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Rome is like a living museum, liberally dotted with fascinating ruins, ancient relics and archaeological sites. Centuries are peeled back from the Eternal City with each new vista in this great metropolis of fearsome gladiators and gorgeous art. Vespas, sports cars and nippy Fiats speed past trendy sidewalk cafes, bistros and nightclubs, revealing the Rome of Fellini's La Dolce Vita, while the stark facades of the Stadio Olimpico reminds visitors of Mussolini's attempts to reinvent the architecture of the Caesars.
For a taste of the Baroque, visitors need only climb the famous Spanish Steps, walk through the Piazza Navona or toss a coin into the beautiful Trevi Fountain. Renaissance splendour is best revealed in the Vatican Palace, specifically Michelangelo's efforts on the roof of the Sistine Chapel. From early Christian Basilicas and the Roman Forum to the Colosseum and the Pantheon, the sequence of history trails back to the dizzying heights of the empire.
It may sound like a city of contrasts, but Rome's timeless magic lies in its ability to blend the old with the new. Empires have risen and fallen, old gods have been replaced with the new, but Rome nonetheless remains.
Separated from central Rome by the Tiber River, Trastevere is a picturesque medieval neighbourhood characterised by a quirky Bohemian atmosphere. Its narrow cobblestone streets are lined with overhanging flower boxes and washing lines and are home to numerous cafes, boutiques, pubs and restaurants. The area has long attracted artists, celebrities and expats, escaping the grand developments of central Rome. There are some glorious old churches, perhaps the most lovely being the Basilica of Santa Maria, which has wonderful mosaics and draws many visitors into the area for the first time. It is quite different at night time, when it seems more elegant, and it's worth visiting more than once.
Capitoline Hill was the original capital of Ancient Rome. Once housing the Senate, it's the smallest but also the most famous of the Seven Hills. The main feature of the area is Michelangelo's Piazza del Campidoglio, which is bordered by the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the twin structures of the Palazzo dei Senatori and Palazzo Nuovo. Boasting the largest collection of classical sculptures, notable statues include The Dying Gaul, the Resting Satyr and The Capitoline Wolf. Paths cut along the side of the hill from the Campidoglio allow visitors to enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the Forum and Colosseum, with the Hill giving an overawing sense of the Roman Empire's peak glory.
The site of Ancient Rome's commercial, political and religious centre rests in the valley between the Capitoline and Palatine Hills. The Forum's main thoroughfare, Via Sacra, slices through the old market square and former civic centre. Some of the best-preserved and most notable monuments include the impressive Arch of Septimus Severus, the former atrium of the House of the Vestal Virgins and the Temple of Vesta. Also of note are the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, and the Arch of Titus, built to celebrate Titus' destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. To the right of the arch are stairs snaking up the Palatine Hill, through a series of terraces to the Farnese gardens. The scented avenue, festooned with roses and orange trees, gives way to a magnificent vista over the Forum.
Known to be one of the most impressive buildings of the Roman Empire, the Colosseum was the largest structure of its era. Once holding crowds of 55,000 spectators entering via 80 entrances, this enduring symbol of ancient Rome tenaciously clings to its foundations as the site of former gladiatorial conquests and brutal public entertainment. Its architecture boasts an impressive array of Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns and an underground network of cells, corridors and elevators used to transport animals from their cages to the arena. The magnificence of the original structure has been eroded through the years by pillaging and earthquakes so that only a skeletal framework remains, but it remains truly unforgettable and awe-inspiring.
The Pantheon is one of the world's most inspiring architectural designs. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon's is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. Built as a temple to the Roman gods by Hadrian in 120 AD, it's perfectly proportioned floating dome rests seductively on sturdy marble columns. The only light source is the central oculus, which was used by the Romans to measure time, and the dates of equinoxes and solstices. The sunlight pouring through the oculus and illuminating the floor in the otherwise dark church is quite a sight. The south transept houses the Carafa Chapel and the tomb of Fra Angelico rests under the left side of the altar.
The graceful Spanish Steps elegantly curve from the Piazza di Spagna to the Church of Santa Trinit dei Monti, a pastel-tinted neoclassical building. The shopper's paradise of Via Condotti leads back from the Spanish steps to Via del Corso, and during spring the steps are decorated with pink azaleas. At the base lies Bernini's boat-shaped Barcaccia Fountain, and to the right is the unassuming Keats-Shelley Memorial House. The steps are iconic and if you do walking tours of Rome you are almost guaranteed to stop here, with lots of artists and musicians performing in the area which gives it a festive feel.
The tiny Piazza di Trevi has been immortalised through this fountain built for Pope Clement XII. Arguably the most famous and most beautiful fountain in all of Rome, it's also the largest Baroque fountain in the city. The fountain marks the terminal point of an ancient aqueduct that supplied Rome for more than four hundred years. Tossing a coin over your shoulder into the water with your back turned is supposed to guarantee a return trip to Rome. This well-known myth has ensured that thousands of euros are thrown into the fountain every day. The money is used for charitable projects so visitors are at least supporting a good cause.
The Basilica lies above the reputed site of St Peter's tomb, containing notable sculptures including Michelangelo's Pieta. In the central aisle stands Arnolfo da Cambio's bronze statue of St Peter, its foot worn down by the constant flow of pilgrims' kisses. Proudly resting above the papal altar is Bernini's Throne of St Peter. The Vatican Grottoes, containing papal tombs, can be reached by steps from the statue of St Longinus. This is the legendary site of St Peter's tomb and advance permission has to be obtained to view it. Tours of the Necropolis, called the Scavi Tour, take about 90 minutes and are fascinating.
Scandal has somewhat tarnished the Vatican over the years, but this does not detract from the magnificence of the art collections housed within its buildings or the passion the city inspires in the many pilgrims who flock to its holy sites. The Sistine Chapel is known for its famous ceiling painted by Michelangelo which looms above the frescoes on the side walls, while the altar wall is covered by The Last Judgement. The chapel is justified in its fame and leaves travellers breathless; it is a profoundly special place to visit. The Vatican Museums provide access to one of the world's greatest collections of art. The galleries stretch over four miles (6km) and include the magnificent Raphael Rooms, the Etruscan Museum and the Pio-Clementino Museum, boasting the world's largest collection of Classical statues.
The Basilica of St John Lateran was built in the 4th century by Constantine the Great and was the first church built in Rome. As the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, it ranks above all other Roman Catholic churches. The official ecclesiastical seat of the Pope, it's here where he celebrates Mass on certain religious holidays. The building is characterised by its 18th-century façade, containing several important relics, a 13th-century cloister and an ancient baptistery. Inside are numerous statues and paintings, the High Altar that can only be used by the Pope and a cedar table that is said to be the one used by Christ at the Last Supper. Across the street is one of the holiest sites in Christendom: the Palace of the Holy Steps, believed to be the 28 marble steps of Pontius Pilate's villa. They have been in Rome since 1589.
The best place to go to get some fresh air and a break from traditional sightseeing is the Villa Doria Pamphili, the largest landscaped public park in Rome. It's extremely large, boasting streams, a lake, lots of shaded areas and plenty of open grassy spaces. There are playgrounds, a skating rink and soccer fields, as well as pony rides, along with a little restaurant for refreshments. The park is lovely all year, even in winter, though it's obviously at its best in good weather. Playgrounds and parks are hard to find in Rome which automatically makes Villa Doria Pamphili a big hit with families visiting the city.
Rome has been an enticing and romantic holiday destination for decades, drawing lovers of art and history from all over the world. This may seem more appealing to adults, but Rome also has a barrage of culture and entertainment to offer children.
A holiday with kids in Rome is made fun and easy by the vast amount of parks, theatres and entertainment centres, while a multitude of galleries and museums bring beautiful images and legendary characters to life. Historical sites, such as the Roman Forum and the Colosseum, are also great for kids to explore.
If the weather turns bad, there are indoor entertainments like puppet shows and Looneys Indoor Entertainment Centre, a great place for kids to hang out featuring costumed characters and entertaining shows, as well as fun play areas. There are many theatres throughout Rome staging excellent puppet shows in English that will keep the kids amused. Well-known venues include the Pulcinella Puppet Theatre which is an open-air theatre on Gianicolo Hill, as well as the Teatro delle Marionette degli Accettella on Via Genocchi.
Most of the attractions in this beautiful, ancient city can be enjoyed throughout the year. But the best time to take children on holiday to Rome is during the spring (April and May), when comfortably warm temperatures and blue skies make for perfect sightseeing adventures.
Rome enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with mild winters and hot, dry summers. January is the coldest month in Rome, and July and August the warmest. The weather in Rome during summer (June to August) can be uncomfortably hot, with temperatures often exceeding 95°F (35°C) at midday, and locals tend to close up their businesses during August. Winter (December to February) is mild, with the average temperature in December hovering around 55°F (13°C). Heavy snowfall is rare but almost every winter there are light snow flurries in the city. Rain showers are possible any time of year but the drizzle is seldom very disruptive to visitors. The best time to travel to Rome is in the springtime, between March and May, when skies are blue and the weather warm. Autumn is also considered peak tourist season, as the months of September and October are very pleasant.
Rome is both delicious and affordable when it comes to dining out. While many in the world claim to love Italian food, one can't really compare ordinary pizza and pasta to the wonderful dishes in the nation's capital. Traditionally-prepared Italian food is strong in flavour, meagre in ingredients and richer and higher in calories than global imitations.
The typical meal is accompanied by a bruschetta ammazzavampiri (garlic canapé) and grated cheeses. Not surprisingly, pastas and pizzas are in abundance, the local varieties of which are not to be missed. Red meat and seafood dishes in the international tradition are also on offer but are more expensive and come in less generous servings.
There are three main types of restaurant in Rome: an osteria is an informal gathering-spot, serving basic spaghetti meals and some wine; trattorie are more languid, bistro-style affairs, offering large meals in a homely setting; and ristorante offer the more fancy and lavish silver spoon and wine-list dining experience. All three can be found in the popular districts of Centro Storico, along Via Cavour and around Stazione Termini. The Borgo district near the Vatican offers some of the cheapest dining options in Rome.
Breakfasts in Rome, as in most of Italy, are minimal, and people rarely leave the house for their first meal of the day. The main event is lunch, which sees restaurants open between 1pm and 3pm. Indeed, most locals enjoy their lunch breaks in three courses.
Possibly the best seafood restaurant in Rome, the cuisine at La Rosetta is world-class. A selection of marinated seafood appetizers, such as squid with ginger and French beans, is the best way to appreciate the flavours, followed by one of the superb pasta dishes dressed with fish or seafood. The menu includes almost every type of Mediterranean fish, grilled or roasted to perfection, and desserts such as the ricotta cheesecake with honey are worth saving space for. Reservations essential. Open for lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday.
This sophisticated rooftop restaurant boasts a spectacular view of the city below, and has an elegant setting with candlelit tables and impeccable service. Many Roman food critics claim it is the best restaurant in the city, which is attested to by a list of regulars that includes Prince Rainier of Monaco, Bruce Springsteen and Glenn Close. Food is the very best of Mediterranean haute cuisine and each dish is a work of art in presentation and taste. A sundowner at the chic cocktail bar is a fine way to start the evening. Reservations essential. Closed Sunday and Monday. Dinner only.
Small, unpretentious and serving top-quality Roman cuisine, Ai Tre Scalini is one of the most pleasant restaurants in the area around the Colosseum. The small menu is a gourmet experience, from the cheeses and salamis to porchetta, complemented by the wide variety of wines on offer. Reservations required. Closed Mondays. Open from 6pm.
Many tennis fans consider the Rome Masters to be the second most prestigious clay court tennis tournament in the world, after the French Open. The ATP Masters Series consists of nine tennis tournaments that are held annually in Europe and North America and sees the world's top tennis players competing for the title of world number one. The Rome Masters has officially been called the Internazionali BNL d'Italia since 2002, but the old name is still more commonly used among fans. The Italian tennis championship was first held in 1930 in Milan. Rafael Nadal is the most successful player in the Rome Masters to date. The Rome Masters is a fun tournament to attend and the crowds are passionate and less polite and formal than you might find at tournaments like Wimbledon.
RomaEuropa is Rome's annual international cultural event that features theatre, dance, and music performances. Although the focus is on classical music, the festival is famous for the diversity of its various performers and there should be something appealing to everyone.
The event has increased in size and prestige, making it one of the best arts and culture festivals in the world. Thousands of international visitors flock to the picturesque city to enjoy the world-class productions and famous artists.
The attractions range from formal, glamorous events with expensive price tags to free performance art in the streets and bars. The Eternal City comes alive with music, dance, and exhibitions of all kinds.
If you are interested in the arts, it's highly recommended to plan your visit to coincide with RomaEuropa. The city can get crowded during this time but the festive atmosphere is a bonus.
Every year, the birth of Rome is celebrated on 21 April, with numerous events taking place at notable venues around the city, including the Roman Forum and Campidoglio. If you're lucky enough to be in Rome over this period, you will have access to all sorts of activities and performances.
Many of the Roman buildings in the city are illuminated at night, and they come alive with reenactments of scenes from Roman history, concerts, fireworks, parades, gladiator shows (historical accuracy is thankfully compromised so that nobody dies) and traditional banquets.
Another huge bonus for tourists is that all of the museums and parks in Rome are open to the public on this day every year so that people can celebrate the great city's cultural heritage. Of course, the lack of admission charges does mean that attractions get very crowded and accommodation can be difficult to find on short notice, so it is best to book your trip well in advance. Partaking in Rome's birthday celebrations is fun and festive and the Italians tend to be extremely proud of their heritage and eager to share it.
This annual event takes runners on a scenic tour of Rome, passing some of the most famous monuments in the city like the Colosseum and St Peter's Basilica. Although it may be a tiring way to tour the city, it is an exhilarating race, extremely well-supported, and enjoys a festive atmosphere.
The Marathon Village sets up about a week in advance with concerts, stalls, and shows, as well as all the practical race necessities. In fact, during the races, the event turns the city into a stage with more than 50 music acts including international stars, rock bands, DJs, folk groups, and local talent performing along the route to encourage the runners and entertain the crowds of spectators.
Although the full marathon is a serious competitive event which attracts talented runners from all over the world, there is also the Roma Fun Run, which is non-competitive and attracts about 80,000 people annually. Participants in this event are free to do as they please and some bring along their dogs or rollerblades.
In true Italian style, the nightlife in Rome is laid-back. People like to sit at cafes or restaurants, taking their time with lots of food, wine and coffee. Campo dei Fiori, the Piazza Navona area and Trastevere are some of the best places for bars and cafés, while the Testaccio and Ostiense districts are better for nightclubs.
There are many wine bars and cafes near Campo de' Fiori, Piazza Navona and Via della Pace. Cafes in Trastevere attract visitors to see Piazza di Santa Maria's fountain and 12th-century church lit up at night, as well as occasional guitar performances.
There are always spectacular nightclubs for real party animals in Rome, but some of them do close during August. When the clubs close for summer, there are numerous outdoor venues around town and near Ostia; outdoor festivities on Via di Monte Testaccio in Testaccio take centre stage and include food stalls and markets.
The Teatro dell'Opera is home to the Rome Opera Ballet and opera is performed at the Baths of Caracalla's open-air ruins in July and August. Rock bands often perform at Stadio Flaminio and the Palazzo dello Sport.
Rome, only too aware of its popularity with international tourists and investors, is an expensive shopping destination; but some deals can be found on trinkets like crafts, leather goods and glasswork. To find these bargains, look to the markets of central Rome, which generally operate Monday to Saturday from 7am to 1pm. On Sundays, the popular Porta Portese flea market operates from the Trastevere district.
Another budget shopping option popular in Rome is second-hand book and clothing shopping, with an abundance of stores located throughout the city. Antique shopping is also pervasive but could prove expensive for those who aren't sure of what they're doing.
If you have the means, Rome has an assortment of boutique stores with brands like Prada, Valentino, Gucci and Fendi all represented in the Piazza di Spagna. The Piazza San Silvestro exhibits Rome's best jewellers, such as Bulgari and Martinelli, among others. In addition to an assortment of clothing department stores, in Via del Corso one can find the flagship stores for Ferrari and Swarovski, with exquisite crystal-wrought crafts.
Rome's network of buses, trams, metro and trains covers the whole city from 5.30am to around midnight, and night buses take over until about 5am, covering the main routes. The metro only has two lines, but is the easiest and fastest way to get around. The bus service is cheap and reliable, albeit slow due to traffic congestion. Tickets cover all forms of transport and must be pre-purchased and validated at the start of every journey; there are daily tickets valid for unlimited rides or standard tickets that allow for any bus or metro ride within a 75 minute time frame. Taxis are notoriously expensive and display a list of surcharges. The historic centre of Rome is compact and manageable on foot, and most of it is closed to normal traffic. Driving in Rome is an experience to be avoided.
Legend has it that Romulus founded Rome from the top of Palatine Hill in 753 BC. With more than two millennia of history, the city offers a spectacular and unmatched array of sights and experiences.
Rome's most famous ancient attraction is the Colosseum, the great arena of the gladiators dating back to 80 AD. Nearby lies the Roman Forum, established in the 7th century BC, and now the ruins of what was once the social, political and commercial centre of the Roman Empire. Next on the list of historic attractions is the Pantheon, where tourists enter the great church through massive bronze doors to marvel at the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever built. Watching the sun stream into the church through the oculus is an unforgettable experience.
Within Rome's borders lies the independent state of the Vatican City. Its museums house one of the world's great art collections, culminating in Michelangelo's famous frescoes adorning the Sistine Chapel. Rising above these spectacular works of art is Italy's largest basilica, St Peters. Michelangelo was also the architect behind the soaring dome that looks down over St Peter's square and beyond.
Tourists still thirsting for art can visit the Museo e Galleria Borghese for paintings by Caravaggio, Raphael and Titian, and sculptures by Bernini. The Capitoline Museums are the oldest public museums in the world, dating back to 1471, and house an incredible collection of sculptures.
Those tired out by the endless attractions can fall back into the Roman way of life. Wander the streets, relax at cafes and watch the world go by before heading to a pizzeria or trattoria for authentic Roman fare, gelato and a shot of strong Italian coffee.
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