While Paris is often called the most romantic city in the world there are many who would argue the title should really go to Rome, Italy’s capital city. And while this essential element seems to infuse everything effortlessly Rome is also otherwise packed with the sensational.
Known as the Eternal City by ancient Romans who believed their mighty empire would always endure, Rome is one big delight of magnificent churches and basilicas, huge monuments and mausoleums, opulent palaces, grand villas and buzzing public squares filled with fountains and sculptures crafted by famous names. Ancient truly means ancient here; in this city where ruins dating back thousands of years are found, anything ‘only’ hundreds of years old is considered ‘modern’. So plentiful are these ancient treasures in fact that simply wandering the streets may take you past old collapsed columns or broken statuary which stood in the days of Rome’s emperors and which seem to have just been left as if they were nothing more than brick rubble from a building site.
Scattered among the famous giants such as the mighty Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain and St. Peter’s Basilica are hidden gems which few know about such as the spectacular Art Nouveau courtyard just a few paces from the Trevi Fountain or the mystical Alchemist’s Door at the Marquis Palobara’s villa.
Besides its endless breath-taking architectural beauty and its ability to make a history buff weak at the knees with excitement, Rome is also a destination for food lovers. With plates loaded with simple but tasty pasta to luxurious seafood dishes created by award-winning chefs all on the menu you can also take your pick of venues. These include tiny traditional trattorias lined with wine bottles, intimate and romantic underground vaulted cellars, a table for two at the edge of a piazza surrounded by the aroma of thick trailing bougainvillea in full bloom or you can soar above the city on a rooftop terrace with all the glory of Rome laid out before you.
There are few who come to Rome without falling in love with this magical, elegant and stylish city and once you have explored it for yourself you will be left in no doubt as to why.
A Morning in Rome
There is nowhere else in this city, packed full of antiquities though it is, which can transport you back to the glory of ancient Rome in quite the way the Forum can and the Colosseum do. Both of these awesome sights feature in your morning.
The Roman Forum
You can begin your Rome day by walking in the very streets where the footsteps of Julius Caesar once trod more than 20 centuries ago. Essentially a plaza, the Roman Forum was once the beating heart of public, political, commercial and religious life and is today a collection of evocative ruins which still emanate strong echoes of the glory and power of ancient Rome. Built and rebuilt piecemeal over many centuries, the oldest building here dates back to the 7th century BC while the most recent is from the 7th century AD. The whole is a collection of temples, arches, senate buildings and monuments which would have been the setting for market trading, senate meetings and pronouncement of election results, sacred rituals and speeches, gladiatorial marches and triumphal possessions.
After the Roman Empire collapsed, the Forum gradually fell into ruin and became buried beneath both earth and plants. It wasn’t until the 20th century that it began to be painstakingly excavated and its former glories (or what remained of them) brought back into the light.
Although you can wander freely in places, the principal route leads you along the Via Sacra which once linked Capitoline Hill to the Colosseum, passing the main points of interest along the way. Because they are so tall, the site is somewhat dominated by the 5th century Temple of Saturn and the Triumphal Arch of Septimus Severus. All that remains of the former are the imposing pillars of what would have been the structure’s porch and on such a vast scale the magnificence of the temple they once gave entry to can be easily imagined. Dating from the third century, the commemorative arch of Severus has three major columns remaining – each soaring to 21 meters in height.
Arguably the loveliest of the complex’s structures is the House of the Vestal Virgins. Once a palace for the high priestesses of Vesta, this three-storey building built around a pool and court was once strictly off limits but today you can explore it freely. Each priestess came from high birth and remained in her role for a minimum of 30 years, taking a vow of purity which, if broken, was punishable by death.
Other significant structures include the Forum’s best preserved temple – the second century Temple of Antonius and Faustina – the Curia which was where the Senate met and the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine. Historians believe this structure – the Forum’s largest – represented the most important of the whole site during its heyday in the 4th century.
The site has little in the way of interpretive panels and while you may be happy to simply gaze upon these majestic ruins a guided tour or hired audio guide can give you a greater understanding of what you are exploring. Arriving here early in the day means you both beat the crowds and escape the heat as the site has little in the way of shade.
While the Roman Forum attracts an admission fee (for which you can buy a combined and discounted ticket for entry to here, Palatine Hill and the Colosseum) if you happen to be in town on the first Sunday of the month you can explore for free.
Morning Coffee in Rome
There is nowhere you can go in Italy without being assured of high quality coffee at every turn and of course Rome, as the country’s capital, offers seemingly endless and top-notch choices. Also, as far as cafes or coffee bars go there are some truly exceptional venues such as the former atelier of sculptor Adamo Tadolini where you will sip your coffee surrounded by his marble and bronze art pieces. There are also cafes in atmospheric vaults and cellars, elegant light-infused spaces where you will be serenaded by piano music or icons such as Caffe Greco which has been part of the Rome scene for more than two centuries. To save time and energy each of the cafe choices suggested here are within close walking distance of both the Roman Forum and the Colosseum which is where you will continue your morning adventures.
It is worth mentioning that coffee drinking in Rome is usually done standing at a bar; if you want to sit and relax you will pay more as service comes as an extra.
The majority of the cafes in close proximity to the Colosseum come with inflated prices but there are exceptions such as the intimate and cozy Cafe Cafe which is a stone’s throw from Rome’s ancient amphitheatre. Wooden tables, chairs and bare floorboards give this place a rustic charm and if you happen to be a tea-drinker the cafe has a diverse choice of teas besides its coffee options.
For quite possibly the best view of the Colosseum you are likely to get head to the Vittoriano. This huge marble monument is not beloved by the locals – most Romans seem to consider it an eyesore – however, its upper terrace offers stunning views along the Via Fori Imperiali with the Colosseum at its end. You can also take in the Roman Forum, the river, a multitude of churches and many other majestic sights within the city’s historic heart and beyond to the hills. Start enjoying the views as you head up in the glass elevators and then take your time over coffee at the Caffeteria Italia to soak up the splendor a little more.
Babington’s Tea Rooms
If you are more of a leaf than bean fan, head to Babington’s Tea Rooms which is a longer walk but worth it for tea drinkers. Founded at the end of the 19th century by a couple of English ladies, this antique atmosphere cafe transports visitors back to the elegance of the1800s and besides its famous teas has choices for coffee drinkers too. For those who have already worked up an appetite exploring the Roman Forum this long-established icon (which was where Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor would come during the filming of Cleopatra for some secret alone time) has a wonderful selection of scones, cakes, muffins and pastries.
If there could be said to be one sight which symbolizes Rome more than any other it would have to be the ancient and magnificent Colosseum. Dating back almost 2,000 years, this fabulously ruined gladiatorial fighting arena is today one of the ‘New 7 Wonders of the World’. Once able to accommodate around 50,000 spectators, the Colosseum is believed to have been fitted with a canvas canopy which could be drawn over the top to offer shade to those watching the entertainments.
While the movies of Hollywood often portray hapless and defenseless prisoners pitted against wild animals there is little evidence to suggest this actually took place. A vast menagerie of exotic species which included elephants, bears and tigers was indeed housed at the Colosseum in underground pits. However, the animals themselves were the victims, either fighting each other to the death or playing their part in the ‘venatio’ which saw staged beast hunts in which the body-armor clad and spear-wielding ‘venatores’ would almost certainly emerge as victors.
Imperial spectators made up of Roman citizens ranging from slaves to senators and emperors would have known nothing of the vast labyrinth of rooms, corridors and chambers – the hypogeum – which lay hidden from view beneath the arena’s wooden floor. Only recently fully understood, this area which you can view from above today, once housed elaborate systems of machinery which allowed the workings of trapdoors and rising platforms from which the animals would suddenly appear, almost as if by magic, into the arena above.
Besides the wild animal hunts and public executions, the Colosseum was also the stage for gladiatorial battles – perhaps the feature it is best known for. When Emperor Titus celebrated the completion of the Colosseum in 80 AD with 100 days of games, the arena was to see the death of more than 2,000 fighters and many thousands of wild animals. This bloody tradition continued for 500 years, with the last games known held in 500 AD. Since that time the mighty Colosseum has survived earthquakes, lightning strikes, fire and World War II bombings and has known uses as a warehouse, church and residence for the nobility.
Exploring the Colosseum today offers intriguing sights at every turn, with ancient decorative pillars and stonework lying seemingly abandoned everywhere. Just stepping inside this vast space filled with such incredible history is an experience in itself but to really get the most from your visit you will need to hire a guide who can give real context to what you are gazing upon. Additionally, some places such as the underground level and upper tiers are only accessible with a guide.
The Basilica de San Clemente
Before you turn your thoughts to lunch it is worth taking a look at the Basilica de San Clemente which is just a five minute walk from the Colosseum. Rome has almost 1,000 churches and basilicas and many of them are worth a visit for their astonishing beauty, ancient history, some treasured artifact housed within or a particular rare or even unique feature. The Basilica de San Clement could be said to tick off each and every one of these categories.
The newest church here is 900 years old and quite a sight in itself however beneath this ‘latest’ edition is the original basilica which is more than 500 years older. Under this is a 1st century temple located within an ancient villa which was dedicated to Mithras.
It is free to enter and explore the uppermost and newest of these sacred sites but if you want to travel back in time to the deeper layers there is an entrance fee. Once in the original basilica – only brought back to light in the 1860s – you will be able to marvel at the medieval frescoes adorning the walls. One of the largest collections in the world of its kind, these paintings are especially well-preserved due to centuries of being sealed away from sight and knowledge.
Lunch in Rome
Italy is a country known for its love of food and modern day Romans embrace every aspect of this national culinary passion. From one end of the city to the other can be found everything from tiny trattorias to venues which represent the highest echelons of fine-dining. Whether you want to grab a slice of pizza to-go and sit and watch the sights, take a long luxurious lunch break feasting or something in between the two you will have endless choice.
To narrow down the choice and preserve your energy for your further Roman explorations the choices here place you close to where your morning finished at the Colosseum or where your afternoon begins in the Vatican City.
In both instances, as areas filled with sightseers flocking to visit the city’s major magnets, it isn’t always easy to avoid what are simply venues aimed at the tourists and find the authentic gems. Arlu is one such gem, more likely to be filled with Romans on their lunch-break than visitors even though it is just 500m away from the Sistine Chapel. Established on the city scene since the 1950s, dining here is inside in the elegant pale-toned dining space or outside at one of the charming street tables with a diverse Italian menu where each beautifully-presented dish is a work of art.
Osteria della Commari
Just one block from the Vatican Museums can be found the affordable Osteria della Commari which offers Roman cuisine and simple but delicious good-quality lunch dining. Osterias are typically less formal than trattorias (which are in turn less formal than ‘ristorantes’) offering wine decanters, often no menu and a generally casual but cozy atmosphere. This is exactly what you get at this lovely brick vaulted-ceiling spot which also offers outside tables for those who can’t bear to be inside while the sun is shining.
Dino e Toni
Another no-frills osteria choice near the Vatican is Dino e Toni, run by two childhood friends, which is a good option if you have worked up a large appetite after exploring the Forum and the Colosseum. No official website – address – Via Leone IV 60, 00192 Rome
Oozing traditional taverna charm with its high vaulted ceilings and brick arches is the Taverna dei Quaranta which sits right on the edge of Parco del Celio and just 200m from the Colosseum. The alternative alfresco terrace at this historic-homed restaurant is every bit as lovely with its cloth-draped tables screened from the road by overhanging trees and greenery. Family-run and friendly, the taverna serves up authentic Roman cuisine at highly affordable prices and is a local’s favorite.
If you are a big pizza fan looking for non-touristy and authentic (with good prices that reflect their off-the-main-radar element) you might want to check out either the Luciano Luzzi Trattoria which is a no-frills offering or the lovely Li Rioni which has rather more charm and atmosphere. Both are conveniently close to the Colosseum.
An Afternoon in Rome
With lunch over you can start planning your afternoon in Rome which now takes you to the Vatican City with the magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica, the world-famous Sistine Chapel and the opulent Vatican Museums. There is so much to see here that you can easily spend a whole afternoon exploring its spectacular attractions but if you want to mix and match there is also the chance to visit a castle. Castel Sant’Angelo and the Vatican City are close to each other which makes this option even easier.
The Vatican City
With the Pope as its ‘ruler’, the Vatican City is an entirely independent city-state within Italy and although you don’t need a passport to enter it does issue its own coins and stamps. It has a population of just 1,000 and covers 110 acres making it the world’s tiniest state but interestingly has a higher wine consumption than any other country in the world taken on a per capita basis.
Citizenship to the state is granted depending on the working role served within the ecclesiastical network and is typically removed once the person in question no longer works in that capacity.
One quirk of the Vatican City which you can’t fail to notice is its Swiss Guards. Clad in bright costumes of yellow, blue and red complete with bloomed trousers and striped socks, to the uninitiated the guards might almost be taken as pantomime characters or medieval jesters. However, with a tradition which stretches back to the 1500s and originally began with Swiss mercenaries, the role of these individuals as bodyguards to the pope is anything but whimsical or simply ornamental. One such event in history – the sack of Rome in the 16th century – demonstrates this perfectly when the pope of the time fled to safety through the covered Passetto di Borgo as the entire Swiss Guard were put to the sword by the attacking hordes on the very steps of the basilica.
St. Peter’s Square
Spreading out in a vast oval from the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica can be found St. Peter’s Square or Piazza San Pietro – arguably one of the world’s best known and loveliest city squares. This public space came into being in the middle of the 17th century – the work of Italian architect Bernini who was also the leading sculptor of his era. Under the guidance of Pope Alexander XII, Bernini’s goal was to create a magnificent and fitting forecourt to the sacred basilica which enabled the greatest number of people to hear the papal addresses delivered from either the basilica or the Vatican Palace. With a capacity for 300,000 people at any one time, St. Peter’s Square easily achieves its original aim.
The piazza is enclosed on every side by beautiful buildings and majestic features, perhaps the most notable aspect of which are the huge Doric columns topped by an endless series of religious statues. Theses statues are over 3m tall but appear tiny from ground level.
In the middle of the piazza can be found the red granite Egyptian obelisk although at a total height of 41m it is impossible to miss. Once sited at Heliopolis in Egypt and later moved to Alexandria, the obelisk came to Rome in 37 AD and settled on its final home here in 1586 before the square was redesigned by Bernini. The piazza is also home to two historic fountains – one of which is a Bernini creation – dating from the 17th century.
St. Peter’s Basilica
The principal focus of the Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica is not just the country’s religious epicenter but, located beside the official residence of the pope is also the world’s foremost Roman Catholic church. A major pilgrimage site for Catholics from every corner of the globe, St. Peter’s is also one of the largest churches in existence. Taking over 100 years to complete, the basilica you see today was erected on the site of an earlier church and over the spot where St. Peter himself is buried although the debate still rages as to whether the bones here do indeed belong to St. Peter – the disciple of Jesus.
Free to enter, St. Peter’s is so vast (it can hold 20,000 people) and intricately detailed you could spend the entire day exploring it. Featuring the designs of such renowned architects and artists as Michelangelo, Bramanate and Carlo Maderno, the basilica’s ceilings, dome and walls are adorned with what appear to be paintings but are all in fact mosaics created from tiny glass pieces. The overall richness, splendor and scale of the interior of St. Peter’s have to be seen to be appreciated and even then it isn’t always possible for your brain to register what you are seeing due to the incorporation of many elaborate optical effects.
The basilica has far too many highlights and treasures to list them all but must-sees include Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta’ (which is now behind bulletproof glass following a hammer attack in 1972) and the bronze statue of St. Peter which is thought to date from the 13th century but may in fact be much older. The right foot of this sculpture has been kissed and rubbed so many times by the faithful over the centuries that it now shows unmistakable signs of wear.
The centerpiece of the basilica is the 17th century bronze canopy over the principal altar which sits beneath the famous dome and over St. Peter’s grave. Supported on four giant and incredibly beautiful columns, the Bernini-designed baldacchino is one example of optical illusion found within the basilica. Although no-one can fail to marvel at the structure’s loveliness, visitors often completely underestimate the scale. Each of the columns is 20m in height but appear much smaller because of the dome which soars way higher overhead.
To get a totally different perspective of the basilica it is possible to ascend into the spectacular 136m dome for a fee, the amount of which depends on whether you decide to climb the hundreds of steps in their entirety or take the easy way by elevator which takes you halfway to cut the effort of your climb. Once at the top, your reward is the far-reaching views of Rome from outside or the basilica from inside. However, this is not an experience for the fainthearted or claustrophobic as the spiral descent becomes narrow and confined near the top and the interior balcony viewing can be vertigo-inducing for even those to whom heights are not normally a problem.
It is important to remember that St. Peter’s is not principally a tourist attraction but a living church and as such you will be expected to dress appropriately with covered shoulders and knees.
If you are hoping to catch a glimpse of the pope general public addresses are held in the square on Wednesday at 10am if the pope is in residence which are free to attend but ticketed or on Sundays at noon.
The Sistine Chapel
Part of the Vatican Museums, the world-famous Sistine Chapel although having served as the venue for papal coronations is best known for its entrancingly spectacular frescoes by Michelangelo. Completed over a four year period in the early 16th century, each of the ceiling paintings are Michelangelo’s work but the chapel also includes many other frescoes by famous artists such as Botticelli and Perugino.
So jaw-droppingly incredible are the artworks and overall effect of the Sistine Chapel that many argue if you had to see just one thing while in Rome this should be it. However, you will have to store all your memories in your head as photographs are not allowed.
The Vatican Museums
Packed with priceless art amassed by a succession of popes, the immense Vatican Museums are home to some of the world’s most significant Renaissance period artworks, particularly with regard to its sculptures.
With 54 galleries (the Sistine Chapel is counted as one gallery) displaying over 20,000 pieces, the Vatican Museums collection is impossible to take in at one visit. Beside the Sistine Chapel some of its highlights include the relatively modern spiral Bramante Staircase, the Niccoline Chapel, the marble throne of popes, the Gallery of Maps with its topographical wall frescoes painted by a 16th century friar, Pope Alexander VI’s Borgia Apartment and the Raphael Rooms with their collection of Raphael pieces and also incorporating the famous artist’s workshop.
While self-guided audio tours are possible if you sign up for a guided tour you will also get to visit some of the palace areas and the Vatican gardens as well as the Sistine Chapel. While the Vatican Museums attract a charge if you are lucky enough to be in the city on the last Sunday of the month entrance is free. It is also worth noting that, unusually for a museum, there is a dress code – knees and shoulders must be covered.
Rome has a fair number of impressive and worthy museums such as the National Roman Museum, the 15th century palace filled with artworks and classical sculpture known as the Palazzo Altemps and the part 17th century villa/part museum of the Galleria Borghese with its lovely gardens. There are also a plentiful supply of smaller but fascinating museums such as the Leonardo da Vinci Experience, the Pasta Museum which covers 800 years of pasta history, the Keats-Shelley Memorial House and the Museum of Roman Ships.
However, much of this ancient city is packed with the historical at every turn and incorporates such icons as the Colosseum and the Roman Forum which allow viewing ancient artifacts, monuments and buildings in the very places they have rested for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years. Such elements mean museums suddenly find themselves rather further down a must-do list than they might otherwise in any other destination. If you do want to include a museum in your day you will have to sacrifice one of the other principal attractions in their stead.
The Castel Sant’Angelo is directly connected to St Peter’s Square in the Vatican City via Via della Conciliazione. Even if you don’t have time to explore it in full you can at least pass by it on your journey back across the river if you cross the Tiber via the lovely statue-line footbridge known as Ponte Sant’Angelo which dates back to 134 AD. Cylindrical in shape, this 2nd century building was originally Emperor Hadrian’s commissioned mausoleum which was later used from the 5th century as a military fortress, later still utilized as a fortified castle for the popes from around the 15th century and is today a museum.
The urns and the ashes of Hadrian and succeeding emperors have long since been lost as has certain original statuary which was apparently used as missiles to repel the attacking Goths in 537 AD. The castle saw action again in 1527 during the Sack of Rome during which Pope Clement VII sought refuge behind the fortified walls. As was customary in many parts of Italy in former times, certain significant points of importance were linked by way of covered corridor to keep the movements of the elite and nobility secret and therefore safe. The castle had one such corridor connecting to St Peter’s Basilica and it was along this passageway – the Passetto di Borgo – that Clement fled to safety.
Castel Sant’Angelo has also been a prison in its time with executions held within its walls. In the famous Puccini opera Tosca, the leading lady Floria leaps to her death from the castle’s walls after watching the execution of her lover Cavaradossi.
Today the castle can be explored on all of its five levels including the roof which gives magnificent Roman vistas from its high elevation terrace and the second floor bastions with their river views. Other highlights include the papal rooms with their frescoes and adornments, the prison cells, the armory and the Hall of Urns where Hadrian’s ashes were once kept.
An Alternative Afternoon Exploring Rome’s Churches
Rome is home to just under 1000 churches and basilicas and very many of them have fascinating features, incredible history, house exceptional treasures or are just simply visually stunning to visit. With so many so close together it is very easy to do a church tour if such things interest you. Even if you don’t want to spend a whole afternoon in such a way you might like to at least take a peek inside one or two as you pass them while exploring other Roman highlights.
Some of the most notable possibilities on such an itinerary are detailed here.
Santa Maria della Vittoria
Beautiful though this 17th century Baroque church is it is what it contains which ensures a steady tourist stream (as well as its role in Dan Brown’s ‘Angels and Demons’). The Catholic Church has a long tradition of not just preserving its saints but also putting them in open view of the faithful and such is the case here with Saint Victoria whose entire body lies within a glass case in this church. Victoria is one of the so-called ‘incorruptible’ saints which means her earthly remains will never decompose although it is not hard to see the wax which has been used on Saint Victoria to try and ensure this incorruptibility is preserved while her skeleton also very obviously shows through in places.
Santa Maria della Concezione
Just a stone’s throw from the church of St. Victoria can be found Santa Maria della Concezione complete with its Capuchin Friars’ crypts. Filled with the bones of thousands of friars, these crypts have been mentioned in literature by the Marquis de Sade in the 1700s and Mark Twain in ‘Innocents Abroad’ in the 1800s. While it might not be unusual to find bones in crypts what makes these so exceptional is the fact that the bones and skulls here literally decorate these subterranean cells and have a decided beauty albeit a macabre one. The artistic displays’ purpose is, it is said, intended to remind the friars that death and God wait for all of us.
Santa Maria del Popolo
Originally dating back to the 11th century and later rebuilt in the 15th century this church sits on the site of Emperor Nero’s grave. Much used as the final resting place for important Roman Catholic Church dignitaries and the city’s wealthiest, Santa Maria boasts an exceptionally large collection of Renaissance-era funerary monuments lining its interior aisles which feature work by famous artists and sculptors. One of the most striking of these is the Raphael mosaic-decorated Chigi Chapel.
The Jesuit Church of Saint Ignazio
When Saint Ignazio’s founders found themselves too short of money to top their church with a majestic dome they decided to approach things from another angle. The result was an astonishing trick-of-the-eye painting on a flat ceiling – completed in the 17th century – which was so skillfully executed it truly does appear as if you are gazing up through a dome. A marker on the floor of the church indicates the spot to stand to get the full illusional effect.
Santi Vincenzo and Anastasio a Trevi
Starting with Sixtus V who died in 1583 to Leo XIII who died in 1903, this church houses the hearts of more than 20 popes and certain other embalmed organs which are kept in marble urns.
Pre-dinner Drinks and Dinner in Rome
Rome’s drink and dining scene is nothing short of sensational and if you have some special occasion to celebrate there is perhaps no other destination in the world which offers such a variety of elegant, prestigious and sophisticated venues. For those more drawn to the cozy and traditional Rome is also packed with cute trattorias, hostelries and tucked away gems which may be little more than one small room in which plates are piled high and the waiters end up feeling like family by the time your meal is over.
Arguably there is no other country in the world which has honed the enjoyment of pre-dinner drinks down to such an elegant art form as Italy. This is mostly due to the quintessentially Italian tradition of aperitivo – the part of the day in which you enjoy a drink or two with some accompanying snacks as the sun sets. As the typical evening dining hour for an Italian is 9pm at the earliest some of the aperitivo snacks are almost meals in themselves. There is no easier way to slot yourself into the culture here than finding an aperitivo bar to unwind in after a long day of Roman exploration.
Typical aperitivo drinks are either wine or Campari with other options such as Aperol, Cynar and vermouth also popular.
For an aperitivo of the highest degree head to La Prosiutteria which also just happens to be one of the most-respected delis in the city. Such an element ensures an aperitivo time which allows you to sample a wonderful selection of the finest cured meats and cheeses.
Angelina a Trevi
Another option is the stylish Angelina a Trevi which puts you in close proximity to the famous Trevi Fountain. Aperitivo snacks here are buffet-style so you can go and help yourself to the wide choice of cocktail accompaniments.
The Roof Garden Les Etoiles
Another thing Rome is known for is its seemingly endless choice of rooftop bars. Here sunset drinks come with views of such stars as the Colosseum and St. Peter’s Basilica or simply sweeping panoramas which take in the ancient churches, river and Roman-era bridges in one of the world’s most beautiful cities. While rooftop bars come in every guise the scene is typically a glamorous one with a wealth of elegant and romantic spots easily found. For a view of the Vatican City which is hard to beat make your way to The Roof Garden Les Etoiles which perches atop the Hotel Atlante Star. Offering aperitivo between 6-8pm, the Roof Garden before sunset offers a view filled with the iconic dome and facade of St. Peter’s Basilica while also taking in the huge white Vittorio monument, the Castel Sant’Angelo and Rome’s hills. After sunset the glittering fairy-lights give the breeze-cooled terrace a decidedly romantic air which you can soak up from either intimate tables for two or comfortable chairs and sofas.
For some real rooftop luxury check out either the open-air Terrazza Montemartini with its pure-white sophistication and exceptional cocktails or La Terrazza at Hotel Eden. This latter combines every element needed for idyllic sunset drinks, offering chic surroundings, a background of gentle jazz and a diverse cocktail menu which can all be enjoyed along with exceptional views of this ancient, romantic and elegant city.
Campo de Fiori
If you are a little undecided on where to settle for a sun-downer drink direct your steps towards the Campo de Fiori. Traditional market venue during daylight hours, Campo de Fiori – the site of public executions in former times – becomes a buzzing conglomeration of pizzerias, cafes, ice-cream parlors and bars catering to the night-time crowd once the sun sets. The atmosphere is hard to beat, the open-air and street-side venues for relaxing with a drink plentiful and the surrounding architecture a feast for the eyes.
Italy in general is a dream destination for the food-passionate and Rome – as the capital – delivers the very highest degree and diversity of the country’s supreme culinary experiences. For those who like to turn their dining hours into something sophisticated and gourmet-focused Rome has seemingly endless choices with some truly opulent fine dining venues. But so too can it offer cozy little trattorias oozing Italian charm and no matter where you choose everything seems to come infused with that indefinable air of romance which Rome is famous for.
Gardens draped with bougainvillea, rooftops with spectacular views, ancient vaulted-ceiling cellars, atmospheric street-side set ups and historical buildings-turned restaurant – all this and so much more is on the Rome menu of eating venues.
One area of Rome which is especially lovely for dining is Trastavere – situated south of the Vatican City. Beautifully well-preserved, this peaceful Roman pocket of winding alleys, cobblestones and picturesque pint-sized piazzas offers a slice of authentic Rome where charming atmosphere comes as standard no matter which of its restaurant options you choose. It is an ideal place to head for all those on the hunt for restaurants frequented by locals rather than tourists and want to avoid elevated tourist prices.
Antica Trattoria da Carlone
If you want to sample some authentic pasta dishes make your way to Antica Trattoria da Carlone where you can eat inside or take a seat at one of the lovely street-side tables surrounded by atmospheric lighting and greenery. The building facade which dates from the 1800s makes for a wonderful backdrop to a feel which is 100% traditional trattoria complete with draped tablecloths, friendly service and sometimes live music. The classic pasta dishes here are considered by many to be the best of their kind in the area and come in portion sizes suitable for those with healthy appetites.
Cajo e Gajo
Other options for home-made pasta fans include Cajo e Gajo which like so many of its Trastavere counterparts offers charming alfresco dining, in this case directly overlooking the Piazza San Calisto with its palace, church and other lovely historical buildings.
While Naples lays claim to the invention of the pizza Rome has its very own version whose history dates back to ancient Roman times, known as a pinsa. With a wheat and rice flour base, the best pinsa can be sampled at Trastavere’s Convivium whose surroundings are simple but the food quality excellent.
Via Cardinale Marmaggi, 12
Hosteria dei Numeri Primi
Trastavere also has a good choice of fine-dining venues for those who want to step things up a notch or two such as the elegantly muted tones, wood floors and clean lines of Hosteria dei Numeri Primi. Most recommended here are the variety of fish and seafood dishes featuring prawns, tuna, octopus and swordfish. This sophisticated restaurant is also known for its excellent wine menu and delectable desserts.
Another gourmet choice is Antico Arco whose inside tables are located in an atmospheric space which was once part of the San Pancrazio catacombs. Such an environment makes for excellent wine storage conditions, something which this elegant restaurant utilizes to the max with its menu of 1000+ fine wines. On hand is an expert sommelier to guide you in pairing the ideal wine with your meal of Roman and Italian dishes.
Glass Hostaria is perhaps Trastavere’s most well-known fine-dining choice offering haute cuisine seafood and Italian dishes with a modern twist crafted by a Michelin Star chef. The decor is contemporary and sophisticated and the intimate atmosphere perfect for a romantic dinner date.
An Evening in Rome
Rome is an incredibly alive and atmospheric city in the evenings when all of its romance and magic seems to spring to life as illuminations highlight the city’s ancient ruins. As most Romans don’t dine until at least 9pm, the pre-dinner drink tradition of aperitivo ensures street-side cafes, taverns and bars are always buzzing well into the evening. Besides just joining the aperitivo crowds there are so many things to do in Rome after dark you would have to spend a very extended time here to sample them all.
Whether you want an evening filled with street music, history, opera under the stars or just somewhere to sit back and relax with a drink in hand Rome has it all.
A Sensational Dance Performance by Mother Nature
One sunset sight which may well be one of the most spectacular things you will ever see is the natural phenomenon known as the starling murmuration. Just before dark (which comes late in Rome during the summer) several million starlings prepare to roost which might not sound especially fascinating other than an opportunity to see high numbers of birds together. However, the starlings put on an intricately choreographed dance performance which results in vast, ever-changing and unbelievable patterns in the skies – coming together one moment to form dark masses which seconds later separate and reform as something else entirely. This sight can only be seen at certain times of year but if you happen to be in the city to see it you will never forget this sensational and totally free performance.
A Night Time Stroll – Famous Fountains to a Hidden Art Nouveau Courtyard
With such a wealth of ancient history filling this city you could almost direct your steps anywhere and stumble across treasures both obvious and hidden. However, there are several iconic sights which are almost essential elements of any visit to Rome and because they are located within a short distance of each other can easily be taken in during an evening stroll if you plan your route a little more carefully.
You can start with a visit to the Piazza de Spagna and Scalina Spagna, more often known to city visitors as the famous Spanish Steps. Built in the 1700s to connect the piazza with the Trinita dei Monti church, the Spanish steps which overlook the magnificent Italian Baroque-styled square are beloved by both locals and tourists for pausing and people-watching and were once the haunt of both Balzac and Byron in days gone by.
From the top of the steps a five minute stroll along Via Gregoriana will bring you to Zuccari’s Palace which is often known as the Monster House for a reason which will be very obvious to you once you arrive. Once home to the Queen of Poland in the 1700s and a high-society hot-spot for many years, the sculpted frontage of this historical building features fearsome characters apparently in the act of swallowing the doors and windows with their gaping mouths.
A further few minutes meander from here will bring you to one of the city’s 2000 or so fountains and one which many consider to be the world’s most beautiful – the Trevi Fountain. While fountains are thick on the ground in Rome none is as famous or as large as the Trevi Fountain which although in its present guise dates from the 1700s has its original origins some time back in 19 BC.
Measuring 20m wide by 26m high, this all-white stone fountain mixes natural rock with sculpted figures of Neptune on his shell-shaped horse-drawn chariot flanked by Tritons. The horses are shown as both sedate and unsettled – intended to mirror the moods of the sea itself.
It has long been traditional to throw a coin into the fountain from over your left shoulder and with a constant stream of tourists doing so the fountain is the source of around 1000 Euros annually which are donated to charity after removal each night.
While stunningly beautiful no matter what time you visit the fountain is especially evocative at night when both the fountain and its lovely Poli Palace backdrop are artistically illuminated.
Within a stone’s throw of the fountain can be found a hidden gem little known about or visited by tourists – the Galleria Sciarra. This tucked-away glass-ceilinged courtyard once belonged to the wealthy Sciarra family and was originally intended to be a shopping mall although the project was never finished. What makes it worth a visit are its jaw-droppingly beautiful Art Nouveau frescoes which cover every available surface of all four walls and all four stories and which are lit at night if you happen to arrive after dark. Colorful and elaborate, the paintings by Giuseppe Cellini were created in the 1800s with a main theme of the glorification of women.
Next on your evening stroll itinerary is the Piazza Venezia which is about 400m from the Trevi Fountain. Bordered on one side by the giant Vittoria Monument with its Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and sitting at the foot of Capitoline Hill, Piazza Venezia is home to the Palazzo Venezia, now a museum. This imposing building has a balcony from which the fascist dictator Mussolini declared war on England and France in 1940 and which has come to be known as Mussolini’s Balcony. The majority of famous photographs which show Mussolini addressing his crowds of faithful are images of the famous figure on this very balcony.
Your evening meander finishes up at Piazza Navona, arguably the city’s most well-known square and one of its loveliest. Surrounded by majestic and historic Baroque-style buildings including a palace and a church and full of points of interest, Piazza Navona has been part of the Roman scene since the 1400s. Today it is a thriving hub of city life at all hours of the day and night with its mix of folk eating and drinking while street artists and performers provide entertainment. It has no less than three ornamental fountains which include Bernini’s gorgeous ‘Fountain of the Four Rivers’ and
which until 150 years ago would be blocked up during the summer time to create a lake in the square’s center.
Once you have done a turn of the square you can decide which of the surroundings bars to settle in and enjoy a well-earned drink as you watch the Roman night unfold before you.
Night Tours of the Colosseum or the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel
Because Rome is so packed with must-see sights it is almost certain you will not have been able to fit everything into your day. If you happened to miss out on either the Colosseum or the Sistine Chapel this can be rectified in the evening with an atmospheric night tour. In both cases doing so gives you a chance to experience these marvels without the crowds while also allowing access to areas otherwise off limits to the general public.
Opera, Theater and Cinema
Rome has a thriving arts scene and if you are a fan you have a wide diversity of shows and performances to choose from. The huge Auditorium Parco della Musica has a choice of venues which range from a small and intimate theater to an amphitheater which can accommodate thousands of spectators. No matter what your personal taste – music, dance, theater, cabaret, art, poetry or history – this vast venue will have something to suit.
If opera is more your thing head to the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, the city’s principal opera house famed the world over for its incredible acoustics. Besides classical Italian opera it also offers modern masterpieces as well as ballet and symphony performances. During the summer months the theater’s company performs outdoors at the Baths of Caracalla. These evocative ruins which date from the 3rd century AD make for an incredible performance venue which adds an extra special element to your Italian opera night.
Should the big screen happen to be more to your tastes you will find Rome plays host to a wide number of pop-up open air cinemas in summer for enjoying classics, recent blockbusters and Italian art cine in the warm night air. Additionally, Tiber Island plays host to the L’Isola del Cinema Film Festival every year from June to September while in June and July the Piazza San Cosimato holds the free Festival Trastavere Rione del Cinema.
If you’re ready to experience the beauty of Rome in person, contact one of our vacation planners today!