Find the best things to do in Rome from exploring museums and feasting on pizza to digging into catacombs, climbing domes and rambling around ruins.
The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Rome - your essential guide for visiting Rome.
The Pantheon also houses the tomb of Raphael. This can be found between the second and third chapels on the left, with an inscription by the humanist cardinal Pietro Bembo: “Living, great Nature feared he might outvie Her works, and dying, fears herself may die.”
Rome is surpassed only by Naples in the quality of its pizzas, and even this is arguable if you prefer the thin and crispy Roman pizza. It is best when baked in a wood-burning oven (forno a legna). Other Roman street food includes various deep-fried specialities, or fritti, like supplì (fried rice balls with mozzarella), arancini (supplì with added tomato), as well as spit-roast chicken and porchetta.
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Across from Santa Maria degli Angeli, Palazzo Massimo is home to one of the two principal parts of the Museo Nazionale Romano – the other is in the Palazzo Altemps. It’s a superb collection of Greek and Roman antiquities.
Adorned with dilapidated busts of classical and Italian heroes, these gardens offer magnificent views over the rooftops and domes, stretching all the way to St. Peter's and Janiculum Hill.
The benches are pleasantly shaded and a good place to take some weight off your feet. The nineteenth-century water clock at the back is a quirky attraction, and there’s a carousel, a decent café-restaurant, and a couple of places to rent bikes.
The gallery has since taken its place as one of Rome’s great treasure houses and should not be missed. Be sure to book in advance. It goes without saying that the pretty gardens that surround the gallery are well worth a visit.
Most bars have a fairly mediocre selection, so for a real choice go to a proper gelateria, where the range is a tribute to the Italian imagination and flair for display.
From the Arch of Titus, the uphill path takes you to the Palatine Hill, where the city of Rome was legendarily founded by Romulus. The path, paved with ancient stones, leads past olive trees. Bear right at the massive fallen column of Euboean marble, then make a left at the tall brick pier before turning immediately right to follow the box hedges towards the Farnese Gardens.
If you have found any of Rome’s other museums disappointing, the Vatican is probably the reason why. So much booty from the city’s history has ended up here, and so many of the Renaissance’s finest artists were in the employ of the pope. Thee result is a set of museums so stuffed with antiquities as to put most other European collections to shame.
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The fountain is fed by one of Rome’s most celebrated water sources, the Acqua Vergine, which also surfaces at the Barcaccia Fountain in Piazza di Spagna.
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The choir is partitioned off with beautiful white marble slabs repurposed from the older lower basilica. Perhaps the highlights of the main church, though, are the fifteenth-century frescoes by Masolino in the chapel, whose soft, yet vivid, colours show scenes from the life of St Catherine on the left.
A fairly undistinguished open space (and a slightly unsavoury spot after dark), it does, however, hold the remnants of two important Roman structures. These are the imposing fenced-off remains of Trajan’s Baths and Nero’s magnificent Domus Aurea, which lies underneath the baths complex.
The remarkable highlight here is a superb example of imperial Roman sculpture. This is a picture of a family at the height of its power, with little inkling of the scandal and tragedy that would afflict it in years to come.
The Palazzo dei Conservatori, which occupies the right-hand side of the Piazza del Campidoglio is perhaps the natural place to start a tour of the Capitoline Museums. It has a large collection of ancient sculptures on the first floor and in the wing at the back, and paintings on the second floor.
The Palazzo Nuovo, the smaller of the wings, is across the square from the Palazzo dei Conservatori, also accessible by way of an underground walkway that holds the Galleria Lapidaria, a collection of Roman marble inscriptions.
Once inside the arena, you’re free to wander around most of the ground level, circling the remains of the arena and observing its maze of brick walls. You’ll get a better view from the lower tier, reached by steep stairways leading up from the entrance. Here also, in the connecting corridor, is a space for temporary exhibitions on all things Roman, a display of fragments of masonry and a decent bookshop.
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Not so long ago you could freely stroll around the piazza and wander into the basilica when you felt like it. Now much of the square is fenced off, and you can only enter St Peter’s from the right-hand side.
You also have to go through security first, and the queues can be long unless you get here before 9 am or after 5 pm. Bear in mind that you need to observe the dress code to enter, which means no bare knees or shoulders – a rule that is very strictly enforced.
It is nonetheless one of the shrines of the English in Rome and a fitting addition to a visit to the Keats-Shelley House on Piazza di Spagna.
During summer, the steps around the obelisk and fountain, and the cafés on either side of the square, are popular hangouts. But the piazza’s real attraction is the unbroken view it gives all the way back down Via del Corso, between the twin churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto, to the central columns of the Vittoriano.
Inside the mausoleum, a spiral ramp leads from the monumental entrance hall up into the centre of the mausoleum itself, passing through the chamber where the emperor was entombed. It continues to the main level at the top, where a small palace was built to house the papal residents in appropriate splendour.
It is still a venue for international posing and fast pick-ups late into the summer nights. It was, in fact, a largely French initiative to build the steps. Before their construction, the French church of Trinità dei Monti was accessible only by way of a rough path up the steep slope.
After a few decades of haggling over the plans, the steps were finally laid in 1725, and now form one of the city’s most distinctive attractions, perfect for strollers to glide up and down while chatting and looking each other up and down.
The other buildings on Piazza Venezia pale into insignificance beside the marble monstrosity rearing up across the street from San Marco. The Vittorio Emanuele Monument or Vittoriano, was erected at the end of the nineteenth century as the “Altar of the Fatherland” to commemorate Italian Unification.
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