Rome has endured for thousands of years-since 625 BC or perhaps even earlier. Today it’s the capital of Italy, but Rome was around long before Italy came to be! For many of these centuries, Rome and its inhabitants played a crucial role in world history.
Today, Rome is a cosmopolitan city, where modern life coexists next to ancient relics. No trip to Italy would be complete without spending some time here. There is so much to see and do here that if you have time, it’s great to devote at least a week to the city. Even then, you won’t have time to see everything that this amazing city has to offer! Here are some of my favorite things about Rome.
Where else in the world do cars drive past the ruins of timeless monuments such as the Colosseum and the Forum? Over the centuries, so many new buildings have gone up on top of the old buildings that the city resembles an onion, with layers upon layers of history stacked on top of each other. To live, even temporarily, among such a lively and interesting mix of the ancient and the modern is a thrilling experience.
This stronghold of the Catholic Church contains St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel. Vatican City contains so many treasures that you should plan on spending an entire day looking around. Of course, Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the Sistine Chapel, is one of the highlights of the tour, especially since its restoration uncovered the dazzling colors that had been hiding under centuries of grime. Also, the Vatican City has its own postal service, which is much more reliable than the regular Italian post. Mail your postcards here!
This is the unofficial Italian sport. Many Italians are very fashion and image-conscious. Of course, the whole point of getting dressed up and going out is to see and be seen. The best places for people-watching are the little sidewalk caffes that dot the streets. To get a better view, choose a seat that faces into an open piazza.
Reminders of ancient Rome are everywhere, and one thing that becomes clear when you visit them is how much the ancient Romans seem to resemble us. For example, it’s easy to imagine watching a football game inside the Colosseum – although the ancient Romans enjoyed far bloodier sports than that! The Forum was the political center of ancient Rome, where the rich and powerful congregated. Then there’s the Circus Maximus, site of great Roman chariot races.
Piazza di Spagna
This butterfly-shaped piazza is another great place to people-watch, and is a popular gathering place for tourists.. Of course, the main attraction is the imposing and majestic Spanish steps, that rise to connect the square to the elegant church above.
This incredible, free open-air museum contains a treasure chest of paintings, architecture and sculpture. Many different eras are represented. The museum contains everything from artifacts taken from Egypt by the Empire to art from notable Renaissance and Baroque artists, including Michelangelo, Raphael, and Bernini. Did I mention it’s free?
If you have spending money, Rome is a great place to shop. You can get everything from high-fashion designer goods to flea market bargains, depending on where you go and what you are looking for. If you are looking for high-end goods, drop by some of the designer stores along the Spanish Steps. More of a wandering hippie? Travestere’s winding streets and outdoor markets are perfect. On Sundays, an eclectic mix of trash and treasure can be found at the Porta Portese, the Roman flea market.
What’s Rome without some marvelous Italian food? Fortunately you’ll find restaurants and trattorias everywhere, happy to ply you with pasta and wine. And after all that walking around the city, you don’t even have to feel guilty about that plate of rich Spaghetti Carbonara. See more about Eating in Rome – Local food specialties.
Fountains of Rome
Rome’s many piazzas are decorated with fanciful fountains, each unique and beautiful, and each with its own colorful story. For example, if you toss a coin over your shoulder and it lands in the Trevi fountain, people say that you are guaranteed to return to Rome someday. At the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, Bernini’s animated sculptures appear to be shielding their eyes from the façade of a church designed by his arch-nemesis Borromini.
The Crypt of the Capuchin Monks
The Capuchin crypt is the resting place of over 4,000 members of the Capuchin religious order. These monks believed that it was good for the soul to contemplate the body’s mortality. So, instead of burying their deceased brethren, they arranged their bodies in tableaus meant to remind viewers of how fragile life is. They also used bones and other mummified body parts to create intricate decorations and cozy domestic crafts. Imagine if Morticia Adams took over the Martha Stewart show, and you’ll get the idea.
This jewel of a museum contains masterpieces by Bernini, Caravaggio, Giorgione, Botticelli and Rubens, other treasures by lesser known artists, and ancient Roman statuary. They won’t let you in unless you make reservations ahead of time.
There’s a lot more to Rome than this, but these will give you a great start on exploring this amazing city. To explore a bit online and get the lay of the land, check out the Google Maps of Rome. So much to see and do!