After reviewing a huge list of some, and only some, of the sights in Rome, you may be surprised to learn of Rome's manageable size; indeed, the density of sights to see is phenomenal and every building merits more than just a passing glance.
The city center, Centro Storico, is on the eastern bank of the Tiber, and comprises some of Rome's most popular sights including the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. Southeast of here is Ancient Rome, home to the famed ruins of the Roman empire. East of he center is the main railway station, Stazione Termini. In between these areas is the area of Monti, with some beautiful churches and more cobbled streets to wander.
West of the Tiber is the sovereign state of Vatican City and the beautiful districts of Prati and Borgo. South of here lies the picture-perfect district of Trastevere and the Gianocolo (Janiculum Hill).
Few cities have as much to see as Rome. At the same time, you don't have to actively seek these sights to have a good time; one of the city's pleasures is to just wander around and take in the city.
Crowds can be brutal so it makes sense to pre-book some popular sights, such as the Colosseum and the Vatican Museums. While this costs extra, it is worth making this investment to avoid spending precious time and patience in lines. You must pre-book to visit the Villa Borghese.
Note that many churches close in the afternoon.
Rome's historical center, with more than its fair share of dazzling churches, beautiful squares and pretty streets, is an ideal starting point to begin your exploration of this city.
Piazza Navona and Around
One of Rome's most beautiful (and touristy!) squares, Piazza Navona is home to some fine architecture and is filled to bursting with sidewalk cafes. A truly Roman specialty, Piazza Navona has a layered history and is built on top of the ruins of a 1st century arena, Stadio di Domiziano, which can be seen on Via di Tor Sanguigna, northwest of Piazza Navona.
Among the beautiful fountains on the square, the most striking one is Bernini's Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of Four Rivers), depicting the four rivers (Nile, Danube, Ganges and Plate) for the four continents where Papal authority had spread.
Southwest of Piazza Navona is Piazza Pasquino, named for the talking statue, Pasquino, in turn named for a 16th century tailor named Pasquino who would leave messages on the statue as a form of relatively safe dissent. Soon, the tradition of leaving messages began and continues to this day.
|21st century Pasquinades|
Northeast of Piazza Navona is the 15th century Chiesa di Sant'Agostino, which was undergoing some restoration at the time of visit (May 2016).
Just east of Piazza Navona is the superb Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi, the church of Rome's French community, a Baroque beauty with three works by Caravaggio.
Pantheon and Around
One of the best preserved structures from ancient times, the Pantheon is a Roman icon. The current structure was built by Emperor Hadrian in AD 120 to replace the original version dating from 27 BC. Built as a temple, the Pantheon was converted to a church in the 7th century and continues to be one today, more than 1400 years later. The most striking feature about the Pantheon is its wonderfully symmetric dome, one of ancient Rome's most important artistic achievements, and its oculus which lets in light (as well as rainfall, which seeps through nearly-invisible holes in the floor).
Pantheon to Colonna
As you head east away from the Pantheon, you come across the wonderful Chiesa di Sant'Ignazio di Loyola, whose ceiling is a masterpiece in illusion. Stand on the yellow spot below the nave and marvel the fabulous art.
|Ceiling, Chiesa di|
Sant'Ignazio di Loyola
Colonna and Around
Piazza Colonna is home to the Column of Marcus Aurelius, with a spiral relief depicting either the Danubian or Marcomannic wars. The statue of St Paul was placed on top in the 16th century.
Slightly south on Via del Corso, the Chiesa di San Marcello is a pretty church and a sanctuary, if you want some relief from other tourists.
Along Corso Vittorio Emmanuele II
Corso Vittorio Emmanuele II is a major thoroughfare of the Centro Storico, and connects the banks of the Tiber with Piazza Venezia, at the edge of the Centro Storico leading onto Ancient Rome. It is a great point of orientation and there are also many superb churches along the route.
Beginning from the Tiber, you come across Chiesa Nuova and the nearby Basilica Parrocchiale di San Lorenzo in Damaso followed by the lovely Basilica Sant'Andrea della Valle.
|Inside Basilica Sant'Andrea della Valle|
Following this, you come to the Chiesa del Gesu, a true gem among Rome's fabulous churches and the most important church for the Jesuits.
Continuing on the road, you come across the often-chaotic Piazza Venezia, home to the Vittoriano, built in the 19th century and home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as well as the Palazzo Venezia, which for a long time was Venice's embassy to Rome.
Campo de' Fiori and Around
A colourful market area, Campo de' Fiori is always lively and a great place to enjoy Roman street life. A busy market by day, the square transforms into a drinking space by evening and there remain great places to catch a bite on the square. The square is home to the statue of Giodarno Bruno, who was executed for heresy in 1600 in the square.
|Clearing up the day's market,|
Piazza Farnese is home to the Palazzo Farnese, a beautiful Renaissance building home to the French Embassy. Access to the interior is only by guided tour, check this link for details.
Via Giulia is an achingly pretty street and worth a stroll.
Campidoglio and Around
Designed by Michelangelo, this beautiful square on top of the Capitoline Hill is best accessed by the Cordonata staircase, leading from Piazza d'Aracoeli. The square has a beautiful view over the Roman Forum and is home to the Capitoline Museums, the world's oldest national museums, which has some superb collections.
The museum occupies two of the three buildings on the square. The main entrance is through the Palazzo dei Conservatori. While the highlights are upstairs, don't forget to have a look at the ground floor courtyard, home to some impressive ancient masonry.
As you head upstairs, you'll come across the landing of the main staircase, home to reliefs honouring Roman emperors. Next are a series of rooms with fabulous works of art. The walls of the Hall of the Orazi and the Curiazi depict the origins of Rome while the Hall of the She-Wolf is home to one of the museum's highlights, the Lupa Capitolina, a fifth-century BC sculpture depicting two infants suckling on a she-wolf, the legend of Rome's origin. The Hall of the Geese are home to two Roman bronze geese, a gift from Pope Benedict XIV.
Another of the museum's highlights is the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, whose replica now stands in the middle of the square. The museum also has a decent exhibit on the area of Forum Boarium (below), interesting if you would like to explore it further. There is a cafe upstairs, a good spot for a coffee and a cornetto, as well as for great views across the city.
|Marcus Aurelius, |
Accessed from the other staircase from the base of Campidoglio is the 6th century Chiesa di Santa Maria in Aracoeli. Another bonus of ascending the staircase is a nice view, with the Teatro Marcello visible.
East of Campidoglio, you'll find the elegant Chiesa Rettoria dei Santi Luca e Martina as well as a great view out to the Forum.
Forum Boarium and Around
Ancient Rome's cattle market, Forum Boarium is home to several more ruins and sees fewer tourists than the more popular sights of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum.
Rome is such a historic city that one impressive Roman-era amphitheatre is not enough for it. A second one, known as Teatro Marcello, was used for games, songs and contests; no gladiator games here. It's free to enter and sees fewer tourists than you might expect, so it is absolutely worth a visit. Continue further in and you'll arrive at Largo 16 Ottobre 1943, named after a day of mass deportation of Jews from Rome during the Holocaust, and then Via del Foro Piscario, ancient Rome's fish market. Just beyond is the Portico d'Ottavia, which was under restoration during my visit (May 2016).
If you continue walking south on Via del Teatro di Marcello, you'll come to the ruins of Forum Boarium, including two restored ancient Roman temples, the Tempio di Portunus and the round Tempio di Ercore Vincitore on your right, which you can only see from the outside. This intersection, Piazza della Bocca della Verita, is a rather crowded and chaotic area so do your bet to forget the noise while imagining the area in its heyday.
|Chiesa di Santa Maria della Consolazione|
Returning to Piazza della Bocca della Verita, you'll find the Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin, a beautiful medieval church. Its claim to fame, however, is the Bocca della Verita (Mouth of Truth), very likely an ancient Rome manhole cover. Legend says that the mouth will bite your hand off if you put your right hand in the mouth and tell a lie. Try it at your own risk! The legend may be just a legend but the queues are real; this spot is by far the most touristy in the area. The tourist flow is so real that an organized system entails; you stand in line and wait until you reach the front, where a church employee will take your photo with the mouth at a small price. Afterwards, go in and admire the church.
Colosseum and Around
One of Rome's most iconic monuments, the Colosseum conjures up images of bloody fighting. Inaugurated in AD 80, the Colosseum is enormously popular and it pays to book a ticket in advance to avoid the long lines. Make sure you follow the link and use only the official website to book a ticket. Note that the ticket also allows entry to the Palatino and the Roman Forum.
Climb upstairs where many artifacts and depictions vie for your attention and allow you to imagine the place in its heyday. The view over the arena and the areas for the spectators are great and allow for you to get an idea of the size; it could hold 50,000 people.
Outside the Colosseum, you'll come across the Arco di Constantino, built to commemorate Constantine's victory over Maxentius.
Across from the Colosseum, something you'll see a perfect view of from it, is the Temple of Venus and Roma, built by Hadrian. The view is reciprocated; there is a perfect view of the Colosseum from the temple.
|Colosseum, as seen from the|
Temple of Venus and Roma
Ancient Rome's center for commerce and politics, the Forum is a superb collection of ruins of the capital of one of Earth's greatest empires. While it takes a certain imagination to picture the area as it was, the Forum is still a great place to check out the ruins and is a delight for photographers.
If you walk down Via Sacra from near the Arco di Constantino, you'll first come across the Arco di Tito to commemorate Titus's victories. From here, you get a nice vista across to the Vittoriano with bits of the Forum in the foreground.
Follow directions to the Forum and soon you'll be in the thick of it. You'll find the Temple of Romulus, built in AD 307. The bronze door is the original one, and apparently the lock still works. Slightly ahead is the 2nd century Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. There are nice views across the Forum so move slowly to soak it all in.
|Temple of Antoninus and Faustina...|
with the original bronze door!
Continuing on, you'll find the Temple of Vesta, which was partially reconstructed in the 20th century. Look for Spring of Juturna, a beautiful fountain originally dating from the 6th century BC.
Other highlights include the Curia, ancient Rome's Senate House and the large, grassy Forum Square, which was used for public assemblies. The newest monument in the Forum, the Column of Phocas stands tall at 13 meters and was built in the 7th century. Look out for the Rostra, the platform where orators stood and addressed the public.
|View of the Forum from the Church|
of Santa Maria Antiqua
Reputed as the place where Rome was founded, the Palatine hill rises above the Forum and is a calm, green collection of ruins and superb vistas over the Forum. There are ruins of several temples there, as well as the House of Livia, the home of Augustus's wife Livia. Watch out for great viewpoints over the Roman Forum as well as over Forum Boarium.
A highlight are the Orti Farnesiani, the 16th century botanical gardens with fabulous views. Continue further and several temples as well as a hut village await, where Rome's founder Romulus is said to have lived. Keep your eyes peeled for the inlaid marble floor, which was excavated in the 20th century and is thought to have belonged to Nero's Domus Transitoria. Nearby is the elliptical Domus Flavia, the nymphaneum.
The Palatine Museum is a good stop to learn about the history of Rome and is a good toilet break if you need one. While the Palatine is large and quieter than the Forum, for an even quieter spot, go through the archway for Vigna Barberini, where you'll find another ruin of a temple as well as a view out to the Colosseum.
Along Via dei Fori Imperiali - The Imperial Forums
Built by Mussolini, this road connects Piazza Venezia with the Colosseum. Going from Piazza Venezia to the Colosseum, you'l find the Roman Forum on your right and the Imperial Forums on the left. This road is well worth a slow stroll while admiring the ruins from another angle.
The Imperial Forums were smaller structures for specific purposes built by the various emperors. Among them is the Forum of Trajan with Trajan's Column. There are also the Forums of Augustus and Nerva and the Trajan's Market.
MONTI, ESQUILINE AND REPUBBLICA
Just a stone's throw from the Colosseum, Monti is home to spectacular churches and even more narrow streets worth exploring. Yet, the neighbourhood remains less touristy than the Centro Storico and makes a good area to visit when tired of the crowds.
The Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli is home to the chains which supposedly bound St. Peter as well as Michelangelo's famous sculpture Moses. Nearby, on Via delle Sette Sale, you'll find a nice, quiet area, with the sounds of birds chirping.
The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is one of Rome's patriarchal basilicas and a highlight of the area. Check out the loggia and the mosaics on the nave, which date from the 5th century. Don't forget to have a look at the various chapels.
Very close by is the Chiesa di Santa Pudenziana, the church of Rome's Filipino community. The apse is decorated by 4th century mosaics, which are among Rome's oldest. Another nearby church, Chiesa di Santa Prassede is home to fabulous mosaics.
|Mosaics - Chiesa di Santa Pudenziana|
A blissfully quiet museum, the Museo Nazionale Roma - Palazzo Massimo, opposite Termini station, is a gem. The upper levels are home to an array of mosaics and frescoes from wealthy ancient Roman houses, ranging from elegant geometric designs to vivid mythological scenes. The highlight of the museum is the full-room design from Villa di Livia, the wife of Augustus's wife Livia. There is also a famed statuary collection and in the basement, you'll find a very complete ancient Roman coin collection. Overall, there is significant detail and completeness and the museum is a joy to explore.
Nearby is the 19th century Piazza della Repubblica, an elegant square from where Via Nazionale, a busy shopping street, leads off.
BARBERINI, SPAGNA AND AROUND
These areas, east of the historical center and north of Monti, are home to further historical treasures and several important shopping districts.
Piazza Barberini and Around
Easily accessed by the metro station of the same name, Piazza Barberini is a good starting point to explore the area. It is home to Bernini's 1643 Fontana del Tritone.
Nearby is one of Rome's - indeed the world's - famous fountain, the gorgeous Baroque Trevi Fountain. The fountain attracts hordes of crowds so be prepared; the famous custom is to throw a coin to guarantee a return to Rome (and who wouldn't?!). Over 3000 euros in coins is collected this way everyday.
Piazza di Spagna
Home to the famous Spanish Steps, this area is full of designer boutiques and is a great place for window shopping. The Spanish Steps are a popular people-watching area, but were in restoration during my last visit (May 2016). There are also nice views from the top of the staircase.
Piazza del Popolo
Going north of Spagna, you arrive at Piazza del Popolo, dating from 1538. It is home to the Chiesa di Santa Maria del Popolo, home to some beautiful art.
The world's smallest sovereign state, Vatican City has an almost unbelievable repository of art in its museums as well as St Peter's Basilica. Both sights get crowded so it is wise to book ahead for the museums at the official website .
St Peter's Basilica
Located at the beautiful Piazza San Pietro, itself a Baroque beauty, is the St Peter's Basilica. To enjoy peace and quiet, get here at 7:00 when it opens, where you'll find far fewer tourists than anytime in the day. One of the highlights is Michelangelo's Pieta, to the right once you enter. Also note the dome, another masterpiece by Michelangelo. How many ever churches in the city you may have visited, nothing will prepare you for the sheer size and grandeur of St Peter's.
|St Peter's Basilica in the morning light|
A string of museums, each with priceless works, the Vatican Museums are unsurprisingly the highlight for many travellers to Rome. Booking in advance is recommended and you will be allowed in up to 30 min prior to your reserved time. If you have a reservation, bring your printout and arrive directly at the entrance, at Viale Vaticano, west of Piazza del Risorgimento. You can then go in to the counter and get a ticket. If you don't have a reservation, you need to join the queues which can continue for long.
While the Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo's famous frescoes seems to be only thing many visitors have on their mind when visiting the Museums, you will have to wait till the end to reach it. Thankfully so, as there is so much fabulous art to see in between. The collection of sculptures is excellent, and don't miss the tapestries as well as the series of beautiful maps in the Gallery of Maps. The Sala Sobieski is home to massive painting of Jan III Sobieski, King of Poland. Raphael's genius shines in the Stanze di Raffaelo, a suite of four rooms home to Raphael's frescoes. Highlights include The School of Athens. The Sistine Chapel is not far ahead, where photography is not allowed and enforced brutally (using loudspeakers!). No matter how many pictures of the Chapel you may have seen, be prepared to be awestruck by the sheer brilliance of this piece of art.
There is an exit from the Sistine Chapel going directly to St Peter's Basilica; while this exit is only for tour groups, it is easy enough to join one to head out if you wish.
BORGO AND PRATI
These areas are located east of the Vatican City, north and west of the Tiber. One of the key attractions here is the Castel Sant'Angelo, built by Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself. The views from the bridges are remarkable, a special mention goes to the evening (around sunset) view of St Peter's from Ponte Sant'Angelo.
|St Peter's as seen from Ponte Sant'Angelo|
One of Rome's loveliest areas, Trastevere is a joy to stroll amidst its beautiful architecture and narrow lanes. Just across the river from Piazza della Bocca della Verita, Ponte Palatino is a good starting point. You also have a great view out to Isola Tiberina, the sole island in the Tiber.
|View out to Isola Tiberina|
This strip of Trastevere is touristy so take the time to stroll in the side streets, which can be pretty and quiet.
Rising above Trastevere, the Gianocolo is a remarkable viewpoint, particularly during sunset. The walk up there feels like you're no longer in a big city and the path is pretty green. Try to visit during sunset, when the colour of the setting sun spreads east, where the bulk of the city is located, from the point of view of the Gianocolo.
|View from Gianicolo|
South of Ancient Rome, Testaccio is an overlooked neighbourhood straddling the Aurelian Walls, home to some more historical sights.
Exiting the Piramide metro, you come across the Pyramid of Gaius Cestius, a 1st century BC tomb for Gaius Cestius, a magistrate of a Roman religious corporation. Adjacent to it is the Porta San Paolo, a gate in the Aurelian Walls now serving as the Museo della Via Ostiense. From there you can walk by the Aurelian Walls on Viale di Porta Ardeatina. There is the odd staircase up the walls from where you can get a good view of the area, which is a nice residential one. Continue walking east and the area becomes green and curves in the road provide nice views of the wall.
|The Aurelian Walls|
About 10 km southeast of the center is the Parco delgi Acquedotti, a park home to a long aqueduct as well remains of another. In an area completely different to the city's historic areas, a walk here is rewarding and a welcome break from the tourist madness. The park is easily accessed by the metro stations Subaugusta or Giulio Agricola.
|Sitting on an aqueduct and working - a typical Roman pleasure? |
A lot of cheap accommodation is accumulated around Termini station, Rome's main railway station, however that area is not the most pleasant or pretty to stay in. Staying in the Centro Storico or Trastevere will keep you right in the middle of things. Staying around Prati and Borgo is also a good idea as the side streets are quiet and relatively free of tourists.
The two hotels I have stayed in are:
Hotel Campo de'Fiori - Right on Campo de'Fiori, the central location is unbeatable. The terrace provides a nice view of the city, and the nearby annex has spacious apartments.
Hotel Prati - A decent option in Prati, very close to Vatican City as well as Castel Sant'Angelo. Ottaviano metro station is not far away.
Use websites such as www.booking.com to find accommodation.
However exciting Rome's sights may be, its food will be another highlight during your trip. Standard advice applies: the restaurant right outside that famous tourist sight may not be the greatest.
Pizzeria La Montecarlo - Right by the main road Corso Vittorio Emmanuele II, this place does great thin-crust Roman pizzas.
Alice Pizza - Spread across town, I went to the branch on Corso Vittorio Emmanuele II, near Largo di Torre Argentina. Great pizza al taglio (pizza by weight).
Fresco - Located on Via dei Coronari, the sandwiches (5 euro) here are magic. Delicious, warm bread and fresh, colourful ingredients. You can also buy cheeses such as mozzarella and parmigiano-reggiano (Parmesan) here.
Forno Castel Sant'Angelo - On Via dei Banco di Santo Spirito, not far from the banks of the Tiber, this place has superb desserts among other items.
Pizzeria Girarrosto - Just outside the Subaugusta metro station, this is a handy stop for pizza on the way to/from Parco degli Acquedotti.
Rome is a walker's paradise and distances are not long. Having said that, public transport is useful and there is a tram and a small metro at your disposal. The metro is still growing, and you can see construction when walking down Via dei Fori Imperiali to the Colosseum.
The metro can take you to Parco degli Acquedotti, the Vatican City, the Colosseum and Testaccio. Use the tram for the Centro Storico and Trastevere.
Last visit - May 2016
Number of visits - 2