgrims, nuns, and priests.
Residenza Paolo VI This the only hotel actually within the Vatican state, plugged into the walls of the venerated Augustinian Order headquarters, and based here since 1886. As a result, there’s no city sales tax. Taking breakfast on the rooftop terrace is a special treat as this narrow strip overlooks St. Peter’s Square, and if the timing’s right, you’ll see the Pope himself blessing crowds (usually on Sun). As for the rooms, many were upgraded in 2013, and all are done with simple elegance, featuring terracotta or hardwood floors, heavy drapes and oriental rugs, and quality beds. The downside? Just like their in-Rome-proper rival hotels, square footage is at a premium in many of the guestrooms.
Via Paolo VI 29. www.residenzapaolovi.com. 06-684870. 35 units. 120€-370€ double. Rates include breakfast. Parking nearby from 20€. Metro: Ottaviano. Amenities: Bar; babysitting; room service; Wi-Fi (15€ per day).
Villa Laetitia This elegant hotel overlooking the River Tiber is the work of Anna Fendi, member of the Roman fashion dynasty and a nifty designer in her own right. Thanks to Anna, the rooms are anything but traditional, despite the 1911 villa setting surrounded by tranquil gardens. The decor features accents like bold patterns on the beds and floors and modern art on the walls. The Stendhal Room is our favorite, with black and white floor tiles with matching bedspread, cool, clear acrylic furniture, a small kitchenette painted fire-engine red, and a secluded balcony that flirts with the morning sun.
Lungotevere delle Armi 22-23. www.villalaetitia.com. 06-3226776. 14 units. 155€-250€ double. Parking nearby 20€. Metro: Lepanto. Amenities: Restaurant; bar; airport transfer (55€); babysitting; fitness room; room service; spa; Wi-Fi (free).
QuodLibet The name is Latin for “what pleases” and we’ll be frank: Everything is pleasing here. This B&B boasts spacious rooms, gorgeous artwork and furnishings, and generous breakfasts (the breads come from the bakery just next door; as does the aroma wafting in). All the rooms are set on the 4th floor of an elegant building (with elevator and A/C), so it’s quieter than many places, and located just a 10-minute walk from the Vatican Museums, and a block from the Metro (which allows you to reach other parts of the city easily). Saving the best for last is host Gianluca, a man with charm and a deep knowledge of both Rome and what will interest visitors. A top pick!
Via Barletta 29. www.quodlibetroma.com. 06-1222642. 4 units. 70€-180€ double. Rates include breakfast. Metro: Ottaviano. Amenities: Wi-Fi (free).
Rome Armony Suites A warning: Rome Armony Suites is almost always booked up months in advance, so if you’re interested in it, be sure to book early! Why so popular? The answer starts with service; owner Luca and his son Andrea are charming, sensitive hosts, who are especially good with first-time visitors to Rome. As for the rooms, they’re big, plush, clean, and modern, with minimalist decor, tea and coffee facilities, and a fridge in each unit. For breakfast, you get a voucher to use in Brown & Co., a cafe around the corner. Final perk: an excellent location.
Via Orazio 3. www.romearmonysuites.com. 348-3305419. 6 units. 100€-250€ double. Rates include breakfast. Metro: Ottaviano. Amenities: A/C; Wi-Fi (free).
Ancient Rome, Monti & Celio
There aren’t many hotel rooms on Earth with a view of a 2,000-year-old amphitheater, so there’s a definite “only in Rome” feeling to lodging on the edge of the ancient city. The negative side to residing in this area—and it’s a big minus—is that the streets adjacent to those ancient monuments have little life outside tourism. There’s a lot more going on in Monti, Rome’s oldest “suburb” (only 5 min. from the Forum) which is especially lively after dark (so expect noisy streets until late). Celio has even more of a neighborhood vibe, and a local, gentrified life quite separate from tourism.
If you’re after a little more room, Residenza Leonina , Piazza degli Zingari 4 (www.residenzaleonina.com; 06-48906885), offers a few modern, spacious apartments in the heart of Monti for about 100€ to 195€ per night. You can get better deals if you book direct and, best of all, one of central Rome’s best gelato vendors is literally at the doorstep (see “Getting Your Fill of Gelato,” p. 91).
Capo d’Africa This exquisite boutique hotel, located in the heart of Imperial Rome and set in an early 20th-century palazzo, offers a truly unique lodging experience. With sweeping vistas from the manicured roof terrace (the hotel’s top perk: you eat breakfast up here), elegant design, and an all-around upscale vibe, guests are welcomed as they would be in any relaxed and unpretentious Roman home. The rooms, too, are magnificent: light-filled, spacious, sharp and modern, with cherrywood furniture, touches of glass and chrome, incredibly comfy beds, marble bathrooms, and plenty of cupboard space, so you need never see your bags after you arrive.
Via Capo d’Africa 54. www.hotelcapodafrica.com. 06-772801. 65 units. 380€-420€ double. Rates include breakfast. Parking 45€. Bus: 53, 85, or 117. Amenities: Restaurant; bar; exercise room; room service; Wi-Fi (free)
The Inn at the Roman Forum This small hotel is tucked down a medieval lane, on the edge of Monti, with the forums of several Roman emperors as neighbors. Its midsized rooms are sumptuously decorated, with designs that fuse the contemporary and baroque traditions of the city. The two rooms on the top floor have private gardens, which offer total tranquility, plus there’s a shared roof terrace where sunset aperitivo is served each evening with unforgettable views of the Vittoriano and the Palatine Hill. The ground floor even has its own archaeological dig. The Inn isn’t cheap, but the views alone more than make up for it.
Via degli Ibernesi 30. www.theinnattheromanforum.com. 06-69190970. 12 units. 210€-960€ double. Rates include breakfast. Parking 30€. Metro: Cavour. Amenities: Bar; concierge; room service; Wi-Fi (10€ per day).
Duca d’Alba Hip and chic Monti doesn’t have many full-service hotels—at least, not yet. The Duca d’Alba is located on one of the main drags, with all the nightlife and authentic dining you’ll need. Rooms in the main building are cozy (read: small) and contemporary, with modern furniture and gadgetry, but even smaller bathrooms. The annex rooms next door have a palazzo character, with terracotta-tiled floors, oak and cherrywood furniture, more space, and street-facing rooms that are soundproofed. Those on the second floor are the brightest. Tip: If you offer to pay in cash, you’ll receive a 12% discount.
Via Leonina 14. www.hotelducadalba.com. 06-484471. 33 units. 80€-395€ double. Rates include breakfast. Metro: Cavour. Amenities: Bar; babysitting (prebooking essential); Wi-Fi (free).
Lancelot Expect warmth and hospitality from the minute you walk in the door. The English-speaking staff, who all have been here for years, are the heart and soul of Lancelot, and the reason why the hotel has so many repeat guests. The room decor is simple, and most of the units are spacious, immaculately kept, and light-filled, thanks to large windows. Ask for the 6th-floor rooms that have private terraces overlooking Ancient Rome—they’re well worth the 20€ extra you pay. What makes this place truly remarkable are the genteel, chandelier-lit common areas for meeting other travelers, “Room With A View”-style. Unusual for Rome, there’s also private parking, for which you’ll need to book ahead.
Via Capo d’Africa 47. www.lancelothotel.com. 06-70450615. 61 units. 130€-196€ double. Rates include breakfast. Parking 10€ (prebooking essential). Bus: 53, 85, or 117. Amenities: Restaurant (set dinner 25€ incl. wine); bar; babysitting; Wi-Fi (free).
Nicolas Inn This tiny B&B, run by a welcoming American-Lebanese couple, makes the perfect base for those who want to concentrate on Rome’s ancient sights—the Colosseum is 1 block in one direction, the Forum 3 blocks in the other. Rooms are a good size and decorated with wrought iron beds, cool tiled floors, and heavy wooden furniture. Best of all, light floods in through large windows. Bathrooms were renovated in 2013. Guests take breakfast at a local bar—with unlimited coffee. Downers: no children under 5, no credit cards accepted.
Via Cavour 295. www.nicolasinn.com. 06-97618483. 4 units. 100€-180€ double. Rates include breakfast (at nearby cafe). Metro: Cavour or Colosseo. Amenities: Airport transfer (60€); concierge; Wi-Fi (free).
The Centro Storico & Pantheon
Travelers who want to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of Rome’s lively Renaissance heart will prefer staying in this area rather than the more commercial Tridente district, or quieter Vatican. You’ll be looking at a lot of walking, but that’s a reason many visitors come here in the first place—to wander and discover the glory that was and is Rome. Many restaurants and cafes are within an easy walk of all the hotels located here.
Del Sole al Pantheon This place oozes history, dating back, incredibly, to 1467. Famous guests have included Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, as well as Italian 15th-century poet Ludovico Ariosto and 19th-century composer Pietro Mascagni, among others. Rooms are decorated with lavish, period decor, lots of brocade drapery, fine fabrics, and classic furniture. Each room comes equipped with air conditioning and satellite TV, and some feature unbeatable views of the Pantheon.
Piazza della Rotonda 63. www.hotelsolealpantheon.com. 06-6780441. 32 units. 194€-415€ double. Rates include breakfast. Parking nearby 45€. Bus: 64. Amenities: Airport transfer (60€); bar; babysitting; room service; Wi-Fi (5€ per day; not available in annex building).
Raphael Planning on proposing? This ivy-covered palace, just off Piazza Navona, is just the kind of special-occasion place to pick, with luxurious rooms, enthusiastic staff, and a roof terrace with spectacular views across Rome. It’s a gorgeous hotel, highlighted by 20th-century artwork inside, including Picasso ceramics in the lobby, and paintings by Mirò, Morandi, and De Chirico scattered across the property. The standard rooms are all decorated in elegant Victorian style, with antique furnishings and hardwood floors. Some may prefer staying in the Richard Meier-designed quirky executive suites that blend contemporary with Asian design and feature oak paneling, contemporary art, and Carrara marble.
Largo Febo 2, Piazza Navona. www.raphaelhotel.com. 06-682831. 50 units. 212€-570€ double. Rates include breakfast. Valet parking 50€. Bus: 64. Amenities: Restaurant; bar; babysitting; concierge; exercise room; room service; sauna; Wi-Fi (free).
Residenza Farnese This little gem is tucked away in a stunning 15th-century mansion, within stumbling distance of the Campo de’ Fiori. Most rooms are spacious and artsy, with colorful comforters and wallpaper, tiled floors and a vaguely Renaissance theme. Standard rooms are a little smaller. If you book via the website with 21 days advance, a 10% discount is applied on every day of your stay. Another perk: the downright generous spread of fresh fruit, cheese, ham, sausage, egg, and yogurt for breakfast, plus a free minibar in each room.
Via del Mascherone 59. www.residenzafarneseroma.it. 06-68210980. 31 units. 85€-256€ double. Rates include breakfast. Parking 15€ (reservations required). Bus: 64, 70, 81, or 87. Amenities: Airport transfer (free with min. 4-night stay); bar; concierge; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Teatro di Pompeo History buffs will appreciate this small B&B, literally built on top of the ruins of the 1st-century Theatre of Pompey, where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death (p. 17). The lovely breakfast area beneath the lobby is actually part of the arcades of the old theater, with the original Roman stone walls. The large rooms themselves are not Roman in style, but feel plush, with exposed wood-beam ceilings, cherrywood furniture, and terracotta-tiled floors. Some rooms feature a view of the internal courtyard, while others overlook the small square, and all are quiet despite the Campo de’ Fiori crowds right behind the hotel. Staffmembers are extremely helpful, and they all speak English. Tip: Avoid the Trattoria Der Pallaro restaurant next door; it’s a tourist trap.
Largo del Pallaro 8. www.hotelteatrodipompeo.it. 06-68300170. 13 units. 165€-220€ double. Rates include breakfast. Bus: 46, 62, or 64. Amenities: Bar; babysitting; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Tridente & the Spanish Steps
The heart of the city is a great place to stay if you’re a serious shopper or enjoy the romantic, somewhat nostalgic locales of the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain. But expect to part with a lot of extra euro for the privilege. This is one of the most elegant areas in Rome.
Babuino 181 Leave Renaissance and baroque Italy far behind at this sleek, contemporary hotel, with relatively spacious rooms featuring Frette linens, iPod docks, and even a Nespresso machine for perfect cappuccino and espresso lovers. The bathrooms are heavy on the marble and mosaics, and shuttered windows with hefty curtains provide a perfectly blacked-out and quiet environment for light sleepers. Breakfast buffet is an additional 18€.
Via del Babuino 181. www.romeluxurysuites.com/babuino. 06-32295295. 24 units. 190€-530€ double. Metro: Flaminio. Amenities: Bar; airport transfer (65€); babysitting; concierge; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
The Inn at the Spanish Steps Set in one of Rome’s most desiderable locations on the famed Via dei Condotti shopping magnet, this lavish guesthouse is the epitome of luxe. Rooms are fantasias of design and comfort, some with parquet floors and cherubim frescoes on the ceiling, others decked out with wispy fabrics draping plush, canopied beds. Swank amenities include flatscreen TVs, iPod docks, a computer lending program, Jacuzzi tubs, double marble sinks, curling irons, pet amenities, etc.). Note that some rooms are located in the annex building, and these tend to be larger than the ones in the main building. The perfectly manicured rooftop garden provides beautiful views, to be enjoyed at breakfast—where there’s a generous buffet spread—or at sunset, frosted glass of vino in hand.
Via dei Condotti 85. www.atspanishsteps.com. 06-69925657. 24 units. 250€-750€ double. Rates include breakfast. Metro: Spagna. Amenities: Bar; babysitting; airport transfer (55€); concierge; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Villa Spalletti Trivelli This really is an experience rather than a hotel, an early-20th-century neoclassical villa remodeled into an exclusive 12-room guesthouse, where lodgers mingle in the gardens or the magnificent great hall, as if invited by an Italian noble for the weekend. There is no key for the entrance door; ring a bell and a staff member will open it for you, often offering you a glass of complimentary prosecco as a welcome. Onsite is a Turkish bath, a sizeable and modern oasis for those who want extra pampering, while rooms feature elegant antiques and Fiandra damask linen sheets, with sitting area or separate lounge, REN toiletries and satellite LCD TV. And the minibar? All free, all day.
Via Piacenza 4. www.villaspalletti.it. 06-48907934. 12 units. 410€-575€ double. Rates include breakfast. Free parking. Metro: Barberini. Amenities: Restaurant; bar; concierge; exercise room; room service; spa; sauna; Wi-Fi (free).
Hotel Adriano Secluded in a maze of small alleyways, but just 5 minutes from the Pantheon, the Adriano occupies an elegant 17th-century palazzo, yet the rooms boast an incredibly stylish and trendy, modern design with blond-wood built-ins and designer furniture carefully chosen for each room. The hotel drips with atmosphere. Note that if you opt for an “annex” room this is quite a different experience, more akin to a self-catering apartment. Wi-Fi can be unstable throughout.
Via di Pallacorda 2. www.hoteladriano.com. 06-68802451. 77 units. 85€-172€ double. Rates include breakfast. Parking nearby 40€. Bus: 175 or 492. Amenities: Bar; babysitting; bikes; concierge; gym; Wi-Fi (free).
Hotel Condotti This cozy guesthouse can be a tremendously good deal depending on when you stay and when you book (hint: Those who book well in advance and through a discounter get the best rates). For your money you’ll get a nondescript, motel-like room, though the common areas aspire higher with marble floors, antiques, tapestries, and a Venetian-glass chandelier. Overall it’s worth considering for its proximity to the Spanish Steps, great deals online (especially during off-season), and free Internet (with accees to terminals in the lobby).
Via Mario de’ Fiori 37. www.hotelcondotti.com. 06-6794661. 16 units. 65€ and way, way up. Rates include breakfast. Metro: Spagna. Amenities: Airport transfer (65€); bar; babysitting; bikes; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Panda Panda has long been popular among budget travelers, and its 20 rooms get booked up quickly. Rooms are spare, but not without a bit of old-fashioned charm, like characteristic Roman cotto (terracotta) floor tiles and exposed beams. The cheaper singles and doubles do not have a private bathroom; the triples are with full private bath only. The en-suite bathrooms tend to be cramped, however. Right outside your doorstep, there are several great cafes and wine bars where you can start the day with espresso beverages, or end your night with alcoholic ones.
Via della Croce 35. www.hotelpanda.it. 06-6780179. 28 units (8 with bathroom). 68€-78€ double without bathroom; 85€-108€ double with bathroom. Metro: Spagna. Amenities: Wi-Fi (free).
Parlamento Set on the top floors of a 17th-century palazzo, this is the best budget deal in the area, as all of its rooms have private bathrooms and are equipped with flatscreen satellite TVs, desks, exposed beams, and parquet or terracotta floors. Breakfast is served on the rooftop terrace—you can also chill up there with a glass of wine in the evening. Note that air-conditioning usually costs a little extra. The Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and Pantheon are all within a 5- to 10-minute walk.
Via delle Convertite 5 (at Via del Corso). www.hotelparlamento.it. 06-69921000. 23 units. 98€-212€ double. Rates include breakfast. Parking nearby 30€. Metro: Spagna. Amenities: Airport transfer 55€; bar; concierge; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Via Veneto & Piazza Barberini
If you stay in this area, you definitely won’t be on the wrong side of the tracks. Unlike the streets around the rail station, this is a beautiful and upscale commercial neighborhood, near some of Rome’s best shopping.
Deko Rome Honeymooners love Deko Rome, but then, so does everyone who stays here. It is, quite simply, an exceptionally warm and welcoming place, a true boutique hotel (just nine rooms) occupying the second floor of an elegant early-20th-century palazzo. The interior blends antiques, vintage 60s pieces, and contemporary design for rooms that are chic in a way that’s happily retro and quite comfortable; as a bonus, each room comes with an iPad and flatscreen TV. Add in the friendly, fun owners (Marco and Serena) and excellent location, close to Via Veneto, and Deko is understandably incredibly popular. It fills up quickly—reservations many months in advance are essential. Save 20€ if you pay in cash.
Via Toscana 1. www.dekorome.com. 06-42020032. 9 units. 200€-230€. Rates include breakfast. Parking (nearby) 25€. Bus: 910 (from Termini). Amenities: Airport transfer (50€); bar; babysitting; Wi-Fi (free).
Daphne Trevi & Daphne Veneto These jointly managed B&B properties, minutes from the Trevi fountain, are a relatively good value, even in the summer. Daphne Trevi occupies an 18th-century building with a range of rooms, and Daphne Veneto is a 19th-century structure with single rooms and larger doubles (rooms on the third and fourth floors have rooftop views). In both locations the staff is super helpful. The rooms are also similar in both: cozy and clean (but no TVs), with small showers and desktop or laptop computers for guests’ use (but note that Wi-Fi isn’t great in most rooms; the first floor is best). The main difference between the two is location; Trevi lies on an older, quieter cobblestone street, and Veneto is on a wider, busier thoroughfare.
Via di San Basilio 55. www.daphne-rome.com. 06-87450086. 8 units. 130€-230€ double. Rates include breakfast. Nearby parking 30€. Metro: Barberini. Amenities: Airport transfers (55€); Wi-Fi (free).
La Residenza Considering its location just off Via Veneto, this hotel is a smart deal, with renovated, modern rooms, all relatively spacious with a couple of easy chairs or a small couch in addition to a desk. Families with children are especially catered to, with quad rooms and junior suites on the top floor featuring a separate kids’ alcove with two sofa beds, and an outdoor terrace with patio furniture. In addition to free Wi-Fi in the rooms, there are terminals in the lobby where you can check the Internet. The breakfast buffet is excellent and includes quality cold cuts and cheeses, homemade breads and pastries. Two more perks: free Friday cocktails, and a welcome fruit basket on arrival.
Via Emilia 22-24. www.hotel-la-residenza.com. 06-4880789. 29 units. 120€-250€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Parking (limited) 20€. Metro: Barberini. Amenities: Bar; babysitting; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Known for its concentration of cheap hotels, the Termini area is about the only part of the center where you can bag a high-season double for under 100€. The streets around Termini station are not the most picturesque, and parts of the neighborhood are downright seedy, but it’s very convenient for transportation and access to most of Rome’s top sights. Termini is the only spot where Rome’s two Metro lines intersect, and buses and trams leave from the concourse outside to every part of the city.
There are some upscale hotels around here, but if you have the dollars to spend on a truly luxe hotel, choose a prettier neighborhood.
Residenza Cellini And for every rule, there’s an exception. In this case, the lovely Cellini is the exception to the “don’t spend top dollar to stay near Termini” rule. The feeling of refinement begins the second you walk through the door to find a vase of fresh lilies in the elegant, high-ceilinged hall. Antique-styled rooms are proudly traditional, with thick walls (so no noise from your neighbors), solid Selva furniture and handsome parquet floors. It’s not all about the past, however: Beds have orthopedic mattresses topped with memory foam, everything is made from anti-allergenic, natural materials, and there’s satellite TV, splendid bathrooms with Jacuzzi bathtub or hydro-jet showers; and air conditioning to keep rooms cool all summer. Service is top notch and wonderfully personal.
Via Modena 5. www.residenzacellini.it. 06-47825204. 11 units. 145€-240€ double. Rates include breakfast. Parking 35€. Metro: Repubblica. Amenities: Babysitting (prebooking essential); Wi-Fi (free).
Capitolium Rooms This intimate B&B occupies the second-floor wing of a handsome townhouse. The rooms are well lit, with antique-style white furniture, and beds with soft mattresses. Sure, the decor is a little old-fashioned, but so is the warmth of the welcome. Pricing, especially out of high season (Apr-June), is negotiable—email them directly and strike a deal, but insist on one of the five rooms with a view over the leafy colonial square. A couple of units are also large enough for families.
Via Montebello 104. www.capitoliumrooms.com. 06-4464917. 7 units. 90€-220€ double. Rates include breakfast. Parking 15€-22€. Metro: Termini or Castro Pretorio. Amenities: Wi-Fi (free).
Seven Kings Relais There’s a hipster retro feel to the decor of this striking hotel, kitted out with dark wooden furniture, chocolate-brown bedspreads and modern tiled floors. Rooms are also unusually large—especially nos. 104, 201, and 205. Despite its location right on one of Rome’s busiest thoroughfares, there’s no noise: An external courtyard and modern soundproofing see to that. Breakfast is a 24-hour self-service bar with tea, coffee, and biscuits, and the reception staff work around the clock.
Via XX Settembre 58A. www.7kings.eu. 06-42917784. 11 units. 90€-220€ double. Metro: Repubblica. Amenities: Babysitting (prebooking essential); Wi-Fi (free).
Aphrodite It’s all about value and location at this oasis of tranquility right across the street from the chaos of Termini station—though there is a high convenience/poor character tradeoff. Still, these modern rooms are spotless, with wood floors and pretty bathrooms boasting sinks with polished travertine counters. The California-style rooftop terrace and friendly service are a further bonus. Need more convincing? The Terravision airport bus stops right outside. One warning: If you are a light sleeper, request a room at the back, or bring powerful earplugs.
Via Marsala 90. www.hotelaphrodite.com. 06-491096. 60 units. 90€-250€ double. Rates include breakfast. Metro: Termini. Amenities: Bar; babysitting (prebooking essential); concierge; Wi-Fi (free).
Beehive Conceived as part hostel and part hotel, the Beehive is a unique Rome lodging experience. The eco-minded American owners offer rooms for a variety of budgets. Some have private bathrooms, others have shared facilities or are actual six-bed dorms—but all are decorated with flair, adorned with artworks or flea-market treasures. The garden with trees and secluded reading/relaxing spaces is the biggest plus. There’s also a walk-in American breakfast, open to all-comers, where you can get fruit, oatmeal, or eggs any way you like, weekend brunches, and value vegan buffets some evenings (8€ including a glass of wine).
Via Marghera 8. www.the-beehive.com. 06-44704553. 12 units. 70€-80€ double; dorm beds 25€-35€. Metro: Termini or Castro Pretorio. Amenities: Restaurant; Wi-Fi (free).
Euro Quiris There’s not a frill in sight at this government-rated one star a couple of blocks north of the station. Rooms are on the 5th floor and simply decorated with functional furniture, but they are spotless, and mattresses are a lot more comfortable than you have a right to expect in this price bracket. Bathrooms are a good size, too. Friendly reception staff dispenses sound local knowledge, including on where to have breakfast in cafes nearby, and the Beehive’s American breakfast is just round the corner (see above). No credit cards accepted.
Via dei Mille 64. www.euroquirishotel.com. 06-491279. 9 units. 40€-160€ double. Metro: Termini. Amenities: Wi-Fi (free).
This was once an “undiscovered” neighborhood—but no longer. Being based here does give some degree of escape from the busy (and pricey) centro storico, however. And there are bars, shops, and restaurants galore among its narrow, cobblestone lanes. The panorama from the Gianicolo (p. 109) is also walkable from pretty much everywhere in Trastevere.
Arco del Lauro Hidden in Trastevere’s snaking alleyways, this serene little B&B is split between two adjacent sites on the ground floor of a shuttered pink palazzo. Rooms have parquet floors and simple decor, with a mix of modern and period furnishings, but modern, plush beds. Rooms can’t be defined as large, but they all feel spacious thanks to original, lofty wood ceilings. Breakfast is taken at a nearby cafe; there’s also coffee and snacks laid out around the clock. Credit cards are not accepted.
Via Arco de’ Tolomei 29. www.arcodellauro.it. 06-97840350. 6 units. 85€-145€ double. Rates include breakfast (at nearby cafe). Bus: 125/Tram: 8. Amenities: Babysitting (2 weeks’ prebook-ing essential); Wi-Fi (free).
San Francesco There’s a local feel to staying here that has disappeared from much of Trastevere, perhaps because it’s at the very edge of the neighborhood, close to the Porta Portese gate in an area that hasn’t been gentrified, nor over-exploited. All rooms renovated in 2013 are bright, with color-washed walls and modern tiling. Doubles are fairly small, but the bathrooms are palatial. The grand piano in the lobby adds a touch of old-time charm; a top-floor garden with bar overlooks terracotta rooftops and pealing church bell towers.
Via Jacopo de Settesoli 7. www.hotelsanfrancesco.net. 06-48300051. 24 units. 69€-250€ double. Price includes breakfast. Parking 20€-25€. Bus: 44 or 125. Amenities: Bar; babysitting (prebooking essential); Wi-Fi (free).
WHERE TO EAT
Rome remains a top destination for foodies, and offers more dining diversity today than ever. Many of its trattorie haven’t changed their menus in a quarter of a century, but there’s an increasing number of creative places with chefs willing to experiment and revisit tradition.
Restaurants generally serve lunch between 1 and 2:30pm, and dinner between about 8 and 10:30pm. At all other times, most restaurants are closed—though a new generation is moving toward all-day dining, with a limited service at the “in-between” time of mid-afternoon.
If you have your heart set on any of these establishments below, we seriously recommend reserving ahead of arrival. Hot tables go quickly, especially on high-season weekends—often twice: once for the early dining tourists, and then again by locals, who dine later, typically around 9pm.
A servizio (tip or service charge) is almost always added to your bill, or included in the price. Sometimes it is marked on the menu as coperto e servizio (bread, cover charge, and service). You can of course leave extra if you wish—a couple of euros as a token. Don’t go overboard on the tipping front, and watch out for unsavory practices. More than once we have overheard waitstaff telling foreign tourists that service wasn’t included, when the menu clearly stated (in Italian) that it was.
Vatican City & Prati
If you just want a quick, light meal, there’s a branch of L’Insalata Ricca, a salad-and-quick-meals chain, right across from the Vatican walls at Piazza del Risorgimento 5 (www.linsalataricca.it; 06-39730387; daily noon-3:30pm and 7pm-midnight).
Taverna Angelica MODERN ITALIAN/SEAFOOD Considering how close this restaurant is to St. Peter’s, it offers surprisingly good value for the money. Specialties include spaghetti with crunchy bacon and leeks, fettuccine with king prawns and eggplant, turbot with crushed almonds, and a delectable black-bread encrusted lamb with potato flan. The seafood is always fresh and simply cooked, from octopus carpaccio to sea bream with rosemary. Service is excellent, and the wine list carefully selected. Save room for the addictive chocolate dessert. Reservations are required.
Piazza A. Capponi 6. www.tavernaangelica.it. 06-6874514. Main courses 20€-24€; pastas 10€-14€. Daily 7pm-midnight; Sun noon-2:30pm. Closed 10 days in Aug. Metro: Ottaviano.
Pizzarium PIZZA Known for good reason as the “Michelangelo of pizza,” celebrity chef Gabriele Bonci has always had a cult following in the Eternal City. And since he’s been featured on TV shows overseas as well as written up by influential bloggers, you can expect long lines at his hole-in-the-wall pizzeria. No matter—it’s worth waiting for some of the best pizza you’ll ever taste, sold by the slice or by weight. His ingredients are fresh and organic, the crust is perfect, and the toppings often experimental (try the mortadella and crumbled pistachio, or the beguiling roasted potatoes and mozzarella. Hang around, as toppings change in quick rotation. There’s also a good choice of Italian craft IPAs and wheat beers, and wines by the glass. Note that there are only a couple of benches outside for seating, and reservations aren’t taken.
Via della Meloria 43. 06-39745416. Pizza 12€-14€ for large tray. Mon-Sat 11am-10pm, Sun 1-10pm. Metro: Cipro.
Romeo MODERN ITALIAN This collaboration between the Roscioli bakery dynasty, and Michelin-star chef Cristina Bowerman of Glass (p. 89), offers a refreshing, contemporary detour from traditional Roman cooking, with American-inspired sandwiches, burgers, and creative pasta dishes served in sleek, modern premises. Musts include the signature foie gras sandwich served with sweet mango mayonnaise, and ravioli stuffed with asparagus and Castel-magno cheese. The restaurant proper is in the back but you can opt for a more casual lunch of pizza, quiches, or sandwiches from the counters up front.
Via Silla 26/a. www.romeo.roma.it. 06-32110120. Main courses 12€-24€. Mon-Sat 9am-midnight, Sun 10am-midnight. Metro: Ottaviano.
Il Gelato Bistrò GELATO Claudio Torcè’s artisanal ice cream shop is credited with starting a natural, gluten-free gelato movement in Rome, but what makes this place really enticing (and why it doesn’t really fit on our recommended “classic” gelato list; p. 91) are its savory flavors (out of a total 150), especially good during the happy hour aperitivo (dubbed aperigelato), when wine and cocktails are served. Prepare for gelato made from sweet bell peppers, chili, green tea, and even oyster and smoked salmon, paired with crudités, cold cuts, and even sushi. Purists can still get an incredible chocolate and pistachio, too, plus free Wi-Fi.
Circonvallazione Trionfale 11/13. 06-39725949. Cup from 2.50€. Tues-Thurs 8am-11pm, Fri 8am-midnight, Sat 9am-1am, Sun 9am-midnight. Metro: Cipro.
Panificio Bonci BAKERY The newest addition to the Gabriele Bonci empire is not another pizzeria but a traditional bakery, with naturally leavened bread (including seasonal delights, such as pumpkin bread), cakes, cookies, croissants, and puffy pizzette with tomato sauce, sold by weight. Bonci also serves up fabulous slices of pizza bianca here, and on Saturdays, he stuffs them with some of the juiciest, crispiest Bernabei porchetta (the best in the capital).
Via Trionfale 36. 06-39734457. Cakes, pizza 3€-5€. Mon-Sat 7:30-10pm; Sun 9:30am-3pm (July-Aug Mon-Sat 9:30am-3pm and 5-9pm). Closed 1 week in mid-Aug. Metro: Ottaviano.
Ancient Rome, Monti & Celio
If all you need is a sandwich, there’s no beating Gaudeo, Via del Boschetto 112 (www.gaudeo.it; 06-98183689), where a freshly baked roll loaded with the finest prosciutto, mozzarella, salami, and a whole lot more costs between 4€ and 10€.
InRoma al Campidoglio ITALIAN Once a social club for Rome’s film industry, InRoma sits on a cobbled lane opposite the Palatine Hill. The food is consistently good thanks to careful sourcing of premier ingredients from around Italy. Meals might start with caprese di bufala affumicata (salad of tomatoes and smoked buffalo mozzarella) followed by tagliata (griddled beef strip steak) with a red wine reduction. You can eat inside in an understated romantic setting, but we recommend you reserve on the terrace for a table to remember. A 10€ light lunch is based on classic Roman pastas like all’amatriciana (cured pork, tomato, and pecorino cheese).
Via dei Fienili 56. www.inroma.eu. 06-69191024. Main courses 18€-30€. Daily noon-4pm and 6:30-11:30pm. Bus: C3, 80D, 81, 160, or 628.
Caffè Propaganda MODERN ITALIAN This all-day eatery—part lively Parisian bistro, part cocktail bar—is a safe bet for scoring a good meal within eyeshot of the Colosseum. Diners lounge on caramel-colored leather banquettes and choose from a diverse menu that mixes Roman classics such as carbonara (pasta with cured pork, egg, and cheese), with familiar international dishes like Caesar salad (or an 18€ hamburger). When the chef gets whimsical, he offers treats like deep-fried alici (whole anchovy) served in a paper bag. Service is relaxed by North American standards, so only eat here if you have time to linger. The mixology department skillfully assembles Propaganda’s signature cocktails.
Via Claudia 15. www.caffepropaganda.it. 06-94534255. Main courses 10€-18€. Tues-Sun 12:30pm-12:30am. Metro: Colosseo/Tram: 3.
La Barrique MODERN ROMAN This cozy, contemporary enoteca (a wine bar with food) has a kitchen that knocks out farm-to-table fresh fare that complements the well-chosen wine list. The atmosphere is lively and informal, with rustic place settings and friendly service—as any proper enoteca should be. Dishes come in hearty portions on a daily-changing menu. Expect the likes of bocconcini di baccalà (salt-cod morsels), crispy on the outside and served with a rich tomato sauce; or crostone (a giant crostino) topped with grilled burrata cheese, chicory, and cherry tomatoes. Wines are available by the glass, quarter-liter, or half-liter.
Via del Boschetto 41B. 06-47825953. Main courses 10€-18€. Mon-Fri 12:30-2:30pm; Mon-Sat 6:30-11:30pm. Metro: Cavour.
La Campana ROMAN/TRADITIONAL ITALIAN Rome’s oldest and most traditional restaurant is located in a small alley a stone’s throw from Piazza Navona and the Pantheon. Family atmosphere and a classic Roman elegance permeate the spacious, well-lit rooms. The atmosphere is convivial yet refined, with a lovely mixture of regulars and locals. There’s a broad selection of antipasti displayed on a long table at the entrance, and the menu (which changes daily) features authentic cucina romana classics like pasta with oxtail ragout, tripe, gnocchi, cacio e pepe, and myriad vegetarian choices. The wine list includes interesting local labels, and the staff and service are impeccable.
Vicolo della Campana 18. www.ristorantelacampana.com. 06-6875273. Main courses 12€-18€. Tues-Sun noon-3pm and 7:30-11pm. Bus: 30, 70, 81, 87, 186, 492, or 628.
L’Asino d’Oro CONTEMPORARY UMBRIAN/ROMAN This isn’t your typical Roman eatery. Helmed by Lucio Sforza, a renowned chef from Orvieto, L’Asino d’Oro offers a seriously refined take on the flavors of central Italy without a checked tablecloth in sight; instead, the setting is contemporary with a Scandinavian feel thanks to the light-wood interior. As for the food, it’s marked by creativity and flair, in both flavor and presentation. Expect bizarre pairings and flavor combos—like lumache in umido piccante al finocchietto selvatico (snail stew with wild fennel) or fettuccine in duck liver and vin santo sauce—but they work!
Via del Boschetto 73. www.facebook.com/asinodoro. 06-48913832. Main courses 13€-17€. Tues-Sat 12:30-2:30pm; Mon-Sat 7:30-10:30pm. Closed last 2 weeks in Aug. Metro: Cavour.
Li Rioni PIZZA This fab neighborhood pizzeria is close enough to the Colosseum to be convenient, but just distant enough to avoid the dreaded “touristy” label that applies to so much dining in this part of town. Roman-style pizzas baked in the wood-stoked oven are among the best in town, with perfect crisp crusts. There’s also a bruschetta list (from around 4€) and a range of salads. Outside tables can be cramped, but there’s plenty of room inside. If you want to eat late, booking is essential or you’ll be fighting for a table with hungry locals.
Via SS. Quattro 24. 06-70450605. Pizzas 5.50€-9€. Wed-Mon 7:30-11:30pm. Bus: 53, 85, or 117.
Centro Storico & the Pantheon
Vegetarians looking for massive salads (or anyone who just wants a break from all those heavy meats and starches) can find great food at the neighborhood branch of L’Insalata Ricca, Largo dei Chiavari 85 (www.linsalataricca.it; 06-68803656; daily noon-midnight). It also offers free Wi-Fi.
Da Pancrazio ROMAN At this traditional Roman restaurant, the premises almost outshine the food. The restaurant’s built over the ruins of the 1st-century B.C. Theatre of Pompey (where Julius Caesar was infamously murdered), and its various dining rooms and spaces are decked out with charming historical decor, from Roman-style benches and carved capitals to Belle Epoque paintings and furnishings (the restaurant opened in 1922). As for the menu, go for the classic Roman fare the kitchen does best, such as abbacchio al forno con patate (baked lamb with potatoes) or the spaghetti alla carbonara.
Piazza del Biscione 92. www.dapancrazio.it. 06-6861246. Main courses 15€-27€. Thurs-Tues 12:30-3pm and 7:30pm-11pm. Closed 3 weeks in Aug. Bus: 46, 64, 84, or 916 to Largo di Torre Argentina.
Osteria dell’Antiquario MODERN ITALIAN/ROMAN Here’s a romantic restaurant, where tables are lit by candlelight in the evenings and in the summer you can sit on the terrace overlooking the Palazzo Lancillotti. The menu is mostly Roman, but there are inventive detours such as lobster soup, linguine with grouper sauce, gnocchi with clams and wild mushrooms, or a special cannelloni. Fresh fish here is especially good, with tuna, turbot, prawns, and swordfish brought in daily.
Piazzetta di S. Simeone 26-27, Via dei Coronari. www.osteriadellantiquario.it. 06-6879694. Main courses 15€-30€. Daily 7-11pm; Sept-June also daily noon-2:30pm. Closed 15 days in mid-Aug, Christmas, and Jan 6-30. Bus: 70, 81, or 90.
Alfredo e Ada ROMAN No menus here, just the waiter—and its usually owner Sergio explaining, in Italian, what the kitchen is preparing that day. You’ll typically be offered Roman trattoria classics like eggplant parmigiana, artichoke lasagna, excellent carbonara, or tripe. The whole place oozes character, with shared tables, scribbled walls festooned with drawings and paintings, and the house wine poured into carafes from a tap in the wall. With only five tables, try to make a reservation or get here early. This sort of place is becoming rare in Rome—enjoy it while you can.
Via dei Banchi Nuovi 14. 06-6878842. Main courses 10€-18€. Tues-Sat 12:30pm-midnight. Closed Aug. Bus: 46B, 98, 870, or 881.
Armando al Pantheon ROMAN/VEGETARIAN Despite being just a few steps from the Pantheon, this typical Roman trattoria remains an authentic, family-owned business serving as many locals as tourists. Chef Armando Gargioli took over the place in 1961 and his sons now run the business. Roman favorites to look out for include the pasta e ceci (pasta and chickpeas; Fri only), the Jewish-influenced aliciotti all’indivia (endive and roasted anchovies; Tues only), and the fabulous abbacchio (roast lamb). Another bonus: Vegetarians get their own, fairly extensive, menu. Good wine list with local labels.
Salita dei Crescenzi 31. www.armandoalpantheon.it. 06-68803034. Main courses 10€-24€. Mon-Fri noon-3pm and 7-11pm; Sat noon-3pm. Closed Aug. Bus: 30, 40, 62, 64, 81, or 492.
Nonna Betta ROMAN/JEWISH Though not strictly kosher, this is the only restaurant in the Roman Jewish ghetto historically owned and managed by Roman Jews. Traditional “nonna” dishes include delicious carciofi alla giudia, deep-fried artichokes, served with small pieces of fried food, like battered cod filet, stuffed and fried zucchini flowers, carrot sticks, and whatever vegetable is in season. Don’t forego the baccalà with onions and tomato or the tagliolini with chicory and mullet roe. There are Middle Eastern specialties such as falafel and couscous on the menu as well, and all desserts are homemade, including a stellar pistachio cake.
Via del Portico d’Ottavia 16. www.nonnabetta.it. 06-68806263. Main courses 10€. Sun-Fri noon-3pm and 7-11pm. Bus: 23, 63, 280, 630, or 780.
Antico Forno Roscioli BAKERY The Rosciolis have been running this celebrated bakery for three generations, though the premises has been knocking out bread since at least 1824. Today it’s home of the finest crusty sourdough in Rome, fruit tarts, and addictive chocolate croissants, as well as exceptional Roman-style pizza bianca and pizza rossa. Note that this is a take-out joint, with very limited seating inside and only a few stand-up tables out front—and the wider range of pizza toppings is only available from noon to 2:30pm. But you could always take your food to nearby Piazza Farnese. The unmissable Roscioli restaurant and salumeria is around the corner, at Via dei Giubbonari 21.
Via dei Chiavari 34. www.salumeriaroscioli.com. 06-6864045. Pizza from 4.50€ (sold by weight). Mon-Sat 7am-7:30pm. Tram: 8.
Tridente & the Spanish Steps
The historic cafes near the Spanish Steps drip with history but, sadly, tend to be overpriced tourist traps, where mediocre cakes or even a cup of coffee or tea will cost 5€. Nevertheless, you may want to pop inside the two most celebrated institutions: Babington’s Tea Rooms (www.babingtons.com; 06-6786027; daily 10am-9:30pm), which was established in 1893 at the foot of the Spanish Steps by a couple of English signore, and Caffè Greco, Via dei Condotti 86 (www.anticocaffegreco.eu; 06-6791700; daily 9am-8pm), Rome’s oldest bar, opening in 1760 and hosting Keats, Ibsen, Goethe, and many other historical cognoscenti.
Café Romano CONTEMPORARY ROMAN The official restaurant of the posh Hotel d’Inghilterra lies on one of Rome’s “fashion streets,” a suitably upscale location for this temple to fine dining. Chef Antonio Vitale is the current maestro, his seasonal, contemporary menus utilizing fresh produce and riffing on traditional Roman dishes. Starters such as zucchini flower stuffed with buffalo mozzarella and burrata cheese are classic. The pasta with potatoes, tomatoes, and pork cheek adds some of his Neapolitan hometown flavor. For the main course, the duck leg served with potato pie and roasted duck breast with wild berries is a refined, tantalizing version of a Roman favorite.
In Hotel d’Inghilterra, Via Borgognona 4. www.royaldemeure.com. 06-69981500. Main courses 16€-31€. Daily 7-10:30am and noon-10:30pm. Metro: Spagna.
Canova Tadolini ROMAN Few restaurants are so steeped in history as this place. Antonio Canova’s sculpture studio was kept as a workshop by the descendants of his pupil Adamo Tadolini until 1967, explaining why even today it is littered with tools and sculptures in bronze, plaster, and marble. The whole thing really does seem like a museum, with tables squeezed between models, drapes, and bas-reliefs. The Sala Giulio is dominated by a giant copy of a statue of Pope Leo XIII (the original stands on the Pope’s tomb) by Giulio Tadolini (grandson of Adamo), while the whimsical (and slightly creepy) Sala Anatomia is decorated with odd bits of marble arms, legs, and thighs once attached to complete sculptures. The pasta menu features tasty versions of spaghetti alle vongole and alla carbonara, while entrees offer more interest, from the veal chop grilled and served with rustic potatoes and rosemary, to the sliced beef salad with arugula, cherry tomatoes, and Parmesan.
Via del Babuino 150A-B. www.canovatadolini.com. 06-32110702. Main courses 11€-25€. Mon-Sat 8am-8:30pm. Metro: Spagna.
Imàgo INTERNATIONAL The views of Rome from this 6th-floor hotel restaurant are jaw-dropping, a gorgeous panorama of the old city laid out before you, glowing pink as the sun goes down. The food is equally special, with chef Francesco Apreda’s reinterpretation of Italian cuisine, which borrows heavily from Indian and Japanese culinary schools. The Michelin star-awarded menus change seasonally, but might include duck breast tandoori-style, sake-glazed black cod with purple baby vegetables, or even a lavender-flavored casserole of quail and sea scallops. Reservations are essential; jackets required for men.
In Hotel Hassler, Piazza della Trinità dei Monti 6. www.hotelhasslerroma.com. 06-69934726. Main courses 39€-46€; 9-course dégustation menu 140€; 6-course vegetarian menu 120€. Daily 7:30-10:30pm. Metro: Spagna.
Il Bacaro MODERN ITALIAN Although it’s housed in a 17th-century palazzo, this is a modern Roman bistro with contemporary takes on traditional trattoria dishes. Expect pasta with swordfish or tuna, or the braised skewer of prawns wrapped in precious melting strips of lardo, served on vegetable velouté, and Argentine beef steaks dotted with flecks of pâté, or, when available, shaved white truffles from Piedmont. Desserts revolve around a sensational selection of mousses paired with Bavarian chocolate, hazelnuts, caramel, and pistachio. The wine list features more than 600 labels, many well-priced varietals from all over Italy, and with just as much attention paid to French wines.
Via degli Spagnoli 27 (near Piazza delle Coppelle). www.ilbacaroroma.com. 06-6872554. Main courses 14€-24€. Daily 10am-midnight. Metro: Spagna.
Via Veneto & Piazza Barberini
Cesarina EMILIANA-ROMAGNOLA Famous for its Romagna-style homemade pastas, meat stews, and fresh fish, this lovely old trattoria once attracted a celebrity clientele, including legendary director Federico Fellini and his wife and muse, Giulietta Masina. Today, the menu features a blend of dishes from Emilia-Romagna, including tagliatelle alla Bolognese (a rich, meaty ragout) carello dei bolliti (assorted boiled meats with trademark sauces), and excellent Parmigiano-Reggiano aged cheeses.
Via Piemonte 109. www.ristorantecesarinaroma.it. 06-42013432. Main courses 10€-25€; Bolognese tasting menu 40€. Mon-Sat 12:30-3pm and 7:30-11pm. Bus: 53 or 910.
Colline Emiliane EMILIANA-ROMAGNOLA This family-owned restaurant tucked in an alley beside the the Trevi Fountain has been serving traditional dishes from Emilia-Romagna since 1931. Service is excellent and so is the food: Classics include tortelli di zucca (pumpkin stuffed pasta pockets flavored with crushed Amaretto biscuits) and magnificent tagliatelle alla Bolognese. Save room for the chocolate tart or lemon meringue pie for dessert. Reservations are essential.
Via degli Avignonesi 22 (off Piazza Barberini). 06-4817538. Main courses 14€-25€. Tues-Sun 12:30-2:45pm; Tues-Sat 7:30-10:45pm. Closed Sun in July and all of Aug. Metro: Barberini.
La Terrazza dell’Eden MODERN ITALIAN/INTERNATIONAL This restaurant on the top floor of the Hotel Eden offers superb cuisine and breathtaking views that sweep from Villa Borghese below, all the way to St. Peter’s. Exciting young chef Fabio Ciervo offers an interesting angle on continental classics; starters may include smoked lobster with wild black rice, and will set the stage for fragrant risotto with cherries, Champagne rosé, and pigeon de Bresse and more tempting choices of pastas. Menus change seasonally, but expect a range of fresh fish like sea bass, mullet, and turbot dishes, and some twists on Roman-style meat courses, from lamb in a crust of mixed herbs with mushrooms and lemon thyme sauce; to roast saddle of venison and suckling pig sausage with Bronte pistachio, jazzed up with a piquant quince and liquorice sauce. Forget showing up without an advance reservation.
In Hotel Eden, Via Ludovisi 49. www.laterrazzadelleden.com. 06-47812752. Main courses 35€-55€; 6-course fixed-price gourmet menu, excluding wine 120€. Daily 12:30-2:30pm and 7:30-10:30pm. Metro: Barberini.
Villa Borghese & Parioli
Al Ceppo MARCHIGIANA/ROMAN The setting of this Parioli dining institution is that of an elegant, 19th-century parlor with family portraits on the walls, chandeliers, flower arrangements, and an open kitchen whose main feature is the wood-stoked oven, where various meats are roasted before your eyes. Service is performed with the grace proper of the two sisters running it. Cristina and Marisa are originally from the Le Marche region northeast of Rome, and regional hallmark dishes are represented here: marchigiana-style rabbit, fish stews, fresh fish, and porchetta. But you’ll also find also veal, pork, and a variety of pastas. If the braised beef cheek is on the menu, don’t forego the mystical experience.
Via Panama 2 (near Piazza Ungheria). www.ristorantealceppo.it. 06-8419696. Main courses 18€-32€. Tues-Sun 12:30-3pm and 8-11pm. Closed last 2 weeks in Aug. Bus: 52 or 910.
Metamorfosi MODERN ITALIAN The prestigious Michelin star-awarded restaurant is a feast for both the eyes and the tastebuds. The minimalistic decor—soft tones of chocolate and beige dotted with subtle floral accents—balances the cuisine’s flair for astonishing creations. Chef Roy Caceres, a native of Colombia, likes to trigger emotions in his guests, spanning beyond smell and taste, and telling a story with each beautifully crafted dish. With a penchant for squab dishes, Caceres shines in risotto and pasta preparations, along with elegant meat and fish interpretations. Be prepared for creamy cheese ravioli mixed with salmon, hazelnut, and smoked pepper; risotto wrapped in a thin saffron film; winsomely presented glazed eel with farro and sweet onion sorbet; and crispy lamb with almonds, eggplant, and gin-juniper ice cream. The menu also offers two creative tasting menus, each featuring the restaurant’s showpieces, and diners can benefit from the helpful guidance of a very talented sommelier.
Via Giovanni Antonelli 30/32. www.metamorfosiroma.it. 06-8076839. Main courses 25€-30€. Mon-Fri 12:30-3pm and 8-11:30pm; Sat 7:30-midnight. Bus: 168, 223, 910 and 926.
Al Vero Girarrosto Toscano TUSCAN This Dolce Vita stalwart has been popular with celebrities and gourmands since its opening in the 1960s. Since then, the restaurant’s praised traditional Roman cuisine has been slowly replaced by universally acclaimed Tuscan recipes, for which it now draws the same VIP crowds and carnivores south of the Arno. The decor is as classic as the menu, with warm wood paneling, elegant finishings, and a cozy fireplace that doubles as open-hearth grill. Don’t miss classic Tuscan hors d’oeuvres like liver crostini and assorted bruschettas, but do focus your attention on equally classic hearty soups like pasta and beans and droolsome ribollita (minestrone enhanced with kale, cannellini beans, and bread). Grilled meats play a starring role here with girarrosto (Tuscan barbecue) classics like the Fiorentina (a 2-lb. T-bone steak), succulent tenderloin, filet, or a platter of mixed grilled ribs, chops, and sausage. There’s a good wine list, with a clear slant toward regional labels.
Via Campania 29. www.alverogirarrostotoscano.it. 06-42013045. Main courses 18€-35€. Daily 12:30-3pm and 7:30pm-midnight. Bus: 52, 53, 217, 360 or 910.
See the map on p. 77 for restaurants listed in this section.
Da Danilo ROMAN The general rule is: Don’t dine near the station, but there are a few exceptions. Rightly popular with Romans on business lunches and cucina romana aficionados, this intimate eatery offers authentic Rome and Lazio fare, prepared with quality local ingredients. Don’t let the informal setting—homey wood paneling and soccer celebrity photos on the walls—trick you: This trattoria’s fine food and attention to detail ranks it as some of Rome’s best local cuisine. Classics include one of the city’s best cacio e pepe pasta dish (sheep’s milk Pecorino cheese and black pepper), served out of a massive, scooped out Pecorino cheese round; the house carbonara, creamy and egg-forward; and homemade gnocchi served, as traditions dictates, exclusively on Thursday. The beef tartare, grilled lambchops, and lardo-laced ribeyes are menu strong points, as any other daily meat special. The wine list features a good choice of elegant Lazio labels, and there are always interesting tastings and events hosted in the small private room.
Pick up a Gina “PicNic”
The best place for a picnic in Rome is the Borghese Gardens, now made super-easy thanks to Gina PicNic, Via San Sebastianello 7a (www.ginaroma.com; 06-6780251; daily 11am-8pm), just 1 block downhill from the park. It’s not cheap, but it’s certainly elegant. Gina’s deli will provide you with a picnic basket complete with a thermos of Italian coffee, glasses, and fine linens for a meal to be enjoyed in the fabled gardens. For 40€, two people can enjoy quiches, salads, huge panini stuffed with a variety of meats, tomato, eggplant, and mozzarella, along with a fresh fruit salad, chocolate dessert, biscotti, water, and even wine (20€ extra). Order 1 day before and pick up around noon; return the basket when you’re done.
Via Petrarca 13. www.trattoriadadanilo.it. 06-77200111. Main courses 12€-17€. Tues-Sat 12:30-3pm and 7:30-midnight. Closed 2 weeks in Aug. Metro: Vittorio Emanuele and Manzoni.
Trimani Il Wine Bar MODERN ITALIAN This small bistro and impressively stocked wine bar attracts white collars and wine lovers in a modern and relaxed ambience, accompanied by smooth jazz. Dishes are made to suit the wines: Seasonal pasta primi might include a salad of octopus, fava beans, and potato spiked with olives and almonds. Refined entrees might include rabbit stuffed with asparagus, and Luganega sausage served with a zucchini puree. There’s a well-chosen wines-by-the-glass list that changes daily. If you just want a snack to accompany one, cheese and salami platters range from 9€ to 13€.
Via Cernaia 37B. www.trimani.com. 06-4469630. Main courses 10€-18€. Mon-Sat 11:30am-3pm and 5:30pm-midnight. Closed Sat mid-Jun to mid-Sept. Closed 2 weeks in mid-Aug. Metro: Repubblica or Castro Pretorio.
Come il Latte GELATO Latte is Italian for milk, and it’s the key ingredient in this tiny gelateria’s daily artisan production. Flavors range from salted caramel, to mascarpone and crumbled cookies, to espresso coffee, to rice with cinnamon, while fruit flavors change according to the season and market availability. Summer delights may include Sorrento lemons, wild strawberries and persimmon, or date and chestnut creams gracing the winter menu. Homemade wafer and sugar cones can be filled with fondant dark or white chocolate sauce and then scooped with your flavors of choice, ultimately topped with fresh whipped cream. The shop’s sleek, Parisian-style design, it’s commitment to sustainable short supply chain ingredients, and props like an Americana drinking fountain and old school vat containers complete the charming gelateria.
Via Silvio Spaventa 24. www.comeillatte.it. 06-42903882. Cups from 3€. Daily noon-midnight and Sat-Sun 4-10pm. Closed 2 weeks in mid-Aug. Metro: Repubblica or Castro Pretorio.
Popular craft-beer bar Bir and Fud (p. 140) also serves pizzas and traditional snacks like supplì (fried rice croquettes filled with mozzarella and tomato sauce) to hungry drinkers. It serves food in the evening daily, and at lunchtime from Thursday through Sunday.
Glass CONTEMPORARY ROMAN Sleek modernism rules here, in design and cuisine alike. Walls are stark white and floors are polished, and the menu is a mix of innovation and cosmopolitan flair, with listings that change monthly, but expect the likes of tagliatelle with wild asparagus, black garlic, and lemon followed by sumac-scented lamb with purple potato chips. Thanks to the skills of Michelin-starred chef Cristina Bowerman, this is one of Rome’s hottest tables—reservations are essential.
Vicolo del Cinque 58. www.glass-restaurant.it. 06-58335903. Main courses 28€-45€; fixed-price menus 70€-90€. Tues-Sun 7:30-11:30pm. Closed 2 weeks in Jan, 2 weeks in July. Bus: 125.
La Gensola SEAFOOD/ROMAN This family-run restaurant is considered one of the best seafood destinations in Rome. The ambience is warm and welcoming, like a true Trastevere home; decor is cozy and intimate, with soft lighting and a life-sized wood-carved tree in the middle of the main dining room. Fish-lovers flock here for the trademark spaghetti with sea urchin, the fish-forward amatriciana, and general traditional Roman cuisine with a marine twist. The incredibly fresh fish is sourced daily in Lazio’s best coastal sea auctions. Besides melt-in-your-mouth calamari, shrimp and tuna, ceviche, carpaccios and tartare, the grill churns out succulent beefsteaks and other non fish-based dishes. Reservations, which are mandatory on the weekend, can also be made online, via the restaurant’s website, which is in Italian only.
Piazza della Gensola 15. www.osterialagensola.it. 06-58332758. Main courses 15€. Daily 12:30-3pm and 7:30-11:30pm. Bus: 125.
Cacio e Pepe ROMAN This ultra-traditional trattoria, complete with paper tablecloths and a TV in the background showing the game, owner chatting up the ladies and bustling crowd of patrons waiting to be seated, is a Trastevere neighborhood stalwart. On the menu, besides namesake pasta cacio e pepe you won’t go wrong with other classic Roman pasta dishes, such as amatriciana (tomato and guanciale, cured pork jowel) and a very good rendition of carbonara (egg, pecorino, and crispy guanciale)—be ready for hearty portions. For secondo—if you have room left—keep it simple; consider polpette (stewed meatballs), saltimbocca alla romana (veal cutlets with sage and ham), and simple grilled meats, all sold at sensible prices.
Vicolo del Cinque 15. www.osteriacacioepepe.it. 06-89572853. Main courses 9€-18€. Daily 7pm-midnight; Sun also 12:30-3pm. Bus: 125.
Da Teo ROMAN This homey and authentic Trastevere family-run trattoria serves classic Roman cuisine dishes in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, with kids’ drawings on the walls and a few outdoor tables looking out on one of Trastevere’s quaintest little squares. Cucina romana including classic carbonara, amatriciana, and cacio e pepe win the gold, but do consider the fettucine with wild asparagus (seasonal), and lemon-scented meatballs. Local wines can be ordered by the jug or glass, and desserts (among them, a good mascarpone with wild strawberries) come served in either full or half portions, which is good, considering Teo’s hefty portions.
Piazza dei Ponziani 7. www.trattoriadateo.it. 06-5818355. Main courses 9€-16€. Mon-Sat 1-3pm and 7:30-11:30pm. Bus: 125.
Dar Poeta PIZZA Many consider this the best pizza in Rome. I wouldn’t go that far, but “the poet” does serve up a passable pie with good toppings, creatively combined. The lines are long to eat in, but you can also order a pie for takeout from the host. Popular signature pizzas are the patataccia (potatoes, creamed zucchini, and speck [a smoked prosciutto]) and the decadent dessert calzone, filled with fresh ricotta and Nutella.
Vicolo del Bologna 45. www.darpoeta.com. 06-5880516. Pizzas 5€-9€. Daily noon-11pm. Bus: 125.
Rome’s old meatpacking district is a major dining zone. The old slaughterhouses have been transformed into art venues, markets, and museum MACRO (p. 128), but restaurants here still specialize in meats from the quinto quarto (the “fifth quarter”)—the leftover parts of an animal after the slaughter, typically offal like sweetbreads, tripe, tails, and other goodies you won’t find on most American menus. This is an area to eat cucina romana—either in the restaurants recommended below, or from any street-food stall in the Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio (p. 137). If you book a food-themed tour of Rome, you will almost certainly end up down here.
Checchino dal 1887 ROMAN For haute quinto quarto fare, this is your best bet. Testaccio has been changing rapidly, but not Checchino. It’s a pricier choice than most of the other restaurants in this area, but Romans from all over the city keep coming back when they want authentic tonnarelli al sugo di coda (pasta with a stewed oxtail sauce for which Checchino holds a secret recipe) and pajata (veal intestines) cooked any number of ways—with rigatoni pasta, roasted, or in a stew.
Via di Monte Testaccio 30. www.checchino-dal-1887.com. 06-5743816. Main courses 14€-25€; fixed-price menu 42€-63€. Tues-Sat 12:30-2:45pm and 8-11:45pm. Closed Aug and last week in Dec. Bus: 83, 673, or 719.
Flavio al Velavevodetto ROMAN Flavio’s plain dining room is burrowed out of the side of Rome’s most unusual “hill”—a large mound made from amphorae discarded during the Roman era (see p. 60). But this is one of the best places in the city to try well-prepped classic Roman pastas like cacio e pepe, and quinto quarto entrees at fair prices. The misto umido is an ideal sampler for first-timers, with portions of polpette (meatballs), coda alla vaccinara (oxtail), and involtini (stuffed rolled veal), enough for three to share. Homemade desserts are tasty, but the tiramisù wins the gold.
Via di Monte Testaccio 97-99. www.ristorantevelavevodetto.it. 06-5744194. Main courses 12€-17€. Daily 12:30-3pm and 7:30-11pm. Bus: 83, 673, or 719.
GETTING YOUR FILL OF GELATO
Don’t leave town without trying one of Rome’s outstanding ice-cream parlors. However, choose your Italian ice carefully: Gelaterie aimed exclusively at tourists are notorious for poor-quality gelato and sky-high prices. Don’t buy close to the main piazzas, and avoid places whose vats overflow with heaped, brightly colored, air-pumped gelato. The best gelato is made only from natural ingredients, which impart a natural color (if the pistachio gelato is bright green, for example, rather than grayish-green, move on). You should generally take your cone (cono) or small cup (coppetta) and walk as you eat—sitting down on the premises or ordering at outside tables could be much more expensive. Of the recommended spots below, hours are generally mid-morning to late—sometimes after midnight on a summer weekend evening. Cones and small cups rarely go beyond 2.50€.
At the fabulous (and gluten-free) Fatamorgana (Piazza degli Zingari 5, Monti; www.gelateriafatamorgana.it; 06-86391589; Metro: Cavour), creative flavors are the hallmark, and there’s a firm commitment to seasonal and organic ingredients. Try crema di zenzero (cream of ginger), cioccolato Lapsang Souchong (chocolate with smoked black tea), or a surprising basil-walnut-honey combo.
Trastevere’s best artisan gelato, Fior di Luna (Via della Lungaretta 96; www.fiordiluna.com; 06-64561314; Bus: H or 780/Tram: 8), is made with natural and fair-trade produce. The stars of the small but mighty menu are the intense and incredibly rich chocolate flavors, spiked with fig or orange or made with single cru cocoa, and the perfect pistachio.
Gelateria Vice (Corso Vittorio Emanuele II 9; www.viceitalia.it; 06-631779; Bus: 30, 40, 62, 64, 81, or 492) is a chain of certified organic and artisan gelato makers that produces top-quality Italian ice cream made with ingredients sourced from sustainable agriculture and Slow Food Presidia (like organic Alpine milk, eggs from free-range chickens, or Costa Rican coffee beans)—and they opt for low-fat and reduced-sugar content. Just a few of our many faves include milk chocolate with lavender; Valrhona cocoa and brandy with candied orange; and Amalfi lemon.
Osteria degli Amici MODERN ROMAN This intimate and friendly osteria, on the corner of nightclub central and the hill of broken amphorae, serves everything from traditional Roman cuisine to creative interpretations. Charming friends Claudio and Alessandro base their menu on fresh produce sourced at the nearby market, as well as their combined experience gathered by working in famous kitchens around the world. Signature musts include golden-crusted fried mozzarella in carrozza, and the wide selection of pastas, ranging from classic carbonara to large paccheri tubes with mussels, clams, and cherry tomatoes. My favorite remains gricia coi carciofi, a tomatoless amatriciana with slivers of braised artichoke. Let the honest vino flow and leave room for the apple tartlet with cinnamon gelato.
Via Nicola Zabaglia 25. 06-5781466. Main courses 14€-18€. Wed-Mon 12:30-3pm and 7:30pm-midnight. Bus: 83, 673, or 719.
Porto Fluviale MODERN ITALIAN This multi-functional restaurant—part trattoria, part street-food stall, part pizzeria—can accommodate pretty much whatever you fancy, whenever you fancy it. The decor is modern and vaguely industrial, with a daytime clientele made up of families and white collars—the vibe gets younger after dark. From the various menus, best bets are the 30 or so ciccheti, small plates that allow you to test and taste the kitchen’s range. You can share a few platters of carpaccio di baccalà (thin sliced of salt-cod), maialino (roasted suckling pig with pureed apple and rosemary), and burrata e pomodori (Apulian mozzarella pouch filled with a creamy milky filling, served with tomatoes). Most items on the regular menu (primi and secondi) also come in half portions, and there are burgers under 10€. But skip the pizzas; they’re fairly nondescript.
Via del Porto Fluviale 22. www.portofluviale.com. 06-5743199. Main courses 8€-19€; set lunch 12€-20€. Daily 10:30am-2am. Metro: Piramide.
Da Remo PIZZA Mentioning “Testaccio” and “pizza” in the same sentence elicits one typical response from locals: Da Remo, which is a Roman institution. In the summer, reservations at least 2 days in advance are wise. Every crisp-crusted pizza is made for all to see behind the open counters. The most basic ones (Margherita and Marinara) start at around 6€. If it’s too crowded on a summer evening, order your pizza for takeout and eat it in the quaint park across the street. No credit cards.
Piazza Santa Maria Liberatrice 44. 06-5746270. Pizzas 7€-15€. Mon-Sat 7pm-1am. Bus: 83, 673, or 719.
La Moderna PIZZA/MODERN ITALIAN For lovers of Neapolitan-style pizza (thicker rim), consider this pizzeria and cocktail bar with an unabashed passion for motion pictures: In addition to the movie memorabilia, there’s even a functioning silver screen in one of the main dining rooms. The decor flirts with Paris bistros and New York delis, with lots of vintage posters and furnishings, a warm and cozy atmosphere. Besides an impressive mixology department and signature pizzas, the menu is graced with spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino, a classic homestyle preparation made with properly assembled garlic, olive oil, and chili pepper flakes. The cuisine also includes offal—why not? You’re in Testaccio. So be prepared for braised tongue and grilled sweetbreads. La Moderna also offers up street food with a wide selection of frankfurters, burgers, and delicious all-Roman trapizzini (triangular pizza pockets filled with local classics, like tripe or meatballs). An impressive choice of Italian and foreign craft beers and excellent music complete the warm setting.
Via Galvani 89. www.lamoderna-testaccio.com. 06-5750123. Pizzas 7€; Main courses 9€-15€. Daily 9am-midnight. Bus: 83, 673, or 719.
Rome’s ancient monuments, whether time-blackened or gleaming in the wake of a recent restoration, are a constant reminder that Rome was one of the greatest centers of Western civilization. In the heyday of the Empire, all roads led to Rome, with good reason. It was one of the first cosmopolitan cities, importing slaves, gladiators, great art, and even citizens from the far corners of the world. Despite its brutality and corruption, Rome left a legacy of law, a heritage of art, architecture, and engineering, and a canny lesson in how to conquer enemies by absorbing their cultures.
Taking in the view of the Roman Forum from the Capitoline.
But ancient Rome is only part of the spectacle. The Vatican has had a tremendous influence on making the city a tourism center. Although Vatican architects stripped down much of the city’s ancient glory during the Renaissance, looting ancient ruins (the Forum especially) for their precious marble, they created more treasures and even occasionally incorporated the old into the new—as Michelangelo did when turning Diocletian’s Baths complex into a church. And in the years that followed, Bernini adorned the city with the wonders of the baroque, especially his glorious fountains.
Bypassing the Lines
The endless lines outside Italian museums and attractions are a fact of life. But reservation services can help you avoid the wait, at least for some of the major museums. Buying a Roma Pass (p. 57) is a good start—holders can use a special entrance at the Colosseum, and for your first two (free) museums, you can skip the line (so be sure to choose busy ones).
For the Vatican Museums, buy an advance ticket at http://biglietteriamusei.vatican.va; you pay an extra 4€ but will be able to skip the line at the main entrance (which can be very, very long). Note that St. Peter’s is not included in the perk: There is no way to jump the line there.
Coopculture (www.coopculture.it) operates an online ticket office, which allows you to skip the line at several sites, including the Colosseum and the Forum, with a reservation fee of 1.50€ and 2€ to print tickets in advance.
Select Italy also allows you to reserve your tickets for the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, the Galleria Borghese, plus many other museums in Florence and Venice. The cost varies depending on the museum—there’s an agency fee on top of ticket prices—with several combination passes available. 800/877-1755 in the U.S., or buy your tickets online at www.selectitaly.com.
St. Peter’s & the Vatican
The world’s smallest sovereign state, Vatican City is a truly tiny territory, comprising little more than St. Peter’s and the walled headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. There are no border controls, of course, though the city-state’s 800 inhabitants (essentially clergymen and Swiss Guards) have their own radio station, daily newspaper, tax-free international pharmacy and petrol pumps, postal service, and head of state—the Pope. The Pope had always exercised a high degree of political independence from the rest of Italy in the form of the medieval Papal States, and this independence was formalized by the 1929 Lateran Treaty between Pope Pius XI and the Italian government to create the Vatican. The city is still protected by the flamboyantly uniformed (designed by Michelangelo) Swiss guards, a tradition dating from the days when the Swiss, known as brave soldiers, were often hired out as mercenaries for foreign armies. Today the Vatican remains at the center of the Roman Catholic world, the home of the Pope—and the resting place of St. Peter. St. Peter’s Basilica is obviously one of the highlights, but the only part of the Apostolic Palace itself that you can visit independently is the Vatican Museums: With its over 100 galleries, it’s the biggest and richest museum complex in the world.
The only entrance to St. Peter’s for tourists is through one of the glories of the Western world: Bernini’s 17th-century St. Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro). As you stand in the huge piazza, you are in the arms of an ellipse partly enclosed by a majestic Doric-pillared colonnade. Stand in the marked marble discs embedded in the pavement near the fountains to see all the columns lined up in a striking optical/geometrical play. Straight ahead is the facade of St. Peter’s itself, and to the right, above the colonnade, are the dark brown buildings of the papal apartments and the Vatican Museums. In the center of the square is a 4,000-year-old Egyptian obelisk, created in the ancient city of Heliopolis on the Nile delta and appropriated by the Romans under Emperor Augustus. Flanking the obelisk are two 17th-century fountains. The one on the right (facing the basilica), by Carlo Maderno, who designed the facade of St. Peter’s, was placed here by Bernini himself; the other is by Carlo Fontana.
On the left side of Piazza San Pietro is the Vatican Tourist Office (www.vatican.va; 06-69882019; Mon-Sat 8:30am-7:30pm). It sells maps and guides that will help you make more sense of the riches you will be seeing in the museums; it also accepts reservations for tours of the Vatican Gardens.
St. Peter’s Basilica CHURCH The Basilica di San Pietro, or simply St. Peter’s, is the holiest shrine of the Catholic Church, built on the site of St. Peter’s tomb by the greatest Italian artists of the 16th and 17th centuries. One of the lines on the right side of the piazza funnels you into the basilica, while the other two lead to the underground grottoes or the dome. Whichever you opt for first, you must be properly dressed—a rule that is very strictly enforced.
In Roman times, the Circus of Nero, where St. Peter is said to have been crucified, was slightly to the left of where the basilica is now located. Peter was allegedly buried here in A.D. 64 near the site of his execution, and in A.D. 324 Emperor Constantine commissioned a church to be built over Peter’s tomb. That structure stood for more than 1,000 years, until it verged on collapse. The present basilica, mostly completed in the 1500s and 1600s, is predominantly High Renaissance and baroque. Inside, the massive scale is almost too much to absorb, showcasing some of Italy’s greatest artists: Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Maderno. In a church of such grandeur—overwhelming in its detail of gilt, marble, and mosaic—you can’t expect much subtlety. It is meant to be overpowering.
St. Peter’s Basilicia and the River Tiber.
Going straight into the basilica, the first thing you see on the right side of the nave—the longest as clearly marked in the floor, along with other cathedral measurements—in the first chapel, is Michelangelo’s graceful “Pietà” , one of Rome’s greatest treasures, created in the 1490s when the master was still in his 20s but clearly showing his genius for capturing the human form. (The sculpture has been kept behind reinforced glass since an act of vandalism in the 1970s.) Note the lifelike folds of Mary’s robes and her youthful features; although she would’ve been middle-aged at the time of the Crucifixion, Michelangelo portrayed her as a young woman to convey her purity.
Further inside, Michelangelo’s dome is a mesmerizing space, rising high above the supposed site of St. Peter’s tomb. With a diameter of 41.5m (136 ft.) it is Rome’s largest, supported by four bulky piers decorated with reliefs depicting the basilica’s key holy relics: St. Veronica’s handkerchief (used to wipe the face of Christ); the lance of St. Longinus, which pierced Christ’s side; and a piece of the True Cross.
Under the dome is the twisty-columned baldacchino , by Bernini, sheltering the papal altar. The 29m-high (96-ft.) ornate canopy was created in part, so it is said, from bronze stripped from the Pantheon. Bernini sculpted the face of a woman on the bases of each of the pillars; starting with the face on the left pillar (with your back to the entrance), circle the entire altar to see the progress of expressions from the agony of childbirth through to the fourth pillar, where the woman’s face is replaced with that of her newborn baby.
Just before you reach the dome, on the right, the devout stop to kiss the foot of the 13th-century bronze of St. Peter , attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio. Elsewhere the church is decorated by more of Bernini’s lavish sculptures, including his monument to Pope Alexander VII in the south transept, its winged skeleton writhing under the heavy marble drapes.
A St. Peter’s Warning
St. Peter’s has a strict dress code: no shorts, no skirts above the knee, and no bare shoulders and arms. Note: You will not be let in if you come dressed inappropriately. In a pinch, men and women alike can buy a big, cheap scarf from a nearby souvenir stand and wrap it around their legs as a long skirt or throw it over their shoulders as a shawl. If you’re still showing too much skin, a guard hands out blue paper capes similar to what you wear in a doctor’s office. Only limited photography is permitted inside.
An entrance off the nave leads to the Sacristy and beyond to the Historical Museum (Museo Storico) or treasury , which is chock-full of richly jeweled chalices, reliquaries, and copes, as well as the late-15th-century bronze tomb of Pope Sixtus IV by Pollaiuolo.
You can also head downstairs to the Vatican grottoes , with their tombs of the popes, both ancient and modern (Pope John XXIII got the most adulation until the interment of Pope John Paul II in 2005). Behind a wall of glass is what is assumed to be the tomb of St. Peter.
Visits to the Necropolis Vaticana and St. Peter’s tomb itself are restricted to 250 persons per day on guided tours (90 min.) You must send a fax or e-mail 3 weeks beforehand, or apply in advance in person at the Ufficio Scavi (/fax 06-69873017; e-mail: email@example.com; Mon-Fri 9am-6pm, Sat 9am-5pm), through the arch to the left of the stairs up the basilica. You specify your name, the number in your party, your language, and the dates you’d like to visit. When you apply at the Ufficio Scavi by fax or e-mail, you also need to specify how you would like to be contacted (by e-mail, fax, or postal address). For details, check www.vatican.va. Children 14 and under are not admitted to the Necropolis.
After you leave the grottoes, you find yourself in a courtyard and ticket line for the grandest sight in the basilica: the climb to Michelangelo’s dome , about 114m (375 ft.) high. You can walk all the way up or take the elevator as far as it goes. The elevator saves you 171 steps, and you still have 320 to go after getting off. After you’ve made it to the top, you’ll have a scintillating view over the rooftops of Rome and even the Vatican Gardens and papal apartments.
Piazza San Pietro. www.vatican.va. 06-69881662. Basilica (including grottoes) free admission. Necropolis Vaticana (St. Peter’s tomb) 13€. Stairs to the dome 5€; elevator to the dome 7€; sacristy (with Historical Museum) free. Basilica (including the grottoes and treasury) Oct-Mar daily 7am-6:30pm, Apr-Sep daily 7am-7pm. Dome Oct-Mar daily 8am-5pm; Apr-Sept daily 8am-6pm. Metro: Cipro, Ottaviano/San Pietro.
Vatican Museums & the Sistine Chapel MUSEUM Nothing else in Rome quite lives up to the awe-inspiring collections of the Vatican Museums, a 15-minute walk from St. Peter’s out of the north side of Piazza San Pietro. It’s a vast treasure store of art from antiquity and the Renaissance gathered by the Roman Catholic Church throughout the centuries, filling a series of ornate Papal palaces, apartments, and galleries leading to one of the world’s most beautiful buildings, the justly celebrated Sistine Chapel (considered part of the museums for admission purposes).
Note that the Vatican dress code also applies to the museums (no sleeveless blouses, no miniskirts, no shorts, no hats allowed), though it tends to be less rigorously enforced than at St. Peter’s. Visitors can, however, take photos (no flash) and, even more dubiously, use mobile phones inside (with the exception of the Sistine Chapel). Guided tours are a good way to get the best out of a visit, and are the only way to visit the Vatican Gardens.
Obviously, one trip will not be enough to see everything here. Below are previews of the main highlights, showstoppers, and masterpieces on display (in alphabetical order).
APPARTAMENTO BORGIA (BORGIA APARTMENTS) Created for Pope Alexander VI (the infamous Borgia pope) between 1492 and 1494, these rooms were frescoed with biblical and allegorical scenes by Umbrian painter Pinturicchio and his assistants. The rooms tend to be dimly lit, but look for what is thought to be the earliest European depiction of Native Americans, painted little more than a year after Columbus returned from the New World and Alexander had “divided” the globe between Spain and Portugal.
COLLEZIONE D’ARTE CONTEMPORANEA (COLLECTION OF MODERN RELIGIOUS ART) Opened in 1973 and spanning 55 rooms of almost 800 works, these galleries contain the Vatican’s concession to modern art. Although there are some big names here and the quality is high, themes usually have a spiritual and religious component: Van Gogh’s “Pietà, after Delacroix” is an obvious example, along with Francis Bacon’s eerie “Study for a Pope II.” You will also see works by Paul Klee (“City with Gothic Cathedral”), Siqueiros (“Mutilated Christ No. 467”), Otto Dix (“Road to Calvary”), Gauguin (“Religious Panel”), Chagall (“Red Pietà”), and a whole room dedicated to Georges Rouault.
MUSEI DI ANTICHITÀ CLASSICHE (CLASSICAL ANTIQUITIES MUSEUMS) The Vatican maintains four classical antiquities museums, the most important being the Museo Pio Clementino , crammed with Greek and Roman sculptures in the small Belvedere Palace of Innocent VIII. At the heart of the complex lies the Octagonal Court, where highlights include the sculpture of Trojan priest “Laocoön” and his two sons locked in a struggle with sea serpents, dating from around 40 B.C., and the exceptional “Belvedere Apollo” (a 2nd-c. Roman reproduction of an authentic Greek work from the 4th c. B.C.), the symbol of classic male beauty and a possible inspiration for Michelangelo’s “David.” Look out also for the impressive gilded bronze statue of “Hercules” in the Rotonda, from the late 2nd century A.D., and the Hall of the Chariot, containing a magnificent sculpture of a chariot combining Roman originals and 18th-century work by Antonio Franzoni.
The Vatican’s famed spiral ramp.
The Museo Chiaramonti occupies the long loggia that links the Belvedere Palace to the main Vatican palaces, jam-packed on both sides with more than 800 Greco-Roman works, including statues, reliefs, and sarcophagi. In the Braccio Nuovo (“New Wing”), a handsome Neoclassical extension of the Chiaramonti sumptuously lined with colored marble, lies the colossal statue of the “Nile” , the ancient river portrayed as an old man with his 16 children, most likely a reproduction of a long-lost Alexandrian Greek original.
The Museo Gregoriano Profano , built in 1970 (and therefore positively modern in Vatican terms), houses more Greek sculptures looted by the Romans (some from the Parthenon), mostly funerary steles and votive reliefs, as well as some choice Roman pieces, notably the restored mosaics from the floors of the public libraries in the Baths of Caracalla (p. 104).
MUSEO ETNOLOGICO (ETHNOLOGICAL MUSEUM) Founded in 1926, this is an astounding assemblage of artifacts and artwork from cultures throughout the world, from ancient Chinese coins and notes, to plaster sculptures of Native Americans and ceremonial art from Papua New Guinea.
MUSEO GREGORIANO EGIZIO Nine rooms packed with plunder from Ancient Egypt, including sarcophagi, mummies, pharaonic statuary, votive bronzes, jewelry, cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia, inscriptions from Assyrian palaces, and Egyptian hieroglyphics.
MUSEO GREGORIANO ETRUSCO The core of this collection is a cache of rare Etruscan art treasures dug up in the 19th century, dating from between the 9th and the 1st century B.C. The Romans learned a lot from the Etruscans, as the highly crafted ceramics, bronzes, silver, and gold on display attest. Don’t miss the Regolini-Galassi tomb (7th c. B.C.), unearthed at Cerveteri. The museum is housed within the palazzettos of Innocent VIII (reigned 1484-92) and Pius IV (reigned 1559-65), the latter adorned with frescoes by Federico Barocci and Federico Zuccari.
PINACOTECA (ART GALLERY) The great painting collections of the Popes are displayed within the Pinacoteca, including work from all the big names in Italian art, from Giotto and Fra’ Angelico, to Perugino, Raphael, Veronese, and Crespi. Early medieval work occupies Room 1, with the most intriguing piece a keyhole-shaped wood panel of the “Last Judgment” by Nicolò e Giovanni, dated to the late 12th century. Giotto takes center stage in Room 2, with the “Stefaneschi Triptych” (six panels) painted for the old St. Peter’s basilica between 1315 and 1320. “Madonna del Magnificat,” Bernardo Daddi’s masterpiece of early Italian Renaissance art, is also here. Fra’ Angelico dominates Room 3, his “Stories of St. Nicholas of Bari” and “Virgin with Child” justly praised (check out the Virgin’s microscopic eyes in the latter piece). Carlo Crivelli features in Room 6, while decent work by Perugino and Pinturicchio graces Room 7, though most visitors press on to the Raphael salon (Room 8), where you can view five paintings by the Renaissance master: The best are the “Coronation of the Virgin,” the “Madonna of Foligno,” and the vast “Transfiguration” (completed shortly before his death). Room 9 boasts Leonardo da Vinci’s “St. Jerome with the Lion” , as well as Giovanni Bellini’s “Pietà.” Room 10 is dedicated to Renaissance Venice, with Titian’s “Madonna of St. Nicholas of the Frari” and Veronese’s “Vision of St. Helen” are paramount. Don’t skip the remaining galleries: Room 11 contains Barocci’s “Annunciation,” while Room 12 is really all about one of the masterpieces of the baroque, Caravaggio’s “Deposition from the Cross” . Crespi is featured in Room 15, Room 17 is full of Bernini sculpture, and the collection ends with an odd ensemble of Russian and Greek Orthodox icons in Room 18.
Vatican Museums—Buy the Book
In the Vatican Museums, you’ll find many overpacked galleries and few descriptive labels. To help you make sense of the incredible riches, pick up the detailed guide sold at the Vatican Tourist Office (14€), on the left side of the Piazza San Pietro.
When the pope is in Rome, he gives a public audience every Wednesday beginning at 10:30am (sometimes at 10am in summer). If you want to get a good seat near the front, arrive early, as security begins to let people in between 8 and 8:30am. Audiences take place in the Paul VI Hall of Audiences, although sometimes St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square are used to accommodate a large attendance in the summer. With the ascension of Pope Francis to the Throne of Peter in 2013, this tradition continues. You can check on the Pope’s appearances and the ceremonies he presides over, including celebrations of Mass on the Vatican website (www.vatican.va). Anyone is welcome, but you must first obtain a free ticket; without a reservation you can try the Swiss Guards by the Bronze Doors located just after security at St. Peter’s (8am-8pm in summer and 8am-7pm in winter). You can pick up tickets here up to 3 days in advance, subject to availability.
If you would prefer to reserve a place in advance, download a request form at www.vaticantour.com/images/Vatican_Ticket_request.pdf or www.vatican.va and fax it to the Prefecture of the Papal Household at 06-69885863. Tickets can be picked up at the office located just inside the Bronze Doors from 3 to 7:30pm on the preceding day or on the morning of the audience from 8 to 10:30am.
At noon on Sundays, the Pope speaks briefly from his study window and gives his blessing to the visitors and pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square (no tickets are required for this). From about mid-July to mid-September, the Angelus and blessing usually take place at the summer residence at Castelgandolfo, some 26km (16 miles) out of Rome and accessible by Metro and bus, though it is unclear whether Francis will continue to spend his summers there every year.
STANZE DI RAFFAELLO (RAPHAEL ROOMS) In the early 16th century, Pope Julius II hired the young Raphael and his workshop to decorate his personal apartments, a series of rooms on the second floor of the Pontifical Palace. Completed between 1508 and 1524, the Raphael Rooms now represent one of the great artistic spectacles inside the Vatican.
The Stanza dell’Incendio served as the Pope’s high court room and later, under Leo X, a dining room, though most of the lavish fresco work here has been attributed to Raphael’s pupils. Leo X himself commissioned much of the artwork here, which explains the themes (past Popes with the name Leo). Note the intricate ceiling, painted by Umbrian maestro and Raphael’s first teacher, Perugino.
Raphael is the main focus in the Stanza della Segnatura, originally used as a Papal library and private office and home to the awe-inspiring “School of Athens” fresco, depicting primarily Greek classical philosophers such as Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates. Many of the figures are thought to be based on portraits of Renaissance artists, including Bramante (on the right as Euclid, drawing on a chalkboard), Leonardo da Vinci (as Plato, the bearded man in the center), and even Raphael himself (in the lower-right corner with a black hat). On the wall opposite stands the equally magnificent “Disputa del Sacramento,” where Raphael used a similar technique; Dante Alighieri stands behind the pontiff on the right, and Fra’ Angelico poses as a monk (which in fact, he was) on the far left.
The Stanza d’Eliodoro was used for the private audiences of the Pope and was painted by Raphael immediately after the Segnatura. His aim here was to flatter his papal patron, Julius II: The depiction of the pope driving Attila from Rome was meant to symbolize the contemporary mission of Julius II to drive the French out of Italy. Finally, the Sala di Constantino, used for Papal receptions and official ceremonies, was completed by Raphael’s students after the master’s death, but based on his designs and drawings. It’s a jaw-dropping space, commemorating four major episodes in the life of Emperor Constantine.
SISTINE CHAPEL Michelangelo labored for 4 years (1508-12) to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; it is said he spent the entire time on his feet, paint dripping into his eyes. But what a result! The world’ most famous fresco, which, thanks to a massive restoration effort in the 1990s, is as vibrantly colorful and filled with roiling life as it was in 1512. And the chapel is still of central importance to the Catholic Church: This is where the Papal Conclave meets to elect new popes.
The “Creation of Adam,” at the center of the ceiling, is one of the best known and most reproduced images in history, the outstretched hands of God and Adam—not quite touching—an iconic symbol of not just the Renaissance but the Enlightenment that followed. Nevertheless, it is somewhat ironic that this is Michelangelo’s best-known work: The artist always regarded himself as a sculptor first and foremost.
The endless waiting in order to get into the chapel inevitably makes the sense of expectation all the greater, but despite the tour groups and the crowds, seeing the frescoes in person is a truly magical experience.
The ceiling frescoes are obviously the main showstoppers, though staring at them tends to take a heavy toll on the neck. Commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1508 and completed in 1512, they primarily depict nine scenes from the Book of Genesis (including the famed “Creation of Adam”), from the “Separation of Light and Darkness” at the altar end to the “Great Flood” and “Drunkenness of Noah.” Surrounding these main frescoes are paintings of twelve people who prophesied the coming of Christ, from Jonah and Isaiah to the Delphic Sibyl. Once you have admired the ceiling, turn your attention to the altar wall. At the age of 60, Michelangelo was summoned to finish the chapel decor 23 years after he finished the ceiling work. Apparently saddened by leaving Florence, and by the poor, morally bankrupt state of Rome at that time, he painted these dark moods in his “Last Judgment,” where he included his own self-portrait on a sagging human hide held by St. Bartholomew (who was martyred by being flayed alive).
Yet the Sistine Chapel isn’t all Michelangelo. The southern wall is covered by a series of astonishing paintings completed in the 1480s: “Moses Leaving to Egypt” by Perugino, the “Trials of Moses” by Botticelli, “The Crossing of the Red Sea” by Cosimo Rosselli (or Domenico Ghirlandaio), “Descent from Mount Sinai” by Cosimo Rosselli (or Piero di Cosimo), Botticelli’s “Punishment of the Rebels,” and Signorelli’s “Testament and Death of Moses.”
On the right-hand, northern wall are Perugino’s “The Baptism of Christ,” Botticelli’s “The Temptations of Christ,” Ghirlandaio’s “Vocation of the Apostles,” Perugino’s “Delivery of the Keys,” Cosimo Rosselli’s “The Sermon on the Mount” and “Last Supper.” On the eastern wall, originals by Ghirlandaio and Signorelli were painted over by Hendrik van den Broeck’s “The Resurrection” and Matteo da Lecce’s “Disputation over Moses” in the 1570s.
Vatican City, Viale Vaticano (a long walk around the Vatican walls from St. Peter’s Sq.). www.museivaticani.va. 06-69884676. Admission 16€ adults, 8€ children 6-13, free for children 5 and under. Tours of Vatican Gardens (2hr.) 32€ (Mon, Tues, Thurs-Sat). Mon-Sat 9am-6pm (ticket office closes at 4pm); also last Sun of every month 9am-2pm (free admission). Closed Jan 1 and 6, Feb 11, Mar 19, Easter, May 1, June 29, Aug 14-15, Nov 1, and Dec 25-26. Reservations for advance tickets (reservation fee 4€) and guided tours 32€ per person through www.biglietteriamusei.vatican.va. Metro: Ottaviano or Cipro-Musei Vaticani; bus 49 stops in front of the entrance.
The Sistine Chapel.
NEAR VATICAN CITY
Castel Sant’Angelo CASTLE/PALACE This bulky cylindrical fortress on the Vatican side of the Tiber has a storied, complex history, beginning life as the mausoleum tomb of Emperor Hadrian in A.D. 138, and later serving as a castle (Pope Clement VII escaped the looting troops of Charles V here in 1527), papal residence in the 14th century, and military prison from the 17th century (Puccini used the prison as the setting for the third act of “Tosca”). Consider renting an audioguide at the entrance to help fully appreciate its various manifestations. The ashes and urns of Hadrian and his family have long since been looted and destroyed, and most of what you see today relates to the conversion of the structure into fortress and residence by the popes from the 14th century.
From the entrance a stone ramp (rampa elicoidale) winds its way to the upper terraces, from which you can see amazing views of the city and enjoy a coffee at the outdoor cafe. The sixth floor features the Terrazza dell’Angelo, crowned by a florid statue of the Archangel Michael cast in 1752 by the Flemish artist Peter Anton von Verschaffelt (location of the tragic denouement in “Tosca”).
From here you can walk back down through five floors, including the Renaissance apartments (levels 3-5) used by some of Rome’s most infamous Popes: Alexander VI (the Borgia pope) hid away in the castle after the murder of his son Giovanni in 1497, overwhelmed with grief (although his vows of moral reform were short lived). The art collection displayed throughout—ceramics, paintings, and sculpture—is fairly mediocre by Rome standards, although there are a few works by Carlo Crivelli and Luca Signorelli, notably a “Madonna and Child with Saints” from the latter.
Below the apartments are the grisly dungeons (“Le Prigioni”) used as torture chambers in the medieval period, and utilized especially enthusiastically by Cesare Borgia. The castle is connected to St. Peter’s Basilica by Il Passetto di Borgo, a walled 800m (2,635-ft.) passage erected in 1277 by Pope Nicholas III, used by popes who needed to make a quick escape to the fortress in times of danger, which was fairly often. Fans of Dan Brown will recognize it from his novel, “Angels and Demons.” Note that the dungeons, Il Passetto, and the apartments of Clement VII are only usually open on summer evenings (July-Aug Tues-Sun 8:30pm-1am; free 50-min. tours with admission, English tour at 10:30pm). Classical music and jazz concerts are also held in and around the castle in summer (Wed, Fri-Sun 9:30pm).
Lungotevere Castello 50. www.castelsantangelo.com. 06-6819111. Admission 11€. Tues-Sun 9am-7.30pm. Bus: 23, 40, 62, 271, 982, 280 (to Piazza Pia).
The Colosseum, Forum & Ancient Rome
THE MAJOR SIGHTS OF ANCIENT ROME
It will help enhance sightseeing experience if you know a little about the history and rulers of Ancient Rome: See p. 18 for a brief rundown.
Arco di Costantino (Arch of Constantine) MONUMENT The photogenic triumphal arch next to the Colosseum was erected by the Senate in A.D. 315 to honor Constantine’s defeat of the pagan Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (A.D. 312). Many of the reliefs have nothing whatsoever to do with Constantine or his works, but they tell of the victories of earlier Antonine rulers (lifted from other, long-forgotten memorials).
Historically, the arch marks a period of great change in the history of Rome. Converted to Christianity by a vision on the eve of battle, Constantine ended the centuries-long persecution of the Christians, during which many followers of the new religion had been put to death in a gruesome manner. Although Constantine didn’t ban paganism (which survived officially until the closing of the temples more than half a century later), he espoused Christianity himself and began the inevitable development that culminated in the conquest of Rome by the Christian religion.
Btw. Colosseum and Palatine Hill. Metro: Colosseo.
Terme di Caracalla (Baths of Caracalla) RUINS Named for the emperor Caracalla, a particularly unpleasant individual, the baths were completed in A.D. 217 after Caracalla’s death. The richness of decoration has faded, and the lushness can be judged only from the shell of brick ruins that remain. In their heyday, the baths sprawled across 11 ha (27 acres) and could handle 1,600 bathers at a time. Partially opened to the public in 2012, the tunnels below the complex give an idea of the scale of the hydraulic and heating systems that must have been needed to serve 8,000 or so Romans per day. The palestra (gym) is used for outdoor operatic performances in Rome (p. 139).
Via delle Terme di Caracalla 52. www.archeoroma.beniculturali.it. 06-39967700. Admission 7€. Oct Mon 8:30am-2pm, Tues-Sun 9am-6:30pm; Nov-Feb 15 Mon 8:30am-2pm, Tues-Sun 9am-4:30pm; Feb 16-Mar 15 Mon 8:30am-2pm, Tues-Sun 9am-5pm; Mar 16-Sept Mon 8:30am-2pm, Tues-Sun 9am-7pm. Last admission 1 hr. before closing. Bus: 118 or 628.
Musei Capitolini (Capitoline Museums) MUSEUM The masterpieces here are considered Rome’s most valuable (recall that the Vatican Museums are not technically in Rome). They certainly were collected early: This is the oldest public museum in the world. So try and schedule adequate time, as there’s much to see.
First stop is the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori (the building on the right of the piazza designed by Michelangelo, if you enter via the ramp from Piazza Venezia), a space scattered with gargantuan stone body parts—the remnants of a massive 12m (39-ft.) statue of the emperor Constantine, including his colossal head, hand, and foot. It’s nearly impossible to resist snapping a selfie next to the giant foot.
On the palazzo’s ground floor, the unmissable works are in the first series of rooms. These include “Lo Spinario” (Room III), a lifelike bronze of a young boy digging a splinter out of his foot that was widely copied during the Renaissance; and the “Lupa Capitolina” (Room IV), a bronze statue from 500 B.C. of the famous she-wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome. The twins were not on the original Etruscan statue, but added in the 15th century. Room V has Bernini’s famously pained portrait of “Medusa,” even more compelling when you see its writhing serpent hairdo in person.
Before heading upstairs, go toward the new wing at the rear, bathed in natural light thanks to a modern skylight ceiling, which houses the original equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius , dating to around A.D. 180—the piazza outside, where it stood from 1538, now has a copy. There’s a giant bronze head from a bronze statue of Constantine (ca. A.D. 337) and the foundations of the original Temple of Jupiter that stood on the Capitoline Hill since its inauguration in 509 B.C.
The second-floor is known for its picture gallery , strong on baroque oil paintings, with masterpieces including Caravaggio’s “John the Baptist” and “The Fortune Teller” (1595) and Guido Reni’s “St. Sebastian” (1615).
An underground tunnel takes you under the piazza to the other part of the Capitoline Museums, the Palazzo Nuovo, via the Tabularium . This was built in 78 B.C. to house ancient Rome’s city records, and was later used as a salt mine and then as a prison. The atmospheric stone gallery was opened to the public in the late 1990s to exhibit inscriptions, and also to provide access to one of the best balcony views in Rome: along the length of the Forum toward the Palatine Hill.
Much of the Palazzo Nuovo is dedicated to statues that were excavated from the forums below and brought in from outlying areas like Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli (p. 142). If you’re running short on time at this point, head straight for the 1st-century “Capitoline Venus” , in Room III—a modest girl covering up after a bath and a chronologically arranged row of busts of Roman emperors and their families (Room IV). Another favorite is the beyond handsome “Dying Gaul” , a Roman copy of a lost ancient Greek work. Lord Byron considered the statue so lifelike and moving, he included mention of it in his poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.”
Piazza del Campidoglio 1. www.museicapitolini.org. 060608. Admission 13€. Tues-Sun 9am-8pm. Last admission 1 hr. before closing. Bus: C3, H, 40, 44, 60, 80B, 190, 780, or 781.
Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus) HISTORIC SITE Today an almost formless ruin, the once-grand circus was pilfered repeatedly by medieval and Renaissance builders in search of marble and stone. But if you squint, and take in its elongated oval proportions and ruined tiers of benches, visions of “Ben-Hur” may dance before your eyes. At one time, 250,000 Romans could assemble on the marble seats while the emperor observed the games from his box high on the Palatine Hill. What the Romans called a “circus” was a large arena enclosed by tiers of seats on three or four sides, used especially for sports or spectacles.
The circus lies in a valley between the Palatine and Aventine hills. Next to the Colosseum, it was the most impressive structure in ancient Rome, in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods. For centuries, chariot races filled it with the cheers of thousands.
When the dark days of the 5th and 6th centuries fell, the Circus Maximus seemed a symbol of the ruination of Rome. The last games were held in A.D. 549 on the orders of Totilla the Goth, who had seized Rome twice. He lived in the still-glittering ruins on the Palatine and apparently thought the chariot races in the Circus Maximus would lend his rule credibility. After 549, the Circus Maximus was never used again, and the demand for building materials reduced it, like so much of Rome, to a great dusty field.
Btw. Via dei Cerchi and Via del Circo Massimo. www.circo-massimo.it. Metro: Circo Massimo.
Colosseum (Colosseo) ICON No matter how many pictures you’ve seen, the first impression you’ll have of the Colosseum is amazement at its sheer enormity. It is massive and looks as if it has been plopped down among the surrounding buildings, and not the other way around.
Your first view of the Flavian Amphitheater (the Colosseum’s original name) should be from the outside, and it’s important to walk completely around its 500m (1,640-ft.) circumference. It doesn’t matter where you start, but do the circle and look at the various stages of ruin before delving in. Note the different column styles on each level. Black soot from passing cars has left its mark on the columns, but a full-on conservation makeover (running through 2016) will work to eliminate much of it.
Once inside, walk onto the partially reconstructed wooden floor, which once covered the hypogeum, the place where gladiators and beasts waited their turn in the arena. Vespasian ordered the construction of the elliptical bowl, called the Amphitheatrum Flavium, in A.D. 72; it was inaugurated by Titus in A.D. 80. The stadium could hold as many as 87,000 spectators, by some counts, and seats were sectioned on three levels, dividing the people by social rank and gender. There were 80 entrances, and historians say the massive crowds could be seated within a few minutes. Most events were free, but all spectators had to obtain a terracotta disc, called a tessera, to enter.
The Colosseum was built as a venue for gladiator contests and wild animal fights, but when the Roman Empire fell, it was abandoned and eventually overgrown with vegetation. You’ll notice on the top of the “good side,” as locals call it, that there are a few remaining supports that once held the canvas awning that covered the stadium during rain or for the summer heat. Much of the ancient travertine that covered its outside was used for palaces like the nearby Palazzo Venezia and Palazzo Cancelleria near the Campo de’ Fiori.
Note: The same ticket that you buy for the Colosseum includes admission to the Forum and Palatine Hill, and is valid for 2 days.
Piazzale del Colosseo. www.archeoroma.beniculturali.it. 06-39967700. Admission 12€ (in-cludes Roman Forum & Palatine Hill). Nov-Feb 15 daily 8:30am-4:30pm; Feb 16-Mar 15 daily 8:30am-5pm; Mar 16-27 daily 8:30am-5:30pm; Mar 28-Aug daily 8:30am-7:15pm; Sept daily 8:30am-7pm; Oct daily 8:30am-6:30pm. Last admission 1 hr. before closing. Guided tours (45 min.) in English daily at 10:15, 10:45, 11:15, and 11:45am, 12:30, 1:45, and 3pm. Tours 5€. Metro: Colosseo.
Fori Imperiali (Imperial Forums) RUINS Begun by Julius Caesar as an answer to the overcrowding of Rome’s older forums, the Imperial Forums were, at the time of their construction, flashier, bolder, and more impressive than the buildings in the Roman Forum. This site conveyed the unquestioned authority of the emperors at the height of their absolute power.
Alas, Mussolini felt his regime was more important than the ancient one, and issued the controversial orders to cut through centuries of debris and buildings to carve out Via dei Fori Imperiali, thereby linking the Colosseum to the grand 19th-century monuments of Piazza Venezia. Excavations under his Fascist regime began at once, and many archaeological treasures were revealed (and then—argh!—destroyed).
The best view of the Forums is from the railings on the north side of Via dei Fori Imperiali; begin where Via Cavour joins the boulevard. (Visitors are not permitted down into the ruins.) Closest to the junction are the remains of the Forum of Nerva, built by the emperor whose 2-year reign (A.D. 96-98) followed the assassination of the paranoid Domitian. You’ll be struck by how much the ground level has risen in 19 centuries. The only really recognizable remnant is a wall of the Temple of Minerva with two fine Corinthian columns. This forum was once flanked by that of Vespasian, which is now gone.
The next along is the Forum of Augustus , built before the birth of Christ to commemorate the emperor’s victory over Julius Caesar’s assassins, Cassius and Brutus, in the Battle of Philippi (42 B.C.).
Continuing along the railing, you’ll see the vast semicircle of Trajan’s Markets , whose teeming arcades stocked with merchandise from the far corners of the Roman world collapsed long ago, leaving only a few cats to watch after things. The shops once covered a multitude of levels, and you can visit the part that has been transformed into the Museo dei Fori Imperiali (p. 111).
In front of the Markets, the Forum of Trajan is the newest and most beautiful of the Imperial Forums, built between A.D. 107 and 113, and designed by Greek architect Apollodorus of Damascus (who also laid out the adjoining market building). There are many statue fragments and pedestals bearing still-legible inscriptions, but more interesting is the great Basilica Ulpia, whose gray marble columns rise roofless into the sky. This forum was once regarded as one of the architectural wonders of the world. Beyond the Basilica Ulpia is Trajan’s Column , in magnificent condition, with an intricate bas-relief sculpture depicting Trajan’s victorious campaign (although, from your vantage point, you’ll be able to see only the earliest stages).
The Forum of Julius Caesar , the first of the Imperial Forums to be built, lies on the opposite side of Via dei Fori Imperiali, adjacent to the Roman Forum. This was the site of the stock exchange, as well as the Temple of Venus.
Along Via dei Fori Imperiali. Metro: Colosseo.
Foro Romano (Roman Forum) & Palatino (Palatine Hill) RUINS When it came to cremating Caesar, sacrificing a naked victim, or just discussing the day’s events, the Roman Forum was the place to be. Traversed by the Via Sacra (Sacred Way) , the main thoroughfare of ancient Rome, the Forum flourished as the center of Roman life in the days of the Republic, before it gradually lost prestige (but never spiritual draw) to the Imperial Forums (see above).
Three Free Views to Remember for a Lifetime
The Forum from the Campidoglio Standing on Piazza del Campidoglio, outside the Musei Capitolini (p. 106), walk around the right side of the Palazzo Senatorio to a terrace overlooking the best panorama of the Roman Forum, with the Palatine Hill and Colosseum as a backdrop. At night, the Forum is dramatically floodlit and its ruins look even more haunting.
The Whole City from the Janiculum Hill From many vantage points in the Eternal City, the views are panoramic. But one of the best spots for a memorable vista is the Janiculum Hill (Gianicolo), above Trastevere. Laid out before you are Rome’s rooftops, peppered with domes ancient and modern. From up here, you will understand why Romans complain about the materials used to build the Vittoriano (p. 113)—it’s a white shock in a sea of rose- and honey-colored stone. Walk 50 yards north of the famous balcony (favored by tour buses) for a slightly better angle, from the Belvedere 9 Febbraio 1849.
The Aventine Hill & the Priori dei Cavalieri di Malta The mythical site of Remus’ original settlement, the Aventine (Aventino) is now a leafy, upscale residential neighborhood—but also blessed with some magical views. From Via del Circo Massimo walk through the gardens along Via di Valle Murcia, and keep walking in a straight line. Along your right side, gardens offer views over the dome of St. Peter’s. When you reach Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, look through the keyhole of the Priory gate (on the right) for a “secret” view of the Vatican.
You’ll see only ruins and fragments, an arch or two, and lots of overturned boulders, but with some imagination you can feel the rush of history here. That any semblance of the Forum remains today is miraculous because it was used for years as a quarry (as was the Colosseum). Eventually it reverted to a campo vaccino (cow pasture). But excavations in the 19th century and later in the 1930s began to bring to light one of the world’s most historic spots. (Not without controversy: Some of what you see here has no definitive ancient heritage—it was rebuilt as later generations imagined it.)
By day, the columns of now-vanished temples and the stones from which long-forgotten orators spoke are mere shells. Bits of grass and weeds grow where a triumphant Caesar was once lionized. But at night, when the Forum is silent in the moonlight, it isn’t difficult to imagine Vestal Virgins still guarding the sacred temple fire.
You can spend at least a morning wandering through the ruins of the Forum. We’d suggest you enter via the gate on Via dei Fori Imperiali. Turn right at the bottom of the entrance slope to walk west along the old Via Sacra toward the arch. Just before it on your right is the large brick Curia , the main seat of the Roman Senate, built by Julius Caesar, rebuilt by Diocletian, and consecrated as a church in A.D. 630.
The triumphal Arch of Septimius Severus (A.D. 203), will be your next important sight, displaying time-bitten reliefs of the emperor’s victories in what are today Iran and Iraq. During the Middle Ages, Rome became a provincial backwater, and frequent flooding of the nearby river helped bury (and thus preserve) most of the Forum. Some bits did still stick out aboveground, including the top half of this arch, which was used to shelter a barbershop!
Just to the left of the arch, you can make out the remains of a cylindrical lump of rock with some marble steps curving off it. That round stone was the Umbilicus Urbus, considered the center of Rome and of the entire Roman Empire; the curving steps are those of the Imperial Rostra , where great orators and legislators stood to speak and the people gathered to listen. Nearby are the much-photographed trio of fluted columns with Corinthian capitals supporting a bit of architrave form the corner of the Temple of Vespasian and Titus (emperors were routinely turned into gods upon dying).
Start heading to your left toward the eight Ionic columns marking the front of the Temple of Saturn (rebuilt in 42 B.C.), which housed the first treasury of republican Rome. It was also the site of one of the Roman year’s biggest annual blowout festivals, the December 17 feast of Saturnalia, which, after a bit of tweaking, Christians now celebrate as Christmas. Turn left to start heading back east, past the worn steps and stumps of brick pillars outlining the enormous Basilica Julia , built by Julius Caesar. Further along, on the right, are the three Corinthian columns of the Temple of the Dioscuri , dedicated to the Gemini twins, Castor and Pollux. Forming one of the most photogenic sights of the Roman Forum, a trio of columns supports an architrave fragment. The founding of this temple dates from the 5th century B.C.
Beyond the bit of curving wall that marks the site of the little round Temple of Vesta (rebuilt several times after fires started by the sacred flame within), you’ll find the reconstructed House of the Vestal Virgins (A.D. 3rd-4th c.)—there is not a trace of this building in Piranesi’s famous 18th-century etchings of the Forum. The temple was the home of the consecrated young women who tended the sacred flame in the Temple of Vesta. Vestals were girls chosen from patrician families to serve a 30-year-long priesthood. During their tenure, they were among Rome’s most venerated citizens, with unique powers such as the ability to pardon condemned criminals. The cult was quite serious about the “virgin” part of the job description—if one of Vesta’s earthly servants was found to have “misplaced” her virginity, the miscreant Vestal was buried alive, because it was forbidden to shed a Vestal’s blood. (Her amorous accomplice was merely flogged to death.) The overgrown rectangle of their gardens is lined with broken, heavily worn statues of senior Vestals on pedestals.
The path dovetails back to Via Sacra. Turn right, walk past the so-called “Temple of Romulus,” and then left to enter the massive brick remains and coffered ceilings of the 4th-century Basilica of Constantine and Maxentius . These were Rome’s public law courts, and their architectural style was adopted by early Christians for their houses of worship (the reason so many ancient churches are called “basilicas”).
Return to the path and continue toward the Colosseum. Veer right to the Forum’s second great triumphal arch, the extensively rebuilt Arch of Titus (A.D. 81), on which one relief depicts the carrying off of treasures from Jerusalem’s temple. Look closely and you’ll see a menorah among the booty. The war that this arch glorifies ended with the expulsion of Jews from the colonized Judea, signaling the beginning of the Jewish Diaspora throughout Europe. You can exit behind the Arch—and there’s another exit, accessing the Campidoglio from the opposite end of the Forum.
From here you can climb the Palatine Hill (Palatino), on the same ticket. The Palatine, tradition tells us, was the spot on which the first settlers built their huts under the direction of Romulus. In later years, the hill became a patrician residential district that attracted such citizens as Cicero. In time, however, the area was gobbled up by imperial palaces and drew a famous and infamous roster of tenants, such as Livia (some of the frescoes in the House of Livia are in miraculous condition), Tiberius, Caligula (murdered here by members of his Praetorian Guard), Nero, and Domitian.
Only the ruins of its former grandeur remain today, but it’s worth the climb for the panoramic views of both the Roman and the Imperial Forums, as well as the Capitoline Hill and the Colosseum. You can also enter from here, and do the entire tour in reverse.
Via della Salara Vecchia 5/6. 06-39967700. Admission 12€ (includes Colosseum). Oct 30-Dec and Jan 2-Feb 15 daily 8:30am-4:30pm; Feb 16-Mar 15 daily 8:30am-5pm; Mar 16-24 daily 8:30am-5:30pm; Mar 25-Aug daily 8:30am-7:15pm; Sept daily 8:30am-7pm; Oct 1-29 daily 8:30am-6:30pm. Last admission 1 hr. before closing. Guided tours are given daily at 11am, lasting 1 hr., costing 4€. Metro: Colosseo.
Museo dei Fori Imperiali & Mercati di Traiano (Museum of the Imperial Forums & Trajan’s Markets) RUINS/MUSEUM The museum occupies the ruins of boutiques, food stores, and workshops that formed Emperor Trajan’s Market (call it the World’s First Shopping Mall). All in all, it’s home to 172 marble fragments from the Fori Imperiali; here are also original remnants from the Forum of Augustus and Forum of Nerva.
Created in A.D. 100-110, but having fallen into total ruin, this once-bustling market was rebuilt in the Middle Ages and then extensively excavated under Mussolini. The Imperial Forums, many of which are still being excavated, are hard for ordinary visitors to comprehend, so the museum uses replicas to help visitors orient themselves, and various galleries house models and recreations of the various forums and temples. It also houses a giant head of Constantine, found in 2005 in an old sewer. It’s expensive (11€), so recommended only for those with a deeper historical interest in Ancient Rome.
Via IV Novembre 94. www.mercatiditraiano.it. 060608. Admission 11€. Tues-Sun 9am-7pm. Last admission 1 hr. before closing. Bus: 53, 80, 85, 87, 175, 186, 271, 571, or 810.
OTHER ATTRACTIONS NEAR ANCIENT ROME
Basilica di San Clemente CHURCH This isn’t just another Roman church—far from it. In this church-upon-a-church, centuries of history peel away. In A.D. 4th century, a church was built over a secular house from the 1st century, beside which stood a pagan temple dedicated to Mithras (god of the sun). Down in the eerie grottoes (which you explore on your own), you’ll discover well-preserved frescoes from the 9th to the 11th centuries. The Normans destroyed this lower church, and a new one was built in the 12th century. Its chief attraction is the mosaic from that period adorning the apse, as well as a chapel honoring St. Catherine of Alexandria with 1428 frescoes by Masolino.
Via San Giovanni in Laterano (at Piazza San Clemente). www.basilicasanclemente.com. 06-7740021. Basilica free admission; excavations 5€. Mon-Sat 9am-12:30pm and 3-6pm; Sun noon-6pm. Last admission 20 min. before closing. Bus: 53, 85, or 117.
Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano CHURCH This church (not St. Peter’s) is the cathedral of the diocese of Rome, where the pope comes to celebrate Mass on certain holidays. Built in A.D. 314 by Constantine, it has suffered the vicissitudes of Roman history, forcing many overhauls. Only parts of the baptistery remain from the original.
The present building is characterized by an 18th-century facade by Alessandro Galilei (statues of Christ and the Apostles ring the top)—a 1993 terrorist bomb caused severe damage to the facade. Borromini gets the credit for the interior, built for Pope Innocent X. In a purportedly misguided attempt to redecorate, frescoes by Giotto were destroyed; remains attributed to Giotto were discovered in 1952 and are now on display against the first inner column on the right.
Across the street is the Santuario della Scala Santa (Palace of the Holy Steps), Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano 14 ( 06-7726641). Allegedly, the 28 marble steps here (now covered with wood for preservation) were originally at Pontius Pilate’s villa in Jerusalem, and Christ climbed them the day he was brought before Pilate. According to medieval tradition, the steps were brought from Jerusalem to Rome by Constantine’s mother, Helen, and they’ve been in this location since 1589. Today pilgrims from all over come here to climb the steps on their knees. This is one of the holiest sites in Christendom, although some historians say the stairs might date only from the 4th century.
Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano 4. 06-69886433. Free admission. Daily 7am-6:30pm. Metro: San Giovanni.
Case Romane del Celio RUINS The 5th-century Basilica of SS. Giovanni e Paolo stands over a residential complex consisting of several Roman houses of different periods. A visit here will provide you with a unique picture of how generations of Romans lived. Preserved at the labyrinthine site is a residence from the 2nd century A.D., a single home of a wealthy family, and a 3rd-century A.D. apartment building for artisans.
According to tradition, this was the dwelling of two Roman officers, John and Paul (not the Apostles), who were beheaded during the reign of Julian the Apostate (361-63), when they refused to serve in a military campaign. They were later made saints, and their bones were said to have been buried at this site. A religious sect, the Passionists, excavated the site in 1887, discovering naked genii figures painted on the walls. Scandalized at such a realistic depiction of male genitalia, they blurred some of the most obvious anatomical details. The two-story construction, with some 20 rooms, also contains a small museum room with finds from the site and fragmentary 12th-century frescoes.
Piazza Santi Giovanni e Paolo 13 (entrance on Clivo di Scauro). www.caseromane.it. 06-70454544. Admission 6€ adults, 4€ ages 12-18. Thurs-Mon 10am-1pm and 3-6pm. Metro: Colosseo or Circo Massimo.
Museo Nazionale del Palazzo di Venezia MUSEUM Best remembered today as Mussolini’s Fascist headquarters in Rome, the palace was built in the 1450s as the Rome outpost of the Republic of Venice—hence the name. It later became the Austrian Embassy, after Venice was dissolved by Napoleon. Today, a few of its rooms are given over to a modest collection of exhibits; highlights include Giorgione’s enigmatic “Double Portrait” and some early Tuscan altarpieces. Car noise is a constant companion as you tour—the palace’s formerly tranquil gardens are now one of Rome’s busiest intersections, Piazza Venezia.
Via del Plebiscito 118. www.museopalazzovenezia.beniculturali.it. 06-6780131. Admission 5€. Tues-Sun 8:30am-7:30pm. Bus: 30, 40, 46, 62, 70, 87, or 916.
San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains) CHURCH This church, which has undergone recent renovations, was founded in the 5th century to house the supposed chains that bound St. Peter in Palestine (they’re preserved under glass below the main altar). But the drawing card is the tomb of Pope Julius II, which features one of the world’s most famous sculptures: Michelangelo’s “Moses” . Michelangelo was to have carved 44 magnificent figures for the tomb. That didn’t happen, of course, but the Pope was given a great consolation prize—a figure intended to be “minor” that’s now numbered among Michelangelo’s masterpieces. Don’t leave without a quick look at the unusual “skeleton tombs,” in the left aisle.
Piazza San Pietro in Vincoli 4A. 06-97844952. Free admission. Spring-summer daily 8:30am-12:30pm and 3:30-6:30pm (fall-winter to 5:30pm). Metro: Colosseo or Cavour.
Santa Maria in Aracoeli CHURCH On the Capitoline Hill, this landmark church was built for the Franciscans in the 13th century. According to legend, Augustus once ordered a temple erected on this spot, where a prophetic sibyl forecast the coming of Christ. Interior highlights include a coffered Renaissance ceiling and the tombstone of Giovanni Crivelli (1432) carved by the great Florentine Renaissance sculptor, Donatello. The church is also known for the Cappella Bufalini (first chapel on the right), frescoed by Pinturicchio with scenes illustrating the life and death of St. Bernardino of Siena.
You have to climb a long flight of steep steps to reach the church, unless you’re already on neighboring Piazza del Campidoglio, in which case you can cross the piazza and climb the steps on the far side of the Musei Capitolini (p. 106).
Scala dell’Arce Capitolina 12. 06-69763838. Free admission. Daily 9am-12:30pm and 2:30-5:30pm. Bus: C3, H, 40, 44, 60, 80B, 190, 780, or 781.
Santa Maria in Cosmedin CHURCH People come to this little church not for great art treasures, but to see the “Mouth of Truth,” a large disk under the portico. As Gregory Peck demonstrated to Audrey Hepburn in the film “Roman Holiday,” the mouth is supposed to chomp down on the hands of liars. (According to local legend, a former priest used to keep a scorpion in back to bite the fingers of anyone he felt was lying.) The purpose of this disk—which is not of particular artistic interest—is unclear. One hypothesis says that it was one of Rome’s many “talking statues.” If you wanted to rat someone out, all you’d have to do was drop an anonymous note into the open mouth. The church itself was erected in the 6th century but was subsequently rebuilt. A Romanesque bell tower was added at the end of the 11th century.
Piazza della Bocca della Verità 18. 06-6787759. Free admission. Summer daily 9:30am-5:50pm; winter daily 9:30am-5pm. Bus: 23, 81, 160, 280, or 628.
Vittoriano MONUMENT It’s impossible to miss the white Brescian marble Vittorio Emanuele monument that dominates the corner where Via dei Fori Imperiali meets Piazza Venezia. The city’s most flamboyant and frankly, disliked, landmark, was built in the late 1800s to honor the first king of a united Italy. It has been compared to everything from a wedding cake to a Victorian typewriter, and has been ridiculed because of its harsh white color in a city of honey-gold tones. An eternal flame burns at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. For a panoramic view over the city, a glass lift whisks you to the Terrazza delle Quadrighe (Terrace of the Chariots) .
Piazza Venezia. 06-6780664. Admission to lift 7€. Mon-Thurs 9:30am-5:45pm, Fri-Sun 9:30am-6:45pm. Bus: 53, 80, 85, 87, 175, 186, 271, 571, or 810.
Centro Storico & the Pantheon
Just across the Tiber from the Vatican and Castel Sant’Angelo lies the true heart of Rome, the Centro Storico or “historic center,” roughly the triangular wedge of land that bulges into a bend of the river. Although the area lay outside the Roman city, it came into its own during the Renaissance, and today its streets and alleys are crammed with crumbling piazzas, elegant churches, and lavish fountains, all buzzing with scooters and people.
PIAZZA NAVONA & NEARBY ATTRACTIONS
Rome’s most famous square, Piazza Navona , is a gorgeous baroque gem, lined with cafes and restaurants and often crammed with tourists, street artists, and pigeons by day and night. Its long, thin shape follows the contours of the old Roman Stadium of Domitian, where chariot races once took place, still a ruin until a mid-17th-century makeover by Pope Innocent X. The twin-towered facade of 17th-century Sant’Agnese in Agone lies on the piazza’s western side, while the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) opposite is one of three great fountains in the square, this one a typically exuberant creation of Bernini, topped with an Egyptian obelisk. The four stone personifications below symbolize the world’s greatest rivers: the Ganges, Danube, River Plate, and Nile. It’s fun to try to figure out which is which. (Hint: The figure with the shroud on its head is the Nile, so represented because the river’s source was unknown at the time.) At the south end is the Fontana del Moro (Fountain of the Moor), also by Bernini; the Fontana di Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune) is a 19th-century addition.
Art lovers should make the short walk from the piazza to Santa Maria della Pace on Arco della Pace, a 15th-century church given the usual baroque makeover by Pietro da Cortona in the 1660s. The real gems are inside, beginning with Raphael’s “Four Sibyls” fresco, above the arch of the Capella Chigi, and the Chiostro del Bramante (Bramante cloister) , built between 1500 and 1504 and the first work of the Renaissance master in the city. The church is normally open on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday from 9am to noon, while the cloister opens Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 8pm. The church is free, but admission to the cloister, which hosts temporary art exhibitions, costs 10€.
Palazzo Altemps MUSEUM Inside this 15th-century palazzo, today a branch of the National Museum of Rome, is one of Rome’s most charming museums. It’s rarely crowded yet houses some of Rome’s most famous private and public art collections. The collection is small, but the works are individually superb; much of it was once part of the famed Boncompagni Ludovisi Collection, created by Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi (1595-1632) and sold at auction in 1901.
Among the highlights is the “Ludovisi Ares” , a handsome 2nd-century copy of a late-4th-century B.C. Greek statue of Mars (Ares to the Greeks). Equally renowned is the “Ludovisi Gaul” , a marble depiction of a Gaulish warrior plunging a sword into his chest, looking backwards defiantly as he supports a dying woman with his left arm—a 2nd-century Roman copy of a 3rd-century B.C. Hellenistic original. Also worth a look is the “Ludovisi Throne,” a sculpted block of white marble, thought to date from the 5th century B.C., depicting Aphrodite rising from the sea. Elsewhere the “Juno Ludovisi” is a massive, 1st-century marble head of the goddess Juno.
Piazza di Sant’Apollinare 46, near Piazza Navona. 06-39967700. Admission 7€ (also valid at Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Terme di Diocleziano, and Crypta Balbi for 3 days). Tues-Sun 9am-7:45pm. Last admission 1 hr. before closing. Bus: 87, 70, 492, 30, 130, 81 or 628.
San Luigi dei Francesi CHURCH For a painter of such stratospheric standards as Caravaggio, it is impossible to be definitive in naming his “masterpiece.” However, the “Calling of St. Matthew” , in the far-left chapel of Rome’s French church, must be a candidate. The panel dramatizes the moment Jesus and Peter “called” the customs officer to join them, in Caravaggio’s distinct chiaroscuro (extreme light and shade) style. Around the same time (1599-1602) Caravaggio also painted the other two St. Matthew panels in the Capella Contarelli—including one depicting the saint’s martyrdom. Other highlights inside include Domenichino’s masterful “Histories of Saint Cecilia” fresco cycle.
Via di Santa Giovanna d’Arco 5. www.saintlouis-rome.net. 06-688271. Free admission. Mon-Wed and Fri-Sat 10am-12:30pm and 3-7pm; Thurs 10am-12:30pm; Sun 3-7pm. Bus: C3, 30, 70, 81, 87, 116, 186, 492, or 628.
THE PANTHEON & NEARBY ATTRACTIONS
The Pantheon stands on Piazza della Rotonda, a lively square with cafes, vendors, and great people-watching.
The Pantheon HISTORIC SITE Of all ancient Rome’s great buildings, only the Pantheon (“Temple to All the Gods”) remains intact. It was originally built in 27 B.C. by Marcus Agrippa but was entirely reconstructed by Hadrian in the early 2nd century A.D. This remarkable building, 43m (142 ft.) wide and 43m (142 ft.) high (a perfect sphere resting in a cylinder) and once ringed with white marble statues of Roman gods in its niches, is among the architectural wonders of the world, even today. Hadrian himself is credited with the basic plan, an architectural design that was unique for the time. There are no visible arches or vaults holding up the dome; instead they’re sunk into the concrete of the walls of the building, while the ribbed dome outside is a series of almost weightless cantilevered bricks. Animals were once sacrificed and burned in the center, and the smoke escaped through the only means of light, the oculus, an opening at the top 5.5m (18 ft.) in diameter.
The interior would have been richly decorated, but now, apart from the jaw-dropping size of the space, the main things of interest are the tombs of two Italian kings (Vittorio Emanuele II and his successor, Umberto I), and the resting place of Raphael (fans still bring him flowers), between the second and third chapel on the left. The Pantheon has been used as a Catholic church since the 7th century, the Santa Maria ad Martyres, but informally known as “Santa Maria della Rotonda.”
Piazza della Rotonda. 06-68300230. Free admission. Mon-Sat 8:30am-7:30pm; Sun 9am-6pm. Mass Sat 5pm, Sun 10:30am (only Mass attendees allowed to enter at these times). Bus: 30, 40, 62, 64, 81, or 492 to Largo di Torre Argentina.
Sunlight streams through the dome of the Pantheon.
Santa Maria sopra Minerva CHURCH Just 1 block behind the Pantheon, Santa Maria sopra Minerva is Rome’s most significant Dominican church and the only significant Gothic church in the center. True, the facade is in the Renaissance style (the church was begun in 1280 but worked on until 1725), but inside, the arched vaulting is pure Gothic. The main art treasures here are the “Statua del Redentore” (1521), a statue of Christ by Michelangelo (just to the left of the altar) and a wonderful fresco cycle in the Cappella Carafa (on the right before the altar), created by Filippino Lippi between 1488 and 1493 to honor St. Thomas Aquinas. Devout Catholics flock to the venerated tomb of Saint Catherine of Siena under the high altar—the room where she died in 1380 was reconstructed behind the Sacristy by Antonio Barberini in 1637 (far left corner of the church). Fra’ Angelico, the Dominican friar and painter, also rests here, in the Cappella Frangipane e Maddaleni-Capiferro (to the left of the altar).
Piazza della Minerva 42. www.basilicaminerva.it. 06-69920384. Free admission. Daily 8am-7pm. Bus: 116.
Crypta Balbi MUSEUM/RUINS The newest and perhaps most intriguing of all the branches of the National Museum of Rome, the Crypta Balbi houses the archeological remains of the vast portico belonging to the 1st-century B.C. Theatre of Lucius Cornelius Balbus, discovered here in 1981. The first floor exhibits chronicle the history of the site through to the medieval period and the construction of the Conservatorio di Santa Caterina della Rosa. The second floor (“Rome from Antiquity to the Middle Ages”) explores the transformation of the city between the 5th and 9th centuries, using thousands of ceramic objects, coins, lead seals, bone and ivory implements, precious stones, and tools found on the site.
Via delle Botteghe Oscure 31. www.archeoroma.beniculturali.it. 06-39967700. Admission 7€ adults (also valid for Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Palazzo Altemps, and Terme di Diocleziano for 3 days). Tues-Sun 9am-7:45pm. Bus: 30, 40, 64, 70, 87, 190, 271, 492, 571, 810 or 916.
Galleria Doria Pamphilj ART MUSEUM One of the city’s finest rococo palaces, the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj is still privately owned by the aristocratic Doria Pamphilj family, but their stupendous art collection is open to the public. Make sure you grab a free audio-tour at the entrance.
The galleria extends through the old apartments, the paintings displayed floor-to-ceiling among antique furniture, drapes, and richly decorated walls. The Dutch and Flemish collection is especially strong, with highlights including a rare Italian work by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, “Battle in the Port of Naples,” and his son Jan Brueghel the Elder’s “Earthly Paradise with Original Sin.” Among the best Italian work are two paintings by Caravaggio, the moving “Repentant Magdalene” and his wonderful “Rest on the Flight into Egypt,” hanging near “Salome with the Head of St. John,” by Titian. There’s also Raphael’s “Double Portrait,” an “Annunciation” by Filippo Lippi, and a “Deposition from the Cross” by Vasari. The gallery’s real treasures, however, occupy a special room: Bernini’s bust of the Pamphilj “Pope Innocent X” , and Velázquez’s celebrated, enigmatic painting of the same man.
Via del Corso 305 (just north of Piazza Venezia). www.dopart.it. 06-6797323. Admission 11€ adults, 7.50€ students. Daily 9am-7pm, last admission 6pm. Bus: 64 to Piazza Venezia.
Campo de’ Fiori
The southern section of the Centro Storico, Campo de’ Fiori is another neighborhood of narrow streets, small piazzas, and ancient churches. Its main focus remains the piazza of Campo de’ Fiori itself, whose workaday fruit and veg stalls are a real contrast to the cafes and street entertainers of Piazza Navona. The excessively expensive and often cheap quality open-air food market runs Monday through Saturday from early in the morning until around 2pm (or whenever the food runs out). From the center of the piazza rises a statue of the severe-looking monk Giordano Bruno, whose presence is a reminder that heretics were occasionally burned at the stake here: Bruno was executed by the Inquisition in 1600.
Built from 1514 to 1589, the Palazzo Farnese , on Piazza Farnese just to the south of the Campo, was designed by Sangallo and Michelangelo, among others, and was an astronomically expensive project for the time. Its famous residents have included a 16th-century member of the Farnese family, plus Pope Paul III, Cardinal Richelieu, and the former Queen Christina of Sweden, who moved to Rome after abdicating. During the 1630s, when the heirs couldn’t afford to maintain the palazzo, it was inherited by the Bourbon kings of Naples and was purchased by the French government in 1874; the French Embassy is still located here (closed to the public). For the best view of it, cut west from Via Giulia along any of the narrow streets—we recommend Via Mascherone or Via dei Farnesi.
Palazzo Spada MUSEUM Built around 1540 for Cardinal Gerolamo Capo di Ferro, Palazzo Spada was purchased by the eponymous Cardinal Spada in 1632. Most of what you see today dates from the restoration undertaken by Borromini during the Spada period. Its richly ornate facade, covered in high-relief stucco decorations in the Mannerist style, is the finest of any building from 16th-century Rome. The State Rooms are closed (the Italian Council of State still meets here), but the richly decorated courtyard and corridor, Borromini’s masterful illusion of perspective (la prospettiva di Borromini), and the four rooms of the Galleria Spada are open to the public. Inside you will find some absorbing paintings, such as the “Portrait of Cardinale Bernardino Spada” by Guido Reni, and Titian’s “Portrait of a Violinist,” plus minor works from Caravaggio, Parmigianino, Pietro Testa, and Giambattista Gaulli.
Campo de’ Fiori is a lively main square both day and night.
Piazza Capo di Ferro 13. 06-6874893. Admission 5€. Tue-Sun 8:30am-7:30pm. Bus 46, 56, 62, 64, 70, 87, or 492.
The Jewish Ghetto
The southern part of Campo de’ Fiori merges into the old Jewish Ghetto, established near the River Tiber by a Papal Bull in 1555, which required all the Jews in Rome to live in one area. Walled in, overcrowded, prone to floods and epidemics, and on some of the worst land in the city, life here was extremely grim. It was only after the Ghetto was abolished in 1882 that its walls were torn down and the area largely reconstructed. Today the Via Portico d’Ottavia lies at the heart of a flourishing Jewish Quarter, with Romans flocking here to soak up the festive atmosphere and sample the Jewish and Middle Eastern food.
The Great Synagogue of Rome (Tempio Maggiore di Roma; www.romaebraica.it; 06-6840061) was built from 1901 to 1904 in an eclectic style evoking Babylonian and Persian temples. The synagogue was attacked by terrorists in 1982 and since then has been heavily guarded by carabinieri, a division of the Italian police armed with machine guns. On the premises is the Museo Ebraico di Roma (Jewish Museum of Rome), Via Catalana (www.museoebraico.roma.it; 06-6840061), which chronicles the history of the Jews of Rome and Italy in general with displays of works of 17th- and 18th-century Roman silversmiths, precious textiles from all over Europe, parchments, and marble carvings saved when the Ghetto synagogues were demolished. Admission to the museum (open mid-June to mid-Sept Sun-Thurs 10am-7pm and Fri 10am-4pm; rest of year Sun-Thurs 10am-5pm and Fri 9am-2pm) includes a guided tour of the synagogue in English (11€ adults, 4€ for students; free for children 10 and under).
The Tridente & the Spanish Steps
The northern half of central Rome is known as the Tridente thanks to the trident shape formed by three roads—Via di Ripetta, Via del Corso, and Via del Babuino—leading down from Piazza del Popolo. The area around Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps was once the artistic quarter of the city, attracting English poets Keats and Shelley, German author Goethe, and Italian film director Federico Fellini (who lived on Via Margutta). Institutions such as Caffè Greco and Babington’s Tea Rooms are still here (see p. 84), though you will be lucky to see any artists today through the throngs of tourists and shoppers.
Piazza del Popolo
Elegant Piazza del Popolo is haunted with memories. According to legend, the ashes of Nero were enshrined here, until 11th-century residents began complaining to the pope about his imperial ghost. The Egyptian obelisk dates from the 13th century B.C.; it was removed from Heliopolis to Rome during Augustus’s reign (it once stood at the Circus Maximus).
The Spanish Steps.
The current piazza was designed in the early 19th century by Valadier, Napoleon’s architect. The 15th-century Santa Maria del Popolo is at its northern curve, its facade modified by the great Bernini between 1655 and 1660 in a baroque style. Raphael’s mosaic series the “Creation of the World” adorns the interior of the dome of the Capella Chigi inside the church (the second chapel on the left), and Pinturicchio decorated the main choir vault with frescoes such as the “Coronation of the Virgin.” The Capella Cerasi (to the left of the high altar), contains gorgeous examples of baroque art: an altarpiece painting of “The Assumption of Mary” by Carracci, and on either side two great works by Caravaggio, “Conversion on the Road to Damascus” and “The Crucifixion of Saint Peter.” Opposite Santa Maria del Popolo, standing astride the three roads that form the “trident,” are almost-twin baroque churches, Santa Maria dei Miracoli (1681) and Santa Maria di Montesanto (1679).
MAXXI (National Museum of the XXI Century Arts) MUSEUM Ten minutes north of Piazza del Popolo by tram, you leave the Renaissance far behind at MAXXI, a masterpiece of contemporary architecture with bending and overlapping oblong tubes designed by Anglo-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid. The museum is divided into two sections, MAXXI art and MAXXI architecture, primarily serving as a venue for temporary exhibitions of contemporary work in both fields (although it does have a small and growing permanent collection). The building is worth a visit in its own right.
Via Guido Reni 4a. www.fondazionemaxxi.it. 06-39967350. Admission 11€, free children 13 and under. Tues-Fri and Sun 11am-7pm; Sat 11am-10pm. Metro: Flaminio, then tram 2.
Museo dell’Ara Pacis MUSEUM Set in a very modern glass building, which you can explore for free, the museum is surrounded by more historic structures. The white marble “Altar of Peace” was created in 9 B.C. to honor the achievements of (soon to be Emperor) Augustus in subduing tribes north of the Alps. It was later lost to memory, and though signs of its existence were discovered in the 16th century, it wasn’t until the 1930s that the ancient monument was fully excavated. After World War II it lay virtually abandoned until the 1970s, but true restoration began in the 1980s, and the current building, finished in 2006 to a design by American architect Richard Meier, is one of the most poignant showcases of Imperial Rome.
The onsite museum provides context, with interactive displays in English and Italian. Note that you get great views of the huge, overgrown ruin of Augustus’s Mausoleum (Mausoleo di Augusto) from here, but the 1st-century B.C. tomb itself—where the ashes of emperors Augustus, Caligula, Claudius, Nerva, and Tiberius were once stored—is closed to the public.
Lungotevere in Augusta. http://en.arapacis.it. 06-060608. Admission 8.50€. Tues-Sun 9am-7pm (last admission 6pm). Bus: C3, 70, 81, 87, 186, 492, 628, or 913.
Piazza di Spagna
The undoubted highlight of Tridente is Piazza di Spagna, which attracts hordes of Romans and tourists alike to lounge on its celebrated Spanish Steps (Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti) , the largest stairway in Europe, and enjoy the view onto Bernini’s “Fontana della Barcaccia,” a fountain shaped like an old boat. The Steps are especially enchanting in early spring, when they become framed by thousands of blooming azaleas, but they are heaving with flower dealers, trinket sellers, and photographers year-round.
In an odd twist, the monumental stairway of 135 steps and the square take their names from the Spanish Embassy (it used to be headquartered here), but were actually funded, almost entirely, by the French. That’s because the Trinità dei Monti church at the top was under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France at the time. They were built from 1723 to 1725.
Trinità dei Monti itself is a 16th-century church with a stately baroque facade perched photogenically at the top of the Steps, behind yet another Roman obelisk, the “Obelisco Sallustiano.” It’s worth climbing up just for the views. Inside, the artistic highlights include works by Daniele da Volterra, a pupil of Michelangelo, notably a fresco of the “Assumption” in the third chapel on the right; the last figure on the right is said to be a portrait of the maestro himself. In the second chapel on the left is Volterra’s critically acclaimed “Deposition” in monochrome, which imitates a sculpture by clever use of trompe l’oeil.
Keats-Shelley House MUSEUM At the foot of the Spanish Steps is the 18th-century house where the Romantic English poet John Keats died of consumption on February 23, 1821 at age 25. Since 1909, when it was bought by well-intentioned English and American literary types, it has been a working library established in honor of Keats and fellow Romantic Percy Bysshe Shelley, who drowned off the coast of Viareggio with a copy of Keats’ works in his pocket. Mementos range from kitsch to extremely moving. The apartment where Keats spent his last months, tended by his close friend Joseph Severn, shelters a death mask of Keats as well as the “deadly sweat” drawing by Severn.
Piazza di Spagna 26. www.keats-shelley-house.org. 06-6784235. Admission 5€. Mon-Sat 10am-1pm and 2-6pm. Metro: Spagna.
Art in the Pope’s Stables
Across from the Palazzo del Quirinale, the Scuderie del Quirinale or Scuderie Papali, Via XXIV Maggio 16 (www.scuderiequirinale.it; 06-39967500), 18th-century stables built for the pope’s horses, now function as remarkably atmospheric art galleries hosting temporary exhibitions. Recent exhibits have included the work of Frida Kahlo and art that depicts Emperor Augustus. The galleries are usually open Sunday through Thursday from 10am to 8pm, and Friday and Saturday 10am to 10:30pm, but often close between exhibitions and throughout the summer months—check the website. Admission is 12€.
Palazzo del Quirinale HISTORIC SITE Until the end of World War II, this palace was home of the king of Italy; before the crown resided here, it was the summer residence of the pope. Since 1946 the palace has been the official residence of the President of Italy, but parts of it are open to the public on Sunday mornings.
Although it can’t compare to Rome’s major artistic showstoppers (there’s little art or furniture in the rooms), the rich baroque and neoclassical walls and ceilings are quite a spectacle. Few rooms anywhere are as impressive as the richly decorated, 17th-century Salone dei Corazzieri, the Sala d’Ercole (once the apartments of Umberto I but completely rebuilt in 1940), and the tapestry covered, 17th-century Sala dello Zodiaco. Despite its Renaissance origins (nearly every important architect in Italy worked on some aspect of its sprawling premises), this palazzo is rich in associations with ancient emperors and deities. The colossal statues of the “Dioscuri,” Castor and Pollux, which now form part of the fountain in the piazza, were found in the nearby Baths of Constantine; in 1793 Pius VI had an ancient Egyptian obelisk moved here from the Mausoleum of Augustus. The sweeping view of the city from the piazza, which crowns the highest of the seven ancient hills of Rome, is itself worth the trip.
Piazza del Quirinale. www.quirinale.it. 06-46991. Admission 5€, free ages 17 and under and 65 and over. Sun 8:30am-noon. Closed late June to early Sept. Metro: Barberini.
Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi) MONUMENT As you elbow your way through the summertime crowds around the Trevi Fountain, you’ll find it hard to believe that this little piazza was nearly always deserted before 1950, when it began “starring” in films. The first was “Three Coins in the Fountain,” and later it was the setting for an iconic scene in Federico Fellini’s 1960 masterpiece, “La Dolce Vita,” and it was also where Audrey Hepburn’s character in “Roman Holiday” gets her signature haircut. To this day, thousands of euros worth of coins are tossed into the fountain every day.
Supplied with water from the Acqua Vergine aqueduct and a triumph of the baroque style, the fountain was based on the design of Nicola Salvi and was completed in 1762. The design centers on the triumphant figure of Neptune, standing on a shell chariot drawn by winged steeds and led by a pair of tritons. Two allegorical figures in the side niches represent good health and fertility.
On the southwestern corner of the piazza is an unimpressive church, SS. Vincenzo e Anastasio, with a strange claim to fame. Within it survive the relics (hearts and intestines) of several popes.
Piazza di Trevi. Metro: Barberini.
Villa Borghese & Parioli
Villa Borghese , in the heart of Rome, is not actually a villa but one of Europe’s most elegant parks, 6km (33⁄4 miles) in circumference. It provides access, confusingly, to the Galleria Borghese in the former Villa Borghese Pinciana (which really is a villa). Cardinal Scipione Borghese created the park in the 1600s. Umberto I, king of Italy, acquired it in 1902 and presented it to the city of Rome. With landscaped vistas, the heart-shaped greenbelt is crisscrossed by roads, but you can escape from the traffic and seek a shaded area under a tree to enjoy a picnic or relax. On a sunny weekend, it’s a pleasure to stroll here and see Romans at play, relaxing or inline skating. There are a few casual cafes and some food vendors. You can also rent bikes here. In the northeast of the park is a small zoo; the park is also home to a few outstanding museums.
Galleria Borghese ART MUSEUM In the far north eastern edge of the Villa Borghese, the Galleria Borghese occupies the former Villa Borghese Pinciana, built between 1609 and 1613 for Cardinal Scipione Borghese, an early patron of Bernini and an astute collector of work by Caravaggio. Today the gallery displays much of his collection and a lot more besides, making this one of Rome’s great art treasures. It’s also one of Rome’s most pleasant sights to tour, thanks to the curators’ mandate that only a limited number of people be allowed in at any one time (see the last paragraph of this section for more on that).
The ground floor is a sculpture gallery par extraordinaire, housing Canova’s famously risqué statue of Paolina Borghese, sister of Napoleon and married to the reigning Prince Camillo Borghese (when asked if she was uncomfortable posing nude, she reportedly replied, “No, the studio was heated.”). The genius of Bernini reigns supreme in the following rooms, with his “David” (the face of which is thought to be a self-portrait), and his “Apollo and Daphne” seminal works of baroque sculpture. Look out also for Bernini’s Mannerist sculpture next door, “The Rape of Persephone.” Caravaggio is represented by the “Madonna of the Grooms,” his shadowy “St. Jerome,” and his frightening “David Holding the Head of Goliath” .
The Villa Borghese.
Upstairs lies a rich collection of paintings, including Raphael’s ultra-graceful “Deposition” and his sinuous “Lady with a Unicorn.” There’s also a series of self-portraits by Bernini, and his lifelike busts of Cardinal Scipione and Pope Paul V. One of Titian’s best, “Sacred and Profane Love” , lies in the final rooms. Guided tours of the galleries in English (5€) run 9:10am to 11:10am, but failing that opt for the audioguides, as English labeling in the museum is minimal. No photographs are allowed inside the museum.
Important information: No more than 360 visitors at a time are allowed on the ground floor, and no more than 90 are allowed on the upper floor, during set, 2-hour windows. Reservations are essential, so call 06-32810 (Mon-Fri 9am-6pm; Sat 9am-1pm). You can also make reservations by visiting www.tosc.it, or by stopping by in person on your first day to reserve tickets for a later date. If you are having problems making a reservation in advance, ask your hotel to help out.
Piazzale del Museo Borghese 5 (off Via Pinciana). www.galleriaborghese.it. 06-8413979. Admission 11€ plus 2€ mandatory “service charge.” Audioguides 5€. Tues-Sun 8:30am-7:30pm. Bus: 5, 19, 52, 116, 204, 490, or 910.
Museo Carlo Bilotti ART MUSEUM Fans of Greek-born Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico should make a pilgrimage to this small modern art gallery, created thanks to the generosity of Carlo Bilotti, an Italian-American collector who donated 23 artworks to Rome in 2006. Though long overshadowed by the more famous Surrealists, De Chirico was a major influence on the Surrealist movement in the early 20th century—the themes of loneliness and isolation explored in his “metaphysical” paintings provoke comparisons with American artist Edward Hopper.
Housed in a 16th-century palace in the Villa Borghese, the museum consists of two small rooms, and though the work is good, we recommend it for art aficionados only. Works to look out for include the elegant “Portrait of Tina and Lisa Bilotti” by Andy Warhol, a rare restrained piece by the Pop Art master, and Larry Rivers’ depiction of Carlo Bilotti himself. De Chirico dominates Room 2, with 17 paintings representing all his memorable themes from the second half of the 1920s through to the 1970s. Here also is the beguiling “Summer,” an abstract work by Tuscan Gino Severini.
Villa Borghese, at Viale Fiorello La Guardia. www.museocarlobilotti.it. 06-0608. Admission June-Sept 6.50€ adults, 5.50€ children; Oct-May 8€ adults, 6€ children. June-Sept Tues-Fri 1-7pm; Oct-May Tues-Fri 10am-4pm. Metro: Flaminio.
Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia (National Etruscan Museum) MUSEUM The great Etruscan civilization was one of Italy’s most advanced, although it remains relatively mysterious, in part because of its centuries-long rivalry with Rome. Once Rome had absorbed the Etruscans in the 3rd century B.C., it set about eradicating all evidence of its achievements, as it did with most of the peoples it conquered.
Today this museum, housed in the handsome Renaissance Villa Giulia, built by Pope Julius III between 1550 and 1555, is the best place in Italy to learn about the Etruscans, thanks to a cache of precious artifacts, sculptures, vases, monuments, tools, weapons, and jewels. Fans of ancient history could spend several hours here, but for those with less time, here’s a quick list of the unmissable sights: The most striking attraction is the stunning Sarcofago degli Sposi (Sarcophagus of the Spouses) , a late-6th-century B.C. terracotta funerary monument featuring a life-sized bride and groom, supposedly lounging at a banquet in the afterlife—there’s a similar monument in Paris’s Louvre. Equally fascinating are the Pyrgi Tablets, gold-leaf inscriptions in both Etruscan and Phoenician from the 5th century B.C., and the Apollo of Veii, a huge painted terracotta statue of Apollo dating to the 6th century B.C. The Euphronios Krater is also housed here, a renowned and perfectly maintained red-figured Greek vase from the 6th century B.C., which returned home from the New York Met after a long legal battle won by Italy in 2006.
Piazzale di Villa Giulia 9. www.villagiulia.beniculturali.it. 06-3226571. Admission 8€. Tues-Sun 8:30am-7:30pm. Bus: 926. Tram: 3, 19.
Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna (National Gallery of Modern Art) ART MUSEUM Housed in the monumental Bazzani Building, constructed for the exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of “United Italy” in 1911, this “modern” art collection ranges from unfashionable neoclassical and Romantic paintings and sculpture to better 20th-century works. Quality varies, but fans should seek out van Gogh’s “Gardener” and “Portrait of Madame Ginoux” in Room 15, the handful of Impressionists in Room 14 (Cézanne, Degas, Monet, and Rodin), and Klimt’s harrowing “Three Ages” in Room 16. The Surrealist and Expressionist work of Miró, Kandinsky, and Mondrian appears in Room 22, and Pollock’s “Undulating Paths” and Calder’s “Mobile” hold court in Room 27. One of Warhol’s “Hammer and Sickle” series is tucked away in Room 30.
Frankly, the museum is primarily a showcase for modern Italian painters, a group inevitably laboring under the mighty shadow of their Renaissance and baroque forebears, but talented nonetheless. Be sure to check out especially the rooms dedicated to Giacomo Balla (no. 34), Giacomo Manzù (no. 35), Renato Guttuso (no. 37), and Pino Pascali (no. 40).
Viale delle Belle Arti 131. www.gnam.beniculturali.it. 06-322981. Admission 8€, free children 17 and under. Tues-Sun 8:30am-7:30pm. Bus: 88, 95, 490, or 495.
Via Veneto & Piazza Barberini
Piazza Barberini lies at the foot of several Roman streets, among them Via Barberini, Via Sistina, and Via Vittorio Veneto. It would be a far more pleasant spot were it not for the heavy traffic swarming around its principal feature, Bernini’s Fountain of the Triton (Fontana del Tritone) . For more than 3 centuries, the strange figure sitting in a vast open clam has been blowing water from his triton. Off to one side of the piazza is the aristocratic side facade of the Palazzo Barberini, named for one of Rome’s powerful families; inside is the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica (see below). The Renaissance Barberini reached their peak when a son was elected pope as Urban VIII; he encouraged Bernini and gave him patronage.
As you walk up Via Vittorio Veneto, look for the small fountain on the right corner of Piazza Barberini—it’s another Bernini, the Fountain of the Bees (Fontana delle Api). At first they look more like flies, but they’re the bees of the Barberini, the crest of that powerful family complete with the crossed keys of St. Peter above them. (Keys were always added to a family crest when a son was elected pope.)
Museo e Cripta dei Frati Cappuccini (Museum and Crypt of the Capuchin Friars) RELIGIOUS SITE/MUSEUM One of the most mesmerizingly macabre sights in all Christendom, this otherwise modest museum dedicated to the Capuchin order ends with a series of six chapels in the crypt, adorned with thousands of skulls and bones woven into mosaic “works of art.” To make this allegorical dance of death, the bones of more than 3,700 Capuchin brothers were used. Some of the skeletons are intact, draped with Franciscan habits. The creator of this chamber of horrors? The tradition of the friars is that it was the work of a French Capuchin. Their literature suggests that you should consider the historical context of its origins, a period when Christians had a rich and creative cult of the dead and great spiritual masters meditated and preached with a skull in hand. But whatever you believe, the experience is undeniably spooky (you can take photographs). The entrance is halfway up the first staircase on the right of the church of the Convento dei Frati Cappuccini, completed in 1630 and rebuilt in the early 1930s.
Beside the Convento dei Frati Cappuccini, Via Vittorio Veneto 27. www.cappucciniviaveneto.it. 06-88803695. Admission 6€, 4€ ages 17 and under. Daily 9am-7pm, last admission 6:30pm. Metro: Barberini.
Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica (National Gallery of Ancient Art) ART MUSEUM On the southern side of Piazza Barberini, the grand Palazzo Barberini houses the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, a trove of Italian art from primarily the early Renaissance to late baroque periods. Some of the art on display is wonderful, but the building itself is the main attraction, a baroque masterpiece begun by Carlo Maderno in 1627 and completed in 1633 by Bernini, with additional work by Borromini (notably a whimsical spiral staircase). The Salone di Pietro da Cortona in the center is the most captivating space, with a trompe l’oeil ceiling frescoed by Pietro da Cortona, a depiction of “The Triumph of Divine Providence.”
The initial galleries on the lower two floors cover the early Renaissance, with some modest crowd-pleasers such as Piero di Cosimo’s “St. Mary Magdalene” (Room 10). But most of the devotional work will appeal strictly to aficionados. Beyond these first galleries lies the core of the museum, covering the High Renaissance and baroque periods, which has more intriguing works, including Raphael’s “La Fornarina,” a baker’s daughter thought to have been the artist’s mistress (look for Raphael’s name on the woman’s bracelet); paintings by Tintoretto and Titian (Room 15); a portrait of English King Henry VIII by Holbein (Room 16); and a couple of typically unsettling El Grecos in Room 17, “The Baptism of Christ” and “Adoration of the Shepherds.” Caravaggio dominates room 20 with the justly celebrated “Judith and Holofernes” and “Narcissus” .
The newer galleries on the top floor cover the less fashionable, late baroque era, featuring the work of painters such as Luca Giordano (Room 25) and other Neapolitans, though Bernini’s “Portrait of Urban VIII” certainly stands out in Room 26. If you run out of time, you can skip the final galleries (they cover the even less appealing late 17th and 18th c.), although the classic Venetian scenes by Canaletto (Room 30) are always a pleasure.
Via delle Quattro Fontane 13. www.galleriabarberini.beniculturali.it. 06-4814591. Admission 7€; combined with Palazzo Corsini 9€. Tues-Sun 8:30am-7pm; last admission 6pm. Metro: Barberini.
Around Stazione Termini
Palazzo Massimo alle Terme MUSEUM A third of Rome’s assortment of ancient art can be found at this branch of the Museo Nazionale Romano; among its treasures are a major coin collection, extensive maps of trade routes (with audio and visual exhibits on the network of traders over the centuries), and a vast sculpture collection that includes portrait busts of emperors and their families, as well as mythical figures like the Minotaur and Athena. But the real draw is on the second floor, where you can see some of the oldest of Rome’s frescoes ; they depict an entire garden, complete with plants and birds, from the Villa di Livia a Prima Porta. (Livia was the wife of Emperor Augustus and was deified after her death in A.D. 29.)
Largo di Villa Peretti. www.archeoroma.beniculturali.it. 06-39967700. Admission 7€; ticket valid for Terme di Diocleziano (see below), Palazzo Altemps (p. 114) and Crypta Balbi (p. 117. Tues-Sun 9am-7:45pm. Last admission 1 hr. before closing. Metro: Termini or Repubblica.
Santa Maria della Vittoria CHURCH This pretty little baroque church has the classic Roman travertine facade and an ornate interior. But a visit here is all about one artwork: Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s “Ecstasy of St. Teresa” . Crafted from marble between 1644 and 1647, it shows the Spanish saint at the moment of her ecstatic encounter with an angel (the so-called “Transverberation”). To say Bernini’s depiction is a little on the erotic side would be an understatement. The Cornaro family, who sponsored the chapel’s construction, is depicted as witnesses to the moment from a “balcony” on the right.
Via XX Settembre 17 (at Largo S. Susanna). www.chiesasmariavittoria.191.it. 06-42740571. Free admission. Mon-Sat 8:30am-noon and 3:30-6pm, Sun 3:30-6pm. Metro: Repubblica.
Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major) CHURCH This majestic church, one of Rome’s four papal basilicas, was founded by Pope Liberius in A.D. 358 and rebuilt on the orders of Pope Sixtus III from 432 to 440. Its 14th-century campanile is the city’s loftiest. Much doctored in the 18th century, the church’s facade isn’t an accurate reflection of the treasures inside. The basilica is noted for the 5th-century Roman mosaics in its nave, and for its coffered ceiling, said to have been gilded with gold brought from the New World. The church also contains the tomb of Bernini, Italy’s most important baroque sculptor-architect. Ironically, the man who changed the face of Rome with his elaborate fountains is buried in a tomb so simple that it takes a sleuth to track it down (to the right, near the altar).
Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore. 06-69886800. Free admission. Daily 9am-7pm. Bus: C3, 16, 70, 71, 75, 360, 590, 649, 714, or 717.
Terme di Diocleziano (Baths of Diocletian) MUSEUM/RUINS Roman recycling at its finest. Originally this spot held the largest of Rome’s hedonistic baths (dating back to A.D. 298 and the reign of Emperor Diocletian) but during the Renaissance a church, a vast cloister, and a convent were built around and into the ruins—much of it designed by Michelangelo, no less. Today the entire hodgepodge is part of the Museo Nazionale Romano, and this juxtaposition of Christianity, ancient ruins, and exhibit space makes for a compelling museum stop that’s usually quieter than the city’s blockbusters. There’s a large collection of inscriptions and other stone carvings from the Roman and pre-Roman periods, alongside statuary. Only Aula 10 remains of the vast baths, which accommodated 3,000 at a time when they opened in the early 4th century. They baths were abandoned in the 6th century, when invading Goth armies destroyed the city’s aqueducts. Note: The Octagonal Hall closed in 2013 until further notice.
Viale E. di Nicola 78. www.archeoroma.beniculturali.it. 06-39967700. Admission 7€; ticket valid for Palazzo Massimo alle Terme (see above), Palazzo Altemps (p. 114) and Crypta Balbi (p. 117). Tues-Sun 9am-7:45pm. Last admission 1 hr. before closing. Metro: Termini or Repubblica.
Testaccio & Southern Rome
Centrale Montemartini MUSEUM The renovated boiler rooms of Rome’s first thermoelectric plant, named after Giovanni Montemartini, have been home to a grand collection of Roman and Greek statues originally housed in the Museo del Palazzo dei Conservatori, Museo Nuovo and Braccio Nuovo since 1997, creating a unique juxtaposition of classic and industrial archeology. The powerhouse was the first public plant to produce electricity for the city of Rome, and was founded at the turn of the 19th century on Via Ostiense, where it still occupies a large block between the ex-wholesale market, the Gazometro (defunct methane gas meter), and the bank of the Tiber River. Striking installations include in the vast boiler hall, a 1,000 square meter (10,764 sq. ft.) room where statues share space with an immense steam boiler: a complex web of pipes, masonry, and metal walkways. Equally striking is the Hall of Machines, where two towering turbines stand opposite the reconstructed pediment of the Temple of Apollo Sosiano, which illustrates a famous Greek battle.
Via Ostiense 106. www.centralemontemartini.org. 06-0608. Admission 6,50€. Tues-Sun 9am-7pm. Last admission 30 min. before closing. Bus: 23, 271, 769, N2, N3. Metro: Garbatella.
MACRO Testaccio MUSEUM The Testaccio outpost of Rome’s contemporary art museum is housed—appropriately for this former meatpacking neighborhood—in a converted slaughterhouse. The edgy programs and exhibits are a mix of installations, visuals, events, and special viewings. Opening times are made for night owls: Make a late visit before going on to Testaccio’s bars and restaurants.
Piazza Orazio Guistiniani 4. www.museomacro.org. 06-671070400. Admission 6€. Tues-Sun 4-10pm. Last admission 30 min. before closing. Bus: 63, 630, or 719.
Museo della Civiltà Romana (Museum of Roman Civilization) MUSEUM Even after visiting the Roman Forum, it’s nearly impossible to visualize just how Rome would have looked when it was the mightiest empire in the world. For anyone wishing to understand the layout of the ancient city, this museum’s fascinating models of ancient Rome make it well worth the 20-minute metro ride. There are full-size plaster casts of the reliefs of Trajan’s Column—unraveled at eye-height so all can see the full stories of the victories over the Dacians—as well as models of Roman war machines and aqueducts, and local schoolchildren galore, getting their first indoctrination into their illustrious history. But the absolute highpoint of the museum is the phenomenal 1:250 scale model of the city of Rome, as it appeared in the early 4th century A.D.
The EUR suburb was purpose-built in the Fascist era to stage the planned World Fair of 1942—canceled due to World War II. Though never completed, EUR’s mix of rationalist and classical-inspired elements will enthuse anyone with a serious interest in architecture.
Piazza G. Agnelli 10. www.museociviltaromana.it. 060608. Admission 8.50€. Tues-Sun 9am-2pm. Last admission 1 hr. before closing. Metro: EUR-Fermi. Exit Metro, turn into Viale Boston then follow signs to museum.
San Paolo Fuori le Mura (St. Paul Outside the Walls) CHURCH The giant Basilica of St. Paul, whose origins date from the time of Constantine, is Rome’s fourth great patriarchal church. It was erected over the tomb of St. Paul and is the second-largest church in Rome after St. Peter’s. The basilica fell victim to fire in 1823 and was subsequently rebuilt—hence the relatively modern look. From the inside, its windows may appear to be stained glass, but they’re actually translucent alabaster that illuminates a forest of single-file columns and mosaic medallions (portraits of the various popes). Its most important treasure is a 12th-century marble Easter candelabrum by Vassalletto, who’s also responsible for the remarkable cloisters containing twisted pairs of columns enclosing a rose garden. Miraculously, the baldacchino by Arnolfo di Cambio (1285) wasn’t damaged in the fire; it now shelters the tomb of St. Paul Apostle.
Via Ostiense 190 (at Piazzale San Paolo). www.basilicasanpaolo.org. 06-69880800. Basilica free admission; cloisters 4€. Basilica daily 7am-6:30pm. Cloisters daily 8am-6:15pm. Metro: Basilica di San Paolo.
The Via Appia (Appian Way) & the Catacombs
Of all the roads that led to Rome, Via Appia Antica (begun in 312 B.C.) was the most famous. It eventually stretched all the way from Rome to the seaport of Brindisi, through which trade with Greece and the East was funneled. (According to Christian tradition, it was along the Appian Way that an escaping Peter encountered the vision of Christ, causing him to go back into the city to face martyrdom.) The road’s initial stretch in Rome is lined with the monuments and ancient tombs of patrician Roman families—burials were forbidden within the city walls as early as the 5th century B.C.—and, below ground, miles of tunnels hewn out of the soft tufa stone.
These tunnels, or catacombs, were where early Christians buried their dead and, during the worst times of persecution, held clandestine church services. A few of them are open to the public, so you can wander through musty-smelling tunnels whose walls are gouged out with tens of thousands of burial niches, including small niches made for children. Early Christians referred to each chamber as a dormitorio—they believed the bodies were only sleeping, awaiting resurrection (which is why they could not countenance the traditional Roman practice of cremation). In some you can still discover the remains of early Christian art. The obligatory guided tours feature occasionally biased history, plus a dash of sermonizing, but the guides are very knowledgeable.
The Appia Antica park is a popular Sunday lunch picnic site for Roman families, following the half-forgotten pagan tradition of dining in the presence of one’s ancestors on holy days. The Via Appia Antica is closed to cars on Sundays, left for the picnickers, bicyclist, and inline skaters. See www.parcoappiaantica.it for more on the park, including downloadable maps.
To reach the catacombs area, take bus no. 218 from the San Giovanni Metro stop; to find the bus stand, walk through the gates from the Metro and wait at the halt on the opposite side of the road to the Basilica. Around 2 or 3 services per hour run during daylight hours. This bus bumps along the cobblestones of the Appia Antica for a bit and then veers right on Via Ardeatina at Domine Quo Vadis church. After a long block, it stops at the square Largo Ardeatina, near the gate to the San Callisto catacombs. From here, you can walk right on Via delle Sette Chiese to the Domitilla catacombs or fork left on Via delle Sette Chiese to San Sebastiano. Tip: This bus service can be unreliable. If you are in a hurry to accommodate your visit to the catacombs, take a cab (p. 62).
Of the monuments on the Appian Way itself, the most impressive is the Tomb of Cecilia Metella , within walking distance of the catacombs. The cylindrical tomb honors the wife of one of Julius Caesar’s military commanders from the republican era. Why such an elaborate tomb for a figure of relatively minor historical importance? Cecilia Metella was singled out for enduring fame simply because her tomb has remained and the others have decayed.
Catacombe di San Callisto (Catacombs of St. Callixtus) RELIGIOUS SITE/TOUR “The most venerable and most renowned of Rome,” said Pope John XXIII of these funerary tunnels. These catacombs are often packed with tour-bus groups, and they have perhaps the cheesiest tour, but the tunnels are phenomenal. They’re the first cemetery of the Christian community of Rome, burial place of 16 popes in the 3rd century. They bear the name of St. Callixtus, the deacon whom Pope St. Zephyrinus put in charge of them and who was later elected pope (A.D. 217-22) himself. The complex is a network of galleries structured in four levels and reaching a depth of about 20m (65 ft.), the deepest in the area. There are many sepulchral chambers and almost half a million tombs of early Christians.
Entering the catacombs, you see the most important crypt, that of nine popes. Some of the original marble tablets of their tombs are preserved. Also commemorated is St. Cecilia, patron of sacred music (her relics were moved to her church in Trastevere during the 9th c.; see p. 132). This early Christian martyr received three ax strokes on her neck, the maximum allowed by Roman law, which unfortunately for her, failed to kill her outright. Farther on are the Cubicles of the Sacraments, with 3rd-century frescoes.
Via Appia Antica 110-26. www.catacombe.roma.it. 06-5130151. Admission 8€ adults, 5€ children ages 7-15. Thurs-Tues 9am-noon and 2-5pm. Closed late Jan to late Feb. Bus: 218.
Catacombe di Domitilla RELIGIOUS SITE/TOUR The oldest of the catacombs is the hands-down winner for most enjoyable experience. Groups are relatively small, and guides are entertaining and personable. The catacombs—Rome’s longest at 18km (11 miles)—were built below land donated by Domitilla, a noblewoman of the Flavian dynasty who was exiled from Rome for practicing Christianity. They were rediscovered in 1593, after a church abandoned in the 9th century collapsed. The visit begins in the sunken church founded in A.D. 380, the year Christianity became Rome’s state religion.
There are fewer “sights” here than in the other catacombs, but this is the only catacomb where you’ll still see bones; the rest have emptied their tombs to rebury the remains in ossuaries on the inaccessible lower levels. Elsewhere in the tunnels, 4th-century frescoes contain some of the earliest representations of Saints Peter and Paul. Notice the absence of crosses: It was only later that Christians replaced the traditional fish symbol with the cross. During this period, Christ’s crucifixion was a source of shame to the community. He had been killed like a common criminal.
Via delle Sette Chiese 282. www.domitilla.info. 06-5110342. Admission 8€ adults, 5€ children ages 6-14. Wed-Mon 9am-noon and 2-5pm. Closed mid-Dec to mid-Jan. Bus: 714 (to Piazza Navigatori).
Catacombe di San Sebastiano (Catacombs of St. Sebastian) RELIGIOUS SITE/TOUR Today the tomb and relics of St. Sebastian are in the ground-level basilica, but his original resting place was in the catacombs underneath it. Sebastian was a senior Milanese soldier in the Roman army who converted to Christianity and was martyred during Emperor Diocletian’s persecutions, which were especially brutal in the first decade of the 4th century. From the reign of Valerian to that of Constantine, the bodies of Sts. Peter and Paul were also hidden in the catacombs, which were dug from tufa, a soft volcanic rock that hardens on exposure to the air. The church was built in the 4th century and remodeled in the 17th century.
The tunnels here, if stretched out, would reach a length of 11km (63⁄4 miles). In the tunnels and mausoleums are mosaics and graffiti, along with many other pagan and Christian objects, as well as four Roman tombs with their frescoes and stucco fairly intact, found in 1922 after being buried for almost 2,000 years.
Via Appia Antica 136. www.catacombe.org. 06-7850350. Admission 8€ adults, 5€ children 6-15. Mon-Sat 10am-4:30pm. Closed Nov 26-Dec 26. Bus: 118
Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica in Palazzo Corsini PALACE/ART MUSEUM Palazzo Corsini first found fame (or more accurately, notoriety) as the home of Queen Christina of Sweden. Christina moved to Rome when she abdicated the Swedish throne after converting to Catholicism, but her most famous epithet is “Queen without a realm, Christian without a faith, and a woman without shame,” which stemmed from her open bisexuality, which in the 17th century was frowned upon—at least publicly. Several other big names stayed in this beautiful palace, including Michelangelo and Napoleon’s mother, Letizia. Today one wing houses a moderately interesting museum with mostly the runoff from Italy’s national art collection. Worth a look is Caravaggio’s “St. John the Baptist” (1606), and panels by Luca Giordano, Fra’ Angelico, and Poussin; otherwise the palace history and legend are more interesting than the museum itself.
Via della Lungara 10. www.galleriacorsini.beniculturali.it. 06-68802323. Admission 5€, free for children 17 and under. Tues-Sun 8:30am-7:30pm. Bus: 125.
San Francesco d’Assisi a Ripa CHURCH This church was built on the site of a convent where St. Francis stayed when he came to Rome to see the pope in 1219. His simple cell is preserved inside. It is also yet another small Roman church with a Bernini treasure: The “Tomb of Beata Ludovica Albertoni” (1675) is unmistakably by the hand of the Roman baroque master, with its delicate folds of marble and the ecstatic expression on the face of its subject. Ludovica was a noblewoman who died in 1533 having dedicated her life to the city’s poor. The sculpture is in the last chapel on the left.
Piazza di San Francesco d’Assisi 88. 06-5819020. Free admission. Mon-Sat 10am-1pm and 2-6:30pm, Sun 2-6:30pm. Bus: 23, 44, 75, or 280.
Santa Cecilia in Trastevere CHURCH A still-functioning convent with a peaceful courtyard garden, Santa Cecilia contains the partial remains of a “Last Judgment,” by Pietro Cavallini (ca. 1293), a masterpiece of Roman medieval painting. (Enter to the left of the main doors; a suora will accompany you upstairs to see it.) Inside the airy church is a late-13th-century baldacchino by Arnolfo di Cambio, over the altar. The church is built on the reputed site of Cecilia’s long-ago palace, and for a small fee you can descend under the church to inspect the ruins of Roman houses, as well as peer through a gate at the stucco grotto beneath the altar.
Piazza Santa Cecilia 22. www.benedettinesantacecilia.it. 06-45492739. Church free admission; Cavallini frescoes 2.50€; excavations 2.50€. Main church and excavations daily 9:30am-12:30pm and 4-6pm. Frescoes Mon-Sat 10am-12:30pm. Bus: H, 44, or 125/Tram 8.
Santa Maria in Trastevere CHURCH This ornate Romanesque church at the colorful heart of Trastevere was founded around A.D. 350 and is one of the oldest in Rome. The body was added around 1100, and the portico was added in the early 1700s. The restored mosaics on the apse date from around 1140, and below them are the 1293 mosaic scenes depicting the “Life of the Virgin Mary” by Pietro Cavallini. The faded mosaics on the facade are from the 12th or 13th century, and the octagonal fountain in the piazza is an ancient Roman original that was restored and added to in the 17th century by Carlo Fontana.
Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere. 06-5814802. Free admission. Daily 9:30am-12:30pm and 3-5:30pm. Bus: H or 125/Tram: 8.
Villa Farnesina HISTORIC HOME This place should never have been called the Villa Farnesina at all: It was originally built for Sienese banker Agostino Chigi in 1511, but it was acquired (and renamed) by the Farnese family in 1579. With two such wealthy Renaissance patrons, it’s hardly surprising that the internal decor is top drawer. The villa’s architect Baldassare Peruzzi began the decoration, with frescoes and motifs rich in myth and symbolism. He was later assisted by Sebastiano del Piombo, Sodoma, and, most notably, Raphael. Raphael’s “Loggia of Cupid and Psyche” was frescoed to mark Chigi’s marriage to Francesca Ordeaschi—though assistants Giulio Romano and Giovanna da Udine did much of the work.
Via della Lungara 230. www.villafarnesina.it. 06-68077268. Admission 6€. Mon-Sat 9am-2pm; 2nd Sun of month 9am-5pm. Bus: 23, 125, 271, or 280.
One of the leading tour operators in Rome is Context Travel (www.contexttravel.com; 800/691-6036 in the U.S., or 06-96727371), a company that, notably, uses local scholars—historians, art historians, preservationists—to lead their small-group walking tours through Rome’s monuments, museums, and historic piazzas, as well as culinary walks and meals in neighborhood trattorie. Custom-designed tours are also available. Prices of the regular tours are high, beginning at 60€ for 2 hours, but most participants consider them a highlight of their trips. Context’s excellent family program visits sights such as the Vatican and the Colosseum, but do so in a way that’s appealing to children.
Walks of Italy (www.walksofitaly.com; 06-95583331) also runs excellent guided walking tours of Rome; their their 21⁄2 introductory tour costs 29€, and more in-depth explorations of the Colosseum, Vatican Museums, and Forum go for 59€ to 99€.
Enjoy Rome, Via Marghera 8a (www.enjoyrome.com; 06-4451843), offers a number of “greatest hits” walking tours, plus early evening tour of the Jewish Ghetto and Trastevere, and a bus excursion to the Catacombs and the Appian Way (50€), with a visit to ruins of an ancient aqueduct that most Romans, let alone tourists, never see. Most tours cost 30€ to 45€ per person, but entrance fees are extra.
The self-styled “storytellers of the new millennium” at Through Eternity (www.througheternity.com; 06-7009336) are a group of art historians and architects; what sets them apart is their theatrical delivery, helped along by the dramatic scripts that many of the guides seem to follow. It can be a lot of fun, but it’s not for everyone. Through Eternity also offers after-hours tours of the Vatican, allowing you to see its treasures without fighting the crowds (it’s a tremendous experience). A 5-hour tour of the Vatican is 67€; shorter tours are less expensive.
Especially for Kids
There’s a real “Jekyll and Hyde” quality to exploring Rome with kids. On the one hand, it’s a capital city, big, busy, and hot, and with public transportation that doesn’t always work too well. On the other, the very best parts of the city for kids—Roman ruins, subterranean worlds, and gelato—are aspects you’d want to explore anyway. Seeing Rome with kids doesn’t demand an itinerary redesign—at least, away from its marquee museums. And despite what you have heard about its famous seven hills, much of the center is mercifully flat, and pedestrian. The election of a center-left mayor in 2013 means the city is likely to become even more pedestrian-friendly in future. His immediate banning of private cars from the roads around the Forum and Colosseum is likely the first of several measures aimed at creating a Rome that is friendlier for little visitors, and making its precious ruins even more enjoyable places to visit.
Food is pretty easy too: Roman pizzas are some of the best in the world—see “Where to Eat,” p. 78, for our favorites. Ditto the ice cream, or gelato (p. 91). Restaurants in pretty much any price category will be happy to serve up a simple pasta al pomodoro (pasta with tomato sauce) to a fussy eater.
The city is shorter on green spaces than European cities like London, but the landscaped gardens of the Villa Borghese have plenty of space for them to let off steam. Pack a picnic or rent some bikes (p. 123). The Parco Appia Antica (www.parcoappiaantica.it) is another family favorite, especially on a Sunday or national holiday when the old cobbled road is closed to traffic. The park’s Catacombs (p. 129) are eerie enough to satisfy grisly young minds, but also fascinating Christian and historical sites in their own right. Museums, of course, are trickier. You can probably get kids fired up more easily for the really ancient stuff. The bookshop at the Colosseum (p. 107) has a good selection of guides to the city aimed at under-12s, themed on gladiators and featuring funny or cartoonish material. Make that an early stop. We have taken a 6-year-old to the Musei Capitolini (p. 106), and she loved hunting down the collection’s treasures highlighted on the free museum guide leaflet. It was like a themed treasure hunt, and bought us a couple of hours to admire the exhibits—and the chance to see them from a new and unexpected angle, too. The multiple ground levels below San Clemente (p. 111) and the Case Romane del Celio (p. 112) are another obvious draw for small visitors.
There are a couple of city museums designed with a specifically child-friendly angle. The best is the Museo della Civiltà Romana (p. 128), which is popular with local schoolchildren for a good reason: Its models of Ancient Rome help bring the old stones to life. Your kids will be able to see Rome as it was at its peak. Watch out for the odd opening hours, though, because it is a half-hour Metro journey and walk from the center.
If kids get really into the gladiator angle, enroll them in the Scuola Gladiatori Roma (Rome Gladiator School), where they can spend 2 hours preparing for a duel in a reasonably authentic way. You can book through Viator.com, or find out more about the program at www.gsr-roma.com.
Away from the museums, kids will also likely enjoy some of the cheesier city sights—at the very least these will make some good family photos to share on Facebook or Instagram. Build in some time to place your hands in the Bocca della Verità, at Santa Maria in Cosmedin (p. 113), to throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain (p. 122), and to enjoy watching the feral cats relaxing amid the ruins of Largo di Torre Argentina. There is a cat sanctuary here that gives basic healthcare to Rome’s many strays.
If you want to delve deeper into the city as a family, check out the tours on Context Travel’s family program (see Organized Tours, above), such as walks and workshops about mythology, underground Rome, or “How Rome Works,” which covers some of the Romans’ fiendishly clever engineering. The 2- to 3-hour tours are pricey (255€-355€ per family) but first rate, and you will have the docent all to yourselves.
Rome offers temptations of every kind. In our limited space below we’ve summarized streets and areas known for their shops. The monthly rent on the famous streets is very high, and those costs are passed on to you. Nonetheless, a stroll down some of these streets presents a cross section of the most desirable wares in Rome.
Note that sales usually run twice a year, in January and July.
The Top Shopping Streets & Areas
AROUND PIAZZA DI SPAGNA Most of Rome’s haute couture and seriously upscale shopping fans out from the bottom of the Spanish Steps. Via Condotti is probably Rome’s poshest shopping street, where you’ll find Prada, Gucci, Bulgari, and the like. A few more down-to-earth stores have opened, but it’s still largely a playground for the superrich. Via Borgognona is another street where both the rents and the merchandise are chic and ultraexpensive. Like its neighbor Via Condotti, Via Borgognona is a mecca for wealthy, well-dressed women and men from around the world. Thanks to its pedestrian-only access and storefronts that have retained their baroque or neoclassical facades, it offers a nicer window-browsing experience. Via Frattina is the third member of this trio of upscale streets, where the concentration of shops is denser. Chic boutiques for adults and kids rub shoulders with ready-to-wear fashions, high-end chains, and a few tourist tat vendors. It’s usually thronged with shoppers who appreciate the lack of motor traffic.
A Pause Before Purchasing
Although Rome has many wonderful boutiques, the shopping is generally better in Florence. If you’re continuing on to there, you may want to hold off a bit, as you’re likely to find a better selection and better prices.
Window-shopping at famed jeweler Bulgari.
VIA COLA DI RIENZO The commercial heart of the Prati neighborhood bordering the Vatican, this long, straight street runs from the Tiber to Piazza Risorgimento. Via Cola di Rienzo is known for stores selling a wide variety of merchandise at reasonable prices—from jewelry to fashionable clothing, bags, and shoes. Among the most prestigious is the historic Roman perfume store, Bertozzini Profumeria dal 1913, at no. 192 ( 06-6874662). You will also find the department store Coin at no. 173 (with a large supermarket in the basement), the largest branch of venerable gourmet food store Castroni at no. 196 (www.castroni.it), and the smaller, more selective gourmet grocery Franchi at no. 204 (www.franchi.it), good for parmigiano cheese.
VIA DEL CORSO Not attempting the stratospheric image or prices of Via Condotti or Via Borgognona, Via del Corso boasts affordable styles aimed at younger consumers. Occasional gems are scattered amid the international shops selling jeans and sporting equipment. In general, the most interesting stores are toward the Piazza del Popolo end of the street (Via del Babuino here has a similar profile), plus there’s a branch of department store La Rinascente (www.larinascente.it; 06-6784209) at Piazzale Colonna 357. Sidewalks are narrow, so it’s not a convenient street to window-shop with a stroller or young children.
VIA DEI CORONARI An antique-lover’s souk. If you’re shopping, or just window-shopping for antiques or vintage-style souvenir prints, then spend an hour walking the length of this pretty, pedestrian-only street.
VIA MARGUTTA This beautiful, tranquil street is home to numerous art stalls and artists’ studios—Federico Fellini used to live here—though all the stores tend to offer the same sort of antiques and mediocre paintings these days. You have to shop hard to find real quality. Highlights include Bottega del Marmoraro at no. 53b, the studio of master stonecarver Sandro Fiorentini. Valentina Moncada’s hugely popular contemporary art gallery is at no. 54 (www.valentinamoncada.com; 06-3207956).
MONTI Rome’s most fashion-conscious central neighborhood has a pleasing mix of indie artisan retailers, hip boutiques, and honest, everyday stores frequented by locals, where there’s not a brand name in sight. Roam the length of Via del Boschetto for one-off fashions, designer ateliers, and unique, gift-sized homewares. In fact, you can roam in every direction from the spot where it meets Via Panisperna. Via Urbana is another to add to the list; boutiques jostle for shopfront space with cafes that are ideal for a break or light lunch. Via Leonina likewise. Via Urbana also hosts the weekly Mercatomonti (see “Rome’s Best Markets,” below).
Another upscale shopping opportunity around Piazza di Spagna.
Rome’s Best Markets
Campo de’ Fiori Central Rome’s food market has been running since at least the 1800s. It’s no longer the place to find a produce bargain, but is still a genuine slice of Roman life in one of its most attractive squares. The market runs Monday through Saturday from 7am to around 1 or 2pm. Campo de’ Fiori. No phone. Bus: H, 23, 63, 116, 271, 280, 780, or 810/Tram: 8.
Eataly Not strictly a market, but a four-floor homage to Italian ingredients and cooking. Thirty different breads, 25 shelving bays of pasta, two aisles of olive oil … and you’re only just scratching the surface of what’s under this one roof. Browse the cookbooks, chocolate, local wines and beer and cheese, or stop for a meal in one of the ingredient-themed restaurants and food bars (although prices are a little steep). Eataly is foodie heaven and open daily from 10am to midnight. Piazzale XII Ottobre 1492. www.roma.eataly.it. 06-90279201. Metro: Piramide. Follow signs from Metro exit gates to “Air Terminal,” then “Piazza XII Ottobre;” take the escalator up and then walk around to the right.
Mercatomonti Everything from contemporary glass jewelry to vintage cameras, handmade clothes for kids and adults, and one-off designs to wear or admire is on sale here. It takes place in the heart of trendy Monti, in a commandeered parking garage (where else?). The market runs Sundays from 10am to 6pm. Via Leonina 46. www.mercatomonti.com. No phone. Metro: Cavour.
Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio (New Testaccio Market) In 2012, the old Testaccio market building closed and this modern, daringly modernist, sustainably powered market building took its place. It’s the best place to go produce shopping with the Romans. There’s everything you could want to pack a picnic—cheese, cured meats, seasonal fruit—as well as meat, fish, and fresh vegetables (ideal if you are self-catering in the city). There are also clothes and kitchenware stalls, but the food is the star. For instant gratification, sample the street food at Mordi e Vai , Box 15 (www.mordievai.it; 339-1343344). The likes of a panino filled with warm veal and artichokes in a piquant gravy costs around 4€. The market runs Monday through Saturday from 6am to 2:30pm. Btw. Via Luigi Galvani and Via Aldo Manuzio (at Via Benjamin Franklin). No phone. Bus: 83, 673, or 719.
Nuovo Mercato Trionfale (New Trionfale Market) Replacing the old and rickety Via Andrea Doria market, this modern, working class (and rather unattractive) structure inaugurated in 2009 houses over 250 stalls, which more than make up for its exterior looks. Vendors sell top choice, local (and value) produce, meat, fish, cheese, eggs, baked goods and spices, as well as household wares. Keep an eye out for terrific butchers, exquisite fishmongers, awesome local produce and a handful of stalls specializing in international ingredients, where you can find everything from okra and pomelo to habanero chilis and hopia. If you plan to shop, bring cash; there are only a few fishmongers and butchers that accept credit cards.
The market runs Monday through Saturday from 7am to 2pm; on Tuesdays and Fridays the market stays open until 5pm. Via Andrea Doria 3. www.mercatotrionfale.it. 06-39743501. Tram: 19. Metro: Cipro
Porta Portese Trastevere’s vast weekly flea market stretches all the way from the Porta Portese gate along Via di Porta Portese to Viale di Trastevere. Expect to find everything. It runs Sundays from dawn until mid-afternoon. Via di Porta Portese. No phone. Tram: 8.
ENTERTAINMENT & NIGHTLIFE
Even if you don’t speak Italian, you can generally follow the listings of special events and evening entertainment featured in “La Repubblica,” a leading national newspaper published in Rome. See also the “TrovaRoma” section of its city website, www.roma.repubblica.it. “Wanted in Rome” (www.wantedinrome.com) has listings of opera, rock, English-language cinema showings, and such and gives an insider look at expat Rome. “Un Ospite a Roma” (www.unospitearoma.it), available free from concierge desks and tourist information centers, is full of details on what’s happening around the city. Free magazine and website “Romeing” (www.romeing.it) is worth consulting for events and lifestyle updates on the contemporary scene. Also check InRomeNow.com for monthly updates of cultural events.
Unless you’re dead set on making the Roman nightclub circuit, try what might be a far livelier and less expensive scene—sitting late at night on Via Veneto, Piazza della Rotonda, Piazza del Popolo, or one of Rome’s other piazzas, all for the (admittedly inflated) cost of an espresso, a cappuccino, or a Campari and soda. For clubbers, it is almost impossible to predict where the next hot venue will appear, but if you like it loud and late—and have an adventurous streak—jump in a cab to Monte Testaccio or Via del Pigneto and bar-hop wherever takes your fancy. In Trastevere, there’s always a bit of life along Via Politeana around the spot where it meets Piazza Trilussa.
When the sun goes down, Rome’s palaces, ruins, fountains, and monuments are bathed in a theatrical white light. Few evening occupations are quite as pleasurable as a stroll past the solemn pillars of old temples or the cascading torrents of Renaissance fountains glowing under the blue-black sky.
The Fountain of the Naiads (“Fontana delle Naiadi”) on Piazza della Repubblica, the Fountain of the Tortoises (“Fontana della Tartarughe”) on Piazza Mattei, the Fountain of Acqua Paola (“Fontanone”) at the top of the Janiculum Hill, and the Trevi Fountain are particularly beautiful at night. The Capitoline Hill (or Campidoglio) is magnificently lit after dark, with its measured Renaissance facades glowing like jewel boxes. The view of the Roman Forum seen from the rear of Piazza del Campidoglio is perhaps the grandest in Rome (see “Three Free Views to Remember for a Lifetime” box, p. 109). If you’re across the Tiber, Piazza San Pietro (in front of St. Peter’s) is impressive at night without the crowds. And a combination of illuminated architecture, baroque fountains, and sidewalk shows enlivens Piazza Navona.
Performing Arts & Live Music
While the music scene in Rome doesn’t have the same vibrancy as Florence, nor the high-quality opera of Milan’s La Scala or La Fenice in Venice (p. 352)—classical music fans are still well catered to. In addition to the major venues featured below, be on the lookout for concerts and one-off events in churches and salons around the city. Check www.operainroma.com for a calendar of opera and ballet staged by the Opera in Roma association at the Chiesa Evangelica Valdese, Via IV Novembre 107. The Pontificio Instituto di Musica Sacra, Piazza Sant’Agostino 20A (www.musicasacra.va; 06-6638792) and All Saints’ Anglican Church, Via del Babuino 153 (www.accademiadoperaitaliana.it; 06-7842702) both regularly run classical music and operatic evenings.
Alexanderplatz An established stalwart of Rome, Alexanderplatz has been the home of Rome’s jazz scene since the early 1980s. If there’s a good act in the city, you will find it here. Via Ostia 9. www.alexanderplatz.it. 06-39742171. Cover 10€. Metro: Ottaviano.
The Teatro dell’Opera.
Auditorium-Parco della Musica Multiple stages showcase a broad range of music—from Cat Power to world music to the classical music of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. The massive, purpose-built complex itself is a postmodern work of art, designed by architect Renzo Piano. Viale Pietro de Coubertin 30. www.auditorium.com. 02-60060900. Bus: 2, 53, or 910/Tram: 2D.
Teatro dell’Opera di Roma This is where you will find the marquee operas by big names: “La Traviata,” “Carmen,” “Tosca,” and the like. There’s also a full program of classical concerts with top-rank orchestras and ballet. In summer the action moves outdoors for a short season of unforgettable open-air operatic performances at the ruined Baths of Caracalla (p. 104). Piazza Beniamino Gigli 7. www.operaroma.it. 06-48160255. Tickets 17€-150€. Metro: Repubblica.
Remember: In Rome and everywhere else in Italy, if you just want to drink a quick coffee and bolt, walk up to il banco (the bar), order “un caffè, per favore” or “un cappuccino,” and don’t move. They will make it for you to drink on the spot. It will cost more (at least double) to sit down to drink it, and outdoor table service is the most expensive way to go. Even in the heart of the center, a short coffee al banco should cost no more than 1€; add around .20€ for a cappuccino. Expect to pay up to five times that price if you sit outdoors on a marquee piazza. Most cafes in the city serve a decent cup of coffee, but here’s a small selection of places worth hunting down. (For our top picks on gelaterie, see page 91.)
With its Art Nouveau interior and ivy-covered backdrop to charming outdoor seating, Antico Caffè della Pace (Via della Pace 3-7; www.caffedellapace.it; no phone) still evokes a little of the Dolce Vita of its 18th-century heyday, when it was the literary and artistic cafe to be seen in. Sant’Eustachio il Caffè (Piazza Sant’Eustachio 82; www.santeustachioilcaffe.it; 06-68802048) roasts its own Fairtrade Arabica beans over wood. The unique taste and bitter kick to its brews ensures there’s usually a friendly crowd a few deep at the bar. (Unless you ask, the coffee comes with sugar.) Debate still rages among Romans as to whether Sant’Eustachio or Tazza d’Oro (www.tazzadorocoffeeshop.com; 06-6789792)—on Via degli Orfani 84, near the Pantheon—serves the best cup of coffee in the city. Jacketed baristas work at 100mph at Spinelli (Via dei Mille 60; no phone; weekdays only), a no-nonsense locals’ cafe. Join the throng at the bar for a morning cappuccino and un cornetto (a croissant) filled with jam, crema (pastry cream), Nutella, or white chocolate. There’s a cold-food buffet at lunch.
Wine Bars, Cocktail Bars & Craft Beer Bars
For Rome’s most creative modern cocktails in a casual environment, visit Caffè Propaganda (p. 82).
The mass social phenomenon of the aperitivo (happy hour—and so much more) can be a great way to meet, or at least observe the particular ways of, real Romans. It started in hard-working northern cities like Milan, where you’d go to a bar after leaving the office, and for the price of one drink (usually under 10€), you get access to an unlimited buffet of high-quality food—like chunks of parmigiano, cured meats, fresh green salad, or other pasta salads. Luckily for Rome (a decidedly less industrious city), the custom trickled down here, and now the city is filled with casual little places to drop in for a drink (from 6 or 7pm onward) and eat to your heart’s content of all these tasty finger foods. All the places listed here are fine for families, too—Italian kids love aperitivo (minus the alcohol)!
Look for signs in the window and follow your nose. The Monti neighborhood is a good place to begin. The Enoteca Provincia Romana (see below) also does good aperitivo.
Ai Tre Scalini This little bottiglieria (wine bar) is the soul of Monti. There’s a traditional menu, as well as a long wine list with bottles sourced from across Italy. Arrive early or call to reserve a table: This place is usually jammed. Via Panisperna 251. 06-48907495. Metro: Cavour.
Bir and Fud Around 15 beers on tap (most of them Italian craft brews, and some brewed as strong as 9 percent) as well as carb-heavy snacks like pizza and supplì (fried rice balls). It’s 5€ for a small beer. Via Benedetta 23. www.birandfud.it. 06-5894016. Bus: 23, 125, 271, or 280.
Cavour 313 A wine bar that’s as traditional and genuine as you will find this close to the ruins. There are over 30 wines by the glass (from 3.50€) as well as cold cuts, cheese and vegetable platters, or excellent carpaccio to partner the wines. Closed Sunday in summer. Via Cavour 313. www.cavour313.it. 06-6785496. Metro: Colosseo and Cavour.
Enoteca Provincia Romana A smart, glass-fronted modern wine bar that sells produce and wines from Rome and its surrounding province. Sip as you look out on Trajan’s Column, directly opposite. Foro Traiano 82-84. 06-69940273. Bus: 80, 85, 87, or 175.
La Bottega del Caffè Beers, wine, cocktails, aperitivo—there’s a little of everything at one of Monti’s busiest neighborhood bars. Piazza Madonna dei Monti 5. 06-64741578. Metro: Cavour.
NO.AU Tricked out a little like a Barcelona cava bar, and located right in the old center, this place has craft beers from local brewer Birra del Borgo on tap plus a selection of wines (red, white, and sparkling) from around 5€ a glass. NO.AU (pronounced “knowhow,” almost) is set back in a narrow alley to provide a little escape from the chaos. Closed Monday. Piazza di Montevecchio 16. 06-45652770. Bus: 30, 46, 62, 64, 70, 81, 87, 116, or 571.
Open Baladin If anyone ever tells you that “Italians don’t do good beer,” send them to this bar near the Ghetto. A 40-long row of taps lines the bar, with beers from their own Piedmont brewery and across Italy (including many local to the Lazio region). Via degli Specchi 5-6. www.openbaladin.com. 06-6838989. Tram: 8.
Stravinskij Bar An evening at this award-winning cocktail bar inside one of Rome’s most famous grand hotels is always a regal, exclusive affair. Mixology, ingredients, and canapés are all top-notch. Inside Hotel de Russie, Via del Babuino 9. 06-32888874. Metro: Spagna.
SIDE TRIPS FROM ROME
24km (15 miles) SW of Rome
The ruins of Rome’s ancient port are a must-see for anyone who can’t make it to Pompeii. It’s a more comfortable daytrip than Pompeii, on a similar theme: the chance to wander around the preserved ruins of an ancient Roman settlement that has been barely touched since its abandonment.
Ostia, at the mouth of the Tiber, was the port of Rome, serving as the gateway for the riches from the far corners of the Empire. It was founded in the 4th century B.C. and became a major port and naval base primarily under two later emperors, Claudius and Trajan.
A prosperous city developed, full of temples, baths, theaters, and patrician homes. Ostia flourished between the 1st and 3rd centuries, and survived until around the 9th century before it was abandoned. Gradually it became little more than a malaria bed, a buried ghost city that faded into history. A papal-sponsored commission launched a series of digs in the 19th century; however, the major work of unearthing was carried out under Mussolini’s orders from 1938 to 1942 (the work had to stop because of the war). The city is only partially dug out today, but it’s believed that all the chief monuments have been uncovered. There are quite a few impressive ruins—this is no dusty field like the Circus Maximus.
GETTING THERE Take the Metro to Piramide, changing lines there for the Lido train to Ostia Antica. (From the platform, exit for “Air Terminal” and turn right at the top of the steps, where the station name changes to Porta San Paolo.) Departures to Ostia are about every half-hour; the trip takes 25 minutes and is included in the price of a Metro single-journey ticket or Roma Pass (see p. 57). It’s just a 5-minute walk to the excavations from the Metro stop: Exit the station, walk ahead and over the footbridge, then continue straight ahead until you reach the car park. The ticket booth is to the left.
VISITOR INFORMATION The site opens daily at 8:30am. Closing times vary with the season: It’s 7:15pm April through August, 7pm in September, 6:30pm in October, 4:30pm November to February 15, 5pm February 16 to March 15, and 5:30pm in the second half of March. The ticket office closes 1 hour before the ruins. Admission costs 8€ (10€ if there’s an additional exhibition), free for ages 17 and under and 65 and over. The 2€ map on sale at the ticket booth is a wise investment. For more information, see www.ostiaantica.beniculturali.it or call 06-56350215.
There is no need for hiking boots, but the Roman streets underfoot are all clad in giant basalt cobblestones. Bear that in mind when choosing footwear for the day.
PARKING The car park, on Viale dei Romagnoli, costs 2.50€ for an unlimited period. Arrive early if you’re driving: It is fairly small.
EXPLORING OSTIA ANTICA
The principal monuments are all labeled. On arrival, visitors first pass the Necropoli (burial grounds, always outside the city gates in Roman towns and cities). The main route follows the giant cobblestones of the Decumanus (the main street) into the heart of Ostia. The Piazzale delle Corporazioni is like an early version of Wall Street. Near the theater, this square contained nearly 75 corporations, the nature of their businesses identified by the patterns of preserved mosaics. Greek dramas were performed at the Teatro, built in the early days of the Empire. The theater as it looks today is the result of much rebuilding. Every town the size of Ostia had a Forum , and the layout is still intact: A well-preserved Capitolium (once the largest tremple in Ostia) faces the remains of the 1st-century A.D. Temple of Roma and Augustus.
Elsewhere in the grid of streets are the ruins of the Thermopolium, which was a bar; its name means “sale of hot drinks.” Of an insula, a Roman block of apartments, Casa Diana remains, with its rooms arranged around an inner courtyard. Climb the building at the entrance to the Terme di Nettuno to look down on the preserved mosaics of this vast baths complex. In addition in the enclave is a museum displaying Roman statuary along with fragmentary frescoes.
WHERE TO EAT
There is no real need to eat by the ruins—a half-day here should suffice, and Ostia is within easy reach of the abundant restaurants of the center. The obvious alternative is a picnic; well-stocked foodie Shangri-La Eataly (see p. 136) is only a couple of minutes from the Lido platform at Piramide Metro station. Stock up when you make the Metro interchange. There are perfect picnic spots beside fallen columns or old temple walls. If you really crave a sit-down meal, Allo Sbarco di Enea, Viale dei Romagnoli 675 ( 06-5650034) has a menu of trattoria staples, a shaded garden, and two-course tourist menus starting at 12€, excluding drinks. There’s also a snack and coffee bar outside Ostia’s Metro station.
Tivoli & the Villas
32km (20 miles) E of Rome
Perched high on a hill east of Rome, Tivoli is an ancient town that has always been something of a retreat from the city. In Roman times it was known as Tibur, a retirement town for the wealthy; later during the Renaissance, it again became the playground of the rich, who built their country villas out here. To do justice to the gardens and villas that remain—especially if the Villa Adriana is on your list, as indeed it should be—you’ll need time, so it’s worth setting out early.
GETTING THERE Tivoli is 32km (20 miles) east of Rome on Via Tiburtina, about an hour’s drive with traffic (the Rome-L’Aquila autostrada, A24, is usually faster). If you don’t have a car, take Metro Line B to Ponte Mammolo. After exiting the station, transfer to a Cotral bus for Tivoli (www.cotralspa.it). Cotral buses depart every 15 to 30 minutes during the day (2.20€ one-way). Villa d’Este is in Tivoli itself, close to the bus stop; to get to Villa Adriana you need to catch another bus (the orange no.4; buy tickets at a tabacchi in the center of Tivoli).
EXPLORING TIVOLI AND THE VILLAS
Villa Adriana (Hadrian’s Villa) HISTORIC SITE/RUINS The globe-trotting Emperor Hadrian spent the last 3 years of his life in the grandest style. Less than 6km (33⁄4 miles) from Tivoli, between 118 and 138 A.D. he built one of the greatest estates ever conceived, and he filled acre after acre with some of the architectural wonders he’d seen on his many travels. Hadrian erected theaters, baths, temples, fountains, gardens, and canals bordered with statuary, filling the palaces and temples with sculpture, some of which now rest in the museums of Rome. In later centuries, barbarians, popes, and cardinals, as well as anyone who needed a slab of marble, carted off much that made the villa so spectacular. But enough of the fragmented ruins remain to inspire a real sense of awe. For a glimpse of what the villa used to be, see the plastic reconstruction at the entrance.
The most outstanding remnant is the Canopo, a recreation of the town of Canope with its famous Temple of the Serapis. The ruins of a rectangular area, Piazza d’Oro, are still surrounded by a double portico. Likewise, the Edificio con Pilastri Dorici (Doric Pillared Hall) remains, with its pilasters with Doric bases and capitals holding up a Doric architrave. The apse and the ruins of some magnificent vaulting are found at the Grandi Terme (Great Baths), while only the north wall remains of the Pecile, otherwise known as the Stoà Poikile di Atene or “Painted Porch,” which Hadrian discovered in Athens and had reproduced here. The best is saved for last—the Teatro Marittimo, a circular maritime theater in ruins with its central building enveloped by a canal spanned by small swing bridges.
For a closer look at some of the items excavated, you can visit the museum on the premises and a visitor center near the villa parking area.
Largo Marguerite Yourcenar 1, Tivoli. www.villaadriana.beniculturali.it. 0774-530203. Admission 11€. Daily 9am-sunset (about 7:30pm in May-Aug, 5pm Nov-Jan, 6pm Feb, 6.30pm Mar and Oct, and 7pm Apr and Oct). Bus: 4 from Tivoli.
Villa d’Este PARK/GARDEN Like Hadrian centuries before, Cardinal Ippolito d’Este of Ferrara ordered this villa built on a Tivoli hillside in the mid-16th century. The dank Renaissance structure, with its second-rate paintings, is not that interesting; the big draw for visitors is the spectacular gardens below (designed by Pirro Ligorio).
As you descend the cypress-studded garden slope you’re rewarded with everything from lilies to gargoyles spouting water, torrential streams, and waterfalls. The loveliest fountain is the Fontana dell Ovato, by Ligorio. But nearby is the most spectacular engineering achievement: the Fontana dell’Organo Idraulico (Fountain of the Hydraulic Organ), dazzling with its music and water jets in front of a baroque chapel, with four maidens who look tipsy (the fountain “plays” every 2 hours from 10:30am).
The moss-covered Fontana dei Draghi (Fountain of the Dragons), also by Ligorio, and the so-called Fontana di Vetro (Fountain of Glass), by Bernini, are also worth seeking out, as is the main promenade, lined with 100 spraying fountains. The garden is worth hours of exploration, but it involves a lot of walking, with some steep climbs.
Neptune Fountain and fishpond at Villa d’Este.
Piazza Trento 5, Tivoli. www.villadestetivoli.info. 0774-332920. Admission 11€ (8€ Nov-Apr). Tues-Sun 8:30am to 1 hr. before sunset. Bus: Cotral service from Ponte Mammolo (Roma-Tivoli); the bus stops near the entrance.
Villa Gregoriana PARK/GARDEN Villa d’Este dazzles with artificial glamour, but the Villa Gregoriana relies more on nature. The gardens were built by Pope Gregory XVI in the 1830s and reopened in 2005 after a $5.5-million restoration. The main highlight is the panoramic waterfall of Aniene, with the trek to the bottom on the banks of the Anio studded with grottoes and balconies that open onto the chasm. The only problem is that if you do make the full descent, you might need a helicopter to pull you up again (the climb back up is fierce). From one of the belvederes, there’s a view of the Temple of Vesta on the hill. A former school has been converted into a visitor center designed by architect Gae Aulenti.
Largo Sant’Angelo, Tivoli. www.villagregoriana.it. 06-39967701. Admission 6€. Apr-Oct Tues-Sun 10am-6:30pm; Mar, Nov, and Dec Tues-Sun 10am-4pm. Bus: Cotral service from Ponte Mammolo (Roma-Tivoli); the bus stops near the entrance.
WHERE TO EAT
Tivoli’s gardens make for a pleasant place for a picnic (see Eataly, p. 136), but if you crave a sit-down meal, Antica Trattoria del Falcone, Via del Trevio 34 (www.ristoranteilfalcone.it; 0774-312358) is a dependable option in Tivoli itself, just off Largo Garibaldi, open since 1918 and specializing in excellent pizza (ask for the pizza menu), Roman pastas, and roast meats. It is open daily 11:30am to 4pm and 6:30 to 11:30pm.