Rome. It once ruled the Western World, and even today, the partial, scattered ruins of that awesome empire, of which Rome was the capital, are among the most sobering sights on earth. To view the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the Appian Way, to witness evidence of a once-great civilisation that no longer exists, is a humbling experience that everyone should have. Also awe inspiring 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.
You have to remember though, 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. Try and find time, if you can, to extract yourself away from the many tourist destinations and just explore the intimate piazzas and lesser basilicas in the backstreets of Trastevere and the centro storico. Indulge in all its glorious gastronomy: get your fill of cappuccinos, pizza, trattorias, wine bars, and gelato. Rome is so compact, that without even planning too much, you’ll end up enjoying both its monuments and its simpler pleasures. Or if you don’t have time to take time out, simply spend half an hour walking the streets and the city will be yours.
How to get around Rome
Rome has a terrific underground railway system that will get you near most of the tourist destinations. The Roman Metro has three lines – A, B and C, plus a new branch of the B line, called B1. The metro system is efficient and affordable, and metro maps are easy to navigate: beware at rush hours though, the trains can get very crowded.
Taxis are not recommended to cross the city of Rome, especially if one can easily use a bus or a metro for the same route. Taxis are certainly much more expensive, not so fast because of traffic jams, and using a taxi when it is not indispensable contributes to increased traffic and pollution, two major issues in Rome. However, a taxi may be useful getting to and from the airport.
Things to do in Rome
Walk through Ancient Rome. A vast, almost unified archaeological park cuts through the centre of Rome. There are walking tours you can join, but it’s sometimes more fun to simply wander on your own and let yourself get lost in the very streets where Julius Caesar and Lucrezia Borgia once trod. A slice of history is guaranteed to reveal itself to you at every turn: an ancient fountain, a long-forgotten statue, a ruined temple dedicated to some long-faded cult. If you wander long enough, you’ll eventually emerge onto Piazza della Rotunda to stare in awe at one of Rome’s most glorious sights, the Pantheon.
The Pantheon – The world’s best-preserved ancient monument is now a hot spot, especially at night. The Pantheon has become a symbol of Rome itself, go inside to inspect the tomb of Raphael, who was buried here in 1520.
Take a Sunday Bike Ride – Only a daredevil would try this on city streets on a weekday, but on a clear Sunday morning, while Romans are still asleep, you can rent a bike and discover Rome with your own two wheels. The Villa Borghese is the best place to bike. Its 6.5km (4-mile) borders contain a world unto itself, with museums and galleries, a riding school, an artificial lake, and a grassy amphitheater.
Enjoy Roma di Notte – At night, ancient monuments, such as the Forum, are bathed in a theatrical white light; it’s thrilling to see the glow of the Colosseum with the moon rising behind its arches. Begin your evening with a Roman passeggiata (early evening stroll) along Via del Corso or Piazza Navona.
Attend the Opera – The Milanese claim that Roman opera pales in comparison with La Scala, but Roman opera buffs, of course, beg to differ. At Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera, the season runs between December and June, and programs concentrate on the classics: Bellini, Donizetti, Puccini, and Rossini.
Stroll Along the Tiber – Without the Tiber River, there might have been no Rome at all. A key player in the city’s history for millennia, the river flooded the capital every winter until it was tamed in 1870. Not only can you walk along the river from which Cleopatra made her grand entrance into Rome, but you’ll also see the riverside life of Trastevere.
Spending a Day on the Appian Way – Dating from 312 BC, the Appian Way (Via Appia) once traversed the whole peninsula of Italy and was the road on which Roman legions marched to Brindisi and their conquests in the East. One of its darkest moments was the crucifixion in 71 BC of the rebellious slave army of Spartacus, whose bodies lined the road from Rome to Capua.
Savour Gelato on a Summer Afternoon – Having a gelato on a hot summer day is worth the wait through the long winter. Tubs of homemade ice cream await you in a dazzling array of flavours: everything from candied orange peels with chocolate to watermelon to rice. Gelaterie offer semi-freddi concoctions (made with cream instead of milk) in such flavours as almond, marengo (a type of meringue), and zabaione (or zabaglione, eggnog). Seasonal fresh fruit is made into ice creams of blueberry, cherry, and peach. Granite (crushed ice) flavoured with sweet fruit is another cool delight on a sultry night.
Walk from Fountain to Fountain – On summer nights you’ll find Romans, especially those who live in crowded apartments without air-conditioning, out walking from fountain to cooling fountain. Every visitor makes at least one trip to Bernini’s fountain on Piazza Navona, after stopping off at the Trevi Fountain to toss in a coin (thus ensuring their return to Rome), but there are hundreds more.
Explore the Colosseum – Half circus, half sports arena, Rome’s most famous classical ruin is unmissable, especially now that they have extended the visitor route to the underfloor passageways, through which gladiators and wild beasts made their entrances. The massive arena, officially called the Amphiteatrum Flavium, was inaugurated in 80 AD, and seated well over 50,000 people in neatly arranged stands: emperor, aristos and Vestal Virgins sat at the front; plebs, slaves and all the other women up at the top.
Eating out in Rome
You can’t spend time in Rome without trying some of the local cuisine:
- Pizza Bianca – Literally translates as “white pizza”, this foccacia style pizza bread can be found in all bakeries in Rome.
- Fritti – From baccala (salt cod) to fiori di zucca (zucchini flowers), to seafood to suppli’ (fried rice balls) in Rome fried foods reign supreme.
- Carbonara – When Italians think of food in Rome without question the first thing that comes to mind is carbonara.
Pizza Roman Style – Pizza in Rome has nothing to do with the kind you find in Naples just 2 hours down the road. In Rome, pizza is thin, really thin. There is no lip to the crust and if it’s done well it has a nice char to it.